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Long IslandPolitics

Suffolk Conservatives win court ruling over leadership fight

The Suffolk Conservative executive committee, after a court victory Friday, filled about 250 committee positions before the upcoming county convention where a new leader will be elected to succeed former party chairman Edward Walsh.

Walsh was removed after a federal corruption conviction last spring.

State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts found that party rules permit the executive committee to fill committee positions in Sept. 13 primaries in which there were ties or no votes were cast. Pitts said there is nothing in state law to bar the executive committee from taking action.

In his ruling, Pitts said he agreed “with the general proposition that courts should not intrude on internal affairs of a political party,” adding, “In this case, we not only have party rules to rely on but legislation that clearly covers the situation.”

Kenneth Auerbach, the Brookhaven Conservative co-chairman who is challenging acting county chairman Frank Tinari for county chairman, said he will go to the Appellate Division in Brooklyn on Monday, and expressed confidence they will overturn Pitt’s ruling.

“Judge Pitts decided that all the Court of Appeals and appellate decisions don’t apply to him,” Auerbach said.

The executive committee, later at party headquarters in Central Islip, voted to install the new committee members. About 50 Tinari supporters backed the motion, while a half-dozen who support Auerbach opposed the move.

“We have the numbers to beat them as it stands today,” Tinari, who is also Huntington Conservative leader, said of Auerbach backers before Friday night’s meeting. By adding at least 250, “the numbers will be overwhelming,” he said.

Auerbach supporters said county election board results show their backers won 730, or 56 percent, of committee spots compared with 570, or 43 percent, for Tinari’s supporters. They also say their margin translates into 63 percent of the gubernatorial votes on which the leader election is based.

However, Tinari said Auerbach is “filing an illusion” — names of people on committee ballots who will never show up at a convention. He noted that his backers won 34 of 35 state committee spots from larger Assembly districts that draw more voters.

Richard Johannesen, Auerbach’s attorney, argued that courts have ruled that executive committees cannot take significant action such as filling vacant committee spots between the primary when new committee members are elected and the party convention. He said such action can only occur when the entire committee can vote to elect leaders and fill vacancies to chart a new course for the party.

The move, he said, is counter to past party precedent. Johannesen said the current executive committee is engaged in a “coup d’etat” to “eviscerate” primary results and disenfranchise primary voters by installing Tinari backers as committee members before the convention.

Vincent Messina, Tinari’s attorney, said he was confused by Johannesen’s use of the term coup d’etat since those filling the vacancies are part of the existing party leadership, which has widespread support.

Messina said Conservative Party bylaws permit filling vacancies. He also said voters who signed nominating petitions for committee member or voted in the primary have the right to be represented at the convention even when a committee race ends in a tie. The process is necessary, Messina said, to make sure there are enough committee members for a quorum at the convention.

County Conservatives must hold a convention by Oct. 4.

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