Islip Supervisor Tom Croci announced Thursday that he has been recalled to active duty in the U.S. Navy and will temporarily leave his post as town leader starting in mid-July for an overseas tour that is expected to last until the spring.
"Obviously I want to be sure that going forward the town is going to continue on the course we've set, and I'm going to make sure I put the leadership in place to do that," Croci said in his office at Islip Town Hall Thursday morning.
He is scheduled to depart 16 months into a sometimes tumultuous term as supervisor, as the town looks for spending cuts, after raising town property taxes 28 percent in 2013. Also, the town board is healing from a failed political coup in which council members tried to usurp some of Croci's powers.
Croci, whose term as supervisor ends in 2015, said his mandatory mobilization from reservist to active duty was confirmed several days ago. He does not know where he'll be stationed or the exact length of his deployment.
He plans to appoint Eric Hofmeister, the town's environmental control commissioner, as deputy supervisor, replacing Linda Angello, the town's labor relations director.
Angello was named deputy in January, replacing Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, who was part of the effort to wrest power from Croci.
The Islip Town Board appointed Hofmeister as supervisor in June 2006, after former Supervisor Pete McGowan was jailed for misusing campaign funds.
Hofmeister, a Sayville resident and longtime town employee, said in a statement that he is honored to serve as deputy. He could be sworn in as soon as Monday and will preside over town board meetings, but will not vote, officials said.
"The supervisor and town board have set the bar high, and I will work to continue to work in that direction," he said. His priorities will include tackling fiscal challenges, managing the long-term recovery from superstorm Sandy, strengthening the tax base and continuing to push new destinations at MacArthur Airport, he said.
Hofmeister, a married father of two, will be paid for Croci's duties -- but the town will have to find an interim commissioner for environmental control. Croci is paid $102,500 annually.
Croci, a Republican, was elected in November 2011 and his 16 months in office have included the dissolution of the town's human services department, devastation and recovery from Sandy, and an investigation into the awarding of storm cleanup contracts.
He said that despite some of the board's infighting, he expects his colleagues to respect his military service and to carry on the town's priorities. "Given the aftermath of September 11th and its effect on our communities on Long Island . . . they recognize the importance of military service," Croci said. "I'm sure they will put aside any and all political issues because they know how important this is to the country, certainly to the town," he said.
Town board members expressed support for Croci. "I have a lot of respect for this man," Councilman Steve Flotteron said. "Total respect."
Political strategist Michael Dawidziak could not remember a Long Island town supervisor being mobilized to active duty. "I think we're in uncharted territory here," Dawidziak said."I think [the transition] is going to be a lot smoother than probably anybody thinks because the other four town board members are not going to take advantage of . . . a guy that just got activated."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone praised Croci's service. "We're a region that really cares about and respects service to our country, and that includes people who are serving as elected officials, and I think that you can't do anything but be grateful for and admire his [Croci's] service and expect that everybody is going to step up to the plate."
Croci, who will turn 41 on Tuesday, has had an especially prolific military career. The Bohemia native graduated from New York Law School in 1997 and was accepted to Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla., in 1999.
He then spent eight years on active duty and earned the rank of lieutenant commander. He expects to be promoted to commander in July. After his first tour in Afghanistan, Croci worked in the White House situation room under President George W. Bush, who later appointed him to the Homeland Security Council staff. President Barack Obama asked him to stay on as part of the presidential transition team.
Afterward, Croci was mobilized again to active duty and deployed to Afghanistan again as an intelligence officer with a Navy SEAL team.
Islip's town board is stacked with current and past military servicemen. Councilman Anthony Senft Jr. served in the U.S. Army. Councilman John C. Cochrane Jr., who retired from the Navy last year, considered a run for town supervisor but withdrew when he was unexpectedly deployed in 2006, town officials said.