Former Suffolk County GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, who’s been President Donald Trump's prime local cheerleader for the past three years, has gone silent about the commander in chief since launching a bid for Port Jefferson Village mayor against five-term incumbent Margot Garant.
“My decision to run has nothing to do with major party politics,” said LaValle. He accused Garant of “trying to distract … people from the real issues” such as gang violence, empty storefronts and prostitution in the upper village.
“Economically, the village is falling apart,” LaValle said.
Garant said LaValle is “just looking for a landing spot” since his exit as party leader, and “people are just asking, why?”
Garant said until LaValle announced his candidacy, he showed no interest in village government.
“He’s attended not one meeting,” Garant said. “If he did, he’d know we have a whole plan for redeveloping the upper village.”
The heated mayoral battle is likely to only get more get intense by June 18 when voters in the 8,000-resident village go to the polls to vote on the $19,000-a-year mayor’s job and two trustee seats — enough to control the village board.
So far, LaValle has raised $37,600 to Garant’s $16,040, according to 32-day pre-election campaign finance reports. Garant has spent $8,623 to LaValle’s $2,488.
Adding to the fray, a progressive independent expenditure group, Taking Action for Suffolk County, ran a full-page ad last week that included a photo of LaValle hugging Trump. The ad says LaValle “wants to bring Trump’s brand of partisan politics into our village for his own political gain.”
LaValle, whose slate is running on the “Residents First Party” ballot line, said he expected no backlash over his support for Trump, saying village issues have nothing to do “with national politics or any other political figure.” He called Taking Action for Suffolk County a front group for Garant, an allegation she dismisses.
Bryan Erwin, TASC's executive director, said the group has had “zero contact” with Garant or her campaign. Erwin said the group decided to get involved because LaValle’s Trump-styled rhetoric was “bringing toxicity to what traditionally is a nonpartisan mayor’s race … setting a dangerous precedent.”
LaValle, 51, an attorney, said his decade as a Brookhaven Town Board member and as town supervisor, overseeing a $250 million budget and 2,000 employees, more than qualifies him for restore the village’s luster.
“Other villages are thriving, Port Jefferson is hurting,” he said.
LaValle said as supervisor he cut taxes, won approval for a $100 million environmental bond and helped create Port Jefferson Village’s Harbor Walk. LaValle lived in the village from 1993 to 2004, moved to Mount Sinai and returned in 2013, first renting and then buying a condominium in 2016. His cousin is respected veteran State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). His cousin is respected veteran State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).
Garant, 55, a Democrat, has led the village for a decade under the banner of the Unity Party. She is a lawyer who has practiced locally for two decades and lived in the village since age 9. Her mother, Jeanne Garant, also once served as village mayor.
Garant says she has run a clean campaign and stuck to the issues. She said Port Jefferson is “an educated and involved community" with residents "who understand the risks when you switch gears in midstream from an incumbent, who is working hard.”