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Former longtime State Sen. Caesar Trunzo dies

Former State Sen. Caesar Trunzo, a Brentwood Republican

Former State Sen. Caesar Trunzo, a Brentwood Republican who wielded significant political influence throughout Islip Town over a nearly 40 year career, died at age 87. Credit: Ana P. Gutierrez, 2008

Caesar Trunzo, who wielded political clout for three decades as a state senator and Islip Republican leader yet never lost the common touch, died early Wednesday in his Brentwood home. He was 87.

Trunzo had developed pneumonia four weeks ago after returning from a trip to Florida. He was hospitalized and went to rehabilitation briefly but suffered complications from which he could not recover.

At the height of his half-century-long public career, GOP leaders introduced Trunzo at party gatherings with the greeting, "Hail Caesar."

Trunzo never flaunted his position.

"He was a beautiful person through and through," said State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), reached in Albany. "I don't know anyone here who was ever angry at him -- he treated others like they were the last person on planet earth."

LaValle added that Trunzo had a strong sense "of what was appropriate governmentally and what was appropriate politically."

"He had a mutual respect for everyone," said Trunzo's son, Michael. "He had the sense to treat everyone the way he'd want to be treated, regardless of politics."Trunzo, an accountant by training, served 36 years as a state senator; for 29 of those years he also served as Islip GOP chairman. Trunzo served nine years as an Islip Town board member and earlier was an appointed member of the town planning board.

First elected to the Senate in 1972 when Richard M. Nixon was president, Trunzo was part of a GOP majority that dominated the Senate for decades. He chaired several committees including the powerful Transportation Committee.

An early supporter of environmental causes, Trunzo was Senate chairman of a joint legislative commission that focused on Long Island's underground water supply, bays and estuaries. He shepherded legislation that helped transform the Central Islip Psychiatric Center into the site of a New York Institute of Technology campus, the Cohalan Court complex and a federal courthouse.He also sponsored legislation to create an income tax checkoff to help fund breast cancer research.

"'C' as he was affectionately known . . . was a dedicated public servant who served with kindness and compassion," said Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), Senate co-leader. Some legislative aides also recall Trunzo, who composed dozens of copyrighted songs, sometimes played piano in late hours of legislative sessions to pass time while waiting for bills.Trunzo survived several Democratic efforts to oust him, including a 1990 challenge by Steve Levy, then a popular Suffolk County legislator. It was Levy's only electoral defeat of his career.

"Caesar was always being underestimated," said Levy, a former Suffolk County executive who is now a Republican. "But because of his compatibility and his community involvement, he seldom lost. He was also part of a Republican Senate bloc that wielded significant power and produced a lot for Long Island."

Trunzo was viewed as a peacemaker when he accepted the chairmanship of the divided town GOP in 1980, after Carol LaBarbera had succeeded town GOP boss Anthony Pace."He always kept things on a friendly supportive level," said Michael Dawidziak, a political consultant who works mainly for Republicans. "He let others do the infighting."

Trunzo's fortunes suffered in the wake of the scandal involving Republican Town Supervisor Peter McGowan, who was forced to resign and jailed in 2006 for misusing his campaign fund.

In 2008, Democrat Brian Foley defeated Trunzo in his bid for a 19th Senate term. It was the GOP's first loss of a Senate seat in Suffolk in 109 years. Under pressure from party dissidents, Trunzo stepped down as party leader in 2009.

Trunzo remained active and regularly attended party events, even those run by former foes. "Though some tried to taint him in later years, he always understood the people and the party were more important than fighting," said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman.

Survivors include his son, Michael of Wellesley, Mass., and daughter, Laura, of Brentwood.

A wake will be held Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Michael J. Grant Funeral Home in Brentwood. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Monday at St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church in Brentwood. Burial will follow at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made with Suffolk County Breast Cancer Partnership at http://www.breast

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