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Former Suffolk GOP power broker Edwin 'Buzz' Schwenk dies

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Edwin "Buzz" Schwenk, who led the Suffolk Republican Party at the height of its power, died of cancer Dec. 17, 2009. He was 86. (2001) Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

Edwin "Buzz" Schwenk, a former Southampton dairyman who headed the Suffolk Republican Party at the height of its power when it dominated the local political landscape in the late 1960s and early 1970s, died of bladder cancer early Thursday. He was 86.

Schwenk died at home at 4 a.m. surrounded by family.

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The former party leader, who often exhorted the party with the catchphrase "one more time," was Suffolk Republican chairman when the local party delivered a 100,000-vote winning margin for Richard M. Nixon in his 1972 presidential victory - the largest plurality of any county in the nation.

Nixon had appeared at a rally at MacArthur Airport, now Long Island MacArthur Airport, where the party bused in thousands of supporters just before Election Day.

As Suffolk Republican chairman, Schwenk had to juggle the competing interests of often warring coalitions of the 10 powerful town GOP leaders from the party's large Blue Point headquarters near the edge of the Great South Bay.

Schwenk was party leader when the Suffolk County Legislature was created in 1970, the result of a federal lawsuit by Democrats that claimed that the county's Board of Supervisors violated the one-person, one-vote principle because the votes of the supervisors of Suffolk's five smaller East End towns had the same weight as the five larger western towns. In the first election, Republicans won all 18 seats.

Schwenk also made an agreement in 1972 with former Suffolk Democratic chairman Dominic Baranello banning candidates from either major party from being cross-endorsed by minor parties, a move aimed at preventing those parties from having undue influence over nominations.

The deal broke down after two years after the Watergate scandal and powerful Assembly leader Perry Duryea's desire to have the Conservative ballot line to help fuel his gubernatorial ambitions.

Schwenk and Baranello were also integral in getting state legislation that created a separate Off-Track Betting agency for Suffolk County in 1975 by agreeing to share patronage jobs.

Schwenk first became county GOP chairman in 1967 to put a fresh face on the party after a series of land scandals reported by Newsday involving Islip and Brookhaven towns. Before taking over as party leader, he had been a bank executive, was involved in a family dairy business and owned a number of delis. His family said Schwenk stepped down around 1975.

After exiting as party leader, he himself got into legal trouble, was convicted of mingling party and personal funds and served a jail sentence.

However, Schwenk, known for a toothy grin and an affable style, later rebounded. He wrote an often stinging political column called "Buzz Saw," which became required reading for political insiders, and a lobbyist for the Long Island Builders Institute. In that job, Schwenk was one of several who helped forge support for state legislation to create Long Island's Pine Barrens preserve.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made, the family said.

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