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Monday
Jul152019

Land Use And Politics Trotta Wins Conservative Line 

Politics as Usual?

GOP County Legislators Win Write-In Race for Conservative Line

By Jerry Cimisi

It’s been common for the Conservative Party to cross endorse Republicans in general elections, as their political views are often similar. While being a minority party, the SuffolkLegislator Rob Trotta County Conservative Party (the largest conservative party in New York State) has a large enough base that its support could very well make the difference in a close election. But this year, when Suffolk Country Legislator Republican Rob Trotta also sought the endorsement of the Suffolk County Conservative Party in his bid for re-election, the Conservatives had their own candidate in mind, Richard Lanese, who works in the Suffolk County Comptroller’s Office.

Of course the Suffolk County Conservative Party has the right to field its own candidates, but, according to Trotta, the Conservatives are more interested in a certain benefactor’s donations than any conservative core values, and were even in fact endorsing Democrats in some races, certainly not a common occurrence on the political landscape.  

As Trotta sees it, the Conservative Party’s shift in this election revolves around the donations of developer Jerry Wolkoff and the sewer system he needs to connect to the county’s Southwest Sewer District for his 450-acre. 9,000-unit Heartland development in Brentwood, on the site of the old Pilgrim State Hospital. This would be the largest development on Long Island since Levittown made suburbia famous after World War II.

Wolkoff bought the site from New York State in 2002. It is estimated it will be a $4 billion project that will be completed over three decades. (Wolkoff may be planning a very long life; he is 82.) Heartland is also planned for a million square feet of retail space, three million square feet of office space—totaling, along with the residential units, 15.5 million square feet of development.

But Wolkoff is at odds with how much the county wants him to pay to join the sewer district. And it is what has resulted from this conflict that Trotta sees as a corruption of the political process, asserting that Wolkoff has made donations to parties and politicians who will back Wolkoff’s assertion of what he should be paying.

“He should be paying $50 million for this hookup. He wants to pays $20 million. So he’s been donating to Democrats and Conservatives in particular who see things his way. He made a donation to the Conservative Party three weeks before the primary [June 25].”

Without the Conservative endorsement, Republican Trotta ran a write-in campaign in the primary for the Conservative line, and went door to door in his district, talking to as many voters as he could. “They were shocked. They didn’t know this was going on.”

The result: The Conservative candidate Lanese had 77 votes in the primary, while there were 115 write-in votes to be counted July 8, well after election night. Trotta contended those write-in votes were all his. He wasn’t the only one who believed that. In a conversation with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine a few days after the election, Romaine had no doubt that the write-in vote would easily make Trotta a candidate on the Conservative line. 

This indeed was the case. When the Suffolk County Board of Elections gave its official tally on July 8, Trotta has won the Conservative line, 262-88. Two other GOP county legislators had also entered the primary with a write-in campaign for the Conservative line: Kevin McCaffrey and Anthony Piccirillo; they too were successful. McCaffrey’s tally was 186-146; Piccirillo won 186-146. He also won the Independence line, 65-39.

Brookhaven Supervisor Romaine related that even prior to this election, the Suffolk County Conservative Party has been divided into “factions”—between present Chairman Frank Tinari and party member Kenneth Auerbach.

In fact, a party procedural situation had wound up in New York State Supreme Court.

Here’s what happened: During a September 2018 meeting of the Suffolk Conservative Party County Committee, Frank Tinari, party chair, motioned to dispense with a roll call to determine if a quorum was present (a quarter of the membership of the committee was need for a quorum); Tinari decided it was apparent from the sign in sheets that more than a quarter of the membership was present. Auerbach and others objected to dispensing with the roll call. Tinari took a vote on his motion and it was carried.

The party then proceeded to its official business, among which was the election of officers, with Tinari elected to continue as party chairman. Auerbach and others took the matter to court, contesting what had occurred at the meeting, resting their case on what they saw as procedural irregularities.

Earlier this year the court decided that Tinari’s election should be overturned. Yet this past April, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division overturned that decision. Tinari was once again in charge.

Frank Tinari is an attorney, the founding partner of Tinari, O’Connell and Osborn, LLP, in Central Islip. He previously worked in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Tinari succeeded former Suffolk Conservative Party Chair Ed Walsh, a correction’s lieutenant at the county jail, who in 2016 was found guilty of being paid ($80,000 worth) while not actually only the job; he was instead golfing, gambling at Foxwoods and tending to party politics while on the taxpayer’s dime.

As of press time, Tinari did not return messages left for him at his office asking about Legislator Trotta’s allegations.

When Jerry Wolkoff, the veteran developer who has been in real estate for more than sixty years, was asked if it were true he had been donating to officials favorable to his side of the matter in the price of a sewer hookup for Heartland, he said, with a laugh, “It wouldn’t make much sense to help people who are against me.”

Last year Wolkoff applied for a fifty percent reduction in the fees the county was asking him to pay, which would reportedly save him $12 million dollars. The country was not amenable.

According to Wolkoff, “About twelve or fourteen years ago I saw down with Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and reached an agreement that when Heartland was completed—remember, that’s thirty years down the line—it would be using 1.6 million gallons of water a day.” 

But the Suffolk County Sewer district contends that when completed Heartland would be using 2.5 million gallons a day.

Wolkoff debated the reality of that estimate. “The truth is, I could see, sixteen years ago, it wouldn’t even reach that level I’d first projected. Look how technology with toilets and washing machine has improved. It used to take five gallons to flush a toilet; now it’s one and a quarter.”

Wolkoff is seeking to pay half of the original $15 dollar a gallon hook up fee—with good reason, he asserts. “It’s been customary that if you bring in more than just residential, if you bring in office and retail, as I will be doing, the rate will be reduced. And now, over the years, the county has gone from $15 a gallon to $30.

“They say I’m asking the taxpayers to pick up the difference. With the taxes Heartland will pay to the county, the county will be making money on me. I want to create a community that provides housing, restaurants, stores and recreation that you don’t have to get into a car to reach. You hear these politicians, they say they’re leaving Long Island after they retire. So you expect them to have your back? I intend to be here.”

In February 2019 Wolkoff filed a $15 million lawsuit against Suffolk County over its refusal to let him hook up Heartland to the South West Sewer District at a rate less than the District demands.

In relation to the long time span the project will take to complete, Wolkoff said, “I probably won’t be here when it’s done, but I’m definitely going to be around to get it going. People say I’m just in it for the money. At this point in my life I don’t need the money. But I enjoy what I’m doing. Long Island needs something like this. You can have people living in a more convenient way, without have to get into a car for their daily needs.”

Incidentally, if you try to get more information about the Suffolk County Conservative Party, when you click on any of the topics on its home page, you are warned: “Firefox detected a potential security threat and did not continue to scconservatives.org. If you visit this site, attackers could try to steal information like your passwords, emails, or credit card details.”


Jerry Cimisi, winner of several awards from the Press Club of Long for investigative and science reporting, has covered Long Island news for the past thirty years. 

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