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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Shawn Cullinane squeaks in as Assembly candidate in Suffolk

Photo Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Republican Shawn Cullinane last week became the very last contender to join the scrum of local candidates running for State Legislature.

The Babylon GOP failed to put a candidate up against Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre in May. But the party decided later to mount a write-in campaign — known as an Opportunity to Ballot — to put Cullinane, the Lindenhurst Village clerk and treasurer, in the Sept. 13 primary.

The GOP strategy was based on Jean-Pierre having a primary of her own. Party officials saw the possibility of a three-way contest on Nov. 8 if Democratic challenger Jordan Wilson had won and Jean-Pierre had to run for re-election only on the Independence and Working Families party lines.

But Wilson lost the Democratic primary, getting only 21 percent of the vote. Jean-Pierre not only won the primary but secured an extra ballot line, taking the Reform Party write-in primary with just seven votes.

Cullinane won his write-in primary 624-26.

Despite his late start, Cullinane, 63, who has worked for Suffolk’s largest village for 28 years, said, “I think my chances are very good. People clearly are not satisfied.”

Cullinane said Jean-Pierre has “not been in the community addressing concerns and people are talking about it. It’s just that simple.”

Cullinane also said his village experience mirrors that of Jean-Pierre’s predecessor, former Democratic Assemb. Robert Sweeney, who served as village clerk for 14 years and later became dean of Long Island’s Assembly delegation.

“A lot of people across the political spectrum supported Bob Sweeney and I think I can accomplish the same thing,” said Cullinane.

However, Cullinane has a daunting task.

According to the 11-day pre-primary campaign finance report, he has only $3,270 in his campaign account, all of it self-funded. He also faces a lopsided Democratic edge in voter registration — 32,376 to 16,669 for Republicans — and he will have to run without the Conservative Party line, which can mean 10 percent or more.

“We’re not helped by the numbers,” said Anthony Pancella, Babylon Town GOP chairman.

But Pancella said he expects Cullinane to be competitive, especially with Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. “It’s a tough run, but it’s a winnable race,” he said.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Jean-Pierre has “delivered terrifically“ for the district, while Cullinane has been rejected repeatedly by voters. Cullinane has lost a half-dozen races for village office, Babylon Town board and supervisor, and Suffolk County Legislature. However, he has won three terms as a library trustee.

Schaffer called Cullinane a foil for GOP elections Commissioner Nicholas LaLota, with whom Schaffer has been warring since spring. Schaffer said the dispute started after LaLota, an Amityville Village trustee, sought a state bill to allow the village to bond $1.4 million to pay retiring police for unused sick and vacation time.

Schaffer accused LaLota of misleading officials because the village already had budgeted $450,000 for retirement pay. Later LaLota withdrew the request and used money from the budget.

Amityville eventually found money in its budget to make the payments.

A subsequent meeting to make peace blew up when LaLota accused Schaffer of intruding and politicizing a village issue. Schaffer portrayed LaLota of having “sharp elbows and fighting with everyone.”

Schaffer said the split led to Cullinane’s candidacy, the write-in races for Assembly and the petition drive for a council district referendum in Babylon. “He’s the orchestra leader for the whole thing,” Schaffer said of LaLota.

LaLota dismissed Schaffer’s assertions.

“While I’m flattered that Rich thinks this is about me, these elections are about what system and what elected official can best help Babylon residents,” LaLota said.

Cullinane said he is waging a serious race, and that Schaffer is masking his worry because Jean-Pierre is a weak candidate.

“That’s just Richie doing his Democratic-speak when he doesn’t like what he sees,” Cullinane said.

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