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Politics of storm response: Dems throw snowballs at Romaine

The two discussed snow plowing, stuck cars and

The two discussed snow plowing, stuck cars and additional resources headed to the county.

File this under “piling on.”

Amid the controversy over the ill-timed vacation of Brookhaven’s GOP supervisor, Edward Romaine, some county Democrats have been quietly distributing an old newspaper account of another town supervisor’s response to a blizzard.

It was late February, 2003, and Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone – now Suffolk County executive – was vacationing in Florida when a blizzard struck Long Island. According to an account in the Babylon Beacon newspaper, Bellone cut short his trip and scrambled to return home amid shuttered airports and sold-out rental car kiosks.

“I knew I had to get back to Babylon,” Bellone told the newspaper in its Feb. 27, 2003 edition, detailing his efforts to find a car to drive up ahead of the storm. “Everyone was telling me it was impossible, but there was no way. I had to be there.”

Romaine, a former county legislator, was criticized for being away late last week when the blizzard struck -- dumping more than 30 inches in some parts of the town -- and remaining on vacation early this week in the aftermath. Many residents complained that town roads remained unplowed for days.

But there are significant differences between Romaine’s situation and Bellone’s 10 years ago. Babylon has no elected highway superintendent, giving the town supervisor direct supervision over public works. Brookhaven’s supervisor and town board, as Romaine noted during a news conference on Thursday, have little direct jurisdiction over the highway department, aside from setting its budget.

Acting Highway Superintendent Michael Murphy, who had called in sick during the storm response, resigned earlier this week.

Still, simply on appearance, Romaine’s absence drew criticism, even though he said he was in constant contact with town officials while away. He apologized during his news conference, while placing most of the blame on the highway department.

"I want to say to the people of Brookhaven that I'm sorry that the storm happened and that I was not here when it happened," Romaine said

Bellone is also no stranger to critiques of his storm response, as after superstorm Sandy, some lawmakers said he wasn’t as visible as other elected leaders, and acted too slowly to address gasoline shortages. But largely, he received accolades for his performance in the wake of a historic, catastrophic weather event.

Now, county Democrats -- with the revival of a 10-year-old clipping -- are proving that storms remain fair political game.

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