Suffolk Close up: County GOP leader ready for battle

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The Cuban Revolution caused Jesus Garcia to flee Cuba to the United States. His son, Jesse Garcia, raised in Suffolk County and having spent his life here, was just elected chairman of one of the historically powerful political organizations in the U.S., the Suffolk Republican Party.

“My father lived in Havana and worked at a bank,” Jesse Garcia said. “He was a graduate of Havana University. He saw the rise of the Castro regime and did not feel that the revolutionaries would be any better than Batista.”

Fulgencio Batista, overthrown by the revolution led by Castro, “was a dictator,” Mr. Garcia said. But his father felt “the revolutionaries would crack down on liberties more than Batista.”

On a trip to attend “a financial conference in Canada, he defected at the U.S. embassy.” He went to Spain where his family came from originally and then settled in The Bronx where he met Jesse’s mother, who hailed from Puerto Rico.

Jesse was born in The Bronx “in the shadow of Yankee Stadium,”he said, and then the family moved to Patchogue when Jesse was four. He attended local schools, went to Suffolk County Community College where he studied journalism, and after graduation began working at several Suffolk weekly newspapers and subsequently got into politics and government.

Jesse, who turns 53 this week, had a dream as a young man of “being a catcher or first baseman for the New York Yankees.” Indeed, he was “scouted by a couple of colleges” to play varsity ball. But the dream seemed, according to his father, one difficult to achieve, and writing sports, Jesse said, was in a more realistic ballpark. As for his transformation to politics, “sports and politics are very similar.”

His switch to politics came when he was interviewing John LaMura. Mr. LaMura was running for Brookhaven Town supervisor in 1991. “I realized somewhere during the interview that he was interviewing me, and a day later he offered me a position as press aide,” he remembered.

Mr. LaMura won, but later stepped away from politics, and Mr. Garcia went to work for his successor as Brookhaven Town supervisor, Felix Grucci. He served as senior coordinator for Mr. Grucci when Mr. Grucci ran for Congress and was chief of staff when he won.

In 2007 he became Brookhaven Town Republican chairman — a post he will retain. Mr. Garcia, who since 2003 has been GOP Hispanic outreach coordinator for the Suffolk Board of Elections, lives in Ridge with his wife of 17 years, Diane, and their son, J. Alex.

At the county GOP convention in April, where he was elected county chairman, and received a standing ovation, Mr. Garcia declared: “I am a pragmatic, tenacious campaigner and believe elections are won door-to-door.”

In an interview last week, Mr. Garcia said the “contest for county executive is the key race this year.” He’s highly critical of the Democratic incumbent, Steve Bellone.

“Junk Bond Bellone has placed Suffolk County in terrible financial shape,” Mr. Garcia said. “There have been seven downgrades of county bond rates under Bellone and they are now one grade above junk bond status. The county is on the verge of having $3.4 billion in long-term debt. This level of debt cannot be sustained. Suffolk residents are leaving the area because they can’t make ends meet … Bellone is either inept, out of touch or simply does not care.”

Mr. Garcia is strong on Republican County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr. who is running this year against Mr. Bellone for county executive.

The political demographics of Suffolk have changed from decades ago when Suffolk tied with Orange County, California as being the two leading large GOP counties in the nation. Enrolled Democrats now outnumber Republicans in Suffolk.

The most recent breakdown by the State Board of Elections, from February, shows 358,296 enrolled Democrats in Suffolk, 329,689 Republicans and 22,329 Conservatives. An important factor, however, is the “blank” category — voters enrolled in no party — some 281,489. That independent element has been key in Suffolk elections going either way.

Mr. Garcia has a formula to deal with the Democratic edge. He notes the “very Democratic” town council district in Brookhaven Town that includes Bellport, North Bellport, Gordon Heights, North Shirley and parts of Farmingville, Medford, Holtsville and Ridge. “We ran Michael Loguercio for council from that district. Michael served for 12 years on the Longwood Central School District Board of Education including four as president. He is a lieutenant in the Ridge Volunteer/EMS Department.”

Mr. Luguercio is also a member of many civic organizations. “He shared a vision with voters,” said Mr. Garcia. And GOPer Loguercio, despite the Democratic advantage in the district, won a council seat in 2015 and was re-elected in 2017.

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