Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Since late last year, Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle has searched for a county executive candidate for this fall's election.
But with fewer than two months left until the party's convention, not one contender has emerged publicly.
LaValle's plight is not unusual. For the past decade, neither major party in Suffolk has fielded a countywide candidate for any nonjudicial office held by an elected incumbent.
In that period, Republicans and Democrats in 11 separate countywide contests endorsed each other's candidates for district attorney, county clerk, treasurer and sheriff. In 2007, the Republicans even endorsed County Executive Steve Levy to lessen the impact of an expected Democratic landslide.
Except in judicial races, LaValle has vowed not to cross-endorse County Executive Steve Bellone or any other Democrat this year. However, he has taken no stand on whether to back former GOP Comptroller Joseph Sawicki for the two years remaining on the term of former Treasurer Angie Carpenter, who is now the Islip Town supervisor. Democrats earlier appeared ready to name Sawicki as Bellone's appointment as treasurer until a special election in November before Sawicki withdrew his name.
Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer downplayed the political impact of past cross-endorsements. He called positions such as the clerk and sheriff "mainly administrative positions which aren't political. It comes down to whether the person can manage their department."
But some Republicans say their party is missing a major opportunity. Paul Sabatino, a former chief deputy county executive, said that with the "momentum" from victories last year by Lee Zeldin for Congress, Tom Croci for State Senate and John Kennedy for county comptroller, "I'm shocked that Republicans haven't gotten off to a quick start this year."
Sabatino said Republicans could exploit issues such as Bellone's costly police contract; his retreat on school-zone speed cameras after public protests; the conviction of Don Rodgers, his top computer aide, for failing to disclose ownership of a consulting company; and alleged misuse of Babylon Democratic Party funds by his closest political ally Robert Stricoff.
However, political officials note that countywide races are expensive and attracting contenders is difficult unless there's an open seat or the incumbent is politically wounded.
The county executive's job never has been a launchpad to higher office, and its attractiveness has diminished, given the sluggish fiscal recovery.
Bellone also has $1.4 million in his campaign fund and the backing of the powerful Suffolk police unions. Behind the scenes, Schaffer has worked to discourage likely GOP candidates.
The last challenger to take on a countywide elected incumbent was Conservative Vincent DeMarco, who in 2005 beat Republican Sheriff Al Tisch with the help of the Democratic ballot line and Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, then a mentor but now a bitter enemy.
Veteran defense attorney and former prosecutor Raymond Perini tried to take on Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota two years ago, but his own party backed Spota and Perini lost in a GOP primary.
Perini said the parties' penchant for making cross-endorsement deals discourages prospective candidates. "We do have good young candidates and some that are older, but you got to give them a chance and they don't," he said.
Some also say the lack of competition makes residents feel their vote has no meaning.
"I don't know if it's laziness or deal making but it's a terrible practice because it takes away the public's choice," said ex-Suffolk County Legis. Vivian Viloria-Fisher, a Setauket Democrat, who in 2006 lost to Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale shortly after Pascale had been appointed by then-Gov. George Pataki. Pascale later was cross-endorsed in two subsequent re-election campaigns.
Viloria-Fisher also was upset by the repeated cross-endorsements.
"It's like you're handing someone a job for life and that's no way to make the system work," she said.