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Fellow Republicans Altschuler, LaValle at odds

John Jay LaValle during an interview. (June 25,

John Jay LaValle during an interview. (June 25, 2004) Credit: Karen Wiles Stabile

John Jay LaValle, the new Suffolk Republican chairman, says he's just giving congressional hopeful Randy Altschuler "constructive criticism."

But to Altschuler backers, the comments are about as constructive as a wrecking ball to his nearly yearlong campaign for the right to take on four-term Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) for re-election.

In the past week, LaValle has publicly lambasted Altschuler for outsourcing thousands of jobs to Asia, failing to vote through much of his adult life, once joining the too liberal Green Party, and simply "trying to buy the seat."

"I'm not trying to beat up Randy," said LaValle. "I'm being a hell of a lot nicer than Tim Bishop is going to be. It's not a question attacking one of the candidates. It's literally making sure we pick a candidate who can withstand the fight."

However, Altschuler's senior communications adviser Rob Ryan countered that LaValle's shots only "give aid and comfort" to Democrats. "We've been on the ground the longest, raised the most money and done the most TV and in the end that's going to pay off," said Ryan, noting a USA Today poll last week put Altschuler only two points behind Bishop. Altschuler has doled out $32,000 to the party and candidates.

Ryan also assailed LaValle's motives: "A cynical person would have to question whether a backroom deal has already been cut," he said last week.

The public brawl comes as the GOP executive committee is likely to make its final choice from seven congressional contenders in the next week. Party sources say LaValle is leaning toward the grandson of late President Richard Nixon, Christopher Cox, who is also son of new state GOP leader Edward Cox. Also in the hunt are former CIA man Gary Berntsen and former Wall Street watchdog George Demos. Some say a primary is inevitable.

"I've never seen a county leader attack a candidate screening for a seat that is so vulnerable," said Paul Sabatino, a veteran GOP lawyer. He added: "It undercuts the whole process," and GOP chances to tap voter ire.

But LaValle, who consulted with Altschuler for months, says the neophyte simply wants the field cleared because he was out of the gate first - even though he's failed to field questions about his record.

LaValle said Altschuler first wanted to run in New Jersey against Rush Holt, until a pollster told him he couldn't win. The party leader said national Republicans then suggested he move to Bishop's district because Bishop could be vulnerable. He also said Altschuler "virtually never voted," an issue that has sunk many past contenders.

But LaValle said his biggest concern is Altschuler's former company, OfficeTiger, and its outsourcing of back office jobs, noting the candidate's partner in 2004 told an India newspaper: "We hope to be leading the move of white collar jobs from the U.S."

Said LaValle: "To me, that's a death knell . . . He's achieved impressively, but it's been on the back of the hardworking men and women on Long Island."

Backers say Altschuler's firm, which later sold for $250 million, created 750 new jobs in this country and he came to appreciate his vote after traveling the world in business. "The electorate is sick and tired of backroom deals," said Ryan. "This time the decision is going to come from the bottom up."

Meanwhile, Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said infighting is not unexpected when contenders have few ties to the district: "The first rule of politics is never stand in the way when your opponents are shooting themselves in the head."

National GOP campaign committee officials, who listed Altschuler as one of its "young guns," say they are unfazed by the squabble. "They'll work out the details," said Tory Mazzola, a committee spokesman. "The focus of this race is going to be Tim Bishop."

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