ALBANY — Republican State Sen. Tom Croci on Wednesday ended the long-running speculation about his future by announcing he will not run for re-election this fall.
The development — which Croci had been hinting about for months — makes it even more difficult for the GOP to maintain its one-seat hold on the Senate majority in this fall’s elections.
In a statement Wednesday, Croci said he is returning to the U.S. Navy, where he previously spent eight years on active duty.
“It has been my great privilege to serve the families and communities of Suffolk County as senator these past four years,” said Croci, a Sayville resident first elected to the Senate in 2014.
“I have worked extraordinarily hard and together we have won great victories for the people of our district and our state,” he said. “I will miss my colleagues in the Senate and all of the people I have been fortunate to meet along the way.”
Croci expects to serve his term, which expires Dec. 31, spokeswoman Christine Geed said.
Croci, 45, has been weighing re-election openly for months. He told Newsday in January he was undecided about seeking a third term. At the time, he had only $2,028 in his campaign coffers. In February, Eric Hofmeister, his top district aide, left for a job with Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.
Croci becomes the fourth veteran Republican senator to announce his political retirement within the last seven days, a startling turn for a legislative body that has traditionally had a low rate of turnover.
Democrats said the rush reflects a coming “blue wave” of victories for their side this fall.
Republicans say they will hang onto the Senate — the GOP’s one bastion of power in New York State government.
Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), head of the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee, said Long Island is key to Senate control.
“Long Island is where it’s at,” Gianaris said. “We’re going to spend a lot of time and resources in both Nassau and Suffolk counties.”
Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif, referring to the open seats, said, “each of these districts have been represented by Republicans for years, if not decades. We expect to field excellent candidates who will help us maintain our majority.”
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) called Croci a “patriot who has served his state and nation with honor and integrity.”
Croci, one of state’s most conservative senators, occasionally bumped heads with GOP leadership in Albany. He once stalled a debate for three hours during a marathon 17-hour budget session because of his reluctance to vote for a minimum wage hike in return for more school aid.
In March, several sources said Croci was upset the new budget did not include money for local sewers. In fact, Croci was absent for the March 30 budget vote.
Republicans hold a 32-31 Senate edge. That is only because Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder caucuses with GOP senators.
Possible candidates for the GOP nomination for Croci’s seat include Assemb. Andrew Garbarino of Sayville; Assemb. Dean Murray of East Patchogue; and Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley of Blue Point.
Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer has said he is backing Darrin Green of Central Islip, 52, a veteran Nassau corrections officer.
Another possible Democratic candidate, Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, said his “interest is limited to ‘maybe.’ ”
The 3rd Senate District runs along the South Shore, with 55 percent of voters in Brookhaven and 45 percent in Islip. Democrats have 64,333 voters to Republicans’ 56,360, with 47,183 not aligned with any political party.
Once thought to be a lock for re-election, Croci was groomed to become part of a new generation of what once was called the Long Island Nine, a solid suburban block of GOP senators, as other senators aged out. He replaced Republican Lee Zeldin, who left the Senate after winning the 1st Congressional District seat in 2014.
Croci, a one-time aide to Zeldin, was elected Islip supervisor in 2011, but became embroiled in battles over taxes and appointments with the GOP town board and then-Republican town leader Frank Tantone.
Croci left midterm to serve as a Navy reservist in Afghanistan. He returned in time to rescue the party by stepping into the 2014 State Senate race at the last minute to replace Anthony Senft, an Islip Town board member who was mired in an illegal dumping scandal at Roberto Clemente Park. Senft was not criminally charged and now presides as a District Court judge in Suffolk County.
Navy documents disclosed that Croci voluntarily sought deployment as a reservist while Islip supervisor. Croci disputed the story, saying Navy officials encouraged him to deploy.
He also was involved in a lawsuit with his aunt, philanthropist Adele Smithers, where a court evaluator found Croci “took advantage” of her for financial gain. Croci denied wrongdoing in the case, saying he only wanted to protect his aunt and her assets. Smithers and Croci later settled the case.
Education/career: Connetquot High School; Bachelor’s degree, James Madison University; New York Law School. First Elected to New York State Senate, Third District, November 2014; Islip Town supervisor, 2012-14; Eight years active duty with U.S. Navy, rising to rank of “commander” and serving in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan; continuous service in U.S. Naval reserve.
- Possible Republican candidates:
Assemb. Andrew Garbarino of Sayville
Assemb. Dean Murray of East Patchogue
Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley
Brian Egan, Patchogue Village attorney.
- Possible Democratic candidates:
Darrin Green of Central Islip
Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri.