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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Steve Bellone v. Rich Schaffer: The chasm widens

The Suffolk County executive and the county Democratic chairman have been at war for months over issues including candidate selection for election races.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, right, and Town

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, right, and Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer at the State of the County address in Hauppauge in 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

It’s not often these days that warring Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer show up the same place, much less at the same microphone.

But it happened last Monday at a fundraiser at an East Patchogue marina for Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez, who is running for state Senate.

Bellone spoke first, touting Martinez’s qualities as a candidate and accomplishments as a lawmaker.

But in introducing Schaffer, he was terse.

As Bellone tried to exit, Schaffer put his arm around him to keep him near. “I know we’ve not agreed on much lately,” he said. “So I’m excited how good it’s going to be like old times — he and I working together on a common goal.”

Despite the conciliatory words, the chasm between the two men is only getting wider and deeper.

Later, Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, alluding to Schaffer’s history of giving little help to underdog Democratic Senate candidates, gibed, “It’s no secret the county executive is leading the effort to elect a Democratic State Senate.”

Without naming Schaffer, Elan said, “we encourage other party leaders do all they can to ensure that our candidates have the resources they need to be successful come November.”

Schaffer returned fire, noting he has personally given $1,000 each to Martinez and James Gaughran, the Democratic candidate in the 5th District; $500 to freshman Democratic Sen. John Brooks in the 8th; and $500 to Democratic Senate hopeful Louis D’Amaro in the 4th.  

”I would have put in $150,000 [in party funds], but I just had to spend it on a nonsensical primary for Surrogate judge,” Schaffer said, referring to the fact that Bellone had backed Republican Tara Scully's last-minute entry into the Democratic primary when Conservative Marian Tinari was the candidate.

Asked how much the party will spend on Senate races for November, Schaffer said, “To be determined, thanks to the county executive.”

Bellone has not yet endorsed Surrogate primary winner Theresa Bryant Whelan, a Democratic Suffolk Family Court judge.

Also last week, Elan attacked the latest version of the evolving judicial cross-endorsement pact. The agreement awarded one of the Democratic lines for state Supreme Court to Islip Conservative vice chairman Michael Gajdos, the former personal attorney for ex-Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh. Walsh is serving a two-year federal sentence for wire fraud and theft of government services.

“It’s incredible the Suffolk Democratic chairman continues to endorse Ed Walsh Conservatives,” Elan said.

Meanwhile, two letters aimed at Bellone came from the Suffolk Supervisors Association, which Schaffer heads as Babylon Town supervisor.

One was signed by GOP Supervisors Edward Romaine of Brookhaven and Angie Carpenter of Islip. It called on Bellone to cancel the agreement for a proposed $180 million sports arena in Ronkonkoma after a Newsday story raised questions about the developers' credentials in sports arena projects.  

The other letter, signed by Carpenter, Romaine and Schaffer, criticized Bellone for calling for a referendum on $388 million sewer projects in wintry January rather than on Election Day. Word from the state that $59.7 million in loans for the project would become grants came too late to get the referendum on the November ballot, Bellone aides said.

Despite the friction, Schaffer said he’s willing to work with Bellone, who has a $2 million campaign war chest, but is limited to giving $11,000 to any Senate candidate. “He can give an unlimited amount to the party and we could spend it on all the candidates running this year, including the State Senate,” Schaffer said.

However, Bellone is going his own way. While he’s made no personal contributions, his campaign fund has already maxed out to $11,000 each to Gaughran and D’Amaro. After a Newsday inquiry, Elan said checks for the maximum also were sent to the Martinez and Brooks campaigns on Thursday.

With David M. Schwartz

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