Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Last month's blizzard has turned Tuesday's election for Brookhaven highway superintendent into a big bucks battle that is likely to cost more than a half-million dollars.
Even though a special election is an abbreviated sprint, Kathy Walsh, running on the Democratic line, has raised $85,505 and, overall, Democrats say they expect to spend $300,000. Former Democratic highway chief John Rouse spent $202,000 in his last race, four years ago.
Republican candidate Dan Losquadro, a state assemblyman, had raised more than $136,000 while a GOP-controlled committee had spent nearly $40,000 as of late last week. "We see this race as so important we are going to spend whatever resources it takes," said Jesse Garcia, town GOP chairman.
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said the party decided to enter the race in a big way after the Feb. 8-9 blizzard, which dumped nearly 30 inches of snow in Brookhaven. Some town roads went unplowed for days and some town officials went missing in action.
Schaffer had to scramble to come up with campaign cash. He got County Executive Steve Bellone to transfer $150,000 from his hefty campaign fund to the county party. Babylon Democrats also kicked in $5,000. Those transfers came after Schaffer had loaned the party $50,000 of his own money, which helped finance the victory of Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski (D-Peconic) in January. He said he expects to repay himself and Bellone's campaign after the party's spring fundraising dinner.
Until the blizzard, Republicans were resurgent in Brookhaven, having taken control of the supervisor's job and the town board last year.
For their part, Democrats want to maintain a toehold in town government after the departures of Democratic Town Supervisor Mark Lesko and Rouse to a County Court judgeship.
The highway department is important politically because the superintendent controls a significant number of patronage jobs, along with paving, truck and snowplow contracts.
In deflecting criticism of the storm response, Republicans say Walsh, a Republican town board member and newly registered in the Independence Party, has a record of cutting back on crucial highway spending while raising taxes. They also assail past votes of hers to give town Democratic chairman Marc Alessi's law firm $750,000 in work with the town.
"You just follow the money," Garcia said. "It's the ultimate pay to play."
Walsh called it a "distorted statement," noting that all outside contractors -- "law firms included" -- are put on a list adopted by the entire town board. As for attacks on her fiscal record, she said being a town board member "is a global job focused on the overall well-being of the entire town and taxpayers. Collectively, as a town board, we've made some very difficult decisions."
As of the 11-day pre-election day campaign finance report, Losquadro had raised $118,505 and had $22,586 left. A town GOP-controlled committee has spent another $39,000 on the race for consultants and polling. Since the 11-day filings, Losquadro has gotten $18,000 more in donations of more than $1,000, which must be reported within 24 hours.
And if there was any question about interest in the race, Suffolk election officials say that more than 4,400 voters have applied for absentee ballots. About half are Republicans and half are Democrats.
"I sense a lot of voter interest and intensity," said Paul Sabatino, former county legislative counsel. "But I think a lot of people are in a quandary. They don't know who to punish" for the storm performance.
With Paul LaRocco