Before this week’s announcement by the Islip Town Board, Schaefer had been chief of staff to Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip). From 2003 to 2006, the Republican was deputy airport commissioner under former Islip Town Supervisor Peter McGowan, who had taken the lead in renovating the airport. Once among the most powerful Republicans on LI, McGowan resigned in 2006 after pleading guilty to stealing from his campaign fund and accepting kickbacks.
Until Schaefer’s formal appointment, Terry Hennessey had been serving as active commissioner after former commissioner Teresa Rizzutto had been fired by first-term Town Supervisor Tom Croci. When he was running for office against ex-Supervisor Phil Nolan, the Democratic incumbent who had succeeded McGowan in a special election, Croci, a Republican, had made the airport a key campaign issue.
He accused Nolan and Rizzutto for letting business decline from 50 flights a day to 20 flights or fewer as MacArthur also lost airline companies until only Southwest and U.S. Air remained. Nolan had hired Rizzutto, the former United Airlines general manager at Newark Airport and later general manager of its hub at Dulles International, after a nationwide search in 2007. In their defense, he blamed the recession. Croci won the election by only 343 votes.
Now that Schaefer has the top spot, Hennessey will become the deputy commissioner, a post he’d held when Rizzutto was in charge of MacArthur, which the town owns. Hennessy had been the British Airways manager at Baltimore Washington Marshall International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.
MacArthur, known as LIMA, has a direct and indirect impact on the LI economy in general and Islip township in particular. A 2005 study had found that the airport produced almost 9,000 jobs with nearly $250 million in annual income, and the area around the airport was on its way to become a fast-growing employment center before the recession hit. Its future growth is seen as vital to making the Ronkonkoma hub mixed-use development project a success.
Croci has sought to involve the community in helping the airport expand “and give them the opportunity to feel like it is their airport [because] it is,” he said.
The supervisor wanted Schaefer in the job because he “possesses the experience and knowledge required to serve as commissioner,” the town said in its resolution.
Schaefer’s new salary will be $101,000.