Long Beach Democrats swept Tuesday’s election in a City Council race that included a major victory by independent candidate John Bendo, who received the most votes on a Democratic ticket with incumbents Scott Mandel and Chumi Diamond following a hard-fought campaign.
Democrats called the win just after 10 p.m. According to the Nassau County Board of Elections, with all 24 precincts reporting, Bendo received 4,617 votes, while Mandel and Diamond had 3,407 and 3,113, respectively.
In a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, the GOP slate attempted to grab three seats held by Mandel and Diamond as well as Democratic incumbent Len Torres, who did not seek re-election. Republican Chris Jones trailed closely with 3,058 votes, while his running mates, Republican William Haas and Democrat Leah Tozer, received 3,032 and 2,874.
Green Party candidate Allison Blanchette garnered 921 votes, while write-in Runnie Myles had 577, and Green Party candidate Joseph Naham had 441.
The crowded race at times grew heated, and generated negative Facebook pages and campaign literature, aimed mostly at Bendo and Tozer. The incumbents were criticized over issues ranging from iStar and overdevelopment to a lack of transparency and what has been described as excessive borrowing.
Bendo, president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association and a frequent critic of the city administration, pledged to be a voice for residents, saying that he was not beholden to a political party. He ran on a platform focused on bringing more transparency and accountability to City Hall.
Though on a Democratic ticket with the incumbents, Bendo ran his own campaign, much to the chagrin of party leaders, political observers said.
“I think more than anything, we sent a message,” Bendo told his supporters at a gathering at Shine’s bar in the West End. “...The [Democrats] put us on their line, which helped, but we did this without party money, party backing and without the machine behind us. It wouldn’t have happened without all of you. I don’t think anyone expected this.”
But Democratic Party officials said that the administration’s record, including its recovery efforts after Hurricane Sandy and the turn-around of the city’s finances after a previous Republican administration left it on the brink of bankruptcy six years ago, resonated with voters.
“Every council race is a referendum on the administration, and this council race was certainly no different,” said Steve Kohut, a member of the Independent Democratic Club of Long Beach.
“Everything that you could throw at the administration was thrown at them. The bottom line is — and congratulations to John Bendo for running the campaign the way he ran it — the voters responded by returning Chumi Diamond to a two-year term, and re-electing Scott to a second four-year term. I think that represented how residents feel about the administration. Every time you walk on the boardwalk, or see a house being raised and streets being paved, that work resonated with voters.”
Both Kohut and Independent Democratic Club President Darlene Tangney said that voter turnout was high — 8,000 residents of Long Beach alone, or 27 percent of registered voters. Both attributed the turnout in part to opposition to a constitutional convention, and said that the local victories also reflected Democratic sweeps in Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead, including a win by Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman, who defeated Republican Steve Labriola in the race for county comptroller.
“We are so proud of Long Beach Democrats, and pushing Jack Schnirman and Laura Curran over the top,” Tangney said. “It was incredible — what a county sweep. We were energized as Democrats — I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Long Beach Republican Committee Chairman Jim Moriarty said that his slate did well in traditional Republican strongholds such as the West End, Canals and Westholme neighborhoods.
“With all of the different candidates running, it was a crowded field in which all the opposition was divided, and the incumbents were able to take advantage of that,” Moriarty said. “I always believed John Bendo was going to be a strong candidate from the beginning. Clearly, residents are opposed to the way things are being done in City Hall. There were a lot of people — even Bendo’s people — who wanted to see change at City Hall.”
Mandel, who was first elected in 2011 as part of a Democratic sweep that took control of City Hall, said that one of his top priorities would be to continue to move forward with state-funded flood protection projects along Reynolds Channel and other resiliency measures, while Diamond said she would continue to work with her fellow council members to deliver balanced budgets and expand the tax base.
“I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to continue serving the residents of Long Beach and continue the progress that we started,” Mandel said. “I think the turnout showed that people are, overall, happy with the direction of the city, and I’m excited to continue working with the council and John Bendo, and I look forward to everybody working together to do what’s in the best interests of the city.”
“It feels great to have been elected by the people of Long Beach,” added Diamond. “I’m honored to have the support and trust of so many people across our city. Now, the real work begins, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues to continue to deliver meaningful change and results across our community.”
In a message on Facebook, both Jones and Tozer thanked their supporters and congratulated the winners. “A huge congratulations to Scott Mandel, Chumi Diamond and John Bendo for being the voice of Long Beach,” Tozer wrote. “I know you will all do the right thing for Long Beach and our future.”