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Long IslandPolitics

Suffolk political parties reach cross-endorsement deal on judges

Anthony Senft, Republican candidate for Islip District Court

Anthony Senft, Republican candidate for Islip District Court judge, seen at Town of Islip GOP headquarters in Bay Shore on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Credit: James Escher

Suffolk’s major and minor political parties have reached a four-way cross-endorsement deal that will make Islip Republican chairman Frank Tantone a family court judge and elevate District Court Judge Anthony Senft, an Islip Conservative, to county court after less than a year on the bench.

Although not part of the deal, Suffolk Conservative chairman Frank Tinari also said his party will endorse all GOP candidates for State Senate and Assembly, dropping the minor party’s threat to withhold support from local GOP senators unless John Jay LaValle was axed as GOP chairman.

“We have a meeting of the minds on the most-qualified candidates to run,” said Tinari. “It’s amazing how things happen if you keep the lines of communication open.”

But critics say cross endorsements eliminates a real choice for voters. “It undermines and compromises the natural checks and balances that are critical to prevent concentration and abuse of powers by elected officials,” said Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive and longtime legislative council.

Other judges who will receive cross-endorsements are Democrat Martha Luft of Riverhead and Kathy Bergmann of Speonk, a member of the Independence Party. Luft is a former family court judge and Bergmann is a law clerk to Independence Party Court of Claims Judge Steven Lynch.

“I think the world of Anthony Senft, he’s got a phenomenal work ethic, and served his country as a veteran,” said LaValle. “He checks all the boxes for me.”

LaValle also praised Tinari for “productive discussions” that led to the agreement. “Naturally, our parties should be working together and I’m encouraged this is a first step for us to elect like-minded people,” he said.

One high-level party official, who declined to identified, said Senft’s nomination “was an olive branch” to Conservatives.

Last year, Tantone was on the verge of accepting the GOP nomination for state Supreme Court judge, but on the night of the convention he withdrew his name because Conservatives had cross-endorsed Democrats rather than their normal partners, the Republicans.

That deal nominated long-time Conservative law clerk Howard Heckman, father-in law of Michael Torres, the minor party’s executive secretary, for state Supreme Court judge, which he later won. Torres was later fired as a GOP appointee at the Suffolk Board of Elections, setting off a 10-month feud. Conservatives went as far as authorizing Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick of St. James and Islip town board member Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, both Republicans, to run for State Senate on the Conservative line, even though neither committed to make the race.

Two years ago, Senft of Great River, was an Islip town board member and liaison to the parks department when the scandal over dumping of toxic fill at Roberto Clemente Park surfaced. Senft withdrew as a State Senate candidate, a nomination that former Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh had helped him win. Last year, Senft ran and won as district court judge.

A federal jury convicted Walsh, a former sheriff’s lieutenant at the county jail, of theft and wire fraud for charging the county for more than $200,000 for time he didn’t work. His sentencing is pending. Federal agents were interested in talking to Walsh about the judicial selection process, Walsh’s attorney William Wexler has said.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said, “I think we have a good representative group from diverse political backgrounds that will make outstanding jurists.”

Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay declined comment. Tantone did not return calls for comment nor did Richard Hoffmann, an incumbent GOP family court judge, who was not renominated.

With David A. Schwartz

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