Rick Brand Portrait of Newsday reporter Rick Brand taken on

Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.

He-e-e-e’s back, again.

Former Suffolk Democratic Legis. Rick Montano, a maverick who in the past has driven both Republicans and some inside his own party a bit crazy, is circulating petitions to again run for State Senate.

Montano is looking at making a late entry into the race for the 3rd District seat held by freshman Republican Sen. Tom Croci.

Montano, 66, a Bentwood attorney who served for a decade in the county legislature, declined to comment late last week.

Four years ago, Montano made a bid for the 4th District seat held for decades by the late Sen. Owen Johnson, who at the last minute demurred when it became clear Montano had enough petition signatures to run.

Johnson’s last-minute replacement, GOP Assemb. Philip Boyle of Bay Shore, beat Montano.

Montano waged a campaign without any party backing, but and ran a respectable contest even though he did not live in the district, which is permitted in a reapportionment year. Boyle won by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.4 percent

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“I hear he’s out on the street collecting petitions,” said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman.

Schaffer dismissed Montano’s comeback effort. “I don’t waste any time thinking about Rick Montano,” Schaffer said.

Another Democratic contender in the 3rd District, Joseph Fritz, 71, a lawyer and veteran party activist, said he ran into Montano while he was collecting his own petition signatures in Brentwood.

“I asked him to sign my petition and he said no,” Fritz said. Fritz said he discovered that Montano was circulating Senate petitions when he approached the owner of the next house.

Montano, Fritz and political newcomer, John DeVito, 25, of Mastic Beach, a law student taking a leave to run, have until Thursday to file at least 1,000 legitimate signatures at the Suffolk Board of Elections to qualify for the Sept. 13 primary.

Fritz, a former Brentwood school board member who also ran for Islip Town supervisor, county legislator and District Court judge in years when the GOP dominated local politics, said he has collected 425 signatures himself and expects to file 1,400 to 1,600 in all.

DeVito, who is getting help from the Brookhaven Democratic Committee, expects to file 2,000 signatures.

Montano, whose father was a state assemblyman from the Bronx, saw his political fortunes unravel a year after his loss to Boyle.

Monica Martinez, with the strong backing of Schaffer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, waged a successful primary against the veteran lawmaker. Last year, Montano ran for Islip supervisor in a Democratic primary on a dissident ticket. He lost by 87 votes,

Yet Montano, as a longtime former incumbent, is the best known Democrat in the Senate primary field this year.

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The district, which straddles the South Shore of Brookhaven and Islip, has 64,398 registered Democrats, 56,509 Republicans and 48,900 who are unaligned.

Along with heavy presidential turnout, Montano could benefit from a significant Hispanic vote in Patchogue, Brentwood and Central Islip.

On the flip side, Fritz and Montano could split the Islip vote, helping DeVito.

Fritz said Montano’s weakness is that he often goes his own way: “He’s not a team player and that’s important in Albany.”

Schaffer, who is neutral in the race, said no matter who wins an intraparty battle, it will be an uphill fight against Croci, who won with 57 percent of the vote two years ago and was a popular Islip supervisor before that.

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However, Senate Democrats who this year took former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ seat with the election of former Assemb. Todd Kaminsky, and have three other competitive races on Long Island, may see a Montano candidacy as a way to make the 3rd District a battlefield that Senate Republicans have to spend to defend.

“You can never have too many competitive races,” said one Albany Democrat, who did not wish to be identified.