Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the powerful Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, wants in the worst way to unseat one of his union's former members, freshman Republican Legis. Rob Trotta.
"Mr. Trotta has shown nothing but hypocrisy since his election, criticizing public servants across the board for salary and benefits which he enjoyed for 20 years," DiGerolamo said of Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a retired Suffolk police detective.
Town and union sources say DiGerolamo earlier used an intermediary to ask GOP Smithtown board member Lynne Nowick about running for her old legislative seat against Trotta, but she demurred. DiGerolamo denied any contact.
DiGerolamo has even approached former Suffolk County Legis. Michael O'Donohoe, a Conservative who is county commissioner of jurors, about taking on Trotta.
O'Donohoe, 66, acknowledges he is weighing a run, but sees significant problems with the race. O'Donohoe said Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has called him to say his party would give him "every consideration" if he wanted to make the run. Schaffer did not return calls for comment.
Trotta said he is "not losing sleep" over the effort.
"I'm flattered," Trotta said. "If the unions are after me, it tells me I'm looking out for taxpayers."
Trotta, 53, first became known as an outspoken civic leader fighting state plans for the Kings Park Psychiatric Center. Two years ago, he won a major upset in a three-way Republican primary, defeating GOP party choice Paul Hennings and Plumbers Local 200 head Mario Mattera.
Despite Trotta's maverick roots, Bill Ellis, Smithtown GOP chairman, said, "He's our guy . . . after the primary we embraced him. He's been very good reaching out to the party and the community."
As a lawmaker, Trotta has been outspoken on both police and budget issues. Last week, he criticized public works officials for seeking $4 million to replace the burned-out Cupsogue beach pavilion.
"The bottom line is it is only used by the public three months a year," Trotta said.
He also rankled the police department last June with a proposal -- which later stalled -- to require high-ranking police officials to have college degrees, and top brass to have advanced degrees.
"Nobody supports the police department more than I do and I appreciate their hard work," Trotta said. "But I also have to look after taxpayers, and my job is to strike a balance between a fair salary and taxes we can afford to pay."
However, DiGerolamo notes that the year Trotta became a legislator, his household earned more than $500,000 in public pay including his legislative salary, police exit pay for unused sick and vacation time, his police pension and his wife's pay as a teacher.
"I'd be happy to withdraw my criticism when he returns his pension check and all the benefits he receives as a $100,000-a-year legislator," DiGerolamo said.
The PBA's financial clout in local races is indisputable. The union's Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation spent $249,000 in the Suffolk County comptroller race last year and $135,000 attacking Assemb. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), a staunch conservative.
While weighing a race, O'Donohoe, of East Northport, noted that two-thirds of the district is in heavily Republican Smithtown. As a Conservative, he said, he'd have no chance to run in a Republican primary, and could be vulnerable to a Democratic primary if he got the party's nod.
O'Donohoe, who served as a lawmaker from 1986 to 1993, also said Trotta has a populist appeal similar to former County Executive Steve Levy's. He also questioned how he'd frame issues to avoid appearing an apologist for the PBA.
"I know they are looking for someone to clean this guy's clock," O'Donohoe said, noting that Trotta is saying "what Joe Six-pack wants to hear."
However, O'Donohoe conceded the prospect of a legislative comeback has appeal. And he added, "I've never backed down from a fight."