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Theresa Whelan gets three ballot lines for Surrogate Court judge

First there was Marian Tinari. Then Deborah Poulos, Tara Scully and Theresa Whelan — all vying to be Suffolk County’s next Surrogate Court judge.

On Monday, at a judicial nominating convention held in Melville, Ms. Whelan — who already had the Independence and Democratic party lines — secured the Conservative Party line on the ballot in a controversial cross-endorsement deal arranged by leaders of the major political parties.

Critics see such deal-making as a form of corruption that gives the voters no real choice on the ballot. They ask, for example, how the nominee of the Democratic Party can also be the Conservative Party candidate.

Ms. Tinari, who initially had both the Conservative and Democratic lines, dropped out of the race abruptly when Republican Tara Scully secured enough signatures to warrant a Democratic primary. Earlier this month, Ms. Whelan defeated Ms. Scully in that primary.

The outcome that landed Ms. Whelan on the Conservative Party line was correctly predicted in September by former Democratic county legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher. Ms. Viloria-Fisher has been an outspoken critic of cross-endorsement deals, demanding reforms in the judicial selection process.

“At the judicial convention in September, party bosses will nominate the current Conservative candidate for Suffolk Surrogate [Deborah Poulos] for a different judgeship so that she can vacate the Conservative line in the race [for that seat]. Once that has been accomplished, and having fooled many Democratic voters into supporting Whelan in the Democratic primary based solely on party enrollment, the party bosses will probably designate Whelan as the Conservative Party candidate,” Ms. Viloria-Fisher told the Times/Review earlier this month.

Ms. Tinari and Ms. Poulos will both seek seats on the state Supreme Court bench, according to the Suffolk Board of Elections.

Kathryn Casey Quigley, chair of the Southold Democratic Committee, which has endorsed Ms. Whelan for surrogate, said that during a conversation before the primary, she urged Ms. Whelan not to take the Conservative line if it were offered to her.

“It’s difficult to begrudge a Democratic candidate a greater shot at winning a court race, especially when her opponent is on multiple lines,” Ms. Quigley said in an email Tuesday.

Alhough she lost the primary to Ms. Whelan, Ms. Scully will appear on the Republican, Green and Reform party lines.

Cross-endorsement deals, Ms. Casey said, erode trust among voters.

“It is also really difficult to watch voters lose faith in the party and our system because of these back-room deals,” she said.

The Surrogate Court judge in New York handles all estate and will proceedings under the New York State Unified Court System. The position carries a salary of $208,000 and a term of 10 years.

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Photo caption: Theresa Whelan.

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