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Brookhaven Conservatives sue the county party

Edward Walsh, Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman, attends

Edward Walsh, Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman, attends a reception in support of Anthony S. Senft Jr.'s campaign for New York State Senate, on March 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday

The Brookhaven Town Conservative Committee has sued the Suffolk Conservative Party and its chairman Edward Walsh for taking away the town's power to endorse candidates.

The federal lawsuit, brought under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization law, said Walsh tried to "intimidate and coerce" the town party, the largest in the county, as he tried to increase his "political clout."

Vincent Messina Jr., attorney for Walsh and the Conservative Party, called the lawsuit frivolous. "We deny any allegation of wrongdoing by either chairman Walsh or the committee," he said. He declined to address specific charges because the litigation is ongoing.

On Oct. 8, the executive committee of the county party voted to pull Brookhaven's authorization to issue Wilson-Pakula designations allowing nonparty members to receive the Conservative ballot line. That vote came after Brookhaven Conservative co-chair Kenneth Auerbach of Port Jefferson tried to rally votes to challenge Walsh as county chairman.

Auerbach said, "There's a pattern of behavior that continued for many years, where he believes that he could act irrespective of what the law is and what democracy is, and bully and threaten everyone around him."

Removing the authorization to issue a "Wilson-Pakula" effectively rendered the town party powerless, according to the lawsuit.

Messina said county Conservatives followed all bylaws and rules when they revoked the town party's authorization.

County committee members voted 46 to 17 to deny Brookhaven the authority to issue the Wilson-Pakula, said Frank Tinari, first vice chair of the county committee and Huntington Town chairman.

"One of the things we look for is teamwork . . . ," Tinari said in an interview. The vote came about "because an overwhelming majority did not feel that Brookhaven had the best interest of the Conservative Party in mind," Tinari said.The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, said Walsh repeatedly had threatened to take away the town party's Wilson-Pakula authorization since 2010.

The suit cited an incident earlier this year in which Brookhaven Conservative co-chair Frank Profeta complained that Walsh picked a state senate candidate, Islip Councilman Anthony Senft, without screening anyone else. Walsh said "everyone better get in line," behind Senft, according to the lawsuit.

Brookhaven also protested in September that there were no interviews for New York State Senate and Assembly candidates before the county party made endorsements. Walsh told Profeta that "other members of the Suffolk County Executive Committee were upset with the Brookhaven Town Executive committee" and the town could have a problem with their Wilson-Pakula, according to the lawsuit.

In another instance in 2010, Profeta said the town party wanted to conduct its own interviews with county legislative candidates, the suit says. Walsh said he could pull the Wilson-Pakula authority if Profeta requested a screening, the suit says. Walsh's goals, according to the lawsuit, are "to increase his political clout in Suffolk County by absolutely and exclusively controlling the affairs" of Brookhaven Conservatives and increasing contributions to the Suffolk party, the lawsuit says.

Walsh listened in on an Aug. 25 phone call of the executive committee of the Brookhaven Conservative Committee. During that call, the lack of candidate screenings were discussed as well as Walsh's "continued inappropriate behavior and actions," according to the suit. The suit does not say how the town party knew this.

William Wexler, another attorney for Walsh, said the FBI began investigating the county chairman on charges he collected salary at his county job for time he did not work. Newsday has reported that the investigation has broadened into a look at possible political corruption in the county.

Also, Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has moved to terminate Walsh from his job as a corrections lieutenant.

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