Edward P. Romaine and Jonathan Harrington are at opposite ends of the spectrum in age and political experience. But they share some attributes needed to run a town as complex as Brookhaven. Each understands the problems facing the town and knows that some require regional solutions because they are issues across Long Island.
Harrington, 34, has a bright political future. But his misfortune in his first run for elected office is that his opponent, the incumbent Brookhaven supervisor, is Long Island’s most effective town executive.
Harrington, a Stony Brook Democrat, says he’s a rare breed — a young Long Island native who left for college and work and returned to raise a family. An attorney with a specialty in cybersecurity as well as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer, his principal concern is making Brookhaven more attractive to high-tech firms with good-paying jobs to keep young people like himself at home. He wants to do that by improving infrastructure, building sewers, encouraging more transit-oriented development and building a deepwater port in Shoreham to connect with the Brookhaven Rail Terminal. His emphasis is spot on.
But Romaine, 68, a Republican from Center Moriches, has been working on those things. Since winning a special election in 2012, he unified a fractious town board and stabilized the town’s finances. His budgets have been structurally balanced and he’s resisted the local trend of borrowing to pay pension costs, in the process garnering three consecutive AAA bond ratings.
Applying for state money to expand Brookhaven’s zombie home program is a good idea — the town has more than 2,000 vacant homes — and we urge him to be even more aggressive in attacking the problem of overcrowded and dilapidated homes in the Mastic peninsula. His vision for East Yaphank, including mixed-use development near the Long Island Expressway and his advocacy for electrification of the Ronkonkoma line to a new train station there, is exciting. His shared services plan — which would save $61 million in five years by turning over sewer and water districts to the County, doing assessments and sending out tax bills for villages in the town, and other consolidation ideas — should be a model for governments around the state. And he’s been a good protector of the environment.
Romaine has been prescient in sounding an alarm over the region’s looming garbage crisis, with the town landfill slated to be closed in the next decade. Under his leadership, Brookhaven partnered with a private company to open Long Island’s first single-stream recycling plant in 2014. Recycling rates have risen nearly 25 percent and Brookhaven began collecting recyclables from other municipalities. And now the facility is expanding, which will deepen its impact. It’s an example of how Romaine melds vision and common sense to solve a problem.
Harrington is correct to note that there always is room for improvement. He’d like to enhance efforts by Romaine to streamline the permitting process such that expediters become unnecessary. Harrington also pledges to forge personal relationships with entrepreneurs starting incubators in the town to make sure they don’t leave and take good jobs with them as they become successful. And while he applauds Romaine’s admirable but quixotic attempt to lure Amazon and its second headquarters to Brookhaven, Harrington says it’s important that the town measure itself against Amazon’s checklist, and understand that creating vibrant communities and walkable downtowns is essential to future growth.
Harrington is a comer. But Romaine’s already there.
Newsday endorses Romaine.