New leader chosen for LI's largest airport
The town board has chosen former deputy airport commissioner Robert Schaefer as the Ronkonkoma site's new commissioner, officials said Wednesday. The decision came months after the largely-Republican board fired Teresa Rizzuto, whom former Democratic Supervisor Phil Nolan had hired to run the town-owned airport.
Schaefer, a Republican, is a former Port Authority staff sergeant who served on that police force for 23 years. He was MacArthur's deputy commissioner from 2003 to 2006 and has been chief of staff to Legis. Thomas F. Barraga (R-West Islip) since then.
He said Wednesday that there were four airlines and roughly 50 flights a day at MacArthur when he left, and that he would bring the airport back to that level. The airport has two passenger airlines and about 22 flights a day.
"It went downhill about three-quarters of a year after I left," Schaefer said. "I don't want any excuses if I become commissioner. I don't want any excuses about the economy or the industry . . . I think we're on equal footing with JFK and LaGuardia" airports.
The town board is expected to formally appoint Schaefer at a meeting this month. His salary is expected to be $101,000 per year.
Schaefer said he would bring restaurants and entertainment to the airport and focus on adding flights by encouraging Long Islanders to fly to and from MacArthur. He would also market the Island as a vacation destination.
"We have to promote Long Island, that's part of it," Schaefer said. "When you land in Vegas, you know you're in Vegas. Right now, when you land in MacArthur, you don't know where you are."
Islip Supervisor Tom Croci said he chose Schaefer for his experience at MacArthur.
"I had to go with the individual who had a proven track record of both attracting and retaining business at MacArthur and developing partnerships with the airlines," Croci said, adding that Schaefer and his team were integral to Southwest Airlines' major expansion at MacArthur in 2004.
But some local Democrats said the hire is political.
"What disappoints me is Teresa Rizzuto is a perfectly competent woman, doing a perfectly wonderful job managing that airport," said former Islip councilman Christopher Bodkin, now a Democratic candidate for state assembly.
"She was replaced for no reason by apparently somebody who is a good ol' boy," Bodkin said.
Terry Hennessey, who has been acting commissioner since Rizzuto's departure and applied for the job, will return to his prior role as deputy. Hennessey, who worked with Schaefer at Kennedy Airport, said they would "make a great team."
"I believe we both share the supervisor's vision for the airport to get this traffic back to where it was several years ago," Hennessey said.