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Suffolk Greens say GOP hijacked their ballot lines for judicial races

Suffolk County Green Party members say Republicans have hijacked their November lines for countywide judicial races by misrepresenting themselves and their candidates while collecting signatures.

For years, Democrats and Republicans have gotten their candidates on the progressive party line over the objections of its leaders. The party only supports Green Party members or candidates not registered with any political affiliation and adhere to their philosophies of being anti-war, pro-environment and advocates of social justice. But state law allows notaries to collect signatures for judicial candidates of any party and force write-in campaigns on minor party lines.

This year, a Republican Board of Elections worker left a voicemail message for a Green Party member in which he said he worked for the Green Party. A Newsday reporter listened to the voicemail.

“I work for the Green Party . . . I live out in Cutchogue, and I’m running petitions, and I have to have them in for the Green Party tomorrow,” William Mann said on the voice mail left for Wendy Polhemus-Annibell at 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11. Time sheets show that Mann, a Republican elections form processor who made $99,761 in 2017, left work at 1:57 p.m. on sick time.

Polhemus-Annibell, a 60-year-old librarian from Laurel, said Mann came to her house and she signed the petition for three judicial candidates after he said he was a Green Party member.

“He made some small talk. I let my guard down," she said.

Only when she checked with a Green Party leader later did she realize that the judicial candidates for Surrogate's Court, County Court and Family Court were all Republicans.

"They gathered signatures on the basis of false information — this just shouldn’t happen," Polhemus-Annibell said.

Mann said he had no comment.

Republican Election Commissioner Nicholas LaLota said Mann is on medical leave. "It is clear that the employee was 'off the clock' when he left the voicemail. A further review will continue when the employee returns," LaLota said.

Green Party leaders said their complaints about deceptive signature gathering practices from both Democrats and Republicans have gone unanswered and party operatives have gotten bolder.

"They hijack our line even knowing that the Green Party doesn’t allow cross endorsements. Higher ethical standards should be expected of notaries, Board of Election employees and anyone running to be a judge,” said Pauline Salotti, chairwoman of the Suffolk County Green Party.

Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said there was no need for signature gatherers to misrepresent themselves. He defended Republican candidates getting the Green Party line, citing local Republican support for environmental issues.

“We believe in their philosophy. We’re Long Island Teddy Roosevelt Republicans who believe in clean water, clean environment, better quality of life for our residents,” he said.

“That’s just scandalous to say that," Gloria Mattera, co-chair of the Green Party of New York, shot back. "The Republican Party is the corporate party, just like the Democrats.”

The Green Party has a four-pillar platform of being anti-war, support for the environment, social justice and commitment to not taking corporate political donations.

After Polhemus-Annibell shared her story with party leaders and posted about her experience online, other Green Party members said that they, too, had thought they were signing for Green Party candidates. Others said their signatures were forged.

Chris Polistena, a 31-year-old Mattituck social worker, said when a Board of Elections worker came to his door, he asked three times whether the judicial candidates were Green Party members. Polistena said the signature gatherer told him they were.

"I feel disenfranchised and lied to," Polistena said.

Petitions show Polistena's signature was gathered by Gregory Dickerson, a Board of Elections worker who made $67,658, according to county records. Dickerson said he had no comment when reached by phone.

Republicans submitted 121 signatures — 21 more than necessary — to qualify Damon A. Hagan for Surrogate's Court, Steven A. Pilewski for County Court and Richard Hoffman for Family Court on the Green Party line. Hagan dropped out earlier this month and was replaced by Tara Scully, a Republican, on both the Green Party and Republican lines. Scully is facing Family Court Judge Theresa Whelan, a Democrat, who also has the Independence line. Scully is also facing Whelan in a Democratic primary.

Scully and Whelan are waging a relatively high-profile battle for the patronage-rich Surrogate's Court job. Scully's late entrance to the race blew up a cross-endorsement deal among Democrats, Conservatives and Independence Party officials that would have given Conservative Marian Tinari, the wife of Republican Conservative chairman Frank Tinari, the Democratic line for Surrogate's Court judge. Tinari dropped her bid for Surrogate's Court and was replaced by Whelan.

Judicial candidates have drawn more than 2,000 votes on the line in recent countywide judicial general elections, just under 1 percent of votes.

Green Party attorney Arthur Schwartz of Manhattan wrote letters to judicial candidates Hagan, Pilewski and Hoffman that the Green Party petitions contained "numerous" forged signatures and asking them to "consider whether you want to proceed on the Green Party line."

Schwartz said it would take a lawsuit to remove the candidates from the judicial line "which (the) small Green Party can't afford. But it smells bad, especially from Judicial candidates," he wrote in an email.

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