Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
After 27 years as an Albany lawmaker, state Sen. John Flanagan may be looking to move on -- again.
Now, the East Northport Republican says he is seriously considering challenging Huntington Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone, a Democrat, for the $162,903-a-year post Petrone has held for nearly two decades.
"I've had a number of people talk to me, political and nonpolitical, whose opinions I respect and I am considering it," Flanagan said. He said he has spoken to State Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), who is "extremely respectful" of his interest in the race. Flanagan said he cannot give the decision full attention until the state budget is finalized, possibly this week, and expects to decide soon afterward.
Supporters call Flanagan, 51, a proven vote-getter, noting that he won 67.5 percent of the vote last year against Democrat Errol Toulon Jr., and that he wins in key town Democratic strongholds. Flanagan chairs the senate education committee and sponsored the state's 2 percent property tax cap.
Petrone, 68, won re-election to his fifth term easily four years ago in a three-way race. He is affable and had a substantial campaign war chest of $431,000 as of January. Flanagan reported $172,000 on hand.
Petrone declined to comment on Flanagan's potential bid, but a spokesman said, "The supervisor says it makes no difference who runs . . . because he will stress his record of accomplishment."
It would be a free run for Flanagan, who would not have to give up his Senate seat to make the race. Were Flanagan to win, veteran Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) and Suffolk County Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), minority leader, could be leading contenders to replace him.
Toni Tepe, Huntington GOP chairwoman, said she wants Flanagan to run but needs a quick decision so the party can move on to other possible contenders -- lawyer Ed Smyth, Huntington Bay Mayor Herb Morrow and builder Peter Saros -- should he not make the race.
Tepe said her best argument to Flanagan is that winning supervisor would give him "executive and administrative experience" to round out his extensive legislative record. "That would put him in a good position if he wants to run for statewide office," she said.
Frank Tinari, Huntington Conservative chairman, said he also is urging Flanagan to run, saying he "brings a lot to the table."
Some questioned whether town issues such as potholes and barking dogs would appeal to Flanagan after dealing with statewide issues. "Senators are like princes," said Michael O'Donohoe, a former county legislator, now commissioner of jurors. "As a supervisor, you're much more exposed. There's no place to hide."
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he expected Flanagan to resist the pleas. "All the pressure's coming from local party leaders who are thinking about their own political interests," Schaffer said. "We can't afford to lose him as the education committee chairman. He's too important to Long Island and he knows that."