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Islip Supervisor Tom Croci Tuesday told town residents he will seek the Republican nod for the 3rd District State Senate seat, one day after Conservative Town Board member Anthony Senft dropped out.
"A seat in the State Senate was not something I sought, but when called upon, I believe we must all serve," said Croci, 42, of Sayville, in an email released after Tuesday's town board meeting. "So today I have agreed to allow my name to be placed in nomination."
"I'm elated," said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman. "Everyone is excited he is willing to take on this challenge -- the balance of the entire Republican Party in the State of New York may rely on this."
Croci emerged as a candidate only two weeks after returning from a year-long Navy stint in Afghanistan. The Islip GOP administration, including Senft, has been buried under months of negative publicity from a toxic dumping scandal at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood. GOP officials say Croci's entry into the race provides Republicans with the best chance to hold on to the open seat, now held by fellow Republican Lee Zeldin of Shirley, who is running for Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called Croci's entry into the race "tremendous news," saying he has "provided exemplary leadership" in the town and would bring balance to the Senate. "The Senate Democrats were bad for Long Island, and now that they're backed up by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, they would be even worse," he said.
But environmentalist Adrienne Esposito, who is seeking the Democratic line for the seat in a primary, criticized Croci's decision: "My honest response is that it's shocking he'd turn his back on the town in this time of crisis. Clearly, he's running away from the problems, not solving the problems."
Despite his candidacy, Croci promised to follow through "to lay out our plan for recovery" from the dumping crisis by sometime in August and monitor the clean up and "hold those responsible accountable." He also said that as a state senator, he would have a "unique ability to monitor the follow through" with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He vowed to make the Brentwood park "one of our crown jewels."
Democrat Joseph Fritz, who is facing Esposito in the primary, assailed the move. "What Tom Croci brings with him is inexperience and with inexperience comes mistakes. This is his first mistake," he said.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris, chairman of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee, said there are "significant questions" about Croci's own ties to the dumping scandal, saying Croci took $3,500 in donations from Daytree at Cortland Square, the company that the town has blamed for the dumping. "If he doesn't think he's answerable for that, he's sadly mistaken," Gianaris said.
Campaign records show Croci refunded $1,025 in June 2013 and Croci Tuesday said the rest of the money was donated to a church near the park and Pronto, a local nonprofit group.
LaValle called Gianaris' attack "typical of big city Democrats to throw mud and avoid the real issues." Scoff Reif, Skelos' spokesman, accused Democrats of trying to "unfairly malign a war hero who proudly served his country overseas."
LaValle said he, Jesse Garcia, the Brookhaven GOP chair, and Frank Tantone, the Islip GOP leader, will convene in next few days to formally make Croci the candidate.
One Islip resident, Nelsena Day, expressed suprise at Croci's plans "because he hasn't completed the work . . . here. He needs to straighten out Brentwood, Central Islip and North Brentwood before he runs for anything else because right now we don't have a trust in anybody that is on the Town of Islip government, so if he runs he won't get that many votes."
But Senft said he backs Croci's candidacy: "We need a partner in Albany to make sure we get the assets and support we need here in Islip."
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