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Rich Schaffer, Steve Bellone differ over Spota resignation

Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer, left, greets

Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer, left, greets Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone before Bellone's 2016 state of the county address. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Suffolk County Democratic Party leader Rich Schaffer is accusing County Executive Steve Bellone of putting on a “sideshow” for holding a news conference to call on indicted District Attorney Thomas Spota to resign — after Spota announced he would step down.

“In light of Tom announcing his resignation, to carry on a sideshow like Steve did . . . is uncalled for and is unproductive in the grand scheme of things,” Schaffer said in an interview late Thursday.

Schaffer, a longtime friend of Spota who in the past has publicly sparred with Bellone, had said on Wednesday that Spota, a Democrat, didn’t have to resign because he hadn’t been convicted of a crime.

Spota and top prosecutor Christopher McPartland, facing charges including obstruction of justice and witness tampering in what federal prosecutors said was a scheme to cover up former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s assault of a prisoner, both pleaded not guilty Wednesday at their arraignment in U.S. District Court in Central Islip.

Bellone, a Democrat, held a news conference outside Spota’s office Thursday afternoon minutes after Spota announced he would resign “at the earliest opportunity” after he resolved his retirement. Bellone was asked about Schaffer’s different take on the Spota resignation.

Bellone, who said he only heard about Spota’s intentions to resign from news reports, said it was “unacceptable” for any delay of Spota’s departure and that it was important for Spota to leave immediately to avoid compromising the office’s pending cases.

“I can’t imagine what the rationale is for recommending that this indicted district attorney remains on in this office, but you’d have to ask him why he thinks that,” Bellone said.

Schaffer said his opinion on Spota’s resignation boils down to the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty. “Like I said, Steve’s an attorney, so he should know that. Unless he missed that lesson in law school,” Schaffer said.

“Let’s say for example Steve was charged with a crime,” Schaffer said Thursday. “I would have the same reaction that I had for Tom Spota yesterday. Anyone who is charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty.”

Schaffer used the example of Bellone being “charged with a crime” three times to drive home his point. Asked about making the reference to the county executive being charged with a crime, Schaffer laughed and said: “Make sure you use that quote.”

Bellone spokesman Jason Elan said in a statement Friday morning: “I really hope the chairman is OK — these are not the ramblings of a sane person.”

Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, who is running for district attorney as a Democrat, also had called for Spota to resign. And he said he disagreed with Schaffer’s opinion.

“Mr. Spota needs to resign immediately,” Sini said. “Obviously, I disagree with any suggestion to the contrary.”

Sini said that although he appreciated the Democrats’ support, he would be “independent” of political considerations as district attorney. “I don’t have a leader, first of all, let me make that clear,” Sini said.

Ray Perini, who is running for district attorney as a Republican, had also called for Spota’s resignation.

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