Suffolk Closeup

Rep. Zeldin official headshotby Karl Grossman

The astonishing win of the U.S. presidency by Donald Trump on the Republican ticket has overshadowed all other political news out of the 2016 election.
In Suffolk County—which Mr. Trump carried with 52% of the vote, a percentage-point more than Democrat Barack Obama did here in in 2012—there was a variety of less astonishing but still interesting results. Foremost was the, not unrelated, first re-election victory to Congress of Republican Lee Zeldin.
Mr. Zeldin’s sweeping win with 59% of the lst C.D. vote—compared to 41% 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 lst C.D. topped in modern times by Democrat Otis Pike of Riverhead who held the seat for 18 years until his retirement. There’s enormous re-election power in incumbency.
A question is whether the expensive and lengthy primary battle for the Democratic nomination in the lst C.D. 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 probably raised her visibility in the district, which includes all five East End towns and all of Brookhaven Town—Mr. Calone’s home base—and much of Smithtown. But at what cost?
Ms. Throne-Holst of Noyac gave up what would have been an easy re-election bid for Southampton Town supervisor to run for Congress. Her campaign against Mr. Zeldin, of Shirley, had a central focus on his intense support of Mr. Trump. And Mr. Zeldin was indeed a leading Trump advocate locally and nationally. The election results showed it didn’t hurt.
Watch for an international wrinkle in the time ahead for Mr. Zeldin. He’s the only Jewish Republican member of the House of Representatives. Indeed, President Obama invited him to fly with the president 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 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 3nd C.D., replacing retiring Huntington Democrat Steve Israel, and winning in the 2nd C.D. was longtime Representative Peter King, a GOPer and former Nassau County comptroller. Unlike the lst C.D. which comprises only Suffolk, both of these districts include both Suffolk and Nassau. Last week’s election results mean that two of the three members of the House representing Suffolk are from neighboring Nassau.
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 that they allow an office-holder to concentrate better on the job rather than re-election. Riverhead voters didn’t buy that and by a margin of 64% voted the move down. The counter-argument is that shorter terms allow voters to have more control over politicians—and that won the day in Riverhead.
The future of Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle, along with Mr. Zeldin 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 another 20 years and allow up to 20% of the money raised to go to improving water quality passed overwhelmingly in every town—yet 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 fund is based on a charge to buyers in most real estate transactions. It has raised $1.1 billion and preserved more than 10,000 acres of land. It’s a program that should go countywide.
Meanwhile, 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?

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