Frank Tinari was elected Wednesday night as the new Suffolk Conservative chairman by a voice vote in a crowded, sometime raucous, closed-door county convention in Melville, replacing ex-leader Edward Walsh, who was convicted on federal corruption charges last spring.
Tinari, who had served as acting leader, defeated challenger Kenneth Auerbach, who assailed the voting procedures and vowed to go to court to challenge the outcome.
Tinari, however, says he believes he has the “overwhelming support” of more than 60 percent of the committee. “There was a lot of excitement and emotion here tonight,” Tinari said. “It’s been contentious and litigious for the last four months. Hopefully we can calm it down and get to work electing candidates.”
The convention started more than an hour after the scheduled 6:30 p.m. start time because more than 1,000 committee members showed up and had to be processed. Each was given a pink wrist band before they could enter the ballroom at the Huntington Hilton where the convention was held.
Before the leader election, party officials agreed to hold a more-than-hourlong roll call vote on whether to do away with additional roll call balloting. “The vote to dispense with further roll calls has passed,” said Tinari. “And we’re not going to address it anymore.” However, he did not specify the tally.
Even before the voting started, Auerbach said he was “outraged” by the decision to shut out the press and criticized Tinari’s move to install 250 new committee members late last week after his supporters had won more committee primaries.
“What occurred in that room tonight was a disgrace and insult,” Auerbach said afterward. He also denounced the failure to tally the roll call vote, calling it “a totally bogus outcome.”
Though far smaller than the major parties, the Suffolk Conservative Party’s chairman wields considerable clout with Republicans who need the minor party line, which can draw as much as 10 percent to 15 percent of a vote, to gain a winning margin in town and county elections. The party also has across-the-board influence in judicial races where the Conservative line can underscore a candidate’s law and order credentials.
Both sides waged aggressive campaigns to elect party committee members and in the Sept. 13 state primary, election officials say Auerbach forces elected 730 committee members to 570 for Tinari backers. However, Tinari said many of Auerbach’s committee candidates were just names on a ballot, not active party members, and would not show up at the convention.
But to bolster his numbers, Tinari held a meeting of the party’s executive committee Friday night to fill about 250 more committee positions in primaries that ended in ties or in which no one voted.
Those appointments were made after Auerbach went to court to block the move, claiming the executive committee could not legally fill committee spots before the convention. He said newly elected committee members should make those decisions. State Supreme Justice Arthur Pitts rejected the Auerbach bid, saying party rules and state law permits filling the vacancies. An appellate judge on Monday refused to block the convention, ruling Auerbach could later challenge the outcome.