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Suffolk Democrats, Conservatives reach cross-endorsement deal, while Republicans hit snag

Suffolk Democrats and Conservatives made a cross-endorsement deal yesterday in which the minor party will support two Democrats for state Supreme Court judge in return for backing Howard Heckman, future father-in-law of controversial Suffolk Conservative secretary Michael Torres.

Under the deal, both parties will back Democrat Robert Quinlan, now law secretary to Suffolk Chief Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, and appointed District Court Judge William Ford, along with Conservative Heckman.

Shortly after Suffolk Democrats named their candidates at the Huntington Hilton Thursday night, Republicans in a bi-county convention at Levittown Hall in Hicksville delayed their nominations for 45 minutes while Suffolk GOP officials huddled over whether Islip Republican chairman Frank Tantone would take his long-expected nomination.

At the last minute Republicans substituted Walter D. Long Jr. of Dix Hills for Tantone. However, several party sources say Long, 67, may be a "space holder" who could later decline the nomination in favor of Tantone.

Tantone, a longtime ally of Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, declined to comment, but John J. LaValle, Suffolk GOP leader, said he expected Tantone will "hold a conversation with chairman Walsh on what's happening in light of the deal."

Steven Losquadro, Suffolk GOP attorney, said Long could later decline the nomination and allow Tantone to accept but he would have to file papers with the state Board of Elections by Tuesday.

Despite the turmoil, Republicans nominated County Court Judge Jack Toomey for Supreme Court justice and incumbent justice Emily Pines for re-election.

The Suffolk deal also gives Suffolk Conservatives -- which because of the party's size can control all seven minor-party Supreme Court nominations for Nassau and Suffolk -- an option to endorse all three Suffolk Republican judicial candidates. That's because Nassau's major party cross-endorsement deal bars candidates from taking minor-party support.

Walsh could not be reached for comment Thursday night, but has said the Conservative convention will be held Sept. 28 at the American Legion in Islip.

It's not the first time Walsh has disrupted a Republican judicial convention.

Walsh, who is facing federal corruption charges as a Suffolk corrections lieutenant, has for two years been shut out of Supreme Court cross-endorsements in an ongoing feud with Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, who once broke a finger punching a locker during a telephone argument with Walsh.

Heckman's daughter is engaged to Torres, who is still secretary of the Suffolk Conservative Party. Torres is facing criminal charges for, prosecutors say, concealing criminal convictions on his Islip Town job application. He has pleaded not guilty.

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