Accusations as Republican primary nears


This is the fifth story in a series exploring the complexities of elections, to provide a better understanding of one of Americans’ most precious privileges, the right to vote.

Two Town of Hempstead employees, Nicholas King and Michael Desantis, have filed legal challenges against four of the five candidates running in the Republican primary for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, to take on U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi. Those challenges list Mike LiPetri, the fifth candidate, who has the endorsement of the Nassau County Republican Party, as the aggrieved party in each case. The legal disputes have raised concerns about the fairness and integrity of the electoral process, as voiced by some of the candidates being sued.
King is a legislative aide to the Hempstead Town Board, and Desantis is a park crew chief in the town’s Department of Parks and Recreation. Both positions are ungraded, meaning they do not fall under the same classification or job evaluation criteria as other public jobs, such as clerks or accountants. In Nassau County, political parties typically use ungraded positions as rewards for political support, since they aren’t subject to the same scrutiny during the hiring process.
Neither King nor Desantis could be reached for comment, and it remains unclear to what extent they may have coordinated their efforts, or who encouraged them to file the four lawsuits. The Nassau County Republican Party did not respond to requests for comment.
The four candidates being challenged are Bill Cotter, Gregory Hach, Michael Mandel and Jim Toes. Each candidate’s petition to run for the primary was challenged by King and Desantis for various technical reasons, including discrepancies in the addresses of the signatories submitting petitions. The outcome of these challenges could have significant implications for the fall election, potentially leaving LiPetri as the only Republican candidate on the ballot.

Toes explained the intricate process of challenging and defending petitions. His was challenged because many signatories wrote the name of their local municipality instead of the town name — Sea Cliff, for example, instead of Town of Oyster Bay — as their place of residence. These technical errors led to the disqualification of roughly 800 signatures on Toes’ petition alone.
The lawsuit against Hach alleges that some of the people from whom he obtained signatures were not registered Republicans, although he attested that his campaign had used state Board of Elections voter records to determine whom to reach out to.
Toes expressed concern that this process could diminish voter trust in the electoral process. Both he and Hach said they believed this was an obvious attempt by local party leaders to clear the field for LiPetri’s candidacy, although there is no clear evidence that King and Desantis were ordered to challenge his opponents’ campaigns.
“In my opinion, the Nassau County Republican Party should have been shepherding in a robust and fair primary election, as opposed to getting this involved by nominating candidates before the primary occurred,” Toes said. “They put their hands on the scale in a very aggressive way, and it’s not right.”
Hach had similar concerns about the fairness of the process. He highlighted the importance of allowing voters a choice in the primary, and added that the challenges might prevent a fair contest between the Republican candidate and Suozzi in November’s general election.
“The Nassau GOP is trying to limit the choice of the voter,” Hach said. “It’s a sad situation.”
Hach and Toes also questioned the wisdom of the Nassau GOP pre-selecting a candidate to run against Suozzi, since the last two handpicked candidates for the district were George Santos, “a national disgrace,” said Hach, and Mazi Melesa Pilip, who, according to Toes, “got trounced” by Suozzi in the special election to fill the seat from which Santos was expelled.
Both candidates said they expect to lose their respective suits, which were set to be decided at a meeting of the New York State Board of Elections on Wednesday, after the Herald went to press. They also confirmed that if they do lose, they are unlikely to challenge the rulings.
Mike Falk, a spokesman for the LiPetri campaign, denied any coordination among King, Desantis and the campaign. Falk defended the legal challenges as legitimate and necessary to ensure that candidates follow the rules when gathering petition signatures.
“The laws are very clear on what’s needed to get on the ballot,” Falk said. “Some people might not like the rules, but just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you don’t have to follow them.”