Jerry Kremer

Whatever happened to a fabled Democratic machine?


This column could have many titles. One might be, “Is there a Democratic Party in Nassau County?” Another could read, “Whatever Happened to the once proud Democratic machine in Long Beach?”
No matter which title you like, the subject matter boils down to the fact that there is essentially no Democratic Party in Long Beach or Nassau County, and the Republicans are feasting on the bones of a moribund entity. There is no doubt that the GOP’s success on Election Day was attributable to the efforts of Joe Cairo, the county Republican Party chair.
Cairo is a brilliant leader, and he works at his job 24 hours a day. Last week he scored a big victory in the Town of North Hempstead, where he spent an estimated $1.5 million to get Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and a few Town Board members re-elected. Jon Kaiman, the former supervisor, ran a credible campaign, but his efforts were no match for Cairo and the Republican apparatus. Available statistics show that the Republicans had a 35 percent turnout at the polls, while the Democrats had a turnout of roughly 25 percent.
In the contests for the County Legislature, Democrats managed to keep their seats and prevented the Republicans from gaining a super-majority. There was a contest in Glen Cove between incumbent Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck, a Republican, and the former Republican county comptroller, George Maragos, who’s now a Democrat. In a city that changes mayors frequently, Maragos lost.
Which brings us to the election for the control of the Long Beach City Council. In the past, even with Republicans scoring great successes in the county, the Long Beach Democratic Party would have been able to fend off any kind of political tidal wave. Instead, the Democrats wound up losing control of the council to three Republican challengers.

If you’re interested in some local political history lesson, the last time Republicans controlled Long Beach City Hall was in 1970. How do I know that? Because I took over the Democratic Party leadership at the same time I was serving in the Assembly. I took the job of party chair to help the party regain control of the City Council. We ran an aggressive campaign, and in November 1972, five Democrats were elected in Long Beach, ousting the Republican incumbents. Having regained my senses, I then resigned as chair. Being both an assemblyman and a party leader was a mistake.
It’s worth noting that as far back as the 1940s, Long Beach was one of only two area communities with a strong Democratic Party. The city was often described as “a Democratic oasis in a Republican desert.” In my early teens, national Democratic figures such as Gov. Averell Harriman, Vice President Alben Barkley and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson came to Long Beach to get the blessing of the local party leader.
There are still a few readers who will remember the late Phil Kohut, who was the party boss for many years. Each year he would host a summer cocktail event that was attended by Democrats seeking his favor, as well as every major Republican elected official on Long Island. Sadly, the local party operation has faded away over the years, and the latest City Council election results proved that.
Another example of the weakness of the Democratic Party is the fact that Long Beach is now represented by Republican Assemblyman Ari Brown, who lives in the Five Towns. From 1966 to 2016, Long Beach had three Democrats representing its interests in Albany. Yours truly and Harvey Weisenberg represented the city for nearly 50 years, followed by Todd Kaminsky.
There is no doubt that Long Beach has undergone major demographic changes, with many new faces moving into the community. But according to the Nassau County Board of Elections, many of those new residents come from Democratic areas, and were accustomed to supporting Democratic candidates. I wish the newly elected Republican City Council members the best of luck, because my heart is still in Long Beach, after living there for 40 years. Their good fortune is in part due to the demise of a once great Democratic Party organization.

Jerry Kremer was an Assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?