John Kennedy, the Suffolk legislature's Republican minority leader, has surfaced as one of a half-dozen potential GOP contenders scrambling to become the party's last-minute replacement as county comptroller candidate.
The rush for the nomination comes after the party's original nominee, Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, dropped out Monday. GOP officials have until Friday to name a new nominee to take on Democrat James Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, who has already raised $154,000 for the contest.
While Kennedy (R-Nesconset) is the most high-profile candidate, other contenders include town board members Steve Flotteron of Islip and Jody Giglio of Riverhead, Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, and former town board members Donald Musnug of Huntington and Christopher Nuzzi of Southampton, party officials said.
The new names surfaced after Brookhaven Tax Receiver Louis Marcoccia, who put $150,000 of his own money in his campaign coffers before being passed over, said he cannot pursue the race because he has family commitments requiring him to make several trips to Florida, which would limit his campaigning.
Kennedy, 58, acknowledged talks with party officials but called them "very fluid." He said he believes he has the "skill set" for the job and believes it's important to keep the post in GOP hands to balance the Democratic county executive and county legislature.
"Having an eagle eye on the public dollar is one of the most critical functions of government," said Kennedy, and having the "natural pull and tug" between parties in those offices "winds up being beneficial to the taxpayers."
Kennedy, a nine-year county lawmaker, four as minority leader, has been the leading GOP voice against the Bellone administration on issues ranging from the closing of the county nursing home to irregularities in county computer contracts. He is the son of the late Jack Kennedy, longtime head of the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council, a powerful coalition of local construction unions. He has easily won his heavily GOP district, but has never raised more than $30,000 for a legislative race.
Among the other contenders, Musnug is an accountant and a former Suffolk OTB comptroller, and Nuzzi is a former Southampton town board member who was term-limited last year and now does title work.
Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said he was also interested in the job, but has already signed an acceptance as a candidate for re-election to the Assembly.
LaValle said the party never considered a cross-endorsement with the Democrats and a committee on vacancies -- which includes himself, GOP vice chair Anthony Pancella and Schermeyer, who is also party secretary -- expects to make a decision "in the next 24 hours." He also said Schermeyer will vote even though she is among the candidates.
"It doesn't matter what the Republicans do," said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman. "Jim Gaughran is the best candidate to carry on the watchdog policies of [Comptroller] Joseph Sawicki."