Democratic ex-prosecutor Dave Calone and Republican Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine shared their vision Sept. 20 during the Suffolk County Executive Candidate Forum as the two run for the top-elected office on eastern Long Island.
The forum was arranged by Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees (AME), the largest union in Suffolk, and sponsored by Schneps Media, the publisher of the Long Island Press, Dan’s Papers, Noticia, PoliticsNY, and more. The forum gave both candidates the opportunity to speak directly to their potential constituents.
“It’s important in the campaign to make sure that you have a message that resonates and that you talk with people who are concerned about the future of this county,” Romaine told the Press. “This is one of those days.”
Calone spoke first, and the pair answered the same questions. The pair agreed on a number of issues, but disagreed on certain methods. Romaine cited his record in Brookhaven as his key experience to tackle the issues, while Calone discussed his experience both in the private sector and working with law enforcement as a prosecutor.
On the migrant issue, the pair agreed that Suffolk cannot be a sanctuary and that this is a national crisis.
“We need to address the problem where it needs to be addressed, which is at our border,” Calone said. “The federal government has to get its act together and figure out a way to protect our border and dissolve that issue.”
Both supported publicly funded elections — something the Suffolk County Legislature’s Republican majority recently abolished before they could be enacted — although Romaine said his campaign is closer to what a publicly funded campaign would look like than Calone’s, as most of his donors are Suffolk residents.
“I’m no millionaire,” Romaine said. “Nor do I work for millionaires or billionaires with hedge funds. I am looking to make sure that the average person isn’t taking on the difference with a share of their wealth. I’m looking for a change in that. Public-funded campaigns would be nice.”
They both say they aspire for bipartisanship. Calone said he feels that local government should not be left or right as the federal government is, but rather forward. Romaine said that he as a Republican supported President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Environmental Bond Act, because they were the right things to do.
Both support affordable housing in Suffolk and higher wages for county employees, to ensure that young people want to stay on LI, as well as increasing cybersecurity for Suffolk in the wake of last year’s unprecedented hack that downed county servers for months. They also both expressed increasing county support of minority communities.
Where the candidates parted ways is each believes they are better positioned to follow through on their plans. To that end, Romaine touted his record as Brookhaven Town Supervisor as keeping taxes low, overseeing key developments for business and infrastructure, and protecting water quality.
“In every election, we weigh the past against the future,” Romaine said. “On November 7, the people will decide. I will respect your decision, but, if elected, I will serve all of you. The job of a good leader is to bring people together, to listen, and to bring people smarter than him around him — which is why I’ll need all of you.”
Calone, on the other hand, argued that his background as a prosecutor, a former member of Suffolk’s Planning Council, and experience in the private sector makes him a uniquely qualified nonpartisan problem solver.
“The question is, what kind of Suffolk County are we going to build over this next decade?” Calone asked. “What are our kids and our grandkids going to inherit over this next decade? We look at the future looking at someone who believes in putting together a strategic plan and then going and executing that plan. Now looking forward to doing this as county executive.”
This is the first election since 2011 that does not see the incumbent, term-limited Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, on ballots. Long Island political pundits Jerry Kremer and Michael Dawidziak have both predicted that this election should lean in favor of Romaine — but that there’s still a lot of time left between now and Election Day.
The forum’s organizers hope that the format will offer voters a new opportunity to speak directly to candidates, who often participate in one-on-one debates ahead of Election Day.
“When it came to political screenings, we wanted to ensure that this whole process was valuable to our members,” Dan Levler, president of Suffolk County AME, told the Press. “It’s one thing to talk about candidates, it’s another thing for people to actually witness them. We want both our employees and the general public to be informed about which candidate they feel actually represents them. After Covid and the cyber intrusion, Suffolk County and our employees have a lot of needs, so we need to give people that opportunity.”
The union also hopes that the forum encourages members of the public to participate in democracy across the county.
“Hopefully this becomes a model for future political races,” Michael Skelly, a spokesperson for AME, said. “The goal is not to stop here. Obviously, the congressional races coming up next year and statewide races are coming up. So AME is going to be at the forefront of all of these and hopefully working with our partners, Schneps, to make that happen.”
Joshua Schneps, CEO and co-publisher of Schneps Media, agreed.
“I think hearing directly from the two people that are running for Suffolk County executive is a great way for people to make an informed decision,” said Schneps, who moderated the discussion. “And I thought the format was terrific and that it allowed each candidate to talk to important topics freely, and for people to really get a better understanding of who they are and what they stand for.”