Two candidates representing not only different parties but different generations are running in a special election to pick a new leader for the geographically vast and fiscally broken Town of Brookhaven. This race for supervisor of Long Island's largest town is a knife's-edge-close decision between two smart and qualified candidates for an increasingly difficult job.
The election became necessary when Supervisor Mark Lesko, a Democrat, quit to become executive director of Accelerate Long Island, an initiative that aims to keep high-tech jobs on the Island. He left behind a proposed $247-million budget for 2013 that would freeze taxes but require nearly 150 layoffs, cutting such programs as women's services and the wildlife and ecology center in Holtsville.
Whoever wins this race, to fill out the remaining 13-plus months of Lesko's term, will have to manage that budget.
The Democratic candidate is Brian Beedenbender, 32, of Centereach. His experience includes service as an aide to former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a term as a county legislator, and chief of staff to Lesko since the start of 2010. The Republican is Legis. Edward Romaine, 65, of Center Moriches, whose resume includes long service as county clerk and as a legislator, plus unsuccessful runs for county executive and Congress.
Beyond 2013, the town has a long-term budgetary imbalance. Its mortgage recording tax revenue has fallen off a cliff and is unlikely to reach its pre-recession peak for many years. Landfill fees have also dropped, then rebounded. But the landfill will run out of room in another 14 to 17 years. Though that revenue will then disappear, the ongoing maintenance costs of the closed landfill will continue for years more. Relying on those two revenue sources has allowed the town to grow its government services and keep property taxes stable. That game is ending.
In addition to identifying the best way to restructure government so that its costs more realistically reflect its sustainable revenues, the new supervisor will have to find a way to adopt an acceptable plan to protect the Carmans River from overdevelopment. Lesko tried hard, but failed to persuade the town board. The river needs saving, and the new supervisor will have to get it done soon.
Both men, despite their differences, are qualified for the job. Both understand the dimensions of the problem. Beedenbender has the advantage of having worked on town issues for almost three years, but also the serious disadvantage that he'd be a minority supervisor with a Republican-controlled board. Romaine would be a majority supervisor, but representing a party whose stewardship has too often been tainted by scandal in its long era of dominance. On balance, Romaine seems a better bet to get buy-in from the town board to make the hard choices. And he has just a year to show us and the voters that he really was the best bet. Newsday endorses Romaine.