Wayne Horsley, the leading contender for the Suffolk County Legislature's next presiding officer, has declined renomination, setting up a possible leadership battle for next year.
Horsley, 61, the deputy presiding officer, said he has decided to accept a $120,000-a-year post as regional director of the Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, where he had worked for 18 years before being elected.
"I'm absolutely going to miss the legislature, which is bar none the best deliberative body in the country," Horsley said. "But for me this is going home."
The Babylon lawmaker said details of his departure are not fully worked out but will be done in consultation with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who is term-limited and undergoing medical treatments for cancer. Horsley said he will not leave until after Aug. 8 so that the county will not have to hold a special election before Election Day.
An official in Cuomo's office confirmed Horsley's appointment Tuesday night and said that it will be officially announced in several days.
Horsley's departure means that both the presiding officer and deputy presiding officer jobs will be up for grabs next year, only increasing the stakes in this fall's election. The Democratic coalition controls the legislature 13-5.
Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) are potential front-runners for leadership spots because they come from Babylon, home of both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and county Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who is also Babylon Town supervisor.
Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), who has clashed with Bellone over issues including the closure of the county nursing home in Yaphank, also could become a contender, especially in a coalition with Republicans.
"Wayne would have been formidable, and this opens it up significantly more," said Minority Leader John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who has also expressed interest in the leadership spot. "It also further erodes the perception there is a strong coalition behind County Executive Bellone, and it is a reflection the administration is in trouble."
Schaffer declined to speculate on the impending transition, and rejected the idea that the administration faces problems. "This is nothing but an opportunity for all Long Island residents to find out what a great leader Wayne Horsley is," Schaffer said. The regional agency oversees state parks on Long Island.
Horsley mailed his declination at Monday's deadline in an effort to keep Republicans from switching their candidate for his seat at the last minute. The GOP in May named William Barci, a Suffolk Off Track Betting worker and son of former Suffolk Elections Commissioner Barbara Barci, to run against Horsley. Schaffer said Democrats will name financial planner Thomas Dolan, son of the late former town Democratic chairman Frank Dolan, as the candidate for Horsley's seat.
Kennedy said the departure of Horsley, also a former Babylon Town board member, gives Republicans a better shot to win the district, where the GOP has a 1,600 edge over Democrats in voter enrollment.Tony Pancella, Babylon GOP chairman, said the party will press minor parties for Horlsey's Conservative and Independence ballot lines. Schaffer said he expects to keep the Independence line and says Dolan will meet with Conservatives on Wednesday.Lindsay lamented the loss of Horlsey. "I'm going to miss him he was a very strong ally of mine and helped me out in the last few months when I really needed him," he said. Lindsay said he would like a new deputy elected for the remainder of the year, although he has given no thought to the candidate. Lindsay indicated that the new deputy might face better prospects when the full-term election is held next year.
Others warned about looking too far ahead. "It's not a good idea for any legislator to think about this right now," said D'Amaro. "We first have to go back to the voters and be re-elected. You can't take the voters for granted."