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Brookhaven council hopeful accused of noncompliance

Brookhaven's Republican leader has accused town council candidate Doug Dittko of failing to register a campaign finance committee with the state - an oversight that, Dittko says, has been fixed, while his GOP opponent has distanced himself from the charge.

Dittko and Dan Panico, both members of Brookhaven's planning board, face each other in a March 9 special election for the town's 6th District council seat. The seat was vacated in November when GOP Councilman Keith Romaine, 36, died.

Town GOP chairman Jesse Garcia recently called on the state Board of Elections to investigate Dittko for distributing mailings and brochures without setting up the committee or filing public reports. Garcia said voters "can't expect [Dittko] to cut taxes" if he does not "follow the basic tenets of the campaign finance laws."

Brookhaven Democratic chairman Jon Schneider said the party was "a little slow on the draw" to set up a campaign finance committee for Dittko, but the problem has since been fixed. Dittko said he considers the charge a nonissue.

State elections officials did not return phone calls.

A state elections Web site states that both Dittko and Panico have established fundraising committees, and that so far Panico has outraised Dittko, $21,036.81 to $3,396.38.

Panico declined to comment on the campaign finance allegations beyond saying that he is running "a positive campaign" and plans to stick to the issues.

Panico, 31, of Manorville, is a senior deputy county clerk who was hired by Romaine's father, former county clerk and current county Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches). Panico said he is running on promises to reduce taxes, target absentee landlords for violations and bring sewers to the Mastic-Shirley area.

Dittko, 58, of Manorville, publishes a monthly magazine for horse enthusiasts called Horse Directory. He, too, has pledged to crack down on slumlords and says he will work to revitalize the 6th District's downtowns and increase park space.

Of Garcia's claim that he failed to establish a campaign committee, Dittko said: "That's all done."

The town board includes Supervisor Mark Lesko, Deputy Supervisor and Councilwoman Kathleen Walsh, and four other council members, plus the open seat. The board has three Democrats, two Republicans and one Conservative member.

However, Walsh, a Republican, has voted with the Democrats after being named deputy supervisor in April, effectively giving the Democratic caucus a 4-2 edge.

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