Suffolk County exec race prompts turnover across local government
Municipalities throughout Suffolk County will undergo significant leadership changes in 2023.
Three-term incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) cannot run for reelection due to 12-year term limits for county offices. Bellone’s absence at the top of the ticket has triggered a game of musical chairs across local governments, with an Election Day picture coming into focus.
Two major party candidates have emerged to fill Bellone’s seat. Businessman and former federal and state prosecutor Dave Calone entered the race last summer and has since gained the backing of the county’s Democratic Committee.
Between increasing economic development initiatives and expanding transportation options, Calone regarded Suffolk as a place of growing opportunities.
“I felt like we needed someone with a private-sector background to help capitalize on those opportunities for our region,” he said, adding that his prosecutorial experience could help alleviate the issue of crime throughout the area.
Calone said he would connect law enforcement personnel with new technologies if elected. “I come from the technology sector and feel we can do more when it comes to law enforcement, giving police the tools and training they need to fight crime and help prevent crime,” he said.
He emphasized county support in promoting small business sectors and encouraging those wishing to start a new business.
Calone may have a tall task ahead as recent election results suggest county residents are moving toward the right, with Republicans gaining a majority in the county Legislature in 2021 while flipping the district attorney’s seat.
To counteract these trends, Calone pledged to focus on local issues, which he suggested are matters of personal qualification rather than party affiliation.
“I think Suffolk County is less about left versus right, but who is going to have the vision to move Suffolk County forward,” the Democratic nominee said.
Opposing Calone is Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). He received his party’s nod during a nominating convention held Thursday, Feb. 23, in Ronkonkoma. Before becoming supervisor, Romaine was county clerk for 16 years starting in 1989 and did two separate tours in the county Legislature, one before and the other after his tenure as clerk.
“I’m running to work for the future of our county and its residents,” he told TBR News Media. “This is an opportunity to move Suffolk forward. And, quite honestly, nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”
The town supervisor added that he intends to campaign on the issues and policies he has overseen at the town level. He offered that fiscal responsibility and public trust in government remain top priorities.
“I’m looking to hold the line on taxes,” he said. “I’ve done it five different times with our budget, and I would like to do that with the county, reduce the county debt and improve the county bond rating to AAA.”
Romaine also addressed his environmental concerns, such as water quality and quantity. He proposed modernizing information technology systems, filling critical posts within the police department and resisting Albany’s development agenda for Long Island.
“I’m not a fan of the governor’s plan to urbanize our suburban communities,” he said.
Despite recent electoral history, a Republican has not occupied the county executive’s chair since Bob Gaffney left office in 2003. Asked why 2023 should be any different, Romaine suggested the coming election offers county voters a new direction.
“I think this is an opportunity to chart a new course,” he said.
In declaring for county executive, Romaine vacates his post as town supervisor. Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant (D) have stepped forward to fill the seat, securing their parties’ respective nominations last week.
Panico, whose 6th Council District consists of the town’s southeastern hamlets, was first elected to the Town Board in 2010 following the untimely death of Councilman Keith Romaine (R), the supervisor’s son. Panico had previously served on the Brookhaven Planning Board and as a senior deputy Suffolk County clerk.
“I believe in the power of town government to have a dramatically positive effect on the lives of the people that we represent and the communities that make up Brookhaven,” Panico said in an interview.
The deputy supervisor emphasized fiscal stability and open space preservation as two signature campaign positions.
“My record on open space preservation and the environment, I believe, is unmatched in this race,” he said, adding, “I am also fiscally conservative, and I have been able to work effectively with the town boards that I’ve served on … to accomplish meaningful goals in this town.”
Republicans currently hold eight of the 10 elected positions within the town government, with one council seat vacant. Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (Stony Brook) is the lone Democrat.
To replicate its success at the ballot box, Panico said his party “must continue to listen to the people whom we represent.”
On the opposite side of the aisle, Garant seeks to become the first Democratic town supervisor since Mark Lesko resigned midterm in 2012. In early February, she announced her retirement from the Port Jeff village government after serving 14 years as mayor.
“There was no intent or forethought that I was retiring to put my hat in the ring,” she said. However, plans for her run came together shortly after the announcement when town Democratic leaders asked for a meeting.
“It was believed at that time that Romaine would be going up to the county executive level, which kind of left an interesting opening,” Garant said.
The outgoing village mayor said she plans to apply the lessons learned at the village level to town government.
“The [Brookhaven] landfill fees represent 42% of the overall revenue in the town,” she said.
Given her background negotiating with the Long Island Power Authority in a tax grievance dispute settled in 2018, she considers herself uniquely qualified to tackle the loss of public revenue.
She added, “A self-sustaining waste management plan that speaks to utilizing the current infrastructure without expanding the carbon footprint, that’s something I’m very interested in grappling with.”
Along with the landfill closure, Garant said she would continue to focus on development, arguing that the town must “balance the quality of life and get some development done.”
While acknowledging that her party has “a lot of work to do” to be competitive this November, she remained optimistic.
“We have a very awesome slate” running for Town Board, she said. “I’m enthusiastic about what the slate brings, and I think the message we’re bringing is going to resonate.”
Port Jeff mayor
With Garant taking herself out of the running, Deputy Mayor and trustee Kathianne Snaden is the first declared candidate in the race for Port Jefferson Village mayor.
“When I first ran in 2019, my reason for running was to be the voice of those who never thought they had a voice,” she said. Since then, Snaden has gradually assumed greater responsibilities with more committee assignments, saying, “I think I’m in an even better position now to do that for the community.”
As the village’s public safety commissioner over the last four years, she considered the issue a paramount policy concern. “That has always been my number one concern in the village — to keep the community and the residents safe,” Snaden said.
More recently, she was assigned trustee liaison to the building and planning departments. “Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing a lot of work up there to help streamline and make the process easier for anybody looking for an application,” she said. “That’s something that I want to continue to work on.”
Snaden also mentioned that close coordination with the school district, greater parking opportunities and improved resident mobility would be areas of focus if she were elected mayor this June.
Snaden is currently alone in the mayoral contest. Whether others step forward to run, she said she remains “focused on the work that I’m doing now and [that’s] what I will continue to do in the future.”