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Long IslandPolitics

Republicans take control of Suffolk legislature, solidify their edge in Nassau

Newly elected 18th District Legis. Stephanie L. Bontempi

Newly elected 18th District Legis. Stephanie L. Bontempi speaks at the Suffolk County GOP Election Day party in Patchogue Tuesday. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

Republicans took control of the Suffolk County Legislature in elections Tuesday, while the GOP extended their majority in Nassau in major victories over Democrats islandwide.

Thousands of absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and received before Nov. 9 are in play in several close contests in both counties.

Suffolk Democrats went into Election Day with a 10-8 majority on the 18-member legislature.

But by Wednesday, Suffolk Republicans appeared to have flipped four seats — unseating the presiding officer and the Democratic majority leader — capturing the legislative majority for the first time since 2005.

Democratic incumbents Sarah Anker and Rob Calarco were defeated. Republican Stephanie Bontempi defeated Democrat Mark Cuthbertson in the race for an open seat previously held by Democrat William Spencer, who decided not to run again after he was arrested for allegedly trying to trade opioids for sex work. He has pleaded not guilty.

In the 6th District, Republican challenger Brendan R. Sweeney got 8,329 votes defeating Anker, who received 7,141.

In the 7th District, Republican challenger Dominick S. Thorne's 6,611 votes bested Calarco, who fell short with 5,627. Calarco is the current presiding officer of the legislature.

In the 18th District, Bontempi got 11,419 votes beating Cuthbertson who got 9,765.

Minority Leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), who could become the legislature's presiding officer in January, said Republicans came to the polls because "they are tired of Democrats not standing up for police officers and not having law and order."

He also said the new balance of power will allow Republicans to control the bonding and spending.

"We are going to be able to provide what people want from their county government, including safety and clean water," McCaffrey said.

Suffolk's deputy presiding officer, Democrat Kara Hahn is locked in a tight race against Republican Salvatore SB Isabella. As of Wednesday, Hahn had 7,582 votes to Isabella's 7,508 votes with at least 968 absentee ballots yet to be counted as of Nov. 2.

In Suffolk's 16th District, Republican Manuel Esteban Sr. was leading with 6,279 votes to Democrat Susan A. Berland's 5,733. As of Nov. 2, there were at least 814 absentee ballots uncounted in that race. Berland is currently the Democratic Majority Leader.

Nassau's GOP leaders too were celebrating Wednesday after flipping a seat on the North Shore, affirming their control of the 19-member board. Republicans currently hold an 11-8 majority on the county legislature.

Eighteen incumbents ran for reelection. Legis. Vincent Muscarella (R-West Hempstead), one of the longest-serving legislators, did not seek reelection because he was elected district court judge on Tuesday. Republican John J. Giuffre defeated Democrat Nadia Holubnyczyj for his open seat.

Republican Mazi Melesa Pilip, a first-time candidate from Great Neck, beat incumbent Democrat Ellen Birnbaum in the 10th District. Birnbaum fell short with 5,353 votes to Pilip's 7,375.

"Having that extra seat will strengthen our majority," said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park). "I think having Mazi and her unique perspective will strengthen us as well."

Nicolello said he believes his caucus has shown they can reach across the aisle on certain issues, but that there are fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats on the legislature.

"We have over the course of the last four years advanced their initiatives. Some of the bills they put forward don't have any merit. We disagree especially when it comes to the budget," Nicolello said.

Nassau's GOP also has a chance to flip two other Democratic seats, depending on the absentee ballot count.

In the 16th District, Republican Daniel Alter had 6,921 votes, leading Democrat Arnold Drucker who had 6,668. At least 1,261 absentee ballots were uncounted as of Nov. 2.

In the 18th District, Republican Paolo Pironi had 7,136 votes, leading Democrat Joshua Lafazan who had 6,891. At least 1,067 absentee ballots were uncounted in that race as of Nov. 2.

Nassau Minority Leader Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said: "Clearly we realize we are not going to be in the majority and we realize that it wasn't a good night."

Abrahams said with thousands of absentee ballots yet uncounted "we are not conceding Josh's race and Arnie's race."

Democrats have been in the legislative minority in Nassau County for more than a decade.

Hofstra University associate professor of political science Craig Burnett said no matter the configuration of power on each of the county legislatures "the core function of government will probably be the same."

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone will be in a weaker position, Burnett said, while "Nassau is a clean sweep."

"You would think this will make things easier to do, that they are 'just going to ram things through' but even as a party they aren't going to think the same way," he added.

CORRECTION: Daniel Alter’s name was misspelled in a previous version of this story.

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