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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Crunchtime for Suffolk County Conservatives

The minor party is expected to make a cross-endorsement deal to back candidates for Suffolk judgeships, and county comptroller and clerk.

For Suffolk Conservatives, it’s crunchtime.

In the next week or so, Suffolk’s most potent minor party and its frequent ally, the Independence Party, are all but certain to make a cross-endorsement agreement with either Republicans or Democrats for candidates for as many as 16 judgeships. The minor parties also are expected to make deals for county comptroller and county clerk.

There’s no question Conservatives will be aligned with Republicans on all-important races for State Senate, where the GOP has only a thin majority, and that they’ll support GOP Reps. Lee Zeldin and Peter King.

While Conservatives may be far apart from Democrats on state and national issues, the partisan divide is not always so wide in local administrative and judicial races.

“The fact they bring 15 percent to the table is very attractive,” said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman.

Schaffer said his party and Conservatives last year were able to elect a new Suffolk district attorney and the county’s first black sheriff. “We’ve had great success with the Conservatives to advance some very talented candidates,” he said.

“There’s a logjam going on,” said Frank Tinari, Suffolk Conservative chairman. There are “ongoing discussions” with both sides, but he said, ”I’d like to see more Conservatives running for office.”

But John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, said “in the normal course of business, there’s no reason for Conservatives to endorse Democrats because they are just philosophically diametrically opposed.”

Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works primarily for Republicans, said, “in the end, it all depends on who’s offering what. But based on recent past performance Conservatives seem more amenable to a deal with Rich Schaffer.”

Privately, party officials concede LaValle’s ties with Conservatives have been strained in recent years, although Tinari said he and LaValle have been talking and the GOP leader downplayed any rift.

The biggest prize is the patronage-rich post of Surrogate’s Court judge. The judge has the ability to award millions of dollars in patronage through appointments for guardians and conservators in estate cases. The post has been in GOP hands for at least a century.

Republican state Supreme Court justices Paul Baisley Jr. and David Reilly have expressed interest. Schaffer said three Democratic jurists whose names he declined to disclose are considering running. Conservative District Court Judge Marian Tinari, the party leader’s wife, also has been mentioned as a Surrogate’s candidate but has not declared.

Schaffer, who has no county clerk candidate, has offered Conservatives the pick. Two potential Conservative contenders could be Smithtown Town Clerk Vincent Puleo and Olga Murray, the Islip clerk.

GOP sources say LaValle has talked with Islip GOP Town Board member Trish Bergin Wiechbrodt, who has support in Conservative ranks, about the county clerk’s race.

But pushback has come from Brookhaven’s GOP Supervisor Edward Romaine and Brookhaven GOP chairman Jesse Garcia, who back incumbent Suffolk Clerk Judith Pascale, who in the past has had Conservative backing.

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, a Democrat and former Suffolk County legislator who often has run with Conservative support, is weighing a run against GOP county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. Four years ago, Kennedy was able to win on a single line when Conservatives sat out the race.

“In a world that is not upside down, people want to see Conservative-Republican elected officials,” and not a “Monty Hall, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ ” arrangement, said LaValle. “I hope we can come to a meeting of the minds.”

Schaffer concedes no party has a lock on getting the Conservative line.

“Town Republican chairs have a very solid relationship with the Conservative leadership; they actually outnumber me,” Schaffer said.

But with nominating petitions hitting the streets June 5, Schaffer said, “The next two weeks are going to be intense. And anyone who does not understand politics is a game constantly in motion, is not playing the game correctly.”

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