2018 Elections

Incumbent Tracy Zamek; newcomers René Tidwell, Ryan Walker win PJ BOE seats after heated campaign

Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano and Comsewogue Superintendent Joe Rella. File photos

By Alex Petroski

Voters in the greater Port Jefferson area went to the polls in a giving mood May 15.

Port Jefferson School District residents approved the $44.9 million budget with 774 voting in favor and 362 against, while also passing a second proposition permitting the release of capital funds for a long-planned partial roof repair project at the high school.

“I’m really happy that the community came out and endorsed our spending plan for next year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said after the results were announced. “It’s really important. They showed a lot of support for public education in Port Jefferson School District, so we’re really, very happy about that.”

Across town in Comsewogue School District, the $91.9 million budget was also passed by an easy margin; 829 to 263. The district’s approximately $32 million capital bond proposition received 768 votes in support to just 315 against. The 15-year borrowing plan includes about $3 million in interest and will provide funds for upgrades in each of the district’s six buildings. The projects selected were the byproduct of extensive planning on the part of the facilities committee, a group of about 20 professionals from across the community.

Port Jeff’s new board of education members Ryan Walker and René Tidwell with re-elected incumbent Tracy Zamek. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We are grateful to our community for its continued support of our schools and our students,” Superintendent Joe Rella said in a statement. “Their approval of the bond and 2018-19 budget will enable us to enhance and enrich health and safety, infrastructure and the three A’s – academics, arts and athletics.”

Port Jeff’s approved budget includes a roughly 2.3 percent tax levy increase compared to the current year, while Comsewogue’s increase will be 2.1 percent.

Tracy Zamek, an incumbent on Port Jeff’s school board, secured one of the three seats up for grabs in a six-way race, securing 604 votes. She’ll be joined on the board by newcomers Ryan Walker, who received 660 votes, and René Tidwell, who got 649. Tidwell and Walker campaigned on a joint ticket, as Zamek did with candidates Jason Kronberg (369 votes) and Ryan Biedenkapp (481 votes).

“I’m honored to be re-elected again,” Zamek said. “I look forward to standing up for the kids in Port Jefferson School District. I look forward to the challenges ahead of being fiscally responsible with the LIPA challenge, as well as keeping Port Jefferson School District intact.”

The discussion surrounding the board of education vote in Port Jeff became contentious at times, especially on social media. Much of the angst can be traced to the possibility of decreasing revenue from property taxes as the district — along with Brookhaven Town and Port Jeff Village — work toward a likely settlement in a legal battle with the Long Island Power Authority over the utility’s assessed property tax value on its Port Jeff power plant, which LIPA contends is over-assessed. The district gets a large chunk of its operating budget revenue as a result of housing the plant.

“I’m thrilled at the turnout,” Tidwell said. “I’m thrilled that the budget was passed, and I’m ready to move forward. Right now, I just want to heal the division in our community and I’ll work together to figure out how we move forward.”

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team.”

— Ryan Walker

Walker expressed a similar sentiment.

“We’re pleased at the results obviously, and we feel that it’s a time for all of us to come together and to work as a team,” he said. “I think we’re going to have an amazing board this time and we’re going to accomplish amazing things. So, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to serve the people of the Port Jefferson School District.”

Biedenkapp, Farina and Kronberg did not respond to requests for comment sent via email by press time.

Comsewogue’s board of education vote was a foregone conclusion. Board President John Swenning, incumbent Rick Rennard and first-time candidate Corey Prinz ran an uncontested race for three open seats.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to serve another three years on the board,” Rennard said, adding he was pleased to hear of the budget and bond approvals.

Swenning, a mainstay on the Comsewogue board since 2005, called the district an incredible place to live in a statement.

“As a board trustee I am honored to work with fantastic administrators, teachers and staff and to represent a very involved and appreciative community,” he said.

Prinz, a district resident since 2004 and a commercial banker at Bank United, said he was thrilled to see the support for the budget and bond and is looking forward to working with the district.

Comsewogue School Board President John Swenning speaks during the school’s 2016 graduation ceremony June 23. Photo by Bob Savage

By Alex Petroski

Barring support for an unforeseen write-in candidate, Comsewogue School District taxpayers already know who will be on their board of education next school year. Three candidates are running for three seats, two of whom are familiar faces while one is a newcomer. The terms for board President John Swenning, and Trustees Rick Rennard and Louise Melious are up this year. Swenning and Rennard are running again while Melious is not. She did not respond to a request for comment about her decision. Corey Prinz, a district resident since 2004, is the third candidate and is making his first bid for the board.

Corey Prinz

Prinz, 37, lives in the district with his wife and two kids — a second-grader and a fourth-grader. He has worked for Bank United as a commercial banker for about a decade. Prinz said he enjoys the small-town feeling in Comsewogue and sees it as a good place to raise a family. He was previously involved as a board
member for Comsewogue’s youth lacrosse program and said running for the school board seemed like a natural progression to get more involved.

“I’m excited – this is going to be a lot of fun,” Prinz said. “I go to bed excited about this starting up.”

He said his personal mantra in his position with the youth lacrosse program was to help kids succeed athletically, but more importantly “I want them to be good humans.” Prinz called this day and age in education and beyond very difficult for kids who face pressures based on academics, security concerns and socially, among countless others.

“We’re going through some changes here in the world,” he said.

Prinz said he thinks the current board has done a great job.

“Honestly, it’s about listening right now,” he said of his approach stepping into the position. “I don’t want to imply there’s something broken that I’m coming in to fix. It can always be improved.”

John Swenning

Comsewogue is known to have among the highest opt-out rates for standardized tests on Long Island, a charge led by Superintendent Joe Rella. While Prinz said he doesn’t have a problem with parents electing to have students skip tests, his kids have taken them.

“Eventually kids will have to deal with testing that isn’t pleasant and comfortable. I’m OK with them getting used to that,” he said.

Prinz said his focus will be on helping to create well-rounded offerings, with equal emphasis on education, athletics, music and any other areas important to students and community members.

Swenning, 54, attended Comsewogue schools and has been a board member since 2005. He works as a sales and design consultant in the home improvement industry. He and his wife Andrea have been married for 32 years and have four children, all Comsewogue graduates.

“I have been part of so many good things here and look forward to continuing to see Comsewogue accomplish great things for our students,” he said of why he decided to seek another term.

The district earned the prestigious accreditation by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools in 2017.

He said safety and security improvements will be a focus for the board going forward, as well as expanding the district’s project-based learning pilot program, which the district implemented in recent years as an alternative to typical Regents-based classes.

Rick Rennard

Rennard started on the board in 2014. He has lived in the district for 14 years and has a child at each level in the district — an elementary student, middle schooler and a high schooler. He is a teacher at Newfield High School in the Middle Country Central School District, and also serves as Boy Scouts cubmaster and assistant scoutmaster for Troop 354.

“The reason that I decided to run again for the school board is because after serving for four years, I feel very comfortable with the responsibilities and commitments that come along with the position,” he said. “I feel the district is moving in a very positive direction educationally, and I want to continue that movement.”

He also expressed a desire to continue the project-based learning program as a focus moving forward.

To vote on the district’s budget, a $32 million capital bond proposal and BOE candidates, go to Comsewogue High School May 15 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

The race for the right to challenge New York’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in November will be a five-way battle.

The candidates got enough signatures from voters to qualify to be placed on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary ahead of the April 12 deadline. June’s winner will face the two-time incumbent congressman and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump (R) in the general election Nov. 6. New York’s primaries are only open to registered members of the applicable political party.

Kate Browning

Kate Browning. Photo from SCDC

Browning is the former 3rd District Suffolk County legislator, a position she held beginning in 2005 before
being term limited out of office. She was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to Germany at 19 years old and eventually landing in Shirley with her husband Steve in 1989. The mother of three was a bus driver in the William Floyd School District prior to taking office.

“Our district deserves a representative that is going to fight for working families in Suffolk County,” Browning says in a section of her website entitled “Why I’m running,” while also touting her ability to work across the
political aisle. “I’ve focused on quality of life issues, rehabilitating foreclosed zombie homes and selling them to first-time home buyers, keeping them away from speculators and absentee landlords. And I’ve secured funding for clean water infrastructure to protect our drinking water and our shorelines.”

Elaine DiMasi

Elaine DiMasi. Photo from SCDC

DiMasi, a political newcomer, was a federal contractor for more than 20 years in addition to more than two decades of experience as a project manager and physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. She describes herself as a lifelong environmentalist with firsthand knowledge about the potential to jump-start the local economy while safeguarding the environment through the establishment of clean energy jobs.

“I dare to believe in a government that cares for all its people equally, is responsive to them and their concerns,” she says on her campaign website. “An American future that values equality for its people that opens doors of opportunity for all. An America that leads by example through its laws and practices to ensure the dignity, well-being, and freedom of all people.”

Perry Gershon

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

Gershon wastes no time in his personal bio on his campaign website declaring he is a businessman, and not a career politician, having spent more than 25 years in commercial real estate finance. The first-time runner for office says his decision to leave the private sector and seek political office is a byproduct of outrage at the state of politics in Washington, D.C. He points to his entrepreneurial spirit and ability to build consensus among diverse parties as evidence of his qualifications to represent NY1.

“I’m fed up,” he says on his campaign website as to why he’s running. “It’s time Long Island had a strong voice to fight for high-paying jobs, affordable health care, high-quality education and clean air and water. Rather than stand by as Donald Trump and Washington politicians try to divide us, we can rebuild the middle class.”

Gershon and his wife Lisa have two sons and live on the South Fork.

David Pechefsky

David Pechefsky. Photo from SCDC

Pechefsky has extensive experience in government despite never holding elected office. The 1986 valedictorian at Patchogue-Medford High School has held various positions in government and politics during the last 20 years, including as a longtime staffer for the New York City Council, as well as a consultant for the National Democratic Institute from 2010-13. There, he worked to establish a legislative budget office to serve the Congress of Liberia. He also managed a U.S. government-funded program to strengthen the parliament of Somalia. He’s on leave from his current job as a senior adviser with Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit with the goal of fostering civic engagement.

“I am running for Congress because we need to put in place policies that make our economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy,” he says on his website. “I’ve spent my career working in government here in America and as an adviser to governments around the world and know how government can and should work to make things better for all us.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher

Vivian Viloria Fisher. Photo from SCDC

Viloria-Fisher was also a Suffolk County legislator, serving the 5th District 13 years beginning in 1999. She was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York with her family as a child. She also worked as a Spanish teacher in Three Village school district for 12 years.

“As your representative, I will: fight for a national living wage; support job growth in sustainable energy and medical research industries; reinstate tax deductions for workers and students,” she says on her website, among other legislative priorities.

She touts her work on expanding public transportation services, creating a Welfare-to-Work commission in the county and her support for marriage equality prior to its legalization in New York among her proudest accomplishments.

Check TBR News Media in print and online for coverage of both the primary and general election in the coming weeks and months. All information about the candidates is from the Suffolk County Democratic Committee website or the candidates’ campaign sites.

Attorney Ted Rosenberg defeated incumbent Ron LaVita for the village justice seat in Old Field. Photo from candidates

A contentious campaign has led to change in the Village of Old Field.

Attorney Ted Rosenberg won a run-off election against incumbent Ron LaVita for village justice April 3. Rosenberg defeated LaVita 189 to 146, according to village court clerk Marianne Feller. Out of the 335 votes, 65 were absentee ballots — 39 for Rosenberg and 26 for LaVita.

LaVita has held the unpaid position for 20 years, and in previous elections ran unchallenged. The run-off was held after the two candidates tied 114 each in the March 20 general election.

Rosenberg said he’s glad the campaign is over and is looking forward to serving the village for the next four years.

“[Residents] can expect me to impartially adjudicate cases and treat everyone fairly, treat everyone the same,” Rosenberg said.

Despite their differences during the campaign, he said he respects LaVita.

“My opponent campaigned very hard, very tenaciously, and I admire that,” he said.

LaVita said he was disappointed with the results.

“I am also disappointed in, and do not think I deserve, what in my opinion were the scurrilous attacks and rhetoric made against me,” LaVita said. “This is not Washington politics, and the ends do not always justify the means.”

During the campaign for village justice, allegations were hurled by both candidates. Rosenberg alleged during his campaign that LaVita did not have a certificate of occupancy for his home since making renovations 15 years ago. In spring 2017, LaVita said he paid the requested permit fees in anticipation of obtaining a CO. In July of that year, he was granted an extension, which expires in July 2018.

Among allegations made by LaVita, he said Rosenberg, who served as village associate justice, represented an accident client who sued the Village of Old Field and the constable. Rosenberg confirmed he represented a client against Old Field and said he checked with the mayor first, who said there was no conflict of interest created for taking on the case.

Despite the loss, LaVita said he’s grateful for the time he served as village justice.

“I want to thank all my friends and supporters in the village for allowing me to proudly serve them for the past 20 years and for supporting me throughout a very hard-fought election,” LaVita said.

Attorney Ted Rosenberg defeated incumbent Ron LaVita for the village justice seat in Old Field. Photo from candidates

A race 20 years in the making has created some bad blood.

The Old Field village justice election between incumbent Ron LaVita, who has run unopposed for two decades, and attorney Ted Rosenberg, ended in a 114-all tie March 20 after all the votes, including absentee ballots, were counted. A recount confirmed the vote totals and a run-off election is scheduled for Tuesday, April 3.

Rosenberg, the village’s current associate justice and a partner with Rosenberg & Gluck LLP, said he was surprised when he heard the news. LaVita, a general practice attorney, said he was disappointed when he heard the results.

“I thought I would have a commanding lead,” he said, adding he should have notified residents who were unable to vote March 20 to submit absentee ballots while he was campaigning, feeling that would have helped him take the election.

Things became heated between the two candidates before the March 20 election for the unpaid position when Rosenberg alleged during his campaign that LaVita did not have a certificate of occupancy for his home since making renovations 15 years ago. After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request with the village, it was confirmed by The Village Times Herald there is no current CO on record.

In a letter he handed out to residents, LaVita addressed the allegations saying he was ignorant in dealing with a “gypsy” contractor who he said did not complete the renovation and failed to file the proper paperwork. In spring 2017, LaVita said he paid the requested permit fees in anticipation of obtaining a CO. In July of that year, he was granted an extension, which expires in July of this year.

In the letter to residents and an ad, LaVita said despite doing his best to follow the canons of judicial ethics, he felt he needed to address allegations and provide further information about his opponent. He alleged Rosenberg represented an accident client who sued the Village of Old Field and the constable, and hosted a campaign fundraiser, which violates judicial ethics; and that the village treasurer works for Rosenberg’s law office.

Rosenberg confirmed he represented a client against Old Field and said he checked with the mayor first, who said there was no conflict of interest created for taking on the case. As for the alleged fundraiser, the attorney said it was a meet and greet his wife arranged, and there was no admission charged.

Rosenberg said he looks forward to a run-off election, and added he had hoped this time around there would be a meet the candidates night or debate so Old Field residents could learn more about the candidates. At press time, there was no debate scheduled, but Old Field residents can meet Rosenberg at The Setauket Neighborhood House at 95 Main Street April 2 at 7 p.m. to learn more about him. LaVita has not scheduled any sort of debate or meetings.

“I think it’s an opportunity for the voters of the village to gain more knowledge about the candidates and our qualifications,” Rosenberg said in regard to a debate. “Particularly for me, because I’m not the incumbent.”

During the March 20 election, Michael Levine, who has been mayor of Old Field since 2008, ran unopposed and maintains his seat. Bruce Feller and Tom Pirro are the village’s new trustees. Feller and Pirro ran for two seats on the village board after Timothy Hopkins and Robert Whitcomb decided not to run for re-election.

The village justice run-off election will be held April 3 at the Keeper’s Cottage at 207 Old Field Road. The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Absentee ballots will be re-accepted and must be in to Village Hall no later than 9 p.m. April 3

Sitting mayor and two new trustee candidates will run unopposed in their races during March 20 Old Field election

One of the concerns Old Field Mayor Michael Levine and two trustees will face in the near future is whether or not to install a cellphone pole in Kaltenborn Commons. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

It’s been 20 years since Old Field Village Justice Ron LaVita has been challenged in an election, but when residents vote March 20 they will see two names on the ballot.

Attorney Ted Rosenberg, who has served in various positions in the village and is currently associate justice, decided to throw his hat in the ring. Recently LaVita and Rosenberg answered questions about their backgrounds, and why they feel they would be the best choice for Old Field village justice.

Ron LaVita, village justice

Ron LaVita

LaVita, an Old Field resident since 1995, has lived in the Three Village area for nearly 50 years. For 27 years, he has been a general practice attorney working from his Setauket law office and, 18 years ago, he opened an additional office in Rocky Point.

“I have 34 years’ experience handling client cases similar to the ones I have presided over for the last 20 years,” LaVita said. “I am also a former Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association attorney. My opponent is an accident lawyer.”

LaVita became associate justice in Old Field in 1997. Soon after, he became acting village justice when William Johnson moved from Old Field and was unable to complete his term. LaVita said he has been unopposed in elections, except for his first run for office in 1998.

The attorney said he has presided over hundreds of village court cases through the years and has a perfect attendance record, which means no associate judge has had to serve on a village case. He said he prides himself on being independent from the village board and has concerns that Rosenberg, a former trustee, may be influenced by the board.

“I have done a good, dedicated and faithful job for the residents of Old Field for over 20 years and therefore there is no reason for a change,” LaVita said.

In addition to serving as village justice, the attorney said he has helped improve the village. During his early days as justice, he helped to obtain a state grant which enabled the village to update the court clerk’s office including its technology.

Ted Rosenberg, justice candidate

Ted Rosenberg

Rosenberg is a 20-year resident of Old Field and has been an attorney for 35 years. He is currently a partner with Rosenberg & Gluck LLP, located in Holtsville. He is a member of the Suffolk County Bar Association select bench/bar committee, a frequent lecturer to the bar on trial practices, and a mentor to the Ward Melville High School mock trial team

“I have 35 years of courtroom experience — most lawyers don’t spend any time in the courtroom — and I spent a better part of my career as a trial attorney trying cases,” Rosenberg said. “I very much enjoy being in the courtroom, and I have a lot of experience doing that.”

Through the years, in addition to currently being associate justice, Rosenberg said he has served as a trustee, deputy mayor, commissioner of roads and harbor commissioner for Old Field. He said while he has worked well with both past and current board members, he would not be influenced by the mayor or board members. He said he has received the highest rating from his fellow lawyers for both ethics and professionalism in the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings, which rates lawyers on their legal ability and ethical standards.

Rosenberg said running for justice is something he has thought about for a few years.

“The current justice has been in office for 20 years, and I think that I could bring some new fresh thinking to the table,” Rosenberg said.

Meet the mayor, trustee candidates

Current Old Field Mayor Michael Levine is running unopposed in the March 20 village election. With two seats open, two trustee candidates, Bruce Feller and Tom Pirro, are also running unopposed as current trustees Timothy Hopkins and Robert Whitcomb  decided not to run for re-election.

Michael Levine, mayor

Michael Levine

Levine moved to Old Field in 1992 and became mayor in 2008. The attorney, a partner with Rappaport, Glass, Levine & Zullo LLP, said he has a couple of goals in mind for his next term.

“One of my major goals if re-elected will be to restore the Old Field Lighthouse/Village Hall to its original beauty, both inside and outside,” he said. “I would also like to continue to work on grants to address stormwater runoff issues in the village. Where the funds will come from for these projects is always a major issue.”

Recently, the village board has been facing the debate over whether or not to install a cellphone pole in Kaltenborn Commons, a small park located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path and surrounded by homes. At the January and February public meetings both residents and nonresidents filled village hall, some to voice concerns and others to show their support of the pole. Levine said the meetings have been helpful to him and board members. The vote on the tower has been postponed until the two new trustees take office.

“There are always difficult issues that must be dealt with and the way to deal with them is to listen to the residents and do what you feel is best for the village, while at the same time trying to accommodate the residents,” Levine said. “It’s a balancing act. I try to constantly strive to be fair and attentive.”

Tom Pirro, trustee candidate

Tom Pirro

Pirro recently moved from Bayport to Old Field with his fiancé, Shannon McCann. The certified public accountant, who has had his own business for 30 years, said he has been traveling to the Three Village community as a member of St. George’s Golf and Country Club since 2003. In June 2017, he opened a new office in Setauket. The candidate said he feels his work experience and love for the village will be an asset as trustee.

“I have spent my entire life in the business sector, and I feel those experiences will help me in carrying out my duties as a trustee,” Pirro said. “I chose to live in Old Field because of its natural beauty, and I would like to be a part of its continued preservation.”

When it comes to the issue of the cellphone pole in the village, Pirro said he is open to discussing the debate as long as needed to come to a decision. He said a lot of good questions were raised at the public meetings, including the aesthetics of the pole, which many feel may affect real estate values.

“I think it’s going to be difficult because no matter where it goes it’s going to impact someone,” Pirro said.

With a deep appreciation for his new village, he is on board with helping the mayor work to renovate the lighthouse.

“It’s part of the local heritage, so obviously it’s something you would want to address and maintain,” Pirro said. “It’s not something you want to go into disrepair, and I don’t think Old Field is a village that would let that happen.”

Bruce Feller, trustee candidate

Bruce Feller

A resident of Old Field since 1988, Feller retired as vice president from MetLife in 1998. Shortly after his retirement, he served as a village trustee after taking over the expired term of Barbara Swartz when she became mayor. During his first time as trustee, he said he established the village’s entitlement and access to funding from New York State’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program. This gave Old Field a revenue stream to improve and maintain the village’s roadways.

He and his wife, Marianne, in the past have served on a village committee to preserve the Old Field lighthouse. He currently is the vice chair of the village planning board.

Feller said when it comes to the cellphone tower, he is undecided. At press time, he was hoping to attend the March board meeting, and said he is open to hearing everyone’s opinions. He said he has heard persuasive issues on both sides at the village’s January meeting.

“There’s a lot to take into account, and I’m hoping that there is additional information that will nudge me decidedly in a direction that I can personally live with and live with as a representative of the constituents in the village,” Feller said.

He said when he was previously a trustee, a bone of contention was subdivision of properties. The candidate said listening to both sides was important, and believes his listening skills have developed even more over time. Remembering when the residents debated over deer hunting in the village and the mayor held multiple public hearings to come to a decision, he said it’s a skill he believes Levine also has.

“I give the mayor a lot of credit, he pays a lot of attention to what people think,” Feller said.

The Old Field Village elections will be held March 20, from noon until 9 p.m. at the
Keeper’s Cottage located at 207 Old Field Road.

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