There’ll be a new sheriff in Suffolk for the first time in 12 years come January, and the outcome is likely to be determined in Tuesday’s Republican primary.
State Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) is trying to fend off a primary challenge from Larry Zacarese, an assistant police chief at Stony Brook University, who’s making his first run for office.
Boyle, 56, a three-term senator who also has the Conservative and Independence Party lines, says his experience helping pass criminal justice legislation will help him tackle the heroin epidemic and MS-13 gang violence.
In 2014, Boyle chaired a state opiate task force which wrote 25 bills that passed the Senate; 11 became law, including one that requires insurance companies to provide more treatment for addicts seeking recovery.
“I’ve been to too many funerals of family friends and neighbors that have lost loved ones to the heroin epidemic,” Boyle said of his reasons for running.
Zacarese, 42, of Kings Park, who has the minor Reform Party backing but is facing a write-in primary on that line Tuesday, touted his own law enforcement experience. He called Boyle unqualified because he never directly served in law enforcement.
“The duties and responsibilities of the sheriff are directly aligned with my experience and academic credentials I’ve been honing for the last 25 years,” said Zacarese, who has headed the university’s emergency management office for eight years and previously served for a decade with the New York Police Department. He also is an attorney.
“My opponent lacks the law enforcement and complex organizational experience for this office,” Zacarese said.
The Suffolk sheriff oversees county jails in Riverhead and Yaphank, and about 900 correction officers and 250 sheriff’s deputies. Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a Conservative, is not seeking re-election.
Boyle and Zacarese said they would continue DeMarco’s efforts to cooperate with the federal government to hold jail inmates who face possible deportation.
But they have tussled repeatedly about who has the experience for the sheriff’s job.
Boyle says neither he nor Zacarese has experience in corrections, the largest part of the sheriff’s office.
But Boyle said with his contacts in Albany and Washington D.C., where he had served as an aide to two congressmen, he can get funding for technology improvements and other programs for the county jails.
“It’s a matter of funding,” said Boyle. “I know how to pull the levers of government, not only for the inmates but for the corrections officers as well.”
Zacarese dismissed Boyle’s legislative record.
Noting the growth of the heroin problem, Zacarese said, “the work of the task force is obviously not working. There’s a difference between sitting on a legislative body and being on the street.”
Boyle blamed Democrats in the Assembly for failing to pass tougher sentencing laws for convicted drug dealers.
Boyle said he was approached about running for office late last year by Conservative Party leaders he declined to name.
At that time, DeMarco, a Conservative, was seeking re-election, but had angered party leadership by initiating a corruption investigation into Edward Walsh, a lieutenant at the jail and the county Conservative chairman. The probe led to federal charges against Walsh last year for collecting $200,000 in salary when he was golfing, gambling and politicking. Walsh was convicted, and is scheduled to start serving his two-year prison sentence next month.
Campaigning recently in front of a West Islip 7-Eleven store on Sunday, Boyle said he would “boost the profile and morale of the Sheriff’s Office. It’s been a rough few years there.”
Boyle, who employs Walsh’s wife, Patricia Walsh, as an aide in his senate office, declined to elaborate, saying, “I’m thinking about the future of the sheriff’s office, not the past.”
Zacarese criticized Boyle for ties to the Conservatives, saying they pressed Republicans to nominate Boyle for sheriff.
“He’s a career politician,” said Zacarese.
Boyle responded that Zacarese had screened for the endorsement of the liberal Working Families Party. Zacarese said he screened but did not get their endorsement “because of my Republican values.”
Democratic sheriff candidate Stuart Besen, an attorney and former Huntington Town Board member, has not yet registered a campaign committee with the state Board of Elections. He said he would evaluate whether he will run a competitive race after the primary.
Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer wouldn’t rule out giving Boyle the Democratic line, saying it was a matter of how to spend limited resources. Boyle declined to comment on the possibility.