Columns

Suffolk Closeup: Election post postmortems

“This is a red wave!” said Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini (D-Babylon) as he conceded Election Night in his run for re-election against Ray Tierney of Holtsville, the Republican challenger who ran a fierce race against him.

Indeed, the 2021 election was marked by a Republican wave (with some exceptions) in Suffolk County.

The campaign signs are almost all gone now but there are some important political lessons in Suffolk still to be absorbed. One involves what has become the proverbial “gorilla in the room” in Suffolk politics and elections — the enormous power of police unions.

A big and seemingly unlikely challenger to that has been Rob Trotta.

Farah Stockman, an editorial board member of The New York Times, wrote a piece in The Times earlier this year headlined: “The County Where Cops Call the Shots.” The subhead: “Fiscal conservatives and liberal activists both want to curb the power of police unions in Suffolk County. Can they do it?”

It began: “Rob Trotta, a cranky Republican county legislator on Long Island who worked as a cop for 25 years, might be the unlikeliest voice for police reform in America. He’s full of praise for the rank and file … Yet Mr. Trotta has railed for years about the political influence of police unions in Suffolk County, a place where the cops are known to wield exceptional clout. He’s a potent messenger, since he can’t be smeared as anti-cop. He wore a badge and walked a beat.”

Since taking office as a Suffolk County legislator in 2014, Mr. Trotta has repeatedly taken aim at the clout here of the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association.

And the Suffolk PBA has gone after him. As Newsday, in an editorial endorsing him declared, the PBA “goes to extraordinary lengths to get him out of office.” This year, it noted, a “PBA-supported candidate” sought to seize the GOP candidacy from Mr. Trotta in a primary but lost out because of invalid signatures on nominating petitions. “Then, the PBA sent [its] executive board member Michael J. Simonelli … to run on the Conservative line” against Mr. Trotta. This didn’t work either. Newsday described Mr. Trotta as “the only active candidate looking to represent the interests of taxpayers, not police unions.”

Thanking voters for re-electing him, Mr. Trotta wrote: “As a retired Suffolk County detective, I will continue my efforts to fight corruption in this county and the power and control of certain unions, as well as to support our dedicated men and women in blue. I worked my way up through the ranks of the Suffolk County Police Department, have the utmost respect for my fellow officers, and I am grateful that you did not pay attention to the outright lies made by the police unions in the recent election campaign.”

Then there was the “last hurrah” possibly of former Suffolk Legislator Kate Browning of Shirley, a Democrat. She served 12 years as a county legislator — and that should have been it, based on the county’s term limit law restricting county legislators to six two-year terms.

But because she left the legislature due to the term limits law (and became director of code enforcement in the Town of Babylon), she claimed that this interruption allowed her to run again for the Legislature. A state Supreme Court justice decided against Ms. Browning in a lawsuit brought by the Suffolk Republican Party and two GOP voters in the Legislative district.

However, she won on appeal. She ran against Republican Jim Mazzarella of Moriches, secretary/treasurer of Public Service Employees Local 342, first in a special election, which she lost. Then she faced him on November 2 and was trounced by a margin of nearly three-to-one.

There indeed was a “red wave” in Suffolk this year, but not everywhere.

Consider the Town of East Hampton, which long was a Republican bastion where former New York State Assembly Speaker Perry Duryea, Jr. topped the GOP pyramid. The GOP had a more than three-to-one enrollment edge in the town back in the 1970s when Democrat Judith Hope took on its then well-oiled GOP political machine. In a huge upset in 1973, Ms. Hope was elected East Hampton town supervisor and became the first woman to be elected a town supervisor in the history of Long Island.

This year, the Democratic incumbent town supervisor, Peter Van Scoyoc, swept to re-election victory despite a split that had Councilman Jeff Bragman, a Democrat, running on the Independence Party line against him for supervisor. Some thought this might have allowed GOP nominee Ken Walles to squeak through. Also, incumbent Democratic Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez easily won a third term, and former East Hampton Democratic chair Cate Rogers won a town council seat.

Ms. Hope emailed me: “Amazing how much things have changed!”