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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

Part-timer's firing creates a stir at Huntington town board

Huntington Town supervisor Chad Lupinacci addresses local officials,

Huntington Town supervisor Chad Lupinacci addresses local officials, local veterans and others gathered in Huntington Station on Nov. 24 for a street-renaming ceremony. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci last month fired a one-day-a-week, $10,000-a-year human services executive assistant, Elizabeth Laufer, in an economy move, in part, he said because her boss, Human  Services Director  Carmen Kasper, didn’t know who she was.

But the firing has already created a behind-the-scenes town board scrum, and has served as a display of minor party clout because Independence Party town board member Gene Cook wants Laufer rehired.

Lupinacci, a Republican, justified the firing, saying a number of officials in her department ”didn’t know who she was” and her hourly salary when benefits were included totaled $104, in part because she received full health benefits, which is unusual for a part-time worker. He said Laufer’s departure has meant no loss of service and will save $40,000 to $50,000.

Since the firing, a town board resolution has surfaced sponsored by Cook, Democratic town board member Mark Cuthbertson and Republican Ed Smyth to fire Kasper, who makes $115,000 a year. It would then install Community Development director Leah Jefferson, who makes the same salary, to do both jobs for an extra stipend of $15,000. Some critics fear it may lead to a move by Jefferson to bring back Laufer.

Lupinacci opposes giving Jefferson a dual role, saying seniors, those who are disabled and veterans “deserve a full-time director, not someone working part-time" for them. He also maintained that Jefferson would be stretched too thin because her current job involves not only community development, but economic development and equal employment issues.

Both Cook and Cuthbertson say they simply introduced the resolution to cut costs. Cook said he estimates the measure would save $65,000 a year. Cuthbertson claims Lupinacci has “spent like a drunken sailor“ on patronage and he is only trying to “whittle it back wherever I can.” Asked if restoring Laufer to her job is part of the overhaul, Cuthbertson said, “That’s still to be determined.”

But Cook said he would like to see Laufer returned, saying she worked at the town senior center, participated in women’s events and was “well liked” in her job.

What makes Laufer special is her connection to state and Suffolk Independence Party chairman Frank MacKay. Those ties go back to 2001 when MacKay helped engineer the winning candidacy of Laufer’s husband, Conservative Richard Thompson, a lawyer, sports agent and former Montreal Expo, in a Conservative primary against District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr. The loss of that ballot line helped lead to Catterson’s defeat and the election of Democratic District Attorney Thomas Spota, now retired and facing trial this fall on charges of covering up criminal wrongdoing by then-Suffolk County Chief of Department James Burke. Thompson now does town law work as an outside attorney on tax assessment issues.

Laufer, a former Miss New York State, also once handed Rich Schaffer, Babylon supervisor and Suffolk Democratic chairman, his lone career defeat, in a race for eighth-grade student council vice president.

Cook said he was unaware of the couple’s past ties to party leaders, but said MacKay expressed “surprise” at Laufer’s firing and favored her return, indicating “when you have good people, you should keep good people.” But Cook said he is acting independently and MacKay made no demands. MacKay did not return calls for comment.

Toni Tepe, Huntington GOP chairwoman, said Laufer was “brought in under some kind of deal eons ago” by MacKay, but it “has nothing to do with this administration” or the supervisor’s “ability to bring in people who he feels ... are competent and credible to do the job.”

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