Democratic leaders in the Suffolk County Legislature want to sprint to a special election on Jan. 15, just two weeks into the new year, to fill the seat of former Legis. Edward P. Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who Monday became Brookhaven Town supervisor.
But Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) said he wants to put off the election until Feb. 19 to save money and avoid separate special elections for legislator and Brookhaven highway superintendent.
Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), the deputy presiding officer, said, "Our concern is that we want to make sure the North Fork has representation, because we have a lot of votes coming up concerning North Fork issues."
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said there's no way for the two special elections to be held at the same time because the posts are being vacated at different times and the town and county time limits for special elections differ.
He said county law requires a special election within 90 days of a vacancy, while the earliest the town could hold its special election is March 2, 60 days after Highway Superintendent John Rouse becomes a county court judge Jan. 1.
"Rick Schaffer wants to have the election as early as possible," Romaine said of his vacant seat. The prospect of having the special election also include the election for highway superintendent was not feasible, he said. "There's going to be two elections."
However, Kennedy said he expects Brookhaven officials to amend town rules to permit a highway election within 45 days, which would mean a significant savings to the county board of elections. "I intend to make money a big issue, especially in light of our recent layoffs," he said.
Bill Ellis, Republican deputy elections commissioner, said a special highway superintendent election will cost $470,000, while the first legislative district contest, which includes Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island and 17 Brookhaven election districts, would be $125,000.
Combining the votes, he said, would save about $100,000.
However, Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said the wait is too long: "It would leave the North Fork unrepresented for three months into the new year, and I can't live with that."
Democrats are expected to back Democratic Southold town board member Al Krupski, a local farmer; Republicans have screened eight contenders including Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, town board members Jody Giglio and John Dunlevy and Romaine's legislative aide, Bill Faulk. Conservatives have even polled to assess who would be the strongest contender.
Kenneth Auerbach, Brookhaven Conservative chairman, said Democrats, who have more money than the GOP, are looking for a financial edge. "When you have two races that close, it seems they are looking to water down the resources of their opponent," he said.
Even Lindsay acknowledged that politics plays a role, but he downplayed the impact. "I think both parties perceive an edge by using their date, but special elections can be decided on a whim -- whether its raining out or if you don't like a candidate's smile," he said.