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Suffolk Close Up: For Ed Romaine it’s like son, like father

“I love Shelter Island,” Edward P. Romaine was saying last week.

For many years, Mr. Romaine, a Republican, represented a district in the Suffolk Legislature that included Shelter Island. “It is a tremendous place to live — with great people.”

Since 2012, however, he has been Brookhaven Town supervisor.

“I never lost an election district on Shelter Island,” he was recounting. “I was even made an honorary member of the Shelter Island Fire Department.”

It was a family tragedy that caused him to leave the Suffolk Legislature and run for Brookhaven Town supervisor. In observing the Legislature since it was created in 1970, I’d say he was among the finest county legislators in that panel’s now 50-year history.

But in 2009, his beloved son, Keith Romaine, a two-term Brookhaven Town councilman, seen as moving up and becoming town supervisor, died at 36 years of age. The young Romaine, of Moriches, suddenly contracted pneumonia and passed away from complications caused by a virus that attacked his heart.

In 2012 the incumbent supervisor, Democrat Mark Lesko, decided to step down to become executive director of Accelerate Long Island, a high tech project.

And Ed Romaine, when the vacancy occurred, decided to run for Brookhaven Town supervisor with a mission of doing what his son “might have done.”

“If my son had lived, he would be supervisor,” Mr. Romaine told me last week.

Usually, a son will follow in his father’s legacy — but in this situation it is the opposite: The father is following in his son’s legacy.”

He’s been re-elected and re-elected Brookhaven Town supervisor by large margins. Mr. Romaine is clearly very popular in Suffolk’s largest town (bigger than all of Nassau County), not only winning by substantial margins but with him at the top of the town slate, Republicans have been elected to all six town council positions.

Mr. Romaine as supervisor has brought a focus on environmental issues and financial solidity to Brookhaven Town.

The “most important” accomplishment in his administration, says Mr. Romaine, who just turned 73, has been the “saving of the Carmans River” through legislation he introduced during his first year as supervisor. Then comes “getting the town to a triple-bond rating” by his third year. There’s been a large amount of land put in the Pine Barrens preservation program. And there has been “setting a course” for 50 percent of the power used by town government coming from renewable energy.

“We have put up solar panels everywhere,” he said. “They’re at the town hall, the airport, the composting property in Manorville” and so on. “And vehicles are all-electric or hybrid.”

There are his efforts on climate change “and rising sea level,” he said. “We are in a battle. We are island people and we must deal with climate change.” He has been spearheading the purchase of land threatened by rising waters “to convert it back to wetlands” to soften the impact of storms hitting. The list goes on.

Ed Romaine has a deep background in Suffolk. When he was six months old, his folks moved from Queens to Suffolk. He’s lived for the past 41 years in Center Moriches.

He graduated from Adelphi University with a bachelor’s degree in history, received a master’s degree in history and political science from Long Island University and did post-graduate work in political science at Stony Brook University. He taught history at Hauppauge High School. He first began working for Brookhaven Town as its first commissioner of housing and community development.

Then he ran for the Suffolk Legislature and initially was a member for three years. He was a major legislative force in battling and stopping the operation of the Long Island Lighting Company’s Shoreham nuclear power plant. It was a hard and successful fight. Mr. Romaine, however, remains very much annoyed that “when LILCO stock dropped to under $5” it was not bought up, with the result that LILCO “seized.”

The state then bought LILCO’s assets, such as its poles and lines, at a far greater price than if it would have been by acquiring the undervalued (because of LILCO’s nuclear undertaking) stock. That big mistake is costing Long Island ratepayers many additional billions of dollars in cost, he declares.

Mr. Romaine subsequently was elected Suffolk County clerk and served for 16 years and then returned to the Suffolk Legislature and was a member for six more years.

In 2003 Mr. Romaine ran for Suffolk County executive. He should have won.