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Anita S. Katz, Suffolk Democratic election board commissioner, dies at 69

Anthony M. DeStefano

Anita S. Katz, who served for 20 years as the Suffolk County Democratic Board of Elections commissioner after working for the Town of Babylon, died unexpectedly on Aug. 9. She was 69.

Katz was appointed to the board in 2002, said Suffolk County Democratic chairman and Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer, following several years of service with Babylon Town, including stints as the head of the Department of General Services and, later, chief of staff to Schaffer.

“Anita’s death leaves her sister, relatives, friends and colleagues bereft,” Katz’s only surviving immediate family member, her sister Sandra Katz of Queens, said in an email statement.

“We are all very saddened by the sudden loss of Anita Katz,” said Gail S. Lolis, who is Democratic deputy commissioner on the board, in a statement issued Monday. “She was an excellent Commissioner and a caring and compassionate leader and will be truly missed by us all.

"She was one of the longest tenured Democratic Election Commissioners in Suffolk County who devoted over 20 years to ensuring free and fair elections. Nothing was more important to her than protecting every person’s fundamental right to vote and we will continue to do so in her honor,” she said.

Schaffer said Katz’s sudden death was a shocking blow. Schaffer, a lifelong friend of Katz since he was 12 years old, said he was devastated by news of her death.

“She was the loyalest of the loyal,” Schaffer told Newsday. “She was a political confidante and always had my back.”

According to Schaffer, Katz had been busy on board business throughout the weekend before she died. Her last text message was on Aug. 8, but when she no longer responded, colleagues became concerned and called the Suffolk County Police Department for a wellness check.

Police then discovered Katz unresponsive at her Deer Park home. Her death was deemed to be from natural causes, said Schaffer.

Katz was one of two political party commissioners on the board, the other currently being Republican counterpart Betty Manzella. The board oversees all elections in Suffolk County, from the federal races down to the local school boards, said Schaffer.

Board duties, which Katz oversaw, included a wide range of responsibilities such as voter registration, early voting and more recently COVID-19 measures for elections, said Schaffer.

Nick LaLota, who had served as the Republican member of the board for a time while Katz was his Democratic counterpart, said he was stunned and saddened by her death.

“Though our philosophical differences prompted arguments and even lawsuits, we always viewed each other as worthy adversaries and colleagues,” LaLota said in an email statement. “She will be in my prayers.”

Manzella, the current Republican commissioner, said she had known Katz for 20 years and had worked with her on the election board for the past eight months.

"The entire Republican staff is deeply saddened by her passing," said Manzella. "I always knew her to be very dedicated to the bipartisan system."

Katz was born in November 1952 in Brooklyn, where she lived until her family moved to Deer Park about 1957, her sister said in an email message.

After graduating from Adelphi University in the 1970s, Katz graduated from Touro Law Center in Central Islip in 1995, according to Sandra Katz and Schaffer. But while a law school graduate, Anita Katz did not become an attorney, recalled Schaffer.

Interest in politics started early with Anita Katz. Family dinner table discussions would often include current and political events and led to Katz’s interest in the political sphere, her sister said.

Funeral plans were pending. Katz’s sister said visitation will be at I.J. Morris Funeral Home, 21 E. Deer Park Rd., Dix Hills, on dates to be determined.