The big issues
An unheralded anniversary
The two-year anniversary of the filing of a civil suit against Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinnacci by a former staffer, Brian Finnegan, passed on Friday without much notice. But new filings in the case and its potential effect on next year's supervisor race are sure to make a splash at some point.
Both men are Republicans. Finnegan, who worked for Lupinacci while he was in the Assembly, has accused his former boss of sexually assaulting him three years ago in an Albany hotel room. Finnegan claims that on one occasion, while the two were in the room, he awoke to find Lupinacci making an unwanted sexual advance. And that a week later, also while sharing an Albany room, the suit alleges Lupinacci performed a sex act on Finnegan without consent.
Lupinacci issued a denial when the suit was first filed, but has had little further comment, and has never shared a counter-narrative to Finnegan’s story.
And now there’s more to contend with in a filing by the plaintiff as part of discovery in the Suffolk County Supreme Court case. The response to demands by Lupinnacci for proof of Finnegan's claims includes photographs Finnegan alleges were taken and time-stamped by an app on his phone that immediately snaps a forward-facing picture anytime someone tries to access his phone with a passcode or facial recognition, and fails. The exhibits include pictures of Lupinacci, but also Finnegan sleeping, and the implication is that the supervisor tried to access the phone by using an incorrect code, and by trying to engage facial recognition using Finnegan’s head.
"The documentary evidence in this case will support Mr. Finnegan’s claims against Mr. Lupinacci as set forth in his complaint," said Finnegan’s attorney, Imran H. Ansari, of Aidala, Bertuna and Kamins. "For example, photographs captured on Mr. Finnegan’s phone, the paper trail established as he tried to get away from Lupinacci after an incident in the hotel, is hard evidence that corroborates the allegations made by Mr. Finnegan against Mr. Lupinacci."
Lupinacci did not return numerous calls seeking comment.
Despite the litigation, Lupinacci has said he plans to seek reelection. But his travails create an opening for Democrats as well as Republicans in 2021 local elections.
The Huntington Democrats, once again led by the longtime supervisor Frank Petrone, are getting ready to consider challengers.
"I am beginning to seek out and talk to people who are well known as well as newcomers who may have an interest," he said. "Presidential politics has brought out a new crop of potential candidates."
Meanwhile, Huntington Town board member Eugene Cook, Lupinacci’s leading foil on the board, was a registered member of the Independence Party until a few weeks ago. After last month’s election, when the minor party failed to hit the new threshold of 2% of the votes in the presidential election necessary to maintain automatic ballot access going forward, he switched his registration to the GOP. Still, he pointed out, "I like to consider myself a true independent."
Cook is cagey about a primary challenge against Lupinacci. "I’m not considering it at this time but there has been a big push to get me to run for supervisor or for the 18th (Suffolk County) legislative district seat. And I’m also not ruling anything out," he told The Point.
That 18th LD seat is currently held by Democrat William "Doc" Spencer, who was arrested in October for allegedly attempting to trade the drug oxycodone for sex with a woman whom he believed to be a prostitute. Depending on whether and when Spencer resigns from the county legislature, there could be a special election early next year to fill the post; otherwise the seat will be on the general election ballot in November.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Albany is getting a shot across the bow
The State Legislature won’t be in session again until next month, but the pressure is already on one key issue lawmakers likely will address: Vaccination.
There are plenty of general vaccine-related bills still in the mix from previous sessions, and now, Assemb. Linda Rosenthal of Manhattan has introduced a bill that’s specifically about the COVID-19 vaccine. And, not surprisingly, the pushback has begun.
The bill, which is not a direct vaccine mandate, says that if the state fails to achieve what’s known as herd immunity – where enough of the population is vaccinated to protect everyone – the state Department of Health would be given the go-ahead to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for any groups for whom data show it is safe.
The bill includes a medical exemption for anyone whose physician says cannot take the vaccine.
"Achieving herd immunity is key," Rosenthal told The Point. "If we don’t reach herd immunity, that’s when the provisions in this bill would kick in."
Experts have said to achieve herd immunity for the COVID-19 vaccine, it’s likely that 75% to 80% of the population must be vaccinated.
But unsurprisingly, the details of the bill have been glossed over by those who oppose vaccination, or vaccination mandates. Rosenthal said she has gotten hundreds of emails and phone calls, some of which have been "nasty," since the bill was posted on Dec. 4, mostly from angry residents who don’t live in her district, many of which came from Long Island. Those responders have tended to see the bill as automatically mandating the vaccine immediately – and are suggesting it would quickly force all state residents to get vaccinated.
Rosenthal noted that the bill has more nuance than that. But she added that she’s prepared for a fight.
"I wouldn’t have introduced the bill if I wasn’t ready," she said. "This is really just common sense. It’s not rash. It’s a practical science-based approach."
Long Island state senators and Assembly members have received their share of emails and calls about Rosenthal’s bill as well.
"From reading the emails they’re assuming it’s a mandate of a vaccine," said Assemb. Michaelle Solages. "For them to assume we’re going to do legislation that mandates a vaccine, it’s just way too premature."
Several sources told The Point they expect potential vaccine legislation will be discussed as the new session begins in January.
But Solages said that for now, she’s focused on encouraging people to take the vaccine, although she noted she likely wouldn’t be among the first to get it.
"I’m at the back of the line," Solages said. "I’m young. I’m able-bodied … There are so many people who should take it before me."
—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Better than Drano
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Money to burn
Once again, New York’s 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts were hotbeds for political spending, including reams of television advertising.
The districts drew national attention and dollars for their competitive races in 2018, with Perry Gershon and Rep. Lee Zeldin combining for over $9 million in total disbursements (a category which includes some contribution refunds) and Rep. Pete King and Liuba Grechen Shirley spending a total of more than $5 million.
This year saw even more.
Total disbursements for CD1 Democrat Nancy Goroff were $7,713,686, including the spending outlined in recent Post-General filings with the Federal Election Commission. Victorious incumbent Zeldin spent $8,083,969.
Democrat Jackie Gordon also spent big in her unsuccessful CD2 campaign, disbursing $4,291,966 as of the latest filings. GOP opponent Andrew Garbarino, who raised less than half the sum that Gordon did, also trailed in spending, totaling just under $1.4 million.
That was less than might be expected for a successful open-race seat to replace the outgoing King — more on par with the $1,221,000 in disbursements from Democratic Rep. Kathleen Rice in her coast to reelection against Republican newcomer Doug Tuman.
But Garbarino also benefited from spending by outside groups, including some $2 million down the stretch from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC "dedicated exclusively to one goal: winning a Republican Majority in the House of Representatives," according to its website.
The National Republican Congressional Committee logged close to a million dollars in independent expenditures in the district as well.
For the Democratic side, the House Majority PAC pumped in more than $3 million in outside spending in the 2nd CD and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent some $3 million there as well.
CD1 saw big outside spending, too, from groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund, the DCCC, and the House Majority PAC.
Where did a lot of that spending go? Media, in its various forms — which is why you might have felt that every other TV commercial was a political one down the stretch.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano