For three Long Island Democrats named Laura, luck was on their side and the wind at their backs on election night when they won their races — and made history in the process.
Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin) became the first woman and third Democrat elected Nassau County executive when she beat ex-New York State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury). Laura Jens-Smith was the first woman elected Riverhead town supervisor when she ousted four-term Republican incumbent Sean Walter. And Laura Gillen became the first Democrat in more than a century to become Hempstead town supervisor upon unseating Republican Anthony Santino.
“When you have people who feel they are insulated from any kind of electoral backlash, that’s when bad things start to happen,” Gillen tells the Press. “We really needed to change.”
Many pundits painted November’s election as part of a national “blue wave” propelled by voters’ disapproval of President Donald Trump. That may explain Democratic gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey, but on the Island, the Lauras still have to work with Republican majorities — although Riverhead has its first female majority — putting their negotiating skills to the test.
Curran says voters were focused more on local corruption than Trump. The women don’t see gender playing a significant role in the outcome.
“I didn’t want people to vote for me because I’m a woman,” Curran says. “I wanted them to vote for me — and I hope I made the case — because I was the right person for the job. But I have to say that when I talked about breaking up the old boys’ club, it did have a certain resonance for me!”
The Lauras’ victories came during an election cycle with unprecedented turnover of top-level county elected offices on LI, mostly due to corruption scandals. Curran replaced outgoing Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who didn’t seek a third term after pleading not guilty last year to federal charges of running a kickback scheme.
Suffolk voters overwhelmingly supported Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini to replace ex-Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota, who resigned after pleading not guilty in October to covering up the former police chief’s beating of a suspect. Sini, a Democrat, trounced Republican defense attorney Ray Perini 62 to 36 percent.
The Suffolk sheriff’s race — a seat being vacated by sheriff Vincent DeMarco, who lost his Conservative Party support after getting its ex-leader convicted of $200,000 in payroll theft — was too close to call on election night. Errol Toulon Jr., who ran on the Democratic, Conservative and Independence party lines — an unusual combination even for Suffolk’s byzantine politics — beat Lawrence Zacarese, a Republican who upset state Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in the primary. Toulon made Suffolk history as the first African-American elected to countywide office.
Back in Nassau, Democrat Jack Schnirman beat Republican Steve Labriola to replace outgoing Nassau Comptroller George Maragos, who ran a losing Democratic primary bid for county exec.
In the 13 towns, six of which now have female supervisors but nine of which are in Republican control, the status quo mostly survived the elections. Exceptions include Huntington’s council flipping from Democrat to Republican, Republican Edward Wehrheim replacing 40-year GOP incumbent Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio — a race settled in the September primaries — and Republican Gary Gerth unseating 10-year Democratic Shelter Island Supervisor James Dougherty.
Despite all the shattered glass ceilings, local voters stopped short of another historic first. In Huntington, Democratic town board member Tracey Edwards lost her bid to become the Island’s first African-American town supervisor when state Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-South Huntingon) defeated her by almost 5,000 votes. He got 2,000 more ballots than any of his running mates, suggesting he had bipartisan voter support.
Lupinacci’s victory gives Republicans control of Huntington Town Hall for the first time since retiring Supervisor Frank Petrone switched parties in 2002 after first winning the position as a Republican in 1993.
All told, the status quo will never be the same again on Long Island.