Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, disregarding normal political protocol, has waded into the Suffolk Conservatives' leadership battle by backing insurgents who are trying to oust party chairman Frank Tinari, who is up for re-election.
LaValle, in a letter on GOP stationery, said he was “gravely concerned” because the minor party since 2010 has endorsed more than 50 Democratic candidates.
“They have empowered the progressive liberals by cutting backroom deals with the Democrats ... for government jobs for their friends and family members,” LaValle wrote.
Tinari said in response: “I am outraged on behalf of the entire Conservative Party at this blatant attempt by a major party to bully and influence our party. In all the years that I have been engaged in politics, I have never witnessed such reprehensible behavior and it will backfire.”
Tinari also said the assertion that the party endorses Democrats is overblown.
“We overwhelmingly endorse Republicans” including all GOP state candidates and most GOP candidates in Suffolk’s 10 towns, he said.
While not mentioning Tinari’s challenger, Kenneth Auerbach, by name, LaValle urged party committee members in Thursday's primaries to "vote straight across RowB to elect new Leadership who won’t endorse Democrats.”
In the primaries, there are 454 contested races for Conservative committee members, the foot soldiers who will elect a leader in a convention within 20 days of the primary. One slate of candidates backs Tinari, and the other, Auerbach.
Tinari and Auerbach are in a rematch. Auerbach lost in a close race against Tinari in 2016. Auerbach battled for two years in court, but Tinari’s election was upheld in late July.
Auerbach called it “absolutely incredible” that Tinari, “who has given away our party to non-Conservatives, could say anything negative about the chairman of a party whose platform is in many ways yoked together with Conservatives.”
While the GOP and Conservatives have been allied for decades, LaValle’s relations with the minor party are frayed.
In 2015, county GOP Elections Commissioner Nicholas LaLota fired Conservative Party Secretary Michael Torres from his $105,000-a-year elections job after Conservatives made a deal to endorse two Democrats for judgeships instead of GOP-backed candidates. The Democrats endorsed Conservative Howard Heckman, Torres' future father-in-law, for a Supreme Court judgeship.
Last year, Conservatives backed Republican State Sen. Phil Boyle for Suffolk County sheriff and blamed LaValle for siding behind the scenes with Boyle's primary challenger Larry Zacarese.
Zacarese won the GOP primary but lost the general election to Democrat Errol Toulon Jr., a career correction official, who got the minor party’s backing after Boyle’s loss. Conservatives also backed Democrat Timothy Sini for Suffolk district attorney.
This year, Conservatives made a nine judge cross-endorsement agreements with Democrats that backed Tinari’s wife, Marian, a District Court judge, for surrogate judge.
Marian Tinari later dropped out after Republican Tara Scully, daughter of a Bellone aide, decided to run in the Democratic primary for surrogate judge. Democrats then named Democrat Theresa Whelan, supervising judge of Family Court, as their candidate.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, called LaValle's backing of the insurgent Conservatives “beyond desperate. Desperate was when he decided to run a Republican in a Democratic primary.”