By Danny Schrafel
Huntington’s Republican Committee chairwoman is vowing to primary the Conservative District Court slate after accusing the party’s leader of breaking a deal to support a Republican candidate this year and instead striking a cross-endorsement deal with the Democrats.
Chairwoman Toni Tepe said Monday that Conservative chair Frank Tinari “overstepped his bounds” and agreed to endorse, for the district court bench, Democrats James Matthews and Patricia Flynn, both of Northport, in exchange for Democratic backing of Conservative incumbent Paul Hensley, of Northport.
Democratic chairwoman Mary Collins said the deal also includes a future endorsement of a Conservative judicial candidate. Initially, Republicans suggested a cross-endorsement deal that would essentially ensure a Democrat, Republican Steve Hackeling and Conservative Paul Hensely would return to the bench for another six years.
“But when I spoke to the Conservatives, they were more generous – they offered two for two,” Collins said, allowing Matthews and Flynn to run on a slate with Hensely. The second endorsement would come in a future race.
Tinari denied such a deal with Tepe, stating that “there’s no future endorsements on the table that I’m aware of.” Regardless, however, Tepe said that a Republican was due the seat.
“That seat was not his to give away, and the Republican Party is offended by the fact that he would renege on an agreement,” Tepe said.
That arrangement, Tepe said, is rooted in an agreement they struck four years ago, when Justice Jerry Asher was elevated from the District Court to the Supreme Court bench in 2010. Tepe said Tinari approached her and asked her to support Conservative John Andrew Kay for the Asher vacancy. She said she agreed, but with a condition.
“I agreed to do that, with a commitment from Frank Tinari that whenever Kay left bench, that seat returns to the Republican Party,” she said.
Tinari denied Monday that any such agreement was in place.
“That’s not my understanding,” he said.
In response to the Democratic-Conservative line, Tepe vowed to primary the Conservatives with a Republican slate including incumbent Justice Hackeling, of Lloyd Harbor, Northport Village Justice Paul Sezner and attorney Walter Long, of Dix Hills as their slate.
The Conservative chairman said he is prepared to fend off a Republican challenge.
“With the judicial races, anyone can run a primary. We’re prepared to get our signatures. We’re prepared to get our slate elected,” he said.
Meanwhile, with Matthews, Flynn, Hensely and Hackeling all circulating Independence party petitions – Senzer and Long haven’t made up their minds yet, Tepe said – a second primary seems likely as well.
While Collins intimated that the Independents are backing the Democratic-Conservative slate, the Independents weren’t so firm.
Independence Party Chairman Ken Bayne explained that that since no Wilson-Pakula, or authorization given by a political party for a non-party member to run on their slate, is needed in a judicial race, the party won’t weigh in until the dust settles and a primary field is set.