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Bradford W. O'Hearn, former Newsday reporter, county official, dies at 73

Former Newsday reporter and editor Brad O'Hearn has

Former Newsday reporter and editor Brad O'Hearn has died. After leaving Newsday in 1988, O'Hearn served as press secretary to former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin. He was 73. Credit: Newsday / Daniel Sheehan

Bradford W. O'Hearn, the bald, bearded and often acerbic Newsday political reporter who later became top spokesman for former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin amid a county fiscal crisis in the early 1990s, has died.

O'Hearn, of Northport, died late Tuesday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset after suffering heart problems in recent years. He was 73.

In his 21-year Newsday career, O'Hearn covered the administrations of Republican Nassau County Executives Ralph Caso, Francis Purcell and Thomas Gulotta. Later, he covered Suffolk County Executive Peter Fox Cohalan at the height of the battle over the Shoreham nuclear power plant. Later, he wrote about real estate for the paper.

"Brad knew the ins and outs of local government as well as anyone. He was gregarious, affable and a great schmoozer," said Howard Schneider, former Newsday editor. "Even after leaving the newsroom, I think reporters trusted him not to steer them wrong."

In 1988, he joined Halpin as chief spokesman after an upset victory. "I hired him because he was an honest, direct and candid adviser who had an extraordinary breadth of experience," Halpin said. "We were all pretty young back then and Brad provided some wisdom and experience."

Halpin, whose administration faced turbulent fiscal times, also said O'Hearn had a "very dry, very sardonic wit that often eased the tension when things became stressful."

When Halpin and his top deputy, Tom McAteer, for example, came under fire for using a police boat for a Fire Island weekend with their wives, McAteer asked why it was such a big deal. "If it's not a big deal," O'Hearn deadpanned, "why do we have a half-million dollars in salary sitting around the table trying to figure out what to do?"

Another time, when McAteer and Halpin aide Larry Schwartz, later a top aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, argued about who was a better high school athlete, the portly O'Hearn said: "I went mano a mano with a locomotive and survived," a reference to 1989 accident O'Hearn had when his car was struck by a Long Island Rail Road train entering the Kings Park station.

As a reporter, O'Hearn was an incisive questioner. "His pipe was always clinched between his lips," recalled Deputy County Executive Eric Kopp, who was a young Cohalan press aide. "And he had a devilish glint in his eye when asking questions."

O'Hearn also honed in on budget issues: "He understood the terminology and was comfortable talking about it, so he was never intimidated by budget experts," said Paul Sabatino, a former chief deputy county executive under Steve Levy.

Retired New York Times reporter Bruce Lambert, who worked for Newsday with O'Hearn in Nassau, said, "He liked to be the contrarian and play the devil's advocate, raising the opposite view whether he believed it or not."

Lambert said one of O'Hearn's biggest scoops was uncovering a story in which Republican politicians grabbed up thousands of choice seats to several 1974 Frank Sinatra concerts at Nassau Coliseum before they went on sale to the public. "It raised a real ruckus," Lambert said. The stories led to a state attorney general's investigation and the firing of the Nassau Coliseum ticket manager.

O'Hearn was also an activist who helped bring a union to Newsday in the 1970s. "He was the central figure," said Fred Bruning, a former Newsday reporter. "He was not only dedicated to the union movement, but a student of it, and put his heart and soul into the effort."

Born in Portland, Maine, O'Hearn attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, and worked at the Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, before coming to Newsday in 1967. After working for Halpin, O'Hearn had his own public relations firm for more than two decades.

O'Hearn was married to Sally O'Hearn, who died in 2008, for 43 years. She was a veteran Democratic activist who once ran for the county legislature and did fundraising for Halpin, former Suffolk Executive Steve Levy and others. Their son, Brendan, who lives in Tokyo, called his dad an "extraordinary father" and "role model" for his grandchildren.

"They were an early power couple," said James Gaughran, a longtime friend and Suffolk Water Authority chairman. "Sally was always working to get people elected while Brad covered politics. I think it caused some frustration for him, so he jumped for the opportunity with Halpin."

Other survivors include his sister, Sharon Finn, of Beverly, Massachusetts; daughter, Meghan E. Posluszny of Northport; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be Sunday at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport at hours to be determined. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Roman Catholic Church in Centerport at 10 a.m. Monday. Burial will follow at Northport Rural Cemetery.

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