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Thiele Announces Retirement After 29 Years in Assembly

Mon, 02/12/2024 - 12:34
"Government service was my dream from my days as a student in elementary school in Sag Harbor," Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in a statement issued on Monday.
Christine Sampson

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election to the New York State Assembly, signaling an impending conclusion to a 45-year career of public service in local and state government, including 29 years in the Assembly.

“I have successfully run for public office 19 times and have served the East End in the State Assembly longer than any other person in the history of New York State,” Mr. Thiele said in a statement issued on Monday morning. “I now look forward to other opportunities to serve the community that has been home to my family for almost 200 years.”

“Government service was my dream from my days as a student in elementary school in Sag Harbor,” he said, “when I heard the call of President John F. Kennedy to ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ Being chosen by my neighbors to be their representative has truly been the greatest honor of my professional life.”

In a statement sent to The Star on Tuesday, Rich Schaffer, chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee and Babylon Town supervisor, said that “Fred’s decision is a big loss to all of us and to me as a longtime friend and colleague. Fred’s record of service to his constituents and the residents of [New York State] is second to none. He will be remembered as one of the most significant public officials based on his environmental record that will help generations to come.”

Mr. Schaffer added that South­ampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni is the Democrats’ leading candidate to run for Mr. Thiele’s seat in the Assembly. “We’re speaking to others who are interested and don’t expect a primary,” he said. Reached on Tuesday, Mr. Schiavoni said he had no comment.

In an email replying to an inquiry from The Star, Maureen Getchell said on Tuesday that potential Republican candidates will be named at the Suffolk Republican Committee’s nominating convention on Wednesday.

As the incumbent and the Democratic Party’s candidate in District 1, Mr. Thiele was most recently re-elected to the Assembly in 2022, defeating the Republican and Conservative Party candidate, Peter Ganley III, 29,862 votes to 24,242 votes, or 55.19 percent to 44.81 percent. In that campaign, Mr. Ganley, a former member of then-Representative Lee Zeldin’s staff, charged that Mr. Thiele had “one foot out the door” and was “in the process of moving to North Carolina,” which Mr. Thiele denied. Rather, he said, he and his wife were building a vacation house there. Mr. Thiele’s wife, NancyLynn Thiele, is a former attorney for East Hampton Town.

Mr. Thiele thanked his family “for the role that they have played in my career of public service,” as well as members of his staff and mentors including teachers, coaches, and professors, and recalled inspiration from political discussions with his father, and his family’s sacrifices.

“I had the chance to serve with former State Senator Ken LaValle in Albany for 25 years,” he said of the now-retired Republican senator. “He is the definition of a ‘statesman.’ I cherish the special bond we developed through the years that transcended government and politics.”

“I will always be indebted to my predecessor, the late John Behan, who gave me the chance to come home and begin my professional life,” he added. Mr. Behan of Montauk, who died in 2021, was seriously wounded while defending his Marine patrol from machine gun fire near Da Nang, Vietnam, in 1966. A Republican with broad bipartisan support, he was “a true American hero,” Mr. Thiele wrote, his life “an example to all on what it means to be a leader.”

He cited the community preservation fund as his most notable achievement. “There have been many successes that have kept eastern Long Island a special place,” he said. “It has been a privilege to have the opportunity to shape the future of our community and to work with others to achieve goals that are larger than ourselves. That has been one of the rewards of public service.”

Mr. Thiele was first elected to the Assembly as a Republican in a special election in 1995, representing District 2 until 2013. He changed his affiliation from the Republican to the Independence Party in 2010. That year, he ran unopposed in the Independence, Democratic, and Working Families Party primaries before defeating his Republican challenger in the general election. In 2022, he ran solely on the Democratic Party line. 

He served as an attorney for Sag Harbor Village, Southampton Town, and East Hampton Town’s planning board and zoning board of appeals. He was also Southampton Town’s supervisor and a Suffolk legislator.

In his statement, he spoke of “the people with which I have had the chance to work or the opportunity to help as a public official,” but specifically praised Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy. “We started our professional careers at the same time and have worked together on so many important community issues over the years,” he said. “There has seldom been a day in my life that has not included a conversation with Kevin.”

“At the end of this year, I will close this chapter of my life,” he concluded. “I look forward to new beginnings. There will be new challenges and new ways to serve. Endings and beginnings are bittersweet. I am guided by the advice of Dr. Seuss. ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’ "

This story has been updated since it was first published.


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