Sparks did not fly and the earth did not move at the first debate between the candidates for Suffolk County executive but the political battle lines were clearly drawn.
Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter, the Republican in the race, promoted her background running a small business and her ability to listen to people’s problems, while Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone, the Democrat, cited his government leadership experience and his record of delivering public service efficiently and effectively.
The spirited exchange, which lasted almost an hour and a half, was held at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, apparently neutral ground, as a part of the Long Island Association’s 2011 Executive Breakfast series. And in the spirit of bipartisanship, it was co-sponsored with the Association for a Better Long Island, a developers’ lobbying group. Moderating the debate was Kevin Law, the LIA president, who formerly was CEO of the Long Island Power Authority and before that a deputy county executive under County Executive Steve Levy, the man Carpenter and Bellone seek to replace.
Carpenter and Bellone both agreed that they’ll be happy to replace Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer once either one is in office. Carpenter blamed him for “waving the white flag” in Huntington Station when gangs “took over” the neighborhood and an elementary school that was subsequently shut down by the school board “because we couldn’t keep it safe.”
Bellone said he’d appoint as commissioner somebody “who’s not going to say ‘yes’ to everything I say.” He also said he would want his police commissioner to have the respect of the rank and file because “law enforcement has been divided and used as a political football” under the current administration.
Carpenter tried to appeal directly to the members of the real estate and business community in the ball room by saying that she’d create an ombudsman to spur development, someone to ask, “Mr. Developer, what do you need?” She said she envisions her role in government as knowing when to help and when to get out of the way.
Bellone, by contrast, stressed that he envisioned taking a more direct leadership role in encouraging economic growth and streamlining the permit process. “I will be there to make it happen,” he said.
Neither candidate mentioned school property taxes, although both professed their goal as making the county a more desirable place for young people to live.
As for the 709 layoffs of public employees recently proposed by Levy in his 2012 budget, both candidates said they’d prefer to seek alternatives to closing the almost $180 million budget gap but they did not add any details. Bellone has been endorsed by the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association, and Carpenter has won the nod from the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees.
In closing, Carpenter assured the audience she’s “not looking to be governor,” which drew a smattering of applause plus a retort from Bellone that “I’m not planning to run for governor, either.”
The general election is Nov. 8.