Republican contenders for Suffolk County sheriff clashed over their credentials and political connections Thursday in their lone debate before the Sept 12 primary.
In a debate at News 12 Long Island, challenger Larry Zacarese, assistant chief of the Stony Brook University Police, attacked GOP designee State Sen. Phil Boyle for his lack of law enforcement experience and accepting the Conservative Party endorsement early to force GOP officials into backing him.
“I’m not, like my opponent, a career politician. I’m the proverbial outsider in this race,” said Zacarese. “My opponent sought the Conservative Party endorsement first even before his own party. . . . The Conservative Party is inextricably linked to its former chairman,” former corrections Lt. Edward Walsh, who was convicted last year on federal corruption charges.
Boyle countered that he has had the backing of the Conservative 15 times since 1994, “so any talk of backroom deals is just that: Rumor and innuendo — nothing to it.”
Boyle also said Zacarese sought to be the candidate of the “ultraliberal, far left” Working Families Party, which last year “backed Bernie Sanders in the presidential election because Hillary Clinton was not liberal enough.”
Zacarese said later in an interview said the Working Families Party would not back him because if his “straight Republican” values.
The half-hour debate can be seen on News12.com and Optimum Channel 612.
There were areas of agreement between Boyle and Zacarese.
Both said they would keep politics out of the sheriff’s office, make priorities of battling opioid abuse and gangs such as MS-13, and work with immigrant communities that are vulnerable to crime and drugs.
But Zacarese, a former New York City police officer, took a swipe at Boyle for his lack of direct law enforcement experience.
Zacarese argued that, “a law enforcement background is crucial” for the sheriff’s job. He said employees of the office are looking for “a law enforcement leader” to take over.
Boyle, a state lawmaker for 23 years, said all three unions representing sheriff’s employees along with the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association are backing his candidacy. The PBA in the past had strained relations with the sheriff’s office when deputies for several years took over highway patrols from police.
Boyle acknowledged neither he nor Zacarese have any experience with the largest part of the sheriff’s job — managing county jails. “What you do is surround yourself with professionals, take their advice and as a leader . . . make the tough decisions,” Boyle said.
At one point, Zacarese tried to score Boyle for lacking experience running a large organization. Zacarese noted that for the past eight years, “I‘ve been in charge of a New York State accredited police agency” at Stony Brook, responsible for the safety of 50,000 people. “I have the administrative experience running [a] large organization — that’s the stark difference between us.”
Boyle replied immediately: “I’d just remind my opponent he’s the deputy chief of Stony Brook, not the chief.”