At Ed Romaine’s final meeting as a Suffolk County legislator in 2012, his colleagues gifted him a T-shirt that reflected his tendency to speak boisterously and at length on issues he felt strongly about. It read: “Help me, I’m talking and I can’t stop.”
Romaine, who has served as Brookhaven supervisor since, has more to say as he seeks Suffolk County’s top elected position.
Romaine, a Republican, says the role of county executive would be a capstone to his nearly 40 years as an elected official at the town and county levels. He faces Democrat David Calone, a former federal and state prosecutor and CEO of a private equity firm, in the Nov. 7 election to replace Steve Bellone, a Democrat who is term-limited after 12 years. The four-year term has a salary of $241,409.
“I’m very good about the fact that I’m at the end,” said Romaine, 76, who has not committed to seeking a second term if he wins. “I don’t want higher office. I want to do a good job, walk away, like I want to walk out of Brookhaven Town and say I left it better than I found it.”
The winner will inherit a financially healthier county with $700 million in reserves, expiring union agreements that include the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association and the potential for a massive countywide sewer expansion.
Calone characterizes Romaine as a career politician connected to people involved in past GOP scandals.
“If he hasn’t solved the problems that are facing us by now, he’s not going to solve them in the next four years,” Calone said during an Oct. 10 NewsdayTV debate.
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Romaine says his experience as an elected official makes him the best fit for the job and that he has never been implicated in a criminal scandal.
“I’ve brought a town board that works together, that doesn’t fight, that doesn’t argue, even over some of the most contentious issues,” Romaine said. “We’ve worked together. We’re a team.”
Calone has criticized Romaine’s campaign contributions from county unions, saying they would influence contract negotiations. Suffolk’s law enforcement unions and its Association of Municipal Employees have given Romaine more than $74,000 since he announced his candidacy in February, according to state Board of Elections records.
Romaine said he would control spending and pointed to three contracts he negotiated as supervisor, including an agreement with Brookhaven’s blue-collar union, a labor unit represented by the Civil Service Employees Association. The contract covers 12 years, with an average annual pay increase of 2.5%, less than the recent rate of inflation, he said.
From teaching to legislating
Romaine graduated from Adelphi University and began working in 1968 as a social studies teacher in public schools in Hicksville, Cedarhurst and Hauppauge.
His first municipal job was as Brookhaven commissioner of housing, community development and intergovernmental affairs, from 1980 through 1985, the year he was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature. He served in the legislature from 1986 through 1989 and co-sponsored the Drinking Water Protection Act, a quarter-cent sales tax program adopted by voters in 1987. Romaine also authored the 1986 Clean Water Bill that allocated funding to clean up waterways. He served as Suffolk County clerk from 1990 through 2005.
Romaine’s bids for higher office during that time were unsuccessful. He challenged incumbent Democratic Rep. George Hochbrueckner in the First Congressional District in 1988 and again in 1992. In 2003, he ran unsuccessfully against Steve Levy, then a Democrat, for Suffolk County executive.
Romaine returned to the legislature in 2006, until 2012, when he was asked by GOP leaders to run for Brookhaven supervisor to fill a vacancy left by Democratic Supervisor Mark Lesko’s early departure. Romaine won and was reelected in 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 and 2021.
Those who have worked alongside Romaine describe him as knowledgeable on issues and a tireless worker who often becomes animated without getting personal.
“He has a work ethic that is second-to-none,” said Greg Blass, a Republican who served on the county legislature with Romaine and later as county Department of Social Services commissioner. “He has a strong willingness to delve into detail. And you don’t see that too often at the county executive level.”
Republican Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, a former county legislator and treasurer who has donated $50,000 to Romaine’s campaign, said his background positions him to work well with other elected officials.
“I am very hopeful that with Ed Romaine as the county executive, having been a town supervisor, he will understand how important it is to be partners to the town,” she said. “Not just sit there on your high horse, thinking you are king of the county.”
Romaine said he always thought his late son, Keith, a Brookhaven Town Councilman, would one day run for town supervisor. Keith Romaine died at age 36 in 2009 from complications related to pneumonia.
“Nothing was harder than [losing] my son,” he said. “In many ways, he was like me.”
Romaine, who lives in Center Moriches with his wife, Diane, has a son, Kevin, who lives in Riverhead. His stepdaughter, Lisa Johnson, and three stepgrandchildren live in East Moriches.
He said Suffolk GOP leaders urged him to run again for county executive.
“One or two things are going to happen in November,” he said. “I’m prepared for both with happiness.”
One of Romaine’s first initiatives as supervisor was the Carmans River Conservation and Management Plan, designed to restrict development and preserve the fragile ecosystem along the 10-mile river.
He has advocated for the 924-megawatt Sunrise Wind Project, an offshore wind farm 30 miles east of Montauk that will need a 17.5-mile onshore cable underground in Brookhaven. Romaine noted he helped negotiate a benefits package that includes $130 million in payments to the town without the opposition wind projects in Wainscott and Long Beach have faced.
“He doesn’t just give it [the environment] lip service,” said Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed Romaine’s campaigns since 2005. “He really embraces it as part [of] what he should be doing.”
Community groups and Democrats have criticized Romaine’s handling of the Brookhaven Town landfill, accusing him of siding with the waste management industry over residents’ concerns about the facility’s health impacts and the potential for air and groundwater pollution.
“He’s been terrific on most environmental issues, including land preservation, drinking and coastal water protection,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based nonprofit Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “However, he’s struggled with the issues of odors, dust and quality of life emanating from the landfill into the community.”
Citing internal emails filed in a “whistleblower” lawsuit, Newsday has reported that employees of Covanta Hempstead suspected practices at its Westbury trash incinerator were risky, imprecise and contrary to what they represented to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The company has a contract to dump incinerator ash at the landfill.
Romaine has said the town had no role in testing the ash and that he has called for an investigation into the company’s practices, although in 2020 he signed a letter from the town requesting the state attorney general dismiss the whistleblower’s lawsuit against Covanta.
He has said he opposed a plan to raise the landfill’s height from 270 feet to 325 feet, and instead put it on a path to closure in 2024. The landfill is slated to stop accepting construction debris at the end of next year, but town officials have not set a precise date for halting ash disposal.
If elected, Romaine faces a slate of appointees from the Bellone administration. He said he would consider keeping some of them, to “send a signal that I am going to look for competency first.”
The county will need a new commissioner of the labor, licensing and consumer affairs department after former Commissioner Rosalie Drago left.
Romaine said he doesn’t know enough about Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison to say if he would seek a replacement.
Romaine said he would put a new leader in the county’s information technology department, where Scott Mastellon is commissioner. Suffolk’s ransomware attack in 2022 took some county services offline for months, and some still have not been restored. The county lacked a written cyber recovery plan and did not qualify for cyber insurance at the time.
Romaine said appointing a new commissioner of the county public works department would be his first priority. Commissioner Joe Brown will leave next month for a job with the city of Phoenix.
Romaine said he knows firsthand that disaster can strike without a competent leader to oversee infrastructure. He was on vacation in the Bahamas in February 2013 when a storm dumped 30 inches of snow. Brookhaven roads remained unplowed for days as stranded motorists spent nights in their cars or stayed at a Middle Island Walmart.
Acting Superintendent of Highways Michael Murphy, who officials said was suffering from a toothache and was out sick, resigned amid the fallout.
“I learned my lesson,” Romaine said.
Hometown: Center Moriches
Education/career: Bachelor’s degree in history from Adelphi University and master’s degree in history from the school formerly known as the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University. Has served as Brookhaven Town supervisor since 2012 and previously served as a Suffolk County legislator, Suffolk County clerk and Brookhaven Town Commissioner of Housing, Community Development and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Campaign fund: $1,539,352 as of Oct. 6, according to the state Board of Elections.