The Suffolk Legislature easily re-elected Democratic Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory to a second one-year term Monday, but Republicans for the first time in more than a decade sought at least symbolically to make it a contested election.
Republicans put forward the name of new GOP caucus leader Kevin McCaffrey, of Lindenhurst, to challenge Gregory, of Amityville, and tried to get a head-to-head vote between the two.
Instead, Gregory's name was put forward first, and he was elected on a party-line vote in which all 12 members of the Democratic majority supported him while the five Republicans abstained, making a vote on McCaffrey's candidacy moot. The seat of former GOP Legis. John Kennedy, now the Suffolk comptroller, is vacant.
Republicans also tried to put forward Legis. Tom Cilmi, of Bay Shore, to challenge Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), but he lost in a similar fashion.
"We're sending a message that Republicans differ from Democrats in the way they govern," McCaffrey said later. "We were making a statement."
The last time there was an open battle for leader was in 2003 when former Democratic Legis. Maxine Postal ousted former Republican Presiding Officer Paul Tonna, according to former legislative counsel Paul Sabatino. Since then, two other backroom putsches were attempted, but fell apart before the annual organization meeting.
Gregory downplayed the GOP ploys, saying McCaffrey as the new GOP caucus head may be getting pressure from party leaders to be more partisan.
"I know it's always difficult to resist urges in an election year," Gregory said. "I hope they put pure partisanship aside and work together with us for the residents of Suffolk County."
Republicans also tried to amend legislative rules to require that the bipartisan working group that each fall forges an agreement to amend the county executive's operating budget hold all its meetings in public. "This is not partisan. This is an issue to open up the process and make it more transparent," McCaffrey said.
Gregory, who last year opened meetings on the capital and community college budgets, opposed the proposal, saying operating budget discussions often get into "sensitive personnel issues" that are difficult to air in open meetings.