John Powell, Ex-Suffolk GOP Boss, Dies at Age 51

John Powell, a former powerful Suffolk County Republican Chairman who was disgraced in a corruption scandal a decade ago, died of a heart attack Wednesday morning. He was 51.

The former state Assemblyman’s 18-year-old daughter found him dead in the family’s Medford home. He was later taken to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center, Brookhaven town and Republican Party officials told the Press. The news shocked Long Island political circles.

“It’s tragic,” said Brookhaven Republican Chairman Jesse Garcia, a longtime friend of Powell’s who remembered him as gregarious, even after his fall from grace. “He was a political juggernaut.”

At the height of his power in the 1990s, Powell was head of both the county and Brookhaven town GOP. He unseated a 16-year Democratic incumbent in a 1988 Assembly race after a stint in the town highway department. He was also a town board member for some time.

Powell was convicted in 1999 of federal extortion and racketeering charges after prosecutors linked him to a chop shop for a truck theft ring. A jury also found him guilty of taking $20,000 in bribes, according to news reports at the time. He was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.

Lawrence C. Levy, executive director of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and a former Newsday columnist, remembered Powell as a “phenomenon” in rallying the party base.

“He created a political club that was not based on a particular geography or ideology but was town wide and very blue collar,” Levy said. “For a time he seemed as if he would be a breath of fresh air for openness. Either it was an innate flaw of character or a swelled head once he got power, he just slipped off into the dark side and the next thing you knew he was in prison.”

After Powell was released, he worked alongside Michael Dawidziak in his political consulting firm, Strategic Planning Systems. Dawidziak could not be reached for comment.

“Though some of our recent disputes have been widely publicized, I will always remember him as a brilliant politician and charismatic leader who was a good family man,” said current Suffolk County Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle.

Powell is survived by his four children, Anthony, John, Alexandria and Mia. Funeral arrangement information was not immediately available.