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OpinionEditorial

Race for sheriff a fight for decency in Suffolk politics

Republican Suffolk County sheriff candidates Larry Zacarese, assistant

Republican Suffolk County sheriff candidates Larry Zacarese, assistant chief of the Stony Brook University police, left, and State Sen. Phil Boyle, at a Sept. 7, 2017 debate. Zacarese won Tuesday's GOP primary, but Boyle is still the Conservative Party's candidate. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Round one is over. The people won.

Now comes round two. That takes place in the deeper waters of the swamp of Suffolk County politics.

Larry Zacarese, the deputy chief of the Stony Brook University police department, scored a stunning upset in Tuesday’s Republican primary for Suffolk sheriff. That was encouraging for being at least a partial repudiation of business-as-usual self-interested deal-making.

Zacarese beat State Sen. Phil Boyle, the GOP designee. Boyle has no law enforcement experience but does wield the Conservative Party endorsement, part of an odious backroom deal that boxed in GOP officials and led them to reluctantly pick Boyle, who is a registered Republican.

The next move belongs to county Democratic leader Rich Schaffer, who said Wednesday he still might give Boyle his party’s line. Boyle would not rule out accepting it. Schaffer should not make the offer. That would be an abomination on several levels.

Schaffer, a cross-endorsement master, worked a deal with the Conservative Party to split State Supreme Court judgeships by cross-endorsing each other’s candidates. The arrangement included Schaffer backing off on the sheriff’s race. Former Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, a former corrections lieutenant, was convicted of corruption charges on evidence supplied by current Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. Walsh, still pulling the party’s strings, jettisoned DeMarco for Boyle. Getting the Democratic line as well would greatly increase Boyle’s chances in November.

That would mean that a man headed to federal prison would wind up determining who is Suffolk’s sheriff, who gets judgeships, and possibly who controls the State Senate, which has a one-vote GOP edge, if Boyle becomes sheriff. It’s a repugnant scenario, and it’s doubly disgusting that the leader of another political party would be complicit in that.

How could it happen? Schaffer could create a vacancy on his ballot line for sheriff by nominating Stuart Besen, the current designee, for a Supreme Court judgeship. Boyle would have to renege on the notarized affidavit he signed after getting the GOP nod, that he would not seek or accept the Democratic line.

There’s a lot at stake. It’s about the noxious practice of cross-endorsements, which are banned in much of the country. It’s about the dubious practice of electing judges instead of appointing them. It’s about the hypocrisy of party leaders, the perversion of the political process and the integrity of politicians who give their word and then break it. It’s about everything people hate about politics, and it breeds a cynicism that disillusions voters and keeps good people from running for office.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo says he opposes cross-endorsements; as the real head of the state Democratic Party, asking Schaffer to stand down on Boyle would be a powerful sign that Cuomo walks that talk. Schaffer’s first mistake was not finding a qualified candidate with a plan and a philosophy on law enforcement and incarceration. Yes, he should pull the plug on Besen, who is not a credible candidate for several reasons.

Next week, party conventions for Supreme Court candidates will be held. Keep your nose plugged and your eyes wide open. The fight for decency in Suffolk politics is nearing a boil. 

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