While both Brookhaven town and Suffolk County will both hold special elections in 2013 to choose a new town highway superintendent and a new county legislator, respectively, the two entities will be holding those elections separately.
Brookhaven has not yet set a date for its special election, but the county legislature voted 13-4 to hold its special election on Jan. 15 – fewer than 40 business days after the seat was vacated by Ed Romaine, who was sworn in as Brookhaven's new supervisor on Nov. 26.
Brookhaven councilman Dan Panico said at the Dec. 18 town board meeting that he made an effort to align the elections in order to "save some money if it was mutually agreeable." The town board axed a public hearing that day that would have explored that idea when Panico said it was rendered moot.
An individual election costs taxpayers approximately $250,000, according to Jesse Garcia, who is chairman of the Brookhaven GOP and also an official with the Suffolk Board of Elections.
In an interview Wednesday, Garcia blasted the Suffolk legislature, which holds a Democratic majority, saying taxpayers who are residents of both Suffolk County's First Legislative District and the Town of Brookhaven would foot the bill for both elections.
"This is nothing more than political grandstanding, political gerrymandering," he said. " ... This is anti-voter, anti-taxpayer. It’s budget-busting in the most difficult of times."
Romaine shared a similar sentiment at a Dec. 18 town board meeting.
"I don’t think it will serve [Suffolk] well in the long run," he said.
Both Romaine and Garcia suggested the county's move favors a particular candidate in the county race.
"I believe the Democrats are trying to play favorites," Garcia said. "They saw they were behind on quality candidates so they changed the rules on the voters and that’s just wrong."
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, who is vying with Southold Town Councilman Al Krupski for Romaine’s vacated seat, said he believes the amount of time between Election Day and the Jan. 15 special election was deliberate, and meant to favor Democratic candidate Krupski.
“This is about Democrats suppressing voter turnout, the best they can – and me trying to get voters to turn out,” Walter said.
Walter said his belief that the Democratic party is trying to suppress voter turnout is reflected by the lack of lawn signs advertising Krupski’s campaign.
“They want to keep this election a big secret,” Walter said.
The brief period before the special election, Walter said, does not give voters enough time to know the candidates.
But in an interview Friday, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider disagreed, saying whether voters would have enough time to vet the candidates was simply a difference of opinion.
"I’ve never heard a voter complain that the elections don’t go long enough," he said. "Usually you hear people complain that elections go on too long."
Krupski echoed Schneider's sentiment. "Unless people like the idea of it being like a presidential election, which goes on for two years, I think eight or ten weeks is pretty long for a campaign,” he said.
Schneider also said the inability of the two municipalities to align their special elections was simply due to their respective election laws. Suffolk County requires a special election between 0 and 90 days after an official vacates a position, whereas Brookhaven Town has a law that specifies a special election must take place between 60 and 90 days after a seat becomes vacant.
"The goal was to make sure that the East End had representation as soon as possible," Schneider said. "Only two of the 18 Suffolk County legislators represent the East End. To have one of those positions vacant has a disproportionate impact on the East End."
Rich Schaffer, head of the Suffolk Democratic Party, agreed with Schneider.
"It’s pretty simple – the people of the district should not be without a representative for every long," Schaffer said. "... I think the Legislature wanted to make sure that the voters could have a choice and get a representative back on the Legislature very quickly."