This year’s election results on Long Island, particularly in Nassau County, were indeed historic, when Republicans were unsuccessful in other parts of the country. I say this not just as a proud Nassau Republican, but as someone who has been a practitioner of government and politics at the town, county, state and federal levels for over a half century.
I have been a local committeeman, executive leader, councilman, county comptroller, congressman, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee and a Nassau County Republican vice chairman, and have participated in successful and unsuccessful presidential campaigns by John McCain, George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump. I ran for state attorney general against Bob Abrams in 1986, losing by 1.2 million votes and having my own mother tell me how much Abrams helped senior citizens!
In recent years, it is remarkable how much the Nassau County Republican Party has achieved under Joe Cairo’s leadership, and how far the party has come. Nassau Republicans had fallen on hard times in 2017 and 2018. The county was no longer the Republican stronghold it had been. Indeed, there were 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Democrats held the county executive’s, district attorney’s and comptroller’s offices. For the first time ever, there was a Democratic Town of Hempstead supervisor, and Democrats controlled the Town of North Hempstead, the City of Glen Cove and the City of Long Beach. Two of three congressional seats in Nassau were held by Democrats, and Republicans had lost three State Senate seats.
The reasons for this downswing including a shift in demographics — ethnic groups that had no prior allegiance to Republicans moved into the county — and a backlash against the Trump administration, abetted by a liberal media. But those were only excuses. Politics and government aren’t supposed to be easy. That’s the challenge of democracy. A political organization can’t afford to be satisfied with the status quo, and can’t continue to rely on yesterday’s methods and tactics.
When he became the Republican chairman, Cairo made a point of meeting with Republican clubs and councils throughout the county. He sought out quality candidates like Anne Donnelly, a career prosecutor who would become district attorney in 2021. Cairo also reached out to newcomers, seeking the best and brightest and persuading them they were welcome to play lead roles in the party. In 2021, Mazi Filip, an Ethiopian refugee who had served as a paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces before moving to Long Island, a mother of seven married to a Ukrainian-born cardiologist, became the first Republican Great Neck resident ever elected to the County Legislature.
Cairo went into the business community to recruit Jen DeSena, who became the first Republican to be elected North Hempstead supervisor since 1989, and was re-elected this year. The Democratic City of Glen Cove elected Pamela Panzenbeck mayor in 2021, and reversed the makeup of the City Council from 6-1 Democrat to 6-1 Republican, which it remained this year. And in Long Beach, which has an overwhelming Democrat registration edge, Republicans swept three contested City Council seats and the County Legislature seat.
For the major, defining races, Cairo turned to veterans. Don Clavin, Hempstead’s longtime receiver of taxes, won back the supervisor’s office for Republicans in 2019, and then Bruce Blakeman defeated the very capable Laura Curran in 2021 to become county executive, where he has done an outstanding job. In 2022 Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin overcame the county’s Democratic registration advantage of 100,000 and received 50,000 more votes in Nassau than Gov. Kathy Hochul, while Republicans were victorious in all three congressional races and won back three State Senate seats.
None of this happened by chance or just by selecting the best candidates. Cairo combined the best of the old with the best of the new to get the Republican message to the voters. To accurately gauge existing issues and to spot others before they arose, he relied on expert pollster and consultant John McLoughlin. (Full disclosure: McLoughlin was my consultant for all 28 years I was in Congress.)
While he was analyzing the issues, Cairo was re-energizing local Republican committees and clubs, making sure they were in touch with their communities and prepared to work hard from Labor Day through Election Day, making calls and distributing brochures door to door. Only the Nassau GOP could turn out more than a thousand campaign workers for a candidate on short notice.
And Republicans owe a debt of gratitude to Democrats for lurching so far leftward and providing us issues such as bail reform, defunding the police, unchecked illegal migration and proposals to impose city-like housing in suburban Nassau. These were political gifts, but serious issues that affected county residents and threatened their way of life. Confronting these issues head on was consistent with Republican values and principles.
Cairo made sure that all Republican candidates, officeholders and party volunteers spoke with one voice. They did, and the results have been repeated Republican victories, and what I believe are victories for Nassau County residents. Good job, Joe!