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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau GOP’s losses signal party rift

On Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, 2017, Newsday columnist Joye Brown and deputy assistant managing editor Jack Sirica talked about Tuesday's election results. Credit: Newsday / Arnold Miller

“This is a bad one,” Nassau County Republican chairman Joseph Mondello told a thinning post-midnight crowd at a Westbury restaurant on Wednesday.

“We haven’t done well,” Mondello said.

That’s an understatement.

In a single night, Nassau’s venerable GOP — one of the last continuously operating political party machines in the nation — took a double hit.

It lost control of the county executive’s office.

And, for the first time in more than 100 years, Republicans lost their stronghold, Hempstead, the nation’s largest town by population.

Yes, the party’s taken hits before.

In 1999, Nassau voters gave Democrats control of the county’s legislative body for the first time in 75 years. Two years later, voters turned out Republicans in favor of Democrats for county executive and county comptroller, too.

But the party — during a decade of Democratic county control — held on tight to two towns, tiny Oyster Bay and outsized Hempstead, the wellspring of party prestige, power and patronage.

Former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato once was Hempstead Town supervisor. So was former County Executive Thomas Gulotta. The town was a proving ground for county leadership.

Take Supervisor Anthony Santino, who, in a stunning turn, lost his post Tuesday to Democrat Laura Gillen, according to unofficial results. Santino long has been considered a prime candidate to replace Mondello as county party chairman.

But with Tuesday’s results — and open warfare between Republicans on the Hempstead and Oyster Bay Town boards that preceded the election — plentiful GOP traditions have been blown to bits.

Among them is party discipline.

And a web of party-controlled jobs that now will be controlled by Nassau’s Democratic Party — in the county, two of Nassau’s three towns and other spots, including Nassau Community College, the county’s Off-Track Betting Corp. and Nassau University Medical Center.

Fissures were evident even before the election.

When, for example, was the last time a Hempstead Republican — or any Nassau Republican for that matter — openly endorsed a Democrat? That happened a few weeks ago, when council member Bruce Blakeman — who once served as the county legislature’s first presiding officer — endorsed Gillen. (The town board’s sole Democrat, senior council member Dorothy Goosby endorsed Santino.)

Erin King Sweeney, a GOP Hempstead board member who openly battled Santino over contracts and ethics proposals, said early Wednesday that she intended to work with Gillen. She also congratulated Gillen and Laura Curran — who declared victory in the county executive’s race — saying that the women “finally broke the glass ceiling.”

As for her party, King Sweeney said, “As a proud Republican, I look forward to working to rebuild the party and restoring it to its true principles and firmly rejecting the misguided politics of intimidation and ego.”

In short, it’s a new day.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the year Democrats assumed two countywide positions.

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