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Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr., a key member of the Long Island Senate delegation since 1998 and an influential Republican lawmaker, resigned effective at midnight Tuesday night to take a job with a nonprofit.
Fuschillo, (R-Merrick), leaves after nearly 16 years in office to become chief executive of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, based in New York City. His sudden departure surprised some Long Island politicians and created a crucial swing district for control of the state Senate.
Fuschillo, 53, had been the Island's point man in the Senate on transportation and infrastructure for years, especially the Long Island Rail Road. He also had made a mark sponsoring tough drunk-driving and anti-smoking laws, and as an advocate for autism programs.
He said nearly 16 years in office was enough.
"Tomorrow, we begin a new year which brings with it new beginnings, new opportunities, and new challenges. With that in mind, I have decided that it is time to begin a new chapter in my life and leave the New York State Senate effective 11:59 p.m. tonight," Fuschillo said in a statement.
He said his new position represents "a new and exciting opportunity which will allow me to continue to help improve the lives of others while at the same time enabling me to spend more time with my family."
Fuschillo has experience in the non-profit world. Prior to the state Senate, he was chief operating officer for the Education and Assistance Corp., a human-services agency that serves Long Island and the New York metro area.
Fuschillo was a prominent member of the "Long Island Nine," the bloc of nine Republican senators who worked to steer education money to Island districts and whose victories allowed the GOP to regain control of the Senate in 2010.
Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) called Fuschillo, a key ally, "a good friend and colleague . . . "Sometimes in life, we are presented with opportunities that are simply too good to pass up. This was one of those moments."
Mark Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Association Contractors Assoc. in Hauppauge, said Fuschillo was key to getting money dedicated for a LIRR second track and other transit priorities. "He worked both sides of the aisle," Herbst said. "Filling his role will not be easy."
Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer called Fuschillo "an exemplary politician in the finest sense of the word" and said both parties "will miss his abilities."
Fuschillo is the second Long Island Republican senator to say he's departing 4. Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has said instead of running for re-election, he'll run for Congress against Rep. Timothy Bishop (D-Southampton). Their departure means the Island will have at least two Senate swing districts, Democrats said.
Fuschillo's decision to resign raises the question of whether Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo will call a special election or leave the seat vacant until November. Cuomo's office didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.
Fuschillo's South Shore district lies primarily in Nassau County but includes parts of Suffolk. It has about 84,000 registered Democrats, 77,000 Republicans and 50,000 voters who are either unaffiliated or enrolled in minor parties.
Fuschillo won his last three elections by at least 20,000 votes each.
The dynamics change now, some said.
"You have the balance of power at play now," said Desmond Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a real estate group. "All of a sudden, this safe Republican district is a cause célèbre for both parties."
Names mentioned yesterday as possible GOP candidates included Nassau Legis. Michael Venditto, Assemb. Joseph Saladino (R-Massapequa), Nassau chief deputy comptroller Steven Labriola and Erin King Sweeney, daughter of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford). One Republican said Venditto, son of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, was the name most talked about at this point.
Democrats called Nassau County Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) a possible candidate.
"I am keeping my options open," Denenberg said.
With Robert Brodsky and Celeste Hadrick