Its name alone means the Independence Party carries plenty of weight. In an age when more and more voters think of themselves as “blanks” and eschew enrollment as traditional Democrats or Republicans as a badge of their political independence, it is an attractive alternative in the polling booth.
But in reality, the party, whose candidates are often the third highest vote getters in local, county, and state elections, shares many characteristics of the political machines from a bygone era. That’s because Frank MacKay, who has been the party’s state chairman for nearly 20 years, runs it that way, often engaging in backroom deals to put together his own slate of candidates — one that is often in direct opposition to the wishes of local constituencies.
Both the Southampton and East Hampton Independence Party committees have felt the brunt of MacKay’s horse-trading, when the all-powerful party chairman bypassed their nominees. In 2010, it happened to current Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming when she thought she had won the Southampton Town committee’s nomination for town board, only to find out that MacKay had other ideas.
The same thing happened when Zach Cohen was given the local committee’s nod for town supervisor back in 2011. Wrong again. MacKay picked incumbent Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who held off Cohen by the slimmest of margins in the general election.
Now MacKay is up to his old tricks again, recently throwing his party’s weight behind incumbent Republican Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy over Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who thought he had a good chance of receiving the Independence nomination.
Similarly, MacKay played political boss in issuing what is called a Wilson Pakula authorization that allowed Democrat David Gruber to run on the Independence Party line in East Hampton, while denying the same courtesy to incumbent Councilman David Lys and Republican Manny Vilar.
There is little local committees can do to escape from MacKay’s chokehold. But fortunately, local voters still have some say in the matter. In situations where MacKay has smothered the democratic process on the local level, they should simply boycott the Independence Party line when they enter the polling booth this November. That would be a true declaration of independence.