Suffolk Republicans late Friday named John M. Kennedy Jr., the Suffolk Legislature's minority leader, as the last-minute replacement to run for county comptroller in November, but GOP officials say they have no commitment from the Conservative Party to back him.
Kennedy's GOP nomination was filed at the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank at 4:41 p.m., 19 minutes before the filing deadline. Conservatives filed no paperwork, but could mail in a replacement candidate as long the filing is postmarked Friday.
Kennedy, 58, a lawyer from Nesconset, replaces Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, who dropped out of the race Monday, saying he needed to spend all his time overseeing crucial State Senate races. Kennedy will face Democrat James Gaughran, an attorney, a former county lawmaker and Huntington Town Board member, and the current chairman of the Suffolk Water Authority.
LaValle said Kennedy, with nearly a decade as a county lawmaker, "puts us in the best position to win this race." The selection came at the end of a day of meetings and phone calls during which party officials considered a half-dozen contenders.
Kennedy promised to "shine a bright light and increase transparency so that taxpayers know exactly what is going on. We need a hands-on guy and that is what I'll bring to the job."
"What a roller coaster," said Gaughran, noting rumors circulated throughout the day that Republicans were considering everyone from former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who until late last year owned a home in Bellport, to former GOP state parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro.
"I'm glad I have an opponent," said Gaughran. "I welcome John to the race and look forward to a constructive dialogue about the finances and future of Suffolk County."
LaValle acknowledged he has "no commitment" for Kennedy from the Conservative Party, which had earlier endorsed him. LaValle said Conservatives may leave the ballot line vacant.
One high-level Conservative official, who asked not to be identified, said the party will not name a candidate, but Edward Walsh, the Suffolk Conservative chairman, and several other top Conservative officials did not return calls for comment Friday.
LaValle downplayed the potential impact of losing the Conservative line, saying it would have been much worse if the minor party named a third candidate who could siphon votes from Kennedy.
However, Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Gaughran also has backing of the Independence and Working Families Parties compared to Kennedy's single line. "It shows that Kennedy has little support outside his own party," he said.
Schaffer also questioned Kennedy's fiscal credentials. "He is one of the biggest spenders on the Legislature," he said. "He never met a spending bill he didn't like."
But Kennedy countered that Suffolk needs a Republican comptroller be a watchdog over the Democratic county executive and legislature: "I sat on the last legislature with a Republican majority and there is a bright light contrast -- Republicans don't subscribe to funding from cradle to grave."