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Suffolk voters elect John M. Kennedy county comptroller

GOP Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr., shown at

GOP Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr., shown at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppague on July 24, 2014, won the race for county comptroller Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. Photo Credit: Richard T.Slattery

Suffolk Republican Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. defeated Democrat James Gaughran Tuesday night in the race for county comptroller.

Voters also approved propositions to eliminate the elected treasurer's office in Suffolk and create a $30 million clean water fund for the county.

Kennedy faced Gaughran, the chair of the Suffolk County Water Authority, in a contentious countywide race in which both promised to recast the numbers-crunching job into a fiscal watchdog role.

"It's a new day!" a jubilant Kennedy told a cheering crowd in his brief victory speech at the Republican victory party at the Emporium Bar in Patchogue. "We're going to open up the books!"

Kennedy has been a vocal critic of County Executive Steve Bellone as the minority leader in the legislature. He argued the county is threatened by one-party rule, with Bellone, a Democrat and a Democratic-controlled legislature. At 10:30 p.m., Gaughran said he was preparing to call Kennedy.

"It appears we're facing a Republican wave we're unable to overcome," he said from an election-night party in Islandia.

The office can audit agencies, payrolls, contracts and oversee borrowing. Bellone and the Suffolk County Democratic Party had campaigned hard for Gaughran.

Kennedy was a late add to the line when Republican county chairman John Jay LaValle dropped out of the race in July. Kennedy only ran on the Republican line, while Gaughran had the Democratic, Working Families and Independence lines.

Gaughran had attacked Kennedy for employing his wife as an aide since 2007. Kennedy has said his wife works long hours and the attacks were unfair. The race was key because the next comptroller could take over operations of the county treasurer's office in 2018.

Proposition 4 passed, eliminating the treasurer's office and merging it under the next comptroller starting on Jan. 1, 2018.

Bellone had advocated the merger as a way to increase efficiencies in government.

Current Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican, campaigned against the merger, saying the county would lose an independent set of eyes on finances that are accountable to voters. Carpenter will leave office at the end of 2017 because of term limits.

Proposition 5 also passed. The proposition is the product of negotiations between environmentalists and Bellone's administration over a one-quarter-percent sales tax passed by voters to protect drinking water.

Under the proposition, the county could borrow millions from a sewer stabilization fund through 2017. The money would have to be repaid between 2018 and 2029. In return, the county would borrow $29.4 million for open space and clean water projects.

County Clerk Judith A. Pascale won her third term unopposed.

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