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Flap over Legis. Tom Barraga’s vote for Suffolk mortgage fee

Suffolk County Legis. Tom Barraga is seen in

Suffolk County Legis. Tom Barraga is seen in this undated photo. Credit: James Escher

It might be called the Hauppauge two-step.

The daughter of lame-duck Suffolk Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip), who works as a county attorney, last month got a pay raise and promotion on the eve of a crucial legislative vote in which her father backed Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone’s bill for a new $300 mortgage fee.

Elaine Barraga was promoted to the $150,540-a-year job as chief of the general litigation bureau. The promotion took effect Dec. 19, giving her a nearly $5,474 raise, according to the county comptroller’s spokesman. Barraga previously was deputy bureau chief.

Meanwhile, Elaine Barraga also has applied to Suffolk County Community College for a newly created job as deputy general counsel, a post less vulnerable to changes in future county administrations.

A resolution implementing the hefty mortgage fee, which is expected to bring in $33 million a year for a county struggling with budget deficits, was approved Dec. 20 by 10 votes, a bare majority. Two Democratic lawmakers facing competitive re-election races — William J. Lindsay of Bohemia and Sarah Anker of Rocky Point — opposed the bill.

County Attorney Dennis Brown said Elaine Barraga’s promotion had nothing to do with her father’s vote.

“There’s no connection in my mind,” Brown said. The post has been vacant for more than a year, he said, and its duties were shared by other key aides. “The bureau should have a permanent leader rather than remain ad hoc,” Brown said.

Other Republicans, upset by Barraga’s vote, said they were surprised at Elaine Barraga’s promotion.

“I find it hard to believe Tom Barraga is for sale, whether it’s a family member or not,” said Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, GOP caucus leader. But McCaffrey said he was surprised because last fall Barraga voted against Bellone’s budget, which included funding from the mortgage fee.

GOP Legis. Rob Trotta suggested that Bellone wanted Barraga to provide the key legislative vote for the fee to protect Lindsay and Anker from having to back them. Trotta, of Fort Salonga, called it “another chapter . . . in the scratch my back playbook in [Democrats’] desperate attempt to keep control of the legislature in an election year . . . The corruption and backroom deals in the Bellone administration never ceases to amaze me.”

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider accused Trotta of “making baseless accusations with literally no evidence.” Schneider touted Barraga’s “great integrity and willingness to cross party lines to make tough decisions.”

Barraga said he played no role in his daughter’s promotion and never spoke to Bellone or his aides about it. “I had no inkling whatsoever,” he said. “I only became aware when my daughter phoned me after the promotion occurred.”

Barraga said he could not recall if his daughter was informed before or after the vote. While he opposed the budget, Barraga said he backed the new mortgage fee because without them Suffolk’s $180 million structural deficit would balloon, “only making things worse.”

Elaine Barraga, 47, says she is “very interested” in the college job, was interviewed late last year and believes it would be “a good fit” since she has represented the college in lawsuits in the past. She also has worked as a lawyer for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the state attorney general.

Louis Petrizzo, college general counsel, said the deputy general counsel’s job is needed to deal with federal rules on tracking campus crime, sexual harassment and other issues. Petrizzo said starting pay is $131,000, but could go as high as $178,800 based on experience. He said more than 50 people have applied, and that a decision is expected within 30 days.

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