How Bellone won Suffolk exec race

Steve Bellone rallies outside the Babylon LIRR station

Steve Bellone rallies outside the Babylon LIRR station during evening rush hour with running mate Tom Donnelly. (Nov. 8, 2011) (Credit: Steve Pfost)

Democrat Steve Bellone made a steady, well-promoted journey to the Suffolk County executive seat, a position he helped secure with a multimillion-dollar war chest and a blast of continual ads that promoted his decade of experience as a town leader.

Except for a few lightly tossed barbs now and then, the contest between Bellone and Republican Angie Carpenter was a race devoid of fireworks or slugfests. Because both candidates did not have countywide recognition, the two focused their energy more on getting their name out than on knocking each other down.

The two stepped into the candidate ring after Republican County Executive Steve Levy, declared in April that he would not seek re-election after prosecutors raised questions about his campaign finances.

Bellone, who had already been long-speculated as the Democrat nominee, proceeded to spend more than $2.6 million in ads. For much of the campaign, those mailings focused on Bellone's 10 years of experience as Babylon Town supervisor.

Bellone said that as he had done in Babylon, he would hold the line on taxes, eliminate wasteful government spending and make county government more business-friendly. Later, the ads would also blast Carpenter as being fiscally irresponsible and paint her as a supporter of tax hikes.

Both candidates did their best to bring in the big gun endorsements. Bellone had Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo stumping for him on two occasions and ran on the Cuomo Bellone Reform Team line. Carpenter got former Gov. George Pataki and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani behind her.

When it came to pounding the pavement, both Carpenter and Bellone crisscrossed the county, shaking as many hands as they could. Both made the rounds at chambers of commerce and greeted commuters at LIRR stations. Bellone held court at block parties and supermarkets, but also headlined large-scale fundraisers. His monetary advantage was most prominent on television, where his ads seemed to run on a continual loop at times, while Carpenter's face was rarely seen.

Carpenter had the disadvantage of a smaller war chest, so her mailings were fewer, but the $750,000 she spent drove home her background as a small-business owner, as well as her knowledge as county treasurer and her 12 years of experience as county legislator. She emphasized the importance of having a county knowledge she said Bellone did not possess.

She promised to create a job-friendly economic environment for the county and create a better, more efficient government. Her campaign attacked Bellone's record on town taxes and painted him as too inexperienced to run the county.

Carpenter attempted to overcome her funding disadvantage by getting close to the ground and interacting with as many people locally as she could, even pouring coffee for patrons at a diner.

Suffolk Democratic Chair Rich Schaffer last night attributed their success to field operations, saying "not only did we have committee people and volunteers, but we made an investment in paid canvass and that's making the difference."

With Deborah S. Morris

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Vote

Which candidate do you support in the Suffolk County Executive race?

Steve Bellone Angie Carpenter Neither / I doubt I'll vote.

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