By Charles Scott, Kraig Klein and Pamela Wong
In the last days of her campaign for Suffolk County Legislature, Republican challenger Linda Kabot put out an accusatory op-ed against her opponent, incumbent Democrat Bridget Fleming. Fleming ignored the op-ed, and her Twitter feed instead focused on independent endorsements and water quality efforts. A week before the election on Nov. 5th, Fleming seems to be confident in her victory while Kabot is still fighting hard.
“I think under the leadership of my team we have been able to address some really big issues,” Fleming said.
Kabot expressed her disappointments with Fleming that drove her to run.
“I am stepping up because there critical issues we need to address at the county level,” Kabot said. “The incumbent and I agree on a lot of things, but we also have some critical disagreements on policy issues.”
Kabot is running against Democrat incumbent Bridget Fleming to represent District 2 of Suffolk County, which stretches from Southampton to Easthampton. The winner of the election will approve or disapprove proposed budgets and work on county policy for a two-year term. The two candidates have centered their campaign around some of the same issues, including environmental protections and affordable housing projects, but have been divided on others, such as campaign finance reform.
Fleming’s platform includes protecting the environment, such as reducing nitrogen levels in Suffolk County’s bodies of water. It also includes improving local transportation and infrastructure, with an emphasis on affordable housing projects.
“I’ve focused… on some important public health issues,” Fleming said in a phone call. “We’re glad to see…overdose fatalities trending downward, thank goodness. I have sponsored a bill to ban flavored vapes, and I focus a great deal on the epidemic of tick-borne illnesses.”
Kabot agrees with Fleming on protecting the environment and promoting affordable housing projects, but she’s made it clear that she disagrees Fleming’s advocacy for public campaign financing.
“It’s important to raise funds, but I don’t think taxpayers should be paying for those funds,” Kabot said.
Kabot has put out multiple op-ed articles, including one where she claims her opponent has appeared too rarely in public and has only appeared for photograph opportunities. Another article accuses Fleming of misappropriating $171 million in clean water funds, although some of those millions were diverted long before Fleming took office. Fleming’s campaign has not responded to either article.
Kabot has been asking residents door-to-door to garner support for her candidacy. Fleming is instead banking on her 14 years of experience in local political offices to capture residents’ votes. Her last public appearance was at an Easthampton environmentalist meeting on coastal erosion that took place on Oct. 28.
“I’ve been involved in a number of affordable housing projects in Easthampton, Southampton… [the] Eastport area, that are going to start to provide attainable housing for working families, particularly young working families whom we need to keep here to keep…our local economy vibrant,” Fleming said.
Fleming has more than a decade of experience as a New York County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor. Her campaign website asserts that her work as a prosecutor will help her if she is re-elected.
“…I draw on my experience as a fraud prosecutor to ensure that government handles your hard-earned tax dollars prudently,” Fleming said on her website.
Kabot has garnered support from candidates running for other local positions and is working with the local Republican Party to help her odds.
“Linda is a strong advocate for the commodities that the Trustees work hard to protect and preserve: our waterways and beaches,” Megan Heckman, a Suffolk County trustee candidate, wrote in an email. “Linda has made a promise to help clean up Suffolk County’s finances and increase transparency if elected.”
Fleming won her 2017 election by 64 percent, a fact that may help her win this year’s election.
“Incumbents generally hold an advantage relating to name recognition, ability to perform constituent service, and the fundraising advantages that come with being expected to win,” Jeremy Buchman, Associate Professor of Political Science at LIU Post, said.
Several residents and business owners didn’t know about either candidate or the upcoming election. Despite their experience and efforts, both Kabot and Fleming may be facing an unenergized voting body.
“Most voters do not pay a whole lot of attention to local elections,” Grant Reeher, professor of political science at Syracuse University, said. “[Local elections] tend to get less turnout… Unless there’s a specific issue, these things don’t get a lot of ground.”
The Suffolk County Legislature’s general election will be held on Nov. 5. Kabot and Fleming are the only candidates competing for District 2’s legislative seat.