The Judicial Ruling – A Bummer for Conservatives

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Let’s put on bow on this series of pieces on the ruling that has rocked the state election process.

And let’s ask this question: What do you do when one of the tricks of your trade gets trashed? The Monroe County Conservative Party – and more specifically its chairman Tom Cook (2nd from left) – ought to ask themselves this now.

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that New York’s system of conventions and delegates to elect state Supreme Court judges is unconstitutional. This is bad news for the third party Conservatives.

And you don’t even have to believe the testimony in that case by former Rochester City Court Judge John Regan. In the case, Regan said that he was blocked for a state Supreme Court judge nomination as a Republican because Republicans in Monroe County allowed the Conservative Party to name the GOP’s state Supreme Court judicial candidates. It’s something Monroe County GOP Chairman Steve Minarik denies.

So let’s put that aside for a moment. Tom Cook and the Conservatives have made their political bones in these parts by being brokers of sorts. They would give their third party line to a candidate from either party. And that made their party line more valuable, especially when the race could be tight. I have argued that in recent years Cook’s Conservative Party has been more reluctant to give any nod to local Democrats. But Cook’s power-broker image remains relatively intact.

An important cog in this machine is a rule in New York State Election Law that goes by the name of Wilson-Pakula. It’s a part of the law that says to run on a party line, you must be enrolled in that party. If you are not, than the party leadership must allow you to run in the party. It’s called getting a Wilson-Pakula. The chair of that party plays a big part in giving such permission to outsiders. And when it comes to third parties, the chair can be the sole designator.

There is an important exception to this Wilson-Pakula, however – judicial races.

That’s why you could see the oddity of Linda Lohner Pilato, a  Republican, run for the Democratic nod last September in the Rochester City Court race. There is no need for a leadership approval in judicial contests. Just get the necessary names on petitions.

That gets us to state Supreme Court. And if you read the previous pieces in this space, you know that the unique style of parties naming their candidates – through a judicial convention – nullifies any real primary.

So whoever Cook and the Conservatives name as their candidate for state Supreme Court, stands.

But U.S. District Court Judge John Gleeson changed all that. He has put a stop to the convention system and called for a primary (at least until the New York State Legislature takes up the matter and decides on a new system of electing these judges – or opts to make them appointees).

The ramifications are big for a third party that wants to remain looking big. Now Cook and the Conservatives could see challenges to their preferred candidates for state Supreme Court. That means a challenger from any party could announce they are running and they could win.

That sure does reduce the power-brokering ability of the Conservative Party and Mr. Cook. And it does work to reshape Monroe County’s political landscape a bit.

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