The race for Suffolk comptroller became more crowded Wednesday as Legis. Louis D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) became the third potential contender for the Democratic line.

"I'm seriously considering running for Suffolk comptroller," said D'Amaro, adding that he would "not rule out a party primary," though he would prefer "the party unify behind one candidate."

D'Amaro publicly disclosed his interest in the $182,258-a-year job in a midday interview after first raising the subject with Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer late last week.

His potential last-minute candidacy was at the center of a 90-minute, closed-door side room meeting late Tuesday at the Huntington Hilton where a reception for state Democratic convention delegates was going on. That sometimes heated meeting included D'Amaro, announced Democratic comptroller candidate James Gaughran and Suffolk Legislature Deputy Presiding Officer Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), who has expressed interest in the seat, as well as Schaffer and County Executive Steve Bellone.

The developments occurred only hours after Suffolk Republican chairman John Jay LaValle formally announced his own candidacy for comptroller on the eve of the GOP convention in Coram where the party leader Wednesday night was officially named the Republican candidate.

LaValle declined to comment on the Democratic wrangling, but at the convention before 200 party activists, said, "When we see a county where the deficit is growing every year and they're playing shell games on the budget . . . we have to take it back."

D'Amaro, 53, a lawyer, has been a county lawmaker for nearly eight years and has served at various times as chair of the legislature's Ways & Means and Budget & Finance committees, which oversee county finance issues. He said his legislative background makes him the "best qualified" to run.

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"I understand the finances of county government and I'm known as a fiscal conservative who asks the tough questions even when the administration is on the same side of the aisle," D'Amaro said.

While Bellone, according to party sources, unsuccessfully backed D'Amaro for presiding officer last year, the county executive in recent weeks has been pushing Schneiderman's candidacy behind the scenes. Schaffer said Bellone was unaware of D'Amaro's interest until the party leader told him of the lawmaker's call.

D'Amaro conceded, "I may be late out of the box, but that does not deter me."

If he is not chosen by the party, D'Amaro said he hopes Schaffer will allow a primary where Democratic voters could decide. Schaffer later said, "There will be no primary."

Gaughran, who has Schaffer's backing, called D'Amaro "a good friend and a good legislator," adding the lawmaker "is just looking for an opportunity." But Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority and a former Huntington town board member and county lawmaker, is emphatic about making the race: "I'm running and if there's a primary, there's a primary."

Schneiderman said he would not run in a primary but believes his credentials are best as a former town supervisor and a high-profile lawmaker who has sponsored laws expanding county bus services and cracking down on puppy mills. As an Independence Party member, he also said voters would see him as a nonpartisan watchdog. "Strategically, I think this helps me," he said.

Suffolk County Republicans on Wednesday night:

-- Renominated incumbent County Clerk Judith Pascale, all GOP Assembly members and state senators except for State Sen. Lee Zeldin who is running for Congress.

-- Named Conservative Islip town board member Anthony Senft in Zeldin's 3rd Senate District and Nassau Legis. Michael Venditto of Massapequa in the 8th Senate District, a seat once held by former State Sen. Charles Fuschillo.

-- Named for State Assembly: 1st District: William DeStefano of Shelter Island; 3rd District: Dean Murray of Patchogue; 4th District: Christopher Keegan of Port Jefferson Station; 6th District: Victoria Serpa of Brentwood; and 11th District: Shawn Cullinane of Lindenhurst.

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-- Named Brookhaven town board member Timothy Mazzei of Blue Point and District Court Judge Philip Goglas of Central Islip for County Court.

-- Named Pierce Cohalan of Great River and incumbent Jennifer Henry of Brightwaters in Islip District Court and Linda J. Kevins of Mount Sinai for Brookhaven District Court.