Long Beach residents sent a loud message on Election Night: that it was time for change on the City Council.
Democratic candidates Karen McInnis and Liz Treston, as well as Mike Delury — a Democrat who ran on the Republican line on a bipartisan ticket — came out ahead on Tuesday in a race for three open council seats.
With all 24 precincts reporting in Long Beach, McInnis and Treston won by wide margins, with 3,419 and 3,179 votes, respectively. Delury, meanwhile, garnered 2,918 votes, and edged out Democratic candidate Ron Paganini, who had 2,839.
Incumbent council President Anissa Moore, a Democrat who ran on the Republican line with Delury, received 2,698 votes, while their running mate, Republican Lauren Doddato-Goldman, had 2,236.
Nassau County Legislator Denise Ford, a Democrat from Long Beach who caucuses with Republicans, easily defeated her challenger, Democrat Jeffrey Saxon, 8,879 to 4,519, in the 4th District race. “It’s an honor and a privilege to once again be elected to serve the people of my district,” Ford said on Facebook. “Thank you, and I look forward to working with you.”
Treston, McInnis and Paganini easily defeated incumbents Anthony Eramo and Chumi Diamond and their running mate, Jim Mulvaney, in the June Democratic primary. Eramo, Diamond and Mulvaney ran in the general election on the Working Families Party line, and received 270, 264 and 221 votes, respectively.
“We won!” McInnis, a financial executive, told a large group of supporters who gathered at JJ Coopers on Park Avenue. “We took Long Beach back. Long Beach is going to be an honest and open government. We are one community, and we’re all going to work together to put this city back on the path to fiscal transparency and solvency, and we’re going to get great projects in here.”
This year’s council race came amid two criminal investigations into questionable separation payouts to employees in the 2017-18 fiscal year — including a number of non-union staff who remained on the payroll — and on the heels of a dramatic revelation last year that the city’s finances had been mismanaged under former City Manager Jack Schnirman, as well as a fiscal crisis, a scathing state draft audit, two consecutive tax increases and concerns about the city’s water quality.
“I am very happy that the taxpayers, the residents, the business owners of the City of Long Beach … saw that there was needed change,” said Treston, a community advocate and the chairwoman of the Long Beach Community Organizations Active in Disasters.
Unifying a divided council
McInnis, Treston and Paganini, part of a group called the New Wave Dems LB, ran on a platform of change. McInnis and Treston pledged to bring stability and transparency to a council that many residents, including McInnis, have described as largely dysfunctional and unable to reach a consensus on a number of important issues, such as hiring a permanent city manager, reforming payout practices, developing a strategy to fix the city’s finances and, most recently, hiring outside legal counsel to respond to a state audit and determine how to recoup funds from employees who were overpaid.
Delury, McInnis and Treston said they would work with council members John Bendo and Scott Mandel — both Democrats who, over the past year, have forged an alliance on a divided council that included two lame-duck incumbents, Eramo and Diamond — when they take office on Jan. 1. Supporters lauded the council-members-elect for their leadership and community advocacy.
“I feel, personally, I could work with all different parties, because I think we have a common denominator and a bond — we all want Long Beach to be better, successful and thriving,” said Delury, the treasurer of the Village of East Williston. “I want to bring back the Long Beach pride. After [Hurricane] Sandy, residents didn’t see Democrat, Republican, color, issue, religion — they just saw people in need. I think I could work very well with the current council and council-elect McInnis and Treston because we all want the same goal — to make Long Beach better.”
Bendo and Mandel have been at odds recently, with some members of the city administration as well as Moore, over a move to hire outside legal counsel in the wake of a draft audit.
“The message that voters sent was that the status quo was no longer acceptable, that it was time to put city government back in the hands of the residents and put residents’ interests above political interests,” said Bendo, the council vice president. “People that ran and the people that won were all running with a common purpose — to get the city back on the right path. It’s going to be a council with a common set of goals.”
For her part, Moore — who was the first African-American elected to the council in 2015 — thanked her supporters in a Facebook post. Moore, who long described herself as an “outsider” on the council, said that she was proud of her accomplishments.
“Four years ago, we worked together as a diverse, unified community to make and shape history,” she said. “Today we celebrate all that we were able to accomplish together. It is unfortunate that I never had the opportunity to build a team and fulfill my vision for our dear city.”
Long Beach remains near the top of the state’s most fiscally stressed municipalities, and a recent draft audit, which covered the 2017-18 fiscal year, found that the city mismanaged funds, resulting in operating deficits totaling $8.5 million over the past four years. It also determined that the city had overpaid 10 current and former non-union employees more than $500,000 in separation payouts — including Schnirman — and noted that questionable leave payments were inconsistent with city code or contracts for more than two decades. The state recommended that the city recoup any overpayments identified in its report and amend city code to clarify unused leave accruals.
During the campaign, Delury, McInnis and Treston said they would move forward to implement recommendations made by the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments in June to reduce costs, as well as recommendations made by the state comptroller’s office. McInnis said that with the city in the middle of a fiscal year, one of the first priorities was to ensure that it “stayed on budget.”
“We’ve had deficits for the past several years, and the council has not been diligent to make sure that we stay on budget,” McInnis said. “We’ll be working with department heads and the acting city manager to find any variances to the current budget and address them now, instead of being inactive.”
“I think that residents lost their faith in their government and feel that they’re not adequately represented,” she added. “We’re going to get the government working again in an efficient and effective manner.”