Suffolk Closeup: Inside the county elections

Suffolk County Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle

The astonishing win of the U.S. presidency by Donald Trump on the Republican ticket has, to put it mildly, overshadowed all other political news out of the 2016 election.

In Suffolk County, which Mr. Trump carried with 52 percent of the vote, a percentage-point more than Democrat Barack Obama did in 2012, there was a variety of less astonishing but still interesting results. Foremost was the, not unrelated, first re-election victory of Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

Mr. Zeldin’s sweeping win with 59 percent of the 1st C.D. vote — compared to 41 percent for a strong Democratic nominee, Anna Throne-Holst — indicates that Mr. Zeldin will be very difficult to dislodge in future contests. There have been several long-time incumbents in the 1st C.D., most notably Democrat Otis Pike of River-head who held the seat for 18 years until his retirement. It’s an obvious fact of political life that there’s enormous re-election power in incumbency.

Ms. Throne-Holst of Noyac gave up what would have been an easy re-election bid for Southampton Town supervisor to run for Congress. A post-election question is whether an expensive and lengthy primary battle for the Democratic nomination between Ms. Throne-Holst and Dave Calone had a negative effect on her general election run. After the brutal battle, she said at least it raised her visibility in the district, which includes Shelter Island and the other East End towns, all of Brookhaven Town and much of Smithtown.

But at what cost?

Her campaign against Mr. Zeldin focused on his intense, unwavering support of Mr. Trump. Mr. Zeldin was a leading Trump advocate locally and nationally. The election results showed it didn’t hurt.

Watch for an international aspect in Mr. Zeldin’s next term. He’s the only Jewish Republican member of the House of Representatives. Indeed, President Obama invited him to accompany him and others on Air Force One to the recent funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres. Mr. Obama’s relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been filled with conflict, while Mr. Trump has stressed his total support for Mr. Netanyahu. If U.S. policy regarding Israel changes under Mr. Trump, look for Mr. Zeldin, with his robust backing of Mr. Trump and solid support of Israel, to play a part.

In other Congressional races in districts which include Suffolk, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, won in the 3rd C.D., replacing retiring Huntington Democrat Steve Israel. Winning in the 2nd C.D. was long-time Representative Peter King (R-Seaford). Unlike the lst C.D. which comprises only Suffolk, both of these districts include both Long Island counties. Last week’s election results mean that two of the three members of the House representing Suffolk are from neighboring Nassau.

Watch for an international aspect in Mr. Zeldin’s next term.

Riverhead Town voters, meanwhile, spoke emphatically on an issue that has often been raised in Suffolk and elsewhere — extending the terms of elected officials. In this instance it was lengthening the term of the Riverhead supervisor from two to four years. There’s a mixed pattern of two and four-year terms for town supervisors in Suffolk. The argument made for longer terms is they allow an office-holder to concentrate more fully on the job rather than on getting re-elected. Riverhead voters didn’t buy it; they voted the move down by a margin of 64 percent. The counterargument — that shorter terms allow voters to have more control over politicians — won the day in Riverhead.

The future of Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle, an avid Trump supporter, might portend a bigger stage for him. Mr. LaValle, a former Brookhaven Town supervisor, was a regular surrogate in TV appearances for Mr. Trump. And he presided over a big Trump rally this summer — “Donald Trump in Patchogue” was the title of the article about it in the New Yorker magazine. He said in the piece: “Look, you may not like the tone and content of what Trump says, but you have to appreciate that he’s coming straight at people. He’s the single most important candidate to run in modern history. He’s being provocative — that’s refreshing.”

Will Mr. LaValle be heading for a position in the Trump administration?

Finally, the referenda in the East End towns to extend the Community Preservation Fund (CPF) another 20 years and allow up to 20 percent of the money raised to go to improving water quality passed — by 69.5 percent on Shelter Island. These results were another demonstration of the commitment of Suffolk residents to environmental preservation. Initially approved by East End voters in 1998 and subsequently extended by them to 2030, the CPF is based on a real estate transfer tax. It has raised $1.1 billion and preserved more than 10,000 acres of land. It’s a program that should go countywide.

Question: Will the money raised mostly go to advanced wastewater treatment systems to cut back on nitrogen discharge, or will developers and their allies in government be able to get at some of the dough to have sewers built and make more money on development?

Top file photo: Suffolk County Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle declares victory on election night at The Emporium. (Credit: John Griffin)

grossman_karl150Karl Grossman is a veteran journalist and professor and a member of the Press Club of Long Island’s Journalism Hall of Fame. His Suffolk Closeup column is syndicated in newspapers across the county.