A Southold Town Republican Committee direct-mail campaign criticizing the appearance of a town board candidate’s home and attributing a profanity to his running mate has caused an uproar in local political circles, leading at least one elected town GOP official to call on the resignation of those involved in its creation.
The mailer, sent to homes in town this week, includes a photograph of Democratic town board candidate Brian Mealy’s home and alleges he has outstanding town code violations related to the upkeep of his yard.
“How can we trust him to improve Southold when he can’t keep his property in order?” reads the mailer that began arriving in mailboxes Saturday, the first day for early voting in Suffolk County.
The same mailer includes an out-of-context quote from fellow Democratic town board candidate Greg Doroski saying he’s “only good at two things: drinking beer and talking sh-t?” The quote was lifted from a 2017 profile in northforker magazine about his work as a partner at a Brooklyn brewery, where he joked about being a brewer with a philosophy degree. It was included in at least one other mailing sent out this week.
In interviews this weekend, elected officials, party leaders and candidates from both the town’s Democratic and Republican committees said the mailers violate a longstanding informal agreement between the rival parties to avoid personal attacks in campaigns for town office.
New York State campaign finance records show the Southold Town Republican Committee has paid a Jacksonville, Fla. firm specializing in direct mailing on national campaigns $10,000 since Sept. 21. The committee has paid an additional $12,000 to a political strategist in Manorville.
Several Republican candidates have stated publicly they had no knowledge of the mailer before it was released. Sources within the town GOP said candidates asked to meet with committee chair Peter McGreevy to discuss the mailers after they learned of their existence. Several of those candidates said the meeting did not go well.
In an interview Sunday evening, Mr. McGreevy stood by the contents of the mailers, saying they were “100% factual and 100% relevant” and that he had no plans to step down.
“Voters have a right to know that a candidate running for a position where he is entrusted with upholding the town code has pending violations of that very code,” Mr. McGreevy said. “The Democrats, who cry for transparency, cry when there is transparency.”
Southold Town Democratic Committee Chair Kathryn Casey Quigley said Mr. Mealy was transparent with the committee during the screening process, disclosing the violations and saying he was working with the town to clear them up. She called for her Republican counterpart to step down in a statement posted on social media Saturday.
“He is clearly deeply out of touch with a town that has for years made clear it does not welcome dirty politics,” she wrote in her statement.
Reached by telephone Sunday, Ms. Casey Quigley said she believed the allegations about Mr. Mealy, who is Black, have both racist and classist undertones.
“Brian is a public servant who cares deeply for this community,” she said. “I don’t see the relevance in sending this out and I don’t see the integrity in sending this out.”
Reached by text message Sunday Mr. Mealy said he has been “diligently working to address” the code violations on his property, declining to elaborate further. He added that he’s “disappointed in the GOP for this negative attack on our slate.”
“Right now our team is focused on working to move the good people of Southold forward,” he wrote.
Following the backlash from town Democrats, individual Republican candidates began speaking out against the mailers Sunday morning.
Town Justice Eileen Powers, who is running unopposed for a second four-year term as town justice, released a statement on Facebook saying she rejected the mailer and was embarrassed by it.
“I was not consulted and did not and simply would not have approved of advertisements making such personal attacks on our neighbors who happen to be our opponents in this election,” she said. “I believe those responsible should resign.”
Judge Powers said she believes Mr. Mealy and Mr. Doroski have “put [themselves] out there to serve [their] community.”
“You did not deserve this,” she said in offering the two candidates an apology.
GOP town board candidate Anthony Sannino also turned to social media to says the attacks left him “disappointed and saddened.”
“This does not align with my personal moral values or those of the Sannino family,” he said. “People who know me are confident to also know I would never agree or approve to any type of negative campaign measures.”
Mr. Sannino’s running mate for town board, Greg Williams, said in a brief text message that he did not send the mailer and would not comment on it.
Ms. Casey Quigley said as a matter of policy town Democrats do not send out mailers prior to receiving approval from all candidates. She said criticism of Republican candidates in mailers and other advertisements has been limited to their record at Town Hall.
“How you operate in a campaign is a test to how you would operate as an elected official,” Ms. Casey Quigley said.
Mr. Doroski added that he believes the Republican candidates have “failed this moral test of their character.”
“We are facing immense challenges as a town,”Mr. Doroski said. “This is how they meet those challenges by going into the gutter?”
The mailer also accused three more Democratic candidates of violating a town ethics policy that prohibits town employees from campaigning on town property by posing for a photograph in Town Hall. Ms. Casey Quigley noted that none of the candidates — trustee hopefuls Liz Gillooly and Elizabeth Peeples and clerk nominee Candace Hall — is employed by the town and therefore not bound by that section of the code.
GOP trustee candidate Kristina Gabrielsen and Denis Noncarrow, the Republican candidate for town clerk, also turned to Facebook to condemn the mailers.
“I strongly disagree with party leadership regarding any negative ads or personal attacks,” Ms. Gabrielsen said in her post. “These politics have no place in Southold, regardless of party affiliation. Any candidate who runs for office should be shown respect and dignity no matter their party affiliation. The Gabrielsen family has a long tradition of being open, honest and fair to all and will continue to do so.”
For his part, Mr. Noncarrow said he was “disgusted” with the mailers. “It has always been one of my core values that personal attacks are morally objectionable,” he wrote.
Town Supervisor Scott Russell, a Republican midway through a four-year term, said of the attack ads that “there is no place for this in Southold politics.”
“I stand behind our candidates who oppose this 100 percent,” Mr. Russell said. “The targeted candidates deserved better and this community deserves better.”
The controversy comes at a precarious time for Southold Republicans after Democrats won their first town board race in a decade in 2019 and have since surpassed the GOP in party enrollment.
The Republican slate also features just a handful of incumbents after two sitting town board members and the longtime clerk and two trustees did not seek re-election. GOP highway superintendent Vincent Orlando also lost his party’s nomination at its convention this past winter.