Days before Islip Republican chairman Frank Tantone’s name surfaced this week as a cross-endorsed candidate for Suffolk Family Court judge, he pulled the pin on a political grenade as he walked out the door.
At a party executive committee meeting, Tantone removed three allies of Islip’s Republican Supervisor Angie Carpenter — party second chair Joseph Stassi as well as zone leaders John Cochrane Jr., also a town board member, and Debbie Cavanaugh — from the 21-member group.
The aim, according to a variety of town and county GOP officials, was to help clear the way for Tantone ally William Garbarino, whose son is a state assemblyman, to become the next town GOP leader.
When Tantone resigned this week after his eight years as leader, Garbarino as first vice chairman automatically became temporary leader. He has 60 days to call a convention to be named the successor for the remainder of Tantone’s term, which ends September 2017.
The infighting is part of a behind-the-scenes scrum that enmeshed Carpenter and Tantone for more than a year. Earlier, Carpenter fired Tantone allies Kerry Bassett, the town parks commissioner, and her husband, Jason, deputy public safety commissioner.
Carpenter appears to have a clear board majority with Cochrane and Steve Flotteron, while Tantone and now Garbarino seem to have a hold on the party apparatus. That means the supervisor can control patronage appointments and contracts, which could impact party fundraising, while the party controls candidate nominations.
To head off a confrontation, Garbarino and Carpenter held a 90-minute dinner meeting on Wednesday. But neither side appeared ready to budge, said those familiar with the sit-down.
“I don’t want to see another year of acrimony,” Carpenter said. But she added, “people have to understand that politics has to be totally separate from running the government.”
Garbarino, a Sayville attorney with a combative reputation, declined to comment on the meeting, but said there should be “peaceful coexistence.” But he said, “Things are not going to change in a day. It’s going to take time.” He also said most of the executive committee backed Tantone’s ousters.
Others said party officials, who fought to oust former GOP Supervisor Peter McGowan, are wary of having another dominating supervisor.
“The Islip Republicans are very sensitive to any supervisor running both the government and the party,” said one party official who declined to be identified.
Stassi, who said he will actively run for leader, said, “Either we continue with the divisive polices of the past, or we start a healing process with someone known to bring people together.”
Others whom Carpenter might back include lawyer-developer Paul Aniboli, a longtime Carpenter fundraiser, although he said he has “no interest” in the job. Another is veteran party sachem John Cochrane Sr., a former Assembly member, county treasurer and Suffolk GOP chairman. Cochrane said he would serve only “as a last resort.”
State Sen. Phillip Boyle (R-Bay Shore), an executive committee member, said both sides should stand down.
“The town board and Republican Party leaders must take this opportunity to stop the fighting and realize we need each other,” Boyle said. “Now is the chance to reset the clock and start acting like a team again.”