Shelter Island’s next town attorney will be Bob DeStefano Jr.
Mr. DeStefano, who recently resigned as chairman of the Shelter Island Republican Party, managed Supervisor-elect Gary Gerth’s successful bid for the town’s top office in November.
A 1998 graduate of St. John’s University School of Law in Queens, Mr. DeStefano has been a sole practitioner for the past 10 years, mainly based in Mineola, working in the fields of regulatory compliance, zoning, commercial litigation and real estate.
Prior to that, he was an attorney with firms in New York City and Hauppauge.
Choosing Mr. DeStefano over other candidates has sparked opposition, especially from Democrats. Island Democratic Chairwoman Heather Reylek said Monday that she’s received numerous emails and phone calls that “this looks like cronyism” and “patronage.”
Even though Mr. DeStefano has resigned his position with the Island GOP, Ms. Reylek said that “any time you have an issue where the town is being legally advised, how can people help but think there’s some kind of prejudice toward certain polices?”
Councilwoman Chris Lewis, a Republican who is retiring at the end of the year, said Monday she understands the choice of Mr. DeStefano for town attorney is “problematic, but other choices are equally problematic.” Ms. Lewis said Mr. DeStefano is highly qualified for the position.
Mr. Gerth said Tuesday that politics was not a consideration in his choice of Mr. DeStefano, pointing out that the second appointment he will make at January’s first Town Board meeting will be to bring back John Cronin as town engineer, and “John’s a Democrat.”
Mr. Cronin confirmed Wednesday that he had been a lifelong Democrat until just the last few weeks “when I gave up all party affiliations.” He resigned his post as town engineer on September 1, citing what he described as “a leadership vacuum” in Town Hall.
Mr. Gerth said Mr. DeStefano was the best-qualified person for the job, bringing “professional credentials, commitment and character to the position.” He added that another mark in Mr. DeStefano’s favor is he’s an Island resident and “I’ll depend on him 24/7.”
When current Town Attorney Laury Dowd announced in August her plans to retire at the end of the year, the $70,000 a year position was advertised in several newspapers, including the Reporter.
Town Clerk Dorothy Ogar said Tuesday that since August, her office has received 21 applications for the job. According to Ms. Lewis, the board formally interviewed about 10 of those candidates.
Mr. DeStefano’s application was received on December 4, Ms. Ogar reported, and the board interviewed him on December 5.
Ms. Lewis said that Mr. Gerth, Democrat Councilman-elect Albert Dickson and GOP Town Board candidate Marcus Kaasik — who lost to Mr. Dickson after absentee ballots were counted — sat in on the candidate interviews with the current Town Board.
Ms. Dowd took an active part in interviewing Mr. DeStefano, and later, according to Ms. Lewis, said that he was an “impressive” candidate.
Supervisor Jim Dougherty weighed in on the matter on Tuesday, telling the Reporter that he “found out about the last minute DeStefano move when I found a revised work session agenda on my desk an hour or two before [a] meeting where the matter was to be proposed for the first time.”
Mr. Dougherty added that “no action on a DeStefano appointment will take place this year by the current Town Board,” and that his colleagues “have decided not to confront me on this position.”
When the new board is sworn in next month, the Republicans will have a three to two majority, with Mr. Gerth, Councilman Paul Shepherd and Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams representing the GOP, and Democrats Jim Colligan and Albert Dickson in the minority.
Ms. Lewis said she and other board members realize Mr. DeStefano’s candidacy is controversial and it could be seen as a political “reward” for shepherding Mr. Gerth into the supervisor’s office. But she added that some choices are the correct ones, even if it’s a “no win situation.”
“I just say, ‘Welcome to the Town Board, where 50 percent of people will like a decision and 50 percent will not,’” Ms. Lewis said. “If you’re lucky.”