Election News

Perry Gershon, again a Democratic contender for U.S district rep., spoke at a protest early in 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

The late June Democratic debates hosted by CNBC could have been the first true coal mine canary, telling us that even more than a year out, the race for the White House is going to be a long, complicated and grueling affair.

Nancy S. Goroff, Department of Chemistry Professor, announced her run for District 1. Photo from Stony Brook University

Over two nights, the 20 candidates stood shoulder to shoulder, shouting over each other for attention and sound bites. Though it was talked well enough on every national media outlet, finding North Shore residents who watched the debates, let alone had a full opinion on the Democratic candidates, can be a chore.

However, for Suffolk County and the Suffolk Democratic Committee, it’s business as usual. According to Rich Schaffer, the county Democratic chairman, the focus starts with the local races long before any attention is applied to the congressional candidates, let alone the presidential contenders.

“You won’t get them energized this year until we finish with the local races, so our main focus will be on the town and county races,” Schaffer said. “We had minimal interest in the presidential, a couple of people calling to see about participating in a particular campaign of a particular candidate, but other than that we haven’t much.”

What’s your opinion?

Here is what a few residents from local areas thought about the current Democratic presidential candidates:

Brian Garthwaite, Port Jeff Station:

“Do I think any of the candidates that I saw talk in the last two days will go anywhere? — I hope not,’” he said. “No one really stood out to me.”

Garthwaite guessed at who would be on the final podium come 2020.

“It’s tough to say right now but if I had to guess I think it’s going to be either [Joe] Biden or [Kamala] Harris.”

Judy Cooper, West Islip:

“I’m a Democrat and I like Joe Biden, but I want to hear more about one or two of the lesser known candidates — like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar,” she said. “I haven’t thought about a ticket yet. I watched the first night of the debate, but then got sick of it the second night. It was inconsequential the second night. The first night there were many candidates, but they seemed to be more substantial candidates.”

Peggy S., Northport:

“I’m a Democrat, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I’d support anybody but a Republican. I like Mayor Pete the best.”

Anthony Alessi, Northport:

“I want anybody who can beat Trump,” Alessi said. “Kamala Harris impressed me last night. I’d love to see her beat Trump. My ideal ticket is Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.”

Quotes gathered by David Luces and Leah Chiappino

In local races, the Town of Brookhaven is becoming a hotspot. Though he sees Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) as well established, Schaffer specifically looked at Cheryl Felice, who is running against Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) for the 4th District, and Anthony Portesy, who is running for Brookhaven Highway Superintendent against Daniel Losquadro (R), specifically having a good shot considering people’s complaints with the state of their roads.

“He’s knocking on doors, and he hears a lot of complaints about the conditions of the roads and the services being provided by the highway department,” he said. 

Two Democrats have already stepped up again to face U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 2020 congressional contest. Last year’s nominee Perry Gershon is again running this year, while Stony Brook resident Jack Harrington is on the sidelines, with rumors he has considered running. On July 9, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff declared she too would be running against Zeldin, setting up what may be a heated primary race mirroring the 2017-18 Suffolk primary runup.

“As a scientist, I believe in facts,” Goroff said in a release declaring her candidacy. “And it’s a fact that Washington is hurting Suffolk families. I’m running for Congress to use my experience as a scientist to combat global warming, make healthcare affordable, protect a woman’s right to choose and end the gun violence epidemic.”

The Democratic chairman said the committee has been hands-off when it comes to congressional campaigns, letting them hire their own staff and leaving them to their own campaigns. Despite the constant attention paid to national politics, he said he expected the usual number of voters, comparing it to last year’s 22,240 primary votes out of a possible 143,700. 

“It was a little more animated than past years, but on par for where it’s been, 15 to 20 percent turnout,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be animated next year, that’s for sure.”

But to Schaffer, the national race will come down to around five or six candidates, and only then will you see the public become energized around their chosen individual. The next Democratic debate, set for July 17, may be a major tipping point. Politico has reported many Democratic presidential campaigns said they believe the next set of debates could start the culling to the top contenders.

The biggest point on the national and congressional stage is whether he feels they can defeat Zeldin and Trump. If Schaffer had to choose a candidate at this moment, it would be past Vice President Joe Biden, saying he “was part of the successful years of the Obama presidency,” and “if we’re looking for someone who can take on Trump and not just convince Democrats but those ‘persuadables’, I think Biden has the best shot.”

Rich Shaffer at his office in North Babylon. File Photo by Alex Petroski

The Democratic chairman sees Suffolk’s population as more conservatively minded than what may be seen in New York City or other progressive hot spots. 

This is despite the rise of more progressive candidates such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, with Harris’ poll numbers, in particular, surging after the CNBC debates, but Schaffer said what’s important is defeating the incumbents.

“If we win, we win as a party. If we lose, we lose as a party,” he said.

Dr. Caroline Englehardt and Dr. Richard Rusto were elected to the Belle Terre village board.

Village of Belle Terre residents have spoken, electing a newcomer candidate over an incumbent during a village election June 18.

  • Incumbent candidate Dr. Richard Rusto retained his seat with 106 votes.
  • Newcomer candidate Dr. Caroline Englehardt won a seat with the most votes of all candidates at 108.
  • Incumbent candidate Judy Zaino received the least number of votes at 96.

In addition, there were 24 write-in candidates.

The Belle Terre village board. File photo by Kyle Barr

Two seats are up for Village of Belle Terre trustee positions, where two incumbents and one newcomer are looking for residents’ votes come June 18.

Judy Zaino

Judy Zaino

Zaino, an incumbent and longtime Belle Terre resident, is looking for another two years on the board.

She is a 21-year resident of Belle Terre and said she became extremely active in village life after she retired in 2005. 

Prior to being on the board, she was involved with the Belle Terre Community Association working alongside the village to augment various projects, including redoing the wall in front of the Belle Terre Community Center, parks projects, garden tours and other programs.

“In my own opinion, giving back to your community is a very noble thing to do,” she said.

After being asked to be trustee by the board, she said the village has been working on road and drainage repairs, erosion control on village property, maintenance of the community center and managing the beach, which is used by both Belle Terre and Port Jefferson villages.

In addition, she said the village is in the midst of upgrading the beach facilities with handicapped bathrooms and upgrades to the existing building, and she said she has worked, along with the rest of the board, in getting the cell tower in Belle Terre up and running.

“For the safety of the community, if you lived in one part of Port Jefferson and your teenager was somewhere else, you had communication with them because of the cell service,” Zaino said. “Prior to that it was really spotty.”

She said that she, and fellow incumbent Richard Musto, have been frontrunners on dealing with the deer and tick issue in the village.

Dr. Richard Musto

Dr. Richard Musto

As a resident since 1984, Musto is looking to continue his efforts on the board for the third year and his second term.

Musto, who has held several leadership roles in urology in hospitals across Long Island and is now retired, said he got onto the board through a desire to know what was going on in his hometown. He was asked to fill in the term of one retired trustee and was elected in 2017 to the board.

“I went to meetings and started asking questions, so they asked if I would like to be on the deer committee,” he said. “I’ve always been on committees, so it was really kind of interesting and fun to do.”

After his work on the deer committee, he said the village has been looking for ways to decrease the tick population, and officials have been in contact with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

He said he has also become involved in village security through its security cameras. He said the village is also looking at certain roads and looking to upgrade amenities at the village beach.

“I find it extremely interesting to find how a local government works,” he said. “I find it amazing for such a small village to see all the things that are involved and all the things you have to be aware of and know about.”

Dr. Caroline Engelhardt

Dr. Caroline Engelhardt

Newcomer Engelhardt, a 23-year resident of the village, said she is running to try and put a little energy behind village policy. She said she is uncommon in Belle Terre, as other candidates have been appointed to the board after other trustees retire instead of being elected to the position.

“We have the same people running all the time — I’m actually running as a candidate,” she said. “I’m running because I want to see change in Belle Terre.”

Engelhardt said now that her youngest daughter is out of the house in college, she has time to work for her village. She is a practicing anesthesiologist with degrees from New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, and said she is a community-minded person who works to make people feel better. 

“I’ve been taking care of the community medically for 25 years,” she said. “I have a lot of energy. I can be seen walking through the village at 5 in the morning.”

She’s running on several points. One is to add more amenities to the beach, such as looking to bring in a food truck that could help feed people as they’re enjoying the sand and surf. She also said she would focus on getting roads repaired and working with the Long Island Power Authority to clear tree limbs hanging near power lines. In terms of erosion, she said she is wary of any sort of wall being built without careful consideration and was especially concerned that a wall would stop erosion in one location and create more erosion in another. She said she would like to see the village form a committee in order to deal with erosion on village property.

“We have to protect that property,” she said.

The vote will be held at the Belle Terre Community Center on 55 Cliff Road from 12 to 9 p.m. June 18. 

Village Mayor Margot Garant, left, and John Jay LaValle, right. File photos

As signs for both candidates are loudly displayed across the village in preparation for the June 18 vote, mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle and incumbent Mayor Margot Garant stepped into the TBR News Media offices June 10 to share real policy about the ongoing issues in Port Jeff.

Staff issues

LaValle has made clear his issues with some village employees. Specifically, he referenced Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood. He has compared it to Patchogue, where two parking meter officers are each paid just under $65,000 annually to write tickets and manage the meters. 

Wood is paid a similar salary to the two officers, though Garant said he is in charge of repairs and IT work involving the way the meters send information to the code enforcement in regard to timed meters. She added Wood has been involved in other village programs, such as the Jitney and cameras around the village.

“He runs around the village in addition to what he oversees in our parking,” she said.

LaValle called that a false equivalency between Patchogue and Port Jeff’s parking administrations. He called Wood “your [public relations] guy” — there’s not a moment I don’t see him following you around with a camera.”

Garant said in addition to his duties as village employee, he creates video for the village with his company FPS Inc. at $12,000 a year.

“He never does that when he’s on the clock, he’s always off the clock.” Garant said.

LaValle said he does not believe Wood was qualified for the position.

Crime

LaValle said the uptown area has become intense in its illicit activity and said there has not been enough done to rectify it. He cites prostitution, drug dealing and a murder that occurred in July of last year just outside the Port Jefferson Billiards BDM.

He said in speaking to law enforcement that numerous buildings are fronts for drugs and prostitution, and they are currently collecting data.

“We literally have a slum right in front of us,” he said. “It’s literally a ghetto, and that’s the kind of thing that occurs there.”

The mayor said she talked consistently with the Suffolk County Police Department about illicit activity in Upper Port. She called her current relationship with the SCPD “the best it has been,” and added the security cameras having been hooked up to the county’s Real Time Crime Center is making strides in enforcing a police presence.

Garant said code enforcement is up at the station for every train and has helped bring in MTA police into the station, but she added they have no powers of arrest and can only create a presence and deal with immediate situations while waiting for police.

LaValle said the major issue with why crime has become so bad in Upper Port is due to the lethargic rate of the area’s revitalization.

Upper Port Jeff revitalization

Garant said part of the issue in redeveloping Upper Port comes down to the developers and owners of the uptown properties to manage their buildings. She said they had assisted in getting certain property owners government grants to demolish a particular property, but the negotiations with other developers stalled that progress and the grant funds were timed out, adding the problem is owners need to amass enough property in order to start real construction.

“We’re doing everything we can between revising the code, getting state grant money and partner to make applications to state agencies,” she said. 

As a last resort, she said the village would have to use eminent domain on these particular properties.

The mayoral challenger said in speaking with developers they are upset with the village, mostly in terms of getting permits for their properties. He said the planning staff have been restrictive in getting their applications through, except for specific developers.

“It shouldn’t take 10 years to take what is clearly an eyesore and turn it into a thriving uptown,” he said. “We need to bring the project to a finish, give the individuals their permits.”

The mayor said none of the developers are currently in the application process for permits. 

“The fact that people keep throwing the planning department under the rails … if he doesn’t have an application in,” she said.

She added the village is waiting for the Conifer Realty property, located in the old Bada Bing parcel, before putting in Station Street as part of her administration’s Uptown Funk project.

“You have to be careful with the density you give them, we’re only talking about four small blocks here,” Garant said.

The mayoral challenger said he does not support the Conifer development, citing an experience with them in Brookhaven Town and a need for “workforce housing, not affordable housing,” saying that affordable will eventually become Section 8 housing. He said village code should be changed to mandate affordable units in any new apartment complexes.

How the village will resist floods

With the potential for future storm surges and the threat of rising tides, Garant said the village is currently bringing a presentation to the Long Island Economic Development Council to request grant funding in terms of flood mitigation and stormwater runoff. 

She added that her administration is spending money to scope out the village’s drainage system, and the village is looking to find ways to absorb the water so it does not flood onto the village’s hardscape. 

“We’re in a bowl … these are low-lying marshland areas, it’s a great challenge,” she said. “There’s no magic bullet.”

LaValle said the village needs to look globally when it comes to flood mitigation.

“You got to bring in the best of the best, and I don’t know if we’re doing that,” he said.

Port Jefferson residents can vote on mayor and trustee candidates Tuesday, June 18, at the Village Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sarah Deonarine. Photo from campaign website

Coram woman looks to face Bonner in November election

Sarah Deonarine, who is planning to run for the Town of Brookhaven Council District 2 seat on the Democratic ticket, said she believes there’s a way to balance the environmental and economic needs of the North Shore.

“Nationwide, there’s a feeling of participating in the democracy, and I just couldn’t sit by anymore,” Deonarine said. “I realized somebody strong had to stand up, and it was either going to be me or nobody was going to do it.”

In the upcoming weeks, Deonarine is looking for the petition application to run for councilwoman to come through, and she will run for the district seat against 12-year incumbent Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point).

Deonarine said she decided to jump into the race because of Proposition One, a back-of-the-ballot proposition that extended officials’ terms in office from two years to four, and limited officeholders to three terms. A total of 58 percent voted in favor of that measure with 42 percent opposing last November.

Sarah Deonarine and her family. Photo from campaign website

The Democratic contender said the proposition was a backwards means of extending the council members’ time in office, since each elected official would no longer have to run every two years, and the term limits weren’t retroactive.

“It was like they hoodwinked the voters by not giving them the right information,” she said. 

The contender for the council seat has been a resident in Brookhaven for 11 years, and in Coram for four along with her husband and three young children. A Pennsylvania native, she holds a masters degree from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University. She has worked for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for seven years, and has spent the past four years as the executive director of the Manhasset Bay Protection Committee, which serves to protect the water quality of North Hempstead. She is a member of the Town of Brookhaven Democratic Committee, as well as a member of the Mothers of Twins Club of Suffolk County, the Coram Civic Association, Mommy and Me and Science Advocacy of Long Island.

Deonarine already has the nod of the town Democratic Committee as well as the Working Families Party, and she said she has sent in the petitions she needs to run for town council, though she has yet to receive confirmation back as of press time.

She is running on numerous issues, including reforming the town’s meeting schedule, and focusing new developments around sustaining the environment.

“A lot of what I want to do gets back to the quality of life,” she said. “People are happier surrounded by nature.”

She said that while it’s all well and good the town has meetings at 2 p.m. for those who can’t drive at night, having the nightly meetings at 5 p.m. means most people who are out working cannot attend. She said she would like to move those meetings past 6 p.m., and potentially move the meeting location occasionally to different parts in the town, giving more people availability to attend.

She also called attention to the issues of derelict housing, otherwise known as zombie homes. The biggest barrier to people making use of this property, she said, was the liens Suffolk County puts on the property after it is razed by the town. She said she would use the strong connection she said she has with Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and other county and state lawmakers to see if there could be any program of lien forgiveness, or otherwise a program that would give developers the opportunity to revitalize the destroyed parcels.

Developments and their consequences are on the minds of many North Shore residents, and with new developments coming up in the town’s agenda, including the Mount Sinai Meadows millennial housing project and the Echo Run senior living project in Miller Place, Deonarine said there needs to be attention paid to making sure these developments do not affect the local wildlife, impact the below- ground drinking water or increase traffic.

“We need to protect all our water beneath our feet — you build more development, you have more waste running off into our local waterways,” she said. “More housing means more traffic, but we also need the tax base. The cost of living is really high, people living here, more industries, it’s a Catch-22.”

“More housing means more traffic, but we also need the tax base. The cost of living is really high, people living here, more industries, it’s a Catch-22.”

— Sarah Deonarine

She said she would take a close look at the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, especially in terms of the tax breaks it gives to developments such as the Engel Burman senior living facilities currently under construction in Mount Sinai. The development was given a 13-year Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement that would see the developer continue to pay $46,000 in property taxes for the first three years while the two projects are under construction.

She said there needs to be more public transparency with IDA meetings and decisions, along with a closer look at their decision- making process.

“Local politics matter a lot. This is our everyday lives,” she said. “We really need to pay attention and consider a new way, a new approach.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta confirmed he will throw his hat in the ring for county executive in 2019 — by launching a grassroots campaign, if necessary.

Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he wants to run against incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) next November in an effort to tackle a series of what he called wasteful spending decisions, illegal fees and poor contract negotiations that have negatively impacted Suffolk taxpayers.

“No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves,” Trotta said. “I think I could make a difference.”

No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves. I think I could make a difference.”

— Rob Trotta

The representative of Suffolk’s 13th District denounced several of the county’s 2018 capital projects as “wasteful spending.” He rattled off examples including the approved plans for construction of a new fingerprint lab in Yaphank, a study for a guardrail outside Rocky Point High School and a resolution to spend $150,000 for the design of a new K-9 headquarters and kennel for Suffolk County Police Department — which ultimately was voted down in July. Trotta said significant taxpayer money could have been saved if the design work, planning and studies for current and future capital projects were performed in-house rather than hired contractors.

“Do you think we have architects capable of designing a dog kennel? Of course we do,” he said. “That is what’s wrong with the county. That is why I want to run for county executive, because it would never happen.”

The legislator alleges the county’s financial woes are a direct result of Bellone’s negotiation of the 2012 police contract. The eight-year contract gave approximately 400 of Suffolk’s top ranking cops a 28.8 percent pay increase, according to Trotta, over the course of six years costing taxpayers from $55.4 million to $72.3 million. Negotiations between Suffolk County and Police Benevolent Association for the next contract will start in 2019, with the next county executive to expected to play a main role.

“The reality is we can’t afford to pay them what we’re paying them,” said Trotta, who retired as a Suffolk County detective in 2013. “If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

Since the 2012 contract, the Republican pointed out that Moody’s Investors Services has lowered the county’s bond rating by five ranks from March 2012 to this September. The county has borrowed $171.3 million from its sewer fund and $384.4 million from the state pension fund in order to keep paying its contractual salaries and pensions — mainly the Suffolk County Police Department, according to Trotta.

“It’s unsustainable,” he said.

Trotta has spoken out against a number of county fees including the red-light camera program, the alarm registration fee, mortgage recording fee and cremation fees, many of which he alleges generate money Suffolk needs to pay its cops. He’s filed legislation to limit the county’s fees in 2017 and 2018, which failed both times.

If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

— Rob Trotta

The county-executive hopeful said he plans to launch a grassroots fundraising effort by creating a website where supporters can donate to his campaign, with a suggested contribution of $80 because it’s the equivalent of a red-light camera ticket — a program he’s called for to be suspended, if not shut down. Trotta said he cannot morally accept funds from any public sector unions he’d be expected to negotiate contracts with, such as the Police Benevolent Association, although not prohibited by campaign finance laws.

“I might not get elected because of that,” he said. “I might not be able to get my message out.”

John Jay LaValle, chairman of Suffolk’s Republican Committee, confirmed Trotta is a possible candidate for county executive, but the party will not make any official decision until January. The legislator wasn’t concerned about vying for his party’s nomination.

“I think competition is good,” Trotta said. “I think hearing different people’s views are good. Ultimately, the party will come together and pick someone, whether it’s me, [county Comptroller] John Kennedy or whoever else.”

File photo

Polls closed in New York at 9 p.m.

Check back for updated results as they come in.

Check out results from the state, federal and local North Shore races as they come in on election night. Follow @TBRnewsmedia on Facebook and Twitter for the latest and search the hashtag #TBRVoters. All results are courtesy of the Suffolk County Board of Elections and the New York State Board of Elections.

1st Congressional District

Lee Zeldin (R): 52.47%; 130,919

Perry Gershon (D): 46.41%; 115,795

“This was the clear contrast of results versus resistance, and results won today,” Zeldin said. “It’s important we get to people’s business and deliver results.”

3rd Congressional District 

Tom Suozzi (D): 54.33%; 49,448

Dan DeBono (R): 45.64%, 41,571

New York State Assembly 2nd District

Anthony Palumbo (R): 60.20%; 29.340

Rona Smith (D): 39.78%; 19.386

“It’s great to see we won by a nice margin,” Palumbo said. “It validates we’re going in the right direction. I will try to discuss some issues raised by my opponent”

New York State Assembly 4th District

Steve Englebright (D): 60.15%; 25,742

Christian Kalinowski (R): 39.84%; 17,050

New York State Assembly 8th District

Mike Fitzpatrick (R): 61.42%; 30,383

Dave Morrissey (D): 38.58%; 19,086

“I’m going to continue to pursue my objective of being a strong voice for mandate relief and strengthening the private sector to make people aware the need to slow down the growth of taxes,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are losing too many people — too many retirees, too many young people, too many people in the middle class are looking elsewhere as the cost of living is getting too high.”

The incumbent also promised in his ninth term to continue pushing for sewers in St. James, Smithtown and Kings Park. Fitzpatrick said his Democratic challenger Dave Morrissey was a gentleman and “a worthy opponent.” Morrissey campaigned strongly on the need for the state to dedicate more resources toward combating Long Island’s opioid drug addiction issues.
“Both sides of the aisle feel strongly about doing what we can to deal with the opioid issue,” Fitzpatrick said. “His race brought more attention to it, so I applaud him for that.”
New York State Assembly 10th District

Steve Stern (D): 59.48%; 26,687

Jeremy Williams (R): 40.51%; 18,176

New York State Assembly 12th District

Andrew Raia (R): 55.88%; 26,705

Avrum Rosen (D): 44.11%; 21,080

New York State Senate 1st District

Ken LaValle (R): 58.32%; 65,933

Greg Fischer (D): 41.64%; 47,084

New York State Senate 2nd District

John Flanagan (R): 55.36%; 62,748

Kathleen Cleary (D): 44.63%; 50,581

New York State Senate 5th District

Jim Gaughran (D): 53.23%; 62,933

Carl Marcellino (R): 44.73%; 52,883

Smithtown Town Board

Tom Lohmann (R): 57.95%; 26,428

Amy Fortunato (D): 42.03%; 19,170

Huntington Town Board

Joan Cergol (D): 53.16%; 40,741

Jim Leonick (R): 46.83%; 35,884

Brookhaven Town Proposal 1

Yes: 58.15%; 80,250

No: 41.85%; 57,747

***Totals are not final.

Updated Nov. 7 at 12:10 a.m.

Updated Nov. 7 at 3:30 p.m.

 

 

Rona Smith is challenging Anthony Palumbo for his New York State Assembly seat. Photos by Alex Petroski

The North Shore’s easternmost New York State Assembly District — which juts as far west as Mount Sinai and portions of Port Jefferson — has been represented by an incumbent Republican since 2013, and a first-time candidate for political office is seeking to unseat him.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) was elected in a special election to represent the 2nd District in 2013 and won subsequent races in 2014 and 2016. The 48-year-old practicing lawyer will be challenged this Election Day by 73-year-old Democrat Rona Smith, a newcomer to politics from Greenport with government experience, as she currently serves as the chairwoman of the Housing Advisory Commission for Southold Town.

The candidates sat down for a debate at the TBR News Media in Setauket in October to discuss issues impacting the district.

Health care

The future of health care is at the top of minds for candidates in federal and state races alike this cycle, likely because it’s on the minds of their common constituents. State law can be used in conjunction with federal law regarding health care, meaning the legislative houses of New York’s government will have an opportunity to stabilize health care policy for its residents as the federal Affordable Care Act waits in limbo for a bipartisan solution in Congress.

Democrats in the Assembly have passed a single-payer health care bill — meaning essentially everyone in the state would pay into a pool and everyone would be covered — which has gotten no traction in the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, and appears unlikely ever to become the law.

As the ACA suffers, Palumbo said he would suggest some simple tweaks to improve the current system, rather than implementing a single-payer bill, which he said he believes will be too expensive.

“When you think about the numbers, we’re talking about 900,000 people in New York state are uninsured — they’re between the Medicaid gap and the private insurance gap — that’s 5 percent,” he said. “Not a lot I think, generally speaking.”

He suggested bringing back the Family Health Plus option, a subsidized plan for low-income individuals, which wasn’t available under the ACA, rather than “overhauling” state tax code to afford a single-payer scheme.

“Nothing comes off the shelf perfect,” Smith said of both the ACA and the single-payer bill passed by the Assembly. “They’re not perfect, they’re attempts to try to make sure that everybody — rich, poor, old, young — has health insurance they can depend upon for any health need that comes up. We have got to figure out how to do it.”

Affordability and opportunity

The candidates agreed there are obstacles for people — but especially recent college graduates — for being able to live and prosper both in the district and in the county as a whole. The problem will only be exaggerated going forward by the capping of state and local tax deductions, a component of the new federal tax code bill that will disproportionately impact homeowners in high-tax states like New York.

Smith said she would home in on reducing student loan debt as a means to foster more affordability, in addition to investment in more affordable housing projects for low-income individuals, a plan she said Democrats in the Assembly are already working on.

She said students need access to mandated, objective advice when it comes to borrowing and affording college, rather than just input from for-profit loan collection businesses.

Palumbo said New York’s susceptibility to outward migration can be traced to out-of-control budgeting and spending.

“It’s conservative fiscal values that we need to have,” he said.

He said the Assembly has been working on a solution to mitigate the capping of the SALT deduction at $10,000, though so far the IRS has not blessed any of the fixes.

Infrastructure investment

Investing in projects that could stimulate the local economy is seen as a solution by members of both parties. Currently legislators in New York are gathering funds to study the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road east of Huntington on the North Shore line, an idea many have suggested to increase opportunities for people to live and work in the area.

“I think investments in infrastructure always come back in salaries and benefits for people,” Smith said. “It might make housing more accessible.”

She said electrification might be the answer, but the state’s economy could be better served by using the LIRR to ship freight, an idea that would allow farmers and vineyards on the East End to ship fresh products beyond the direct vicinity.

Palumbo said he would go in another direction instead of committing major funds to electrify the LIRR line. He said he would like to see the results of a study examining LIRR ridership to the East End before going down that road and would prefer to see smarter leadership from the Metropolitan Transit Authority when it comes to train schedules and usage.

He also called on school districts to examine ways to scale down spending, which is the largest driver of increasing property taxes.

House candidates square off for discussion on health care, the economy, the environment and President Trump in TBR exclusive

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin and challenger Perry Gershon discuss topics during a debate at TBR News Media in Setauket. Photos by Kyle Barr

The result of the race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District will be monitored by locals closely on election night, but the contest will have far wider implications.

The U.S. House of Representatives has been in Republican control since 2011, but polling suggests Democrats have an opportunity to retake the majority Nov. 6, with the seat of two-term incumbent Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) appearing to be among those up for grabs if polls are to be believed. Zeldin faces challenger Perry Gershon, a Democrat who emerged from a field of five in a June primary, who said he has embarked on his first political run because he wants to put a check on President Donald Trump (R) and his congressional supporters.

The candidates sat down together for an exclusive interview with the TBR News Media in Setauket last month for a wide-ranging discussion on the race and their political ideologies.

“I think it’s really important after this election for our country to do a better job uniting, regardless of whether you come in first or second — whether or not your candidate comes in first or second that you voted or volunteered for.”

— Lee Zeldin

The president and the political divide

The current political climate and national discourse is a major motivator behind Gershon’s decision to run, he said. While the candidates agree a problem exists, they voiced competing theories regarding the source.

“I think it’s really important after this election for our country to do a better job uniting, regardless of whether you come in first or second — whether or not your candidate comes in first or second that you voted or volunteered for,” Zeldin said.

Gershon agreed with his opponent’s sentiment, but criticized Zeldin for suggesting it can wait until after Nov. 6.

The incumbent cited the demand for polarized news consumption from the electorate and an in-kind response from the news media as the genesis for the divisive environment at present. However, Zeldin laid blame on both Trump and his vanquished 2016 opponent Democrat Hillary Clinton for failing to voice a message of unity when the dust settled. He also said the Women’s March, which took place the day after Trump’s inauguration, is a contributing factor to the current tone of politics.

“We all have a responsibility, I have a responsibility too,” Zeldin said.

Gershon was less willing to place the blame on a confluence of factors, assigning most of it to the White House.

“In terms of presidential elections, there was never discussion about not accepting the result until Trump [came along],” he said. “That had never been on the table before and Trump put it up there. It’s part of the fear mongering and the xenophobia that’s besmirched this country. … The idea that it didn’t start and get escalated by Donald Trump is just wrong. He’s proud of it.”

When asked to offer criticisms of Trump’s job performance to date, Zeldin said he wished the president’s demeanor was more befitting of a role model for children.

“You should be able to say [to your kids] that you should be just like the president of the United States when you get older,” the congressman said.

When asked what he viewed as Trump’s successes, Gershon said he supported reducing the corporate tax rate as a means to stimulate the economy, though he said he felt the benefits of the bill tipped too far in favor of corporations and harmed individuals, especially in New York state.

The economy and taxes

“In terms of presidential elections, there was never discussion about not accepting the result until Trump [came along]. That had never been on the table before and Trump put it up there.”

— Perry Gershon

Both candidates acknowledged unemployment rates, gross domestic product, consumer confidence and, generally speaking, the stock market are all trending in positive directions currently. They differed on how much credit the president deserves for it.

Zeldin said unemployment rates, both for the general public and specific demographics, are reaching lows not seen in decades, and were signs of successful Republican control of the executive and legislative federal branches.

Gershon pointed out wage growth for workers is lagging behind. He criticized Trump and congressional Republicans for capping the SALT deduction at $10,000 in the federal tax bill, though he agreed reducing the corporate tax rate was a good idea for stimulating growth.

According to Zeldin, Amneal Pharmaceuticals, with locations in Hauppauge and Yaphank, announced plans to expand its facilities due to booming sales and new products in January. He said the company’s actions are a by-product of the positive economy, adding this is one of several companies making investments in the 1st Congressional District.

The congressman was one of few House Republicans to oppose the federal tax bill, and explained his opposition, which he and his challenger shared.

“I don’t believe that the best way to pay for a reduction on the corporate side is by making people pay more on the personal income side,” Zeldin said.

The legislation reduced tax rates for individuals and corporations, but at a far greater rate for corporations.

While Gershon acknowledged there are components of the bill he saw as positives, he levied substantial criticism on Republicans for penalizing New York with the bill, which he theorized was part of the goal — to punish blue states.

“Every Republican who votes for [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and Republican leadership has complicity in the tax plan passing,” he said, criticizing the majority for passing legislation without any Democratic support or compromise.

“Every Republican who votes for [House Speaker] Paul Ryan and Republican leadership has complicity in the tax plan passing.”

— Perry Gershon

Gershon said, if elected, he would introduce legislation to offset the cap of SALT deductions for New Yorkers. Zeldin said he fought for removal of the SALT deduction cap in the bill that ultimately passed.

Health care

The two candidates are ideologically closer together in their vision for a health care fix than their campaign ads would suggest.

Zeldin said he supported repealing the individual mandate component of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — what’s commonly referred to as Obamacare — as the fine for not having health care insurance was eliminated under Trump’s tax bill. The congressman is in favor of expanding states’ ability to tailor the federal law to their citizens, and reducing the federal government’s burden in Medicaid costs.

Gershon has campaigned on a single-payer or “Medicare for All” system, which would require all individuals to contribute to a pool that would provide health care coverage for all Americans — a plan with zero Republican support. The challenger criticized Democrats’ passage of the ACA without any Republican support, and agreed compromise is the only path forward on health care.

Both Zeldin and Gershon stressed the importance of a bipartisan compromise to improve the status of the nation’s current health care system.

The environment

Long Island is one of the country’s most susceptible areas to rising sea levels and a warming climate. After Hurricane Sandy and recent storms, environmental protection is a top concern for many.

Zeldin touted his close relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for his ability to obtain funding for projects meant to harden the shoreline. He cited legislation he’d helped advance for water quality protection and called future sea level rise a big concern. However, Zeldin also prioritized the federal government’s role in keeping taxes low and rolling back regulations to improve the business environment when asked what its role should be in stemming sea level rise. He stressed the importance of incentivizing flood mitigation opportunities for coastal residents.

“I don’t believe that the best way to pay for a reduction on the corporate side is by making people pay more on the personal income side.”

— Lee Zeldin

The incumbent added that updated power generation technology and investment in alternative energy sources would be a positive step forward for the district.

“It’s happening, it’s impacting our district,” he said of sea level rise. “What you need to do, for those who are staying here in the 1st Congressional District, is to the extent that you have a barrier beach, is to keep it strong.”

Gershon scolded Trump’s administration for rolling back regulations aimed at protecting the environment and for his decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement, an international climate accord within the United Nations designed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Let’s go at the root of the problem instead of treating the symptoms,” the challenger said. “Let’s lower our use of fossil fuels. Let’s invest in clean, renewable energy.”

Gershon rejected the notion that economic growth and an improved business climate could only come at the expense of environmental protections. He called for more wind and solar energy investment, and a decreased reliance on fossil fuels. Zeldin said he would also be in favor of alternative energy investment.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D). Photo by Kyle Barr

In the race to represent New York State’s 4th Assembly District, incumbent Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is up against Republican newcomer Christian Kalinowski, a 25-year-old who works as a trainer at an animal shelter and lives in Port Jefferson. Traditionally both candidates sit down for a debate at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, and while both were invited, Kalinowski declined to attend or answer questions about the race via phone or email.

“The way that the environment has been treated by this administration in Washington has been savage.”

— Steve Englebright

The assemblyman, as he does whenever he runs, cited the environment as a key issue for his candidacy.

“The way that the environment has been treated by this administration in Washington has been savage,” he said.

Earlier in the year Englebright, who is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, held hearings in Hauppauge regarding the possibility of offshore oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic coast after the U.S. Department of the Interior proposed plans for expansion of natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters.

He said he was disappointed legislation passed in the Assembly and supported by the governor to stop drilling off the Atlantic coast did not get passed in the state Senate.

The assemblyman is proud of the $2.5 billion he advocated for in last year’s state budget slated for water protection. He has also advocated for having waterways defined as infrastructure which can lead to increased protections of watersheds and reservoirs.

Safety is also on the assemblyman’s mind. When it comes to gun regulation, Englebright is a proponent of the microstamping of firing pins. A microscope is needed to see the
microstamp, but when it hits a shell casing while ejecting, it prints a number onto the shell, theoretically leaving a trace for investigators when necessary.

“We have the ability with lasers where we can cut little numbers into the firing pin, and then the firing pin — without changing the mechanism, without doing anything to take away gun rights — there is at least forensic evidence that if the gun is used in another crime, you can join the two crimes together through the forensic evidence,” Englebright said.

“I’m generally cautious about bringing hardware like that into public spaces of any kind.”

— Steve Englebright

He said some challengers say the cost for microstamping would be felt by the consumer in that it would cost several hundred dollars more for a handgun, which he said he believes is holding up the legislation, though he disputed the cost would be prohibitive.

The assemblyman said he doesn’t agree with teachers having guns on school campuses, but he would consider retired police officers working as guards if needed. He said it would be better to have more efficient lockdowns and safer designed entrances before bringing guns into schools.

“I’m generally cautious about bringing hardware like that into public spaces of any kind,” Englebright said.

The incumbent also reiterated his support to advance electrification of the Long Island Rail Road between Huntington and Port Jefferson, an idea he has supported for years and is now gaining momentum, as state funds have been put toward studying the possibility. The study will examine the possible benefits and ramifications of electrification for communities along the line. He said state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) succeeded in appropriating state funds toward the plan.

“I think it’s a game changer, and I think we’re at the moment when it can happen,”
Englebright said.