Just before the new year, Republican lawmakers convened at party headquarters in Holbrook to elect a minority leader of the Suffolk Legislature.
But instead, Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle, in a sometimes heated meeting with the Republican caucus, ultimately insisted he alone should make the selection, according to sources at the meeting and other high-level GOP officials.
LaValle wound up making his choice: Legis. Tom Cilmi of Bay Shore.
The move came after weeks of LaValle lobbying behind the scenes. The chairman’s aim, according to sources, was to raise the profile of Cilmi, 54, first elected in 2009, presumably to run for county executive or Islip Town supervisor, should Angie Carpenter, 74, decide to retire.
However, current caucus leader Kevin McCaffrey, 63, of Lindenhurst, who’s held the job for three years and is an experienced negotiator as head of Teamsters Local 707, wanted to remain in the post. The GOP’s most vocal lawmaker, Robert Trotta of Fort Salonga, also sought to run.
The role has become more significant because the caucus, now with seven members, can block the 11-member Democratic majority from achieving the two-thirds vote needed to bond capital projects.
Yet the minority leader’s job is no powerhouse post. There is no extra stipend as there is for presiding officer DuWayne Gregory or his deputy, Rob Calarco, who get $22,416 and $11,027 respectively above their $100,854 annual salary. Nor is there any additional staff. The main benefit is the caucus leader is a leading voice for GOP legislators. (Cilmi voluntarily takes less salary — $99,783.)
According to party sources, LaValle maintained that he previously backed McCaffrey as caucus leader to raise his profile and that McCaffrey should now step aside to give Cilmi a chance at the spotlight.
LaValle, the sources said, also belittled McCaffrey for failing to raise money for the caucus and to keep GOP lawmakers together on key votes. However, the Republican bloc in recent years was often hamstrung when GOP Legis. Tom Barraga, whose daughter works as a deputy county attorney, went along with Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone on key votes. Term-limited Barraga left office at year’s end.
Some also say LaValle suggested that McCaffrey’s relationship with Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer was too close even though McCaffrey won his seat despite an all-out effort by both Bellone and Schaffer to defeat him. LaValle did not return calls for comment.
While several sources said McCaffrey had the three solid votes — and Cilmi only two — he backed off on a vote rather than fracture the caucus and put new Legis. Rudolph Sunderman of Shirley in a difficult position with LaValle, who’s from his hometown. The only vote taken was to allow LaValle to make the selection.
Cilmi acknowledged there was no vote among the GOP lawmakers to choose a new leader, but he declined to discuss the details and said he has the “full support” of the caucus.
While McCaffrey departed early during Cilmi’s largely unsuccessful effort to amend the legislative rules at the organization meeting, Cilmi said there was “no ill will” between them.
McCaffrey would not comment on the selection process, but said Cilmi has his “100 percent support” and that he only left the meeting to attend a news conference with Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on pension issues that affect his union.
McCaffrey declined to comment on LaValle.