Republican Tom Croci defeated Tuesday his Democratic challenger Adrienne Esposito for a New York State Senate seat that was once thought to be a toss up before Croci replaced his party’s original nominee over the summer amid a toxic dumping scandal that shook up the race.

Croci, the 42-year-old freshman Islip Town Supervisor who jumped into the race late, beat Esposito, 53, the executive director of nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment, 58 to 41 percent, according to unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

“I could not be prouder than to be standing here with my former boss and the next congressman from Long Island, Lee Zeldin,” Croci said from the stage at The Emporium in Patchog where Suffolk County Republicans held their election night party. “I will work twice as hard because of the shoes I’ll have to fill.”

He will take over the seat left vacant by state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who gave up his seat for a hotly-contested race against U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), whom Zeldin unseated. Croci also gave a nod to Caesar Trunzo, who previously held the same state Senate seat.

Croci, a U.S. Navy reservist, was deployed overseas when the dumping scandal erupted. He returned to Long Island in July and announced he’d run for the seat after Anthony Senft, a Conservative Islip Town Councilman and liaison to the town’s park department, dropped out soon after it became public that someone was dumping carcinogen-laced debris in a town park and other areas.

Croci was said to have a large lead in pre-Election Day polls, and his victory came as no shock.

This was Esposito’s first run for elected office, who was also vying to become the first female state Senator in Suffolk County history.. As a longtime environmental advocate, she has spent years pushing for reforms and legislation to protect LI from polluters. But she was no match for Croci, who unseated the Democratic incumbent Phil Nolan in a close race for Islip Town Supervisor in 2011.

Esposito had trouble appealing to voters and lacked Croci’s name recognition, according to two Newsday/ News 12 Long Island/Siena College polls conducted in October.

Croci was mostly able to sidestep criticism regarding the dumping scandal. Upon his return to the Island in July, he apologized to residents and promised to clean up the mess. His campaign was focused on job creation, controlling taxes, opposing Common Core, a tough stance on crime and environmental protection.

There were few surprises in the other eight LI state Senate races, with Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) recapturing a majority in the upper chamber of the state Legislature upon his re-election. All the local incumbents were re-elected as well and Nassau County Legis. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) won the seat vacated by ex-Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick).

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