Indicted Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota was able to concentrate so much of the power he now stands accused of abusing because voters were not allowed to hold him accountable on Election Day. Voters could mark their ballots for Spota, but in three elections, his name was the only choice for district attorney on their ballots. When he sought a second term in 2005 and a third in 2009, he was the only name on all four ballot lines. In 2013, he was the sole choice on five lines.
Voters took a dramatic step to stop this ballot abuse two months ago, and they have another chance to send a message on Tuesday. In the Republican primary for Suffolk sheriff in September, GOP voters smelled the odors and overwhelmingly rejected Phil Boyle, a state senator with no experience for the job. He was on the ballot as part of a complex deal among Conservative, Democratic and Independence party leaders, one that deprived the sitting sheriff of running again and also included pacts about other legislative races, cross-endorsements for judgeships and a few patronage jobs.
GOP primary voters instead chose Larry Zacarese as their nominee, and now there is a contested general election for sheriff. Party leaders then manipulated the election process to get both Boyle and Democratic placeholder Stuart Besen off the ballot as sheriff candidates by nominating them for judgeships.
In New York, judges on the highest court are appointed, but most of the rest are elected. While there is no perfect system to squeeze out politics, there was at least some honor in the nominating process. Local bar associations screen candidates and the major political parties often agree to cross-endorse to avoid having judges campaign and to prevent incumbents from losing their seats because of the vagaries of an election cycle.
In Suffolk, however, the cross-endorsements have morphed into toxic combinations, allowing minor parties the upper hand in judicial races and anomalies such as candidates being supported by both the Conservative and Working Families parties. Ideology is meaningless.
Judicial nominations are important to Conservative and Independence parties because they allow minor parties to rake in a lot of money from fundraisers in the legal community. That’s because attorneys who aspire to the bench get the message that nods from the minor lines are the keys to winning on the major lines.
If you are disgusted by this collusion, protest on Tuesday. Return two qualified judges to the bench who were foiled in their former re-election bids because of variations of these machinations. Former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Lifson of Huntington is so well-regarded that during his tenure, he was appointed to the state Appellate Division. But when his 14-year term was up and he had to run again, Democrats and Conservative and Independence parties broke with the tradition of renominating him and instead made their own deal to take the seat.
Former Family Court Judge Richard Hoffmann was shut out of getting on the ballot in 2016 when a GOP party leader who wanted the spot for himself cut a deal with Democrats and the minor parties.
Voters in Nassau and Suffolk will see the same 10 candidates for state Supreme Court and will be told to vote for four. To thwart the dealmakers, vote for just these two of the 10. It’s called bullet voting, a tactic to give the underdog a chance in a big field. Newsday endorses honest elections. Vote for Lifson and Hoffmann for state Supreme Court.— The editorial board