Keith Romaine, newly re-elected to a second term on the Brookhaven town council, died Saturday at age 36, shocking his hometown Republican Party and creating further uncertainty over the future control of town government.
Romaine, of Moriches, died shortly after 11 a.m. at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, with his father, Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), at his bedside.
Keith Romaine had contracted pneumonia several days ago and died from complications caused by a virus that attacked his heart, a family spokesman said.
With Romaine, Republicans had held a 4-3 majority on the Brookhaven council. The town must now hold a special election to fill the vacancy, though no date has yet been set.
According to friends and political allies, Romaine had felt rundown toward the end of a hard-fought campaign, during which he lost 40 pounds, and was battling a cold. Romaine defeated Democratic candidate Ron Lupski in a three-way race.
"It's a great loss for the Ed Romaine family and for all the people in his district and the Town of Brookhaven," said Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven Republican chairman.
"He was a fighter and doggedly dedicated. He had a cold but was working through it for the good of the voters and his constituents. The way he fought was a mark of the man and his character."
Several days after the election, friends said Romaine visited his doctor and complained of fluid in his chest preventing him from sleeping. He checked into Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead on Thursday and was transferred to Winthrop - the hospital at which he was born - on Friday. Tests for the H1N1 flu virus were negative, a family spokesman said.
Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, a Democrat, ordered flags at town buildings be flown at half-staff from Saturday through to the funeral. Arrangements haven't been finalized.
"We're shocked and saddened by this sudden, untimely loss," Lesko said. "He was a passionate public servant and this tragedy is almost unimaginable."
Romaine's death sent shock waves through GOP officials who knew he had been in the hospital but expected him to recover.
"I just can't believe it," said Timothy Mazzei, town board GOP majority leader. "They thought he was getting better, but that he would not get back to work until January."
Mazzei said Romaine was "a driving force" behind putting global positioning systems into town vehicles and was "energetic and strong" as a liaison to ambulance and local fire departments.
John Jay LaValle, newly elected Suffolk Republican chairman and a former Brookhaven supervisor, said, "On election night, standing on the podium, he said it was 'the best day of my life.' . . . He was kind of rejuvenated as a candidate and an official and was looking forward to it as a new day for us."
Romaine was a scion of a high-profile political family in which his county lawmaker father Edward is also a former longtime county clerk and was once a candidate for county executive.
Dan Panico, Keith Romaine's campaign manager and close friend, described him as "absolutely the apple of Ed's eye." "Keith looked to his father as a mentor, a teacher and a trusted best friend," Panico said.
Romaine, born Feb. 20, 1973, is also survived by his brother Kevin Romaine of Manorville; uncle John Romaine of Maryland; and grandfather Edward T. Romaine.