GOP's Carpenter didn't let 'no' defeat her

Angie Carpenter beams with delight as she is

Angie Carpenter beams with delight as she is nominated for Suffolk County Executive by the Suffolk County Republican Committee at their nominating convention. (May 25, 2011) (Credit: David Pokress)

Rick Brand

Portrait of Newsday reporter Rick Brand taken on Rick Brand

Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about

bio

When Suffolk Treasurer Angie Carpenter officially announced her county executive candidacy at a shuttered West Islip restaurant on March 30, few top Republican leaders took her seriously.

And when she raised the specter of running a GOP primary if she didn't get the nomination, upset party leaders' mantra privately became "ABBA" -- not the Swedish singing group, but "Anybody but Angie."

Yet despite Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle's inability to enlist a better-known or better-financed contender to take on Democrat Steve Bellone, he touted Carpenter -- the first woman in a major party to run for county executive on Long Island -- at Wednesday's convention as if her candidacy was his doing.

"The Republican Party is the party of opportunity, it's the party of diversity," he said. "We're making history."

But others say it was Carpenter's own persistence that put her over the top.

"She stuck to her guns when people were saying no way," said Commissioner of Jurors Michael O'Donohoe. "She managed to survive while the good old boys crashed and burned."

O'Donohoe, once a Conservative contender in the race, added that higher-profile candidates saw no career gain in heading a county with ongoing fiscal woes. "It was a springboard to a pool without any water," O'Donohoe said.

But those final days of the roller-coaster selection process were anything but easy for Carpenter. One adviser recalled that she went through a "grueling" five-hour meeting with backers at Islip GOP headquarters last weekend that amounted to an "intervention."

It was decided that running a GOP primary without a chance of getting the Conservative ballot line -- party chairman Edward Walsh was supporting wealthy businessman Randy Altschuler at the time -- would be "political suicide," and that Carpenter would be blamed for splitting the party.

Carpenter then made known that she would not run a primary if Altschuler agreed to run -- as long as she were the backup choice if he did not. Altschuler balked at the race but Walsh still made a last-ditch move Monday to persuade the GOP to back Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). However, GOP officials expressed concerns about the lawmaker's lack of fundraising and fears that his hard-line conservative views would fuel a union backlash.

The turning point, Carpenter said, came at a GOP fundraiser Tuesday night. She said that when she arrived she was invited to introduce LaValle, and later held private talks with Walsh. "That gesture was very telling," she said, adding her talk with Walsh, now a backer, indicated "it was coming together."

But the Republican scrum has left Carpenter far behind Bellone, the Babylon Town supervisor, in fundraising. He has $1.5 million; Carpenter has about $200,000. Her first fundraiser after the convention will come Tuesday at a Hauppauge steakhouse. She hopes to raise a total of $1 million for the campaign.

Despite her late start, Carpenter has advantages, including the GOP's 12,000 edge in voter enrollment. Backers also expect at least a 3 percent bump from female voters, while others warn that Bellone will have to be cautious in attacking Carpenter, because she's a woman. She's also won countywide office twice -- once in 2009 with Democratic endorsement.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Bellone's campaign will stay positive, and he downplayed Democrats' past endorsement of Carpenter.

Though Carpenter's administrative post rarely makes news, former Democratic County Executive Patrick Halpin said the silver lining is that she has not had to take positions on tough issues.

"There's very little to criticize, as long as she's depositing county checks in the bank," Halpin said.