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Heated highway race to be decided Tuesday

Councilwoman Kathy Walsh and state Assemb. Dan Losquadro

Councilwoman Kathy Walsh and state Assemb. Dan Losquadro answered questions from an audience of about 65 people at the Longwood Public Library in Middle Island. (Feb. 18, 2013) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Candidates in the closely watched race for Brookhaven Town highway superintendent have ratcheted up their campaigns, clashing on such issues as contributions from town vendors and increasing town taxes to fund replacements for the equipment that often failed during the recent blizzard.

With the election Tuesday, town Councilwoman Kathy Walsh, an Independent running on the Democratic line, said she favors raising taxes if warranted, while state Assemb. Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said he prefers shifting money in Brookhaven's budget without increasing overall spending.

"Taxes are deaths by a thousands cuts," Losquadro said, suggesting that eliminating capital projects might make a sound alternative to raising taxes.

Walsh said residents would pay more taxes to have roads plowed effectively in a big snowstorm.

The issue became central to Tuesday's special election after the Feb. 8-9 blizzard, when 30 inches of snow fell in some areas and town leaders were widely criticized for failing to quickly plow roads.

In the brouhaha over the cleanup, acting superintendent Michael Murphy, who called in sick during the blizzard, resigned. Murphy had replaced John Rouse, who stepped down after winning a judgeship; and Tuesday's winner will serve through November, the remainder of Rouse's term.

The new superintendent -- who will oversee a $70 million budget and be responsible for more than 2,100 miles of road -- will inherit a department with aging vehicles that are prone to breakdowns -- and face residents skeptical of whether the department can handle major storms.

In interviews, both candidates promised to examine winter vacation policies, find ways to better track department vehicles and look into buying new equipment, ideas spurred in part by the blizzard and the absence of town leaders during the storm.

In addition to Murphy being out, Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and two town board members were on vacation during the snowstorm, which left people stranded in homes and cars abandoned on roads.

Walsh, who spent three years as town deputy supervisor and was acting town supervisor before Romaine was elected late last year, has pledged to strictly limit highway management vacation requests in the winter. "All the key players should have been at Town Hall the moment this storm was starting to get out of hand," she said.

Losquadro also suggested more vacation controls. "I don't think it's appropriate to make a blanket policy, but someone with knowledge should always be on hand."

Losquadro pointed to his governmental record and experience in the automotive, insurance and construction industries, while Walsh cited her town hall experience and years of cooperating across party lines as evidence of their leadership.

In campaign literature, the two differed on taking campaign contributions from vendors doing business with the department.

Walsh pledged that if she is elected she would no longer accept campaign funds from town vendors. "There needs to be transparency," she said.

Losquadro said he is willing to accept funds from vendors as long as the contributors are above board. Contracts should be awarded based on merit, not contributions, he said. "Campaigns are expensive to run. I'm only accepting money from people in good character."

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