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OpinionColumnistsMark Chiusano

Steve Bellone and Rich Schaffer feud comes to a head as the 2022 gubernatorial race looms

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, right, and Town

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, right, and Town of Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer at the State of the County address in Hauppauge in 2016. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

It was only a matter of time before the long-running feud between Suffolk County’s Democratic heavyweights intersected with gubernatorial politics.

About three weeks ago, county party chair Rich Schaffer sent a message to fellow county chairs around the state about the political future of Steve Bellone, who is in the middle of his final four-year term at the top of county government.

"It is my understanding that our Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has reached out to some of you about his interest in running for statewide office in the future," the message said. "I have known Steve since he was six years old as we grew up literally next door to each other."

The message went on to note the need for the party to "put forward the best possible candidates who have the capacity to run effective campaigns as well as ably serve the people of New York State once elected."

Clearly, Schaffer does not appear to think Bellone is that person: "To that end, I will be contacting each of you over the next several weeks to provide you with a great deal of information that I believe will help you make a decision on whether Steve would be the best candidate to represent our party in a statewide election."

Schaffer wrote that he is "aware of many more candidates—including several who are proven in statewide elections— who are better equipped, better positioned, better prepared and better situated to run, win and serve." He also said he was open to meeting other "great public servants" across New York.

Schaffer and Bellone, who reacted strongly to this message, have been at odds regarding numerous issues over the years from county legislative politics to judicial cross-endorsements. Schaffer has had moments of non-aggression with Republicans, particularly in some state-level Suffolk races, which has sometimes put him at odds with other members of the party elsewhere in the state. But now, Schaffer appears to be appealing to his fellow leaders to throw cold water on a potential Bellone run for governor.

It’s too early for Bellone and many other fellow Democrats to publicly signal an actual run, given how up in the air Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s political future is. Among the calculations: How far would a moderate like Bellone or fellow Long Islander Rep. Tom Suozzi get in a primary if Cuomo was running for a fourth term? What if he resigned, or was forced out before then?

Still, it’s not too early to start plotting out moves--or countermoves, as the Schaffer message shows. The message in its entirety was sent to The Point by Schaffer, after we asked the party leader about the note’s existence and general contents.

Bellone spokesman Jason Elan criticized Schaffer and his move in a statement to The Point.

"The County Executive is proud not to be in the back pocket of an old style political hack like Rich Schaffer who spends more time defending his corrupt and jailed cronies in order to maintain his political power than serving with integrity," said Elan. "Schaffer is right to want to oppose the County Executive because he would be his worst nightmare."

In response, Schaffer suggested Bellone "never had a problem" with Schaffer’s support or assistance in previous jobs from town communications to county executive: "He knows that my opinion is valued by my fellow county chairs as well as statewide elected officials and will be given full consideration which explains his angry reaction to my message to them."

We’re still far from 2022, but certainly there is lots of political strategery going on under the surface in Suffolk. Two new domains were registered on March 26, according to the ICANN lookup tool:

BELLONEFORNEWYORK.COM and BELLONEFORNY.COM.

Who shelled out for the addresses, on the off chance that they become valuable or necessary real estate some day? Elan says it wasn’t Bellone’s campaign.

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