Op-Ed: Power Shift for Suffolk Legislature

And finally, only last week, came the news that the governing body of Suffolk County—the Suffolk County Legislature—will have a Republican majority as of the new year but not a GOP supermajority.

Still, it will be the first time since 2005 that the GOP will hold a majority of seats on the 18-member legislature. This is a big part of the GOP sweep (with some exceptions) in Suffolk on Election Day—way back on Nov.2.

Hanging for weeks in the balance between the GOP having a majority on the legislature or a supermajority of two-thirds—capable of overriding vetoes by Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone—was the fate of incumbent Legislator Sarah Anker, a Democrat from Mount Sinai. On election night, she was behind Republican Brian Sweeney of Shoreham by 1,188 votes but caught up in absentee ballots. She came out ahead last week by just 63 votes and described her victory as “close to a miracle.”

Ms. Anker has been a leading environmental advocate on the Suffolk Legislature. Elected  initially in 2011, she has a background in environmental action. As her official biography relates, after her “grandmother lost her battle to breast cancer, Sarah was compelled to take an active response to the staggeringly high breast cancer rates on Long Island. She founded Community Health and Environment Coalition and led the organization to raise awareness about how our environment directly impacts our health.”

Democrats as of January will hold seven seats on the legislature. There will be 10 Republicans and one Conservative, Nick Caracappa of Selden, who also ran on the Republican line and caucuses with the GOP legislators.

The new presiding officer of the legislature is expected to be Kevin McCaffrey of Lindenhurst who currently is the panel’s Republican minority leader. The PO sets the agenda of the legislature and appoints much of its staff.

The Suffolk County Legislature since its creation in 1970 has been big on non-partisanship. Notably during the decades-long battle against the Long Island lighting Company’s push for the Shoreham nuclear power plant, nearly all its members stood together regardless of party affiliation.

Interestingly, Mr. McCaffrey comes from a labor union background—as did the longest-serving PO, Democrat William Lindsay of Holbrook.

Mr. Lindsay was PO from 2006 until 2013 when he passed away while in office. An electrician, in 1992 he became business manager of Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He died after a long bout with mesothelioma, a lung cancer resulting, he believed, from exposure to asbestos from visiting construction sites. “You try to protect your members from this disease, and then you end up getting the damn disease,” he said.

He was highly respected. Indeed, the Suffolk County government center in Hauppauge was named the William J. Lindsay County Complex after his death. Also, a new building at the Ammerman Campus of Suffolk County Community College was named the William J. Lindsay Life Sciences Building.

The last time he ran for PO, Mr. Lindsay received the votes of not only all the Democrats on the legislature but all its Republican members, too.

Mr. McCaffrey was elected to the executive board of Teamsters Local 707 in 1995 and president of the local in 2005. He is an employee benefit specialist with training at the Wharton School of Business. He has been manager of its pension and health fund.

Mr. McCaffrey began his involvement in government in 1990 when he was elected to the village board in Lindenhurst. He was also deputy mayor of Lindenhurst, located in Babylon Town and the largest village in Suffolk. After more than 20 years as an official in Lindenhurst, he was first elected to the Suffolk Legislature in 2013.

“Time to join forces in Suffolk” was the Newsday headline of a full-page editorial it ran following this year’s election. It opened by stating that “election returns rocked Long Island and the nation as Republicans notched extraordinary gains.” It noted the GOP “secured a comfortable margin” on the Suffolk Legislature, and “the immediate political conversation centered on a potential feud” between Mr. Bellone and the new legislative GOP majority.

How Mr. Bellone will deal with a Suffolk Legislature with a GOP majority remains to be seen. It’s been accurately reported in Newsday that Mr. Bellone “frequently butted heads” with DuWayne Gregory who succeeded Mr. Lindsay as PO of the legislature. And this was even though Mr. Gregory, like Mr. Bellone, is a Babylon Town Democrat.

 

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