Suffolk Dems want special election delayed

Rick Brand

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After waging two special election campaigns before spring even arrived, Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer says he's not eager to take part in a third.

"We're all special-ed out," said Schaffer.

In January, farmer and Southold town board member Al Krupski, a Democrat, won a special election to fill the Suffolk legislative seat of Republican Edward P. Romaine, now Brookhaven Town supervisor. Then the political parties had to gear up for a special election for Brookhaven highway superintendent on March 5, after Democrat John Rouse exited to become a County Court judge.

Now, the political parties are facing another to fill the Assembly seat vacated by Republican Dan Losquadro, Brookhaven's new highway superintendent. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo could schedule a vote within 70 to 80 days, which would push the contest into mid-June.

But Schaffer said he is lobbying with the governor's office to delay the vote for the Assembly seat until the November elections, and to allow the winner to take office immediately. Cuomo's office did not return calls for comment.

"It just makes sense," Schaffer said. "The county Board of Elections is already way over budget, and even if the election were held, the winner probably wouldn't take office for several weeks, by which time the State Legislature session will be over."

Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle assailed Schaffer's stand as "completely inconsistent and a little bizarre."

LaValle said that several months ago, Democrats resisted a GOP bid to hold both the highway and county legislative elections on the same date in February to cut costs. LaValle noted that Schaffer argued at the time that the savings would be negligible, and that it was important for the voters to get a county lawmaker as soon as possible.

"If we had held both elections together, we not only would have saved money but we would have elected a new highway superintendent before the [Feb. 8] snowstorm and avoided all the problems," said LaValle, referring to criticism of Brookhaven's storm response. He argued that Democrats are trying to "buy time because they don't have a quality candidate."

Democrats are considering running Jennifer Maertz of Rocky Point, who lost in a State Senate primary election last year; Cutchogue winery owner Jim Waters; Riverhead attorney John McManmon and county park police Officer Tom Schiliro of Manorville, who was defeated in a town board primary several years ago.

GOP contenders include Southold Town board member Christopher Talbot, former Brookhaven Councilman Kevin McCarrick and town planning aide William Faulk, Romaine's chief of staff when he served as a Suffolk legislator.

Democratic elections officials say the price tag for the two special elections held so far totals about $720,000 -- $130,000 for the legislative race involving 65 election districts and $590,000 for the town highway race, covering 295 election districts. A new Assembly contest with 89 election districts would cost $178,000.

Schaffer's stand runs counter to Democrats' past practice, dating to the 1980s, of championing special elections to prevent then-dominant Republicans from installing appointees so they could run as incumbents on Election Day. Democrats first negotiated for special elections in the county legislature in a deal in the early '80s with former Republican County Executive Peter F. Cohalan.

"It was always a trademark issue for Democrats when they were in the political wilderness," said Paul Sabatino, a former counsel to the county legislature. "It allowed them to concentrate their resources on one race and focus efforts on targeting turnout."