Sunday, May 27, 2007

Who is Joe Latini? (Or, the return of the llamas.)

I covered the Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County Republican party conventions at the Radisson Hotel in Holtsville Thursday evening. But the most interesting part of the evening involved Riverhead politics.

After the proceedings ended, I was chatting casually with the man who's running for tax receiver — I'm sorry but his name escapes me; I didn't write it down — when this other man I'd never met before came over and joined the conversation.

He started telling the tax receiver candidate he should move to Riverhead, like he himself had done. Things are so easy out there, he said. You can really influence elections. It's so small. Etc. He said, you can knock incumbents out so easily, because without the committee designation, there's no way they can win a primary. And then he started bragging about what he did in the last town election in Riverhead.

"I did it to Rose," he boasted. "And I can't wait to do it to Barbara. She's not going to get re-elected. She's not even going to get the nomination," he said with a big smile. "And I'm going to be grinning from here to here." He pointed at his ears with his two forefingers.

All right, then. I wasn't sure how, or whether, to respond to this. Who the heck was this guy? That's what I wanted to know. So I asked. Joe Latini, he told me. I introduced myself, but I'm fairly certain he knew exactly who he was talking to when he came over and said these things about Riverhead politics, Rose Sanders — who got railroaded out of office in a very sleazy campaign in 2005 — and Barbara Blass, who has a target on her back now. (Her party is mad at her for supporting Rose in the 2005 primary, among other things.)

Joe Latini. He lives in Wading River, apparently a recent transplant, because he was the Republican candidate for county legislator in the 5th district in 2003. He ran against Vivian Viloria-Fisher, the deputy presiding officer of the county legislature.

Blass, a Riverhead Republican, and Fisher, an East Setauket Democrat, have one thing in common that I know of (besides gender): the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum wants them both out of office.

I don't recall whether LIEVF took an official position against Sanders in 2003. But LIEVF board member Anthony Coates, who ran Republican Ed Densieski's failed supervisor campaign in 2003, was involved in creating a couple of very nasty anonymous mailers that went out to Republican voters on the eve of the GOP primary. (The Riverhead GOP didn't support their incumbent councilwoman, Sanders, nominating instead John Dunleavy. Sanders ran a primary campaign to try to get the nomination.) One of the anonymous mailers had a picture of Sanders, Blass and Hillary Clinton at an anti-Broadwater rally, organized by the Anti-Broadwater Coalition (of which LIEVF is a member). It didn't mention Broadwater; it just said, "Birds of a feather?" obviously trying to smear Sanders and Blass by associating them with the devil Hillary. Pretty ironic, a LIEVF board member involved in creating a mailing that slammed a candidate with a picture taken at an anti-Broadwater rally sponsored by a coalition LIEVF belongs to.

The News-Review tracked down the name of the owner of the vacant condo whose address was the return addresss on the anonymous mailer: Christopher Carbonne. We also tracked down the name of the mailing house that owned the bulk mail permit used on the mailer, Village Graphics. Anthony Coates admitted to me that he was the one who involved Chris Carbonne, a graphic artist, in the Sanders mailings. Carbonne was a personal acquaintance, he said. But Coates claimed, quite incredibly in my opinion, that he didn't know who had placed the order or who paid for the mailings. Carbonne and Village Graphics both wouldn't say.

LIEVF's campaign finance disclosure statements, posted online at the board of elections Web site, show a $1,725 payment to Christopher Carbonne, Inc. for "graphic design and printing" and a $540 payment to Village Graphics, "mail house" both on Nov. 3, five days before the 2005 general election. I looked at all of LIEVF's disclosures that are posted online. These were the only payments to Carbonne and Village Graphics ever made by LIEVF, at least for the eight reporting periods for which statements are posted online. So, did LIEVF order and pay for the Sanders mailers? Oh, irony of ironies, LIEVF paying for an anonymous mailer slamming a candidate with a picture taken of her at an anti-Broadwater event!

This was a question I had to ask. So I called up LIEVF's treasurer, Richard Amper, and asked him.

No, no, Amper said.

"That was a mailing we did against Viloria-Fisher," he told me.

Villoria-Fisher's opponent in 2005, Joe Michaels, doesn't list any in-kind contributions showing payment for mailings by LIEVF. (He shows one contribution from LIEVF, for $100, on Oct. 28, 2005.) But if it was the same nasty, anonymous mailer — an attack piece on the incumbent rather than a piece soliciting support for Michaels, maybe Michaels wouldn't have to disclose it by law. Or maybe, as Sanders' opponent John Dunleavy claimed in 2005, he knew nothing about it. Funny, if there was a nasty anonymous attack piece against Villoria-Fisher, she doesn't remember it. (I called and asked.) You'd think she would, but, she said, she tries not to dwell on the negative.

I guess we just have to take Dick Amper's word for it that LIEVF didn't pay Carbonne and Village Graphics for the anti-Sanders attack pieces.

It's interesting that Riverhead's got all these Brookhaven "players" involved in its local politics now. And maybe a little scary. Just like Latini said, Riverhead is small. And, yes, it's elections are probably very easy to influence, compared to a town like Brookhaven. But though it's a small town, it's got big issues, and lots of land. There are deals to be cut and there's money to be made. It's very appealing to these "players." The fun has just begun.