Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, who played a role in the probe that led to the conviction of former County Conservative chairman Edward Walsh, may be facing a political problem of his own.
A little more than a week after Election Day, the Suffolk Conservative executive committee Thursday night unanimously voiced their intent to deny DeMarco’s renomination to run again as sheriff next November.
“There was absolutely no support. He flatlined,” said one high-level party official who declined to be identified.
Another high-level party official, who also declined to be identified, said, “There was no support for Vinnie for any office. It was almost palpable.” The party official added that the intent was not retribution against DeMarco for what happened to Walsh, but to move the party past the entire mess. “Whatever happened, people felt Vinnie was also responsible and we want to leave the past behind and look to the future.”
The officials also said there was sentiment among party leaders that DeMarco should step aside next year because he will have served 12 years and should be term-limited under county law. However, a court has ruled those limits cannot apply to the office of sheriff.
Frank Tinari, the new Suffolk Conservative chairman, acknowledged there was an executive committee meeting and DeMarco, among other matters, was discussed. “I wanted to see where people were heading,” he said.
However, Tinari emphasized there was no formal vote and he declined to characterize the amount of support for DeMarco among the 40 to 50 party officials at the meeting at Conservative headquarters in Central Islip. “It was a closed executive committee meeting,” he said. “I’m not at liberty to say what their positions were.”
DeMarco, reached late Friday, said he was not aware of what happened at the meeting, but said he intends to run for re-election next year. He also said he believes he can win a Conservative Party primary next September to hold his party’s nomination.
Backers credit DeMarco for developing alternate sentencing ways to ease jail crowding, which have put off the need for a second phase of county jail construction that would have cost more than $100 million. He also stood with former County Executive Steve Levy in the effort to cut costs by putting deputy sheriffs on the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway rather than more costly county police, a move that was later reversed.
DeMarco, who first won office 11 years ago with the backing of the Democratic Party, has won re-election with the support of both major and minor parties in his last two terms, despite efforts by the Suffolk police unions to enroll members and their families into Conservative ranks. More than 1,000 were removed from the party after hearings.
However, DeMarco’s chief of staff, Michael Sharkey, and several other high-level sheriff’s aides sided in the party convention in September with insurgents led by Kenneth Auerbach, who was defeated in a disputed leadership battle that is now in court.
DeMarco’s prospects are uncertain because he not only needs a major party cross endorsement to have a realistic shot of winning re-election, but if he is not the Conservative leaders’ choice, he has to run a primary to get his own party’s nomination in September. Several Republicans, former Comptroller Joseph Sawicki and Assemb. Al Graf, a former New York City police detective, have been mentioned as potential candidates.
But both Richard Schaffer, the county Democratic chairman, and John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, have expressed support for DeMarco, but Conservative backing is considered crucial for Republican candidates. It is also unclear whether the GOP ban on their candidates taking another major party line in nonjudicial races would affect DeMarco, because he is not a Republican.
Walsh, who is awaiting sentencing on corruption charges and was at a federal court hearing Friday, said he had not heard about the Conservative leaders meeting. “I wasn’t there,” he said, adding, “Maybe they have lost faith in him [DeMarco], too.”