After 32 years as an elected official, the fiery Suffolk legislator Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip), suffered twin setbacks in primaries last month, but his response has been to come out swinging.
"It's heated up," said new Islip Republican chairman Frank Tantone. "Tom's been reinvigorated. [He's] busting his hump."
But Democrat James Alcus, 44, of West Islip, a first-time candidate, has made an early mark, winning upsets over Barraga in the Independence Party primary as well as a two-vote write-in victory in the Working Families Party primary, which will give him two extra ballot lines in November.
Barraga, 65, seeking his third legislative term after 23 years in Albany as an assemblyman, also has the Conservative line in a district that includes West Islip, Brightwaters and parts of Bay Shore and Brentwood. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 15,648 to 14,983 with 11,409 voters not aligned in any party.
Barraga is already hammering his foe, a local fuel oil dealer and landscaper, as a polluter. He said Alcus was hit with a 1996 decision that called for fines totaling $71,000 by the state Department of Environmental Conservation for 12 oil spills and eight instances of not informing the state agency about incidents.
"The guy's running a rogue company," said Barraga. "The fact that this guy has broken a host of environmental . . . laws is beyond belief." Barraga said he had a letter hand-delivered to Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer asking that Alcus be removed as a candidate, but he got no response.
Schaffer countered that Barraga's claim is overblown and Alcus ended up paying only minor fines. "He's feeling the heat because Jim's out there every day and already beat him in two primaries," said Schaffer.
Alcus acknowledged some accidents - the largest occurred when he truck rolled over - caused oil spills, which his firm cleaned up. He said the original DEC charges included many errors, and he ended up paying only $700 in fines.
Though Alcus is new to politics, backers say he has a strong base of support as president for five years of a West Islip youth league that involves 1,400 children and his involvement with school board issues and the Summer Coalition. "I attend most events and the current legislator does not, and it's been noticed," he said.
Alcus also said Barraga has refused to use his $35,000 of spending given to lawmakers to help fund community projects like improved ballfields and funding for senior citizens. He also criticized Barraga for being the lone legislative vote to oppose improvement to Bay Shore Road, which goes through Deer Park. Barraga said he opposed borrowing for the road project and he asked legislative leaders to redirect $35,000 to providing basic county service or stabilizing taxes amid the Wall Street meltdown.