Saturday 6 November 2021

Law-and-Order Concerns Propel GOP to Victories on Long Island

 A red wave rolled through Long Island this Election Day. And according to those responsible for it, concerns over crime and bail reform were central to Republicans’ success there. 

Going into Election Day, Democrats controlled every major office in Long Island’s Nassau County and boasted a nearly 90,000-person registration advantage. Yet more registered Republicans than Democrats cast ballots on Tuesday, allowing the GOP to flip the county comptroller’s and district attorney’s offices for the first time in 15 years.

Republicans ousted Nassau County executive Laura Curran in addition to piling up wins in the races for county clerk, Hempstead town supervisor and town clerk, North Hempstead town supervisor and town clerk, Oyster Bay town supervisor and town clerk, and mayor of Glen Cove, as well as in 14 of 19 races for the Nassau County legislature.

While Long Island has traditionally leaned Republican, Nassau County favored Joe Biden over Donald Trump by a margin of ten points last year. Both Nassau and Suffolk County — which is farther East and generally more conservative than Nassau — have trended blue in the past decade.

Christopher Malone, a political scientist and associate provost at Farmingdale State College on Long Island, called this year’s election results a “backlash” against Democrats, similar to the one seen in 2009, the same year Barack Obama became president. 

“The issues are different, but the dynamic of a red wave that just came across Long Island is really evident and I think it has local, state, and national implications,” Malone told National Review

Prosecutor Anne Donnelly handily defeated Democratic state senator Todd Kaminsky, whom the local GOP dubbed “Turn ’Em Loose Todd” because of his vote in favor of the 2019 law that eliminated cash bail for defendants accused of misdemeanor and “non-violent” felony crimes. Some of the bail reform changes were rolled back one year later in response to an outcry from law enforcement and the public.

Still, bail reform became a major focus of the election, propelling Donnelly to a 20-point win despite the fact that Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor from Brooklyn, was the heavy favorite in the race.

“It was just a terrible law that was passed,” Nassau County Republican Committee chairman Joseph Cairo Jr. told National Review of the bail-reform law. “It gives criminals the ability to commit a crime today, get arrested, be brought into court later today and be free again tonight and go out and commit another burglary — this has actually happened.”

Cairo said that bail reform became a major issue in almost every race, as did Curran’s “flawed” property-tax reassessment system, which led to outrage from residents when property taxes increased.

He also pointed to general discontent with the state of the country as a booster for GOP candidates.

“Whatever the president’s doing, the people of Nassau County are not happy,” he said, adding that people “weren’t feeling good about what’s going on in Washington.”

He said that even some Democrats told canvassers they planned to vote Republican because of “discomfort” with their party.

“Long Island is very much like the rest of the country: There was a red wave,” Jay Jacobs, New York State’s Democratic chairman and the leader of the Nassau County party, told the New York Times. “Republicans were energized because they’re angry and they’re unhappy with the direction of the country. We saw that in polls. Democrats are disheartened and unenthusiastic.” 

Meanwhile, in Suffolk, Republican Ray Tierney pulled off a similar upset against incumbent district attorney Tim Sini by nearly 37,000 votes in a race that was also defined by bail reform. Republicans also won control of the county legislature for the first time in 16 years after unseating three Democratic incumbents.

Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman Jesse Garcia told National Review that the party was “cautiously optimistic” as the election approached after having sensed significant momentum on the ground. The committee’s strategy was to use Tierney’s campaign for DA as the “umbrella” for all of the other elections around the county, bringing everything back to voting for Tierney and for the GOP more generally in order to bring law and order back to Long Island.

“We were finding that crime was an issue that crossed every path that we had, it didn’t matter what kind of voter you were in Suffolk County — Republican, conservative, unaffiliated, or Democrat. People were not feeling safe.”

He cited rising crime, including homicides and shootings, as well as residents being “fed up with one-party Democratic progressive rule,” whether it be at the local, federal, or state levels, as reasons why Republicans did well in Suffolk, where Democrats currently control the county executive’s office and had long controlled the legislature. 

“Everything came up positive on Election Day — we not only elected overwhelmingly a new district attorney . . . we went from eight seats to 12 seats in the current legislature,” he said.

Farmingdale’s Malone said it’s “indisputable” that crime and taxes were the main issues on the minds of voters, but noted that “in the backdrop, you had the vaccine mandates, which is connected to the schools issue.”

He observed that in Nassau, Blakeman was vocal about New York City firefighters and New York Police Department officers being forced to take the vaccine or lose their jobs, an issue that resonated on Long Island, where many city firefighters and police officers live and commute into the city.

Malone also pointed to Democrats’ stalled agenda in Washington as a sticking point.

“The narrative of ‘the Democrats have become the party of Bernie Sanders and AOC’ really was the glue that put these local and state issues to the test and I think that’s what drove Republicans to the polls and what drove independents to vote for the Republican candidates,” he said.

He speculated that “unless Democrats get their act together in Washington,” Long Island might be an “even bigger harbinger of 2022” than the GOP’s successes in Virginia or the surprisingly tight gubernatorial race in New Jersey, given that Long Island is dominated by the suburban demographic that Republicans will need in order to take back the House and Senate. 

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