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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Rich Schaffer enjoys Nicholas LaLota’s Amityville election loss

Suffolk County Democratic Party chairman Rich Schaffer

Suffolk County Democratic Party chairman Rich Schaffer Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

It was only a village election and no one uses major party labels. But Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer this week called the Amityville mayor’s race, in which Suffolk Republican county Elections Commissioner Nicholas LaLota was beaten, his sweetest political win in 16 years.

“It felt the same as 2001 when we beat Jim Catterson,” said Schaffer, referring the ouster of former Suffolk District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr., who had indicted five of Schaffer’s top town aides.

“I’m excited residents voted to restore integrity and put the friendly back in Amityville in the tradition of former mayors like Lou Howard, Emil Pavlik and Peter Imbert,” Schaffer said.

LaLota, 38, a bright but brash U.S. Naval Academy graduate who serves as the county’s top GOP elections official, said he was “very disappointed” by his loss.

But LaLota said he will not deny his “political DNA” by retreating on controversial issues.

“I don’t mind standing up for what I believe and I don’t mind being for what’s right even if it’s unpopular,” he said. “And that probably scares some institutional politicians like Rich Schaffer.”

In a record turnout that drew 47 percent of voters, Dennis Siry, a village trustee, won by 228 votes. Siry will have a 3-2 edge to control the village board when he takes over as mayor next month because he gets to appoint his replacement. LaLota remains a trustee with two years left on his term.

The mayoral election is the latest in a series of clashes between Schaffer and LaLota.

Last year, LaLota engineered an unsuccessful petition drive for a referendum on creating Babylon Town Council districts. Earlier, LaLota was campaign manager in Republican caucus leader Kevin McCaffrey’s upset victory for a Suffolk County Legislature seat. That was a major hometown setback for Schaffer and County Executive Steve Bellone.

Schaffer in the mayoral election personally spent $1,000 on a local newspaper ad attacking LaLota for pressing disciplinary charges against four village police officers who had sought volunteer fire pension credits for responding to a fire call while on police duty. Schaffer called him “unfit to serve,” while LaLota accused Schaffer of bringing “big city politics” to the village.

Schaffer said he also organized more than 80 volunteers to get out the vote. The Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation, the Suffolk PBA’s independent political committee, also did at least four mailings.

LaLota said his campaign spent about $25,000, and estimated his foes spent three times that amount, although they have yet to file any campaign expense reports with the village clerk as required.

LaLota backers say his opponents used “scare tactics” by saying LaLota wanted to disband village police — a charge LaLota says is untrue. They also called Schaffer’s campaign effort retribution for LaLota’s refusal to back off the effort to create town council districts.

“I’m not a sellout,” LaLota said. “I know I’m right on the issues. People are taxed way too much and officials don’t exercise enough discretion on contracts.”

Schaffer dismissed such charges, and said LaLota’s harsh rhetoric and hard-line stands hurt him.

“Politicians don’t usually accumulate so many enemies by age 38,” Schaffer said. “It’s Nick’s one legitimate accomplishment.”

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