Six months ago, Eileen Duffy assumed she would be running for a seat on the Southampton Town Board. Instead, Democratic Party leaders shifted gears and chose another candidate. Duffy, though, was asked to run for town trustee on the ticket and assured she stood an excellent chance of winning.
But on May 29, the New York State State Supreme Court Appellate Division issued a ruling against her, effectively ending her bid to run in the party primary as a town board candidate; as a consequence, she is no longer a candidate for trustee, either. She will sit out the election, she said, rather than file another appeal.
Duffy, claiming “party politics” had cost her a chance to run for the town board, decided to wage a primary battle after party leaders chose Craig Catalanotto, 50, of Speonk, a political newcomer, to run alongside the incumbent John Bouvier for the town board. Party leaders took notice when Duffy embarked on petition-gathering expeditions. George Lynch, a member of the Southampton Town Democratic Committee that originally chose Catalanotto over Duffy, filed suit challenging Duffy’s petitions.
In a written decision dated May 3, Justice David Reilly found that Duffy committed “election fraud,” claiming she campaigned for town board and the position of town trustee simultaneously, gathering petitions for both spots. The court ruled Duffy “knowingly allowed the enrolled voters to be misled as to which of the offices she was truly seeking.”
Duffy decided to challenge the decision. “I never collected a single signature for town trustee. How can that be fraud?,” she said. Moreover, her attorney Daniel Pago pointed out the state law in question assumes the fraud is committed “intentionally” while Reilly acknowledged on the bench Duffy’s actions were not.
“The court found that Duffy and her agents did not intentionally seek to mislead enrolled party voters while gathering designating petition signatures, but that Duffy nevertheless knew that her name appeared simultaneously on two separate designating petitions for two different public offices . . .” the Appellate decision stated, “which presumptively misled enrolled voters as to which of the two public offices she was truly seeking.”
The court further found that Duffy “failed to rebut this presumption by public action and/or filings in such a manner as to prevent election fraud.”
“We agree with the Supreme Court that the voters were misled, warranting the invalidation of the designating petition for council member,” the court ruled on May 29.
In circulating the designating petition for that office, the court ruled, “Duffy deleted from the committee’s designating petition the name of a candidate who had been endorsed by the committee,” referring to Catalanotto.
“It’s likely the end of the line,” Duffy said, noting an appeal wouldn’t be decided until June 7; the primary is June 25. “It would be wearing thin on my supporters,” she added. “I’m going to work to get the Democrats elected.”
Though Duffy was eliminated from the primary by the court decision, one silver lining of her ordeal is that two former trustees, Fred Havemeyer and Eric Shultz, will be allowed to remain on the ballot and enter the Democratic primary. The party did not nominate either man this year.