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Republican Thiele switching to Independence Party

Longtime Republican Assemb. Fred Thiele is switching parties to join the Independence Party, saying the 40-member GOP minority "stands for nothing" and "no longer speaks to pocketbook issues."

The 14-year Albany veteran said he hand-delivered papers to switch at the Suffolk Board of Elections Thursday and will seek to sit with the Assembly's Democratic majority

Thiele, 56, of Sag Harbor, would join the Assembly's only other Independence Party member, Timothy Gordon from Albany, who has run with Democratic backing. If the Democrats accept Thiele, he will become the 110th member of the majority conference.

"This is something the Assembly majority conference will decide," said Dan Weiller, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). "However, traditionally we have a big tent."

His decision, Thiele said, marks "no shift in core beliefs," but impatience with Albany gridlock. Reached en route to a wedding in Cleveland Friday, Thiele, 56, said the change "will give me the freedom to agree when we agree and disagree when we disagree without undue partisanship."

Going his own way is nothing new to Thiele, who was first elected to the Suffolk Legislature in 1987 and immediately joined a coalition with nine Democrats to elect Democrat Legis. Sondra Bachety as presiding officer. Later in 1991, Thiele won four years as Southampton supervisor on an independent Southampton Party line. Thiele also has championed the quixotic bid to create a separate Peconic County out of Suffolk's five East End towns.

"Fred has been Independence before there was an Independence Party," said Frank MacKay, state Independence Party chairman. "He could win on the Independence Party alone, but something tells me others will be looking to endorse him as well."

Brian M. Kolb, Assembly minority leader, said in a statement, "This was a personal decision that Fred Thiele made and now he has to answer to his constituents."

However, critics say that the move by Thiele is fueled by anger after he was turned down for a higher-paying leadership position within the GOP Assembly minority caucus.

Thiele acknowledged that he was turned down, but said his move had nothing to do with money. "I didn't want to be a minority within the minority," he said, adding that the switch will cost him the $11,000 stipend he has received as the education committee's ranking Republican.

Thiele harshly criticized the Assembly minority for failing to propose any amendments in the last state budget out of fear that some Democrats might support the changes, making it harder to defeat them in the next election. "More concerned with political inside baseball, the Republican Party in the Assembly stood for nothing," Thiele said.

John Jay LaValle, the new Suffolk GOP chairman, said he has "tremendous respect" for Thiele, but is disappointed that he did not wait to see the party's new direction. "To switch in middle of term is a bit concerning from ethical perspective," LaValle added. "The time to make change is when you're running again, so you can let the battle begin."

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