Former Suffolk Legis. Rick Montano says foes lately are calling him "Lobo Viejo" -- the "old wolf."
"I may be old," said Montano, 65, who is attempting a political comeback after losing a bitter primary two years ago. "But I can still bite."
Montano, a lawmaker for a decade and the onetime Suffolk County Human Rights Commission executive director, filed petitions last week with more than 2,900 signatures to wage a Democratic primary for Islip supervisor. His opponent is party choice Thomas Licari, who has never run for office and lives in the Fire Island community of Kismet.
Unlike two years ago when Montano was a lone-wolf candidate, he brought two dozen backers and fellow candidates when he filed petitions for his slate last week at the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank. "It looks like a tailgate party out there," joked one GOP elections worker.
While Democrats hold the voter registration edge in Islip, Montano said 75 percent of the town Democratic committee positions are vacant. He said the town party is so weak that Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer had to bring in party workers from county government, the elections board and Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. who live outside Islip to help get petition signatures.
Montano, who himself gathered 600 signatures and lost 20 pounds walking, said his supporters want to rebuild the party from the ground up to overcome what has been dismal voter turnout in communities such as Brentwood and Central Islip.
"The community has spoken. They want a primary contest," Montano said. "And they don't want the party to tie things up or suppress the vote."
Montano backers include two state Democratic Committee members in the 6th Assembly District, former town leader Ivan Young and former Suffolk Democratic elections Commissioner Neil Tiger.
Schaffer says Montano is only looking to split the party and promote himself.
"It doesn't surprise me because it is standard operating procedure for Rick Montano. He's always about the negative, not the positive," Schaffer said.
Said Montano: "It's not sour grapes, it's about giving the community a voice."
However, Montano's primary ticket does include Giovanni Mata, who is running against freshman Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who in the 2013 primary defeated Montano with major financial help from Schaffer and County Executive Steve Bellone. Martinez is the sister of the co-chair of Bellone's transition team.
"All you have to do is follow the money and connect the dots. It was ugly," Montano said.
Schaffer, who collected 40 Islip petition signatures himself, said he expects the town party will beat back the Montano challenge. He noted that Montano lost to Martinez 64 percent to 34 percent. "For a 10-year incumbent to only get 700 votes is an embarrassment," Schaffer said.
But a year earlier, Montano, running without party help, got 49,223 votes in a 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent loss to GOP Assemb. Philip Boyle, of Bay Shore, for State Senate. Schaffer discounted Montano's showing, saying he only came close because of the large 65.7 percent presidential turnout.
Whoever wins the Islip supervisor primary will face incumbent Republican Angie Carpenter, a past Suffolk County legislator and treasurer. If Martinez wins her primary, she has no fall opponent.
Jerry Pallotta, Islip Democratic chairman, called Montano "a relic of the past" who is ready "to sell out his community by helping Republicans for some personal gain in the future."
Montano says Schaffer and Bellone have made a deal with the Islip GOP. "Their candidates are not real, they are just candidates on paper," he said.
Meanwhile, Tiger, a veteran political operative, warned the more primary voters Martinez brings out, the better it may be for Montano.
"In all likelihood, four of five of her voters will also vote for Rick Montano for supervisor," Tiger said.