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All around the limbo world

Theresa Whelan, supervising judge of Family Court, in

Theresa Whelan, supervising judge of Family Court, in Hauppauge on May 22, 2017. Credit: James Escher

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Daily Point

As the Suffolk surrogate race turns

As Rich Schaffer scrambled this week to find a candidate to run as Suffolk County surrogate before a Friday Board of Elections deadline, more than a half-dozen sitting Supreme Court judges in his party turned down the pleas of the Suffolk Democratic leader.

Schaffer traveled to Riverhead Tuesday to ask longtime jurist William Rebolini to consider the spot but had no luck drawing him to what is likely to be a nasty fight over the deal-making with minor parties for control of the surrogate’s slot.

In the end, it was the minor party leaders who pulled Schaffer’s chestnuts out of the fire when Suffolk Family Court Judge Theresa Whelan agreed to make the run. Whelan, a Democrat, is the wife of Supreme Court Judge Thomas Whelan, who is closely tied to the Independence Party and was embroiled in several controversial lawsuits involving Oheka Castle’s Gary Melius and Ed Walsh, the jailed former Conservative Party leader. Independence Party leader Frank McKay resurrected Thomas Whelan’s career and then supported him for a judgeship.

Earlier this summer, McKay, Schaffer and Conservative Party leaders made a multi-party deal to fill judgeships and award the patronage plum of surrogate to a registered Conservative. That led to Schaffer supporting the wife of Frank Tinari, who holds the title of Suffolk Conservative Party leader. However, Marian Tinari backed out after it became clear she faced a primary on the Democratic line. Tinari is expected to get the consolation prize of being the Democratic nominee for a State Supreme Court judgeship at the judicial nominating convention this fall. The backroom deal with the minor parties is essentially still in place — just the titles have changed.

Tara Scully, a registered Republican, filed petitions last week to run on the Democratic line, against Tinari, a registered Conservative. In a Wednesday morning email to local party leaders, Schaffer highlighted Theresa Whelan’s Democratic credentials, noting without irony that she is facing a challenge from Scully, “a lifelong Republican.”

Thomas Whelan was named in a Newsday investigation that looked into the awarding of control of an ignition lock company to Melius and his associates. Whelan’s rulings favored Melius, who once tried to put McKay on the board of the company. An appeals court overturned Whelan’s decisions.

Rita Ciolli

Talking Point

How low can campaign contributions go?

If you have a keen eye for cynicism, you’ll love the new dance craze sweeping New York politics.

It’s a modern version of the limbo, the dance that inspired the phrase: How low can you go?

We’re talking about campaign contributions, of course. And while having a big war chest is still a good thing, having it composed of as many small donations as possible is particularly virtuous.

Blame Bernie Sanders, if you must, who during his 2016 presidential primary run highlighted the number of small donors to his campaign as a way to define his appeal to “regular folks” rather than the corporate, political and cultural elite.

But as trends do, this one has quickly devolved, at least in New York’s gubernatorial race. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has been criticized by Democratic rival Cynthia Nixon for his heavy reliance on large developer and LLC contributions. So Cuomo’s campaign highlighted the fact that its filing Tuesday showed that 57 percent of his contributions, by number, were for $250 or less — the result, the campaign said, of a new low-dollar program to widen the governor’s donor base.

Well, it sounds virtuous. But let’s check the math behind the math.

The total of those contributions, about $63,000, was about 1 percent of the nearly $6 million Cuomo raised in the last six months. And those small donations include a surprising — or not — number of donations from people with personal ties to Cuomo.

Take Christopher Kim, from Long Island City, who made 69 donations to Cuomo — 67 of them for $1. Kim shares an address with a Cuomo campaign aide, Julia Yang. Other aides, former aides, friends, relatives and the like also gave small amounts of $10 or less. One Cuomo appointee twice gave $5, a few days after contributing $20,000.

Nixon, too, had some tiny contributions from campaign staffers but her small-money donations were almost half of the value of her total contributions.

The broadsides each campaign fired at the other over these tiny donations masked a very large truth: Cuomo has $31 million in his coffers, Nixon has $660,000.

That speaks to the timeless dance in New York politics: Money talks.

Michael Dobie

Pencil Point

Art of the mis-speak

Pointing Out

King on Putin

Rep. Pete King thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin was not being truthful about wanting Donald Trump to win the 2016 presidential campaign.

At least, he disputes the words as we all heard them from Putin’s mouth at the landmark Helsinki news conference with Trump on Monday. When asked whether he had wanted Trump to win, Putin said, “Yes, I did.”

But King, a Seaford Republican, disputed Putin’s statement on Tuesday, telling CNN he “absolutely” stands by a report from the House Intelligence Committee that disagreed with U.S. intelligence community findings that Putin wanted Trump to win.

King later told The Point that, according to his review of pertinent documents, Russia “definitely meddled and interfered in the 2016 election to an unprecedented extent,” but the record is “mixed as to whether they preferred Trump to Clinton.”

We asked why Putin would lie when he was standing at a podium next to Trump.

“For Putin to make himself look more important and to give the impression that all along only the Russians knew Trump was going to win,” said King. “Also, it would boost Trump’s ego.”

King’s position puts him in line with some Trump remarks and the House Intelligence Committee on this issue. But both the intelligence community and the Senate Intelligence Committee see things differently, concluding that Russia developed a clear preference for Trump during the campaign.

Mark Chiusano