Less than a month ago, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) was still debating whether he would run this year for Suffolk County executive.
On Feb. 11, Kennedy stood shoulder to shoulder with other top Republican leaders to announce his running for the top county office.
“None of us forgets who we work for, and that’s the taxpayer,” Kennedy said. “We will stop the hemorrhaging, stop the bleeding. We will cut up the credit cards, start to pay our debts and bring life back to Suffolk County.”
Kennedy, along with other county Republicans, has been consistent in attacking county Executive Steve Bellone (R) for the current state of the county’s finances, pointing to a drop in bond rating from A3 to Baa1 on the Moody Rating Scale since 2015. In a Jan. 31 article by TBR News Media, Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating has dropped, Kennedy was “overstating” the impact. He went on to say Moody’s, which gives the bond grades to municipalities, was only looking at the past and not the future.
Kennedy has called for a 90-day top to bottom look at the county’s offices to see which ones can be pruned, which employees can be shuffled around and what belts can be tightened. He also called for an end to excessive spending, while cutting county fees and reducing the size of the county’s red light camera program. He said he was especially concerned with delays in payment to public employees and to contractors.
“We don’t pay our daycare providers on time, we don’t pay anybody on time,” the comptroller said. “We make them all our bank.”
John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican committee chairman, said during a phone interview the party is throwing its weight behind the current county comptroller. So far two other Republicans have announced their candidacy, including Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). LaValle said former police officer Larry Zacarese, who previously ran for Suffolk County sheriff in 2017, was also considering running on the Republican ticket.
The Republican committee chairman said he would ask the current candidates to sit down and work out their differences, saying a primary could do damage to the party’s chance to win.
“If we do a primary, we give the executive seat to Bellone,” LaValle said.
Kennedy announced his plan to run for office at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, surrounded by U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford), along with many other elected Republicans. King ran again for his position alongside Kennedy in the 2018 electoral season.
“If we do a primary, we give the executive seat to Bellone.”
— John Jay Lavalle
“He ran us all into the ground — I’ve never seen a harder working campaigner,” King said.
Trotta said during a phone interview he would be willing to sit down with Kennedy and the Republican leadership, potentially to drop his candidacy if he agrees with what he hears.
“I welcome John Kennedy to the race, this is what democracy is all about, and no one knows more than John about what a financial mess the Bellone administration has created,” Trotta said.
Kennedy has worked in public office for years, working with current Brookhaven town supervisor Ed Romaine (R) when he was county clerk before being elected to the Suffolk County Legislature in 2004. He then later ran for and was elected to the Suffolk County comptroller position in 2014, boasting at the time he was vastly outspent by his opponent on the campaign trail.
Bellone’s office came out the gate swinging as Kennedy’s candidacy was announced.
“No one has opposed government reform or voted to increase spending and debt more than John Kennedy,” said Bellone spokesperson Jason Elan in a press release.
“Under [Bellone’s] watch, I have seen red light cameras pop up over intersection after intersection, finding new ways to put their hands in their pockets,” Zeldin said during Kennedy’s campaign announcement.
Kennedy was also joined by his wife Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who is running again this year for re-election. Both husband and wife said partially it took so long for him to announce his candidacy because of the concern one’s campaign fight could affect the other’s.
“It was a weighing process for both of us,” Legislator Kennedy said. “It’s about what he can do to make it better here so that everybody can afford to stay.”