Republican Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. will be the next Suffolk County Comptroller after defeating Democrat James Gaughran, the chair of the Suffolk County Water Authority, in a race that turned bitter in the closing weeks.

Gaughran, 57, of Eaton’s Neck, tried to make an issue out of Kennedy’s hiring his wife, Leslie, on his staff in 2007 as an aide and promoting her over the years, suggesting favoritism and nepotism. Kennedy, 58, of Nesconset, struck back, saying that his wife works just as hard—if not harder—than he does in serving their legislative district in Smithtown.

“We could have spent a million more dollars and it wouldn’t have made any difference,” Gaughran told the Press. “It’s a Republican year.”

Kennedy, the current GOP minority leader of the county legislature, will replace term-limited Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, whose job entails auditing the county’s agencies, public payrolls and overseeing borrowing.

Kennedy was a late comer in the race after Suffolk County Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle decided in July not to run for comptroller. Kennedy wound up running on only the Republican line, while Gaughran also had the Working Families Party and the Independence Party lines.

One of the more contentious issues in their race was Proposition 4, a Suffolk County ballot measure that would have eliminated the county treasurer as a separately elected office by 2018 and made those fiscal oversight duties the comptroller’s responsibility. Kennedy opposed the measure, citing the importance of preserving the treasurer’s independence, which was the view taken by the current treasurer, Republican Angie Carpenter, who is term-limited after being re-elected last year.

Gaughran supported the proposition because Bellone had proposed it as a way of saving the county money. Some questioned the motives of Bellone, who had defeated Carpenter in the previous county executive race. But, he later revised the plan to start after he last term ends.

Now the next comptroller will be Kennedy, who will have to oversee the consolidation of two jobs he preferred to keep apart. The present comptroller and Suffolk County Democrats had high hopes for Gaughran’s chances, given that he’d been an effective county legislator starting in 1987. But he fell short, getting almost 47 percent of the vote while Kennedy garnered 53 percent.

After conceding the election at the Islandia Marriot, where the Suffolk Democrats had gathered to await the returns, Gaughran said he had “no regrets” and would not have done anything differently.

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