Jay Jacobs tries to avert comptroller primary

Jay Jacobs, Nassau's Democratic leader, prepares for 2013.

Jay Jacobs, Nassau's Democratic leader, prepares for 2013. (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan)

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Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs went on a delicate political mission last week in an attempt to defuse a potential primary fight he feels could hurt the party's slate in November.

Jacobs sat down with former county Comptroller Howard Weitzman on Thursday to try to dissuade him from his comeback bid against Republican George Maragos, who beat him in 2009.

Jacobs and other party leaders are planning to back Democratic county Legis. Wayne Wink, 46, of Roslyn, at the Democrats' May 28 convention. To get a rematch with Maragos, Weitzman, 67, would have to beat Wink, whom Republicans redistricted out of his seat, in a primary in September.

"I'd say it was a good meeting and we had an open and comfortable conversation," Jacobs said after the hourlong talk. "Both of us agreed that a primary in the comptroller's race is not ideal and we're working on a way to avoid that possibility."

Jacobs offered Weitzman a possible alternative -- a chance to run for the seat held by county Legis. Judy Bosworth (D-Great Neck). Democrats are eyeing Bosworth as a candidate for North Hempstead Town supervisor should veteran Democratic incumbent Jon Kaiman not run. Kaiman has yet to disclose his plans.

"We had some frank and open discussions," Weitzman said. But he said voters would be "best served" by his running for comptroller, and that he is "expecting to be in a primary." However, he acknowledged discussing the legislative race with Jacobs and noted, "the convention is still three weeks away."

Jacobs argued that a legislative nomination could put him back into elected office, yet provide him with a more manageable, less costly campaign. If the Democrats regain a legislative majority, Weitzman could head the legislature's finance committee, Jacobs said. Republicans control the legislature 10-9.

Jacobs wants to avoid a costly primary that would eat up scarce resources and create a second front, given that former County Executive Thomas Suozzi already is facing a Democratic primary from businessman Adam Haber.

A comptroller's primary could leave less for Democrats to spend in key legislative races in November. It also could leave the winner weakened as he faces Maragos, 64, who founded a financial services firm and has largely self-funded his comptrollers' campaigns and two unsuccessful runs for U.S. Senate.

Weitzman, a certified public accountant, lost four years ago by 644 votes; he noted that he had barely campaigned after being stricken with a rare blood disorder, from which he says he's recovered.

Republicans could attack a Suozzi-Weitzman slate as a political rerun of 2009.

But backers say Weitzman during his eight years in office implemented a prescription program that saved residents millions of dollars and conducted audits that highlighted abuse and fraud.

Weitzman said he has raised $400,000 for` the 2013 race. State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has endorsed him, and his campaign chairman is former Oyster Bay supervisor and Assemb. Lew Yevoli.

"After being out of the public eye, a primary puts me in a position to remind people what I was able to accomplish," Weitzman said. "And after the primary I believe I'll be able to raise the resources necessary to be competitive."