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Nassau Republicans Sweep Back Into Power

County Legislature Changes Hands; Schmitt Set for Leadership Post

The anti-incumbent mood reached Nassau County last Tuesday night as the Republican Party, after a decade-long hiatus from power, won back the Nassau County legislature. The implications for the Massapequa area could be profound.

In the seventh legislative district, Republican challenger Howard Kopel upended Democratic incumbent Jeffrey Toback to give the GOP their legislative edge. According to unofficial results, Kopel won his seat by a solid 6,654 to 5,544 margin.

A count of absentee ballots will determine the result of the heated 14th Legislative District race between Democratic incumbent Legislator Dave Mejias and Republican challenger Joseph Belesi. Belesi, who was also running on the Conservative Party Line, received 7,184 votes, and Mejias, who was also running on the Independence and Working Families party lines, received 7,156 votes.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Belesi said. “I think we have the votes and we took two seats in the legislature this year.”

“I am grateful for all of the support I have received and I am optimistic that when all the votes are counted I will continue to have the honor of representing the hard working families from my hometown,” Mejias said.

The 14th LD encompasses portions of Massapequa, Old Bethpage, Plainview, Levittown and North Wantagh. In 2005, Mejias held off a strong challenge from Belesi to win a slim re-election victory. If the Belesi lead becomes official, then the GOP’s legislative advantage will stand at 11-8.

A big winner of the night is Peter J. Schmitt, the longtime representative of the 12th legislative district, which includes most of the Massapequa area.

Ever since 1999, when the Republicans lost their majority, Schmitt has served as Minority Leader in the legislature. On Tuesday, Schmitt won an easy re-election campaign. Now, he is in line to become Majority Leader of the legislature.

“We are thrilled to be taking over the majority,” Schmitt said. “We look forward to doing what we told the residents we would do. We are going to repeal that home energy tax and we’re going to cut spending and we are going to repair the institutional integrity of the legislature.”

Schmitt was also asked to address a rumor that a fellow Republican, Denise Ford, who represents the Fourth Legislative District, might block his ascension as Majority Leader.

“I don’t believe that for one minute,” he said. “I expect to be majority leader.”

“While I am honored to be re-elected to another term as a county legislator, I am disheartened by the loss of my party’s legislative majority,” said Presiding Officer Diane Yatauro. “Political winds are often influenced by prevailing socio-economic conditions. Last night we witnessed significant voter opposition to incumbents, which severely affected many Democrats. Voter anger was a product of the now yearlong recession, which caused massive unemployment, a serious credit crisis and real fear in the hearts of taxpayers across the nation. We in Nassau County had to make some tough and, in some cases, unpopular, decisions to keep our county solvent. As I congratulate my Republican colleagues on re-taking the legislative majority, I pledge to continue to work towards bringing financial stability to our county government.”

County Executive Race Too Close to Call

The other big surprise of the evening was the close race faced by Nassau County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi. As of press time, Suozzi is holding an equally slim 237-vote margin over his Republican challenger, Edward I. Mangano, who also ran on the Tax Revolt line.

Unofficial results gave Suozzi an 118,111 to 117,874 lead. Running on the Conservative Party line, Steven Hansen received 9,952 votes. If the unofficial tallies hold up, then Hansen’s candidacy would almost certainly cost Mangano an upset win.

As it currently stands, the fate of the county executive race will be determined through a recount and absentee ballots.

“Clearly, the people of Nassau County want to see change in Nassau County government,” said Mangano. “I am hopeful I will be leading that change and I thank everyone who supported me in my grassroots campaign and platform to stop wasteful spending, fix the property tax assessment system, stop the energy tax and create local jobs and opportunities.”

In a press conference the day after the election, County Executive Thomas R. Suozzi called the dead-heat race a sign of issues larger than his contest with Mangano, interpreting widespread “anti-Democrat” and “anti-incumbent sentiments” as a display of frustration with high taxes.

“People are mad as hell about property taxes,” he said. “You don’t see this result in one place. This is going on all over the region. People are unhappy and they take it out on incumbents.”

With only 237 votes separating the candidates at the moment, the county executive said the race was too close to call and that the recount process could take up to a month as voting machines are re-canvassed, legal challenges are made and absentee ballots are counted, which he estimated at around 12,000.

Suozzi said that he was not shocked by the close race and that he believed it was bringing an important issue to a head - the fact that the bulk of the taxes overburdening people are coming from school taxes, which Albany should cap.

“The voters are angry, and I share their anger,” he said. “What we need to do is channel that anger now and hope that some good comes out of these results. It is school taxes that are crushing Long Island. If I am defeated, it will be a wake up call to other elected officials that, ‘If it happened to Suozzi, it could happen to me.’ If I win, I will continue the crusade to stop Albany from pushing costs down. Everybody has to wake up.”

He ended warning that if he loses and Republicans assume control of the executive branch, as they have the legislative branch of Nassau County, their cost-cutting methods could revert the county back into the “fiscal basket case” it was when he took office. He said that presently Nassau has the highest bond rating it has had in 20 years and that removing huge revenues like the $39 million energy tax without a way to “fill the gap” could destabilize the county.

Oyster Bay GOP Rolls On

Incumbents in the Town of Oyster Bay had no difficulty getting re-elected.

Town Supervisor John Venditto prevailed over his Democratic Party challenger, Keith Scalia, by a landslide 43,483 to 16,158 margin.

Town Clerk Steven Labriola was re-elected, defeating John Capobianco by an equally healthy 39,995 to 17,872 margin.

All three incumbents to the Town of Oyster Bay Council – Chris J. Coschignano, Elizabeth A. Faughan, and Joseph Pinto – were re-elected.

Suozzi’s razor-thin race with Mangano wasn’t the only surprise in Nassau County contests.

Incumbent Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman was trailing his Republican Party challenger, George Maragos. The unofficial total was 115,473 for Maragos and 114,897 for Weitzman, who was first elected in 2001. With 576 votes separating the two candidates, a spokesman for Weitzman said the final outcome would be determined once all absentee ballots are counted. Comptroller terms are two years.

Also in Nassau County, both District Attorney Kathleen Rice and County Clerk Maureen O’Connell managed to easily avoid the anti-incumbent wave, with solid wins over their challengers. Rice is a Democrat and O’Connell ran on the GOP line.

– Victoria Caruso-Davis, Jamie Tomeo and Matt Piacentini contributed to this article.