NEW YORK, NY – Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, 62, the Republican Party candidate for County Executive against 2 term Democratic incumbent Steve Bellone in the upcoming November 5th election, has long stood out in the highly contentious world of politics for his well- known practice of de-personalizing his criticism of his opponents. Kennedy’s distaste for mounting personal attacks against his political adversaries has even been said to annoy some Republicans.
However, it has apparently worked well for Kennedy, an attorney, who has won every one his 7 political contests, going back to his first in November 2004, when he was elected as a Suffolk County legislator, continuing with his 4 successful re-election bids to that 2 year term office and cresting with his first election to the executive position of County Comptroller in 2014 and his re-election to that post 4 years later.
Kennedy, whom I interviewed last week, explained his restraint in attacking past political adversaries.
“I always possessed a personal respect for my [Democratic] opponents”, he stated. “So in every one of my campaigns I never questioned their integrity or sincerity. What I did question was their policies. And I tried my best to explain to voters why my policies would better serve the needs of their families, their communities and the county than would those of my opponent.”
While Kennedy told me that as in the past he will focus his current campaign on the issues affecting the county, he added that unlike his former contests, he is running a “gloves off’’ race against Bellone.
“How do I in good conscience give Mr. Bellone a personal free pass when he has so severely damaged the financial stability of Suffolk County while burdening its citizens with out of control taxes”, he charged.
Repeating to me what he has been saying to voters on the campaign trail and stating to other media, Kennedy blamed Bellone for the downgrading of the county’s bond rating to Baa2 (a ranking associated with junk bonds), raising property taxes by 22% and increasing the employee payroll cost by more than $100 million, while, paradoxically, eliminating almost 1,000 jobs from the county workforce over the same time span.
“Where do I begin in describing the horrible job Bellone has done the past 7 plus years he’s been in office?” stated Kennedy, who, clearly no longer burdened by his past self-generated dictum to go easy on his opponents, added, “The county’s fiscal mismanagement has resulted in our abysmal bond rating, creating a fiscal crisis so severe that we struggle to meet our weekly and monthly financial obligations.”
“The increased property taxes”, continued Kennedy, “have placed a tremendous burden on home owners, and the decrease in the workforce has reduced the quantity and quality of services the county is responsible for providing its citizens. And we have one main person to blame for this man- made mess, Steve Bellone”.
Kennedy also blamed Bellone for increasing county service fees, which, he noted, Suffolk’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office reported in 2017 had increased by a total of $80 million from the previous year and has continued to rise since then. This increase, the Republican challenger contended, is the reason why residents reportedly now pay higher amounts for such transactions as recording their mortgages, purchasing burglar alarms and even taking their dogs to the groomer.
Kennedy also charged that under Bellone’s stewardship the county has upped the fees at public parks for recreational activities ranging from camping, fishing, hunting and group events, as well as raising the amount residents pay for parking on the encompassing public grounds.
“These multiple fees are nothing less than onerous hidden taxes, which hit the working-class residents the hardest. Bellone should be ashamed of himself”, said Kennedy.
Kennedy, a lifetime resident of Suffolk County who with his wife of 44 years, Leslie, raised now adult children and has 7 grandchildren, imputed these increased taxes and higher fees to the 16,000 population decline the county has suffered during the incumbent’s tenure.
“Thousands of Suffolk County mothers and fathers have seen their children and their children’s children forced to leave the county and the state due to the burden of Bellone’s tax hikes, which, by the way, indirectly increase the cost of other day to day living expenditures”, contended Kennedy.
Kennedy promised that if he wins in November, he will implement policies which will reverse this trend and restore the county’s fiscal health. While stating that he plans to save millions of tax payer dollars by merging agencies that perform the same jobs, reducing the number of departments in the county’s executive branch and establishing cost cutting partnerships with town governments, he stressed that the major way he plans to reduce the county deficit will be by bringing new businesses into Suffolk, which, he said, will create many new tax- paying jobs and generate millions of dollars in tax revenue to the county.
“We will save money by reducing wasteful government spending. Even more importantly, we will raise funds to meet our expenses by adding revenue brought in by new businesses, which will be established in the county”, said Kennedy “This will be accomplished by creating a pro- business climate, which will be the direct opposite of the progressive leftist high taxes, over-regulation anti- business climate created by Bellone, which, sadly, has caused hundreds of businesses to close in Suffolk.”
Kennedy reflected that his current job as comptroller, which involves auditing the finances of both county department and county funded nonprofit agencies, processing county invoices, signing off on county checks and issuing annual county financial reports, but does not include any form of control over taxation and spending, has been both enlightening and frustrating.
“As comptroller I have gained a very thorough understanding of the complexities of the county’s budget. However, the authority of the comptroller is limited by statute”, explained Kennedy. “So I did not have the legal power to stop Bellone from raising taxes and fees. And I did not have the legal authority to prevent him from overspending to such an extent that the county now faces the ticking time bomb of a $900 million deficit. If I win in November, I pledge to reverse his policies and return fiscal sanity to Suffolk County.”
After all of the votes are counted in the late evening of November 5th, we will learn whether or not Kennedy will have the chance to make good on that pledge.
Columnist’s note: I look forward to interviewing County Executive Bellone to give him the chance to make the case for his reelection. However, as of this writing his office has not yet responded to my email or 2 telephone calls requesting such an interview.