JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Riverhead Republican nominees, from left, Mike Panchak, Laverne Tennenberg, John Dunleavy, Sean Walter, Anthony Palumbo and Jodi Giglio.
Riverhead Republican Committee members met with one another and county leaders Thursday night at Polish Hall to clear confusion over the party’s rules when it comes to circulating petitions for signatures, and to craft a campaign plan moving forward.
“The entire Republican slate will all be carrying our townwide petitions with all the candidates, to a person,” said the town committee chairman, John Galla.
Confusion arose over this past weekend after the town party’s vice chairman, Mason Haas, sent an email to committee members saying they could only carry petitions with the names of the committee’s official nominees — and not of anyone running a primary.
But the one council candidate seeking to run a primary, Anthony Coates, also got a copy of the email and sent it to media members Saturday, with complaints.
Then Suffolk County committee leader John J. LaValle told the News-Review that Mr. Haas’ statement wasn’t accurate.
“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 told the newspaper. “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.”
Mr. LaValle and a representative of the Suffolk County Board of Elections attended Thursday’s meeting to clear up any confusion, town committee leaders said.
“A number of people had a number of questions about the whole petitions process,” Mr. Galla said. “Some have been doing this a long period of time and still some are more new to it and I think we all needed a little refresher course.”
Republican leaders said this they got a late start in gathering the required number of signatures to seek town office, with Mr. Coates getting out in front of them, in effect blocking residents from signing for the committee’s two council nominees.
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 (John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio) would receive credit for that signature because it would be unclear which of them the signer intended to support.
Elections officials say they would only review such discrepancies if someone raised a challenge.
Candidates in Riverhead Town need signatures from 380 registered Republicans in order to get on the primary ballot.
Rather than having multiple petitions being circulated around the town, with the risk of some being tossed by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, committee members and candidates agreed Thursday night to only carry the same petitions with all the local nominees’ names, Mr. Haas said.
“The committee is supportive of the slate and the committee is going to continue walking the petitions they have been provided, which carry our slate of candidates,” Mr. Haas said. “We’re asking for the committee members to return them to us on June 27.”
He predicted the committee would have no problem collecting enough signatures.
Mr. Coates told the News-Review this week he had already gathered more than 500 names on his petition.
Mr. Haas said Friday he believed some residents were confused when another Republican candidate came knocking, and then those residents signed not realizing they could in effect block the other Republican nominees from using the same signature.
“And some people said, ‘If I had known that, I wouldn’t have signed the petitions,’ ” he said. “I don’t think anyone is doing anything to be malicious or intentional.
“I just think there’s just some confusion.”
For his part, Mr. Coates said he has been very clear to voters that he’s running as an outsider to “shake up Town Hall.”
“I don’t want to be associated with [the Republican committee],” Mr. Coates said.
He had been circulating petitions throughout the week with Councilman John Dunleavy, who’s running for two open council seats as a Republican, along with Mr. Coates and Ms. Giglio, earlier in the week.
“I always try to stay on the right side of the issues and do the right thing,” said Councilwoman Jodi Giglio. “And the right thing is to carry petitions for all of the chosen Republican Candidates. I believe all the committee people and elected officials are doing that.”
Only two of the three people will win the Republican vote on primary day, Sept. 10, and Mr. Coates has said he’s gunning for Ms. Giglio, not Mr. Dunleavy.
“What a difference a day makes,” Mr. Coates said of the news that Mr. Dunleavy would not be circulating petitions with him anymore.
“Dunleavy has changed his tune,” Mr. Coates said. “He said we can’t campaign together anymore. I got some signatures for him; he got some for me. Now he’s going off into the sunset to do what he needs to do for the party. When I carry my petitions, I’m carrying one petition.”
Mr. Dunleavy could not be reached for comment Friday.
Mr. Coates is a downtown resident and has been a political adviser to Supervisor Sean Walter and has run political campaigns here and elsewhere.