The dean of Suffolk politics is stepping down and that means a hearty game of musical chairs on the political front.
Ken LaValle, the state senator for the 1st District, served for 44 years and accumulated formidable power in the process, securing valuable perks for his East End constituents.
Even before LaValle’s official announcement on January 10, Tommy John Schiavoni, a councilman for Southampton town and a Democrat, said he would run for the seat. LaValle is a Republican.
Bridget Fleming, the veteran county legislator who made a spirited run against LaValle a few years back, will stick with her original plan; to challenge U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin for the 1st Congressional seat. Fleming is a Democrat. Zeldin is a Republican and a staunch Donald Trump supporter.
“I am absolutely committed to this congressional race,” Fleming said. Zeldin recently joined a coalition of congressmen — mostly Republican — asking the Supreme Court to “reconsider” Roe v. Wade. “Roe is a landmark of American juris prudence,” said Fleming.
Perry Gershon, who lost the congressional race to Zeldin two years ago, has announced his intention to run again and presents a potential roadblock for Fleming.
Fleming said she would support Schiavoni in his bid to win LaValle’s seat. Should Fleming and/or Schiavoni prevail, there will be an open seat on the horseshoe and another on the Southampton Town Board. Former Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot, who ran a vigorous race again Fleming last year, would be a logical choice for either seat.
Kabot did not return an email asking for comment but said only a month ago she had every intention of running again.
On Friday, January 10, in his home town of Port Jefferson, with colleagues, family and friends in attendance, the senator, 80, said it “feels like time to pass the torch.” LaValle will serve out the remainder of his term, leaving office in December 2020.
A former fifth-grade teacher and principal in the Middle Country school district, LaValle first was elected to the Senate in 1976. He was a co-sponsor with then-Democratic Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli of the Pine Barrens Preservation Act, which created new protections for 100,000 acres in Suffolk County.
DiNapoli and Assemblyman Steve Englebright from nearby Setauket were in attendance, as well as longtime colleague and friend Fred Thiele. Thiele, a state assemblyman, again doused speculation he might move across the aisle. “I’m very happy here,” the Sag Harbor native responded when quizzed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
The smart money pegged Tony Palumbo of New Suffolk, a Republican assemblyman, as the favorite to win LaValle’s seat. His entire district, mostly in Brookhaven, is in LaValle’s senate district.
Other contenders bandied about include Dan Panico, councilman in Brookhaven town and Jodi Giglio, a veteran town board member in Riverhead with powerful ties in the GOP local party.
Among the Democrats — Laura Ahearn, executive director at Parents For Megan’s Law and Schiavoni have already announced their interest in the race. Ahearn is an attorney and a victim’s right specialist and Councilman Schiavoni, from Sag Harbor, has also served on the Sag Harbor school board and North Haven Village Board.
Valerie Cartwright, a councilwoman in Brookhaven and Margot Garant, who is the mayor of Port Jefferson, were also mentioned by party leaders.