Democrats Hold Off Primary Challenge

By Long Islander News Staff

 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.

Former Highway Superintendent William Naughton and Andrew Merola will not be forcing a Democratic primary for two town council seats, after all.

 Naughton’s bid ended in court Tuesday when more than a third of the signatures on nominating petitions were invalidated.

Merola didn’t even get that far. After the Suffolk Board of Elections ruled his petitions invalid last Friday, he declined to pursue it in court, according to a Newsday report Wedneday afternoon.

Naughton submitted 1,553 signatures on nominating petitions to the Board of Elections, Commissioner Anita Katz said. The threshold to force a primary was 1,000 signatures.

On initial review, the commissioners invalidated 483 signatures, certifying the petitions based on 1,005 signatures valid. The remaining 65 were held in abeyance for a judge to rule on, said attorney Sandy Berland, who filed a challenge on behalf of Democratic committee members Sherry Pavone and Ann Berger and the Democratic Committee.

Before State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Pitts, even more were ruled invalid.

“There were a couple of people who were not registered Democrats; one or more of them may have had a change [or registration] pending,” Berland said. “When they reached 960, Naughton conceded.”

According to Berland, the judge had only reviewed about a third of the 184 sheets submitted when Naughton, after a conference with his attorney, threw in the towel and “stipulated on the record that they are not going to appeal.”

Naughton and Merola had hoped to force a primary runoff this September against the Democratic Party’s chosen slate, incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland, of Dix Hills, and the town’s deputy director of general services, Keith Barrett, also the Huntington Station Business Improvement District president and an auto repair shop owner, from Melville.

With the primary threat all but gone, it leaves the party’s nominees to face the Republicans’ candidates: Councilman Gene Cook, an Independence Party member backed by the Republicans and Conservatives; and Republican Jennifer Thompson, a Northport-East Northport school board member. The Conservative Party has one candidate on the ballot, attorney Michael Helfer.

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

However, Collins said it’s incumbent upon the committee to defend their chosen nominees. In a GoFundMe account established to gather contributions for legal fees, Merola criticized Berland. “Instead of actually having a debate about the issues, she’d rather just sue me off the ballot,” he said. Berland last week 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 simple on 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.”

 Andrew Wroblewski, Peter Sloggatt and Danny Schrafel contributed to this report