Democrat Dave Calone and Republican Ed Romaine each argued why they are the best person to be the next top-elected official on eastern Long Island while making their case to the region’s largest voting bloc — seniors — during the AARP’s Suffolk County executive candidate forum on Oct. 10.
Calone, a former prosecutor who works in the private sector, touted his business experience as being the best fit for the job while Romaine maintained that his decades of service as an elected official in the county and Town of Brookhaven makes him the ideal choice for voters.
“I am a new voice,” Calone said. “I have a new vision. I think we need that kind of energy and experience to move Suffolk County forward, and I look forward to doing it with all of you.”
The crowd was made up of voters 50 and up — all voters registered with the American Associated of Retired Persons — who gathered at Stony Brook University to hear directly from the candidates.
“You know, I may have to have my knee replaced sometime in the future,” Romaine quipped. “But if I do that, I’m gonna get an experienced surgeon — not someone with new ideas.”
On the issues, Calone and Romaine did not disagree on all that much. They agreed on the need for affordable housing in Suffolk for both young people and seniors, with Calone citing his record as chair of the Planning Commission and Romaine citing his record as Brookhaven Town Supervisor. On cybersecurity, a hot button issue for Suffolk, Calone mentioned a 2017 breach to the Brookhaven Town website by ISIS — but Romaine dismissed it, saying that it was fixed within a day and there has been no other breaches during his tenure.
For quality of life for seniors, both called for lower taxes for Suffolk, saying that retired residents on limited income should not have to worry about having to leave the county due to affordability. Calone raised a particular point about road safety in the county.
“I would want to see speed cameras out on our major highways, because of the number of times I’ve been passed by aggressive drivers,” Calone said. “And I’m not talking to people going 10 miles over the speed limit, I’m talking people going 30 or 40 over the speed limit. These people have a death wish. and they’re putting all of us at risk, and it’s not acceptable.”
On the issue of ageism, Calone discussed creating a Small Business Success Center, where retirees would have opportunities to start their own small businesses or mentor younger entrepreneurs to do the same. Romaine discussed the simple need to give seniors more things to do in Suffolk.
“We need senior centers, like we have in our town,” Romaine said. “Where people can get together, have coffee, for play cards, meet people. Loneliness is probably one of the most devastating impacts of growing old as you lose your spouse, your family members, your friends. We need to create better connections for seniors.”
Beth Finkel, director of AARP New York, which organized the event, emphasized the importance of the pair to reaching out to as AARP voters, who comprised up to 90% of the June 2022 primary electorate.
“That fact didn’t escape these two candidates, they knew that very well,” Finkel told the Press. “And they understand that they have to address the needs of those voters.”
AARP will not be endorsing a candidate, Finkel added, and instead just wanted to encourage an open forum for the candidates. The forum was sponsored by ABC Channel 7 and Schneps Media, the publishers of Long Island Press, Dan’s Papers, Noticia, and other publications. Channel 7 reporter Chantee Lans moderated the discussion.
“I think both did did a nice job sharing their vision,” Bernard Macias, associate state director for AARP, said. “Let’s see what happens in November.”