WEST ISLIP - An unexpected issue has become a subplot in the Suffolk County executive contest.

It began when, in a budget-cutting move, County Executive Steve Levy (R-Suffolk) axed $660 to have David McKell play Santa Claus for a 10th-straight year at the historic St. James General Store.

Steve Bellone, a Democrat who is running for the seat being vacated by Levy, announced he was donating his own money to pay for the Santa to be reinstated.

But Bellone's Republican opponent, Angie Carpenter, immediately criticized that as a cheap publicity gimmick.

Republicans have also suggested Santa's firing may have been a set-up. They cite a memo from Bellone's wife, Deputy County Parks Commissioner Tracey Bellone, to Levy's office. The memo asks if the county's budget director is OK with the Santa contract being renewed.

Carpenter says it gives the appearance that Tracey Bellone was hoping to get Santa fired so her husband could step in and play the hero.

Bellone says the only reason his wife sent the memo regarding the Santa position was because Levy's office had directed department heads to review all outside contracts the county had.

Newsday Voters Guide