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Suffolk GOP lawmakers criticize police commissioner’s run for DA

Republican county lawmakers are calling for Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini to step down after he announced his intent to run for district attorney this fall.

At a press conference in Riverside Tuesday, Legislators Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said they believe Mr. Sini will be distracted from his duties while campaigning.

They called the commissioner’s candidacy a “real travesty” as the county is in the midst of an opiate epidemic and MS-13 gang crimes are on the rise.

“He’s taking away his energy and attention from this public safety crisis to run for countywide office,” said Mr. McCaffrey, the minority leader of the Legislature. “This is a time we need our police commissioner to oversee the day-to-day operations of the police department.”

Mr. Sini, a Democrat, announced his intentions on Friday, the same day longtime Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota informed his staff he did not intend to seek re-election.

At his confirmation hearing before the Suffolk County Legislature last February, Mr. Sini was asked by Mr. McCaffrey if he planned to use the police commissioner position as a stepping stone to run for district attorney.

“He said he would not run for district attorney in 2017 and here we are a little more than a year later,” Mr. McCaffrey said.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Mr. Trotta and Ms. Kennedy said they felt Mr. Sini was dishonest about his intentions.

“It’s both disappointing and telling that Tim Sini started his public career with a lie,” Mr. Trotta said.

Asked if his comments against Mr. Sini were politically motivated, Mr. McCaffrey said he wouldn’t have an issue with the commissioner’s plans to run for office if he stepped down from his current post.

“He has a right to run for office, but now isn’t the time” Mr. McCaffrey said.

Mr. Sini is among the nominees seeking the Democratic nomination at the county convention scheduled for Monday, May 22. Republicans will host their convention June 5.

According to Newsday, other Democrat contenders include, former Congressional hopeful, David Calone, a venture capitalist who has also worked as a federal prosecutor; William Wexler, a defense attorney and former county prosecutor; Tad Scharfenberg, a defense attorney and former county prosecutor who ran for district attorney in 1997; James Chalifoux, deputy bureau chief of the district attorney’s major crimes bureau; Maureen McCormick, a top Nassau prosecutor who lives in Huntington; and Laura Ahearn, executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault.

Republicans and Conservatives vying for the open district attorney position, according to Newsday, include Raymond Perini, a former district attorney’s narcotics bureau chief who lost a GOP primary to Mr. Spota four years ago; William Ferris, a Navy veteran and former prosecutor; Robert Biancavilla, top homicide prosecutor in Mr. Spota’s office; John Halverson, a private practice attorney and former county prosecutor; Edward Friedland, district executive of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan; Andrew Crecca, a state Supreme Court Justice and former county legislator; and Patrick O’Connell, a former prosecutor in private practice.

David Kelley, Mr. Sini’s campaign chairman, said in a statement Friday that Mr. Sini intends to continue in his role as police commissioner in order to “continue his critically important mission of serving and protecting the residents of Suffolk County.”

“We are in the process of setting up a structure where he has limited involvement in the daily operations of the campaign so he can continue to provide an unimpeded focus on running the police department,” Mr. Kelley said. “He will not, for example, personally engage in fundraising activities of any kind, nor will he engage in any campaign activities during the workday.”

Mr. Kelley added the structure of his campaign was created after they sought legal advice from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and election law attorney Jerry Goldfeder of Stroock Stroock & Lavan in Manhattan. Mr. Goldfeder will also serve as counsel to Mr. Sini’s campaign.

“[Those legal opinions] unequivocally states that he is permitted to run for office while serving as police commissioner,” Mr. Kelley said.

Mr. Spota, a Democrat, took office Jan. 1, 2002 and he was re-elected three times.

A federal investigation is currently underway to determine if his office took part in a cover-up of former police chief James Burke assaulting a burglary suspect, Newsday has reported. Mr. Burke was later convicted of beating a man who reportedly broke into his department vehicle.

No one from the DA’s office has been charged with any wrongdoing in the case.

In his email Friday, Mr. Spota, 75, told his staff that his decision to retire at the end of this year was not an easy one.

“My hesitancy in reaching this decision was, in large measure, because I’ll be leaving an office of truly wonderful, talented and dedicated professionals who I am honored and privileged to have worked with,” he wrote in the letter, which was shared with the media. “The deciding factor, though, is that life is too short — especially at my age — and it’s time to spend quality time with my wife, children and grandchildren with two more on the way.”

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Photo: Legislator Kevin McCaffrey, center, held a press conference Tuesday at the county center in Riverside with Legislators Robert Trotta and Leslie Kennedy. The county lawmakers criticized the police commissioner’s decision to run to district attorney. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)