L.I. Legislator Dies in County Office BuildingBy WILL JAMES
Wall Street Journal
October 4, 2012
Peter Schmitt, the presiding officer of the Nassau County Legislature, died after suffering a heart attack during a meeting with County Executive Ed Mangano on Wednesday morning, authorities said.
Mr. Schmitt, 62 years old, was rushed to Winthrop-University Hospital from the county executive's office, where the two were discussing budget issues. He was pronounced dead at 11:55 a.m., Mr. Schmitt's spokeswoman said.
"Nassau County is a better place because of Peter's leadership, commitment and compassion and he will be greatly missed," Mr. Mangano said in a news release.
The powerful Republican's sudden death shocked the Long Island county Wednesday, prompting Mr. Mangano to order flags to half-staff and to cancel a public appearance later in the day.
Mr. Schmitt—who has represented the 12th district, including Massapequa and other municipalities, since the creation of the county Legislature in 1996—leaves behind his wife, Lois, their daughter, Samantha, and a 7-month-old grandson, Logan.
Known for his outspoken style, Mr. Schmitt has served as majority leader since Republicans took over the Legislature in 2009. He was minority leader during nine years of Democratic control.
In recent years, he has clashed with Democrats over the county's budget, the redrawing of the county's political boundaries, a reorganization of the police department and other issues.
Before being elected, Mr. Schmitt served as the Town of Oyster Bay's commissioner of community and youth services since 1984.
He graduated from Hofstra University in 1973.
Rep. Peter King, who has sworn Mr. Schmitt into office multiple times and saw him at a Sons of Italy event on Sunday, said the presiding officer had a "rough, grumpy, tough-guy" persona.
"He was a loyal friend, an outstanding legislator and not afraid to be politically incorrect," Mr. King said. "He would never back down when he thought he was right."
Mr. King said Mr. Schmitt ran a strong Republican get-out-the-vote effort and made a point of mingling with residents at local events. "To me, he was old politics at its best," Mr. King said.
Mr. Schmitt's death leaves the polarized Legislature split, with nine Republicans and nine Democrats. And it leaves the Legislature's Republican caucus without a clear leader, said Lawrence Levy, an expert on Long Island politics from Hofstra University.
"Nobody likes to talk about political matters at a time like this, but the leaders of both parties already are working through succession scenarios," he said. "And for the Republicans, there's no obvious choice."
Mr. Schmitt's district is considered safe for the GOP. In 2011, Mr. Schmitt won his ninth term with 71% of the vote. There will likely be a special election within 60 days to fill the seat, said Cristina Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Nassau Republicans.