BY MICHAEL RICONDA
The Rockland County Conservative Party’s September 26, 7:30 p.m. convention at the New City Town Hall continues to be marred by controversy, including claims of dishonesty, a lack of transparency and fraud, as well as persisting outrage over the scheduling of the event over Yom Kippur.
The convention, which was closed to the press and non-party members, included a vote ending in the reelection of Edward Lettre, the party’s chairman and mainstay of interparty politics in Rockland County.
Former challenger Sam Naemit and associate Nick Longo, both of whom sat out the convention in recognition of Yom Kippur and to protest the scheduling, have challenged the legitimacy of Lettre’s tactics. In an interview with the Rockland County Times, they argued that not only was Yom Kippur chosen to edge their Jewish supporters out of the convention, but also that Lettre and his supporters likely falsified proxies to give his side an unfair advantage.
In theory, the existence of proxy voting allows those who missed the convention to cast a vote. An absentee voter can send in a signed and notarized form which allows another party to cast the vote in his stead.
However, Longo stated that proxies are often selectively accepted and submitted without prior approval by a notary. In effect, the lack of oversight in proxy approvals and potential to fabricate proxy votes created a situation where Lettre’s stated figure of 326 proxy votes in favor of Lettre-as opposed to an estimated 240 proxies in favor of Naemit as well as 150 people who planned to attend the convention but could not-would have pushed the tally far above 523, the total number of eligible convention voters.
“We went out and we gathered over 240 proxies from people who were on our side and some of the people who did not like what was going on on their side.” Longo stated. “They could not have had 326. It is a physical impossibility.”
Lettre declined to comment upon proxy vote selection processes or any tallies aside from the broad yea-or-nay figure, but dismissed claims of a lack of oversight and improper voting practices and stated that the proxies were properly tallied and that responsibility for ensuring that one’s vote is counted rests with the voter.
“The fact of the matter was that 326 proxies were here,” Lettre said. “They weren’t here this evening because they didn’t have the numbers.”
The number of votes cast for Naemit is unknown, but the combination of the Yom Kippur date and the opaque process of proxy verification likely worked against Longo, Naemit and their supporters.
The date of the convention was widely suspected to be a tactic for discouraging Jewish voters, many of whom supported Naemit. Amidst public outcry culminating with a protest in New City, Conservative Party chairwoman Mary Loeffler apologized for the date of the convention, stating that the party scheduled the event under the impression that Yom Kippur ended on September 25.
Longo responded to claims of scheduling mistakes by stating that a potential compromise had been proposed wherein the vote would be postponed until everybody who wished to attend was present. However, the suggestion had been rejected in favor of a set time of 7:30 p.m., which would not allow for Jewish members to attend and necessitated the use of proxies.
As of right now, Naemit and Longo have no plans to challenge the vote. Nonetheless, they remain optimistic, looking to the next election and stating that their goal is to unseat Lettre and his party slate rather than follow his example.
“We will live to fight another two years, but we’re going to do it honestly, we’re going to do it openly, and we’re not going to tolerate the date of another convention on Yom Kippur.”