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Suffolk Conservative Party prepares for leadership fight

Suffolk Conservatives are preparing for a contested party convention after voters selected hundreds of committee members in small electoral battles Tuesday — and both factions declared victory.

In the race to be Suffolk County Conservative Party chairman, he slate of party committee members backing insurgent Brookhaven Conservative co-chairman Kenneth Auerbach outnumber backers of current county chairman Frank Tinari by about 730 to 570, according to unofficial election results, said county Board of Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota, a Republican.

When tallies for committee candidates are weighted based on turnout in the last gubernatorial election, Auerbach leads Tinari 11,446 to 8,751, according to LaLota. The election is determined by weighted votes.

But Tinari declared he has won 70 percent of the votes for committee members, if tied contests and vacant seats are counted.

Tinari says the county party’s executive committee, which supports him, can settle ties and fill empty committee seats before the convention.

Auerbach disputed the assertion, saying the newly elected committee members would settle ties and decide the fate of vacant seats only after the organizing convention, which must be held 20 days after the primary.

“The results were excellent,” said Tinari, who also is Huntington Conservative chairman. “It was an overwhelming affirmation of the leadership in the Suffolk County Conservative Party.”

Auerbach said: “That’s like saying the sun rises in the west. The numbers are the numbers.”

The allegiances of the candidates in the 491 committeeman contests on Tuesday’s ballots weren’t marked on the ballot. Auerbach and Tinari declined to release their tallies of supporters.

Democratic Suffolk election Commissioner Anita Katz declined to comment.

Tinari has not set the date or location of the convention. The vote for the new chairman will be held at that meeting, based on the weighted gubernatorial vote.

At stake is control of the influential Suffolk Conservative Party, whose ballot line can sway elections, particularly in judicial races. The county party — the largest in the state — had been chaired by Edward Walsh until he was convicted in U.S. District Court earlier this year of gambling, golfing and conducting political activity while getting paid for his county job.

Tinari succeeded Walsh after his conviction. The leadership change set off district-by-electoral-district battles, as Auerbach and other Brookhaven Conservatives who had been stripped of power by Walsh sought to take control.

The rare, though not unprecedented, countywide battle for control led to committeeman contests in election districts Tuesday. Those races attracted as many as 12 voters and as few as 0, unofficial results show.

It cost the county elections board $736,000 to staff polling places and print ballots for the Conservative contests, LaLota said.

Tinari said more of his supporters came out on Election Day, citing the success of his backers in races for state and judicial conventions. He said he doubted that many of the Auerbach supporters would turn up at the convention.

“The insurgent group doesn’t have the support they claim,” Tinari said.

Auerbach campaigned on an anti-Walsh message, with supporters sending mailers asking Conservatives to restore the party to its Conservative ideological roots. He said his supporters would show up at the convention.

“I was hoping after they saw how overwhelmingly they lost, they’d essentially decide politically to lay down their weapons,” Auerbach said of Tinari’s forces. “It appears they have the same mindset that has got us into probably the worst political state I’ve ever seen.”


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