Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
When Democrat Robert Sweeney first was elected to the Assembly more than 26 years ago, the man who replaced him in his prior job -- Lindenhurst Village administrator -- was Shawn Cullinane.
Now that Sweeney, dean of the Long Island Assembly delegation, is retiring at year's end, Cullinane is eyeing the open 11th Assembly District seat.
Republicans named Cullinane as their candidate more than a week ago, although he did not attend the Suffolk GOP county convention in Coram. "I've been approached, I'm interested but I've not made a full decision yet," said Cullinane, 60, who said he expects to decide within about a week.
Democrats, meanwhile, tried initially to recruit Suffolk legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville). He traveled to Albany late last month to meet with Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who later said he would make "a terrific candidate." Gregory demurred.
Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer in the past week asked Sweeney to reconsider his retirement and even talked to former County Executive Patrick Halpin about running for his old seat. Both said no.
Schaffer, also Babylon Town supervisor, screened four other potential candidates early last week, though most are little-known first-time contenders who work as aides to elected officials. Schaffer said he is talking to other community leaders and has made no decision.
On paper, Democrats have a huge advantage in the 11th: there are 32,400 registered Democrats, 17,050 Republicans and 16,570 unaligned voters. When Sweeney first ran in 1988, Republicans had a 6,000-voter edge. Since then, Sweeney has usually had only token opposition for re-election.
But Democrats, who have controlled Babylon for more than two decades, suffered a major upset last year when another veteran Lindenhurst official, Kevin McCaffrey, a GOP trustee and deputy mayor, won a seat in the county legislature despite heavy campaigning by Schaffer and County Executive Steve Bellone, who lives in the legislative district.
"Lindenhurst is always pivotal. McCaffrey came out of the village with an 800-vote lead," Halpin said. "And Shawn is extremely well known in the village."
Cullinane said the Assembly race is much tougher than McCaffrey's because the district is larger and Democrats' enrollment edge is so strong. But he noted that in politics, "We know the tide goes in and then the tide goes out."
Cullinane said he is seriously considering the race because there's been "significant pushback" against Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on issues including the Common Core curriculum and the state's pace in providing money to repair homes damaged in superstorm Sandy.
However, Cullinane over the years has lost five times -- twice to Schaffer -- for elected office. In two races -- one for town board and another for Suffolk County Legislature -- he lost by fewer than 60 votes.
"I've been a warrior -- I haven't walked away," said Cullinane, noting that he spent a decade as an elected library board member and also serves on the Babylon Town arts council.
Schaffer said his search for a candidate has nothing to do with McCaffrey's upset win or Cullinane's potential run. "I'm just casting a wider net," Schaffer said. "I just want to make sure we have the right person for our town and make sure we're not missing anyone."