Schneiderman Announces Campaign for Suffolk Comptroller

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Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, responding to a question regarding affordable housing during the inaugural Express Sessions forum hosted by the Sag Harbor Express at the American Hotel in January. Michael Heller photo

Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman officially announced his candidacy for Suffolk County Comptroller on Tuesday, pitting the Democrat against Republican incumbent John M. Kennedy in November’s race.

“I have been thinking a lot about the county’s finances — I spent 12 years as a member of the legislature and I was concerned then, and I remain concerned now,” said Mr. Schneiderman on Wednesday. “I think that I have the experience and ability to be an independent voice and a fiscal watchdog for the residents of Suffolk County.”

Mr. Schneiderman, who was re-elected to a two-year term as supervisor in November, said on Wednesday he would not step down from his position in Southampton Town unless elected to the county seat. If he is elected, deputy supervisor Frank Zappone would chair the town board as a non-voting member, until a special election could be held for the supervisor’s seat. On Wednesday, Mr. Schneiderman said that while he believed he was a good candidate to fill the role of county comptroller, his election would be an uphill battle as it appears he will be facing an incumbent. Mr. Kennedy has been comptroller since 2014 and like Mr. Schneiderman is a former member of the Suffolk County Legislature.

“My winning could be a long shot,” he said. “I am up against an incumbent. I think I would be a very good comptroller, and I have a lot of support, but the odds are not in my favor. That said, with the kind of support I have had, I felt it was important to the taxpayers of Suffolk County that I pursue this race.”

While he may consider himself the underdog, Mr. Schneiderman already carries the support of the county Democratic Party chairman Richard Schaffer, as well as Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who praised Mr. Schneiderman in a statement issued Tuesday.

“Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman has the integrity, competence and independence needed to be an outstanding county comptroller,” said Mr. Bellone.

While Mr. Schneiderman grew up in Hauppauge, he has lived on the South Fork since his early 20s. He currently lives in Southampton and has two children.

In 1991, Mr. Schneiderman was appointed to the Town of East Hampton Zoning Board of Appeals, becoming that body’s chairman in 1996. He was elected to his first of two terms as East Hampton Town Supervisor in 1999, serving in that position until 2003. For the next 10 years, until 2013, Mr. Schneiderman served as Suffolk County Legislator, working on projects like the widening of County Road 39 and the expansion of the Suffolk County public bus service to Sundays, among preservation efforts.

In 2015, Mr. Schneiderman was elected Southampton Town Supervisor, running as a member of the Independence Party with a cross endorsement from Democrats. He was re-elected — as a member of the Democratic Party — in 2017.  On Wednesday, he said he would screen with the Independence, Conservative and Working Families parties in hope of running on several lines in his bid for county comptroller.

“This is an unprecedented time in the history of Suffolk County,” said Mr. Schneiderman in a written statement while announcing his intention to run. “Our finances are in critical condition and Suffolk County residents need a comptroller who will help get the county back to fiscal health.”

“Year after year the county’s expenditures greatly exceed its revenues, to the point where we now borrow nearly half a billion dollars from the following year’s revenues just to get through the current year,” added Mr. Schneiderman. “The practice is unsustainable and must change.  I will work with the legislature and the executive branch to develop a plan to establish a structurally balanced budget. I will participate in regular meetings of the county’s Audit Committee, and work with all the stakeholders to identify areas where we can save taxpayer dollars. I have the experience of delivering 18 consecutive years of not raising property taxes.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Schneiderman said that while the county comptroller is not traditionally tasked with solving county budget problems that his relationship with Mr. Bellone and members of the legislature could allow him to serve as a watchdog in a meaningful way. And if he is unsuccessful in his attempt to get back to serving all of Suffolk County, Mr. Schneiderman said he would be happy to continue to serve the residents of Southampton Town.

“I love being town supervisor,” he said. “It is going really well, and I am happy to stay, but this is an opportunity to serve a larger region — 1.5 million people — and it could open the door to future possibilities I am young enough to still pursue.”

Would that mean a run for county executive one day? “Let’s just take it one step at a time,” said Mr. Schneiderman.

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