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Suffolk Closeup: Race for county exec is on

The race this year for Suffolk County executive, the top position in Suffolk County government, is taking shape with a contest between Republican Edward Romaine and Democrat Dave Calone.

Romaine, of Center Moriches, was first elected Brookhaven Town’s 70th town supervisor in a special election in 2012, and re-elected with large margins since. He has extensive County experience.

Romaine was a member of the Suffolk Legislature from 1986 through 1989 when he was elected Suffolk County clerk, a position he held for 16 years. In 2005, he returned to the Legislature and was re-elected three times before running for and becoming Brookhaven Town supervisor. 

Shelter Islanders know Romaine well because for many years his legislative district included the Island. Indeed, he’s said: “It is a great place to live — with great people.”

A family tragedy caused him to depart the Legislature and run for Brookhaven Town supervisor. His son, Keith Romaine, a two-term Brookhaven Town councilman, seen as moving up and becoming town supervisor, died at just 36.

The young Romaine, of Moriches, suddenly contracted pneumonia and passed away from complications caused by a virus that attacked his heart. Romaine subsequently ran for town supervisor to do what his son “might have done.” As he explained: “If my son had lived, he would be supervisor.”

As a legislator and town supervisor, Romaine has been highly active, especially on environmental issues and pressing for sound fiscal policies. He was a major legislative force in battling and stopping the operation of LILCO’s Shoreham nuclear power plant.

As the top elected town official in Brookhaven, Suffolk’s largest town — bigger than all of Nassau County — Romaine’s major undertakings have encompassed protecting the Carmans River and promoting the use of renewable energy. “We have put up solar panels everywhere,” he has said.

Romaine started his professional life as an educator and taught history at Hauppauge High School. He initially began serving in government as Brookhaven’s first commissioner of Housing and Community Development and later director of Economic Development.

His Democratic challenger, Dave Calone, is a lawyer and a former state and federal prosecutor. In the U.S. Department of Justice from 1999 until 2003, his focus included terrorism and corporate fraud. He announced in July that he was seeking to be the Democratic candidate for county executive.

Calone was chair of the Suffolk County Planning Commission for eight years, a trustee of the Long Island Power Authority and a board member of the Community Development Corp., an affordable housing nonprofit. In business, he is president and CEO of Jove Equity Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm. He serves as a director of several U.S. companies.

There was a kick-off in Stony Brook last month for the Calone campaign with 250 people in attendance. Also last month, Calone, of East Setauket, said contributions to his campaign had reached $1.7 million.

Says Calone: “The county executive role is not about left or right. It’s about moving Suffolk forward. As a former prosecutor and businessman, I am ready to lead our county to become safer, more affordable, and with more opportunity for everybody.”

A wrinkle earlier in the Democratic Party’s process of choosing a candidate for county executive this year was that Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman considered running. “I’ll be a good candidate,” said Schneiderman in November.

He was first elected Southampton supervisor in 2015 after being a Suffolk County legislator and is the only person to ever serve as supervisor of two Suffolk towns — first East Hampton and then, after being in the Legislature, Southampton. However, last month he decided not to run saying that “for a variety of reasons, I have decided not to enter the county executive race at this juncture.”

If he had gotten the nomination it would have been an interesting pairing considering that Romaine had been Schneiderman’s history teacher at Hauppauge High School.

Suffolk Democratic Chair Rich Schaffer said following the Calone kick-off: “As former prosecutor and as a business leader, Dave will lead a coalition to energize Democratic voters across the county.”

That would be important if it happens, because a key reason many Democratic candidates in Suffolk didn’t fare well in the 2022 election was the Democratic turnout here — a 7.8% decrease from the 2018 election. Meanwhile, Republicans increased their turnout from 2018 by 5.7%.

And then there’s the question of how Suffolk’s huge number of independent voters will vote.

The latest numbers from the New York State Board of Election (from November) show most are enrolled Democrats — 380,756. The Republican total is 343,940. But then there are the independents, listed by the board as “Blank” voters — 312,975.

These independents are often the key in Suffolk elections. This year is the last for Steve Bellone as Suffolk County executive due to term limits.

A Democrat from North Babylon and lawyer, he was a member of the Babylon Town Board and that town’s supervisor before his election as county executive in 2011.