Democrat Steve Bellone was reelected Suffolk County executive Tuesday night, beating Republican John M. Kennedy Jr. after a campaign that focused on county finances, water quality and proposals to attract and keep millennials in Suffolk.
"Tonight the people of Suffolk have spoken. And they made it clear that they want the progress to continue," Bellone said in a tweet at 10:45 p.m.
At a victory celebration in Hauppauge, Bellone told a jubilant crowd he hoped "we can put politics aside to build a better future for Suffolk County. To my Republican colleagues in the legislature, I extend my hand and say I want to work together to move Suffolk County forward."
Bellone, who said this could be his last run for public office, considers the work of District Attorney Tim Sini to root out corruption a "monumental achievement" of his administration.
"This campaign is about making sure this government truly reflects the greatness of the people that it serves," Bellone said.
Kennedy conceded the race in a speech shortly after 11 p.m. He blamed his loss on Bellone's large campaign war chest and "vile" campaign ads, including one he said depicted him and his family as pigs at the trough.
"It's amazing what a $2 million campaign full of lies and misrepresentation can do," Kennedy told a crowd of about 200 supporters at a Republican watch party in Patchogue.
Kennedy vowed to fight "vigorously" against waste, fraud and abuse as county comptroller and said "Bellone better keep looking over his shoulder."
In an interview after the speech, Kennedy said he was "disappointed."
"I kept it clean, unlike my opponent," the Nesconset Republican said. It's inevitable there will be some folks who get swayed by that."
As of 11:30 p.m., with 1,047 of 1,052 election districts reporting, Bellone led Kennedy, the Suffolk County comptroller, by a margin of 55% to 43%, according to the county Board of Elections. Libertarian Party candidate Gregory Fischer had 1% of the vote.
Bellone, 50, of West Babylon, was seeking his third and final term under county term limits. He had touted his efforts to fix fiscal problems he said he said he had inherited when he first took office in 2012.
But Kennedy, 63, of Nesconset, said county finances were in "crisis." During the campaign, Kennedy cited a recent state comptroller’s report that found Suffolk to have the most fiscal stress of any county in New York.
Fischer, a Democrat from Calverton who ran on the Libertarian line, said he would bring in outside consultants to restructure the county’s finances and management.
Before returns began coming in, Suffolk Republican chairman Jesse Garcia had called it “a race to 53 percent: whoever gets there first,”
“We left nothing on the table,” he said. “Everyone acknowledged we were outspent in this race, but we were not outworked.”
County Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer, who has had a sometimes contentious relationship with Bellone, said a 53 percent win for Bellone would be “good, considering it’s a tough year overall," with "a hyper partisan electorate” due to national politics.
“That’s saying a lot for a county that went overwhelmingly for Trump,” Schaffer said of such a margin of victory for Bellone.
Bellone's campaign spent nearly $2.3 million this year compared with Kennedy's $488,295, according to campaign finance reports filed early last month. Fischer has not filed campaign disclosures since January.
Bellone watched results after polls closed at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 25 union hall in Hauppauge, the location of his campaign kickoff in September.
Kennedy had called Bellone’s choice of kickoff venue “ironic” because his late father, Jack Kennedy, was the IBEW chapter’s business manager. Bellone campaign manager Derek Poppe said at the time that the location was “emblematic of our strong relationship with labor” and that he was not aware of Kennedy’s connection.
Kennedy watched results at the Stereo Garden in Patchogue with other Republican candidates. About 50 people were at the site, which was covered with campaign signs, before polls closed.
Garcia, the Republican county chairman, said the race was about the "pocketbook."
Bellone said county finances have improved, and that he reduced a budget deficit that when he took office in 2012 was projected to reach $530 million by 2013. Bellone said he eliminated 1,300 county jobs and privatized county health centers in an effort to reduce costs.
Kennedy cited several bond rating downgrades during Bellone's nearly eight-year tenure, hundreds of millions of dollars in accumulated debt and a recent state comptroller’s report that said Suffolk had the highest level of "fiscal" stress of any county in the state.
Bellone and Kennedy also battled over issues including water quality and the future of downtowns during the campaign.
Bellone supporters have called his "Reclaim Our Water" initiative his biggest accomplishment in office. That plan, which targets nitrogen pollution in waterways, seeks to expand access to sewers and to provide grants to install lower-nitrogen septic systems.
Kennedy criticized Bellone's focus on nitrogen and said he would halt the septic system program to further vet the technology. He said he would instead focus on drinking water contaminants by improving storm water containment.
With Vera Chinese, Nicholas Spangler and David M. Schwartz