Linda Kabot, Republican candidate for the 2nd District 2 seat...

Linda Kabot, Republican candidate for the 2nd District 2 seat in the Suffolk County Legislature, and Anthony Piccirillo, Republican candidate for the 8th District seat. Credit: James Escher

Last week’s primary results have yet to be certified, but Suffolk County Republicans may have their best chance in years to regain, if not a majority, at least enough seats to create a nine-nine deadlock and control the selection of presiding officer next year.

If Republicans can pick up two more seats, the selection of the next presiding officer would go to Republican County Clerk Judith Pascale if lawmakers cannot come to agreement by Jan. 15.   

Jesse Garcia, Suffolk and Brookhaven GOP chairman, declined to speculate about the leadership issue because “we’re concerned about stopping the runaway spending of the Democratic majority first and foremost because our main concern is for the taxpayer,” adding, “What happens to the political apparatus will work itself out later.”

Democrats have a 11-7 legislative edge, and have held the majority for last 14 years (16 total in the legislature’s 50-year history). Republican were the majority for 33 years, though eight of them involved shifting coalitions of GOP and Democratic lawmakers, who shared power.

The GOP’s hottest prospect is legislative aide Anthony Piccirillo, who had a write-in win in the 8th District over Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) in the Conservative primary. Piccirillo got 1,418 votes on the Conservative line two years ago, in a race he lost by just 244 votes. Piccirillo also won a write-in for the Independence Party line, on which Lindsay got 622 votes in 2017. Piccirillo also has the  new Libertarian ballot line.

The Republicans also have high hopes for the comeback effort of former Southampton Supervisor Linda Kabot in the 2nd District against second-term Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), a former Manhattan prosecutor and town board member who is no pushover and touts a strong environmental record. But Kabot is well known locally and a relentless campaigner.

Republicans expect their incumbents to win and also see long-shot chances for Gary Pollakusky against Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) in the 6th District, and Dominick Thorne, a volunteer emergency worker of Patchogue against 7th District Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue).

But in the current choppy political waters, nothing is certain. Republicans say Democrats’ ultraliberal agenda in Albany not only mobilized Conservatives in the primary but gives the GOP a springboard for November. But political consultant Michael Dawidziak warned the GOP has just an “outside chance” for a nine-nine split: “It’s very difficult to beat an incumbent in the county legislature. It just doesn’t often happen.” 

But Democrats expect President Donald Trump’s unpopularity to keep sparking their turnout. Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said, “Our base is energized red hot just like were last year when the Republicans said Monica Martinez didn’t have a shot for State Senate,” a seat she won.

Schaffer said he believes the party will hold the majority, could pick up a seat or two, and will wage a more aggressive campaign against Piccirillo, whom he labeled “far right.” He also still sees chances in the 11th District where Legis. Steve Flotteron (R-Brightwaters) and 6th District Republican challenger Pollakusky are vulnerable because each has a Conservative foe to siphon votes away.

He also touted David Bligh, 35, of Holbrook, an environmental engineer, who has been knocking on doors since January, as having “potential as a sleeper” against 4th District Legis. Tom Muratore (R-Lake Ronkonkoma). 

the county legislature only split 9-9 once — in 1988 — which left the lawmakers immobilized for a month. In fact, a joke that circulated at the time was: “What has 36 legs and can’t move?” The punch line: “The Suffolk County Legislature.”

In the end, Legis. Fred Thiele (R-Sag Habor) defected and voted for Democratic Legis. Sondra Bachety for presiding officer. GOP critics labeled him “Make a deal Thiele,” but he went on to become Southampton supervisor and  a longtime Independence Party assemblyman.

Schaffer, who like Thiele was a new lawmaker at the time, was assigned to stay close to his fellow freshman during the impasse. “I drove to Sag Harbor 97 times and learned every back road to his office,” he recalled. After the vote, he joked, “I think we rebuilt every bridge in his South Fork District.”

Correction: Suffolk Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) is in her second term as a county legislator and is seeking her third, two-year term in November. Her length of service in the legislature was misstated in a previous version of this column.

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