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July 6th, 2005

Hamptons Politics: Inside-Outside in Suffolk County

by D. Clark MacPherson

If there were an identifiable trend in Hamptons politics it would most likely be the drift away from the two party agenda. In Nassau County, Tom Suozzi has become famous for his “Fix Albany” campaign, in which he takes aim at the leadership in the Assembly and Senate. In Suozzi’s case, there is a two party system-he still enjoys support from Republicans, as well as his own Democrats. In Suffolk County and in the Hamptons, the true Democratic Party has become an endangered species co-opted by the Democratic County leadership. Cross-endorsements have become the price of this second-class status. County Democrats supporting Republicans as a growing trend, which maintains a few candidates and saves the Republicans campaign money-in exchange for diminishing roles in almost every race.

Take the recent re-election of Fred Thiele (Republican Assembly), the progenitor of that usurious 2% Peconic Transfer tax. His familial compadre, Rich Schaeffer, who also just happens to be the Democratic Party Chairman, helped arrange a virtual cross-endorsement by supporting an unknown (Tree Wolf West) and Thiele won easily. The deal also gave Tim Bishop (US Congress) a chance to run again and win against a Republican outsider (Manger), even though party regulars fumed that Bishop had turned his back on them after making it into office and had accomplished little more than getting himself re-elected. A cross-endorsement of Thiele in the face of withering Democratic support in the hinterland, gave Bishop his office back by a very slim majority.

All of this leads to the stunning realization by many political activists that their leadership, at least in the Democratic Party, is selling them out-merely trying to hold on to their own jobs at the expense of party regulars who worked their asses off (as in getting Bishop elected the first time). The resulting disaffection with leadership has lead them to think alternatively. So, if you can’t trust the Democratic Party to support candidates that are Democrats and not sell out to the Republicans by cross endorsing their candidates, perhaps it is time to reject the party leadership or form another party. Or, do both.

What is emerging in the Hamptons (other than apathy) is the “insider-outsider” theory. Manger, who ran against Bishop for Congress, for example, was a Republican with strong ties to the Bush Republicans. Manger lost because he was an outsider and after the cross-endorsement deal, Bishop squeaked through to win. All this, despite rank and file pessimism about the candidate they previously had felt was good for them.

As a result, many local activists have awakened to the fact that neither the issues nor the “will of the people” have any role in how a candidate is picked or why he or she is elected in Suffolk County.

None of this is new or very startling, of course. It’s just that local Democrats (and a few Republicans), now realize that the real choice they have is either to run independently or simply line up to pull the lever they have been instructed to pull in order to remain in good graces-and get their handouts.

The Integrity Party recently announced its formation, in part, due to the problems just discussed. It is intended to be a political party supported by activists who seek to run their own candidates not the usual candidates from same tired political scene. The thrust is non-partisan and it avoids positions on national issues such as abortion, same sex marriage and the death penalty. The object is to bring local issues to local government elections and avoid “deals” that push cronyism through cross-endorsements.

One visible activist, who had considered a run for Suffolk County Sheriff, is Bob Olson. As a former State Trooper Investigator, he has the qualifications for the job but his main reason for having initially considered a campaign was to highlight the importance of a multi-party system (and the necessity of choice in the voting booth)  one that does not rely on cross-endorsements to fix a weak party. Olson has focused on the Marty Tankleff case as a controversy that exemplifies the cozy (and dangerous) ramifications of insider political deals  which thrive on cross-endorsements.

We spoke with Olson, who is a tough talking, no-nonsense type of person. His emphasizing of the conviction and long imprisonment of Martin Tankleff has much wider implications, in his opinion, and is a “microcosm of corruption in Suffolk County politics.” Without retelling the entire history of this case, (which can be viewed online at www.martytankleff.com), it is Olson’s contention that the details of this case mirror the kind of questionable connections between politicians in power in Suffolk County. In this one case alone you have a myriad of dubious backroom “accommodations.” You have a District Attorney who previously represented the Suffolk County Police. You have a Suffolk County police detective (McCready)- who was the prime investigator as well as the D.A.’s former client  one who investigated the crime but who never checked out the prime logical suspect in the murder. Then you have a suspect, with whom Detective McCready had a business relationship. The 17 year old boy who “confessed” to murdering his adoptive parents while being held by Suffolk County Police (he quickly recanted after getting away from the notorious Suffolk Police interrogators) – was convicted by the now sitting Suffolk County Sheriff (former Judge Tisch) who presided over the Tankleff conviction. Supreme Court Judge Braslow, a political friend of all of the above (except Tankleff) is being asked to grant a new trial. Calls for D.A. Spota to appoint a Special Prosecutor to delve into the “funny” facts of this case have been ignored. They all hope this will go away.

Olson’s focus on this case is not the least of his political criticisms. He is also opposed to the proposed new multi-million-dollar County Jail. As a former State Trooper he knows law enforcement people and it is his contention that not only are the taxpayers against this new jail, but so are the Deputy Sheriffs and Correction Officers. Hamptons non-resident homeowners should be particularly concerned with even more tax dollars spent on a pet project of the well-connected Sheriff Tisch (who is running for re-election), since a greater tax burden without even a chance to vote is a heinous non-choice. Olson’s view from a social justice point of view is that if they build it, they will find a way to fill it up.

While he is pragmatic about political realities, he is concerned about the uphill battle that faces any third party candidate trying to get his or her name on the ballot-the first step in the election process. One must gather 1500 signatures in order to qualify  but that is not the problem  having them be accepted IS. According to Olson, there is a “history of discouraging third party candidates in Suffolk County and in the Hamptons.” The County Board of Election Commissioners, Anita Katz and Robert Garfinkel, he pointed out, are just as responsible to the parties in power as any other appointee or elected official  and he believes that they do everything possible to keep third party candidates off the ballot. Any funny business played by the Commissioners this year (in attempting to discredit signatures) will begin just after the July 4th weekend and will culminate with a decision around August. Keep your eyes on this process.

And keep your eyes on the Integrity Party and the candidacy of local activists. There are a lot of good people who should be involved in politics and a lot of voters who should have a choice among responsible, honest candidates.

Filed Under: Articles | Politics | the Hamptons

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