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Suffolk GOP names John Kennedy's wife, Leslie, to run for his vacant seat on the legislature

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. is

Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. is sworn in while standing next to his wife Leslie, as members of the Suffolk County Legislature attend an annual organizational meeting inside in Hauppauge on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk Republicans have named Leslie Kennedy to seek her husband's vacant seat in the county legislature in the wake of a failed effort by Democrats to make her work as John Kennedy's aide an issue in his successful race for county comptroller in November.

Bill Ellis, Smithtown GOP chairman, said party officials over the weekend selected Leslie Kennedy to run in the 12th District.

"For the last 11 years, John and Leslie have worked side by side and hand in hand," Ellis said. "She has done a terrific job on constituent service and will follow John without missing a step."

The selection of Kennedy's wife became public as a legislative resolution that would set March 31 as the date of the special election to fill the seat was introduced. Some officials said the date may change before final passage.

Leslie Kennedy, 58, said she plans to continue the work she and her husband started when he first took office.

"I'm going to continue with the six and a half pages of projects we already have underway and eight pages of other projects we want to get done," she said. "And I promise to work like a dog just as John has done in the past."

During the comptroller election, Democrats repeatedly attacked the couple for patronage abuse, depicting John Kennedy's office walls as papered with $100 bills. The ploy backfired, particularly in the Kennedys' hometown of Smithtown, where John Kennedy won by nearly 8,000 votes.

Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said he will consult with town party officials about a candidate, but added Democrats will not renew attacks on Leslie Kennedy in the special election.

"That was a comptroller's race, not this race," he said. Democrats have a 12-5 legislative majority.

Also Monday, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano set Feb. 24 as a date for a special election to fill new state Sen. Michael Venditto's vacant 12th District county legislative seat.

Nassau Republicans are expected to name a candidate later this week. Party sources said James Kennedy, no relation to John Kennedy, a county elections board worker and son-in-law of the late GOP Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, who represented the district until his death in 2012, was the leading contender.

Democrats have two potential candidates, including Gary Slavin, a past president of the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce who is a registered Republican, party sources said.

Registered Republicans overwhelmingly outnumber Democrats in the district, 25,680 to 14,736.

"That was designed and drawn to be a safe Republican district, so we will compete, but I'm not going to be betting heavily that we will win," said Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs.

Republicans have a 10-8 legislative majority, with Venditto's seat vacant. Also, Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) has said he will plead guilty to a federal mail fraud charge. Under state law, the seat becomes vacant following a felony plea.

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