Rich Schaffer, chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, said he has long seen Suffolk as “a purple district,” despite Republican wins within the county.
This, he said, was made evident by the final polling results that were released at last after weeks of absentee vote counting. President Donald Trump (R) won Suffolk County by just a little over 200 ballots, a far cry from just four years ago when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton with 46,619 more votes in 2016.
Suffolk “is more of a get-even county in terms of both the registration numbers as well as the enthusiasm, so most races are competitive,” Schaffer said during a phone interview postelection. “And that was just proven by the results that came out.”
Still, Democrats suffered several defeats for both state offices and for congressional seats.
The Republicans also flipped the 3rd state Senatorial District seat held by Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood). Northport Democrat Michael Marcantonio lost the 12th District Assembly race against Republican Keith Brown by a little over 2,000 votes.
Yet there were some victories in there as well. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) held onto his seat against a strong challenge from current Town of Huntington board member Ed Smyth (R). Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a 28-year member of the Assembly, held out over the long weeks of absentee-vote counting for a 6,825-vote win over Republican Michael Ross.
Schaffer said the much greater turnout not just in Suffolk but nationwide also expressed people’s interest in candidates. He said though some candidates have yet to confirm they will be running again in 2022, people such as Laura Ahearn, who ran against Republican Anthony Palumbo for SD1, and Jackie Gordon, who lost her race for Congressional District 2 while winning Suffolk, have good shots if they continue their political careers. He added Gordon has an especially good shot if CD2 becomes redistricted to become exclusively Suffolk-based based on census results.
Though Biden has already been certified as the winner of the election, Trump supporters and the president himself continue to call the results fraudulent. Schaffer said such a thing is ludicrous.
“I mean, I’m the first guy to say, if you can show us widespread fraud, then I’m on board with making sure that it’s not the case,” he said. “But, again, it’s just been this flailing and throwing things against the wall to see what sticks at it.”
Schaffer sees Democrats in Suffolk as a kind of coalition that is trying to support suburban values. Republicans, he said, have spent the past year painting their opposing party as such things like anti-police. As Republicans pushed the bail reform bill passed in the 2019 budget as a major part of their campaigns, Schaffer said Democrats in the city hurt their suburban or rural colleagues by not having discussions about it prior to its passing.
“The trick for us is to continue to push our agenda out here and make sure people understand that we’re not in lockstep with New York City Democrats,” he said. “The approach needs to be that we’re talking about what it means to the quality of life in the suburbs, and whether or not it’s something that people out here support, as opposed to what the party is advancing.”
He said that Long Island Democrats need to join up and form a kind of “suburban working group,” not as a rebuff to the party, but as a way of making their thoughts and voices heard.
“Just as the city representatives flex their muscles, the suburban representatives do the same. They need to all stick together,” he said.
At the heart of Suffolk Democrats’ woes is trying to create a coalition between the moderate and more progressive ends of the left. Some progressives have expressed their displeasure with the greater party over what they feel is their views being stifled.
Schaffer said just like any other part of the party, their views are accounted for, but what’s also required is compromise. He added that progressives need to stop demonizing people who don’t fully support their policy positions.
“They present their opinions, they can present their views, they can talk about legislation, but they also have to understand that politics is compromise,” he said. “Those that want to say all our views aren’t being listened to, so we’re going to just take our ball and go home, need to rethink that strategy.”
For 2021, Schaffer said there are multiple important local races, including a special election for Town of Brookhaven as well as Suffolk Legislature seats.
Schaffer said the committee is going forward with Setauket community advocate Jonathan Kornreich as their nominee for Brookhaven Council District 1, as long as nothing changes in the time between now and election.
Otherwise, with races such as county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) up for election this year, it will be about maintaining incumbent seats.
“We’re excited about our incumbents — we think they’ve done a good job locally,” he said. “We’re looking forward to put them out there again for reelection.”