Warren Greene, a one-time spokesman and strategist to some of Suffolk’s top Republican politicians, and who had a flair for the dramatic, died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 77.
Greene died at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore after being stricken at home Saturday.
During his three-decade public career, Greene, a former radio DJ with a deep baritone voice, was spokesman for Michael LoGrande when he was Islip town supervisor and later acting county executive. He also worked for a succession of Suffolk Legislature presiding officers: first Joseph Caputo, and then as chief spokesman for Donald Blydenburgh and chief aide to Joseph Rizzo. Later, he worked as an aide to GOP Legis. Cameron Alden of Islip until Greene retired at the end of 2009.
“He was the C.B. DeMille of Suffolk politics,” said Comptroller John Kennedy, who knew Greene for years. “He was extremely knowledgeable about the workings of the county and knew how to frame an issue for reporters.”
He also had a knack for creating headlines. In 1990, for example, he staged a legislative hearing where he brought in a Suffolk police detective shrouded in a black hood and dubbed him “Detective X” to testify about the shortage of detectives during a period when the county was financially strapped. Later, he deadpanned, “I might have coordinated the idea.”
Earlier, when the Suffolk Legislature was investigating the police department in 1987, Greene tried to blunt the coverage with a news conference giving a hero’s medal to Duke, a police dog wounded in a knife attack. LoGrande said there was no connection to the police probe, but added, “No one covers the good things the police department does.”
Paul Sabatino, who was legislative counsel during that period, called Greene “Dr. Spin” for his dexterity to turn news that was “coal into gold” in a single news cycle. “He was a one-man communications center before the internet and social media. And he did it with an old-fashioned Underwood typewriter and a fax machine,” Sabatino said.
Greene’s efforts, however, sometimes drew fire. A state ethics commission in 1989 criticized the spending of $300,000 in taxpayer money to promote LoGrande with everything from mailings, radio ads and even trick-or-treat bags in his losing county executive race against Democrat Patrick Halpin. However, Halpin on Monday acknowledged Greene “was very good at what he did,” and he was “very loyal to Mike LoGrande, and in politics that is too often in short supply.”
Drew Biondo, now a spokesman for Suffolk County Community College, said Greene was an early mentor when he first took a job as spokesman for District Attorney James M. Catterson Jr. “He embraced me and took me under his wing and helped in any way he could,” he said.
Born in Manhattan, Greene graduated from SUNY Cobleskill. One of his first jobs was a copy boy at WABC radio’s newsroom, working for, among others, the famed sportscaster Howard Cosell. He later worked at local radio stations, including WLIX, WGLI, and WNYG, as a news director and DJ.
Greene, twice married, has been with his current wife, Annette Abatemarco, for 25 years, though they only formalized their vows in recent years. The couple met when they both worked in Islip Town Hall, and they began dating years later. They lived in Sayville, where Greene had a Wurlitzer 1015 jukebox filled with oldies, and a collection of more than two dozen antique horned gramophones.
“He had a rough exterior sometimes, and was a man’s man, but he was a kindhearted person … and was the love of my life,” Abatemarco said.
Other survivors include his son, Rod, of Queens, his daughter, Jamie, of Patchogue, and two granddaughters. A service will be held at Maloney Funeral Home in Bohemia at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Cremation will follow.