Candidate for the the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department Superintendent...

Candidate for the the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department Superintendent position, Kathy Walsh, debates her opponent Dan Losqadro during a meeting of the Brookhaven Affiliated Civic Organization at the Longwood Public Library. (Feb. 18, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Pity Brookhaven voters at a forum Monday night who were trying to decide on a candidate in the upcoming special election for highway superintendent.

At a forum Monday, Democratic candidate Kathy Walsh and Republican Dan Losquadro shared too little about how they'd handle a big snowstorm.

Losquadro talked about hiring back "low-cost laborers" -- which, in Brookhaven, has come to mean patronage jobs. Walsh said the blizzard showed "we need a lot more resources."

No one pledged, straight out: "In my administration, a debacle like this will never, ever, happen again."

No one mentioned the word reform. And no one talked openly about patronage or about the unhealthy reach party favorites have had into a department that serves a town geographically larger than all of Nassau County.

The candidates were much more expansive during separate interviews Wednesday.

Both said they intended to overhaul the department.

Both said they intended to blunt the impact of patronage, and interference by outside party favorites.

Both said they believed the job of highway superintendent should remain an elected, rather than appointed, position.

And both said they would not support town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine's suggestion that the department's payroll and personnel functions be assumed by town government.

Both spoke passionately about what they wanted to do. And neither is naive about how difficult it will be to put things right in a department that, as Romaine acknowledged, has been denuded of resources.

During the snowstorm, some 25 percent of the town's snow removal equipment broke down or could not be used; there also were diesel fuel and salt shortages.

How does that happen, especially in a town where the cost of running the department accounts for a large chunk of the budget? And what would the candidates do about it?

"People are angry and I get that," said Walsh, a Republican turned independent -- after Losquadro received the GOP's nomination -- who is running on the Democratic line.

"I get that there are going to have to be changes, that there is going to have to be new ways of looking at and running things," she said.

Walsh acknowledged that political and personal connections have played a role in some department hiring, including entry laborer jobs. "The department is going to have to be opened up to the public," she said.

Losquadro said if elected, "the department would be mine to run -- I would be the one responsible." He said he would change the department's bidding process -- which has come under criticism for favoring some vendors (and campaign contributors) over others.

Campaign promises are campaign promises. But Brookhaven really could use an independent highway superintendent committed to ensuring that the department and its workers have what they need to get their jobs done.

The last election saw only a single highway superintendent candidate -- on four party lines. Small wonder 21.9 percent of voters turned out for that one.

This time around, voters actually have a choice. Walsh and Losquadro are slated for two separate meet-the-candidate sessions -- sponsored by the Selden and Middle Island civic associations -- Thursday night.

Ask some questions. Get some answers. Because the stakes are even higher this time.