The image on Brookhaven Democratic town board candidate Fred Ianacci’s Twitter post was stark — a drawing of a GOP elephant on its back, seemingly dead, with its feet in the air.
The headline underneath read, “Purge America of Republicans.”
In the aftermath of the shooting of a GOP congressman and others near Washington last week, Brookhaven Republicans went on the offensive. They attacked both Ianacci’s posting and the entire Democratic slate.
“These are people devoid of any true qualifications,” said Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven GOP leader. “They are rabid progressives with no plan to govern. They want to demonstrate, shout and raise placards with political rhetoric that is very aggressive and hostile.”
Garcia said GOP lawyers have filed a report with the Suffolk County Police Sixth Precinct, and the GOP law committee will meet by next week about whether the party should take further legal steps.
Garcia also raised concerns about the safety of Republican candidates, civic leaders and voters who might attend candidates’ nights in light of such “violent rhetoric.” Garcia said the party came across Ianacci’s Twitter post in doing research on opponents.
For Ianacci, a first-time candidate, it was an unexpected introduction to the rough and tumble of local politics.
“I’m a totally peace-loving guy,” said Ianacci, 62, of Lake Ronkonkoma, who commutes to New York City for his job as project manager for a company that does woodworking for construction projects.
He conceded that after a gunman shot GOP House Whip Steve Scalise and four others last Wednesday, his words on his Twitter site seem far darker than he ever intended. After Newsday called, he replaced the elephant and headline with a photo of himself.
Ianacci said his posting had been in place for five years, going back to President Barack Obama’s first term when Republicans were posting pictures of him being hung in effigy.
“I did it purely out of humor, not violence at all,” he said. While he said he understood GOP concerns, “I think they are exaggerating and pointing fingers.”
But Ianacci’s opponent, GOP town board member Kevin LaValle, said, the “rhetoric that is going around is concerning. But it’s not going to stop me from doing my job, knocking on doors or doing what people expect me to do.” LaValle said he did not think Ianacci’s posting should disqualify him from running.
Lillian Clayman, Brookhaven Democratic chairman, said the shooting incident outside Washington was “an unfortunate tragedy,” but not an issue from which to make political hay. “Mental illness is not confined to any one political affiliation,” said Clayman.
She defended Ianacci as “a very nice, smart guy with a good sense of humor,” but said he is learning that candidates for public office “are held to a different standard” than others. She also criticized the town Republicans for trying to “exploit the issue for their own political gain.”
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said, “the lesson here is that we all have to tone it down and be mindful that our words do turn into actions. Both sides have been guilty of it and both sides have contributed to it. We all have understand what our words can do. And I, for one, will start the effort to make everyone more mindful, including myself.”