Suffolk Closeup: A post-mortem for Dems

11/23/2014 9:00 AM |

This space was devoted last week to the negative advertising, the “attack ads” or election by character assassination, which dominated the 2014 election in Suffolk County, the state and nation.

But in Suffolk, there were other aspects worth noting. 

Election 2014 marked the first time in Suffolk history that an African-American was elected to the New York State Assembly from a Suffolk district. Kimberly Jean-Pierre, just 30 years old, from Wheatley Heights, is the daughter of immigrants from Haiti.

With a master’s degree in public policy from Stony Brook University, she has worked as an aide to Suffolk Legislator DuWayne Gregory and U.S. Representative Steve Israel.

“She is outstanding, very bright and, unique for a politician, she listens before she speaks,” said Suffolk Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer last week. “She is outstanding at bringing diverse groups of people together for a common good. She has infectious enthusiasm.”

It wasn’t too many years ago that, sadly, it would have been unheard of to have a black person run for a major office in Suffolk on a major party ticket. Now, not only is the presiding officer of the county’s governing body, the Suffolk Legislature, black — Mr. Gregory — but he sits on the 18-member panel with Dr. William Spencer, also an African-American and a physician (chief of otolaryngology at Huntington Hospital), professor of medicine at Stony Brook and an active ordained minister, The legislature includes, too, a Latina, Monica Martinez. Its composition reflects Suffolk’s increasingly diverse population.

Regarding female representation, however, only four of the 18 members are women, a serious imbalance that calls for change.

Further, the election of Lee Zeldin in the lst Congressional District, which includes Shelter Island, and the re-election of Congressman Steve Israel, is quite significant for Jewish people in Suffolk. The two Suffolk residents representing the county in the House of Representatives will both be Jews. (Part of the district of a Nassau resident, Representative Peter King, extends into southwest Suffolk.)

Unlike African-Americans, historically there have been a fair number of Jewish candidates in Suffolk, although for years, party strategists gauged that a Jew running countywide would have a distinct disadvantage. The appearance of what was considered a Jewish name on the county ballot would cost, they calculated, a measurable percentage of the vote. Mr. Zeldin’s strong win demolishes that assessment.

Another strong winner in Suffolk in 2014 was Suffolk Legislator John Kennedy, who swept in as comptroller. Mr. Kennedy won running on just the Republican line, when these days endorsement by minor parties is believed by many politicians to be helpful, if not critical.

Is the victory of Mr. Kennedy a harbinger for next year when Democratic incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone tries for re-election and the seats of all the members of the Suffolk Legislature, now Democratic-dominated, are voted upon? “We’re going to take it as a sign and we’re going to make sure to do everything we can to make sure that [a victory for the GOP in 2015] doesn’t happen,” said Dem leader Schaffer.

The voter turn-out on Election Day was lower than usual in Suffolk and across the nation. This has been attributed to a public disappointment with President Barack Obama.

But Dr. Morris Dickstein of Sag Harbor, the author of books on American culture, with a rank of distinguished professor at the City University of New York, reflects that it was “amazing that the electorate, instead of punishing the Republicans for their total obstructionism … blamed Obama and the Democrats for not getting more done.

Yet without the 2009 stimulus and the actions of the Fed, this country would still be in the depths of recession, as Europe still is today. A pity that Obama — and the candidates who ran away from him — were not better at touting their successes, including health care, which the Republicans will soon try to defund … I’ve rarely felt more disheartened by American politics.”

Meanwhile, another Democratic incumbent, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, was outvoted in Suffolk. The final count was Cuomo with 47 percent of the vote, Republican Rob Astorino with nearly 49 percent. Mr. Astorino, not considered a strong candidate, outdid Mr. Cuomo by almost 4,000 votes.

This followed Mr. Cuomo’s poor showing here and statewide against Zephyr Teachout in the September Democratic primary. Mr. Cuomo, characteristically cocky, blamed Mr. Obama for the one-third decline in votes for him statewide on Election Day, compared to his first gubernatorial run.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, a Democrat, did very well, however, here and around the state.

Will the affable and effective DiNapoli, a Long Islander, run for governor four years from now?