James P. O’Connor (Republican, Conservative, Reform): Candidate
Jim O’Connor, 52, is the Republican, Conservative, Reform parties’ contender for the Suffolk County Executive post. A Great River resident with his wife and three children, O’Connor is a partner at Maroney O’Connor LLP, a Manhattan law firm that specializes in insurance. O’Connor isn’t new to the political scene. Elected as a North Hempstead Town councilman in 1998 (he served until 2001), he was known as a taxpayers’ advocate. He then served as North Hempstead’s building commissioner. O’Connor also held two senior executive positions under Gov. George Pataki. For seven years, he was chief legal officer for the New York State Insurance Fund, the state’s largest writer of worker’s compensation insurance, with nearly 3,000 employees and assets valued in excess of $1.4 billion. He was also appointed as chief executive of the New York State Liquidation Bureau, which oversees insurers who are either insolvent or fiscally stressed.
O’Connor said his biggest accomplishment personally is his family. “Professionally, I have served in government at some fairly high levels of New York State including local government as a town council member, which I would like to believe I was pretty good at. One of the local editors — we were worlds apart politically — referred to me as the ‘loyal opposition’ [a minority party whose opposition is constructive, responsible and bounded to principles] because I really did my homework, prepared and answered tough questions.”
Also, he cited his career as a lawyer for almost 30 years. “Most small businesses, particularly indicative of law firms, fail in five years,” he said. “We just this August celebrated 10 years. We have nine employees and specialize in insurance, mostly property and casualty cases. We serve as counsel to a lot of insurance companies and we sue insurance companies; they are mostly our client base. I commute to lower Manhattan every day.”
O’Connor said he feels the key to local government is finances.
“What local government should be is providing essential services to its residents,” he said. “I’ve always focused on those essential issues. I feel it goes awry when it tries to do more than that.” He has served as a local CYO coach. “My middle child has significant disabilities, so we’re very active in the autism community,” he said. “He’s 19 and goes to a special school. It’s another full-time job caring for him and planning for his future.” (O’Connor is a former vice president of the Nassau-Suffolk Autism Society of America.)
The Islip Town resident was asked to run in May. “I believe in public service,” he said, citing his partner and staff with holding down the fort.
What would he implement if elected? “The most important thing Suffolk County can do, whether it’s me or [County Executive Steve] Bellone, is to fix the finances,” he said. “The county can’t move forward with the multiple issues they’re facing unless they address this. I have proposed freezing police salaries at their current levels that would save hundreds of millions of dollars. The current contracts the three police unions are working under are back-loaded and the real cost impacts are scheduled to be felt in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The projected costs by the Suffolk County Legislative Budget Review Office is $108 million in 2017 and $135 million in 2018. If we were to freeze those police salaries, we’d recognize hundreds of millions to correct Suffolk County’s finances. Admittedly, that is a temporary solution.” O’Connor said for the long term, he’s proposing that mandatory arbitration awards be limited to the state tax cap. “The state has said municipalities have to operate in this tax cap; if you’re going to limit them on revenue raised, you should limit their costs accordingly,” he said. “That’s the most important thing right now. Once you’ve fixed that, you can face infrastructure, improving transportation, water quality and affordability.”
O’Connor said he’s the man to do it because, “I have served in state government heading up a state agency that has close to 2,000 employees in 11 different locations in New York with an annual premium of $1.3 billion.
“So I’m not intimidated by the prospect of serving as the chief executive in Suffolk County.”
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