Democrat Steve Bellone, who on Tuesday soundly defeated Republican Angie Carpenter in the race to succeed controversial Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, said the county has the potential to be an "economic powerhouse."
Speaking after Carpenter conceded defeat, Bellone said he was "confident that we can overcome the challenges we face because we will do it together."
"We have everything we need in this county to make Suffolk an economic powerhouse, and we will start that on Day 1."
Referring to Levy's polarization, Bellone said, "We are going to be a county that brings people together."
Bellone praised Carpenter, saying she had "served the county for 18 years with distinction. I look forward to working with her as county treasurer."
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk County Democratic leader, alluding to Steve Levy and Steve Bellone's shared first name, said, "We're going to have a Steve as county executive that we can be proud of, a Steve that plays well with others, that respects people. . . . and a Steve who'll work on behalf of all the residents of Suffolk County."
Across Long Island, most incumbents won or were close to victory. Embattled Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray, scorned by critics for her opposition to Charles Wang's original Lighthouse development proposal at the Uniondale Hub, held onto her seat.
But Nassau Legis. John Ciotti was upended in a major upset as Republicans fought to retain control of the Nassau County Legislature. And Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan was in a dead heat with his Republican challenger, Tom Croci.
Bellone thanked supporters in a raucous celebration at Democratic headquarters in Hauppauge.
"Because of your hard work," Bellone said to cheering supporters, "the voters of Suffolk County have given us a huge victory."
Bellone said he will work with lawmakers to "create jobs and opportunities." He promised more efficient government in his administration.
"When we create that government and opportunity, it will be accessible to every resident of our county," he said.
Carpenter conceded shortly before midnight.
"We are all winners here tonight," she told a subdued crowd at the Hauppauge Sheraton. "This Republican Party is going to be stronger than it ever was. We've had people come out, get involved, who were never, ever involved in politics before."
John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican leader, said Republicans couldn't match the Democrats' funding advantage.
"It's all about the money. We're in the business of communications and weren't able to effectively communicate our message," LaValle said.
In Nassau County, control of the legislature remained in doubt as Democrats tried to cut into Republicans' 11 to 8 advantage. Democrats pulled off an upset in one key race, but other races were too close to call.
In a hotly contested Nassau County Legislature race, Democrat Carrie Solages beat Republican incumbent John Ciotti in the 3rd Legislative District. Republicans conceded that Ciotti had lost.
"I'm just so fortunate that so many people believed in me," Solages said early Wednesday in an interview with News 12 Long Island. "I'm feeling 100 percent great, but there's a lot of work that needs to be done . . . people are a paycheck away from losing their homes, their cars."
The fate of the Nassau County Legislature appeared early Wednesday to come down to the 14th District and a few hundred votes.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting just before 2 a.m. Wednesday, incumbent Republican Joe Belesi led Democratic challenger Eva Pearson by 51 votes, 5,622 to 5,571, according to the Nassau County Board of Elections. There are also roughly 300 absentee ballots left to be counted, Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said.
"We just need to be patient and wait it out," Jacobs said.
If the race comes down to 200 votes or less, the Democrats will call for a recanvassing of all voting machines, officials said.
A recount also seemed likely in Islip. Nolan, while not conceding defeat to Croci, said it was a "tough night for us" referring to his race and Islip Democratic town council candidates Gene Parrington and Renee Ortiz.
Early Wednesday, Nolan trailed Croci by fewer than 500 votes with all precincts reporting.
Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, a Democrat, had a substantial lead over Republican contender Cecile Forte.
In Riverhead, Democrat Philip Cardinale conceded defeat to incumbent Republican Supervisor Sean Walter. With all 22 election districts reporting, Walter had 61 percent of the vote to Cardinale's 35 percent.
In the Suffolk executive race, Bellone had 56 percent of the vote to Carpenter's 43 percent.
Schaffer indicated he expects to hold a 12-member majority in the legislature: "We will not only retain a majority but all 12 seats."
LaValle said special interests funded Bellone. He said Carpenter got a late start. "[Bellone] had $2 million in the bank before we even got started," LaValle said.
The election comes as both Nassau and Suffolk face the most difficult budget straits in years.
Long Island's headline contest was the Suffolk county executive race. It pit Carpenter, 67, the Suffolk County treasurer, seeking to become the first female county executive on Long Island, against Bellone, 42, the Babylon town supervisor.
Bellone and Carpenter were running in the shadow of Levy, who in the past year switched parties, made a losing bid for governor and shocked the political world by deciding not to seek a third term. Instead, he turned over his $4-million campaign fund to the district attorney after prosecutors raised questions about his fundraising.
With Paul LaRocco, Aisha Al-Muslim, Emi Endo, Sarah Crichton, Patrick Whittle, Sophia Chang, Stacey Altherr, Carl MacGowan, Nicholas Spangler, Emily C. Dooley, Gary Dymski, Erin Geismar