Sizing up Carpenter's bid for county exec

Rick Brand

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Unlike a half-dozen potential GOP contenders who have been hemming and hawing about running for county executive, Suffolk Treasurer Angie Carpenter is mincing no words.

"I'm the only candidate in the race who brings county experience," Carpenter said last week on the eve of the first party screenings. "There'll be no job training with me and at this junction that has to be an overriding consideration in selecting a candidate."

Carpenter, 67, an elected county official for 18 years, has the advantage of being the only woman in the current field, a former private business owner, the only contender who has twice won office countywide and the only candidate to officially declare for county executive.

Even before incumbent Steve Levy unexpectedly pulled out of the race for re-election last month, Carpenter had publicly mulled a primary run against the newly minted Republican. The exit of Levy and his $4-million campaign fund has created a conundrum for Republicans looking to find a respectable replacement. Other possible contenders, including state Sen. John Flanagan of East Northport, Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick of St. James and even last year's GOP gubernatorial primary loser Rick Lazio, have surfaced but waffled on committing to the race.

"The chaos plays in her favor," said Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher (D-East Setauket), who sought her own party's nomination only to drop out when Suffolk Democratic chair Richard Schaffer made clear he was backing Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone.

However, critics say that Carpenter -- because her job is largely administrative -- is not well-known countywide. They also worry that she is not battle-tested for the kind of multimillion-dollar campaign Bellone and Schaffer are likely to wage. They say her $166,000 campaign war chest is more a testament to longevity than fundraising prowess. But Carpenter says she believes the county executive's race can be won with $500,000.

Others note that Carpenter has a strong Republican base in Islip, making her competitive with Bellone, who is not well-known outside Babylon. Some party insiders say Carpenter's candidacy would have the side benefit of bringing out votes for the town ticket looking to recapture control of the town board. "Any time I've gone into a diner with Angie, I'm amazed how many people know her and come up and say hello," said Frank Tantone, Islip GOP chairman.

Carpenter has faced little competition since her first race in 1993 for the county legislature, which she won by 41 votes. For 13 years she represented one of Suffolk's most heavily GOP legislative districts; she won the treasurer's job in 2006 with 59 percent against an unknown foe.

Some say that with her current job -- in which she handles $3.8 billion in taxes and grants and other revenue and keeps tax records on Suffolk's 582,000 parcels -- Carpenter has little visibility or voice on policy issues. Levy once tried to do away with her post as redundant. "Her exposure is limited to making bank deposits and signing checks," said Paul Sabatino, a former chief deputy county executive.

Even as a candidate for county executive, Carpenter has said little about how she'd change things, other than to say there should be more cooperation than finger-pointing. She declined to say whether the county nursing home should be open or shut, citing ongoing litigation. Of Suffolk's two-year budget gap of as much as $179 million, Carpenter said the county must find new revenue without raising taxes.

She also bristles at the notion that her job has not prepared her for the county's top post.

"Ministerial though it might be," she said, "it has made me the best equipped to deal with county finances. I know where the county is financially, where it's come from and where it needs to be."