Tom O'Hara, Islip GOP leader, resigns after airport altercation

The second-in-command in the Islip Town Republican Party, The second-in-command in the Islip Town Republican Party, Tom O'Hara, resigned after an altercation at Long Island MacArthur Airport led two town employees to drive him and his wife in a town-issued vehicle to LaGuardia Airport to take another flight.

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The second-in-command in the Islip Town Republican Party, Tom O'Hara, resigned after an altercation at Long Island MacArthur Airport led two town employees to drive him and his wife in a town-issued vehicle to LaGuardia Airport to take another flight.

He announced his resignation Thursday through a spokesman hired by the Islip Republican Party, Rick Eberle. The resignation was effective Feb. 28, Eberle said.

O'Hara works as an emergency management official for Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, or FRES, with an annual salary of $82,337 in 2012.

The former GOP vice chairman and his wife, Marie, arrived at MacArthur about 6:30 a.m. Feb. 7 on their way to Florida for a cruise vacation, said Robert Schaefer, commissioner of the town-owned airport.

Told he was too late to get through security, O'Hara "was all upset," Schaefer said. "He was getting very flustered."

When O'Hara wouldn't calm down, a Southwest Airlines ticketing agent asked security officers to intervene, Schaefer said. O'Hara displayed his county FRES badge when the officers arrived at the ticket counter, Schaefer said.

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O'Hara and his wife, who was in a wheelchair, were taken back to the security office, where O'Hara became "very agitated," Schaefer said. A security video camera recorded the incident near the ticket counter and in front of the security office, but did not have audio capability, Schaefer said.

O'Hara has worked for the county since 1993, according to payroll records. He did not return calls for comment.

After the altercation, a MacArthur employee summoned the airport's Americans with Disabilities Act compliance agreement officer to assist O'Hara's wife. At that point, Peter Martin, an airport fire safety officer, showed up with Michael Stack, the airport's special events coordinator, sources said. The town employees offered to drive the couple to LaGuardia to catch another flight, Schaefer said.

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The town-issued Ford Crown Victoria made the more than 90-mile round trip. Martin and Stack spent nearly two hours away from the airport during their work hours, said Schaefer, their supervisor.

Martin, who is paid $56,121 a year, was the driver, sources said, and Stack, who has a $57,564 annual salary, was a passenger. Neither man could be reached for comment.

Schaefer, who headed the town's investigation, said he was not aware of the incident until he arrived at work later that morning.

He said O'Hara was not given special treatment because of his connections to the town Republican Party, which holds the supervisor's seat and three of four council seats. The two men were just trying to help, he said.

"They would do the same thing if he was Tom O'Hara or not," Schaefer said. "They were trying to be compassionate."

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Schaefer -- the former deputy commissioner of MacArthur Airport during Supervisor Peter McGowan's administration and longtime chief of staff to Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip) -- was appointed to his airport post in 2012.

Martin and Stack were disciplined and had their town vehicle privileges suspended for one month, sources said. Schaefer declined to comment on the discipline, saying it was a personnel issue.

In past cases of misusing town vehicles, Islip has taken disciplinary action that has included unpaid suspensions, demotions and forfeited vacation days and sick time. In 2009, Stephen W. Lapham, Islip's public works commissioner, resigned after he was caught making frequent trips to a Port Washington golf course using his town-issued vehicle.

Frank Tantone, chairman of the Islip Town Republicans, and Councilman John C. Cochrane Jr., the council's liaison to the airport, did not return calls seeking comment.

Islip Town Attorney Robert Cicale would not discuss the O'Hara investigation, but said that generally, disciplinary measures are left up to a particular department's commissioner.

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