Republicans seize on fear of crime in Long Island state Senate district

In Democratic State Sen. John Brooks, a beleaguered state GOP senses opportunity.

State Sen. John Brooks is seen as vulnerable by the GOP.

State Sen. John Brooks is seen as vulnerable by the GOP.

Republicans are in for a tough election cycle in the state Senate, but that’s not stopping them from seizing on whatever vulnerabilities they can. That means hammering Long Island state Sen. John Brooks on crime.

The Republican State Committee and the Senate Republican Campaign Committee paid for fliers to support Steve Rhoads, the GOP candidate in the 5th state Senate District, and paint Brooks as a pro-criminal lawmaker that promotes lawlessness. “John Brooks freed killers and rapists,” a flier provided to City & State reads in an ominous font, referencing Brooks’ support of the 2019 bail reform law, which eliminated pre-trial bail in a majority of nonviolent crimes and did not release any person following a conviction. It also alleges that Brooks freed “thousands of inmates” and erased the records of people charged with arson and domestic violence. State senators don’t have the authority to do either of those things, although Brooks voted to support the Clean Slate Act, which would have cleared the criminal record of most people after they finish their sentences and don’t get rearrested for a certain period of time. That bill, which is touted by criminal justice reform advocates as necessary to help people reenter society and the workforce, did not pass the Assembly last session and never became law.

With Republicans losing ground across the state over the past four years, the party’s campaign accounts have shrunk significantly as well, meaning leaders have to pick their fights carefully. With several more seats expected to flip and other incumbents likely to lose their seats due to redistricting, the GOP has a rare opportunity on Long Island to oust a Democratic incumbent. Brooks had been among the most vulnerable Democrats not just on the island, but in the state in 2018, the last time he faced a Republican challenge. He originally announced his retirement following the release of new district lines, but soon after changed course and said he would run in the newly drawn 5th District, rather than his old 8th District. Despite having the financial edge over Rhoads, the district is nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, and it voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. 

And where the GOP is choosing to use its limited resources to support Rhoads, Democrats have not steered much of their enormous war chest to keep Brooks in his seat. With six-figure expenses and transfers to support incumbents like Neil Breslin and Michelle Hinchey, Brooks has received less than $30,000 in assistance from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. The GOP, on the other hand, spent nearly $75,000 on Rhoads in its most recent campaign filings. While the party has not left Brooks in the dust as he faces yet another tough election cycle, the support is nowhere near what Democrats offered in years past to the candidate.