Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer was shopping for oatmeal, toothpaste and seltzer about 9 p.m. Wednesday night at a Bay Shore King Kullen when he got an unexpected call from an intermediary for would-be Republican district attorney candidate William Ferris.
The call came less than 24 hours before the deadline for Ferris, a former prosecutor himself, to have at least 2,000 signatures on petitions to qualify for a GOP primary against the Republicans’ designated candidate, Ray Perini.
Schaffer said the intermediary made clear Ferris was leaving the race and wanted to endorse Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, the Democratic candidate who also has the Conservative, Independence and Working Families parties’ ballot lines. “Literally he was just informing us, but also said they would like to chat,” Schaffer said. The next day Schaffer met with Ferris for 45 minutes and Ferris spoke by phone for about 10 minutes with Sini, who was in Idaho for an opioid abuse conference.
What also made the meeting unusual is that Ferris was one of the prosecutors in the “Babylon Five” cases that late former District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr. pursued against Schaffer’s aides in 1997 and 1998 and made the district attorney’s race a prime Schaffer focus ever since.
Schaffer claimed selective prosecution over charges including filing of false documents, bribery and fundraising abuse. Felony charges were dismissed, though one aide was found guilty of a misdemeanor. Schaffer said the case Ferris handled was dismissed and he has had “great respect” for him since.
GOP critics question Ferris’ motives, noting he floated his name in the past for district attorney, but until this year never even tried to circulate petitions to get on the ballot. “I don’t understand how someone who wanted to run a primary as the Republican candidate . . . would turn on the party and endorse a Democrat,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the GOP caucus leader.
Perini said Ferris is looking to return to the district attorney’s office. “It’s obvious he expects to be working in that office because Tim Sini never prosecuted a state criminal action. He doesn’t have the experience to run a district attorney’s office,” said Perini, who has been practicing in state and federal courts for 43 years.
Ferris acknowledged he might be interested in returning to the office, but Schaffer and Sini said there was no discussion of a job. “We’ll let voters speak if there will be a Sini administration first,” Schaffer said.
While Ferris declined to comment on Perini in making his endorsement, Schaffer said his silence “speaks volumes” about the race. “Who better to judge than someone who wanted to be DA, has the institutional knowledge of the inner workings of the office . . . and didn’t endorse the guy he worked with for so many years?” he said.
In the short term, Ferris’ exit means Perini will not have to waste resources on a primary, but he also would forgo the potential momentum a primary victory might bring. Mike Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mainly for Republicans, doubted the Ferris endorsement would mean much since he is unknown to most voters.
But Dawidziak also expressed surprise that Perini backers failed to find a candidate to wage a Conservative primary against Democrat Sini, since the liberal Working Families Party also backs his candidacy. In 2001, baseball agent Richard Thompson beat Catterson in a Conservative primary, denying him the minor party line in his November loss to Democrat Thomas Spota. “If they could have denied Sini the Conservative line, that could have been huge,” Dawidziak said.