Long Beach Democrats on Tuesday chose incumbent City Council President John Bendo and his running mate, Tina Posterli, to run for council seats in the November general election. The two ran with the support of the Nassau County Democratic Party.
Roy Lester, who campaigned independently, was also elected to run for a third council seat, ending a messy primary conducted primarily on social media and characterized by candidates hurling charges of incompetence and corruption at one another.
A third candidate backed by the Nassau County Democrats, Paulette Waithe, was edged out of the race.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in Long Beach by a margin of about 3 to 1, so the winners of the primary appear likely to win in November. But Republicans have won seats on the City Council in the past. James Moriarty, the local Republican leader, noted Tuesday that the part had representation on the council from 2003 to 2014 and again this year.
“Now we’re off to November,” Moriarty said Wednesday morning. “A lot can happen. There will be an additional 8,000 voters” in the general election, including Republicans and independents, he added. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re optimistic. We hope it will be a clean, issue-oriented race.”
Democrats crowded into JJ Coopers on Park Avenue to await the results, which were posted as soon as polls closed at 9 p.m. Cheers rose when Bendo, Posterli and Lester were announced the winners. The Nassau County Board of Elections, however, may not make the results official for a few weeks.
Bendo, Posterli and Lester turned back a challenge from a slate of candidates calling themselves Long Beach United, which included Leah Tozer, Bill Notholt and Kevin Heller.
Bendo, a nuclear engineer, dominated the voting, according to results from the county Democratic Party. He took an early lead in the count, and garnered 1,072 votes. Posterli, a health care, environment and nonprofit executive, had 860 votes, and Lester, an attorney, a former Long Beach Board of Education president and a regular at City Council meetings, had 833.
Tozer, a well-known real estate broker who had run before, collected 590 votes, Heller had 564 and Notholt, 453.
The three argued that Bendo and current City Council members had failed in their job of running the city and bringing it back from the edge of a fiscal cliff, overspending on hiring a team of consultants to guide it back to financial stability.
On Wednesday morning, Tozer said she had “run a good race. I got into it late. We had no money and no political backing, and we were getting an onslaught of terrible criticism” from opponents.
She did not close the door on running again. “I don’t close doors,” she said. “I go through them.”
Democrats rejected Long Beach United’s arguments and chose to keep the city on its current course. Bendo stood solidly behind City Manager Donna Gayden in the hiring of consultants and other measures Gayden has taken to steady Long Beach’s finances.
Speaking over the cheers at JJ Coopers, Bendo said, “I’m just very happy voters in Long Beach felt good about the path we were on and did not want to go back to the way we were.” He and Posterli had argued that previous City Councils had been corrupt and incompetent, particularly in allowing at least 10 city officials to depart with sizable payouts that were ultimately scrutinized by the state comptroller and the Nassau County district attorney.
“All I can say is that the best people won,” Lester said.
“I’m honored and thrilled that Long Beach put its confidence in me,” said Posterli, who recently stepped down as president of the Long Beach school board. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work in the fall.”
“I’m very pleased with the results,” council Vice President Karen McGinnis said. “We must remember that the problems the city faces are grave.” She acknowledged that the primary had been ugly at times, and said she hoped to heal wounds and move the Long Beach party ahead for the challenges of the November election.
The city faces a $131 million lawsuit from a developer, and continues to struggle to regain its financial footing.
There were two major debates during the primary, one conducted by the Long Beach Library and the other by the North Park Civic Association. The primary was generally dominated by posts on social media, fliers stuck in mailboxes and ads in the Herald.