Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
The ad, airing on four local stations since late last month, starts: "Angie. Be a part of history," alluding to her status as Suffolk's first woman candidate for county executive. Between that refrain are cuts of Carpenter talking off-the-cuff about her first campaign, knowing what it is to "make a payroll and . . . make ends meet" and touting that she has the "skills necessary to do the best job for taxpayers."
Her Democratic opponent, Babylon Supervisor Steve Bellone, meanwhile, has not officially started a campaign media blitz. But over the July Fourth weekend, he starred in $10,000 worth of police union-sponsored cable TV public-service announcements telling people not to drink and drive. The spots ran 84 times, giving Bellone, still largely unknown countywide, face time on News 12, Fox News and Yankees and Mets games. Union officials say there was nothing political in the PSAs, just public education.
Welcome to the opening of the Suffolk 2011 county executive race -- a contest turned topsy-turvy when Democrat-turned-Republican incumbent Steve Levy dropped out and handed in his $4-million campaign war chest to end a district attorney's fundraising probe.
Bellone, 42, a 10-year town incumbent who plotted his run for a year, is expected have nearly $2 million at the end of next week, when campaign-finance reports are due.
Carpenter, 67, outlasted a series of younger, taller and more telegenic contenders -- many of them reluctant -- who Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle tried to recruit to block her. LaValle now says he fully supports Carpenter, though some of her advisers privately concede strains remain. LaValle did not appear at her headquarters opening -- the result, he says, of late notice and a scheduling conflict. Party insiders say they expect Carpenter to show from $300,000 to $400,000 in her filing.
Some veteran observers say Bellone, an underdog when Levy was running, now has the edge. "Most people think it's a foregone conclusion for Bellone," said Desmond Ryan, a longtime Republican lobbyist. "We're in a blue state that keeps turning bluer and . . . there's no spark on the Republican side."
But LaValle said Bellone has baggage as a town supervisor who has raised taxes and has ties to special interests like the county's highly paid police. "He could have $10 million and it won't save him from his poor record," LaValle said.
John Powell, former Suffolk GOP chairman and now a consultant, warned that no one should underestimate Carpenter, noting that women candidates run six to eight points ahead of men, and that voters in low-turnout, off-year elections tend to be older, more Republican and more female -- all core Carpenter constituencies.
Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, whom many describe as Bellone's biggest asset, said Democrats are in the field quietly building a "top-notch grassroots operation" similar to the one that led to Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop's 593-vote win last year.
"Without a field program, we would have lost that race by 10,000 votes," said Schaffer. "You have to make sure the people who support you show up, especially in an off-year, when the turnout is 20 percent."
He said that since June the party has hired 14 young operatives who already have made 20,000 calls.
Rick Belyea, Carpenter's campaign manager, said that while Carpenter may be an underdog, the endorsement of Suffolk's 6,500-member Association of Municipal Employees is a boost, giving her "boots on the ground."
He compared her prospects to Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who unseated the far-better financed Democrat Thomas Suozzi two years ago. "It just shows that money isn't everything," Belyea said.