Letter: Democratic Party Needs Change Now

Following Tuesday’s election, it is my sincere hope that people involved in the Huntington Town Democratic Committee will insist on a change of leadership. HTDC leadership moves forward unflinchingly as though the facts on the ground haven’t fundamentally changed. Maintaining power at all costs has cost the party almost every town position. Mark Cuthbertson and Frank Petrone engineered back-to-back election bloodbaths.
Tuesday night, County Party Chair Rich Schaffer reportedly blamed the loss on displeasure with Kathy Hochul (the gubernatorial candidate, by the way, Schaffer endorsed over Steve Bellone). Schaffer’s assessment is absolute nonsense. Hochul may not be popular, but the following facts remain:
  • There are thousands more registered Democrats than Republicans in Suffolk.
  • Kathryn Casey Quigley engineered a takeover of the Democratic Party in Southold several years ago, took over the township, and maintained control Tuesday.
  • Democrats won key races in Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia with the president polling at 39%.
  • Support for labor (a traditionally left issue) is surging throughout the county, with 75% of voters supporting the UAW.
  • Suffolk Democrats left four county legislative district’s unchallenged. Republicans left NONE – they challenged in all 18 districts.
  • Nassau Democratic wunderkind Josh Lafazan, who couldn’t possibly tack harder right than by recommending police recognition as a protected class of citizens in the wake of the George Floyd murder, was the ONLY Nassau legislator incumbent to lose, and he did so spectacularly – by 16 points!
Rich Schaffer and others will tell you, “We did everything right.” That’s only true if “everything” means a) mobilizing just before the election, b) sorting walking sheets provided for you by the state or county, and c) making your GOTV calls. SO much more needs to be done. The county and the HTDC need to shift paradigms from a patronage-dependent party that does as it’s told, to a genuine party that organizes and stands for something more than, “We aren’t Republicans.” Rich Schaffer will say that standing for something makes you a “big city Communist.” Rich Schaffer is a bully. Facts are stubborn things:
  • Rich Schaffer all but endorsed Republican/Conservative Ray Tierney for District Attorney over Democratic incumbent Tim Sini.
  • Rich Schaffer’s favored Babylon candidates are cross-endorsed by the Conservative Party. In all likelihood, this is part of a trade, somehow benefiting him.
  • In 2021, Rich Schaffer went on Skye Ostreicher’s pod/webcast and drove a wedge between the party and County Executive Steve Bellone with what he called a “Farewell two years early” to Bellone. He added, “I have no relationship with [Bellone] and I really don’t think he’d be anywhere near a good governor. In fact, I’m glad that he’s about ready to be term limited…hopefully he’ll move on.”
  • Rich Schaffer defended Tom Spota after Steve Bellone demanded his resignation following Spota’s indictments for conspiracy and obstruction of justice, aiding a cover-up of SCPD Chief James Burke who beat a handcuffed suspect.
  • Rich Schaffer encouraged Bellone’s appointment of James Burke to SCPD Chief despite police Internal Affairs conclusions that he exhibited “conduct unbecoming” a police officer.
  • Following his work to alienate Bellone, Rich Schaffer recruited an unknown equities banker as the inspirational force at the top of the 2023 ticket. I understand Dave Calone is a very nice man. He deserved better.
  • Schaffer left several county legislator races unchallenged or filled by ghost candidates: 11th District Lucas Deitch? He’s a member of the Babylon grounds staff. 12th District Denis Graziano? He doesn’t even mention on his FB page that he’s running. Same for 14th District Edward Buturla. Schaffer didn’t even put a candidate up against Rob Trotta, which is absurd because the PBA devotes an entire page to Trotta-bashing. Though unlikely a Trotta opponent would win, they could keep him honest — or be there if
    something bizarre happened. This is a campaign FUNDAMENTAL!
  • Once more, Schaffer gave Democrats NO choice for judges. That had all been wheeled and dealed long before election day.
 Schaffer is a one-trick-pony whose only conceit is to horse trade (his “Team Schaffer” candidates won handily with Democrat and Conservative designations). What do those designations cost the party? With less and less to trade with (Suffolk Republican chairman) Jesse Garcia, Schaffer must rely more and more on fundamental party building and savvy campaigning. He’s proven incapable of either. His treatment of Bellone proves he also doesn’t have the temperament to lead.
In 1992 Jim Gaughran criticized the aged leadership of the party, “Our incumbent leaders are so far removed from the everyday problems we face that they can’t lead us anymore.” That’s true now! But people like Schaffer and Cuthbertson will NEVER step aside. If you don’t insist that your leadership be capable and genuinely engaged, as my mom would say, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset!”
Lest this letter trigger some to think I want some part in leading this toxic party, I feel the need to be clear that I’m changing my party affiliation to the Working Families Party. Good luck.
Rebecca Sanin should clearly be recognized as the de facto leader of the HTDC, and given what she needs to repair what Schaffer, Cuthbertson and Petrone left behind. She is smart, accomplished, industrious, and her politics are spot on! I wish her and the HTDC all the best.

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