Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone officially kicked off his re-election campaign Sunday afternoon, touting his record on the environment and economic development at a time that he said “local leadership matters more than ever before.”
Bellone launched his bid for a third term surrounded by hundreds of supporters — including about 20 other Democratic candidates — at a union hall in Hauppauge.
Bellone said he wants another term to improve transit options, develop vibrant downtowns, finish planned sewer projects and provide “a model of ethical governance.”
“This I can guarantee you: We are always trying to do the right thing for the people of Suffolk County,” Bellone said.
Bellone, who took office in 2012, called local leadership more important than ever, citing recent federal rollbacks on environmental protections and a cap on state and local tax deductions. He said the county has implemented several water quality initiatives, including connecting thousands of homes to sewers, and has joined a lawsuit to fight the SALT cap.
He compared the courage needed to run government well — to challenge a “status quo that benefits political insiders more than the people we serve” — to that needed to fight in the Civil Rights Movement.
In a new commercial that debuted at the event, Bellone highlighted that he cut his own pay, declined to use a county car, paid into his own health insurance and froze the county tax.
The county has levied the same amount in property taxes — $49 million — for the general fund since 2010. But other taxes, including in the police district, have risen by about $80 million since 2013, the first year for which Bellone proposed a county budget.
Bellone, 50, said the county is “far stronger than we ever were before,” citing that the county had a deficit over $500 million when he entered office in 2012.
Republican challenger County ComptrollerJohn M. Kennedy Jr., who is calling his campaign the “Fiscal Reality Tour,” noted in a telephone interview that the county is hundreds of millions of dollars in debt.
“All the things he talked about missed the elephant in the room: the balance in the budget,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also called the event’s location at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 25 union hall "ironic" because his late father served as the chapter’s business manager. Bellone campaign manager Derek Poppe said the hall is “emblematic of our strong relationship with labor” and that he was not aware of Kennedy’s connection there.
During the two-hour event, supporters — including the leaders of two major county employee unions — lauded Bellone for record-low crime rates and several environmental initiatives, including a plastic bag fee, a bike-share program that launched Sunday and incentives for septic systems that emit less nitrogen.
Suffolk Democratic Party chairman and Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, who has feuded with Bellone over what he called conflicts between government and party leadership, said he was putting his ego aside to support Bellone.
“My ego is not as important as making sure this man and his team continue to drive down crime rates,” dismantle the MS-13 gang, decrease the deficit and staunch nitrogen pollution, Schaffer said.
Bellone, who is also running on the Protect the Taxpayer party line, called on other officials to help end "fusion voting," in which candidates appear on more than one party line, and to change how judges are selected.
"The Protect the Taxpayer line is a ballot designation symbolic of his record protecting taxpayers and not a political party authorized to field candidates," Poppe said when asked how Bellone reconciled his call with his own campaign.
Bellone had more than $2 million in campaign funding on hand in July, while Kennedy had $205,000, campaign records show.