Coates accuses GOP leadership of threatening members

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Riverhead Republican nominees, from left,
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Republican nominees, from left, Mike Panchak, Laverne Tennenberg, John Dunleavy, Sean Walter, Anthony Palumbo and Jodi Giglio.

Anthony Coates, who’s running a primary for a Riverhead council seat, is accusing town Republican committee leadership of threatening members who carry nominating petitions for him.

Candidates in Riverhead Town need signatures from 380 registered Republicans in order to get on the primary ballot.

A letter from recently appointed Riverhead Republican vice chairman Mason Haas, which was sent to committee members and forwarded to the media by Mr. Coates, reads as follows:

“As per the Chairperson, all committee members are reminded that they are only to carry the petitions of those nominated by the committee. Anyone doing otherwise would face disciplinary actions by the county committee. Along with possible dismissal as a committee person.”

Ms. Haas confirmed he sent the letter, and said his comments reflect a policy of the county Republican committee.

But Suffolk County Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said in an interview Tuesday that this isn’t exactly the case.

“It’s not necessarily true that if a committee member is supporting one Republican over another Republican that this would be an actionable situation,” Mr. LaValle said. “If a committee person was carrying the petitions of a Democrat, or member of some other party running against our party, that would clearly be actionable.”

“Actionable” could mean that person’s removal from the committee, he said, adding that while it would be “frowned upon” for a committee member to carry petitions against the committee’s candidates, it wouldn’t necessarily involve disciplinary procedures.

But Mr. Coates says this is the type of thing he’s running against.

“Did that really come from Republican headquarters? Or was it Berlin 1941?” Mr. Coates wrote in a letter to local media.

The Republicans nominated incumbents John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio for the council seats, and Mr. Coates, who changed his registration to Republican only last year, is running a primary for one of those seats.

Mr. Coates says he began collecting signatures on June 4, the first day petition forms were available from the Board of Elections, and now has more than 500 signatures.

The Republican committee leaders, on the other hand, were “a little late” in handing out their petitions due to “unforeseen circumstances” and didn’t start until this week, according to town GOP chairman John Galla.

He said they usually hand out the petitions at their annual golf tournament, but that was rained out. In addition, he said, the petitions they received from Suffolk County didn’t have the voter enrollment books attached.

Mr. Coates called the delay in gathering signatures for nominees “sheer laziness” on the part of Republican leadership.

“This is an example of the type of complacency and right of entitlement and taking the voters for granted that I’m running against,” he said. “I want to be represented in Town Hall by the person who does their homework first. This is a metaphor for how they will govern.”

Petition signatures are dated and, under Board of Elections rules, if someone signs Mr. Coates’ petition first and then signs the Republican committee’s petition, which includes the names of all candidates nominated for town office, then the signatures on the second petition could be challenged and possibly thrown out, as least for the council nominees. In effect, although nominees for other offices would be unaffected, neither of the Republican council nominees (Mr. Dunleavy and Ms. Giglio) would receive credit for that signature because it would be unclear which of them the signer intended to support.

The BOE says they would only review such discrepancies if someone raised a challenge.

Because of this, Mr. Coates said, both Mr. Dunleavy and Supervisor Sean Walter are carrying blank petitions with only their own names on them, so they won’t be thrown out if the signer also signed Mr. Coates’ petition.

Mr. Walter gave a different story. He said he is carrying the petitions of the Conservative party, which endorsed the entire Republican slate except Ms. Giglio.

In order to carry petitions, one must be a registered member of the party for whom they are collecting petitions, or a notary public. Mr. Walter, a registered Republican, said he is also a notary.

Mr. Dunleavy also denied carrying petitions with only his name on it, but said he considered carrying petitions for the entire Republican slate with Ms. Giglio’s name whited out, but decided not to when he learned that these petitions would be counted separately from those with the full committee slate.

Mr. Dunleavy said he is now carrying just the petitions of the full Republican slate.

“He just wants to stir the pot,” he said of Mr. Coates.

Mr. Dunleavy said Tuesday that he only began collecting petitions Monday, in his own neighborhood. He said he knocked on two doors and both people said they had already signed Mr. Coates’ petition.

He got into a lengthy discussion about a town issue with one of the residents, he said, and had to go to a town function after that, so he never got any further.

“It’s harder to collect petitions when you’re in office,” he said, because of the town issues that need attention.

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