Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, who has been dealing with a multimillion-dollar town budget crisis, said he is resigning next month to become the first executive director of the Accelerate Long Island project.
Lesko, 45, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor who won a special election for supervisor in 2009, helped found Accelerate Long Island, which seeks to transform the region into a hub for tech companies.
Asked whether his resignation from the $112,699-a-year supervisor position means he's leaving politics, Lesko replied, "Yes, for now."
Lesko, who was re-elected by a 60-40 margin last November, said, "I love Brookhaven. This is about the opportunity. I always wanted to deal with regional issues and this is the paramount regional issue. This has the ability to change Long Island and I can't pass up the opportunity."
He declined to reveal his new salary.
Lesko's three often-contentious years in Brookhaven were spent grappling with the recession, issues of smart growth and the Carmans River protection plan.
"This is a tough job in a challenging town. I pretty much loved every day of it," he said.
His announcement comes as the town heads into a difficult budget season for 2013. Lesko has warned that Brookhaven could use up its $49 million surplus in two years unless it curtails spending and eliminates some jobs.
He also has proposed expanding by 50 feet the height of the town landfill, which generates about $45 million a year, to bring in another $2 million annually. The town was hit with a procedural claim filed Friday by a community group dedicated to stopping the proposed expansion.
"It's not a particularly good time to leave," Lesko admitted, but noted Brookhaven is in good hands and that "no one is irreplaceable."
Lesko said the plan is for Deputy Supervisor Kathleen Walsh, a Republican, to act as supervisor until a special election can be held -- within 90 days of Lesko's last day. Lesko, who was re-elected to a second term in November, plans to resign by mid-September, in time for the special election to be held on the general election day, Nov. 6.
"I'm a little sad to be losing him in Brookhaven because I think he's done a fabulous job," Walsh said.
Democratic council members Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Connie Kepert praised Lesko's track record, with Kepert noting his "very good legacy" includes the $350 million Ronkonkoma Hub project and the Blight to Light program.
Town GOP leader Jesse Garcia termed the resignation "the ultimate act of cowardice," while town Democratic leader Marc Alessi said, "Brookhaven's loss is Long Island's gain." Leaders in both parties said they had several potential candidates in mind.
While Lesko said he would deliver a budget to the board by the Sept. 15 deadline, before his official resignation, Republican council member Dan Panico criticized the timing and asked Lesko to stay through year's end.
"We have very pressing issues in the Town of Brookhaven," Panico said. "If he chooses to leave, he will be rightly criticized for quitting when times get tough."
Fellow Republican Councilman Tim Mazzei said Lesko's job is "very difficult," but added, "I don't think the budget crisis had anything to do" with his departure.
Conservative Councilwoman Jane Bonner said: "He's young, he's energetic, he's a go-getter. As I've come to know him, he doesn't like to rest on his laurels."