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Former Babylon supervisor returning to job

At Babylon Town hall, keys are passed

At Babylon Town hall, keys are passed from current Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone to Richard Schaffer, who will become Babylon Town Supervisor. (Dec. 29, 2011) Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

And so the teacher becomes the student.

Richard Schaffer, who is to be sworn in Tuesday as interim Babylon Town supervisor, grew up across the street from former Supervisor Steve Bellone in North Babylon. Bellone, 42, now Suffolk County executive, describes Schaffer, 48, who preceded him as supervisor, as his mentor. But more recently, it is Bellone who has offered guidance.

"I have learned so much from him . . . in terms of how he's handled things in the town," said Schaffer, who will remain Suffolk Democratic chairman. "I was teaching him, and now he's teaching me."

Bellone said being a political tutor feels "a little bit strange."

"Growing up, he was always an older brother figure," he said. "So much of what I've done here are things I learned from him, so now to hear him say, 'You've got to teach me about this or that' -- it's certainly an odd feeling."

It's been 10 years since Schaffer, a North Babylon attorney, was supervisor. He has been reacquainting himself with town neighborhoods. It's been like seeing old friends, he said. "It's almost like I'm coming home but I never left."

Schaffer's time in office was marred by the 1997 indictments of five of his officials on charges of falsifying documents to hide a budget deficit. Four were cleared. Doug Jacob, who still works for the town, was convicted of eight misdemeanors and got probation. Schaffer considers the indictments a political attack.

Schaffer also oversaw a dark period in the town's fiscal history. In 1998, Babylon had the lowest bond rating among Long Island towns. Schaffer said it was such a financial crisis -- which he attributes to litigation and revenue losses from creating a commercial garbage district in 1994 -- that town officials considered filing for bankruptcy.

"I'm proud of the way I handled things under those difficult circumstances," he said

"Steve just picked up the ball and ran further."

Bellone is taking with him some top town officials, but Schaffer said he's spoken with Bellone about not siphoning off too many key figures.

While Schaffer has promised to adhere to much of what Bellone set in motion, including Wyandanch Rising, a $500 million public-private downtown redevelopment, one Bellone policy he has not committed to is retiring more debt than the town takes on each year.

Schaffer said he "will try to stick" to the policy but needs to take a closer look at the town's commitments, specifically with Wyandanch, to "make sure that we meet all of our obligations."

One change Schaffer will have to deal with: new technology. Schaffer didn't have a computer when he left office. Now he will have an email address to which constituents can send complaints. It will take some adjustment, he said, "having people have that kind of access to you."

Still, he said he's excited to come back. "People say to me, 'Why do you want to go back there?' " he said. "Because of how well it's been going and all of the advances made. I want to be a part of that. Being town supervisor was the best job I've ever had."

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