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Dering Harbor Village mayor sued trustee candidates

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Mayor Tim HOgue

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | Mayor Tim Hogue

The Village of Dering Habor’s reputation as a hotbed of election intrigue got a boost when its mayor, acting as a “citizen objector,” sued the Suffolk County Board of Elections (BOE), the village clerk and the three challengers seeking to unseat incumbent trustees in the upcoming election.

In a belt-and-suspenders approach, Mayor Tim Hogue, as head of the Dering Harbor Party, asked the BOE to reject the candidates’ petition to be included in the June 20 ballot, and then, as a private citizen, sued in New York State Supreme Court to force the BOE to rule.

To avoid a potentially costly and protracted case, the three challengers — Ari J. Benacerraf, Elizabeth “Betsy” Morgan and Karen Kelsey — acknowledged that their nominating petition was defective and will run as write-ins, according to Patrick Parcells, a Shore Party organizer.

“He filed a lawsuit to remove all opposition,” Mr. Parcells said. “He is a litigious guy … pounding on people to get what he wants.”

Mayor Hogue’s initial challenge claimed the would-be candidates “over designated” by naming all three as running for two-year terms when one of the spots has a one-year term. He told the Reporter on Tuesday that he filed the lawsuit on May 24 “out of concern that if the BOE took too long to rule, it could jeopardize the election.”

The candidates’ acknowledgement obviated the need for court appearances and enabled the BOE to immediately designate the opposition petition as invalid. Calls by the Reporter to the BOE commissioners, Anita S. Katz and Nicholas LaLota, were not returned.

Mr. Parcells, who lost his own bid to unseat the 13-term mayor in a runoff three years ago, claims Village Clerk Laura Hildreth gave him bad information when he submitted the nominating petition in May and then failed to give him a chance to correct his mistake.

Ms. Hildreth refutes this assertion and told the Reporter by email that Mr. Parcells “is circulating a fabrication of the truth to justify his mistake in submitting an incorrect nominating petition.”

Ms. Kelsey will run as a write-in candidate for the one-year term against Trustee Kirk Ressler, who was appointed to fill the first year of a two-year term abandoned by Brandon Rose shortly after he was re-elected.

“There have been a number of unsettling complaints by residents about voting irregularities,” Ms. Kelsey wrote in a statement to the Reporter, alluding to challenges brought against voters in recent elections. “The lawsuit filed by the mayor against our candidacies epitomizes the iron-hand tactics that are common in the village.”

Mr. Benacerraf and Ms. Morgan will run as write-ins for two-year terms against incumbents Heather E.G. Brownlie and Richard Smith. Ms. Brownlie’s candidacy was questioned by Mr. Parcells and Robert Ferris (Ms. Kelsey’s husband), but the BOE has ruled that despite having a full-time job in Florida, Ms. Brownlie, the deputy mayor, is qualified to serve as trustee, a role she has held since 1999.

Mr. Parcells and Mr. Ferris are challenging five other voters out of a roll that unofficially stands at 72.

New York’s smallest municipality, Dering Harbor had a resident population of 11 in the 2010 census.

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