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In a major political surprise, Republican State Sen. Owen Johnson (R-West Babylon) has informed party officials that he will not run for re-election this November, ending a career that has spanned 40 years.
"It is confirmed Senator Johnson is not running," said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman. He said that Johnson's daughter "recently had his second grandchild... and he and his family want to spend more time together...."
Johnson was not immediately available for comment.
Suffolk GOP chairman John J. LaValle, Islip GOP leader Frank Tantone and Babylon GOP chair Anthony Pancella will meet over the weekend to decide on a replacement, according to a high-level party source.
Johnson informed party leaders privately of his intentions after celebrating his 83rd birthday earlier this month, sources said. Johnson's decision comes after Republicans had already submitted nominating petitions on his behalf. The party has several days, under election law, to pick a replacement candidate. Johnson's seat is crucial to Republicans, who maintain a narrow 32-29 edge in the State Senate.
Party sources say among the leading contenders to run on the Republican line are Assemb. Philip Boyle (R-Brightwaters) and Suffolk Legis. Thomas Cilmi (R-Bay Shore).
Another Suffolk legislator, Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood), filed 2,567 signatures on petitions to run for the Fourth District senate seat that Johnson has held since 1972, when Richard Nixon was president.
"I'm pleased for him," Montano said. "He's had a long distinguished career. He's done great service for the county. It's a good move for him and his family at this time."
Montano had been running for the senate without the support of Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who is also Babylon Town supervisor. Schaffer had been supportive of Johnson ever since the lawmaker helped the town out of a serious fiscal problem with its town garbage district in the early 1990s with special state legislation.