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Poll: Bellone holds 33-point lead in Suffolk exec race

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks at a podium in this undated photo. Credit: Steve Pfost

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone holds a 33-point lead against James O'Connor, his Republican challenger, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll.

Bellone, a Democrat who won the top county office in 2012, leads O'Connor, a Great River attorney, 61 to 28 with 11 percent undecided, according to the survey of likely Suffolk voters. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

Bellone is viewed favorably by 60 percent of voters, 19 percent view him unfavorably and 21 percent don't know or have no opinion. The positive favorability ratings for Bellone stretch across Democrats, independents and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, according to the poll.

"These are the type of numbers any political official, anyone sitting in office, would kill for," said Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute. "These are great numbers. These are Chuck Schumer-like numbers," he said of the senator from New York who consistently polls well.

O'Connor is still unknown by 77 percent of the likely voters. His favorability is 13 percent compared with 10 percent unfavorable.

O'Connor, a former North Hempstead town board member, said: "I'm glad I have five weeks to get my message out. Voters will find out and learn what horrible shape Suffolk County finances are in."

Bellone said he is focused on running the county.

"People respond to good government and people who say what they mean," Bellone said.

He pointed to accomplishments such as merging the treasurer's and comptroller's offices, implementing a performance management team and securing $383 million for expanding sewers in the county. He said he has halved the county's structural deficit -- the difference between ongoing expenses and revenue. And he noted the county has stayed within the 2 percent state-mandated property tax cap.

Property taxes were the top concern cited by voters, with 35 percent calling it the most important issue the county executive should be working on. Keeping young people in Suffolk was cited by 15 percent of voters, while 13 percent cited creating jobs and 11 percent economic development.

Respondents thought Bellone would do better than O'Connor at managing county finances, 47 percent to 26 percent. Almost the same percentage of voters favored Bellone to create jobs, negotiate labor contracts, handle economic development and keep young people in the county. Bellone was favored 43 to 31 percent in controlling property taxes. Bellone was favored 54 percent to 19 percent in protecting drinking water quality.

Suffolk voters are optimistic about the direction of the county. Fifty-three percent said the county was on the right track, while 39 percent said the county was headed in the wrong direction. Levy noted that it was almost the reverse of Nassau's numbers, where more than half of voters thought the county was headed in the wrong direction.

Poll respondent Conrad Chayes, 64, a Smithtown Republican who worked under former County Executive Robert Gaffney, said he was supporting O'Connor. He agreed with O'Connor's call for a state fiscal control board to oversee Suffolk's finances, which remain tens of millions of dollars apart between recurring revenue and recurring expenses.

"I think we have to get a handle on county spending, and Bellone hasn't been able or willing to do so," he said. "I think the debt will come back to bite us."

Another poll respondent, Nancy Beyrer, 82, a Democrat from East Islip, said she planned to support Bellone, whom she has known of since he was Babylon supervisor. "I haven't heard anything too amiss about him," she said. "I've never heard of Jim O'Connor. He's a complete nonentity."

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