Politicians face dilemma over holding dual posts

John Jay Lavalle, Suffolk Republican chairman, addresses the John Jay Lavalle, Suffolk Republican chairman, addresses the crowd at Suffolk GOP headquarters in Patchogue on Nov. 6, 2012. Under county law, LaValle, a lawyer, must give up the GOP chairmanship if elected as the county comptroller in November. Photo Credit: Neswsday / John Paraskevas

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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.

To be or not to be is not just a dramatic line -- it's increasingly becoming a real question for Suffolk political leaders who are also in some public jobs.

It's a question facing Robert Stricoff, who is both Babylon Democratic chairman and CEO of the town's industrial development agency, since the $155,000-a-year post as executive director of Suffolk's Industrial Development Agency has been vacant.

Despite his publicly stated disinterest, political and business sources say Stricoff, a Babylon Town IDA veteran, is the leading contender for the county post. Though not barred by county law, critics and even some within his own party say he should drop the party post if he takes the job.

It also is a potential question for any Republican town leaders with aspirations to become Suffolk GOP chairman, should John Jay LaValle be elected in November as the $189,200-a-year county comptroller. Under county law, LaValle, a lawyer, must give up the GOP chairmanship if elected. Among possible successors, Jesse Garcia of Brookhaven and Bill Ellis of Smithtown are county elections officials, and Babylon Republican chairman Tony Pancella is county Off-Track Betting vice president.

The thorny issue of dual roles also may surface in an investigation of Suffolk Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh, who is also a county correction lieutenant, over alleged theft of time and whether he attended political events during work hours.

Under Suffolk law, town and county political leaders are barred from serving as an elected official, department commissioner, assistant district attorney, or a member of any county board or commission, authority or public benefit corporation whose members are appointed by the county executive or county legislature. The Suffolk Water Authority separately also bans any nonunion employees from serving as political leaders.

Some say the ban is needed to avoid conflicts that can arise from the party and public roles.

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"The responsibility of every party leader is to advance their political agenda . . . and put people into office to exercise power, while the public official has a fiduciary duty to taxpayers to provide the most cost-effective service regardless of political affiliation," said Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive.

Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer also is Babylon Town supervisor, but has virtually escaped partisan criticism for his dual roles. Schaffer credited his approach. "You treat people the way you want to be treated yourself, and you do it in a fair and decent way," he said.

However, shifting Stricoff from the town to the county IDA could raise questions, especially if no other contenders -- including a half-dozen who had already applied -- are considered. Legally, Stricoff would not be required to give up his town leader's role because he would not be an appointee of the county legislature, but of board members who are appointed by the legislature.

Similarly, none of the GOP town leaders is a county department head and therefore is not barred by county law from holding dual positions.

In the late 1990s, the late Suffolk and Brookhaven GOP chairman John Powell also was a deputy elections commissioner until he stepped down after being indicted on federal corruption charges for which he later was imprisoned. However, his then-wife, Linda, replaced him in the elections post. Legis. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), minority leader, declined to comment on GOP leadership issues, but said he will press his bill to bar political leaders from the top IDA job. "We should do everything we can to keep politics at bay at the IDA so businesses feel there's an absolute level playing field," he said.

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