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Long IslandPoliticsSpin Cycle

'Tea Party' bid: Grass-roots drive, or 'identity theft'? You decide...

Brand names matter, whether you sell candidates or beverages. They can be descriptive or deceptive. We’ve occasionally heard over the years about voters who enrolled in the state Independence Party, erroneously believing they were registering to vote without party affiliation. This year, on the political right, the tea party name has the cachet.

Enter Steve Cohn, of Baldwin, a lawyer. Last week, his name appeared as a candidate for governor on five petition volumes delivered to the state Board of Elections for a party literally called “Tea” — one of a half-dozen political micro-breweries with names like “Freedom” and “Anti-Prohibition” and “Rent is 2 Damn High,” vying for ballot space alongside standing parties. Cohn, 61, who’s registered in the Independence Party, has worked closely with Bobby Kumar, the party’s Nassau chairman — and said Friday he thinks there’s a “good chance” that Kumar “will become chairman of the Tea Party down the road.”

That suggests Kumar, a one-time Republican, will leave his current role. Kumar says he’s flattered and “humbled” that activists requested his stewardship but remains county Independence leader. Also backing Cohn in this Tea Party bid: Sam Zherka, best known as the owner of the Westchester Guardian, a free weekly paper, and of the V.I.P. Club, a Manhattan adult-entertainment business. In the past several Zherka businesses and real-estate entities have contributed to, among others, Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Cohn says Tea Party “has a name, has recognition, has acceptance, and it has a fundamental philosophy that a whole lot of people share.” But his path to the ballot may be blocked. A general objection has been filed to his thousands of petition signatures by Rus Thompson of Erie County, who on Friday condemned the move as “political identity theft.”

Thompson is a state comptroller candidate on the ad hoc Taxpayers line, headed by Carl Paladino, candidate for governor, who’s also seeking the GOP nomination.
“Anybody involved in the tea party movement has been against creating a party,” Thompson said. “With all the corruption and stuff that’s been going on with the Independence Party, you’ve now got Independence leaders who want to create a Tea Party? I’ve got real problems with that.”

Some election experts suggest the petitions will be voided for lack of a lieutenant governor candidate. Thompson, meanwhile, has until Thursday to file specific objections.

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