Call it Sini’s choice.
In a matter of weeks, Timothy Sini, who at 36 is Suffolk’s youngest police commissioner ever, must decide whether to stay put in the $162,000-a-year job he took just over a year ago or try to run for Suffolk County district attorney, which annually pays $194,243.
That Sini is even weighing a run comes as a surprise. During a legislative hearing before his confirmation, Sini told lawmakers “I have no intentions of running for district attorney . . . I am not running for district attorney in 2017.” However, Sini reversed field in late February, appearing before the Conservative Party’s executive committee as one of 11 contenders from all parties looking for the minor party’s backing for Suffolk’s most powerful law enforcement job.
But Sini has yet to officially declare his candidacy and has declined to comment on his committee appearance or his interest in the race. And he didn’t even show up for Suffolk Democrats’ spring dinner two weeks ago, a normal stomping ground for potential candidates.
An assistant U.S. attorney for 4 1⁄2 years, Sini, in his short Suffolk career, spent 14 months as a little-known law enforcement aide to County Executive Steve Bellone, and narrowly lost a 2015 campaign for county legislator, despite the best efforts of both Bellone and Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer and $152,000 in campaign contributions to put him over the top.
Unlike his predecessors, Sini has made police commissioner a high-profile post, making himself better known countywide. This year alone, Sini has already taken part in 30 media events, including one where he brought in a police helicopter to a news conference — reminiscent of the Broadway hit “Miss Saigon” — to show how tough he would be in the ongoing war against gangs.
The head of the GOP caucus, Legis. Kevin McCaffrey, who defeated Sini for the legislature, said the commissioner has already hurt his credibility by screening for district attorney and should step down if he decides to run. “From day one, it’s been about raising his profile so he can run again,” said McCaffrey. “When it snows, we even get weather reports from him. What’s he going to do, arrest Frosty the Snowman?”
But Patrick Halpin, former Democratic county executive and now a lobbyist, praised Sini for “turning the department in a remarkably short period of time after it was betrayed,” referring to the federal conviction of ex-chief of department James Burke for beating a suspect and then covering it up.
Yet Halpin agreed there are “too many potential problems” for Sini to become a political candidate and stay police commissioner. “The police commissioner has got to be nonpolitical, especially in Suffolk where politics comes in capital letters,” he said. “And Tim’s smart enough to know that.”
That means Sini might have to forego a salary until after the election for a job he might not win. If he stays, he could face the potential conflicts dealing with police unions, which have a formidable political action committee — the Long Island Law Enforcement Foundation — which plays a dominant role in campaign fundraising. Sini also must navigate the strained relations between Schaffer, who controls the nomination, and Bellone, who can provide substantial funding. Bellone and Schaffer declined to comment.
“If Sini goes for the nomination, is he a candidate who is [the] choice of the party and Rich Schaffer, or is he a product of Steve Bellone?” said Desmond Ryan, a veteran GOP lobbyist. “But with Schaffer, his choice always boils down to one thing — who can win? And he worries about the rest later.”