Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Call it the row in Smithtown.
In one corner is Long Island's longest-serving town supervisor Patrick Vecchio, 82, with a record 33 years at the helm in Smithtown. Vecchio, a former New York City detective who was a bodyguard-chauffeur to Mayor John Lindsay, first won election in 1978 as a Democrat, and turned Republican midcareer.
Challenger Bob Creighton, 75, is a town board member since 2008 and former Suffolk police commissioner who started out as a Republican, switched to the Conservative Party and returned to GOP ranks last fall so he could challenge Vecchio in the September GOP primary. He announces officially Monday.
"We have two extremely capable gentlemen vying for the nomination and it's very difficult to choose," said Smithtown Republican chairman Bill Ellis, who remains neutral but has always backed the often prickly Vecchio. With the party convention set for May, the town party leader said, "I'm hoping things will work themselves out . . . and at some point we can find a bridge."
Ellis in recent weeks met with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) in hopes of finding Vecchio a state appointment to defuse the impending primary battle, according to two GOP sources. "We discussed many topics and I'll leave it at that," Ellis said of the meeting.
Without another job to replace his $111,000 annual supervisor salary, Vecchio would be left with his $15,000-a-year police pension.
Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle is backing Creighton, and assails Vecchio for failing to repave aging roads, allowing the downtown to decline and losing local businesses. "Smithtown for . . . years has been a laughing stock of government," he said.
Despite his party switch, Creighton still has the strong support of Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, who privately encouraged him to run. Walsh's backing means Creighton will have the Conservative line, guaranteeing him a spot on the November ballot regardless of the primary outcome.
Walsh also could pressure the GOP to back Creighton by withholding endorsements from other town GOP candidates -- the crucial 10 percent to 12 percent of the vote that puts many Republicans over the top.
"Except for Assemb. Mike Fitzpatrick, no Republican has won in Smithtown in the last 30 years without the Conservative line," said Desmond Ryan, veteran GOP business lobbyist.
Ellis said Walsh would not withhold his support for other candidates to get GOP backing for Creighton.
Walsh did not return calls for comment.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, sees the intramural squabble as a potential opportunity for a potential cross-endorsement in the rock-ribbed Republican town -- where Mitt Romney won by the largest margin in New York State.
"We are always open to all options that would benefit Smithtown residents," Schaffer said. "I'm sure my phone will be ringing soon."
Others predict Vecchio will prevail.
"It's not going to matter what the parties do," said former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Republican. "When people wake up and vote, they know Pat Vecchio and they like him. They know the guy has watched their money carefully and he's served them well for decades."