It started with his endorsement of Donald Trump and the presidential candidate’s appearance at Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle’s most successful fundraiser in years.
But in the six weeks since, LaValle also has become one of the most frequent faces to appear for “The Donald” on nationwide cable news show — appearing 18 times for the Trump campaign on Fox, CNN and other outlets.
LaValle said he was surprised when Trump first asked him shortly after his local appearance to serve as a surrogate for the campaign. Now he speaks to him at least once a week. Before this year, LaValle said he had only met Trump once several years ago, when he was weighing a run for governor.
“I’m just enjoying the moment,” said LaValle, who says he always addresses the candidate as “Mr. Trump,” adding, “I feel very privileged to be helping him in this race.”
Some mornings, LaValle said, he leaves home at 7 a.m. to be whisked by car to Manhattan for a morning news show, ride back to Suffolk for meetings, and then return to the city at night for another round of interviews. LaValle appeared on CNN after Hillary Clinton gave her foreign policy speech attacking Trump; he has another CNN appearance set for Sunday.
Associates say that LaValle and Trump “hit it off” personally and that Trump was impressed that LaValle largely defused a potential firestorm in having the fundraiser so close to where Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero was stabbed to death. “There’s no question the media was coming at us pretty hard to cancel or disinvite Mr. Trump,” said LaValle. “But I was pretty adamant that was not going to happen.”
Local Republicans also said LaValle’s TV appearances help energize the local party base in a county that brought out the largest primary turnout for Trump in the state. They also hope that Trump’s New York ties will put the state — long ignored by the GOP in presidential campaigns — back in play, helping the rest of the local GOP ticket.
“I get positive feedback every day,” said Anthony Pancella, Babylon GOP chairman, referring to the party grass roots. “John’s battle-tested and I think everyone in the local political arena is proud to see him out there pitching for the next president.”
Democrats, however, say LaValle’s ties to Trump will hurt the local GOP in the long run. “I can’t tell if John LaValle is auditioning to be the next apprentice or a faculty member at Trump University,” said Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman.
Either way, the local GOP could suffer “from having their chairman serve as spokesman for the most unpopular Republican nominee in American history,” Schaffer said.
While facile, LaValle’s appearances have not been gaffe-free. In a CNN appearance last month, LaValle said he had seen American flags burned at Hillary Clinton rallies. When pressed by the host, he could not cite any examples and later said he misspoke.
LaValle’s high-profile role for Trump recalls other Suffolk political operatives, including Richard Bond who became national GOP chairman for President George H.W. Bush, as well as former Suffolk Elections Commissioner William Canary and Babylon Town board member William DalCol, who became White House aides.
While LaValle eschews any long-term aspiration, Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant mainly for Republicans, said it can only help LaValle’s standing. “If you’re viewed as close to the Republican presidential nominee,” he said, “it has to raise your stock — at least to Election Day. And if Trump wins, who knows?”