Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Call it the melee in Middle Island.
In what promises to be one of the tightest races countywide, Brookhaven Republicans have named Michael Loguercio Jr. for a rematch against veteran Democratic town board member Connie Kepert.
Two years ago, Loguercio went to bed on election night thinking he won the Fourth District town board seat by a slim 46-vote margin. After a two-month recount battle, Loguercio lost by just four votes -- the closest contest countywide.
"I learned a tremendous amount in that campaign," said Loguercio, 56, who is in the insurance business and an 11-year Longwood Central School District board member. "And the most important lesson was that every vote really does count."
He expects the razor-thin margin two years ago to generate far more interest in this year's race, driving up the 20.6 percent turnout in 2013. Loguercio said, "Kepert is a nice lady, but she hasn't done much."
Kepert, 65, a retired 28-year Longwood teacher and civic activist, countered that Loguercio in the past campaign took few stands on issues while she has a record that includes requiring carbon monoxide alarms in new homes, requiring developers to use energy-efficient appliances in new construction and pressing for land-use plans to undo sprawl on Route 25 and bring economic development to North Bellport.
Part of a Democratic minority on a board in which Republicans hold a 5-2 majority, Kepert added that a dominant GOP town board is bad because "the needs of the community don't come first, and the needs of the party come first." While Democrats have 2,800-vote edge in district voter registration, Kepert, a nearly 10-year incumbent, had narrow winning margins in three races prior to 2013. Democratic officials concede that bringing out big turnouts in the heavily Democratic communities of Gordon Heights and North Bellport is hard in off-year elections.
As a sign of concern, Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, for the first time is making the two Democratic Brookhaven Town Board seats part of the party's coordinated campaign for the county legislators and County Executive Steve Bellone.
Matt Gropper, a former Middle Island fire chief, said he is backing Loguercio "because people feel our community is not at the top of the list . . . a lot of things are neglected or not addressed."
However, John Byrne, a Kepert aide, noted when Kepert first ran for office, she decried the debilitated state of a shuttered United Artists movie theater in Coram. "Now there's 172 units of housing and a business center going up, providing hundreds of construction jobs," he said. He said Kepert played a key role in getting veteran preference for affordable housing at the 132-unit Sandy Hill project in Middle Island.
Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine, said fellow Republican Loguercio is well-known and well-regarded in the community and has an "excellent chance to win this race." But, he said, "Connie Kepert is no slouch. She works hard and brings certain talents to the table."
Backers on both sides say the candidates give voters a clear contrast. Tony Palatore, Brookhaven Democratic chairman, said Kepert "works hard, but she's not loud or flamboyant. She is a woman of substance who advocates for the common man and the middle class."
Loguercio backer Dan Tomaszewski, Longwood school board president, said his board colleague has the pulse of the community and an affable style. "People are very comfortable approaching him, speaking their mind and not feeling they have to be guarded. He'll listen to you." He also predicted a close rematch: "There will be lots of drama this fall."