When announced, it appeared to be the most partisan of 40 11th-hour appointments that Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi put forward just ahead of his exit.
That proposal - for a post meant to be free of politics - was to dump Republican John Cameron as chairman of the recently reconstituted Long Island Regional Planning Council, for Thomas Garry, a top election lawyer for the Democrats and party vice chairman.
What made the switch confounding is that Cameron was Suozzi's own choice three years ago when he was first appointed to the council. Cameron also touted the Suozzi-backed Lighthouse complex at the council as a "project of regional significance" in a bid to expedite action.
Cameron said he first heard he was getting axed Dec. 6 from Chief Deputy County Executive Marilyn Gottlieb. "I was very disappointed," he said, noting the council, which he helped overhaul, is in the midst of drafting a new regional plan to take Long Island to 2035.
Party sources say Suozzi was upset because Cameron's son gathered petitions for his foe, now GOP County Executive-elect Edward Mangano. The sources also say Cameron turned down a request to send out a letter backing Suozzi in his hometown, Rockville Centre.
Suozzi denied either issue played a role. "John is a great guy and Tom's a great guy," Suozzi said, adding that he wanted to promote Garry but believes Republicans will reappoint Cameron on their own.
Despite his political pedigree, Garry is no stranger to planning issues. He worked for Islip on the development of the Pilgrim property and worked on Donald Trump's lawsuits against the state over delays in building "Trump on the Ocean," Trump's proposed Jones Beach catering hall/restaurant. He also helped draft a Hempstead village rental registration law to prevent apartment overcrowding.
Politics may have advanced his name, but Garry said, "I know planning and land use . . . that's the stuff that pays the bills."
Once Suozzi's list surfaced, however, party sources say some Democratic lawmakers, including Legis. David Mejias (D-Farmingdale), in a conference call balked at axing Cameron from the unpaid post. Mejias, reached later, declined to detail the discussions, but said, "John Cameron is a champion for smart growth and good planning and has been fantastic as chairman of the board and a real asset to Long Island."
Suozzi revised his list. He still put Garry in Cameron's spot, giving Garry a two-year term, but also proposed naming Cameron to a holdover seat held by Elaine Gross, ineligible for reappointment because she lives in Suffolk. But that move would only be a token one - her term expires Dec. 31.
The lame duck Democratic-controlled county legislature is scheduled to vote on Suozzi's list Monday.
Cameron said, "I swing back and forth" whether to accept a new appointment. If the legislature reappoints him, he would become holdover appointee Jan. 1.
Cameron said he would have preferred Suozzi leave both spots alone to allow Mangano to make his own selections. Based on "qualification, commitment and past performance," Cameron believes he deserves reappointment, but said he's "entirely comfortable" leaving the choice to Mangano.
Mangano in a statement said all 40 appointments "thwart the will of the voters" and called on lawmakers to reject "these costly last-minute favors." He took no position on Cameron, however.
While Cameron has close ties to Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and is heavily involved in groups like Catholic Charities and has given to both parties, some GOP insiders say Cameron has tilted heavily toward Suozzi. State elections records show Cameron and his engineering firm this year gave $17,000 to Suozzi and $300 to Mangano.
"Not having John Cameron on the planning council would be a tremendous loss to our work," said Michael White the council's executive director. If Garry is appointed, he added, "I trust he would leave his portfolio as a political officer and lobbyist behind when he joins the council."