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Laufer, Brookhaven Democratic chief, stepping down

Marsha Laufer, who turned the Brookhaven Democratic Party from a perennial also-ran into a highly competitive force in the once Republican-dominated town, said last night that she is stepping down after seven years on the job.

"It's time," said Laufer, 66, who said she is retiring as Brookhaven Democratic Party chief with "mixed emotions" but believes her main accomplishment has been to "create a viable two-party system in the town."

Laufer informed the party's 33-member executive committee of her long-rumored decision at party headquarters in East Setauket. Laufer said she and her husband, Henry, chief scientist for Renaissance Technologies, have bought a home in Manalapan, Fla., south of Palm Beach. But she said she will return home in the summer and the fall campaign season, when she expects to remain heavily involved in the party.

Richard Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Laufer will be "sorely missed," but he hoped it "it will free her up to help me with fundraising." He estimated that Laufer raised from $2 million to $4 million for the party during her years as leader, holding summer galas at her waterfront Old Field estate that have been headlined by Hillary Rodham Clinton, Eliot Spitzer and Mario Cuomo.

"She almost single-handedly reinvigorated the town committee," said Schaffer. "She was the main reason for the success in Brookhaven. You can have good candidates and strong issues, but she was the glue that put it all together."

During Laufer's tenure, Democrats took control of three townwide jobs - supervisor, highway superintendent and town clerk - and for two years controlled the town board. Last Tuesday, Democratic Town Supervisor Mark Lesko won a full term after winning a heated special election last March, but Republicans remained in nominal control of the board, even though Republican Kathleen Walsh also serves as Lesko's deputy supervisor.

"I think she's making a wise choice," said John Jay LaValle, the new Suffolk Republican chairman, saying he had "nothing but respect" for Laufer. "Her timing is incredible. She entered the scene when the tide was moving their way, and she's exiting when it is moving against them."

Schaffer said he will call a town convention to elect a new party leader Dec. 14; officials said John Schneider, an aide to Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), is the likely successor.

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