Patchogue's mayor has been ousted from the political party that has dominated village politics for seven years -- and, in response, he removed the deputy mayor from his position amid a growing rift in the South Shore community's government.
Mayor Paul Pontieri, a member of the Patchogue First party that has controlled village hall since 2004, was kicked out of the party in late July by members Stephen McGiff and Gerard Crean, who are members of the village board of trustees.
The pair circulated a letter at the time accusing Pontieri of "self enrichment and political cronyism," which Pontieri denied.
Pontieri retaliated Monday by stripping McGiff of the title of deputy mayor and handing it to trustee Jack Krieger, an ally of Pontieri's.
The title does not carry additional salary beyond the trustees' $12,000 per year but, said Pontieri, "You can't have a deputy mayor who doesn't have the same vision as you do."
Both camps say the restructuring of village politics will result in a heated election in 2012.
McGiff and Crean have retained the Patchogue First party name, and Pontieri has started a new party called Patchogue 2012 that includes himself, Krieger and the other trustees -- Joseph E. Keyes, Lori Devlin and William Hilton, all former Patchogue First members.
Pontieri and trustees McGiff, Krieger and Devlin are up for re-election in March.
McGiff said he was not surprised by Pontieri's decision to remove him as deputy.
He also repeated the accusations in his letter, which charges Pontieri with accepting inappropriate gifts from developers and "laundering" the sale of a vehicle to the village through a relative.
Pontieri said he has not accepted illegal gifts from developers and that the sale of the vehicle did not constitute laundering.
McGiff also said Pontieri approved an interest-free $150,000 loan to Artspace, a new downtown residential development, without getting required trustee approval.
"I think he's gotten very cozy with developers," McGiff said.
"And right there, that's an inherent conflict that's a problem."
Pontieri said he expects most public support for Patchogue First to migrate to Patchogue 2012.
He said McGiff and Crean's actions were motivated by the trustee's March approval of the $100-million, 291-unit Patchogue New Village development, which Pontieri backed and McGiff and Crean opposed.
McGiff and Crean both denied Pontieri's charge. But all three agreed campaigning for the March 2012 elections will begin earlier than usual.
"They've already laid down that gauntlet. They're going to come after me personally, that's obvious," Pontieri said.