Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone pushed things to an entirely new level this week in threatening to ask Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to intercede in Bellone’s escalating feud with Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Bellone’s reasoning: There may be no other way to force the district attorney to abandon his post other than to go outside Suffolk to the governor’s office.
But it is no small thing to remove an elected official. And, under state law, the governor’s office would have to do what no one has yet done: Make a case against Spota, and produce it publicly.
Cuomo’s office last week wasn’t commenting on Bellone’s request, which Bellone also said went to the state attorney general’s office.
But Bellone, asked in an interview about the kind of reception he received from the governor’s office, said, “They are concerned about what is going on here.”
In a bit of political theater, Bellone on Thursday stood outside Spota’s office and accused the district attorney of running “a criminal enterprise,” before demanding that Spota step aside.
Bellone said that if Spota did not, he would press the governor to remove him.
Spota brushed aside Bellone’s demand, saying he had zero intention of leaving. He repeated — three times — that Bellone was asking only because Spota’s office had sent materials concerning Bellone to the state Board of Elections.
What materials? Spota at a news conference wouldn’t say. Bellone in an interview later said only that he had nothing to hide.
Is Bellone, as an elected official, bothered about attempting to substitute his judgment for that of Suffolk residents, who elected Spota to office?
“No,” Bellone said.
“I have to dispute that,” he went on, referring to the word “elected.” Why? Because Spota in recent years has won cross-endorsements from major and minor political parties, which Bellone said leaves voters only one choice for the office.
“I think that system is so corrosive, and that while it may be legal, it’s not legitimate,” Bellone said.
In his news conference, however, Bellone made no mention of the fact that he had given up in a court fight that could have put an end to Spota’s tenure as district attorney.
Spota had challenged Suffolk’s 12-year term-limit law. And in 2012 he won a court decision after arguing that the district attorney’s position, like that of the county clerk and sheriff, was a state- rather than county-created job. The victory allowed him to continue running for district attorney.
The Bellone administration decided not to appeal.
In his remarks outside the district attorney’s office last week, Bellone singled out a Newsday report about what happened — and did not happen — as a result of a yearlong investigation involving a politically connected lawyer, Robert Macedonio.
That probe, in 2007, turned up evidence of drug deals and political corruption that — to the surprise of investigators — went unpunished, according to Newsday’s report.
What’s disturbing is that judges, lawyers and prosecutors were among those caught on the district attorney’s wiretap.
Also captured were discussions about a number of activities, including drug deals and discussions of trading patronage jobs for judgeships.
Just how wide and deep is corruption in Suffolk? And is there any way to break it? An ongoing federal investigation into Suffolk’s criminal justice system could end up being one way.
As for what Suffolk residents are to make of the fight between Bellone and Spota, a newsday.com reader, who was commenting on the feud this week, may have put it best: “There’s not enough popcorn in the world” for this.