For at least one night last week, there appeared to be a thaw in the icy relations between two prominent Suffolk Democrats: County Executive Steve Bellone and party chairman Rich Schaffer. And they may have President Donald Trump to thank.
Bellone made an unexpected appearance Thursday night when more than 500 party committee members gathered at IBEW Local 25 in Hauppauge to re-elect Schaffer to his 10th term. That will keep him in power into the 2020 presidential campaign in which Trump is expected to seek re-election.
The county executive’s appearance came after Schaffer earlier in the day alerted Bellone aide Jon Kaiman that Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer was doing a video for the event and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who will headline the party's fundraising dinner Monday, was sending a letter of support for Schaffer.
“As our county chairman has noted in the past, we haven’t always agreed on everything,” said Bellone, who appeared shortly after the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington concluded its hearing into sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“However, this is a moment in time where it is important for all Democrats to stand up together and fight against what is happening in our country today,” Bellone said.
Schaffer also sought to tamp down concerns about his rift with Bellone.
“Ego is the enemy,” he said, referring to a popular book he keeps on his night table. “I read it and reread it . . . I have an ego like anyone, but if you put your ego . . . above the goals and desires of the organization, you not only defeat the organization, but yourself.”
Schaffer continued: “There’s something bigger going here that cannot stand for either one of our egos taking over . . . to disrupt this Democratic Party . . . That’s what you’re going to get from me. That’s what you’re going to get from him.”
Schaffer said their ties date back to when Bellone was a law school student and a part-time public relations aide in Babylon Town, where Schaffer is supervisor. He also recalled that Bellone stepped up when no one else would and won a race for town board in 1997 after District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr., a Republican, indicted a number of town officials.
Looking ahead, Schaffer alluded publicly for the first time to the Democrats' plans to back Bellone for re-election next year.
Schaffer also sought to blunt criticism of his own Democratic credentials following cross-endorsement deals with Conservatives, and in the past having been friendly with state Senate Republicans.
Schaffer, who has knocked on doors for the party since the age of 12, also turned personal, disclosing how his father abandoned the family when Schaffer was 10, and that his mother was jailed after causing a death while driving drunk when he was 14.
At one point, his belongings were on the curb when he was evicted from his home. “I’ve never forgotten about that and it has always guided what I do as an elected official,” he said.
Schaffer also delivered his strongest words yet on efforts to overturn the Republican State Senate, referring specifically to Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who is vying for the open 3rd Senate District seat.
“We had to allow her to do this . . . to be one of the people at the table when the State Senate goes Democratic, not just to fight for her district but for . . . Long Island,” said Schaffer.
But what's uniting Democrats is Trump, he said.
“You’re giving me two years here and we’ll be working to make sure Donald Trump loses Suffolk County,” Schaffer said to rising applause. “It’s about the long game . . . This is something I’ve not seen in my lifetime. It’s scary, it's real and we have to deal with it.”