The race for two Babylon Town council seats has gone from no competition to a flurry of candidate declarations and a dropout, all within days.
The seats up are those of incumbent Democrat Tony Martinez and Independence Party member Lindsay Henry, who is not seeking re-election. Anthony Manetta last month announced he was running with the backing of the Independence, Republican and Conservative parties. Suffolk County Democratic chair and town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said he supported Manetta and no Democrat was named to run.
That didn’t sit right with Liuba Grechen Shirley, 36, an Amityville Democrat who on June 28 announced her intention to run with the backing of the Working Families Party. The next day Lindenhurst Democrat Claire McKeon declared she was running also. Then on July 3 Grechen Shirley announced she was dropping out of the race.
Schaffer said Grechen Shirley called him to ask for his support of her candidacy but that he declined because of a “long-standing relationship” with the Independence Party and commitment to have a party member on the town board. When McKeon, who oversees the town’s youth bureau, called him about running, Schaffer said he offered her backing because he thought there was now going to be a Democratic primary.
“I wasn’t happy about it because I like to keep my commitments but I’ve known Claire since 1985,” Schaffer said. “If there’s going to be a primary, I’m going to support somebody who has supported me for 32 years.”
Grechen Shirley, who founded New York’s 2nd District Democrats to re-energize the party’s base, is an economic development consultant. In a statement she said she suspended her campaign because “the party has made clear to me that they are fully supporting Claire” and because there was now a Democratic candidate, whom she said she will support. Grechen Shirley’s candidacy won “a small, but important victory,” she stated. “The voters deserve to have a choice in elections and the Democratic Party here must stand for that basic principle at a minimum.”
McKeon, a Democratic committee member for 30 years, said she was spurred to run by the lack of a Democratic candidate and by Grechen Shirley’s candidacy. “I think competition is a good thing,” she said. “Liuba is a great person, but I just think that I’ve been around longer . . . I have a lot of town experience.” McKeon has to collect 1,250 signatures by Tuesday to get on the ballot. Manetta, an economic development consultant, said he understood Schaffer’s decision. “Regardless if there’s an opponent against me, I still plan to work in a bipartisan fashion,” he said.
But Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families party, took aim at the Democrats.
“Clearly there was a deal to give the candidate on the Republican line the seat without an election,” Lipton stated. “At a time when progressives need to be fielding strong candidates for every winnable seat, this perpetual deal-making with the Republicans by Suffolk County Democrats is just unacceptable.”
Schaffer said because the major parties are nearly even in enrollment, he has to be “strategic” when it comes to supporting candidates.
“I have to figure out how to put the coalitions together to get our Democrats elected,” he said. “I understand what the new people who are coming into the party are saying, that we should be competing for every seat, but I also have to raise all the resources to compete for every seat.”