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DeMarco passes on Congress run

For much of last week, Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco was torn by overtures from national, state and local Republican leaders wooing him to run this fall against Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington).

DeMarco, a Conservative, had huddled in the past month with national GOP officials in Washington, talked to state Republican chairman Edward Cox and was recruited heavily by Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, according to party sources in both counties.

"It was a full-court press," said one operative familiar with the effort. "They kept saying it could be 1994 all over again," referring to the year the GOP swept both houses of Congress.

One local GOP poll showed him as a contender to beat Israel, and last week a more extensive poll covering the entire 3rd Congressional District was planned. He even talked to party officials who were not so keen on the idea -- Suffolk Conservative chairman Edward Walsh and county Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who helped launch DeMarco's elected career as sheriff.

"He was literally in one minute, then out, and then in again," said a high-level party official who did not wish to be identified.

By Friday, DeMarco had made the final call -- he will not run, at least not this year. "There were talks," he said. "The phone has been going crazy." DeMarco said that as late as Thursday he was unable to answer press queries about his intentions. "I honestly didn't know what to say," DeMarco said.

Two Republicans, attorney Grant Lally of Lloyd Harbor, who twice lost to Rep. Gary Ackerman in the 1990s, and Steve Labate, who lost to Israel two years ago, remain interested in the race.

DeMarco, 45, a former deputy sheriff's union leader, is not without ambition. He briefly flirted with a congressional run in 2010 and has been mentioned as a county executive contender.

A three-term incumbent, DeMarco is best known for having sheriff's deputies take over patrols from county police on the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway in 2008 at the request of then-County Executive Steve Levy, who said it saved $9 million a year. Levy's successor, Steve Bellone, returned police to the highways in 2012.

While a countywide official, the sheriff, whose primary duty is running the county jails, doesn't typically have a platform to make a high-profile name. Also, Israel's district is one-third in Suffolk and two-thirds in Nassau, where DeMarco, of Cold Spring Harbor, is little known. In addition, DeMarco has never had to wage an aggressive re-election campaign because he's been cross-endorsed by all political parties.

Walsh, meanwhile, was cool to DeMarco's candidacy. "Vinnie's my guy, but I'm not sure this is the time," said Walsh, whose top priority is electing state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to Congress in the 1st District represented by Democrat Tim Bishop, of Southampton.

Some cautioned DeMarco that the main goal of the Nassau GOP is to elect Nassau County Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) to the State Senate seat vacated by Republican Charles Fuschillo. They also warned that DeMarco's ties to Walsh would hurt him with Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, who has clashed repeatedly with the Suffolk Conservative leader over judicial nominees. And DeMarco has earned the enmity of the well-heeled Suffolk Police Benevolent Association for what the union saw as his highway power grab.

Schaffer said he never expected DeMarco to run, because of their long-standing ties. DeMarco first won the sheriff's job in 2005, ousting GOP incumbent Al Tisch on the Conservative and Democratic lines. "I think Vinnie is doing a terrific job as sheriff and the county will be well served to have him continue through his term," he said.

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