Former Rep. Lee Zeldin, center, with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed...

Former Rep. Lee Zeldin, center, with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, right, and former New York State Sen. Tom Croci, left, at an event in North Patchogue in 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

Daily Point

Moderate Republican seeks boost in campaign for county exec

Last February, former U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin was asked about his future in Republican politics at his first news conference since his surprisingly close defeat in the 2022 gubernatorial race against incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul. At that time, Zeldin acknowledged thinking about a possible future run against U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, or even running for Suffolk County executive.

“I do believe that at some point, there will be a reentry to government,” said Zeldin, of Shirley, who represented the East End district from 2015 until January 2023. “Exactly what that will be, and when, we'll see.”

Plenty in the GOP would have been delighted to see the outspoken Zeldin, a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, take over the governmental reins in Hauppauge. Zeldin has already endorsed Trump’s 2024 reelection bid.

Ultimately, Zeldin didn’t jump into the county executive race. Instead, on Oct. 7, Zeldin will appear with Ed Romaine, the GOP’s eventual nominee, at a rally against his Democratic opponent, Dave Calone.

The party’s get-together, also featuring the slate of other Republican and Conservative candidates, will take place at Republic Airport in Farmingdale.

As part of his “Safer and More Affordable Suffolk Plan,” Romaine is expected to emphasize his crime-fighting proposals, which include hiring more police officers, detectives and prosecutors. Even though Calone is a former federal prosecutor, Romaine, who is Brookhaven’s town supervisor and a former county clerk and legislator, is endorsed by all of Suffolk’s law enforcement unions.

Like other Republicans on Long Island, Romaine’s pitch to voters points to a rise in crime, part of Zeldin’s appeal to voters last November. (Long Island police departments say most serious violent crimes are down, but that property crimes, like auto theft, have spiked since the end of the pandemic.)

Romaine is generally viewed by many as a moderate, especially on environmental issues. But the rally with Zeldin is bound to shore up his support among more conservative Republicans, especially MAGA supporters of Trump. The GOP’s new round of video attack ads and mailers against Calone claim he is “soft on crime, dangerous for Suffolk County.”

Suffolk GOP chairman Jesse Garcia told The Point in an email that the Romaine video ads seen on cable television and the internet are aimed at portraying Calone as “precisely the sort of extremist [in] Suffolk County who would cripple our community.” Garcia wouldn’t elaborate on the size of the GOP’s media buy for the county executive race, calling it “proprietary information of the campaign.”

Romaine isn’t the only one looking to rally the party faithful. Those familiar with Calone’s campaign say he intends to campaign in October with the incumbent, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who was first elected in 2011 but is term-limited from running again. That Democratic source told The Point that Bellone remains “immensely popular” and would help get out the vote among Democrats, who have a slight lead in enrollment over the GOP countywide.

— Thomas Maier

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