By the time Frank Vetro finally got to Café Spiga in Mount Sinai last week for his own fundraiser, the place was nearly empty. But it didn’t matter.
After a grueling six-hour court hearing at the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank, he survived an onslaught of objections to more than 900 petition signatures he filed to qualify for the Sept. 12 GOP primary ballot. Justice John Leo found Vetro had 46 more than the minimum 500 required.
“They tried every trick in the book to wipe me out,” said Vetro, 45, noting that backers of GOP designee Gary Pollakusky objected to all but 117 of his signatures.
Vetro and Pollakusky are battling for the right to take on Democratic Legis. Sarah Anker, who won her 6th District seat in 2015 by a scant 16 votes — making her Suffolk Republicans’ top target in November.
Two years ago Pollakusky managed the campaign of Steven Tricarico, who narrowly lost to Anker. Republicans last week also rolled out endorsements for Pollakusky from Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, Assemb. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and town board member Jane Bonner, who all represent the district. He already has Conservative and Reform parties’ ballot lines, assuring him a place on the November ballot.
Pollakusky, 41, a marketing consultant from Rocky Point, said he is not focused on the primary but rather on economic issues, including the county’s crushing deficit, and the need to lower taxes and spur economic development.
“I’m not looking at Mr. Vetro; I’ll let the public decide if he brings anything to the table,” he said. “The county has enough problems to rail against.”
Pollakusky also cites his work as head of the North Shore Community Association, which seeks to bring an anti-opioid curriculum to local schools, and as a board member for the town industrial development agency.
Vetro, 45, of Miller Place, principal of the Hope House School for troubled youth, believes his experience working with troubled youths and as a real estate agent make him most qualified to deal with problems of gangs, opioids and high property taxes. “If you want to market a business then Gary’s your guy,” said Vetro, “but only one guy has the hands-on experience I have, and I’ll match it against anyone.”
Vetro has faced accusations in the past. In 2006, while high school principal in Hampton Bays, he was charged with seven misdemeanor counts of second-degree aggravated harassment after police say he made sexually explicit calls to an ex-girlfriend and former co-workers.
Vetro resigned from the school and later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge — disorderly conduct. He continues to deny the harassment charges that he says “almost destroyed my life” but made him stronger in the long run. He said he has a lawsuit pending against the county and his accusers, and the experience has made him a fighter against corruption. He favors establishing an integrity unit to monitor the district attorney’s office.
Pollakusky declined to comment on the issue, saying “the public will do its due diligence” to make the best choice in the election.
Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven Republican chairman, said he expects Pollakusky to win. “We’ve always been prepared for a primary,” he said. “It will help us connect with our base early and it will give us big momentum for November.”
But Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, expects a dogfight.
“Vetro got the signatures of more than 900 Republican voters. It clearly shows the party’s nominee does not have all the support they claim,” he said.