Vote highlights undemocratic trends

Election 2009 might have been a ho-hum affair for many Suffolk citizens — the low turn-out suggests that. But there were some remarkable aspects, including the trend to more and more cross-endorsed and unopposed candidates, New York Governor David Paterson as an albatross and some substantial wins for the Suffolk GOP.

Having a major candidate cross-endorsed by all parties began in a big way in Suffolk in 2005 with the candidacy for reelection of Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota. It’s not that Democrat Spota didn’t deserve election by acclamation — he’s been the best DA Suffolk ever had. Independent, action-oriented, a real corruption fighter, he’s been a marvelous exception to what we’ve seen as Suffolk DA through the years.

Likewise, in 2006, Suffolk Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, a Republican, merited broad backing for re-election. He also has been and continues to be exceptional.

The following year, the Suffolk GOP decided not to field a candidate against Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. Running someone against popular Democrat Levy would depress votes for Republicans down the ticket, the GOP strategized.

Then this year, all three candidates at the top of the ballot — Mr. Spota again, County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican, and Suffolk Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, a Conservative, were cross-endorsed, as was Suffolk Legislator Jay Schneiderman, now of the Independence Party. Legislator Ricardo Montano, a Democrat, ran without an opponent.

Our democratic system is based on choice. A contest between opponents is considered, correctly, as essential. It ventilates issues, encourages new ideas, sparks criticisms and puts incumbents’ feet to the fire. Cross-endorsement of candidates, when widespread, smacks of the monarchical system. Also, this year the broad cross-endorsement situation is seen as having reduced voter turnout. What’s the sense of going out to vote when there is no choice? These deals should end.

Democrats in Suffolk and elsewhere in the state may have trouble next year if Governor Paterson leads the Democrat ticket, as indicated by outcomes in Islip and Brookhaven towns. There, the GOP made a point of linking Democratic town board candidates to Mr. Paterson. Republican campaign literature featured photos of Democratic nominees alongside a photo of Mr. Paterson and the assertion they were “two peas in a pod.”

Some of the candidates lost, or received fewer votes than expected. Mr. Paterson is suddenly blitzing the airwaves with TV commercials to boost the record-low popularity being reported by polls. Will Democrats dump him for a fighting chance next year with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo at the head of their ticket?

It was, overall, a good election for the Suffolk GOP — particularly meaningful considering the strong vote here last year for Barack Obama for president and Democratic inroads generally in recent years. 

Suffolk was long considered solidly Republican. Indeed, in the 70s and 80s it alternated with Orange County, California in delivering the largest plurality of a populous county in the United States for the Republican presidential nominees. 

A major transformation was seen in the Democratic takeover of several town governments and the Suffolk Legislature, the Levy and Spota wins, Congressional gains and large increases in Democratic enrollment compared to the GOP, among other changes.

Not so fast. Showing the GOP is alive and well in Suffolk were the Republican sweeps this year for supervisor and town boards in East Hampton and Riverhead towns, the wins for GOP town board candidates in Islip and Southampton (although Democratic candidate Anna Throne-Holst won for supervisor) and the retention of a GOP town board majority in Brookhaven and the lone defeat there of a county legislator, Democrat Brian Beedenbender, a former Levy aide. However, Brookhaven’s Democratic Supervisor Mark Lesko was reelected. 

Of course, local issues were involved in all of these races. In East Hampton, for example, the serious scandal involving fiscal mismanagement, which resulted in the far-too-late resignation of Democratic Supervisor Bill McGintee and the indictment of the town’s budget officer, was key. This followed the East Hampton Democratic Party growing through the years to become a powerful force along with gains in the town’s Democratic enrollment. 

The Suffolk GOP has a new, energetic chairman in former Brookhaven Town Supervisor John Jay LaValle. The 2009 election should put Suffolk Democrats on notice that if they approach the future with the kind of misplaced confidence some East Hampton Democrats had this year, trouble is ahead.