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Rich Schaffer presses for Senate Democratic takeover

Rick Brand

When Democrat James Gaughran holds his first fundraiser Thursday in his bid to unseat veteran Republican State Sen. Carl Marcellino, Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer will headline the $250-a-head event.

Schaffer said he also would host a fundraiser in July for freshman Sen. John Brooks, who won a major upset two years ago. Schaffer played little part in that race, even though the most Democratic part of Brooks’ district is in Schaffer’s hometown of Babylon.

It’s a significant change for Schaffer, who in the past often has put up little or no opposition to Senate Republicans.

But Schaffer said this year he backed the effort to take over the Senate because of a growing exodus of GOP senators and a potential blue wave in November against President Donald Trump. Schaffer also noted the sensitivity that new Senate Democratic leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, of Westchester County, had shown to suburban needs.

But Schaffer also warned, “I’ve been very clear to them that I’m not putting New York City Democrats in charge.” He said he was happy to back Gaughran, the Suffolk Water Authority chairman, and Brooks, of Seaford, because neither “will be rolled by New York City Democrats.”

Former Suffolk County Executive Patrick Halpin said Schaffer felt it was “political malpractice of the highest order” when the last Democratic Senate majority backed the MTA payroll tax and lost control of the chamber.

Halpin, a lobbyist, said Schaffer “understands there’s only two parties in Albany — not Republican and Democrat — the majority and minority and if you’re not in the majority, you’re left out.”

“He’s had a policy of détente,” Desmond Ryan, a veteran Republican business lobbyist, said of Schaffer. “He knew he had to work with the Republican Senate bloc to protect the region’s interests.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens, head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign committee, are making separate efforts on their own to find Democratic contenders for Suffolk Senate seats — even though, in the Third District, Schaffer is backing Nassau correction Officer Darrin Green, who if elected would be Long Island’s first black Senate Democrat.

A Cuomo aide said the efforts were not an attempt to cross Schaffer, but only part of a statewide effort to find the candidates most able to win. Gianaris also said he hoped he and Schaffer could “pull in the same direction.” Schaffer said a primary would be “a waste of resources” for Senate Democrats.

State officials also have tried to recruit Suffolk Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue); Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood); former Legis. Kate Browning, a Shirley resident now running for Congress; and Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri, but all have demurred.

Although Green is a first-time candidate, his law enforcement background could help garner support from public safety unions, Schaffer said.

Schaffer said he was taking a more active role in the Senate races “because there’s strength in numbers.” He said the possibility of Green and Gaughran joining Nassau Democratic senators Todd Kaminsky, of Long Beach, and Brooks, could give the region a significant voting bloc.

“If Democrats take over the Senate, I want some of our people in the chamber,” Schaffer said.