Karl Grossman: Suffolk County 2011 Elections

Mon, Oct 31, 2011

Election 2011, News, Opinions, Suffolk

Karl Grossman

Election 2011 is noteworthy, indeed unusual, on the county government level in Suffolk.

It’s an election in which Steve Levy, expected to run again for the top position in county government—county executive—suddenly did not. And a mystery continues as to why.

In a deal between Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota and Levy, made in March, incumbent Levy agreed not to run for a third four-year term and to surrender his campaign chest of $4.1 million to the DA’s office. What was this all about?

Levy and Spota have been tight-lipped. The presumed reason comes from people interviewed by Spota’s investigators who say they were questioned about “pay-to-play”—of contributions to the Levy campaign fund being a condition of doing business with the county.

In any case, a man who last year switched his lifelong Democratic affiliation to Republican in a bold move to run as the GOP nominee for governor—and came close to getting the nod and who knows where that might have led—was out.

And in an historic breakthrough for women in Suffolk, getting the Republican nomination instead for county executive was County Treasurer Angie Carpenter of West Islip. Until this year, no woman had run for county executive on Long Island on a major party ticket.

Before the 1970s, women were rare in elective office in Suffolk. Indeed, they remain nonexistent on the federal and state levels. There’s never been a female member of Congress from Suffolk, nor a woman from Suffolk in the State Senate, and among the 11 State Assembly representatives from Suffolk, all are men. Women have made inroads in town and county government although only four of the 18 members of the Suffolk Legislature now are women.

Carpenter, formerly a county legislator is up against a vigorous campaign of a popular 10-year Babylon Town supervisor, Steve Bellone. The Bellone campaign is well-funded, although not as much so as a Levy campaign might have been with that $4.1 million campaign treasury. A recent count had Bellone, of West Babylon, raising $1.5 million, three times more than Carpenter.  This has shown in the Bellone campaign’s use of direct mail and TV commercials, an especially effective form for the charismatic Bellone. He has gotten the active support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Charles Schumer.

Carpenter has gotten what sometimes in Suffolk has provided a critical election margin, Conservative Party backing.  And she has received the endorsement of the largest union of county employees, the Association of Municipal Employees, which fears Bellone will continue the intense economizing efforts of Levy. In a mailing, the union said of Carpenter that as a “county worker, she is one of us and…an AME supporter from day one.”

Both have emphasized economic development.

Bellone has taken up a big issue on Suffolk’s East End: meager MTA service and the creation of a Peconic Bay Regional Transportation Authority to implement a public transit plan. Two weeks ago he appeared at the barely-served Long Island Rail Road station in Southampton with State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, a champion of the initiative, and other local officials, and strongly endorsed it. Carpenter declared her opposition saying such an agency means bigger government.

Meanwhile, control of another power center in Suffolk County—the Suffolk Legislature—is up for grabs. All 18 seats on of the county’s governing body are up for election this year.

GOPers now hold six seats. Republicans strategists think there might be GOP gains. What could be important here: term limits (six consecutive two-year terms on the Suffolk Legislature) and who they are eliminating: two Democrats, Vivian Viloria-Fisher of East Setauket, the panel’s deputy presiding officer, and Jon Cooper of Lloyd Harbor, its Democratic majority leader. Also, Independence Party member Jack Eddington of Medford, who has run with Democratic endorsement, isn’t running for re-election. So these are now open seats without the power of incumbency a factor.

Local issues in a few other districts, say the GOP strategists, weaken their Democratic incumbents. And they see voter sentiment about President Obama helping GOP candidates generally.

With an increase of four seats on Election Day next week, Republicans would acquire a majority on the legislature. A win of three would result in a 9-9 tie—a potential deadlock, and the reason why there have been calls through the years to alter the legislature’s membership to an odd number.  (In the case a stalemate, County Clerk Judith Pascale, a Republican, could name the presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature, considered the Number 2 position in Suffolk government.)

Is the GOP bullishness just wishful political thinking? We’ll soon see.

Bellone or Carpenter? Take the Poll

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