As Huntington enters a town election year, the question among local political activists is whether Frank Petrone, the Democratic town supervisor for almost a quarter century, has a last hurrah left.
“It’s not the $1,000 question,” said Toni Tepe, town Republican chairwoman. “It the $1 million question. ”
For Tepe, a former supervisor herself, the issue is on the front burner because the Huntington Republican committee will be screening candidates for town office Feb. 16.
Tepe said Petrone in the past often has put off decisions about running. But she notes that Petrone has not geared up his fundraising as he normally does in an election year. And she said, “When you’ve in office as long as Frank, your record is always an issue.”
Petrone, who makes $162,900 annually as supervisor and is free to collect a $65,000 a year state pension because he is over age 65, declined to discuss his plans. But spokesman A.J. Carter said Petrone expects to make a final decision in April. He celebrates his 72nd birthday later this month.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he would like to see Petrone make a decision within a month should the party need to pick a new candidate to lead the ticket. “I think he has to decide what’s best for him personally at this time in his life,” said Schaffer.
Petrone’s most recent Jan. 15 campaign finance filing shows that he has $164,000 in his coffers.
It’s, a significant sum, but not even half the $431,000 he had amassed in January, 2013, the last time he ran, or the $430,000 he had in January 2009.
Even with those funds, Petrone four years ago had his tightest race in years, beating town board member Gene Cook by only 843 votes, 51.1 percent to 48.9 percent.
Petrone is one of three septuagenarian supervisor incumbents on Long Island and one octogenarian — Smithtown’s Patrick Vecchio, who led his town for a record 39 years.
Republican officials say that although he has not formally announced, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine, 70, is running.
Smithtown GOP chairman Bill Ellis said Vecchio, 86, has expressed interest in seeking re-election but has not made a final call. However, Ellis said Vecchio will attend the town GOP’s campaign kickoff Super Bowl fundraiser Sunday. Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter, 73, is not up for re-election until 2019.
Democrats say that should Petrone pack it in, leading contenders include Huntington Town Board member Tracey Edwards, or term-limited Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who also could run for Edwards’ council spot.
Tepe declined to identify any supervisor contenders, but names in consideration could include GOP Assemb. Chad Lupinacci as well as Cook, who as an Independence Party member could count on the minor party line.
A key factor in the race is the Conservative Party, which can draw 10 percent on the ballot. However, relations between town GOP leader Tepe and Frank Tinari, the town and Suffolk Conservative chairman, are strained at best. Four years ago, the minor party backed Cook, but in earlier years endorsed Petrone or ran their own candidate, which indirectly help Democrats.
“Huntington Conservatives always play a pivotal role,” said Tinari. “I’m sure all sides will be reaching out to us.”