Call it the political version of “Whac-A-Mole,” the arcade game in which players beat the pesky critters with a mallet.
Four Republican candidates for Suffolk County Legislature are using an arcane electoral maneuver to try to knock out candidates who are part of a deal between Democrats and Conservatives to cross-endorse each other's candidates.
The rarely used ploy, known as an “OTB,” for “Opportunity to Ballot,” allows someone outside a political party to file petitions to run a write-in primary to get another party’s nomination.
GOP county lawmakers Kevin McCaffrey of Lindenhurst and Robert Trotta of Fort Salonga, along with GOP challengers Anthony Piccirillo and Gary Pollakusky, all had the Conservatives’ ballot line two years ago but now don’t. All have filed petitions to mount write-in primary challenges; Piccirillo also is waging an Independence Party OTB.
Republican Legis. Steve Flotteron of Brightwaters, meanwhile, has gotten Conservative community activist Joan Manahan, 88, to run a minor party primary against former Brightwaters Mayor Joseph McDermott — a Democrat running against Flotteron with Conservative backing — to knock him off the Conservative line.
The Conservative ballot line can account for 5 to 10 percent of the vote, which could be crucial to winning in a close race.
“The Conservative Party has lost its way,” said Trotta, who is doing a write-in against Conservative candidate Rick Lanese. “The Conservatives and the Democrats are in a conspiracy … It’s all about what family member can get a job next. Rank and file party members will be outraged.”
Piccirillo got 1,418 votes on the Conservative line in the race for the 8th Legislative District in 2017, but lost to incumbent Democrat Wiliam Lindsay III by 244 votes. Piccirillo said the cross-endorsement deal is, “all to rig the election, so Rich Schaffer keeps his Democratic majority.” Schaffer is Suffolk Democratic chairman.
Pollakusky is seeking a rematch against Democratic Legis. Sarah Anker of Mt. Sinai after losing to her in 2017, when he got 1,613 votes on the Conservative line. Pollakusky's write-in bid is against Conservative James Kevins.
Frank Tinari, Suffolk Conservative chairman, said the minor party primarily backs Republicans.
But he said Trotta was “not well received" in his candidate screening with party officials. And Tinari called it unfair to “cherry pick” in criticizing cross-endorsements when Conservatives back Democrats with credentials like those of District Attorney Tim Sini and Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr.
Schaffer, also Babylon Town supervisor, said Conservatives back Lindsay for his business background in insurance, and McDermott as a former mayor has municipal budget experience.
State law, “doesn’t say Democrats are only allowed to deal with the Working Families Party and Republicans with Conservatives,” Schaffer said.
“We’re playing by the rules and being above board — we’re just putting up better candidates,” he said.
What makes waging an OTB daunting is that write-in candidates’ names do not appear on ballots, unlike the party’s candidate. Challengers' main weapons are ink pads and rubber stamps bearing write-in candidates' names for filling in ballots. Voters also can write in the names with a pen.
McCaffrey, who got 2,039 votes on the Conservative line two years ago, this year is facing Conservative Tom Gargiulo, a past GOP Assembly candidate, whom Democrats last week put on their ballot line.
The 14th District race could give Conservatives a chance of winning their first Suffolk legislative seat since Conservative lawmaker Rose Caracappa died in 1995.
McCaffrey said he plans an aggressive write-in campaign for the Conservative line.
“There are 1,200 Conservatives in my district,” he said. “I don’t know how many I’ll have to coax out, but I’ll have the tools to make sure I’m successful.”
Schaffer, however, said write-ins face special problems.
In the 8th District, for instance, “those backing Lindsay just have to show up and vote,” Schaffer said. “Others not only have to show up, but also know how to spell 'Piccirillo' correctly.”
Correction: The name of Conservative community activist Joan Manahan was misspelled in a previous version of this story.