James Gaughran said he talked by telephone with Suffolk Democratic...

James Gaughran said he talked by telephone with Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer Tuesday and the party leader asked him not to seek the nomination for Huntington Town supervisor. Credit: Handout

Former Suffolk County lawmaker James Gaughran says he will screen with the Huntington Town Democratic Committee on Feb. 28 about the possibility of running for town supervisor.

Gaughran, a lawyer and chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, said he is not announcing his candidacy nor would he comment on the tenure of incumbent Democratic Supervisor Frank Petrone, who is up for election in November after nearly two decades on the job.

"At this point I've been asked by a significant number of people active in the party to consider it," said Gaughran, 53, a former town board member. "I've agreed to go to a screening not necessarily to say I'm running but to answer some questions and listen to people who want to draft me."

Gaughran's decision to screen comes after Petrone, who had been hedging for months, indicated last month he would seek re-election and scheduled a fundraiser for Feb. 26. Petrone has more than $432,000 in his campaign coffers.

Part of the reason he is weighing a race, Gaughran said, is that "you hear some people say that Frank is running, then from other people you hear he isn't."

Mary Collins, town Democratic leader, said that Gaughran asked to be screened for supervisor but because the party has so many candidates, all of them might not be interviewed on the same night. She said a second screening might have to be held in March.

"Frank told me he is running and I have no reason to doubt him," said Collins, adding, "As incumbent he would have first choice."

However, she also acknowledged town parks chief Don McKay is interested in running for highway superintendent, a job now held by Democrat James Naughton. Asked if she felt the same way about Naughton's candidacy, Collins said, "I'd rather not comment on that."

Meanwhile, Democrat town board member Susan Berland held her own fundraiser last week and said she had 75 to 100 people in attendance. She declined to say how much she raised. Berland has made no secret of her interest in running for supervisor if Petrone does not seek re-election, but adds she has no interest in a primary.

She questioned the need for a screening for supervisor: "When you have a 20-year incumbent it seems inappropriate." However, if the party is going to screen for the job and allow others to be interviewed, "I would like to participate as well."

As for Gaughran's claims of a groundswell seeking him out, Berland said the draft movement consists of "the one he looks at in the mirror in the morning."