Lori Baldassare, Brookhaven Democrats' candidate for town clerk, pulled out of the race on Monday over concern that the Independence Party would balk at backing a half-dozen Democratic candidates in tight races in this November's election for Suffolk County Legislature.
The move by Suffolk and state Independence Party chairman Frank Mackay was aimed at clearing the way for his close minor party ally, deputy town clerk Donna Lent, the GOP candidate, to succeed Town Clerk Patricia Eddington, who is retiring at year's end.
Democratic Party officials, in a last-minute switch, said Baldassare will run for town highway superintendent against Republican Dan Losquadro, who won a special election earlier this year.
Baldassare signed papers declining the clerk nomination Sunday night after several emotional meetings in the past week with Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer and receiving a phone call from Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone.
Both expressed concern that a loss of the Independence Party ballot line could cost the legislative Democratic caucus its majority, which now stands at 13-5. Both left the decision to Baldassare, now a $95,000-a-year county public works aide.
"It's been an emotional ride," said Baldassare, adding she was feeling "a bit unsettled."
As late as Friday, Brookhaven Democratic officials wanted Baldassare to remain on the town ticket. "Our advice was to stand strong on the thing and draw a line in the sand," said Anthony Parlatore, Brookhaven Democratic chairman.
According to Democratic officials, MacKay warned that he might not back Democratic county legislators Sarah Anker, Robert Calarco, William Spencer, Al Krupski, Kara Hahn and Democratic candidate William Lindsay -- son of the term-limited Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay, who is ailing. After Baldassare declined the clerk spot, MacKay filed papers with the county Board of Elections to give those lawmakers the Independence ballot line.
"One thing had nothing to do with the other," said MacKay. "But I would find it difficult to know that Democrats have an easier time with their campaign, if I had to spend my summer and fall trying to help getting Donna elected." He also called Lent "absolutely instrumental" to his party organization and said she will make a "great town clerk."
"The choices here were bad and worse," said Schaffer. He said that while he was "not happy having to ask" Baldassare to leave the race, " . . . But this involved a much larger picture and this strategy will help both the town party and the county."
Baldassare had worked as deputy for 21/2 years to former Democratic Highway Superintendent John Rouse, but was fired in January immediately after Rouse left to become a judge.