At a time when Suffolk Conservatives, like other political parties, should be gathering petitions to field candidates for November’s races, a court ruling throwing out last fall’s re-election of party chairman Frank Tinari has started a new multifront war for control of the minor party.
State Supreme Court Justice David Reilly’s decision Friday will probably lead to an immediate court appeal as early as Monday, and a new leadership fight involving hundreds of party committee members at a new convention yet to be scheduled.
It creates uncertainty among potential candidates — Republicans, Democrats and Conservatives — about whether their names will end up on party petitions to make them the minor party’s nominee. The outcome could have a major impact on the fall elections because the Conservative ballot line can generate 10 to 12 percent of the vote in any race, enough for the margin of victory.
Among those who could be affected are GOP county executive candidate Comptroller John Kennedy and freshman GOP Legis. Rudy Sunderman, whom Tinari had been planning to back, along with Democratic family court judge contenders who are in consideration for support. The party also intends to name Conservative candidates in some county legislature races, which has a potential for siphoning votes from GOP candidates.
Vincent Messina, the party’s attorney, said Reilly’s ruling does not affect Tinari’s immediate powers. “From a legal perspective, Tinari is in the same place as he was between the primary and last fall’s organization meeting. He remains chairman with the authority he had at that time.” Kenneth Auerbach, who brought the winning lawsuit, said of Tinari: "He has no power, no authority.”
Complicating the situation is that the Conservatives, like most minor parties, usually do not run candidates from their own party ranks. Instead they mainly endorse candidates from major parties. However, party rules require the county party leader to issue what is known as a Wilson-Pakula certificate, which authorizes a nonparty member to run on the Conservative ballot line.
Auerbach, who narrowly lost a leadership vote to Tinari two years ago, said no Wilson-Pakulas should be issued until the leadership battle is over. Reilly has ordered a March 15 conference at which all sides will discuss a new convention date and appointment of an outside monitor. However, nominating petitions must be filed by April 3.
However, if the county leader cannot act, the newly elected Conservative state leader Jerry Kassar also is empowered to issue the authorization and he says he intends to back the slate put forward by Tinari.
“If Wilson-Pakulas are required, we will be taking our lead from Frank Tinari and the present party leadership,” said Kassar, who is scheduled to headline the Suffolk party’s April 2 fundraiser. “The Conservatives will have a full slate of candidates.”
“There’s no reason for the state leader to do it. There’s plenty of time for the process to play out,” said Auerbach. “Let’s abide by the law, hold the meeting, which will take a couple of hours and whoever wins will have an opportunity to issue Wilson-Pakulas … Let’s finally let the people make the decision, not the people in power.”