Suffolk Republican Comptroller John Kennedy declared his candidacy Monday to take on two-term Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, saying he “deserves an F” grade for repeated Wall Street downgrades of county bonds.
“We’re saying enough is enough,” said Kennedy. “We will stop the hemorrhaging. We will stop the bleeding. We will cut up the credit cards. We will start to pay our debts.” He continued, “We will get back to black and we will save Suffolk.”
Kennedy, 62, made his announcement in front of the H. Lee Dennison Building with about 80 supporters. On two trucks parked nearby, large illuminated signs read, “John M. Kennedy Jr. a true friend of labor.” Kennedy also had a chart on an easel detailing the seven bond rating downgrades Suffolk has received since Bellone became county executive in 2012.
Among the supporters were GOP town supervisors Edward Romaine of Brookhaven and Angie Carpenter of Islip, Republican county legislators along with Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
“Under County Executive Steve Bellone, our fees have gone up, our debts have gone up, our deficit has gone up,” said Zeldin. “The only thing he’s brought down is our bond rating.”
Zeldin quipped he left his suit jacket with eight pockets in his car because Bellone and Democrats, “are always looking for new ways to put their hands in our pockets” with new fees.
Bellone enters the race with more than $2 million in his campaign account, compared with Kennedy, who has about $120,000. Kennedy downplayed Bellone’s financial edge, noting he has twice won countywide races in which opponents outspent him.
Bellone has said he has saved money by cutting the county payroll, closing the county nursing home and turning county health centers over to nonprofit operators.
He also points to his efforts to protect water resources, fight gangs and opioids and create a rapid north-south bus transit system.
Bellone declined to comment on Kennedy’s candidacy, saying he was more focused on governing than politics. Noting that political parties have yet to announce their candidates, Bellone said, “There’s plenty of time for politics … And I will be very proud to talk about our record of protecting taxpayers in Suffolk County'“
However, Bellone spokesman Jason Elan called Kennedy, “a financial phony." He continued, "No one has opposed government reform or voted to increase spending and debt more than John Kennedy.”
Suffolk Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has announced a county executive campaign, welcomed Kennedy to the race.
“This is what democracy is all about," said Trotta. "No one knows better than John what a financial mess the Bellone administration has created.”
Kennedy expressed hope that Trotta, who faces re-election as a county lawmaker in November, will bow out of the county executive's race.
Larry Zacarese, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Suffolk County sheriff and had expressed interest in running for county executive, announced Monday after a lunch meeting with Kennedy he would not run. Zacarese pledged his "unwavering support" for Kennedy.
Kennedy said he hoped recruit Zacarese as a campaign adviser. “If Bellone is going to be defeated, we have to be rowing in unison,” said Kennedy.
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk GOP chairman, who is warring with Suffolk Conservatives, endorsed Kennedy for county executive last Friday. On Monday, the party's executive committee voted unanimously to back Kennedy and set Feb. 25 for the county nominating convention.
The first day to circulate nominating petitions is Feb. 26. Major party county executive candidates need at least 2,000 legitimate voter signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Kennedy was scheduled Monday night to appear for a screening with the Suffolk Conservative Party, which backed his re-election for comptroller last year. Kennedy also met last week with the Nassau Suffolk Building Trades Council.
Trotta was screened by Conservatives last week.
Frank Tinari, Suffolk Conservative chairman, said LaValle’s endorsement would not hurt Kennedy with Conservatives.
King, who was on the same slate of candidates with Kennedy last year, said no one should take Kennedy's candidacy lightly because of his work ethic and wide appeal with the GOP, Conservatives, Reagan Democrats and independents.
“He ran us all into the ground I never saw a harder working campaigner,” said King. “He never stops; he’s full of energy.”
Kennedy “truly exemplifies what an elected official . . . not a politician, should be,” said Carpenter, who once served with Kennedy in the Suffolk County Legislature.
“He is a friend of labor, . . . but more than anything else he’s a friend of the people, he’s a friend of the taxpayer.”