In their increasingly desperate hunt for a Suffolk County executive candidate, Republicans are trying to enlist fiery freshman Legis. Robert Trotta as the party's standard-bearer in November.
In his first 15 months in office, Trotta, 54, a retired Suffolk police detective, has been an outspoken critic of Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone. Only this week, he called for a state control board to take over the county's finances in the face of a looming $176 million budget shortfall.
"We're pretending things are getting better, but they are not," Trotta said this week at the legislature's finance committee meeting. "People are fleeing the Island and the decisions being made at this table are driving it forward."
In the past month, Trotta also has taken shots at county fees he says are driving small businesses out of Suffolk. And he has lashed out at the $3 million cost of rebuilding the burned-out Cupsogue Beach pavilion, noting it is used only three months a year.
Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) also has incurred the ire of his former union, the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, with a proposal to require police officials to have college or advanced degrees. PBA officials have tried without success to find someone to challenge Trotta for his legislative seat.
Trotta's name emerged as a possible county executive candidate after Assemb. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) decided recently against making a run. Islip Town Board member Trish Bergin Weichbrodt withdrew her name early this week in emails to county GOP leaders.
Trotta met with Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle several days after Palumbo dropped out, according to party sources. The lawmaker declined to comment on a possible race and LaValle did not return calls for comment.
"He's someone who is fierce and would be undaunted and unafraid to attack the sacred cows," said James Teese, a veteran Smithtown GOP operative.
A top GOP official said Trotta would "be a very competitive candidate and I think he would like to go for it. But it's complicated."
Trotta has a college-age child, and a race for county executive would force him to give up the chance to run for re-election for his safe legislative seat, which pays $100,000 a year.
Trotta also faces an uphill battle against Bellone, who is better known and better financed. Bellone says he has cut the county payroll by 1,000 positions, and that he has made priorities of clean water, transit and economic development programs.
Trotta also has no experience running countywide, while Bellone can command almost daily news coverage because of his position.
Bellone aides declined to comment on Trotta's potential candidacy.
But Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said of the GOP: "The reason they are down to their fifth or sixth string choice is the great job Steve Bellone has done."
Nonetheless, Trotta comes from rock-ribbed Republican Smithtown, which last year gave another hometown favorite, John M. Kennedy Jr., an 8,000-vote plurality in his upset win for Suffolk County comptroller.
Trotta, a former civic leader running as an outsider, also has shown a talent for tapping the public pulse, and he won a three-way legislative primary against Plumbers Local 200 head Mario Mattera, the GOP choice, by more than 30 points.
Suffolk Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), head of the Republican caucus, said he has spoken with Trotta. McCaffrey said that, at times, Trotta seems ready to run, but at others he is "extremely on the fence" about the county executive race.
"I told him that I'd miss him sitting next to me, but it would give him a chance to do things he wants to see done," McCaffrey said. "It would certainly be a sharp contrast. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."