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Facing criticism from his own party, vice chair of Southold Democrats resigns

09/12/2019 6:40 PM |

Under pressure from his own party, Damon Rallis, the vice chair of the Southold Town Democratic Committee, resigned from that role Thursday. The decision comes two days after a pair of businessmen spoke out at a Town Board meeting against an October 2018 Facebook post by Mr. Rallis calling for people to boycott their businesses because they allegedly supported Republican candidates.

The resignation coincided with a series of statements from three of the committee’s candidates for town office and its chair condemning Mr. Rallis’ comment.

Adding fuel to the criticism of the comments against Mr. Rallis is that he is the town’s building permits examiner with discretionary power over permit applications.

In an email Thursday afternoon, committee chair Kathryn Casey Quigley said she had “accepted his resignation as vice chair of the party so as not to be a distraction to the campaign and the more pressing matters facing the town.” She also said she disavowed Mr. Rallis’ social media post at the time “and, as far as I am aware, the issue and the posts ended there.”

That statement was released minutes after candidate Sarah Nappa sent a statement to The Suffolk Times asking the Democratic Committee to “take appropriate action on this matter.” Her concerns were later echoed by running mates Bob Hanlon and Greg Doroski, who is running for town supervisor in November’s election. Mr. Hanlon, a candidate for Town Board, also publicly expressed his concerns during Tuesday’s meeting.

“The right to support and vote for political candidates, without fear of government retribution, is essential to our democracy,” read the statement from Mr. Hanlon and Mr. Doroski. “Every person must be able to expect that their elected and appointed officials will serve them without bias, and without regard to which political party they belong to, or candidate they endorse.”

They called any boycott “economic punishment” reserved for “reprehensible behavior, such as racial discrimination or the sale of dangerous products.”

The candidates said they found that Mr. Rallis had called for a boycott on more than one occasion on Facebook, where he currently has nearly 2,000 friends.

After initially agreeing to speak on the matter Thursday, Mr. Rallis sent The Suffolk Times an email a few hours later, declining to comment “due to the fact that this is a personnel manner.”

After the story’s publication, he wrote on Facebook that he has “never been anything but professional in my position as a plans examiner for the Town of Southold.

“This was an orchestrated and calculated attack on me for being outspoken about our corrupt local government,” he continued. “All one needs to do is watch the video to see how utterly scripted this entire event was.”

Southold Town attorney Bill Duffy said the town is currently researching the comments made by Mr. Rallis to determine if they should be referred to outside counsel for possible disciplinary action.

“We still want to do an investigation to make sure nothing illegal happened and make sure nobody from the public was mistreated by the building department or by [Mr. Rallis],” Mr. Duffy said in an interview Thursday.

Tom Shearin, owner of S&L Irrigation in Southold, spoke at the board meeting Tuesday, saying, “One of the chairs of the Democratic Party wants to boycott the businesses that are not affiliated with the Democratic Party. And if they support other individuals, he would like the town to take some action against them.”

Mr. Shearin suggested the posts may be an abuse of power and told board members he was “flabbergasted” that someone in a government position could attempt to control who public citizens do business with, simply because of the business owners’ political views.

“I’m not quite so sure that he has the right to be on social media promoting this,” Mr. Shearin said. “People have the right to pick and choose who they’d like to have working for them and I’m all for that.”

But, he said, opposing views are good for the nation, and they should not be used as a platform to boycott businesses whose owners may have differing views.

He read a portion of Mr. Rallis’ year-old Facebook post that says: “Here’s an updated list of businesses that are whoring out their properties for treasonous cowardly hack Congressman Lee Zeldin’s re-election campaign. I’m boycotting these businesses and you should too.” That comment was made about a month before the 2018 Congressional election.

On the list Mr. Rallis posted were the names of four businesses: Roger’s Frigate in Port Jefferson; Timothy Coffey Landscaping in Southold; Cardinal Management in Matittuck; and Creative Environmental Design in Peconic. He also called out a junkyard in Cutchogue, though not by name.

Local business owner Bill Gildersleeve speaks at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Mahreen Khan)

Bill Gildersleeve, co-owner of Renee’s in Mattituck, took the podium as well, saying he and his wife’s business, which is located in Mattituck Plaza and owned by her family’s Cardinal Management, was also suggested to be boycotted by Mr. Rallis. “It’s amazing,” he said. “We work so hard. I’m going to be 60 years old. I’ve lived in this town my whole life and, you know, I don’t even know this guy. I don’t know anything about him. I don’t know why he would zero in on us like that.”

Mr. Gildersleeve mentioned the time and money business owners give the community, the taxes they pay and the jobs they create. He argued that making such calls to action “in a public way on social media makes no sense.”

“It seems highly unethical to me,” he said. “Everybody has a right to their political party, but to make a suggestion like that [as a public employee] and especially someone [who is] biased that deals with permit processes — I would almost assume this is grounds for dismissal.”

Mr. Gildersleeve said he and his wife donate to many important causes and fundraisers, regardless of the organizers’ political affiliation.

“He doesn’t even know my political affiliation … It’s not like I’m a fundraising type of guy,” he said. “I don’t even talk politics with friends and family.”

More than 10 others attended the Town Board meeting Tuesday in support of Mr. Shearin and Mr. Gildersleeve, who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting when residents can address agenda items. The businessmen said they attended the meeting to address a resolution to amend the town’s ethics code. That item was later withdrawn unanimously by the Town Board, which is comprised of all Republican-endorsed members.

At the meeting, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a Republican who was opposed by Mr. Rallis in the 2015 election, said he was concerned that a Democratic Party official who has discretionary authority in town government would be calling for boycotts of businesses because they support candidates he does not agree with. This, he said, has a negative impact on the integrity of government.

“That’s disconcerting,” the supervisor said. “Can those businesses ever expect a fair shake if he’s going to sit in judgment of their applications? I would suggest not. And I find that absolutely abhorrent.”

Councilman Jim Dinizio, a registered Conservative, said he found it “particularly chilling” that a businessman whose views Mr. Rallis disagrees with would have to go to him for approvals.

Mr. Russell urged the Democratic Party leadership and candidates to publicly condemn Mr. Rallis’ behavior.

“Yes, he’s entitled to free speech, but so are the businesses of Southold Town, regardless of political affiliation,” he said.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who is also seeking re-election this year, said he believes an investigation is called for considering the nature of the allegations that were raised.

While Ms. Quigley stated that she did not support Mr. Rallis’ Facebook comments, she also criticized the events of Tuesday’s meeting. In her email she called the testimony of the two businessmen and town board members “personal theater” and a “political stunt.” She said Mr. Russell acted “inappropriately by engaging in dialogue and allowing a town employee to be named.”

In an email Friday morning, Mr. Russell took exception to Ms. Quigley’s characterization of the events of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Local business owners came to a board meeting to be heard on a matter of great concern to them,” the supervisor said. “To suggest they were shills as part of a political stunt is appalling and an insult to their integrity.”

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Statement of Southold Town Democratic Committee chair Kathryn Casey Quigley:

Statement of supervisor candidate Greg Doroski and Town Board candidate Bob Hanlon:

Statement of Town Board candidate Sarah Nappa:

Top Caption: Mr. Rallis at the Southold Town Democratic Committee nominating convention in 2015, the year he was nominated to run for town supervisor. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

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