SOUTH BROOKLYN — The bruising campaign between Democratic state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and his Republican rival Marty Golden ended a year ago, but the controversy surrounding that 2018 election is still exploding today.
Gounardes, who beat the longtime state senator in the election, has now been threatened with a defamation lawsuit by a Golden campaign staffer.
The plaintiff, Ian Walsh Reilly, is seeking $5.5 million in damages.
Gounardes dismissed the threatened lawsuit as frivolous.
Reilly, who has filed papers in New York State Supreme Court, plans to sue Gounardes and his campaign, charging that the Bay Ridge pol defamed him by falsely claiming that he was a member of the far-right group Proud Boys.
The Proud Boys has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Reilly was a paid member of Golden’s campaign staff and served as manager of the campaign office.
Gounardes defeated Golden, a 16-year incumbent, to win the seat in the State Senate’s 22nd District, covering Bay Ridge and several other southern Brooklyn neighborhoods.
At the height of the heated Senate campaign, Reilly, who in addition to working on Golden’s campaign, was the president of the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, invited Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes to speak at the club.
A melee broke out on the sidewalk outside the club on the night McInnes spoke and several arrests were made.
Dennis Houdek, Reilly’s lawyer, said his client is not and never was a member of the Proud Boys.
“He invited a member of speak at his club. To accuse him of being a member of the Proud Boys is ridiculous. Just because you invite someone to speak does not mean you share that person’s views,” Houdek told the Home Reporter.
Following the melee, Gounardes’ campaign sent out a fundraising email that criticized Golden for having a member of the Proud Boys on his payroll, according to Houdek, who sent the Home Reporter a copy of the email.
The Reilly controversy also played out across debates between Gounardes and Golden during the Senate campaign, including a heated political forum sponsored by the Bay Ridge Community Council in October 2018, where Gounardes publicly demanded that Golden fire Reilly and Golden refused.
Being labeled a Proud Boys member has been devastating to Reilly, Houdek said. “He has a political consulting business and it’s been difficult,” the lawyer said.
But Gounardes said the lawsuit Reilly has said he will file won’t stop him for speaking out against hate.
“Ian Reilly’s frivolous lawsuit won’t distract from the fact that, during his time as a staffer for my Republican opponent’s campaign, he gave hate and white supremacy a platform when he invited the Proud Boys to speak at a prominent Republican club. At a time when the rising tide of hate threatens our country and our communities, I won’t back down from calling out prejudice and hate whenever and wherever it arises,” Gounardes said.
Reilly is also planning to sue the group Fight Back Bay Ridge, FBBR co-founder Mallory McMahon and other groups and individuals, according to Houdek.
Reilly named FBBR and McMahon in the court papers he filed because of tweets they posted on Twitter about him, Houdek said.
McMahon said she isn’t a bit worried. “First, this is not a lawsuit. It’s a filing of intent to file, and nobody has been served. The filing is riddled with inaccuracies and downright falsities, and I’m not worried about it. If Reilly goes through with his intent to sue, I’ll give it my attention then,” she told the Home Reporter via email.
McMahon also noted that New York State has laws designed to protect citizens from actions known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP.
Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to prevent people from using the courts to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights, according to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.