Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has decided he wants his old job back as Babylon town supervisor when incumbent Steve Bellone takes office as county executive in January.
Schaffer, 48, said that since Thursday night he had spoken with nearly every town board member to solicit their support to be appointed to the $104,000-a-year job he left at the end of his last term in 2001.
Schaffer said he would remain as the Democratic Party chairman, a $95,000-a-year post, noting he did both jobs for 18 months after he was first elected chairman in 2000. The town board, controlled by Democrats, will vote on an interim supervisor at its first meeting of the New Year.
"I've been totally re-energized by the work I did with Steve [Bellone] in the campaign and I wanted to be a part of things like the Wyandanch project, the Route 110 redevelopment and the park improvements," Schaffer said.
Schaffer said he was committed to serving as interim supervisor and to running next November for the one year remaining on Bellone's term. He said it was an "open question" whether he would seek a full four-year term after that. "It makes total sense," he said, "because my previous experience will help the transition."
Board member Tony Martinez, a Democrat whose name was bandied about several weeks ago as a possible Bellone successor, said he had worked with Schaffer when he was a supervisor and Martinez was a community organizer.
"We have a lot of things on the burner right now and he's the right person to continue moving things forward," he said.
Schaffer, of North Babylon, served as town supervisor from 1992 to 2001, during which time his administration was investigated by Republican Suffolk District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr. In 1997, Catterson indicted Schaffer aides, who became known as the "Babylon Five," on charges of falsifying documents to hide a budget deficit. Four were cleared; Doug Jacob, who still works for the town, was convicted of eight misdemeanors and sentenced to probation.
Some political insiders say Schaffer's move also reflects concern about the town board ticket's ability to withstand a GOP challenge without a strong supervisor candidate.
Tony Pancella, chair of the Babylon Town Republicans, said the decision "certainly changes the dynamic for us."
"I think a lot of people out there have the utmost respect for him, as do I, and I don't know if we'll be able to enthusiastically recruit people [to run]," he said. "We have a lot more discussions ahead."
Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle said he thought Schaffer would do a good job but questioned how long he should retain both the supervisor and party chair positions.
"I think there are some ethical conflicts that surely would ensue," he said. "As a political leader you're out calling developers and hitting them up for money, and then as a governmental official you're actually casting a vote on their applications," LaValle said. "It's going to be very, very difficult not to cross the line."
Before Schaffer, the last Suffolk political leader to also hold a top town elected position was former Southold Supervisor Albert Martocchia, who also served simultaneously as a town GOP leader until his death in 1979. In Nassau, Joseph Mondello served as both Hempstead supervisor and county GOP leader from 1987 to 1993.