Amid a growing buzz in Republican circles, two-term state Sen. Tom Croci acknowledged last week that he is undecided about whether to seek re-election in November.
Croci declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement, “I have not yet made a decision on whether or not to seek a third term.”
Christine Geed, Croci’s spokeswoman, said Croci has not set a deadline for deciding.
The intentions of the Sayville Republican, 45, may become clearer this week, when state lawmakers must file their Jan. 15 campaign finance report, detailing what they have raised in the last six months.
Croci’s campaign finance report in July showed he had just $11,094 in his campaign coffers, and some said they expect the new filing to show less. But Croci has scheduled a $500-a-head fundraiser on Jan. 17 at Mannino’s Restaurant in Oakdale, despite his private impasse.
Croci’s Third District seat could be the latest battleground for Republicans. They are trying to keep control of the Senate in a coalition with eight dissident Democrats. There also are two vacancies in seats previously held by Democrats that could come up for special elections.
While Croci has won past elections comfortably, Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 63,846 to 55,970 in the Third District, with 47,632 not aligned to any party.
Croci, an attorney, former Navy lieutenant commander and onetime White House military aide, is a significant player on national security issues as chairman of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee.
But some say he may feel returning to Washington may suit him better than remaining in Albany. “He’s committed to serving his community; he’s determining the best way to do that,” said one longtime associate who declined to be identified. “That’s where it’s really at right now. He hasn’t decided yet.”
Croci first won office in 2011 as Islip Town supervisor, ousting Democratic incumbent Philip Nolan. But Croci soon became embroiled in his own battles over taxes and appointments with the GOP town board and Frank Tantone, the former Islip GOP leader.
Croci left in midterm to serve as a reservist in Afghanistan but came back in time to rescue the party by stepping into the 2014 Senate race at the last minute. He replaced Conservative Town Board member Anthony Senft, who was mired in the scandal over illegal dumping at Roberto Clemente Park in Brentwood.
Even in Albany, Croci has had problems dealing with leadership. He once stalled weary senators for three hours during a marathon 17-hour budget session because of his reluctance to vote for the minimum wage hike in return for more school aid.
Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven Republican chairman, said he spoke to Croci last week in Albany and is “very confident” Croci will seek re-election.
William Garbarino, Islip Republican chair, said he has not spoken to Croci. But he called Croci “a proven vote-getter and if he runs, I’m sure he’ll win again.” Garbarino said the GOP has “a very strong stable” of candidates should Croci step aside.
Republican contenders for the Senate seat could include Assemb. Andrew Garbarino of Bayport, the party leader’s son; Assemb. Dean Murray of East Patchogue; Islip Town Board member Trish Bergin Weichbrodt; and Brookhaven Town Board member Neil Foley.
Possible Democratic candidates include Suffolk County Legis. William Lindsay III of Bohemia, Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez of Brentwood, former Brookhaven Town Board member Edward Hennessey, and possibly former Suffolk Legis. Kate Browning of Shirley, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Croci’s exit would be a “prime opportunity” for Democrats.
“If he doesn’t run, it would become the number one targeted race for Democrats — most importantly, for a Democrat who understands the suburbs,” Schaffer said.