Larry Zacarese, who came out nowhere two years ago to win a major upset in a Republican primary for Suffolk County sheriff, may be on the verge of joining the scrum of Republican contenders lining up for county executive.
“The county is in shambles,” said Zacarese. “Maybe it’s time for a new perspective.”
Zacarese pointed to the 146,881 votes he got in his losing bid for sheriff against Democrat Errol Toulon Jr. in 2017. That was more than the 137,152 votes Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone received in his 2011 election and the 104,498 votes Bellone got in 2015, Zacarese noted.
“A hundred and forty-six thousand people can’t be wrong,” said Zacarese.
Although Zacarese said he has raised no money, he has been weighing another run for several months and will make a decision within the next two weeks.
The Republican field for county executive already includes free-swinging Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta, who announced last week. GOP county Comptroller John Kennedy, who narrowly won re-election last fall, is expected to announce his candidacy Monday.
Kennedy and Trotta have suggested a primary could damage Republican prospects.
However, Zacarese is the only GOP contender who has run and won a countywide primary, and thinks that gives him an advantage in GOP deliberations about a nominee.
“I have run a primary and I think people have respected my gumption,” he said. “I started with what was underestimated force, mounted an underdog campaign that ended showing what one person can do against the machine.”
Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works primarily for Republicans, said Zacarese is “in a category where you can’t underestimate him. He’s surprised everyone by winning the primary and coming so close in the general election. And in a three-way primary you don’t have to win with 50 percent plus one, you can win with 36 percent.”
Nonetheless, Dawidziak says he sees Kennedy as the front-runner because he has the most experience in county government as a lawmaker and comptroller and the best chance to get Conservative Party backing.
Dawidziak also said Kennedy, whose late father, Jack, once led the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council, has the best chance at securing union and law enforcement support.
In his GOP sheriff's primary, Zacarese, pointed to his credentials as a former NYPD sergeant and as assistant chief of the Stony Brook University Police in his campaign against State Sen. Phil Boyle, who had scant law enforcement credentials.
Zacarese also capitalized on Republican ire over Conservatives’ decision to endorse Boyle before the GOP had acted, forcing Republican party officials to accept the Conservatives' pick.
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, said he spoke to Zacarese recently but never discussed the county executive race.
LaValle touts Zacarese’s future in the party, but said he would discourage him from doing anything that would split the party.
“We were 100 percent behind him for sheriff because the shoe fit,” said LaValle. “This time the right person is John Kennedy.”