Jesse Garcia, soon to be Suffolk Republican chairman, said he learned politics at a young age from his father Jesus, a Cuban defector who settled in Patchogue and taught him about knocking on doors and handing out campaign literature.
“He instilled in me that good politics starts by making your block better, then your neighborhood, and then your community,” Garcia said.
In his nearly three-decade political career, Garcia worked as a campaign manager, Brookhaven Town chief of staff and congressional aide before taking the helm of the GOP in Brookhaven, Suffolk's largest town, 12 years ago.
Garcia has restored the GOP’s primacy in Brookhaven Town government. The party won all but one Town Board seat, along with the supervisor and highway superintendent's spots.
He helped Republican Lee Zeldin oust former Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop.
The election of GOP county Legis. Rudolph Sunderman of Mastic broke the Democrats' veto-proof hold on the legislature.
On the downside, the Brookhaven and Islip GOP could not hold on to a former Republican State Senate seat won last year by Democrat Monica Martinez.
But countywide, there are 23,408 more registered Democrats than Republicans. His toughest challenge may be in getting town-dominated GOP organizations to focus more on county races, which the local GOP once dominated; in 1970, the party controlled the county legislature 18-0.
Garcia also will have to heal rifts with minor political parties, and better fund countywide campaigns.
“There seems to be a sense of enthusiasm, that he’s going to bring an intensity and combativeness which has been missing for years,” said Paul Sabatino, a former chief deputy Suffolk County executive. “If he does for the county what he’s done in Brookhaven, the party has a chance of making some great inroads.”
Sabatino also said Garcia and county Comptroller John M. Kennedy, the GOP ticket leader this fall as he runs for county executive, can benefit from strong showings by Republican supervisors including Brookhaven's Edward Romaine and Angie Carpenter of Islip.
“You can’t underestimate the unity factor,” said Sabatino.
Unlike Suffolk GOP chairman John Jay LaValle, Garcia has had warm relations with minor parties.
“I have a 25-year relationship with Conservatives and the Independence Party. I don’t believe in dealing with emotion,” said Garcia, who will be elected formally at a party convention on April 10.
But he cautioned, “The six years of discord and mistrust are not going to be fixed in six months.”
Suffolk Democratic chairman Richard Schaffer said, "The Conservatives made clear they didn’t trust or want to engage with LaValle. It can only get better for them from here on in.”
But Schaffer said he expects the minor party for “strategic reasons” still to back some Democrats based on their fiscal stands or law enforcement credentials.
Others note the backlash against President Donald Trump still is strong, and say Schaffer is not to be taken lightly.
“I’m not disparaging Jesse’s political abilities, but I believe we have a better message, have governed very well and we have a great chairman,” said Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). “And I would never bet against him.”