Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi announced on Tuesday night that he plans to challenge Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman for his seat in this fall’s election.
Mr. Nuzzi screened with the Southampton Town Republican Party on Tuesday night and said on Wednesday morning that he will soon reach out to the local GOP leadership in East Hampton and Riverhead to express his desire to be the party’s candidate in the county race.
“We’ll see what the next several weeks brings, but if offered the nomination, it is a race that I am interested in,” Mr. Nuzzi said on Wednesday morning. “I think we can do better as it relates to representation on the County Legislature.”
The decision by Mr. Nuzzi to enter the county election ends months of speculation about what post, if any, the popular Republican councilman would seek, since he is prevented from running for reelection to his council seat again by the town’s term limits.
He had stated early on his desire to remain in government and Mr. Nuzzi had been talked about as the favorite for the County Legislature seat when Mr. Schneiderman revealed earlier this year that he was exploring a run for town supervisor in East Hampton, a post he held from 1999 to 2003. Mr. Schneiderman withdrew from that race and announced he would seek reelection to a sixth and final term in the county government in March.
“I’ve done my job as a legislator and I hope people will judge me on my record of accomplishments,” Mr. Schneiderman said in reaction to Mr. Nuzzi’s announcement on Wednesday morning. “I’ve only had compliments from [Mr. Nuzzi] in the past. I guess he’s going to have to find a reason why people shouldn’t reelect me.”
Mr. Schneiderman was originally elected to his county seat as a Republican but switched to the Independence Party in 2008. In his first reelection bid after the switch he was endorsed by both the Republican and Democratic parties and ran unopposed. In 2011, the GOP endorsed Cornelius Kelly to challenge him but the Montauk incumbent won in a landslide.
Mr. Schneiderman said he expects that Mr. Nuzzi will ultimately secure the endorsement of the Republican and Conservative parties and that he will have the Democratic and Independence party lines as well as the much smaller Working Families Party endorsement.
Southampton Town Republican Party Chairman William Wright said on Wednesday that he thinks Mr. Nuzzi will be a formidable challenger to Mr. Schneiderman.
“Chris has been a great representative of the town,” Mr. Wright said. “He’ll give Jay a good race.”
Mr. Nuzzi’s announcement also casts the town supervisor race in a new light, since many had thought he might seek to unseat incumbent Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst. The town GOP has screened two candidates for the supervisor race: former Supervisor Linda Kabot and political newcomer James Sandford. Ms. Kabot has said she plans to seek the nomination from the party and many have said that if the party committee shuns her, as it has in the past, she would likely mount a primary challenge to whomever is chosen.
The race for the two Town Council seats up for election this year remains cloudy, as neither party has identified front-runners for their nominations. The Republican Party has a lineup of interested parties. On Tuesday night, Golden Pear owner Keith Davis screened with the Republicans for a council nomination, joining a long list of other hopefuls, including Mr. Schneiderman’s 2011 challenger, Mr. Kelly, Southampton banker Stan Glinka, and Bridgehampton resident Jeff Mansfield.
The GOP has not, however, screened Councilman Jim Malone, who is up for reelection to a second term on the Town Board. Mr. Malone said on Wednesday that he has not ruled out running for his seat again and said that his own registered party, the Conservative Party, has not held screenings at the local level yet and until it does he did not see it as appropriate that he screen with any other party.
Mr. Malone was the GOP’s initial choice as its nominee for supervisor in 2007, before party leadership gave the nod to Ms. Kabot, who was the incumbent supervisor at the time, to avoid a primary. Mr. Malone instead ran for council and won, along with Mr. Nuzzi, by a comfortable margin.
The Democrats have been holding weekly screening sessions for a month and party chairman Gordon Herr said this week that they have spoken with “many good candidates.”
Brad Bender, who ran with the party’s endorsement in 2011 and narrowly lost to Councilwoman Christine Scalera, has screened and is expected to be a sure nominee. Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone has also reportedly screened with the Democrats for a seat on the council and would presumably have the strong support of Ms. Throne-Holst and the Independence Party.
Mr. Herr declined to discuss any of the individuals who have screened for the council seats but said that securing two candidates who will win the council seats is the party’s top priority for November. A Democratic win in both seats would give the party a majority on the Town Board, and a super-majority coalition with Ms. Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member who has won three elections with the party’s endorsement.
The GOP and Conservatives would have to hold on to both seats to keep its current control of the board.