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Fraud charged in primary for supervisor: Republican Clifford accused of helping Democrat get on primary ballot —  he strenuously denies it

In a controversial series of events, leading to accusations and denials, a charge of election fraud has been leveled against the candidacy of one of two men seeking to be the Democratic candidate for supervisor.

Patrick Clifford, a registered Republican and a neighbor of Democratic candidate Gordon Gooding, has been accused of illegally securing signatures on a petition to support Mr. Gooding’s candidacy in the Democratic primary for supervisor. Island Republican Chairman Gary Blados has said he’s filed a complaint with the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

Election law states: “There shall be appended at the bottom of each sheet a signed statement of a witness who is a duly qualified voter of the state, who is an enrolled voter of the same political party as the voters qualified to sign the petition … Such a statement shall be accepted for all purposes as the equivalent of an affidavit, and if it contain a material false statement, shall subject the person signing it to the same penalties as if he or she had been duly sworn.”

Mr. Clifford denied any wrong doing last week in interviews with the Reporter. He said he was looking for Democrats to sign petitions advancing Mr. Gooding’s candidacy, but hadn’t found anyone who had not already signed a petition, either for Mr. Gooding or for Supervisor Gerry Siller, who is running for reelection.

Mr. Clifford said he knew it would have been illegal to solicit signatures, and would have directed anyone interested in supporting Mr. Gooding’s candidacy to seek out a Democrat who could legally accept and certify the signature.

Stephen Jacobs, a registered Democrat, told the Reporter Tuesday morning that, “I carried petitions and witnessed signatures of individuals I contacted. None were referred to me by anyone else. I had picked their names off the list of all Democrats registered on the Island. As I understand it, Patrick did not carry a petition, did not witness a petition, did not do anything to connect anyone to me or anyone else gathering signatures, or even came across Democrats he could have connected to those of us gathering signatures.”

Mr. Clifford’s denials are contradicted by others who were at Town Hall for the March 28 work session and spoke with Mr. Clifford after hearing that he had sought signatures on a petition backing Mr. Gooding’s candidacy.

Mr. Blados said he and others — including Democratic Councilwoman BJ Ianfolla, Republican Councilwoman Meg Larsen, and Town Attorney Stephen Kiely — were told he was “just doing a favor for a friend” in  seeking petition signatures. Ms. Ianfolla, Ms. Larsen and Mr. Kiely all confirmed that report.

Mr. Gooding said he knew Mr. Clifford was a Republican and never asked his neighbor to carry any petitions on his behalf. Mr. Gooding said he only heard about the controversy upon his recent return from a trip to Mexico.

Mr. Blados called Mr. Clifford’s alleged action “election fraud,” and on the advice of counsel, has filed a general objection with the County Board of Elections. There is a time limit of six days in which to back up the general objection with substantiating facts.

But to do so would be difficult, Mr. Blados said, explaining it would require legwork and legal expenses to speak with all signers to determine they had signed a petition for Mr. Gooding and to identify the person who asked them to sign the petitions.

“It takes money and resources,” he said, which, he added, is not something easily available in a small town.