When Steve Bellone was first elected Suffolk County Executive four years ago, he inherited a financial firestorm.
The county was facing a $500 million deficit and a $200 million structural budget gap, as Mr. Bellone, a Babylon Democrat, has pointed out often in his re-election campaign.
Through tough decisions like the elimination of more than 1,000 budgeted jobs and challenging political maneuvers like the closing of the John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank, Mr. Bellone says he has eliminated the deficit and cut the budget gap in half.
Locally, he worked to privatize the Riverhead Health Center — along with every other county health clinic — which is expect to save the county more than $10 million.
He has been forced to spend much of his first term creatively dealing with county budget matters without piercing the state property tax cap.
Still, his Republican opponent, James O’Connor, a Great River attorney and former North Hempstead Town Board member and building commissioner, is running almost entirely on the issue of county finances. He’s criticized the incumbent on the new police contracts negotiated in his first term and said Mr. Bellone has not done enough to cut spending and taxes.
At a News 12 debate, Mr. O’Connor appeared ill-prepared, often reaching for his talking points, even though he kept saying much of the same thing.
In a second term, we’d like to see Mr. Bellone continue to build on his strong relationship with our local legislator, Al Krupski, and establish a steadier presence here on the North Fork. He shouldn’t just make appearances for photo opportunities at local farms or when crisis strikes during a wildfire or massive fish kill.
That latter issue — water quality — is Mr. Bellone’s greatest opportunity to make his presence felt here. His administration’s recent update to the Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan was a good first step. Moving forward by taking action to reduce nitrogen pollution in our bays should be as critical a goal as any other in the second term he has rightfully earned.