Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine last week revved up the long-suffering, nearly 400-strong party faithful at the Brookhaven GOP fundraiser -- an event that drew the biggest crowd in years.
"I'm committed to serving Brookhaven" said Romaine, an indirect jibe at exiting Supervisor Mark Lesko. "And if I'm lucky enough to get elected, I pledge I will run again for a two-year term and serve out that term."
Come Monday, the Brookhaven Republican executive committee is expected to recommend Romaine as the party's supervisor nominee to head Suffolk's largest town in what GOP officials see as their best chance to recapture town hall since Democrats took control in 2006.
"The crowd was energized by Ed Romaine's candidacy, his drive and determination to take back the office of supervisor," said Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven GOP leader, who said he will recommend Romaine to the executive committee.
For Romaine, 65, the GOP embrace of his candidacy comes after a 27-year career marked by party infighting and periodic disputes with party officials that scuttled several of his earlier bids for higher office.
"Republicans, who are out of power and have a battered organization, now need Ed more than he needs them," said Paul Sabatino, former chief deputy county executive. "Ed's got an experience, a presence about him and a track record as a strong environmentalist, which gives him credibility."
Romaine had served four years as county legislator in the 1980s and returned in 2005 after serving 16 years as county clerk. Romaine had also made two losing runs for Congress, and in 2003 had been defeated by Steve Levy for county executive.
Romaine also had friction with party leaders. "Leaders only wanted someone who would reliably raise their hand on votes," one former aide said. "That wasn't Ed. He always asked questions and that didn't make them happy." Later, Romaine ran for executive in the wake of a series of Brookhaven corruption convictions and wrangling between former Brookhaven Supervisor John Jay LaValle and former Islip Supervisor Peter McGowan failed to deliver on promises of financial support. Even today relations with LaValle, now Suffolk GOP chairman, are strained.
Yet Michael Dawidziak, a consultant who works mainly for Republicans, said Romaine's lengthy tenure has given him name recognition that exceeds 50 percent, while his Democratic opponent, Brian Beedenbender, in his single term as a county legislator only represented a small portion of the town. "Ed's far better known because he ran townwide at least six times and in most cases did it in even years" when presidential and gubernatorial elections turnout is far larger than off-year town elections, he said.
However, Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, called the race a "fair fight" and expects a large presidential turnout to help Beedenbender. He also says long-standing GOP divisions will emerge and Democrats will capitalize on their well-honed grassroots canvassing efforts, which helped make Steve Bellone county executive last year.
"Ed may have more name recognition," he said, "but Brian has great recognition in a difficult part of the town for Democrats. The fact he won there [in Centereach] speaks volumes of how strong he is in his own right." Schaffer said Beedenbender will benefit from his work as top aide to Lesko, still popular because he erased the town's label, "Crookhaven."
Levy, now a Republican, is also highly critical of his former foe. Levy said Romaine has a "tremendous amount of baggage," dating to when he headed the town community development agency and a scandal arose over the misuse of rehabbed housing, and later as county clerk, when allegations were raised about the loss of $100,000 in quarters from copying machines. Romaine himself was never implicated in any wrongdoing.
"Normally, I'd support the Republican candidate, but not that guy," Levy said.
However, Levy declined to endorse his former aide Beedenbender: "It will be up to people to decide."
Romaine discounted Levy's barbs, especially in light of the way he left office. Levy turned his $4 million campaign fund over to the district attorney and decided not to seek re-election to end a prosecutor's probe of his fundraising. "Obviously, I do not want his endorsement and he lacks any credibility," he said.