Jon Schneider won his first battle as Brookhaven's Democratic chairman in an unexpected floor fight for his own election earlier this month. It was a shutout.
But it's the last easy win the 29-year-old party operative will see in the coming year. In short order, Schneider, an aide to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), faces races to fill the town board vacancy left by the unexpected death of Keith Romaine, and a state Assembly seat left vacant by incumbent Patricia Eddington's election to town clerk.
On the horizon, Republicans, giddy from last month's election gains, are eyeing an all-out effort to oust freshman State Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) and have a potential foe for Schneider's boss, Randy Altschuler, who has already raised a half-million dollars.
Schneider also has the unenviable task of replacing Marsha Laufer, after eight years in which she energized the party and raised millions of dollars from her Old Field estate overlooking Long Island Sound, becoming the first town leader to elect two successive Democrats as town supervisor.
In the biggest laugh at the party convention, Schneider acknowledged that he was inheriting the mantle of party leader from Laufer, but asked, "Is there anything else I can inherit from you?"
Backers say that the former Sierra Club lobbyist, who has not only worked for Bishop but has been deputy town supervisor, is a hard-nosed grassroots organizer.
"He cannot only whip up a campaign piece in a matter of minutes," said county Democratic leader Richard Schaffer, "he'll also show up at a train station at 5 a.m. to hand out literature."
However, Schaffer also admitted Schneider cannot match Laufer's fundraising.
"You're all invited to his house for the first fundraiser," he said. "You'll just have to come two at a time."
Early in his career, Schneider could also be overzealous - once a Southampton Town police officer accused him of pilfering campaign signs of Bishop foe William Manger. There was no arrest.
However, Schneider, in his maiden speech, said Republicans may be overestimating their appeal, noting it was GOP nationally that drove the economy into the ground and locally gave town taxpayer "no bid" insurance contracts that cost millions and a string of officials "taken out of town hall in handcuffs."
He added that some of the GOP new leaders are former town officials, who refused to seek re-election.
But new Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, Brookhaven's former supervisor, immediately returned fire, questioning how Schneider could work full time for Bishop and also be party leader.
"I find it very concerning," said LaValle, "I think it's virtually impossible to work as a political leader and work in a congressional office."
LaValle warned that Republicans will be scrutinizing Schneider's role and may even file a federal lawsuit to seek discovery of his work product.
"It's a very big problem for Bishop," said LaValle, "He choosing to walk through very dangerous land, and he's been forewarned."
Bishop, reached in Washington, discounted LaValle's threats, saying that Riverhead Democratic leader Ernest "Butch" Langhorne, worked for him for three years without incident and now works for county Sheriff Vincent DeMarco. "I have no concerns, I have had a series of conversation with Jon, and he and I are very clear about the separation of politics and government."
Democrats also say Republicans are the last ones who should be raising the issue, since Brookhaven Republican chairman Jesse Garcia and Smithtown GOP chairman William Ellis work at the board of elections, and Islip GOP chairman heads the Islip planning board.
Said Schneider: "I'd take ethical advice from John LaValle about the same time I would take marriage advice from Tiger Woods."