Former Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning, seen in 2017.

Former Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning, seen in 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

To the limit.

And be-yoooond!!!

Nope, that's no riff on Buzz Lightyear's favorite exclamation.

Instead, it's a goal of Suffolk's Democratic Party, which intends to nominate Kate Browning as its candidate for county legislature, a post she had to leave four years ago under Suffolk's term limit law.

Browning last week made clear she had never wanted to leave the legislature, where she served 12 years, in the first place.

"I felt I had a lot more to do, a lot more I could do," she said in an interview.

"But I had to go," she said.

Suffolk's term limit law passed in 1993 and went into effect a year later, making Suffolk the first county in New York State to limit the terms of its elected officials, according to Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk legislative counsel who drafted the measure.

The law, which passed via voter referendum, states simply: "No person shall serve as a County Legislator for more than 12 consecutive years."

That, Sabatino said last week, makes a term limit, a term limit.

But note, please, the word "consecutive."

Richard Schaffer, the county's Democratic Party chairman, said according to legal advice he's received, the law allows a former lawmaker to again seek election to the legislature — if there has been a break after the end of 12 consecutive years.

Browning stopped representing the 3rd District, which covers communities in south-central Brookhaven, four years ago.

That break, Schaffer said, means that Browning, without violating either the spirit or intent of the law, can make a go for her old seat once more.

It's not a new quest.

In 2018, the idea was bandied about when Browning considered running for the seat now occupied by her successor, Rudy Sunderman, a Republican from Shirley who is stepping down to serve as deputy director of Suffolk's fire academy.

She did not run then.

But she intends to run now.

First, in a special election to fill the balance of Sunderman's term.

And again, in November, when Browning will seek a full two-year term.

That hardly sits well — no surprise — with Sabatino.

Or with Jesse Garcia, Suffolk's Republican Party chairman.

He said the GOP intends to fight Browning's effort, possibly in court.

And, most definitely, on the campaign trail.

"We have had a great number of legislators who have adhered to the law," Garcia said in an interview.

"But for Kate Browning, the rules don't apply to Kate Browning," he said.

Republicans have yet to formally announce their candidate for the seat soon to be vacated by Sunderman, who has pleaded not guilty to felony perjury charges for allegedly lying to the Suffolk County Board of Ethics.

Suffolk's term limit law doesn't just apply to lawmakers.

At one point, it also applied to the Suffolk district attorney, sheriff and county clerk posts as well.

But that went by the wayside in 2012 after a challenge from Thomas Spota, Suffolk's former district attorney, who won a court decision that allowed him to run for a fourth term. (Spota and his chief deputy later were convicted on federal charges stemming from the cover up of a former police chief's beating of a suspect.)

Steve Bellone, Suffolk's county executive, however, remains term limited, and thus ineligible to seek a fourth term,

Limits aren't just for county officials either.

In 2018, Huntington became the most recent town to enact term limits — three consecutive four-year terms for elected officials.

Brookhaven, Islip, Riverhead and Southampton also have similar laws.

"The idea with term limits was that the cream would rise to the top — that those who wanted to would run for other offices, higher offices, or, if they chose, decide to do something else," Sabatino said.

Plenty of Suffolk lawmakers have gone on to other posts after reaching term limits, including Angie Carpenter, Islip's Republican town supervisor.

And just last week, Trish Bergin, term-limited as a member of the Islip Town Board, announced her intention to run for the county legislative seat now occupied by fellow Republican Tom Cilmi — who also is term-limited in that post this year.

Schaffer, meanwhile, says he believes Browning has a good chance of winning her old legislative job back.

"Everybody knows Kate," Schaffer said.

And Browning said she would have no problem paving the way for other former lawmakers, sidelined by term limits, to return down to the line too.

"I think it's a good thing," she said.

And its something, she said — although Garcia vehemently disagrees — "that Republicans should think about doing too."

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