Editorial: Party leaders continue with sham elections in Nassau

Editorial: Party leaders continue with sham elections in Nassau

The Nassau County Republican and Democratic parties announced last week that they have agreed to cross-endorse two candidates for the state’s Supreme Court – one from each party.

Christopher McGrath is a Republican attorney who is currently a senior partner at Sullivan, Papain, Block, McGrath, and Cannavo, which has an office in Garden City.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman named McGrath as the head of his transition team after defeating Democrat Laura Curran in 2021.

District Court Judge Gary Carlton, a Democrat from Valley Stream, is a founding partner of the Goldberg and Carlton law firm in Rockville Center. Before being elected to the bench in 2019, Carlton was the deputy village attorney in Valley Stream.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, both men have contributed money to their respective parties.

McGrath has given over $25,000 to the county’s Republican Committee since 2020, according to New York Board of Election filings.

Carlton contributed $5,000 to the county’s Democratic Committee in April, according to the state Board of Elections.

Cross-endorsements are nothing new in Nassau County.

The Republican and Democrat party bosses,  heading two political parties that represent 69% of the registered voters in Nassau County, routinely decide behind closed doors who gets to be a judge.

In the case of McGrath and Carleton, the seats on the Supreme Court carry a term of 14 years and a salary of more than $210,000 a year.

In 2022, Nassau County had 20 seats open for a judgeship with 20 total candidates. Of those 20, all were endorsed by the county’s Democratic, Republican and Conservative committees.

This year there are currently 10 judgeships up for election with only one race contested – a county court seat in which two candidates running on the Democrat, Republican and Conservative lines are opposing each other.

In March, both parties cross-endorsed Eric Milgrim and Segal Blakeman, Blakeman’s wife, for Family Court judge.

Republican Nassau County Chairman Joe Cairo, a lawyer who has his own law practice, has consistently defended the practice of cross-endorsing judicial candidates.

This includes his daughter, Lisa Cairo, who was elected to the State Supreme Court without a challenge.

In selecting McGrath, Cairo said in a statement the party committee was pleased to nominate two candidates “with the experience, credentials, and a commitment to fairness that will ensure justice continues to be served in Nassau County.”

There are several problems with this.

Start with Cairo’s judgment. He is the person who selected disgraced U.S. Rep. George Santos to run not once but twice for the 3rd Congressional District.

Santos now faces a 13-count federal indictment with seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of making materially false statements to the House of Representatives.

Former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, two other Republicans backed by the Nassau County Republican Party before Cairo became chairman, were found guilty of corruption charges several years ago.

And the party’s pick for Oyster Bay Town Supervisor, John Venditto, pleaded guilty to a state felony charge of corrupt use of position or authority and a misdemeanor count of official misconduct. This follows his acquittal on federal corruption charges.

So Nassau County Republican chairman, along with Jay Jacobs, the Nassau County and New York State Democratic chairman, might not be the best people to pick judges.

Especially when the party’s choices for judge might someday need to preside over a political corruption trial involving other party choices.

Then consider the fact that party participants in a selection process that virtually guarantees the election of the judges may appear before them in court.

And then also think about the small matter of state law and democracy.

“It’s deplorable,” James Gardner, a distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo School of Law who researches elections, has said of the cross endorsements in Nassau. “It’s collusive behavior by political parties that undermines democratic choice. It’s a complete perversion of the process.”

What’s worse is what happens to the beneficiaries – judges.

In Nassau County, every judge is tainted by an election process that violates the spirit if not the actual letter of state law, which says the selection of judges should be the will of the people – not the will of party leaders.

The rules of the chief administrative judge state that “an independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved.”

Just how do the judges selected in Nassau County square their participation in the country’s selection process with these rules?

Jacobs has also repeatedly defended the often-criticized practice of cross-endorsing judges.

“You end up with a very partisan system where judges are elected, based upon the year in which they run, whether it’s a Democratic-leaning year or Republican-leaning year,” said Jacobs, who has a law degree but has made his living operating very successful summer camps.

This partisan system is better known as democracy. And for its many faults, it has worked out so far for these jobs.

We’re just sorry that Jacobs does not believe Nassau County voters are up to the job.

There is an obvious alternative to voters selecting judges. State and federal judges may be nominated by a president or governor with advice and consent from Congress or a Legislature – all of whom are elected to office.

This is not a perfect system either. Just check out the recent picks for U.S. Supreme.

But that is not what’s being done in Nassau County either.

Here party bosses not selected by voters make the decision followed by sham elections that make the system look more like a banana republic than a democracy.

This is a useful tool for political parties seeking to gain registered voters and the support of aspiring candidates.

There’s nothing like a potential judgeship to inspire loyalty for one party or the other.

The cross-endorsements appear to have worked out much better for Democrats than Republicans in recent years – given the Democrats’ dismal record in elections under Jacobs.

The Town of Hempstead, which represents more than half the county’s population, has been under Republican control for more than a century during which time there was just one Democratic town supervisor. For two years.

Excluding judicial races, Democrats went 13 for 45 in city, town and county races – a winning percentage of .290 – in the most recent Nassau elections.

This included the loss of all four countywide positions, including incumbent Curran – even though Democrats had a nearly 100,000 edge over Republicans in the number of registered voters.

And last year, the loss of two congressional seats in Nassau helped give Republicans control of the House of Representatives.

So perhaps a 50-50 split of judges is a good deal for the Democratic Party in Nassau County.

But it is a bad deal for voters.

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