Frank Jones, a former Islip town supervisor and chief deputy county executive who cut through a web of scandal to open the long-delayed $1 billion Southwest Sewer District, has died. He was 88.
Jones, who retired to Palm Springs, California, eight years ago, was also the chief strategist in the county’s $15 million fight to stop the Shoreham nuclear plant.
He died Friday at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, after his health declined in the past year, his family said.
Known for often acerbic quotes, Jones, as Islip supervisor, almost immediately had to deal with a meandering town garbage scow that sailed the East Coast and Caribbean trying to unload its 3,183 tons of unappealing cargo.
It became an international story and the butt of Johnny Carson jokes. He ended his 23-year public career as president of Suffolk OTB.
“Frank was larger than life,” said Howard DeMartini, former Suffolk GOP chairman, who worked with Jones in both the county and Islip.
“He epitomized what a public servant should be,” DeMartini said. “He always had vision and he always did what he thought was right, even at times when it was unpopular.”
Peter Fox Cohalan, a former Suffolk county executive for whom Jones worked, said everyone liked Jones, even those who disagreed with him.
“People thought the world of Frank, even people he told off,” Cohalan said.
Cohalan recalled the time late Islip GOP chairman Anthony Pace decided to run Jones for supervisor, even though the two feuded almost continuously.
“Pace told me, ‘It’s my job is to get a Republican elected and after Frank wins, we’ll fight again. He’s smart, respected and knows more about government than anyone . . . and he makes me laugh,’ ” Cohalan said.
When the crankshafts cracked on the Shoreham plant’s three backup diesel generators in 1983, Jones dubbed them “Snap, crackle and pop,” referring to ads for Rice Krispies, adding, “The only thing that hasn’t fallen off the generators is the nameplate.”
Later, when the garbage barge emerged as an issue in 1987 — three months after he was appointed supervisor — Jones took the microphone at a business group meeting, and deadpanned: “Sorry I was late. I was having a problem parking my barge.”
“The thing about Frank is that when things out of his control went wrong, he could use his sense of humor, then go ahead and solve the problem,” Cohalan said.
The town tried to ship out its garbage after the state refused to let the town expand the landfill. Later the town expanded recycling efforts. Jones was also an early advocate of affordable housing projects like the 400-unit College Woods in Central Islip.
Born in 1930 in Manhattan before living in the Bronx, Jones moved to Blue Point in grade school. Later, when his father died and his mother married an Army sergeant, the family moved around the country.
Jones served in the Navy in the Korean War and later attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where he met his wife of 60 years, Claire, who survives him. After graduation, he worked as an engineer for an air conditioning systems firm. He later got a master’s degree in public policy from LIU Post.
While in the private sector, Jones, who lived in Sayville, also became a civic activist writing pointed letters to editors on development and the environment. When Cohalan, a progressive Republican, was elected town supervisor in 1972, he named Jones his deputy. And when Cohalan ran a losing race for Congress against Rep. Tom Downey in 1976, Jones, a bearded bear of a man, ran the campaign, dubbing himself “Sayville Fats.”
But as the Southwest Sewer District in 1978 became mired in delays, cost overruns, a federal probe and the killing of his top sewer aide, John Flynn, the County Executive John V.N Klein named Jones to take over the troubled project.
“I desperately needed someone to be direct with me and do what needed to be done, to get the thing back on track. He came through for me,” Klein said.
However, the sewer scandal cost Klein re-election in 1979 when Cohalan beat him in a GOP primary. Cohalan won the November election and Jones joined the new administration. The sewer district finally opened in 1981.
Others survivors include his two sons, Bart of Blue Point, and Matt of Bellport; two daughters, Allison of Washington D.C. and Brette Jones-Hospedales of LaQuinta, California, as well as nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A memorial service in New York is planned for September but details are not yet available.