Nicholas LaLota, Suffolk’s Republican elections commissioner, has hired a new employee who belongs to the Conservative Party — but not one who's likely to endear him to current minor party leaders or new Suffolk GOP chairman Jesse Garcia.
Last Friday, LaLota hired James J. Ring, 51, of Patchogue, as a $45,994-a-year assistant elections clerk. Ring was active in gathering GOP petitions to wage write-in primaries to block cross-endorsed Democratic and Conservative candidates from running on the Conservative line in key Suffolk County legislature races.
LaLota said Ring, “came recommended to me by Kenny Auerbach, and it’s a very good recommendation because he has integrity unlike the previous Conservative I fired from the staff.”
That was an indirect reference to Michael Torres, the Suffolk Conservative Party secretary, whom LaLota fired in 2015. Torres has filed a federal lawsuit against LaLota, claiming he was fired for political reasons for failing to back a GOP choice for District Court judge. When Torres filed his suit, LaLota said there was “absolutely no merit” to Torres’ claims.
Auerbach is head of the dissident Conservative faction opposed to Frank Tinari's re-election as Suffolk Conservative chairman.
Auerbach said he was involved in the petitioning process for Conservative write-in candidates, calling it, “a way to send a message back to the party leaders that they have to stop doing backroom deals and selling out the platform for personal purposes.”
Auerbach called Ring, “very qualified and humble, with a strong conservative background … "
”Tinari said he did not know Ring, and will review the write-in petitions to determine Ring’s involvement.
Said Torres: “I find it disgusting that Commissioner LaLota paid someone to collect petitions by giving them a job at the board of elections.”
LaLota, who has a four-year term that was renewed last July, declined to comment about whether he conferred with Garcia about Ring's hiring.
Garcia, who works at the elections board as Hispanic outreach coordinator, also declined to comment on LaLota’s action.
But Garcia did say, “I’m pragmatic and I will work diligently to repair the discord at the county level between the Republican Party and our partners in the minor party.”