In the race for Suffolk County executive, voters will choose between an experienced politician, Ed Romaine, a Republican and the current Brookhaven Town supervisor, and a newcomer to politics, Dave Calone, an entrepreneur and former prosecutor who is a Democrat.
Mr. Romaine has touted what he said is his record of strong positions on public safety, environmental stewardship, fiscal policy, and affordability, while Mr. Calone has asserted that people “are looking for someone who brings outside experience and is not just a government lifer.”
Steve Bellone, a Democrat who has served as county executive since 2012, is term-limited and could not run for re-election.
Mr. Romaine was first elected supervisor in Brookhaven — Suffolk’s largest township — in a special election in 2012, and has been re-elected four times since with an average of 59-percent voter approval. He has also been a Suffolk County legislator and county clerk, serving in the latter role for 16 years and receiving an award for distinguished service from New York State. He began his career as a history teacher in the Hauppauge School District where he was for 10 years.
Mr. Calone spent eight years as chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission. He said he has spent the last 16 years “working to start and build companies” on Long Island and other regions of the U.S., which he said has created jobs and boosted Long Island’s emerging research and technology industry. Before that, he was a federal prosecutor targeting fraud in the fuel and health care industries, and helped convict an Al Qaeda terrorist.
Both candidates say they are focused on boosting housing affordability on the South Fork.
“The lack of housing pulls our families apart and leaves our businesses without needed workers,” Mr. Calone said. “Suffolk home prices have risen 41 percent between 2012 and 2022, and renting is increasingly unattainable for middle-class families. With community input, we need to address this problem head-on. I have led on the issue of housing for years and have a full plan to address the issue, while my opponent has let it get worse and worse, while also repeatedly raising taxes.”
Mr. Romaine, in his time as supervisor, has tackled zombie houses and illegal rentals, and said he “will absolutely take on affordable housing. You cannot have an agenda for the future of this Island unless you provide housing for all income strata.” His ideas include halting the county’s practice of auctioning off properties it has seized for tax liens or other reasons, and instead give them to groups like Habitat for Humanity for rehabilitation, even though Suffolk “would take a loss on this. But it’s a loss worth taking.”
Mr. Romaine said he wants the county and school districts to adopt property-tax breaks for people who volunteer in fire departments and ambulance companies for at least five years, mirroring a practice in Brookhaven. He said he wants to offer the services of county inspectors to renters to make sure they aren’t living in unsafe houses. “A good quarter to third of those rentals would fail state building codes and fire safety codes. Because people are poor they should live in substandard conditions? I don’t believe in that.”
Both candidates also agree that traffic on County Road 39 has reached an untenable state, an issue for which Mr. Bellone is now seeking innovative solutions.
Mr. Romaine said he would entertain all ideas for “a total redo” of the road. “We need to make the lanes a little wider, we need shoulders. I want to see what the traffic study would do for the light by Southampton College and the golf course.” He went on to say the county “should seriously look at a roundabout — there aren’t too many cars coming from the college — to keep traffic moving. I’m going to look at any other recommendations that would move traffic on CR-39.”
Mr. Calone has called for public-private partnerships with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to boost service along the Long Island Rail Road’s Montauk branch. “I will create work-truck storage locations near South Fork L.I.R.R. stations, so that workers have the option of leaving their trucks overnight and taking the train, as opposed to driving on and off the South Fork each day. We will also look at creating a bidirectional fifth lane on CR-39, which can be used as an east or westbound lane depending on need.”
The two candidates have differing opinions when it comes to handling the looming problem of trash and improving water quality.
“I want to pressure Albany to do the right thing and come up with a regional solid-waste plan that is critical to all of our towns,” Mr. Romaine said. “We can’t bury garbage anymore. We can’t send it to Brookhaven landfill in the form of ash. I’m more interested in creating recycling opportunities.” He used the example of glass products, which he said can be crushed into a talcum-like substance that can be incorporated into concrete-based building materials. “That reduces its carbon intensiveness and we won’t have to mine sand, like from Sand Land” in Noyac.
Mr. Calone said he wants a ballot referendum “to provide funding sources to unify and expand sewer districts and create resources to implement nitrogen-reducing innovative/alternative [septic] systems.”
Mr. Romaine, too, wants to expand sewer systems. “I/A systems are good, but they’re scattered and don’t have the impact in the densely populated areas. I’d love to give communities like Mastic, Sayville, Smithtown, and Kings Park — give some of these communities sewers, and not just sewers, but treatment plants that treat human waste and road runoff. That all winds up in the bay.”
Just this week, Mr. Calone called out Mr. Romaine on alleged mishandling of harmful ash at the town landfill, which was the subject of a recent Newsday investigation.
“Ed Romaine has been mismanaging this place for over a decade, ignoring the cries of the community,” Mr. Calone said in a statement. “After 40 years, enough is enough. . . . When you have forever chemicals in your water because you haven’t dealt with an issue you knew about for 10 years, it’s time for you to go. When you are risking the lives of your residents and hard-working workers, it’s time for you to go.”
Mr. Romaine has declined to comment on this matter directly, referring Newsday to town attorneys, though in an interview with The Star, he dismissed Mr. Calone’s suggestion that he is corrupt.
“I’m running for a reason. I want to do something for the long-term health of this county,” Mr. Romaine said. “I’m not looking to run for a higher office. I’ll refuse to run for higher office. If I’m elected, if I’m given the opportunity, I want to do the most I can do. . . . Look at my record. Look what I’m talking about and the issues I raise. They are neither partisan nor political, but common sense. I will work with anyone.”
Mr. Calone concluded, “Suffolk County has among the smartest, most independent-minded voters in the country. We have a long track record of voting for person over party, including for Democrat Steve Bellone by double digits in the last race for county executive. [This year] is an important election for the future of our region. I am finding that people are tired of career politicians — with histories of corruption and tax raises — and excited to elect a prosecutor and business leader to keep us safe, create jobs, and make Long Island more affordable.”