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Court fight emerges in Nassau over Women's Equality Party line

The 2014 ticket for the Democrats featured Gov.

The 2014 ticket for the Democrats featured Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Kathy Hochul for lieutenant governor, AG Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Eric Sumberg. Credit: Barry Sloan

Depending on how a pair of court fights come out, the newly minted Women's Equality Party has hit either a speed bump or a brick wall en route to putting its preferred candidates on the ballot.

If nothing else, the court dispute shines new light on existing rifts within the state's dominant Democratic Party.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's campaign established the alternative Women's Equality line for last fall's ballot. Having drawn more than 50,000 votes for the governor, the party by law purportedly gets to cross-endorse candidates or put up its own nominees on ballots statewide through 2018.

Papers were filed this month with the state Board of Elections establishing the party's interim committee, with Barbara Fiala, Cuomo's former motor-vehicles commissioner, as chairwoman.

But now a lawsuit filed in state Supreme Court in Nassau County -- by a firm that represents Republicans in election cases -- seeks to void the new party's filings and thus possibly block its nominations. A parallel lawsuit awaits action in Niagara County.

Lawyers for the Mineola firm Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan argue that state election law requires approval of a new party's rules by a majority of its state nominees. Only two of those four nominees have signed off on the filings -- Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. The other two -- Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli -- have not.

That's where Democratic tensions come in. Although DiNapoli and Schneiderman accepted the Women's Equality line, both have support from the Cuomo-vexed Working Families Party -- whose leaders were livid at the governor's creation of the rival WEP line. Under those conditions, it may be hard to imagine the attorney general or the comptroller helping the WEP prevail.

For his part, Steve Russo of the Greenberg, Traurig firm, as lawyer for the WEP, disputes the legal interpretation that a majority of the state nominees must approve those rules to make them valid. He also has moved to consolidate the Nassau and Niagara lawsuits into a single case in Albany. More filings are due this week before Justice Timothy Driscoll.

The Reform Party, which 2014 GOP candidate Rob Astorino created as the "Stop Common Core" line, filed an interim committee and rules earlier this year. Chairwoman Marie Smith said hundreds of candidates, enrolled in other parties, are seeking its support.

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