Suffolk Conservatives, in a move that could rock the state’s political establishment, have asked Republican Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick to consider running against State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.
It is the minor party’s latest escalation in a political war aimed at pressuring Flanagan (R-East Northport), the highest statewide elected GOP official, to force John Jay LaValle to step down as Suffolk Republican chairman. LaValle’s term expires in September 2017.
Fitzpatrick, 58, a 14-year Assembly veteran from St. James, acknowledged he was asked if he would consider a Senate run in a party candidate screening last weekend.
“It hit me as out of left field,” Fitzpatrick said of the feeler. ”The senator has a tremendous fundraising edge and it’s not something I’ve looked at.”
“It’s nice to be considered,” Fitzpatrick said, but Conservatives “have made no offer” and “at this time, I have no plans to take it on.”
Edward Walsh, Suffolk Conservative chairman, said the party “always wants the best candidate to run,” and that “if Mike did want to run, that could be game changer. His conservative record is tops in Albany.”
Fitzpatrick told Conservative Party officials he has “some problems” with Flanagan.
“I wish he’d be a little stronger, especially with the governor’s lurch to the left,” Fitzpatrick said. We hear nothing from the senators on issues like the $15 an hour minimum wage,” which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo backs but some Republicans say could hurt small businesses.
Flanagan spokesman Scott Reif said Flanagan “ has been gratified to receive support from the Conservative Party in each of his 15 elections.
“He is and always has been a staunch supporter of conservative priorities, including the property tax cap and reining in state spending, and he is both pro-taxpayer and pro-business,” Reif said.
Conservative officials say they will meet next week to issue Wilson-Pakula certificates authorizing nonparty members to run on their ballot line. They say are would consider giving Fitzpatrick the authority to run both for Assembly seat and for Flanagan’s seat.
Conservatives then would have until mid-July to pressure Republicans and give Fitzpatrick time, after nominating petitions are filed, to decide which seat to pursue.
LaValle, reached late Tuesday, dismissed the Conservatives’ maneuvering and said he is “110 percent sure” he will finish his term as chairman.
“John Flanagan has done a tremendous job representing his community as a senator and Mike Fitzpatrick has done a great job in the State Assembly,” LaValle said. “I expect both will be back in Albany next year.”
LaValle in the past has predicted that Walsh’s influence will wane as he faces a federal trial later this month. Walsh is charged with stealing than $80,000 from the Sheriff’s department while working as a corrections lieutenant for putting in for time he did not work. Walsh has pleaded not guilty.
Word of the Conservative effort surfaced over the weekend as party officials gave a hostile reception to Flanagan as well as Sens. Tom Croci (R-Sayville) Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), the GOP party leader’s cousin, in a screening for the minor party nomination.
Conservative officials also say they are likely to withhold backing from most local GOP state lawmakers unless LaValle goes. The only Suffolk Senate Republican who is exempt is Sen. Philip Boyle (R-Bay Shore), whom Walsh called a, “consistent backer of party principles.” Boyle employs Walsh’s wife as an aide.
The Conservative ballot line is crucial for many GOP officials who cannot muster enough votes to win without the 10 to 12 percent that the Conservative line often draws at the ballot box.
Conservatives have made it clear they want to see LaValle ousted as county GOP leader after the Republicans fired Walsh ally Michael Torres from his $106,000-a-year post at the Suffolk Board of Elections.
That firing occurred not long after Conservatives made a judicial cross-endorsement deal with Democrats in which Torres’ father-in law, Howard Heckman, got Democratic backing in return for supporting two Democrats.
Adding fuel to the political war, LaValle also had Smithtown GOP chairman Bill Ellis fired from his job as deputy elections commissioner.