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William Naughton

Election signatures deemed invalid by court, BOE

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A primary election for the Democratic Party line in the race for the Huntington Town Board has been squashed.

The campaigns of former Highway Superintendent William Naughton and Huntington Station resident Andrew Merola — who were vying for the line against incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland and running mate Keith Barrett and hoping to win in a primary election — came to a halt earlier this week after a number of signatures on their candidate designating petitions were rendered invalid.

Naughton lost a challenge waged by two committee Democrats in state Supreme Court and the Suffolk County Board of Elections ruled a number of signatures on Merola’s petition invalid.

Signatures may be deemed insufficient for several reasons, including whether or not a person is a registered Democrat, or registered to vote and more. Candidates need 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot, and those petitions were due July 9.

Merola submitted 1,097 signatures, Naughton garnered 1,552, Berland and Barrett, who were on the same petition, collected and submitted 2,600 signatures, according to Anita Katz, the Democratic commissioner at the BOE.

William Naughton. File photo
William Naughton. File photo
Andrew Merola. Photo from Andrew Merola
Andrew Merola. Photo from Andrew Merola

Several Democrats filed objections to Naughton’s and Merola’s. The BOE reviewed Merola’s petition and ruled that a swath of signatures did not count, bringing his total count below 1,000. In Naughton’s case, two Democrats, Sherry Ann Pavone, a Northport resident, and Anne Berger, of Huntington, filed a lawsuit challenging the petition’s signatures under election law. Sandy Berland, Councilwoman Berland’s husband, represented the two pro bono, he said.

After the judge reduced Naughton’s signature count below 1,000, the former highway superintendent bowed out, Sandy Berland said.

“He made the judgment to end at that point,” the attorney said. “And of course we couldn’t end unless he agreed not to take an appeal.”

Naughton’s campaign declined to comment on Friday.

Merola didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday, but he took to Facebook to air his frustrations.

“Unfortunately, both myself and Bill Naughton have been forced off the ballot, thanks to Susan Berland and her husband deciding that they know better then the citizens of the Town of Huntington,” he wrote. “Instead of giving the voters a choice on who they’d like to represent their interests, Susan Berland has made that decision for you. We should have had four choices on [Sept. 10], and now, we won’t even have a vote.”

Sandy Berland, however, pointed out that petitions require valid signatures on them that abide by election law. He noted there’s a legal process in place to pursue challenges to those signatures.

In an interview this week, Susan Berland said she was pleased with the results.

“Keith Barrett and I are the designated candidates from the Democratic party,” she said. “We went through the process. We screened. We appealed to the Democratic membership and we got the nomination. I am proud to continue to represent the Democrats, and thankful that the Democratic party fended off any challenges to their designations.”

Eight individuals submit petitions to run last week

File photo by Rohma Abbas

A primary election is brewing for the Democratic Party line in the Huntington Town Board race this November, but it won’t happen without a fight.

Last Thursday marked the deadline for candidates running for offices in Huntington Town to file necessary signature petitions with the Suffolk County Board of Elections. And already, the validity of some of those petitions has been challenged in the form of general objections. General objections reserve a candidate’s right to file specifications of objections at a later date — and this year, that date is July 20.

With two open seats on the board, and four Democrats seeking the ballot line, a primary is pending if the contenders whose petitions are being challenged emerge unscathed. Objections to signature petitions can include claims challenging the validity of the signatures, the validity of a person carrying the petition and other issues, according to Nick LaLota, the Republican Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner.

Incumbent Susan Berland (D) and her running mate Keith Barrett (D), who is the town’s deputy director of General Services and president of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District, are endorsed by the Huntington Town Democratic Committee to run for the board. Democrat contenders Andrew Merola, of Huntington Station, and former longtime Highway Superintendent William Naughton — who are not endorsed by the committee — face general objections by a number of individuals, according to a document provided by LaLota.

Earlier this week, Berland said the Democratic Party in Huntington is united, despite a potential four-way race for the line.

“The rank and file of the Democratic Party is clearly behind myself and Keith Barrett,” she said. “That can be [evident] from the collecting of signatures. All of mine and Keith’s signatures were collected by Democratic Committee people. The other two can’t say the same.”

When reached on Tuesday, Merola, a business account manager at Verizon, said he’s been notified of getting a general objection to his petition, he realizes it’s part of the standard protocol of election and he’s waiting on more specifics about the objection. He said he stands by his petition and won’t be challenging others on their petitions.

“I’m not interested in playing those kinds of political games,” he said. “It shouldn’t be about who has the best lawyers. It should be about who has the best ideas.”

Candidates for Town Board on other party lines are also facing objections. Incumbent Gene Cook (I) is being challenged by two objections and Charles Marino, an East Northport man, who is vying for the Working Families Party line, is facing a string of objections as well. Berland and Barrett are also vying for the line.

In total, eight individuals are attempting to run for the two open seats on the Town Board — Berland, Cook, Barrett, Merola, Naughton, Northport-East Northport school board Trustee Jennifer Thompson, Huntington Station resident Michael Helfer and Marino.

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Victoria Espinoza contributed reporting.

File photo by Rohma Abbas

The political season is swinging into high gear in Huntington.

Last week, town Democrats and Republicans tapped their picks for two open seats on the town board. The Huntington Town Democrat Committee nominated incumbent Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and town Deputy Director of General Services Keith Barrett for the spots, according to Mary Collins, chairwoman of the committee. The committee also nominated incumbents Ester Bivona for town receiver of taxes and Marian Tinari for district court judge.

The Democratic nominations took place last Wednesday, Collins said.

“We think they’re the best people we have,” Collins said. “They’ve shown an interest in good government and getting things done.”

The Huntington Town Republican Committee unanimously picked incumbent Councilman Gene Cook (I) and Northport-East Northport school board member Jennifer Thompson, according to Chairwoman Toni Tepe. The nominations took place last Friday.

“The screening committee recommended [them] to the full committee because they feel that Gene has been a stalwart supporter of the people and that he always has the interest of the people at heart,” Tepe said in a phone interview this week. “And Jennifer Thompson came in, screened very nicely, [was a] very personable, knowledgeable individual and would be an asset on the town board.”

Republicans also nominated Tom McNally, a Huntington Station-based attorney and a Republican committee member, for the Suffolk County Legislature 16th District seat, held by Democratic incumbent Steve Stern. The party also chose Jennifer Heller-Smitelli, a civil litigator from Huntington, to run for the 17th Legislative District seat, held by Democratic incumbent Lou D’Amaro.

At this point, the candidates need to collect signatures to get on the ballot. And it looks like there might be a contest for getting on the ballot — at least over on the Democratic side — with former Highway Superintendent William Naughton announcing this week that he wants to run for town board. In addition, newcomer Drew Merola, a business account manager at Verizon is vying for a seat.

Asked for her thoughts on primary elections, Collins said they could be good or bad.

“Sometimes they help solidify the party,” she said. “Sometimes they can cause rifts. It all depends on how people conduct themselves while the primary process is going on.”

Berland and Barrett, when reached this week, said they were excited to get the Democratic committee’s nomination. Cook and Thompson didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday morning, but Cook stated in a previous interview he’s running for a second four-year term because he’s taken issue with the way the Democratic majority has spent money.

Tepe and Barrett agreed that this year’s election would be about transparency and ethics.

“And also to maintain a community that is in the liking of people who live here,” Tepe said.

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