Anthony J. Catapano Thursday became executive director of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency, his employer of 30 years.
His promotion came two days after the IDA's first pick, Robert Stricoff, facing a probe by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota over possible misuse of Democratic Party funds, informed the IDA's board that he would not take the post.
The board Thursday unanimously approved Catapano's appointment, which was introduced by board chairman Joanne Minieri, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's top economic development adviser. Catapano, 54, of Lake Grove, will be paid $155,000 a year.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to assist businesses and to support the economy of Suffolk County," he said Thursday night.
As IDA deputy for decades, Catapano worked behind the scenes to assemble tax incentives that kept expanding businesses on Long Island. He joined the agency as a college intern.
Former IDA chairman Jim Morgo said Catapano would "bring stability" to an agency now on its fourth executive director in 21/2 years. "Tony . . . has a very strong work ethic and an analytical, step-by-step approach in the evaluation of applicants" for IDA tax breaks, Morgo said.
The IDA is ostensibly independent of Bellone, with the county legislature appointing board members.
Members of the legislature's Economic Development Committee Thursday lauded Catapano's skills. But they also said they wished a thorough search had been conducted after it became clear in September that Stricoff, former chief executive of the Babylon Town IDA and a Bellone protege, likely wouldn't be able to assume the county job because of the district attorney's investigation.
"I would much prefer . . . that they went through a more extensive search and a more extensive interviewing process with multiple candidates," said Legis. William J. Lindsay III (D-Bohemia), the committee's chairman. "But I think given how long the position has been left open . . . there is a sense of urgency to get the position filled."
Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. of Nesconset, the committee's ranking Republican, disagreed, saying the IDA should undertake "a national search." But Kennedy said Catapano has expertly run the agency since March when then-executive director Anthony Manetta stepped down.
The IDA board did not conduct a formal search before offering the job to Stricoff, while an abbreviated search led to Manetta's selection in 2012.
Thursday's appointment came after board members met privately for nearly three hours. Some were upset that no formal search had taken place. Others complained of being excluded from discussions that led to Catapano's nomination, said two sources who were familiar with the closed-door meeting but requested anonymity.
Minieri declined to comment last night but through a spokesman said she was "thrilled with Tony Catapano's unanimous appointment."