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Suffolk GOP ban's of Democratic cross endorsements may be game changer

Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle is pictured

Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle is pictured in this photo from May 21, 2014. Credit: James Escher

It was the very last thing Suffolk Republicans did at their county convention last week. But it's an action that may have the most lasting impact.

Without debate or discussion, the Suffolk GOP changed its bylaws to ban any party candidates from taking Democratic cross endorsements in nonjudicial races.

John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, made the resolution, which was approved by acclamation, and said the party was taking a stand for "Republican principles and ideals" in putting forward candidates. "Some elected officials were more interested in cutting deals for themselves for cross endorsement than representing the public," he said later.

Several town leaders say the move is driven by waning turnout and grassroots discontent that GOP leaders were giving away elected posts to other parties. "There was a feeling the lines have become too blurred," said Toni Tepe, Huntington GOP chairwoman. "It creates apathy when voters can't distinguish one side from the other. The bottom line is we need to give the public a choice."

Notwithstanding the GOP talk about values, the ban does not include any minor-party endorsements nor judicial races, where judges, under state law, remain free to run in primaries in any party. Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, questioned how seriously GOP leaders will carry out the policy. "It's meaningful as the leaders of their party allow it to be," he said.

The most visible major party deals have involved countywide posts. For a decade, neither major party has challenged an incumbent in 11 countywide contests, including former Democratic County Executive Steve Levy in 2007.

Going forward, the new GOP policy would mean that if Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota seeks re-election in 2017, he would face a foe for the first time since he first ran in 2001. Spota has already won a record four terms. A competitive race at age 76 is not likely to make another run more attractive.

Two years ago, Republicans backed Spota over GOP defense attorney Ray Perini, who had to battle his own party to run a losing GOP primary. "This would be a good thing if they are serious about rebuilding the party," Perini said.

"They have a lot of talented people if they are willing to run a Republican and not cross endorse."

The new GOP policy also could complicate the future of three-term Conservative Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. DeMarco's situation is dicey because he is currently engaged in a death match with his former mentor, Edward Walsh, the Conservative Party chairman. Walsh works for DeMarco as a correction lieutenant, but is facing federal charges of playing golf and gambling at times when he should have been on the job. It is not clear when his legal woes will be resolved.

If Walsh remains in power in 2017, DeMarco's Conservative renomination could be in doubt. But as a Conservative, DeMarco could run a primary even if denied the minor party's nod. But both major parties face risks in backing him since the primary winner won't be known until September.

Republicans might be wary of backing DeMarco because it might jeopardize the Conservative's backing of other GOP candidates. DeMarco, who first won election in 2005 on the Democratic and Conservative lines, could remain allied with Democrats, but he may end up a right-leaning contender in a left-leaning party without the Conservative ballot line should he lose the primary.

Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale and new Comptroller John Kennedy may have less trouble because their posts are ministerial and it's costly for Democrats to run a countywide race against an incumbent.

Kennedy, an upset winner for comptroller last year running only on the GOP line, said he's all for the policy and opposes cross endorsements that deny voters a choice. "Our forefathers struggled mightily to reject the crown and get the vote," he said.

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