Some voters are calling out a Staten Island judicial candidate for participating in what organizers billed as the city’s “largest pro-Trump” rally — charging he violated an ethics prohibition against partisan political activity for bench hopefuls.
Ron Castorina Jr. –– an ex-Assembly member and ex-chairman of the Staten Island Republican Party who is running for a Civil Court judge slot — was among the borough GOP candidates who took part in the Oct. 3 “New York TRIUMPH Rally.”
The rally got noticed beyond New York after Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, who is running for Staten Island’s House seat, tweeted a clip of the crowd of 2,500 declaring “Get well soon!” to President Donald Trump during his bout with COVID-19.
The Staten Island Republican Party touted the event, held in the parking lot of the Bricktown Centre at Charleston shopping complex, as the “largest pro-Trump, pro-Republican, pro-law-and-order rally in New York City this year — here in Staten Island.” Videos show attendees chanting “USA! USA!” and “Four more years!”
Castorina’s speech was apolitical. “Democrat, Republican, whatever anyone may be, I pray for our president and first lady that they get better in Jesus’ name,” he told the crowd.
Castorina did not return messages seeking comment. Staten Island GOP chair Brendan Lantry called complaints “preposterous.”
He described the gathering as a “get out the vote rally” that the party holds annually in smaller venues to support all local GOP candidates, including judicial ones.
“All the political stuff that was said, he didn’t clap, he didn’t express. He got up, he talked about his resume and sat back down,” said Lantry. “That’s what happened, as far as ‘Trump’ stuff, that was the choice of the Staten Island Republican Party.”
‘Blatantly Partisan Messaging’
But Natalie DeVito, a Staten Island activist, penned a letter to several bar associations, the state and city Board of Elections, and the state court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics slamming Castorina’s role at the rally.
“Mr. Castorina’s participation was audaciously shared on Mr. Castorina’s social media pages with a public setting,” she wrote in the letter, which has been co-signed with others on a rolling, live petition.
“The event garnered national press for its promotion of a particular candidate at the top of the ticket while defying norms and standards of health precautions during a pandemic, was hosted by a political party, and was billed to highlight its blatantly partisan messaging along with a giant editorial portrait of the candidate at the top of the ticket,” added DeVito, who made a $25 donation to Castorina’s opponent state records show.
What a wonderful day with great friends talking about what I believe in. It doesn’t get better than this! Please vote for me for Civil Court Judge this month and on November 3rd!!!Posted by Ron Castorina Jr on Saturday, October 3, 2020
A spokesperson for Castorina’s Democratic rival, Allyn Crawford, said the rally appearance reflected poorly on the judicial hopeful.
“We aren’t talking about our opponent violating some obscure rule buried deep in the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, we are talking about Rule 1 on Page 1. ‘1. Basic Rule: No Partisan Political Activity,’” said the spokesperson, Jack Keller.
“The fact that Staten Islanders are voicing their concerns about our opponent’s inability to follow basic ethics rules says something about the campaign he’s running and how he would conduct himself as a judge,” he added.
Lantry pointed to a part of the handbook that states: “During the judicial candidate’s window period, the candidate may, unless otherwise prohibited by law or rule, attend and speak at gatherings on behalf of his/her own candidacy. The candidate may attend a wide variety of events as part of his/her campaign, including his/her own fund-raising events.”
An online announcement promoting the event declared: “Join the Staten Island Republican Party as we rally to support President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and our full Republican ticket as we head into the final days before voting begins.”
Asked for comment about Castorina’s participation in the rally, a spokesperson for the Office of Court administration referred THE CITY to the handbook.