Suffolk Republicans Friday chose James O'Connor, a former North Hempstead Town Board member who has been out of politics for the past decade, as the party's candidate to take on Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone.
O'Connor, 52, a Great River resident and a partner in a Manhattan law firm that specializes in insurance, will be formally named as the party's candidate Monday night at a county GOP convention in Farmingville.
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, said the decision to name O'Connor to run in the fall campaign was unanimous after a party executive committee meeting, including 10 town leaders and party officers.
"We have a lot of faith in him -- he's got a tremendous track record," LaValle said. "He served in government with distinction, and I believe he has what it takes to stand before voters and win this election."
O'Connor said LaValle informed him of the committee's decision while he was riding the 4:03 p.m. Long Island Rail Road train home from the city.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity, and I like my chances -- it's a very good year to run as a Republican," O'Connor said. "I know my opponent is holding a golf outing to raise money and charging $45,000 to play nine holes of golf. But you can't buy votes, and you can't buy your way out of a bad record."
LaValle said Bellone, who is seeking his second term, is vulnerable. "We can no longer watch the county debt grow and politicians spend money we don't have," LaValle said.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider dismissed the Republicans' claims, saying Bellone had trimmed more than 1,100 county jobs, gotten the state to lift the mandate for Suffolk to build a $112 million jail addition and won major commitments for state and federal funds for sewer investments.
Bellone "is very proud of his record of making government more efficient, investing in job creation and protecting Suffolk County's water quality," Schneider said.
O'Connor was a North Hempstead Town Board member from 1998 to 2001. He ran a campaign for Nassau County executive in 2001 that lasted 48 hours before Nassau Republicans decided to back Wall Street financier Bruce Bent, who lost to Democrat Thomas Suozzi by 100,000 votes. O'Connor lost his bid for re-election the same year.
O'Connor had served previously as North Hempstead building commissioner. He also was counsel and later deputy superintendent of the State Insurance Fund under Republican Gov. George Pataki.
Originally from Westbury, he moved to Suffolk in 2004.
He screened once for Islip Town Board in 2009 but was not chosen.
The other leading GOP county executive contender, retired Suffolk homicide Det. Sgt. Robert Doyle of Nesconset, Friday expressed disappointment at the party's decision.
"I truly felt I was the best candidate to represent the interests of the taxpayers of Suffolk," Doyle said. "At this point, I have not decided whether I will run a primary or not."