Editorial: Does one side have to cheat to win?

News broke last week that two North Fork men — both employees of the patronage trough that is the Suffolk County Board of Elections — had been arrested for forging signatures on nominating petitions ahead of the 2018 election.

William Mann, 60, of Cutchogue and Gregory Dickerson, 55, of Mattituck face felony charges for criminal possession of a forged instrument. Two other political hacks, Amos Goodman, 35, the former chairman of the East Hampton Republican Party, and Independence Party member Patricia Mansir, 72, were also arrested by investigators with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.

Both Mr. Mann and Mr. Dickerson are active with the Southold Town GOP committee. Both have those kinds of public payroll jobs that exist only in patronage heaven. There are no real-world equivalents. In 2017, Mr. Mann, a Republican elections form processor — we can only imagine the heavy lifting and mental skill sets that go with that job description — pulled down $99,761 in public salary. Add pension and health care costs to that number — all out of the taxpayers’ pockets — and you can come to some understanding that politics on Long Island is an employment agency, not a policy factory.

Mr. Mann is accused of lying to Green Party voters while collecting petitions in July for countywide judicial positions. The petitions bore the names of Republican candidates — the scam being to get enough signatures so that the Republicans could run with Green Party endorsement, and thus get more votes.

Cross-endorsements — picture, for example, a Democrat who also has Conservative Party and Independence Party backing, as this year’s Surrogate Court winner did — are a stain on what passes for the electoral process in Suffolk County. These multi-party endorsements are a racket, as they are worked out behind closed doors by party leaders — the very leaders who decide who gets the six-figure patronage jobs at places like the Board of Elections and Off Track Betting. The names are then printed on the ballots — carefully checked, of course, by the elections form processors — and presented to voters as a fait accompli. 

Voters who think they have a choice are fooling themselves, as in this instance the system is absolutely rigged by the leaders. 

In the aftermath of the arrests, Southold Republican chairman Peter McGreevy issued a release stating the obvious — that the two are innocent until proven guilty — and pointing out that they are “longstanding members of both our community and our committee.”

If the charges turn out to be true, Mr. McGreevy said, “we will deal with it internally.” Translation: Just because you pay for these people, doesn’t mean we have to tell you. It will be interesting to see what DA Tim Sini does with these charges, as courthouse logic would suggest both men will plead to lesser charges and receive little punishment, without missing a beat at their hard-charging jobs shuffling paperwork at the BOE.

What do these arrests really tell us? What do they mean? That one side is all good and the other all bad? Hardly. Politics on Long Island is a deep swamp; the people who run it have no interest in draining it. Too much money is at stake.

The jobs at the BOE are divided up by the party leaders almost equally; all the parties, major and minor, are players in the rackets they themselves created — and we are all supposed to live with and pay for it out of the money we earn the old-fashioned way. Edward Walsh, the former Suffolk Conservative Party leader who had a “job” in the sheriff’s office, is currently in federal prison on corruption charges. And imagine the scene if an unemployed man or woman walked cold into the BOE office in Yaphank and asked for a job application, not knowing that all jobs there are reserved for party loyalists. Talk about discrimination. If the person behind the counter were honest, he or she would say: I am sorry, but if you want to work here you have to go sit on your town leader’s lap.

With massive voter suppression in North Carolina and Georgia, boxes of uncounted ballots in Florida, bizarre gerrymandering and Wisconsin’s losing GOP backing efforts to strip incoming Democrats of power, we have to ask ourselves: How did it all come to this, in this land of democracy? How did we allow this to happen to us?

Does one side have to cheat to win? Is it too naïve to think the parties should advance ideas, and the party with the best ideas should win? 

Better to run on sound ideas and lose than cheat your way onto the ballot.