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Long Island GOP's new faces: 7 newcomers make for 44% turnover in Albany delegation

New York State Assembly members from Long Island

New York State Assembly members from Long Island meet outside the Assembly Chamber at the Capitol in Albany on Wednesday. From left are: Jarett Gandolfo (R-Sayville), Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), Keith Brown (R-Northport) and Michael Durso (R-Massapequa Park). Credit: Tim Roske

ALBANY — For Long Island’s Republican delegation to Albany, 2021 marks a rate of turnover unseen in recent political history.

As they took their seats last Wednesday on the first day of the session, the delegation featured four new State Assembly members and three new senators. That’s a total of seven new faces out of 16 Republican representatives, or a 44% turnover rate.

Out are names like LaValle, Flanagan and Raia — all Capitol staples for more than a generation. In are names like Giglio, Gandolfo and Weik.

"The Republican conference in the State Senate and Assembly got young real quick," said Jesse Garcia, Suffolk County Republican chairman.

The significance of the changes? To be determined.

"History will judge the significance of this new delegation," Garcia said.

The turnover rush was fueled by retirements in the State Senate and Congress. .

Also, those retirements were linked to Republicans’ dwindling power in Albany.

In the Senate, Port Jefferson’s Kenneth LaValle retired after 44 years in office. East Northport’s John Flanagan retired after 18 years in the Senate, and 16 years before that in the Assembly.

They were among more than 10 veteran Senate Republicans who decided not to run for reelection in 2020 after Democrats had seized a commanding majority in the chamber in 2018.

In the Assembly, Huntington’s Andrew Raia left after 18 years in office upon his election as Huntington Town clerk. Also, then-Assemb. Anthony Palumbo, of New Suffolk, ran successfully for LaValle’s Senate seat, leaving his own district open.

In Congress, Peter King, a Seaford Republican, retired after serving 28 years, leaving a vacancy that sparked two sitting Assembly members to vie for his seat — therefore triggering two more Assembly openings.

Long Island Democrats, who hold 15 seats in the State Legislature, saw just one roster change: Assemb. Gina Sillitti (D-Manorhaven) replaced Democrat Anthony D’Urso, who retired.

"I think it was inevitable that you would have turnover," Palumbo said. "New York is becoming more blue [Democratic], and I think some of the more senior members in the Senate thought it was time to move on."

Palumbo, who served eight years in the Assembly before winning his Senate seat, said seniority in Albany is valuable. But so is change.

"Experience is important. You need institutional knowledge to get anything done here," Palumbo said. "But the fresh blood is always nice. You have invigorated new groups that can’t wait to get things done."

Republicans will be limited greatly in how much they can get done.

They hold just 20 of the 63 Senate seats, and 43 of the 150 seats in the Assembly.

Palumbo said the key is to look for opportunities to work with majority members and influence legislation.

"I’ve been in the minority my entire career. But I’ve had, I think, 22 bills signed [into law] in seven years," in the Assembly, Palumbo said.

"You have to look at nuance and meeting in the middle and focus on your local constituents."

"I have enough humility to know if I want to get something done, I’ll have to work with other people," said Republican Keith Brown, 52, a Northport attorney who replaced Raia in the Assembly.

"I’m excited. I’m ready to hit the ground running," Brown said.

In the Senate, Palumbo joins Sens. Alexis Weik (R-Islip) and Mario Mattera (R-St. James) as newcomers to Long Island’s four-member GOP delegation. Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), the delegation dean, is in his ninth year in the Senate after serving 15 years in the Assembly.

In the Assembly, besides Brown, Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) replaced Palumbo; Jarrett Gandolfo (R-Sayville) replaced Andrew Garbarino, who was elected to Congress to replace King; and Michael Durso (R-Massapequa Park) replaced Michael LiPetri, who lost in a congressional primary to Garbarino.

All told, of the eight Long Island Republicans in the Assembly, only three, Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head) and David McDonough (R-Merrick), have been there for more than a decade.

Echoing other Republicans, the freshmen say they want to focus on taxes and jobs, criminal justice and Long Island infrastructure, including water quality — and, of course, the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Giglio, 52, a former Riverhead Town Board member who owns a construction management company, said lawmakers need to focus not only on the rollout of the virus vaccine but also help small businesses and individuals.

"We need a real COVID recovery plan," Giglio said.

Editor's note -- An earlier version of this story omitted Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) from a list of Republican state Assembly members in office for more than a decade.

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