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Nassau, Suffolk judicial cross-endorsements take shape

Suffolk Democratic Party chairman Richard Schaffer in Lindenhurst

Suffolk Democratic Party chairman Richard Schaffer in Lindenhurst on Aug, 9, 2017. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

In the first step toward a new cross-endorsement pact, Suffolk Democrats are expected to name Conservative Surrogate Judge candidate Deborah Poulos and two other Conservatives as state Supreme Court candidates Thursday.

The moves could clear a path for Theresa Bryant Whelan, winner of the Democratic Surrogate's primary last week, to get the minor party’s backing early next week.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he also will recommend District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, wife of Suffolk Conservative chairman Frank Tinari,  and Michael Gajdos, Islip Conservative vice chairman and the former personal attorney for ex-Suffolk Conservative Chairman Edward Walsh, for Supreme Court.

Democrat George Nolan, counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature, also will be nominated for Supreme Court, Schaffer said.

The Suffolk Democratic slate will be named officially Thursday  night at the party’s bicounty convention at the Holiday Inn in Plainview.  Suffolk Conservatives are expected to name the same candidates at their convention Friday  night.

The Independence Party, which is part of the cross-endorsement pact, will hold its convention at the Ramada Inn in Holtsville Monday, after the Republican judicial convention at Laborers’ Local 66 in Melville the same night.

Frank Tinari declined to comment about whether Whelan, supervising judge of Suffolk County Family Court, will replace Poulos as the Conservatives' candidate for Surrogate . The decision will be up to the party’s executive committee, Tinari said.

Conservatives have three days after Poulos accepts the Democratic Supreme Court nod to name a new candidate for Surrogate.

Schaffer said Conservative Party officials have told him they plan to ask Whelan and GOP Surrogate candidate Tara Scully to appear before the minor party's leaders for screening before they make their endorsement decision.

“I know Theresa will be happy to participate,” Schaffer said. “When you compare her experience as a judge and a law secretary she has everything to be an outstanding surrogate judge.”

Scully did not respond to requests for comment.

Jason Elan, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone, criticized Gajdos's expected Supreme Court nomination.

"It is incredible that the Suffolk Democratic Chairman continues to endorse Ed Walsh Conservatives," Elan said. "This backroom political deal is just the latest example of why we have to change the way we select Judges in Suffolk County and New York."

Schaffer said Gajdos “has had a long career in the [Suffolk] district attorney's office, and the Suffolk courts system as a defense attorney. He’s more than qualified." In a reference to Gajdos's association with Walsh, Schaffer said, "I don’t do guilt by association.”

Walsh, a former Suffolk sheriff's lieutenant, is serving a 2-year federal sentence for wire fraud and theft of government services.

On Wednesday, Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle and town GOP leaders met to discuss a possible Supreme court slate. Several who attended the meeting said they were asked to come back with names and meet again in several days. LaValle did not return calls for comment.

Disputes over judicial nominations erupted after Democrats, Conservatives and Independence Party officials in June made a nine-judge cross-endorsement agreement.

The keystone was the Surrogate's nomination for Marian Tinari. But Tinari dropped out of the race in July after when Scully, who later became the GOP nominee, filed petitions to run in the Democratic primary. She lost to Whelan by a margin of 65-35 percent.

Bellone, a Democrat who is warring with Schaffer, originally backed Scully, the daughter of a top Bellone deputy, for Surrogate. But Bellone turned neutral in the primary when the county Democrats chose Whelan as the party’s surrogate candidate.

Bellone says he is concentrating on helping Democrats win state Senate seats and has not endorsed Whelan.

Meanwhile, Nassau Republicans and Democrats have agreed to cross-endorse Supreme Court candidates. They are Republican Appellate Division Judge Ruth Balkin and Democrats Norman St. George, a Nassau County Court judge, and Helen Voutsinas, a Hempstead District Court judge.  

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