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A pivot point in LI politics

Republicans Elaine Phillips, Bruce Blakeman and Anne Donnelly

Republicans Elaine Phillips, Bruce Blakeman and Anne Donnelly celebrate during the Nassau County election night returns on Tuesday in Baldwin. Credit: Corey Sipkin

A pendulum swing is common in off-year elections after hard-fought presidential contests: No Nassau County executive candidate from the same party as the new president has won the seat since Thomas Gulotta in 1989. Laura Curran’s reelection bid apparently met the same fate on Tuesday.

What was noteworthy this year was how widely the pendulum swung, sweeping out an incumbent Democratic district attorney in Suffolk, Tim Sini; thwarting a bid by Todd Kaminsky, the Nassau Democratic DA candidate who for months vastly outspent Anne Donnelly, his little-known GOP opponent; and scrambling legislative seats in both counties that were once considered "safely" Democratic to the point where the GOP is poised to take control of Suffolk and extend its majority in Nassau. Longtime Democratic strongholds, like the Town of North Hempstead, were breached.

Remarkably, the local campaigns delineated few new proposals, and instead returned to big, complex issues — property tax reassessment in Nassau, state bail reform, pandemic response, legislative packages stalemated in Washington, higher gas prices heralding inflation, and equity campaigns in schools including critical race theory, the controversial academic concept that argues that American institutions have been deeply shaped by race.

It’s folly to generalize too broadly about disparate states, counties, or even neighboring legislative races, shaped as they are by some unique dynamics and the fervor or lack thereof among those who do or do not decide to vote. But there certainly are lessons for Democrats about being disconnected from more moderate constituents. And the defining mood of the races on Long Island appears to have been one of pushback and pessimism on those lumbering, complex fronts.

It was a mood with echoes around the country — from a write-in campaign that apparently lifted incumbent Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown over Democratic primary winner India Walton, a democratic socialist, whom he and allies painted as a dangerous radical, to a bellwether Virginia governor’s race where voters cited the economy and education as important issues to exit pollsters, in a campaign where many voters were motivated by critical race theory.

Long Island’s political landscape is set to be changed significantly, barring some surprises in the counting of absentee ballots next week. Incoming Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, district attorneys Donnelly in Nassau and Ray Tierney in Suffolk, and the newly configured county legislatures, will have considerable challenges. The issues that animated voters are much more nuanced than the caricatures both sides often presented during the campaign, including: continuing a needed property tax overhaul and development of the Hub in Nassau, ensuring efforts toward fairer criminal justice enforcement while also maintaining public safety, following scientific consensus to get us out of the pandemic, and wisely spending the new federal funding.

We wish our new leaders well.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.