Democrats Headed To Court Over Petitions Committee challenges validity of signatures for Merola, Naughton

By Danny Schrafel

  From left, Keith Barrett, Councilwoman Susan Berland, Andrew Merola and former superintendent of highways Willliam Naughton.

From left, Keith Barrett, Councilwoman Susan Berland, Andrew Merola and former superintendent of highways Willliam Naughton.

Huntington’s Democratic committee has turned up the heat on two prospective primary challengers.

The committee filed specific objections with the Suffolk County Board of Elections on July 20, seeking to have scores of signatures submitted by Andrew Merola, of Huntington Station, and William Naughton, the former longtime superintendent of highways. A week later, the camps were in State Supreme Court.

“There are a whole lot of incomplete petitions. Some people who carried weren’t Democrats. Others who signed weren’t Democrats,” Huntington Democratic Committee Chair Mary Collins said last week.

Enough, she said, to disqualify them from the primary ballot.

General objections were filed July 13 related to the petitions submitted by Naughton and Merola, who are hoping to force a primary runoff this September against the Democratic Party’s chosen slate, incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland, of Dix Hills, and Melville’s Keith Barrett, the town’s deputy director of general services, Huntington Station Business Improvement District president and an auto repair shop owner.

Should a primary occur, the top two vote-earners would face off in November against incumbent Councilman Gene Cook, an Independence Party member backed by town Republicans and Conservatives; Republican Jennifer Thompson, a Northport-East Northport School Board member; and attorney Michael Helfer, running on the Conservative line.

Merola has decried town Democrats’ attempts to disqualify him, arguing that, although it’s not unexpected, he thinks that the primary should be contested based on ideas, not legal maneuvering.

However, Collins argued that it’s incumbent upon the committee to defend their chosen nominees.

Merola has said previously that he and supporters closely vetted the 1,114 signatures submitted, and they were prepared to defend every one he submitted if contested.

In a GoFundMe account established to gather contributions toward legal fees, Merola specifically criticized Berland.

“Instead of actually having a debate about the issues, she’d rather just sue me off the ballot,” he said.

Berland on Wednesday urged Merola to “own” the situation “and stop pointing fingers.”

“The burden is on him to get 1,000 good signatures,” Berland said. “If he failed to do that, he can’t be on the ballot. It’s as simple  as that. If anyone is trying to put one over on the public, it’s him trying to force the expense of a primary on the public.”