Nassau County Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), a powerful political voice who led the county legislature, died Wednesday, officials said. He was 62.
It was not immediately clear how the 17-year veteran of the legislature passed away. The news sent shock waves through the local political world and comes as the legislature has been politically gridlocked over funding basic services in the cash-poor county.
“Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt served the residents of Nassau County with great integrity and pride,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said in a statement. “I had the privilege of serving closely with Peter in the Legislature since its creation in 1996, where he distinguished himself as an outspoken advocate for the residents.”
Mangano will have to call a special election to fill Schmitt’s seat within 30 to 60 days. Schmitt’s death means the legislature is now tied 9-9 between Republicans and Democrats just as it begins crucial budget negotiations. Political rivals with whom Schmitt often feuded also offered their condolences.
Nassau County Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) in a statement sent his best wishes to Schmitt’s family, calling the legislator “an iconic leader” who left an “indelible mark” on the county.
“There is a man beside the political side,” Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James Carver told the Press. “He was a family man. Married for well over 30 years. His wife was just a nice woman. Away from the political scene, you know it’s a tremendous loss for his family. I feel for the family.”
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state fiscal control board that oversees the county’s finances, also expressed grief.
The board said in a statement that its “staff is shocked and saddened by [Schmitt’s] untimely passing … Peter Schmitt devoted most of his life to public service and will be missed by his friends and colleagues and the people of Nassau County.”
Known for his outspoken booming voice, Schmitt was a member of Nassau’s governing body since its inception in 1996, serving the 12th district, which encompasses Massapequa, Massapequa Park, some of Seaford, and parts of North Massapequa.
Schmitt served as the deputy presiding officer from 1996 through 1999 and as minority leader for the decade that followed when Democrats had the majority. He began serving as presiding officer again in 2010 when the GOP regained control of the chamber.
Schmitt is survived by wife, Lois, and his daughter, Samantha.
-With Laura Cerrone