More than a decade ago, James O’Connor and his family moved to Suffolk from Nassau and, in a remarkable turn of events, O’Connor is now the Republican nominee for Suffolk County executive.
“With the voters’ support, I will unseat in November a one-term incumbent who has repeatedly put the needs of the Suffolk County public employee unions ahead of Suffolk County’s taxpayers,” said O’Connor, a former North Hempstead town councilman, during a recent interview. The incumbent he is referring to is Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, who may be vulnerable to a spirited challenge.
“Nassau County’s budgetary problems get all the headlines, but Suffolk County’s finances are not much better,” O’Connor said. Indeed, the Carle Place High School graduate notes that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli deemed Suffolk County one of a handful of county governments statewide which are “fiscally stressed.” To achieve that dubious distinction, Suffolk’s county government needed to hit a municipal mismanagement trifecta—low fund balances, operating deficits and limited cash on hand, according to the comptroller’s September 2014 assessment of Suffolk’s finances. O’Connor, who lives in Great River (Town of Islip), brings an impressive resume as well as an eclectic mix of public and private sector experience to the top spot on the Suffolk GOP’s 2015 countywide ticket.
He earned his reputation as a taxpayers’ advocate while an elected North Hempstead Town Councilman (1998-2001) and subsequently distinguished himself as that town’s building commissioner. The town of North Hempstead is home to more than 220,000 in northern Nassau County. In 1997, when electing Councilman O’Connor, who resided in Westbury at the time, and his running mate, Councilman Angelo Ferrara (R-New Hyde Park), the town’s voters stunningly sent two Democratic Council members into another line of work.
Besides serving as an elected official, O’Connor has effectively overseen large governmental agencies, having held two senior executive positions under Governor George Pataki. The first was as chief legal officer for the New York State Insurance Fund (SIF), the state’s largest writer of worker’s compensation insurance. Following his successful tenure at SIF, Governor Pataki appointed O’Connor chief executive of the New York State Liquidation Bureau, which oversees insurers who are either insolvent or, like Suffolk County’s government, fiscally stressed.
Since 2005, O’Connor has been a partner at Maroney O’Connor LLP. The firm focuses its practice on providing legal services to insurance companies, municipalities and self-insured corporations. He earned his undergraduate degree from Boston College and his law degree at Hofstra University.
O’Connor’s wife, Dr. Maureen Corry, is a cardiologist at St. Francis Hospital-The Heart Center, in West Islip. Thomas, the eldest of their three children, is 21 years old, and graduated recently from the University of Scranton. Matthew, who is 18 years old, attended Ascent in Deer Park, a school for individuals with autism, which is one of the reasons that O’Connor is a former vice president of the Nassau-Suffolk Autism Society of America. Meghan, their youngest child, is 12 years old, and just completed the seventh grade at East Islip Middle School.
“I’m going to take a leave from my law firm after Labor Day, and then campaign full time,” O’Connor stated, when I quizzed him on how he plans to oust a sitting county executive who can keep his day job while seeking another four-year term in office.
Suffolk’s GOP is on something of a roll following the election last November of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and county Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr. (R-Nesconset). Can O’Connor follow their lead? Everyone will know the answer when the returns come in on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Mike Barry (firstname.lastname@example.org), VP of media relations for an insurance industry trade group, has worked in government and journalism.