Calcaterra in the witness box

by |
08/05/2010 12:00 AM |

Regina Calcaterra

Democratic state Senate candidate Regina Calcaterra took a forced break from campaigning this week, swapping answering questions from potential voters for testifying in a state courtroom in a case that will either clear away a major political distraction or bring her first bid for public office to a sudden, and early, end.

The New Suffolk resident was on the stand in Riverhead for several hours Tuesday until the session ended at 7:30 p.m. and returned for more questioning Wednesday morning. She’s answering allegations raised by two Brookhaven Town residents that she fails to meet the state’s residency requirement and is ineligible to run.

Ms. Calcaterra, a corporate attorney running to unseat veteran Republican Senator Kenneth LaValle, did win one significant court battle this week. In a separate proceeding, a state Supreme Court justice upheld the decision of the Suffolk Board of Elections to invalidate the nominating petitions filed by Calverton Democrat Gregory Fischer, who sought to force Ms. Calcaterra into a September primary. Last week the BOE ruled that Mr. Fischer had submitted his paperwork a day past deadline.

On Monday the board’s Democratic and Republican commissioners split over the validity of Ms. Calcaterra’s petitions for the Democratic and Working Families lines. In the absence of a unanimous decision, petitions are ruled valid. That set the stage for the court challenge before Justice John Bivona.

Oral testimony was concluded on Wednesday but the judge left the record open until Friday for written submissions. One source familiar with the case said a ruling could come as soon as next Monday.

The case turns on the question of whether a state legislative candidate must live in New York for five consecutive years immediately prior to running for office. The Democrat’s opponents point out that she bought a home in suburban Philadelphia and registered to vote there in 2004, then switched her enrollment and driver’s license back to New York in 2007.

Ms. Calcaterra responds that during the period from 2004 to 2007 she maintained a New York address, a rental apartment in Manhattan. She is a partner in the New York-based law firm of Barrack, Rodos and Bacine and during the time in question worked out of the firm’s Philadelphia office.

“While she did buy a home in Pennsylvania, she never relinquished her New York residence,” said campaign spokesman Andrew Moezel. “We are right in both the letter and spirit of the law.”

The Calcaterra campaign sees the residency challenge as a GOP trick. The court challenge is being pursued by Mary Magnifico and Maria Re-Kilmartin, both registered Republicans.

“The stakes are very high for both the district and the state, and the Republicans are trying to put up every roadblock they can because they don’t want to face someone as motivated and strong a candidate as she is,” Mr Moezel said.

Should the court invalidate Ms. Calcaterra’s candidacy, Mr. LaValle would run unopposed for the second consecutive election, a first in his career, which dates back to his first election victory in 1976. He represents a district that covers most of Brookhaven and the five East End towns.

Democrats have high hopes for Ms. Calcaterra, who, unlike most of Mr. LaValle’s previous opponents, has so far waged an aggressive campaign and has been equally aggressive in raising campaign funding. Republicans attempt to paint her as a pawn of the New York City Democratic machine and blame that party, which controls the governor’s office and both houses of the State Legislature, for the state government’s “dysfunctional” reputation.

[email protected]