Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
When Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone showed up on Thursday for a flag-raising ceremony marking construction of a new $60 million cardiac center at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, one of the first people he saw was Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri.
"I know what you're going to say," Pontieri recalled Bellone saying, "and I'm working on it."
The exchange came a day after the Brookhaven hospital's $15 million bid to buy the county's former John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank. Pontieri is a fan, not only of the services the hospital could provide but because the deal indirectly could spur Patchogue's downtown.
The nonprofit hospital, which for more than four decades ran health centers for the county in Patchogue and Shirley, wants to turn Foley into an outpatient center that could handle an array of services including dialysis, primary care, veterans and pediatric services, adult day care and drug treatment.
Hospital officials would not say if Bellone's appearance enhanced their chances, but believe their bid is competitive.
"I'm not a betting man, but I'm optimistic," said Richard Margulis, hospital president and CEO. "Our offer is the best value and makes the best use of the facility," providing 150 jobs and serving the needs of 370,000 local residents in nearby communities.
Margulis said he expects to talk with top Bellone aides within the next week or so.
While talks have been underway since late last year, hospital officials acknowledged their offer only became possible after recent "philanthropic support." Although the hospital declined to name the giver, sources say it is Priscilla Knapp Teich, a major donor to the new cardiac center and to the local YMCA, parks and theater.
The hospital's bid came the day Bellone put a separate $20 million offer from private nursing home operator Kenneth Rozenberg before county lawmakers in a public hearing in Hauppauge. Rozenberg four years ago made a $36 million offer for Foley, while it was open, only to walk away from the deal days after county lawmakers approved a sale. Until Rozenberg resurfaced in July, Bellone appeared ready to accept a $12.3 million offer from Port Jefferson nursing home operator Kenneth Gaul.
The Bellone administration says only that so far it has put "the higher offer" before lawmakers "for consideration and approval," without mentioning the hospital's bid. That stance could be a way for Bellone to put the $20 million bid in his proposed budget in the next week. That would leave it to lawmakers to find a way to make up the difference in a spending package that is burdened by a huge sales-tax gap and other fiscal woes.
But Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) said the hospital's ambitious plans more than make up for its lower offer.
"We need to have a local preference -- the hospital has always done the right thing for the community," she said.
Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) expressed concern about contract provisions involving the building's condition that could cut the sale price. "I think they are looking for every way to whittle the amount," Calarco said.
Rozenberg could not be reached for comment Friday.
Village officials say Patchogue would benefit from the hospital deal because it would be able to move its existing Main Street dialysis center to Yaphank. That would make room for a new downtown hotel, bolstering the village as a destination for restaurant, music, film and theater venues.
While the hospital's offer comes late, Pontieri said, the delay has given the downtown time to become more successful, increasing interest among hotel developers.
Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine already has lined up behind the "home team" hospital and hopes the county will back the institution.
"Any time you just chase the dollar, you always wind up with headaches," Romaine said. "You have to do the right thing."