Bruce Blakeman, who has emerged as the leader of the Long Island suburban uprising against mask mandates, has lost his share of the election.
In 1998, mr. Blakeman – a lifetime Republican – Was thrashed in a national election for comptroller. A year later, he was stunned when he was voted out of the Nassau County Legislature, losing his position as chairman and majority leader. After running for mayor of New York City in 2009, he lost a congressional race to Long Island Representative Kathleen Rice in 2014.
But Mr Blakeman’s surprise win in November in the race for Nassau County director — which upset Laura Curran, a moderate first-term Democrat — has led to his informal anointing as the state party’s most unlikely new star after so many races. .
Blakeman’s seemingly determined political mission has helped fuel and challenge his rise to challenge and defy Government Leader Kathy Hochul, the state’s highest-ranking Democrat, over her mask mandates, as well as rising crime rates and bail reforms, which have proved powerful problems for Republicans.
“Bruce Blakeman is on site; he’s an important Republican leader in this state,” said Nick Langworthy, chairman of the Republican Party in New York. “Everyone counted him, but now Bruce has a great platform. And what I admire about him is that he really wants to use it.”
On Wednesday, Ms Hochul announced that she would end some indoor masking rules. The number of infections and hospitalizations has fallen rapidly as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has declined. She added that counties and individual businesses may still need masks, interpreting that decision as empowering for local leaders.
An extension of such restrictions seems unlikely in Nassau, at least as far as the provincial government is concerned. Shortly after being inaugurated in early January, Mr. Blakeman made headlines by issuing a series of executive orders ordering provincial agencies to stop enforcing mask mandates, and announcing that local school districts should vote on whether or not to award children. what he called “the constitutional right” to take off masks in the classroom.
Whether those injunctions are legal or not — and Ms Hochul says they clearly weren’t, as state warrants outweigh local rulings — the defiant stance resulted in Mr Blakeman’s ascent to the role of sought-after troublemaker, complete with repeated appearances. on Fox News and a hero’s welcome in Republican circles in Albany.
All of this, Mr Blakeman emphasizes, stems from a genuine concern for parental rights, not political gain.
“I think good governance is good politics,” Mr. Blakeman said in a recent State Capitol interview. “And part of good governance is listening to your voters.”
Blakeman’s opponents argue that such platitudes are just a disguise for an ambitious and often thwarted politician who has found his moment amid the polarization of the Trump era.
“He’s following the tried-and-true Republican script,” said Jay Jacobs, who is both chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party and the party’s state chairman. “You scare the voters or you make them angry.”
Mr. Blakeman’s sudden celebrity has already paid off in one way: Less than a week after announcing his executive orders, his party chose Nassau County to host the 2022 convention later this month, citing the “historic Republican revival” in the province.
Mr. Blakeman’s victory was part of a wave of Republican victories in Nassau, including by Anne Donnelly in the run for Nassau County District Attorney, the first time a Republican has held that position since 2005.
With a white mane, blue eyes and fond of hip three-piece suits, Mr. Blakeman, 66, exudes a sort of old-fashioned New York political swagger, complete with providing Page Six fodder, in part because his ex-wife, Nancy Shevell, is married. with Paul McCartney.
Politics is a bit of a Blakeman family business: Mr. Blakeman’s father, Robert, was a councilor, and his younger brother, Bradley, was on President George W. Bush’s staff at the White House. Blakeman, one of five siblings who grew up in Valley Stream, on the border with Queens, remembers using Halloween as a campaign outing for his father.
“I would go out with an empty bag and a full bag of literature,” Mr. Blakeman said. “I came home with a full bag of candy and an empty bag of literature.”
After college and law studies in Arizona and California—where he worked for Republican campaigners and as a driver and assistant to former First Lady Nancy Reagan—Mr. Blakeman returned to Long Island to serve as a partner in his father’s business before being named a Hempstead Town councilor in 1993. Later that same year, he won a full term on the council, before being elected to the County Legislature in 1995.
Last winter, he came full circle, serving as a member of Hempstead City Council again, when Nassau County Republican Chairman Joseph G. Cairo Jr. approached him about including Ms. Curran.
He was ambivalent, he said, because he was in “a very comfortable place in my life” and “wasn’t sure I wanted to get into a fight like that.”
But, Mr Blakeman said, he saw a gap when he looked at the polls, saying that while Ms Curran was popular, “she was upside down on every major issue”, including bail reform, although Ms Curran actually advocated for changes to the law and said it was going “too far and too fast”.
A 2019 law passed by Democrats in Albany had effectively abolished bail for many nonviolent crimes and most felonies.
To this end, Mr. Blakeman a law-and-order and anti-tax campaign. He seemed to turn concerned suburbs and seasoned Trump conservatives into a winning coalition, despite Democrats in the county by about 25,000 more than Republicans, with a tranche of some 200,000 independent voters.
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The margin was narrow, with Mr Blakeman beating Ms Curran by less than 1 percent, or about 2,100 votes.
Mr Cairo said Mr Blakeman’s opponents were “trying to portray him as a loser, and that he is only doing this because he is a friend of Cairo.”
However, Blakeman proved to be a persistent campaigner, even impressing some Democrats.
“I’d see him on the road and he’d be like, ‘Tom, we’re going to win this.’ And I’d say, ‘Really?'” said Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller, a Democrat and a figure in Nassau County politics for more than three decades. “But he believed in himself.”
Mr. Blakeman also won, said Lawrence Levy, the dean of suburban studies at Hofstra University, because he ” tapped into concerns about bail reform and property tax returns in a way that appealed to both his base and the kind moderate independent that Trump left in 2020.”
However, that combination will prove difficult to maintain, said Mr. levy.
“He is trying to thread a political and ideological needle,” he said. “He gets a lot of attention for taking very conservative populist stances with Trump-style rhetoric, ostensibly to deliver on his promises he made to his base. But he’s also trying not to completely alienate the kind of suburban voter who decides national and local elections.”
Still, Blakeman’s win especially gave hope to Republicans on Long Island, where Liberals celebrated in 2018, after anti-Trump sentiment led to four seats in the state’s Senate going to Democrats on the island. The party then took control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade.
And while new realignment cards could thwart any Republican dream of winning the State Senate — Democrats have a 23-seat lead in a 63-seat chamber — Robert Ortt, the Republican minority leader, said Blakeman’s potential potency of “bail reform and crime and public security” in elections across the state.
“It’s a template from the standpoint that it’s a huge issue,” said Mr Ortt, adding that “public safety is an issue we’re all campaigning for.”
Even before he took office, Mr. Blakeman was invited to Albany in mid-December to lead an anti-bail reform meeting at the state capitol and again took the opportunity to criticize Ms. Hochul as someone “who likes to lecture me about the law.”
“If you look at this bail reform law, it’s nothing more than a card to get out of jail,” he said, citing examples of gun ownership in his country regarding suspects released without bail. “It’s madness, it’s crazy and enough is enough.”
Of course, in a province where President Biden won, Blakeman has to walk a fine line between appealing to moderates and the Republican base. Asked about President Donald J. Trump, he said he was “a very effective president,” but added, “Our personalities and delivery style are very different.”
His rise in the Republican ranks has sparked a discussion that Mr. Blakeman — who lives in the affluent Atlantic Beach enclave with his wife, Segal Blakeman, a lawyer — may at some point want to challenge Ms. Hochul.
But Mr. Blakeman denies this, saying he supports this year’s frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Representative Lee Zeldin, and is happy to remain in Nassau.
“I have zero plans,” he said. “This is a great job, I love it. And I can stay at home.”