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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Melius' wide reach on political LI

Gary Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington,

Gary Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington, stands on his balcony which overlooks the gardens, in 2011. (Oct. 27, 2011) Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

News of the Gary Melius shooting Monday jolted political Long Island with an eerie kind of force.

By several accounts, the list of people visiting the businessman and developer at North Shore University Hospital through the afternoon reflected the mix of prominent contacts and friendships that he cultivated and attracted in recent years.

Among them: Nassau Executive Edward Mangano, Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone, former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, state and Suffolk Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay and former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick.

Steve Schlesinger, whose roles include law chairman of the Nassau Democratic Committee, said by phone, "I think he's touched a lot of people's lives, and just seeing what's happening here at the hospital, you can tell that people are dumbfounded."

Suddenly, in the early afternoon, Oheka Castle, the catering mecca where Melius for years has fraternized and socialized and hosted poker games with friends and acquaintances, became a cordoned-off crime scene. For some friends, the reasons for standing vigil showed a fealty that went beyond the large checks he's written to charity groups and political candidates.

His has been a rich mix of social, political and business ties.

In electoral politics, friends say MacKay and Melius have been particularly close allies for years. Rick Bellando, an Oheka manager who chairs Nassau's Independence Party, is the father of Melius' grandchildren. Before Melius, 69, underwent surgery for head wounds, MacKay declared on his Facebook page: "A quick update -- Gary is alert, and joking around -- toughest man I know. Love you brother!"

Best wishes followed from a range of figures. Brookhaven Town GOP Chairman Jesse Garcia's comment was typical of these: "Gary is in all of our prayers and thoughts."

Some of those who keep alert to local civic life got early reports of the incident on their cell phones as they departed the Long Island Association luncheon, featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, at the Crest Hollow Country Club, only a mile from the Oheka grounds where Melius was shot.

It was two months ago that Melius and his network of cordial relationships drew hard public scrutiny, in an indirect way.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Melius, financing Hardwick's third-party candidacy for county executive, called then-county police commissioner Thomas Dale, saying he wanted to file perjury charges against a campaign worker who'd testified Hardwick paid him illegally -- a charge Hardwick denied. Dale's subsequent handling of the case led to his resignation.

But no criminal charges resulted from what Rice, now seeking a congressional seat, called a case of "politically motivated policing."


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