Suffolk Legislators Ricardo Montano and Jon Cooper -- two men who are never at a loss for words -- each hedged carefully around questions about a lunch they shared last week when they discussed Montano's possible return to the Democratic caucus.
Montano (D-Brentwood), who quit the Democratic caucus in March 2008 over Steve Levy's backing of a primary challenger to Assemb. Phil Ramos, met Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), the majority leader, at Butterfield's in Hauppauge during a break in Tuesday's Legislature meeting.
"Rick has expressed interest in rejoining the caucus and he made it clear that his issue was never with the Democrats," Cooper said Monday. "His issue was with the county executive. And at the time the county executive was a Democrat and that’s no longer the case. That issue has gone by the wayside."
Montano's account of the lunch differed slightly. He said it was Cooper who iniatiated the lunch.
"Jon asked whether or not I would rejoin the caucus," Montano said. "It's not an issue of me wanting to come back. I explained this very clearly to Jon. My issue was Mr. Levy."
Cooper discussed Montano's possible re-entry Friday with most of the members of the Democratic caucus, which includes Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), Jack Eddington (I-Medford) and Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who each were elected with Democratic support.
After Montano quit the caucus, Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) packed the committee he chaired to lessen Montano's influence and later stripped him of the chairmanship.
Montano later sued Lindsay over his handling of ex-Legis. Brian Beedenbender's bill to require the county's licensed contractors to check their workers' legal status, increasing the rift between Montano and Democrats.
"If I go back into the caucus it will be a mutual decision," Montano said. He said no deals were discussed or offered.
Cooper said there are no hard feelings.
"My goal as majority leader is whenever possible to expand the majority," he said. "If at the end of all this Rick would like to rejoin the caucus, then I personally would support that."