Change of power
There was a respectable turnout of about 27 percent of registered voters in the Town of Hempstead on Tuesday, with both Republicans and Democrats getting out their base with the GOP building a good cusion during early voting. Unfortunately for Democratic incumbent Supervisor Laura Gillen, some members of her own party and some independents turned against her, or someone who had a first name and profile just like hers.
The GOP and its candidate, Don Clavin, were relentless in their argument, no matter how specious, that Gillen raised taxes, and in repeated mailers attacked Gillen as well as Nassau County’s reassessment process. That controversial effort is being done by another Democrat named Laura, a former legislator from an area of Hempstead who also was elected two years ago — as county executive.
Jay Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic party chair, told The Point that responding to the GOP’s deliberate conflating of the two Lauras with the assessment controversy and high taxes was a challenge. “We were put in a box by that. We can’t run an ad saying it wasn’t this Laura that did the reassessment. We couldn’t throw Laura Curran under the bus like that,” he said.
Jacobs said even with 5,500 absentee ballots outstanding making up a 1,400-vote deficit is “an uphill battle” because Gillen would have to win 60 percent of the outstanding paper ballots. And like the voters who went to the polls, the absentee ballots will show there were probably more Democrats and independents who had supported Gillen in 2017 but now hold her responsible for the reassessment. And what did the GOP campaign tell him about the 2021 county executive race?
“We have to start fighting tomorrow,” said Jacobs.
— Rita Ciolli @RitaCiolli
The world according to Butch
Tuesday night, as Republican Hempstead Town supervisor candidate Donald Clavin celebrated after declaring victory and Nassau County Republican Committee Chairman Joseph Cairo emceed the party, restaurateur Butch Yamali was there with them on stage. According to Yamali, he was enjoying a win he says his vast network of family, friends and acquaintances had a hand in creating.
Tuesday afternoon Yamali sent out a plea to voters via email blast and a Facebook post to get out and defeat incumbent Democrat Laura Gillen:
“I don’t normally get involved in campaigning for candidates ... BUT, after three months of being slandered by Supervisor Gillen, and watching her run her entire campaign on lies and false information about me, it became personal!!
“Don Clavin for Supervisor has the qualifications and leadership that we need in a Hempstead Supervisor.”
It was a very bold move for Yamali, who is (or was) in a legal battle with the Gillen-led version of the town. She’s accused him of getting a “sweetheart” contract extension with Republican town officials for the concession at Malibu Beach Park even when he had not paid rent in seven months, and catering events at a town-owned catering hall in Lido Beach without a contract.
In July, Newsday reported Yamali had not paid rent in nearly a year and had allegedly accumulated a balance of $531,400.
The allegations led to a subpoena from the U.S. attorney for the eastern District of New York for the town’s records on his business, Dover Gourmet Corp.
Yamali is also attracting attention because he paid Cairo and his son, Joseph Michael Cairo, more than $1 million for legal work and project management at Malibu.
“To me this is all political,” Yamali said in an interview with The Point on Wednesday. “She [Gillen] never met with me or sat down with me or came to me saying she had questions about the contract, so I could explain." Yamali said the real impetus for the election involvement was others asking how they could help him fight back, and noted that he has no relationship with Clavin beyond a nodding acquaintance.
“Listen, I was the president of Merrick Little League for 11 years,” Yamali said. “I’m on the Merrick school board, I was named honorary fire chief of the second battalion three weeks ago, I know an awful lot of people. The people around me, all the firehouses, the community organizations, wanted to know what they could do to help, we’re talking 700 or 1,000 people. So I told them, ‘Vote!’ ”
Asked about Yamali’s post and email, county GOP spokesman Michael Deery said “Mr. Yamali acts as a private citizen on social media and with respect to emails. He does not do so on behalf of or in conjunction with the Clavin campaign.”
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
Tell me a story
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Bellone’s big push
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s supporters spent the run-up to Tuesday’s election underselling his chances for a third and final term. They said a win by 2 or 3 percentage points would be good in a tougher election climate, citing a more competitive, better-known challenger in county Comptroller John Kennedy and a county that went for President Donald Trump by nearly 7 percentage points in 2016.
On the other hand, state Democratic officials who know Bellone is interested in running for governor in the likely event Andrew M. Cuomo decides not to go for a fourth term in 2022, were looking for a 7-point margin as an indicator of Bellone’s statewide viability.
So they all were pleased when Bellone posted a 12-point victory over Kennedy, 55.4 percent to 43.4 percent, according to unofficial results, just a tick or two behind his victory margins in 2015 and 2011. And his vote total (148,043) easily bested 2015 (104,498) and 2011 (137,152). Clearly, swing voters stayed with the Democrat.
In chasing a big number, Bellone ran a relentless campaign. It included a steady stream of public appearances all over the county, especially in Republican strongholds; some harsh campaign literature directed at Kennedy and his wife, Legis. Leslie Kennedy; and television advertising, including spots that ran on “Saturday Night Live” and “Good Morning America,” as well as on CNN into Tuesday’s early-evening hours, when voting already was in the homestretch. Kennedy also was hurt because the public union support he was promised when he got into the race evaporated when Bellone amicably settled contracts with Suffolk’s municipal workforce in May.
Bellone won every one of Suffolk’s 10 towns except one — Smithtown, Kennedy’s hometown. But Bellone kept it close there, given the GOP’s registration advantage, losing 12,477 to 10,224. That result was particularly disappointing to Republicans because Smithtown’s turnout rate (25.1 percent) — lagged the county average (25.9 percent) despite Kennedy’s long electoral history in the town and his presence in the county executive race. And Smithtown was barely better than the turnout in Brookhaven (24.77 percent) and Islip (24.89 percent), also GOP-run towns whose supervisors (Ed Romaine in Brookhaven, Angie Carpenter in Islip), like Smithtown’s Ed Wehrheim, are known to work fairly well with Bellone.
But some Republicans saw a different issue in Smithtown.
“The Smithtown Republican Committee is not a door-to-door ground operation,” Suffolk Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Nick LaLota told The Point. Partly, that’s because the committee has not needed a strong ground operation to win town races.
“They haven’t had a strong operation so when they’re called to act, it’s hard to dust the cobwebs off the machine,” LaLota said. “I suspect that weakness was revealed last night.”
As far as Bellone’s next move is concerned — beyond continuing to run the county — the Democrat in his endorsement interview with Newsday’s editorial board last month tip-toed around the topic. He did not rule out the possibility he would leave before his term is finished while also saying he doesn’t think he’s suited for a legislative position and that he’s excited about the four years ahead.
“But, I can tell you this,” Bellone said, “if there were another position I would run for, it would be an executive position.”
Sounds like Albany might be calling.
—Michael Dobie @mwdobie