Brookhaven is geographically the largest town in Suffolk County and is among the largest towns in the nation. Under the stewardship of Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, it has reached new heights and has received praise by many for its efficient and effective government on behalf of the residents and taxpayers it serves. Supervisor Romaine is among the most well-respected and longest-serving government officials in the history of Long Island.
Romaine was elected town supervisor in a special election in 2012, becoming the 70th town supervisor in the storied history of Brookhaven. After winning a full term in 2013, he has been re-elected for five terms, now serving at the post for a full decade. His taxpayer-first and common sense style of leadership has brought him acclaim from both sides of the political aisle, which is equally as impressive as it is rare in today’s polar political climate.
“I believe that politics should be about common sense — about pragmatism and not ideology,” he says.
While his tenure in town government began 10 years ago, his career in public service started long before that, first with representing the East End, and over time growing to the entirety of Suffolk County.
In 1985, Romaine was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature, where he would serve two terms representing the Second District, which spans Eastport to Bellport, and north to Coram — the Southeast corner of Brookhaven. At the time, he was quoted as saying that Suffolk’s second district was “a tremendous place to live — with great people.”
While serving in the legislature, he sponsored and passed several critical pieces of legislation for eastern Suffolk. He established a record as an environmentally conscious Republican, which brought him acclaim from many eco-voters. His affinity for the environment, the Suffolk shoreline and waterways was on full-display when he introduced and passed the county’s first-ever Clean Water Act, which is still law today.
After two terms in the legislature, Romaine was elected to county-wide office and assumed the role of Suffolk County clerk in 1989, replacing Suffolk County Clerk Juliette Kinsella. He served in this capacity for nearly two decades, running every four years for re-election. The position, which is critical to the administrative successes of Suffolk, brought him new interests in government recordkeeping and, through innovation, he was able to improve access to the “People’s Records.” For making government more transparent and productive, Romaine was chosen in 2001 as the “New York State County Clerk of the Year.”
The county clerk also serves as the clerk of the Supreme Court and the county courts, maintaining all of their records.
“After the governor appointed a county clerk, I ran for the position and won all 10 towns that cycle,” he says. “It was a different type of office, very different from being a legislator, but I enjoyed it very much. There was an enormous challenge there, given that they were still using 19th century technology, so I focused on IT and was able to make changes to improve the office.”
Romaine returned to the legislature in 2005, this time to represent the First District, spanning from Shoreham, the entire North Fork, Shelter Island and Fishers Island. He was again a major power player in the body and served four terms — this time, though, in the minority.
Working across party lines, his marquee accomplishments included the preservation of public space across the East End and Shelter Island, the passage of “Michael’s Law,” which banned explosive fuel gels, and passed New York State’s first law to regulate helicopter traffic. Also, as a legislator, he ushered in the county’s acquisition of public lands, acquiring more land in the First District than the other 17 districts combined.
“There are such wonderful communities out there, and I loved that district,” he says. “It is a wonderful place, most of the farming that takes place out there, to the wineries, to the fishermen, to the locals. It was wonderful to work with and it was something I enjoyed very much.”
He adds, “I never wanted to leave.”
After his final re-election to the body in 2011, Romaine was approached to run for town supervisor of Brookhaven.
“I had been a teacher for 12 years — 7th grade social studies — and I left teaching to become the first community development officer for Brookhaven, so I was familiar with town government,” he says. “(GOP) Chairman Jesse Garcia then approached me to run when Supervisor Mark Lesko stepped aside. I had declined to run for the position several times, but I finally agreed.
“When the vacancy came, I thought of my son and his wish to become supervisor — and unfortunately he passed away before that became a reality,” he adds. “Most times, sons follow their father — this time was a little different. So, I stepped forward and ran, and I am still here five elections later.”
Romaine’s son tragically passed away in 2009.
Following an already storied career in government, the Republican Party thought he was the right person for the job — and ultimately, the more than 400,000 residents in Brookhaven would agree.
While in this position, he no longer represents our beloved East End, but he has served as a model in many ways for other town leaders to emulate. Romaine has strengthened town finances, while placing additional emphasis on Brookhaven’s natural resources.
While his accomplishments are many and varied, some of his most notable successes include championing legislation to forever protect the Carmans River, which runs through the heart of Brookhaven. He also passed single-stream recycling in 2014, an innovative policy that has made the Town of Brookhaven a regional leader for recycling.
Outside of environmental policy, Romaine has made a career of holding the line on taxes, while improving the financial wellbeing of the town government. His leadership has helped the Town of Brookhaven reduce millions in debt and keep property taxes low on local homeowners.
In order to be such a successful and dedicated public servant, it takes commitment and an inspiration to do good. And, while he is in his fifth term at the post, Romaine still believes that there is more to be done, and the best is yet to come for Brookhaven residents.
“I would like to work on getting the derelict homes in Brookhaven, and we have knocked down 350 eyesore homes that rob the homes surrounding them of value,” he says. “I also want to revitalize our neighborhoods, create jobs, reimagining what many of our strip shopping centers could become for our communities.
“Protecting vital open space so that we stay a suburban community and don’t become urbanized,” he adds. “We protect groundwater and make sure that our residents have clean water. And, of course, working with our great villages — we have eight — so we all try to work as a team.
“When it is all said and done, politics is about people,” he concludes. “The enjoyment I get from this job is from the people I help. People make a difference, and I am always impressed by the communities I serve with and for.”
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher of Dan’s Papers.