Elections 2023: Historic Turnover on East End Ballots This Fall to Usher in Political Sea Change
Those who believe the old adage that politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason, will be pleased when they enter East End voting booths this Election Day.
For the first time in decades — perhaps ever — all five Twin Forks town supervisors races have no incumbents on ballots this fall at the same time that voters will also be replacing the Suffolk County executive and the county legislators for the Hamptons and the North Fork. The historic political sea change on tap means the entire region will have new town and county representation when the votes are tallied and electoral winners are sworn in upon the New Year.
“Our records go back to 1989 and we did not come across a time when an East End town did not have an incumbent on the ballot,” John Alberts, Suffolk’s Democratic Board of Elections commissioner, told Dan’s Papers. It’s unclear if the local political stars had similarly aligned between then and when the county executive seat was created in 1960 or the Suffolk County Legislature was established a decade later.
Incumbents traditionally are the favorite to win elections, since they often have greater name recognition and a high-profile record to campaign on. The dramatic coming transition comes amid what’s known as an off-off-year election — one in which only local elected offices are on ballots, without the fanfare or turnout typically seen in presidential, gubernatorial or midterm election years.
While there are fresh faces among the East End candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring, there are also some familiar names, as some hopefuls are current elected officials running for higher office. Here is a look at the races that will usher in change, at least in name only, to the region.
TOP OF THE TICKET
The most notable election on Long Island this cycle is the Suffolk County executive’s race in which Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, a Republican, is facing former prosecutor David Calone, a Democrat.
The race is one to watch because it’s the first time in 12 years that incumbent Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone won’t be among the names voters can choose from, as he has been term-limited from running again. Bellone has been mum on what his plans are for after he leaves office, but his ongoing campaign fundraising efforts suggest he may run for another position. Pundits were split on who has the edge in running to fill the open seat.
“You have a Democrat who has a lot of money, he is very articulate, and he’s going to run a very hard campaign,” Jerry Kremer, a former New York State assemblyman, said of Calone. “Then you have Ed Romaine, who has held many positions in the Town of Brookhaven including town supervisor and has a lot of name recognition.”
Michael Dawidziak, a nationally known pollster and political strategist who founded Strategic Planning Systems Inc., sees the outcome leaning in favor of Romaine — for now.
“Dave Calone is an excellent candidate,” Dawidziak said. “He has a great resume, but I think this is going to be a tough year. It’s certainly an uphill battle for him to win this year. It’s hard to see him winning Smithtown, Brookhaven, or Islip. Those three towns are enough to give somebody the countywide victory. Huntington has also gotten more red in recent years. But it’s early, and just like Albany Democrats can mess it up for local Democrats, national Republicans can do the same for locals.”
Kremer agreed that Smithtown and Brookhaven should be a lock for Romaine, but he added that it’s too early to predict a winner in the race.
Residents of the Hamptons and the North Fork will have new representation in the Suffolk Legislature for the first time in about a decade after two incumbents declined to seek re-election.
Democrat Catherine Kent will face Republican Catherine Stark in the race to replace outgoing Suffolk Legislator Al Krupski (D-Peconic), who has represented the North Fork since 2013 and is running for Southold town supervisor this fall — ensuring he is succeeded by a woman regardless of the winner. On the South Fork, Republican Manuel Vilar Jr. is running against Democrat Ann Welker for the seat held since 2015 by Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who is going to work in the private sector instead of seeking a fifth term.
Those two open seats come as Democrats aim to recapture the majority in the 18-seat county legislature after the GOP won control in 2021 for the first time in 16 years amid a red wave of Republican voter turnout.
In the East End legislative seats, Welker made headlines in 2017 when she became the first woman elected to the Town of Southampton Board of Trustees since the panel’s inception in 1686. Her GOP opponent Vilar has run for multiple local elected positions in the Town of East Hampton in recent years.
On the North Fork, the race between the two Catherines pits Kent, a former member of the Riverhead town board’s Democratic minority, against Stark, a Republican who serves as an aide to Krupski.
TOWN SUPERVISOR SHAKEUP
The departure of all five East End town supervisors at once is sure to shake up local lawmaking, although current town board members are seeking the top job in four out of five of the races.
Leaving office are two-term Republican Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar, two-term Democratic Shelter Island Town Supervisor Gerry Siller, three-term Democratic East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, four-term Democratic Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman — who is term-limited — and Republican Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who is not running again after nearly two decades on the job.
Running against Krupski, the outgoing Suffolk lawmaker and the legislature’s only farmer, is Republican Donald Grim, a Southold resident and tow truck company owner who previously ran for town highway superintendent and currently serves on the town’s tree committee.
The race to replace Aguiar, Riverhead’s first Latina town supervisor, pits former town police detective and current Riverhead Town Councilman Timothy Hubbard, a Republican, against Democrat Angela DeVito, who has served on the town Industrial Development Agency, Town Handicapped Committee, Town Animal Shelter Advisory Committee and Board of Education.
On Shelter Island, challenger Arnott Gooding beat Siller, the incumbent supervisor, for the Democratic line in that race during the June primary elections. Gooding goes on to face Republican Shelter Island Town Councilwoman Amber Brach-Williams in the general election.
And on the South Fork, women are the major party candidates for both town supervisor seats. Democratic East Hampton Town Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez is running against Republican Gretta Leon to take over for Van Scoyoc, and Republican Southampton Town Councilwoman Cynthia McNamara faces Democratic Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Maria Moore in the bid to succeed Schneiderman.
Election Day is on November 7 and the 10-day early-voting period runs from October 28 to November 5. To find your polling place, visit suffolkvotes.com.
–With Michael Malaszczyk