A Westchester state Supreme Court justice has ruled that Frank Tinari was narrowly elected in 2016 as Suffolk Conservative Party chairman in a contentious closed-door party convention over challenger Kenneth Auerbach.
Justice Charles D. Wood found Tinari won a crucial roll call vote to dispense with further roll calls by a weighted margin of 4,664.5 to 4,630. Tinari then was declared the winner on a voice vote.
Tinari expressed confidence he will win re-election as leader by a wider margin in late September.
“We’re much stronger than we were two years ago,” said Tinari. “I’ve had numerous conversations with people who supported Kenny two years ago and they don’t have any problems with me as leader and are satisfied with the direction the party has taken.”
However, Auerbach intends to challenge Tinari again. Auerbach said he has filed a slate of candidates to fill more than 1,200 committee positions for the Sept 13 primaries.
“The rank and file are absolutely outraged. The entire line has been given away,” Auerbach said. “Every single person knows we won by several hundred gubernatorial votes and we may have to go back to the appellate division to straighten out this perversion of justice.”
The lengthy battle for the party chairmanship arose after the jailing of ex-chairman Edward Walsh, who was convicted and jailed on federal corruption charges. Party dissidents say he still wields strong influence. They also object to cross-endorsement deals the party makes with Democrats, saying they run counter to party values.
Wood said he made his ruling after listening to audio recordings of Auerbach supporters from the 2016 convention. Wood called them “highly imperfect” because they failed “to capture the votes of some people often due to boisterous cheering, jeering and others shouting.”
Wood said he found there were two instances, in Islip election districts 179 and 110, where the recordings “raise a significant question as to the accuracy of the tally,” involving 36 weighted votes.
Woods ruled the 11.5 weighted votes from Election District 179 should not be credited as “yes” votes to dispense with the roll call, because of the “less than ideal” recordings. Auerbach “failed to prove” they should be counted as backing a further roll call on the leadership vote, Woods ruled.
Had Auerbach called the committee members who could have verified the audio to testify, "this result could easily have been different,” Woods wrote.
Tinari’s election was initially upheld in March 2017 by Westchester Supreme Court Justice J. Emmett Murphy.
But an appellate panel in February ruled unanimously that before the 2016 convention, the Conservative executive committee illegally filled 230 vacant committee positions.
The appellate ruling sent the case back to the Supreme Court for further review and Woods took over because Murphy retired.