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John Kennedy expected to announce for Suffolk County executive

Kennedy, the Republican Suffolk County comptroller, says he's running, "because it's time someone confronted the county's dire financial straits."

John M. Kennedy, the Republican Suffolk County comptroller,

John M. Kennedy, the Republican Suffolk County comptroller, is scheduled to announce his candidacy for county executive on Monday, Feb. 11. Photo Credit: James Escher

Republican Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy will formally declare his candidacy Monday to take on two-term Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone.

“I’m running because it's time someone confronted the county’s dire financial straits,” said Kennedy. “Fifteen years of Democratic leadership have brought us to the brink of insolvency and we are perilously close to utter financial collapse.”

Kennedy is scheduled to make his announcement at 10 a.m. outside the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge, where he and Bellone have their offices.

Joining Kennedy will be GOP Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin; Republican Town supervisors Edward Romaine of Brookhaven and Angie Carpenter of Islip; and the bulk of the GOP legislative caucus, including Kennedy's wife, Leslie, a county legislator from Nesconset.

Kennedy said he chose the announcement spot, despite expected cold weather, because, “it’s very important we do it as the center of county government to raise the level of concern. While everything looks intact on the outside, inside it is rotten to the core.”

For example, Kennedy said Bellone in 2013 borrowed $70 million on the Dennison building itself even though the 46-year-old property was valued at no more than $24 million.

County executive aides counter that Bellone  has cut the county payroll by more than 1,000 positions, shuttered the costly Foley nursing home and reduced costs by turning county health clinics over to a nonprofit operator.

Jason Elan, Bellone’s spokesman, also said Kennedy has used his office to conduct politically motivated audits to improperly encroach on Bellone's power to seek requests for qualifications for projects such as the proposed Ronkonkoma arena.

“The Comptroller has not only turned his office into a political weapon, but he has opposed every cost-saving reform to protect taxpayers since the 1990s,” Elan said.

Elan also said Kennedy  illegally paid out bonuses to top aides of former District Attorney Thomas Spota from asset forfeiture funds seized from criminals. Kennedy said his payments were ministerial and state law gives prosecutors wide latitude in using asset forfeiture money.  

Kennedy, who in the past has served as a deputy county clerk, a county lawmaker and legislative minority leader, will become the second announced GOP contender.

Outspoken Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta, of Fort Salonga, announced his candidacy last week.

Larry Zacarese, the upset winner of a 2017 GOP county sheriff's primary who later lost narrowly in the general election, also is weighing a county executive run.

John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, endorsed Kennedy’s candidacy for the Republican nomination on Friday.

LaValle said party leaders will meet Monday to set a date for the county GOP convention. Nominating petitions hit the streets Feb. 26, and any county executive contender needs at least valid 2,000 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.

“The bottom line is that John puts us in the best position to win,” said Lavalle. “Just as important no one in Suffolk County -- including Steve Bellone -- understands county government better. As a county employee, a lawmaker and comptroller, John has shown there is no one better to get us out of the fiscal mess.”

Kennedy won his second term as comptroller in November by a narrow 3,742 votes in the face of an unusually large off-year turn-out, fueled by a backlash to President Donald Trump.

He won his first term by 17,566 votes, even though he had only a single Republican ballot line.

Kennedy won a county legislature seat in 2007 with Democratic endorsement when Republicans denied him renomination.

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