Election News

Incumbent Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) will face Republican challenger Dom Spada to represent the county’s 18th District. File photo, right; photo on right from Dom Spada

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County’s current fiscal crisis is the motivation for a Huntington Bay resident to campaign against the incumbent for a seat in the Suffolk legislature.

Dom Spada, deputy mayor of the Village of Huntington Bay and second assistant chief of the Halesite Fire Department, is running as the Republican candidate against incumbent Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) to represent the county’s 18th legislative district.

Spada said it’s his concern over the county’s “dire” financial situation that has inspired him to run for political office.

“We have a huge spending problem here in Suffolk County,” he said. “We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

The county has a budgetary shortfall of more than $150 million for 2017, according to County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) September budget proposal for 2018, and is roughly $2 billion in debt.

“We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

— Dom Spada

Spada said he believes elected officials need to stop “spending so much money on nonsense” and cut wasteful spending, citing examples like $150,000 for a study on a guard rail in Rocky Point and $350,000 approved to design two miles of sidewalks. If elected, he said he will request reviews of all county contracts with outside vendors to see if better rates can be negotiated.

Spencer, a physician with his own Huntington practice and an ordained minister, was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 and is seeking re-election for his fourth term. Since taking office, Spencer said he’s been conscious of the county’s “abysmal” finances and has worked to improve it.

“I have a building, I have a home and a mortgage; there’s good debt and bad debt,” he said. “It’s the same thing in government. I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

Spencer pointed to various cost-saving measures he’s approved including reducing the county’s workforce by 10 percent; consolidating the offices of the comptroller and treasurer; and getting out of an unfunded mandate to build a new prison which he estimated saved the county approximately $100 million. He also noted he voted to freeze legislative officials’ salaries and agreed to contribute to his own health insurance.

If re-elected, the incumbent said he will continue to look to improve efficiencies, reduce waste and seek additional funds.

“I believe we send more to Albany and the federal government than we get back,” Spencer said. “I believe we should get our fair share.”

“I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

— Doc Spencer

His Republican challenger said the increasing number of fees — the mortgage fee, red-light camera fees, false home alarm fee, cremation fees — to make up the county’s budgetary shortfall is unfair to taxpayers. Spada said he’d repeal all “illegal” fees if elected as he doesn’t believe the fees’ cost is commensurate with the services being provided.

Spencer said he’s weighed and questioned each individual fee as they’ve come up for a vote. He supported the cremation fee, but said he agreed he’d like to review the red-light camera system and modify the home alarm fee so that a homeowner’s first false alarm requires them to register with the county but no monetary penalty.

The Legislature hopefuls also discussed opioid and heroin addiction, one of the most widespread issues plaguing the county as a whole.

The Republican candidate said he would like to see more officers on the street and requirements that anyone saved from an overdose through Narcan be required to immediately be transported to a treatment facility for a 72-hour stay, similar to treatment for mentally disturbed patients.

Spencer said the county’s resources are limited in combating opioid/heroin addition and gang violence. If re-elected, he said he would continue looking for state funding to increase the number of treatment beds for addicts and get qualified physicians more involved in the county’s 24-hour hotline and emergency resources.

Huntington councilwoman Susan Berland (D) races against Republican Hector Gavilla to represent Suffolk’s 16th Legislative District. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Two candidates are vying to represent Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District as term limits force incumbent Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) to step down after 12 years of service.

Democratic candidate Susan Berland, of Dix Hills, has served Huntington residents as a councilwoman for more than 16 years. She has drafted the town’s blight legislation for abandoned or unsafe buildings and structures, placed restrictions on bamboo growth, and had free sunscreen dispensers installed at town beaches.

Republican hopeful Hector Gavilla, also of Dix Hills, is seeking political office for the first time. Gavilla has been a licensed real estate broker since 2003, and has run Commack-based Long Island Professional Realty since 2010.

The candidates are concerned with the county’s financial future, affordable housing and public safety. Both nominees said with Suffolk expecting a budgetary deficit of more than $150 million this year, there is a need for the incoming legislator to help bring finances under control by consolidating
services wherever possible.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens.”

— Hector Gavilla

Berland also proposes that the county’s sale tax be increased by 0.25 percent, from 8.625 to 8.875 percent, and that all county employees be asked to chip in and help contribute to their health insurance.

“That really spreads it among everybody equally and that would help raise money,” she said during a recent candidate debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office.

Gavilla said if elected he would look to save money in two of the largest areas of the county’s budget: police department salaries, as their contract ends 2018, and social services.

“We spent over $600 million for social services and we never ask these people if they are illegal aliens,” he said. “I want to make sure these people are American citizens.”

While residents continue to struggle with the cost of living in Huntington township, the two candidates disagreed on what measures would improve quality of life.

Gavilla said his platform puts taxpayers first by looking to reduce backdoor fees, like the mortgage fee and false alarm fee, and stop wasteful government spending in attempt to build transit-oriented or affordable housing.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people,” Berland countered.

“We have an obligation to provide different types of housing for different people.”

— Susan Berland

The councilwoman said if elected to the legislature she would support high-density, mixed-use retail and apartment space as a way of helping to preserve existing open space, like parks and golf courses.

Gavilla said he would rather see 20-year tax abatements offered to large businesses in an effort to attract more job opportunities.

For current residents, public safety in combating gang-related violence and the heroin/opioid crisis is a top priority.

Berland said she would suggest bringing back the county’s DARE program to educate elementary school children on the dangers of gangs and drug use. She also recommended closer cooperation among law enforcement officials and drug courts, which offer addicts a choice of treatment or jail time for drug-related offenses.

“We need to have cooperation between the police department, FBI, town and code enforcement to draw together and combat these issues,” she said.

Gavilla said he’d propose much stricter prosecution and enforcement on drug dealers, increase police patrols, and arrest and deport any illegal immigrant.

“I want to make sure every single illegal alien who commits a crime has to be deported,” he said. “Today, we have many illegal aliens coming in and they have become a burden on society.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle is being challenged by Democrat Alfred Ianucci to represent the 3rd District. Photos by Desirée Keegan and from Facebook

By Desirée Keegan

An architectural woodworker is challenging incumbent Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), focusing on the issues of road repair, zombie homes and government transparency as they relate to the 3rd Council District.

Alfred Ianacci, 61, of Lake Ronkonkoma, is running on the Democratic and Working Families lines. He grew up in Long Island City, Queens and has lived in Lake Ronkonkoma for 31 years.

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle was on site for the tearing down of several zombie houses this year. File photo from Town of Brookhaven

“The feedback I get is people are not happy with Brookhaven,” he said. He attributed that to a lack of trust in town officials, and called for more government transparency.

LaValle, who was grew up in Centereach, said he jumped into office four years ago wanting to bring government back to the people.

Representing what he calls the “blue collar, middle class area” of Brookhaven, the councilman said his residents have a different mindset than most.

“If we had a pothole in front of our house, we’d throw some dirt in it, throw a cone over it and we wouldn’t call anybody, because we take care of the problem ourselves,” he said during a debate at TBR News Media’s Setauket office in October. “That’s one thing I’ve been trying to broach being in office for four years — trying to bring government to the people and show them that we’re here. I’m here hosting events just to get out there so people know me and know I’m not running away from issues.”

Ianacci, said road repair is “a disaster” in the town. He also said the town needs to improve its drainage systems.

“There are places that flood with three or four inches of rain,” he said. “We have to really do a complete re-evaluation of our storm drain system throughout Brookhaven.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle is running for his third term. Photo by Desirée Keegan

LaValle said he knows the real issues, and said growing up in Centereach helped him to understand them.

“The big thing I know growing up in the area is that we were always traveling because we didn’t have fields, and the fields we did have weren’t very good,” said LaValle, who played on the Centereach basketball team in high school. “But now to have Selden Park in our own backyard, people can grow up and be proud of what we have.”

The councilman helped secure 24 acres behind Hawkins Path Elementary School, where four baseball fields, two multi-purpose fields, walking trails and a playground are currently being constructed. Modeling it off of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park, he said he’d also like to incorporate a piece from Port Jefferson’s Harborfront Park — an ice rink. With Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) helping to purchase the property and state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) securing a $1 million grant, the construction is well on its way. He said he’s hoping to see it become a generational park.

“You start off as a baby, your mom is walking you in the stroller, and the kids gets a little older and they go to the playground, then they get a little bit older and they’re playing on the fields, then they get a little older they go off to college and they come back and they’re running, and then they have a family, come back and start the whole thing over again,” he said. “Any day you drive by Heritage Park there’s tons of people — something’s always going on — so where as the Centereach Pool is a condensed area, this was our last opportunity for some open space.”

Lavalle was also involved in work done at Centereach Pool, adding a $100,000 spray park, reconstructing the basketball courts, adding a sun shelter, pickleball courts and beach volleyball. The restrooms are slated for improvements next.

Owners watch their dogs play at Selden Dog Park. which Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle helped secure a grant to upgrade. File photo by Kyle Barr

“We hooked up with the Middle Country school district and the athletic director to host basketball tournaments in the middle of the summer to keep kids off the streets,” he said. “We didn’t realize the turnout. The families are happy the kids have something to do and they get to come and see how nice it is now.”

More than fixing up parkland, Ianacci said he is concerned with zombie houses. The challenger said the town is “plagued” by abandoned, dilapidated homes. He said vacant houses could be salvaged instead of torn down, saying it would help the town develop affordable housing to keep residents from leaving. Brookhaven Town announced last month a similar plan is already being put into motion, fixing the blighted properties and selling them to veterans and first-time homebuyers at lower rates.

Other efforts touted by LaValle relating specifically to his council district include securing $2 million in grants over the last four years, part of which was a $25,000 grant for upgrading the Selden Dog Park; starting the Run the Farm race to raise money for the nonprofit Hobbes Farm once it began losing government funding; and revitalizing Middle Country Road by connecting parking lots, adding more green space as businesses like McDonald’s and White Castle receive upgrades and others like Five Guys and Guitar Center move in.

Democratic challenger Alfred Ianacci is running to represent Brookhaven Town’s 3rd Council District. Photo from Facebook

“It goes from the street, to the sidewalk to a parking lot — you feel like you’re in the city,” he said. “New businesses are coming in and rezoning and we’re trying to bring that green space back while also keeping people off Middle Country Road.”

Ianacci’s focus continues to be on more townwide issues, like the expected closure of the town landfill in the next decade, and fighting against the “brain drain.”

“We have so many skilled people who work in Brookhaven,” he said. “But they can’t live in Brookhaven. Our taxes are going to go up.”

He said on many issues he had no specific recommendations for improvements, but would study each problem and seek solutions.

LaValle said he hopes to continue to keep doing what he’s doing. The councilman said he or a staff member attends every civic meeting. He said he speaks regularly to the Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, churches and townspeople to find out what the real problems are.

“I try to make myself available to help me do this job,” LaValle said. “And I’m proud to have the opportunity to do this in the area I grew up. Right away you notice issues while you’re out there talking to people about their problems, what it is that’s bothering them. Whether it’s a pothole in front of their house or business development on Middle Country Road, that’s what I need to know. And there’s nothing more rewarding than to go out into your community that you’re so entrenched in and create the change that the residents have been talking about, and it’s for my friends, my family and my neighbors.”

The Town of Smithtown will have a different look in 2018. File photo by Phil Corso
Tom McCarthy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Voters will have six diverse options when they step into the voting booth to select two candidates to represent them on Smithtown Town Board Nov. 7.

In a sit-down Oct. 26 at the TBR News Media office in Setauket, the six candidates stated their positions on downtown revitalization, traffic and what the biggest issue the town faces looking ahead to 2018.

Incumbent Councilman Thomas McCarthy (R), who is also the deputy town supervisor was first elected to the board in 1997. Incumbent Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), a St. James resident and former Suffolk legislator for 12 years, is also seeking re-election.

Lynne Nowick. Photo by Kevin Redding

McCarthy and Nowick said they are proud of the work they have done to push forward the downtown revitalization of Lake Avenue in St. James. The issue in other areas, the incumbents said, is sewers for the town’s business districts. With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) promising $40 million in state funds, it’s a project they said is slowly but steadily moving forward.

“We need to continue what we are doing,” McCarthy said. “We have a five-year plan that is the best five-year plan we’ve ever had.”

During her first term in office, Nowick said residents have reached out to her primarily regarding quality of life issues. If re-elected, she said she plans to focus on addressing the continuous need to improve the town’s roadways, sidewalks, parks and beaches; areas where she feels she can make a difference, as she said her ability to push revitalization is limited.

“I am frustrated with the landlords of these [downtown] buildings,” Nowick said. “We can’t have a community that’s alive unless the buildings have stores. What can we do to entice the landlords to bring in new businesses?”

Bob Doyle. Photo by Kevin Redding

Their Republican primary challengers have kept their names on the ballot because they said they believe the town needs sweeping change. Nesconset resident Bob Doyle, who served for more than 37 years in law enforcement and is a U.S. Army veteran, has joined with Tom Lohmann, of Smithtown, a former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau. The pair is still running on the Conservative party line.

“First and foremost, the first thing you have to do is a comprehensive master plan done with the inclusion of the community,” Lohmann said. “By far, the biggest topics of concern are the downtown business district is dying and traffic.”

Tom Lohman. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Conservative candidates, if elected, said they want to update the town’s comprehensive master plan to include all hamlets, in consultation with civic groups and local businesses. Lohmann said to do this he would start up quarterly community meetings in different hamlets so town officials could sit down with residents to hear concerns and get feedback. Doyle vowed to seek a traffic study in conjunction with state and county officials, using the latest technology to find a solution to improve flow on Smithtown’s roadways.

“Traffic, bar none, is the biggest issue,” Doyle said. “Residents are extremely frustrated with the flow of traffic in Smithtown.”

His sentiments were echoed by Nowick and two other challengers.

Democratic candidates Amy Fortunato, a Smithtown resident of 30 years, and Patricia Stoddard, a retired Smithtown school district teacher, are both eyeing seats on the town board. They said the main issues of Smithtown are downtown revitalization, traffic and government reform, much like their opponents.

Amy Fortunato. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think we need an overall town survey,” Fortunato said. “What type of stores do we want? What do we want to see downtown? We need a comprehensive master plan that would distinguish the business district using town code.”

McCarthy countered that there is funding proposed to be set aside in both 2018 and 2019 to help update and overhaul the town’s codes, which have not been updated in decades.

However, Stoddard said the need to update town code is similar to the need to update the town’s master plan — something citizens have begun on their own.

Patricia Stoddard. Photo by Kevin Redding

“We need a master plan so we have something to build toward,” Stoddard said, pointing to Smithtown United Civic Association’s recently released draft proposal that focused on the district’s New York Avenue building. “It seems like a really good start using smart growth.”

Both Democratic candidates said the Smithtown town board has been more adversarial than cooperative, with town board meeting agendas being difficult to understand and public details on capital projects hard to come by. They vowed to improve transparency through increased communications on the town website and social media.

The two candidates elected to the town board will each serve a four-year term and receive an annual salary of $68,500 based on the proposed 2018 budget, posted on the town’s website.

Incumbent Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), Democratic candidate Emily Rogan and Republicans Jim Leonick and Ed Smyth are competing for two seats on Huntington's town board. Photos by Alex Petroski
Incumbent Mark Cuthbertson (D). Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Four candidates for the Huntington town board are deeply divided on what steps are needed to ensure a brighter future for residents.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) is seeking re-election to his sixth term on town council with political newcomer Huntington resident Emily Rogan (D). She is a freelance writer who has served as a trustee for Huntington school board for 12 years, four of which as the board’s president. Rogan seeks to take over the seat of Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), who chose to run for Huntington supervisor rather than seek re-election to town council.

They will face off against Republican candidate Jim Leonick, of East Northport, an attorney with his own practice who has previously worked as a state tax grievance arbiter. He is running with Lloyd Harbor resident Ed Smyth, also an attorney who has served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and previously on the Village of Lloyd Harbor’s board of zoning appeals.

While the candidates all profess a love for Huntington, they disagreed on what shape or form its future development should take.

Republican candidate Jim Leonick. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cuthbertson said one of his main goals is creating more housing for senior citizens and millennials to enable them to stay in town. Rogan agreed to the need for a walkable community that incorporates mixed-use retail and apartment spaces in the town, citing downtown Huntington Station and Melville’s Route 110 as prime locations.

“The entire town benefits when all of our town is thriving and feels uplifted,” Rogan said. “People want to see Huntington Station become as desirable a place to be as downtown Huntington village, downtown Northport Village or Cold Spring Harbor.”

Leonick and Smyth both said they feel these developments aren’t considered desirable by residents, saying current town board simply isn’t listening. The Republican
candidates said rather than high-density apartments, they would make it easier for seniors to put accessory apartments in their homes for additional income.

Democratic challenger and political newcomer Emily Rogan. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Density is part of a plan that will allow us to sustain our local economy,” Cuthbertson responded in a recent debate at TBR News Media offices in Setauket. “We’ve already liberalized the rules of apartments to put apartments over stores in our downtown areas. In Huntington village, it’s been very successful.”

Rather than more housing, Smyth and Leonick said their focus would be outreach to bring large businesses to Melville’s Route 110 business corridor to increase jobs.

“The best path to affordable housing is a bigger paycheck,” Smyth said.

Leonick took it one step further calling for re-evaluation of the town’s comprehensive master plan Horizons 2020.

“The biggest thing we need to do is put the brakes on future development projects until we get a handle on what we need to be doing,” Leonick said.

Both Republican candidates said that if elected, they would focus on improving the status of the town’s roadways and traffic issues. Smyth called the town’s roads “deplorable,” citing Prime Avenue as an example, after utility companies have cut them up to lay wires and infrastructure, calling for changes to town code. Leonick heavily criticized town officials for a lack of parking in Huntington village.

Republican candidate Ed Smyth. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It takes a half hour of driving around to get a spot,” he said. “You can’t continue to develop in the village without solving that problem. We should have had a parking garage a while ago.”

Cuthbertson said the town’s work on a parking garage began two years ago, with a failed attempt at a public-private partnership, but is now moving forward. He pointed to the lack of empty stores downtown as a sign of success.

Rogan agreed that the town’s roadways need change, not more paving, but rather to become more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly. She wants to focus on a public campaign and signage to improve driver awareness.

Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon are vying for the Suffolk County sheriff position. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Rita J. Egan

Both candidates for Suffolk County sheriff will bring more than two decades of public service experience to the position if elected. The race does not feature an incumbent, as current Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election after 12 years in the position. On Oct. 13, Republican candidate for sheriff Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon visited the TBR News Media office to discuss their experiences and how they would handle the position if elected.

Zacarese, assistant chief of police and director of the office of emergency management at Stony Brook University since 2009, who is also an attorney, has been a New York City police officer and is currently a volunteer paramedic.

Toulon began serving as a correctional officer at Rikers Island in 1982 and retired as a captain in 2004. For two years he was assistant deputy county executive for public safety in Suffolk and in 2014 he was named deputy commissioner of operations for the New York City  Department of Corrections.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot on various levels inside of a correctional agency, and while that’s not the entire makeup of the sheriff’s department, it is a good portion of it.”

— Errol Toulon

Toulon said he feels from day one he would be able to manage the sheriff’s office effectively and will attempt to save taxpayers’ dollars through technology training and equipment.

“I’ve been able to learn a lot on various levels inside of a correctional agency, and while that’s not the entire makeup of the sheriff’s department, it is a good portion of it,” Toulon said.

Zacarese said he believes his experience would be an asset, especially with a need for capital planning, budgeting and managing grants in today’s tough economic climate, he said.

“My role as an emergency manager at Stony Brook is really broad based,” Zacarese said. “Not only am I involved in the day-to-day operations, planning, mitigation and response and recovery, but I oversee an office that handles all the electronic physical security, design, installation and maintenance for the entire campus, which is over 250 buildings.”

Both cited combating gang activities on Long Island as a priority for the next sheriff.

Toulon said his team at Rikers would gather intelligence from inside the jail as far as calls, visits and social media interactions before incarceration and then would work with law enforcement agencies to gather and disseminate the information. According to him, his team’s work brought down 37 members of the Bloods gang. He said using a database to collect intelligence gathered and sharing it with other agencies is vital in rounding up gang members, and he said he thought his experiences could translate seamlessly to the Suffolk position.

Zacarese is also familiar with combating gang problems. A case he worked on while at a precinct in Jackson Heights involved the investigation of narcotics trafficking by members of the Latin Kings. He said the county lost critical ground in the fight against gangs when the FBI removed two Suffolk County police detectives assigned to the bureau’s joint Long Island Gang Task Force by James Burke, former police department chief, who was found guilty of beating up a suspect and trying to cover it up.

“I have already had conversations and meetings with Homeland Security investigations, with people on the U.S. Marshals’ task force and making sure we have enough people on those task forces,” Zacarese said.

Toulon agreed with Zacarese that in addition to disseminating information, manpower is important.

“Task forces are very important, and keeping our members on these task forces is extremely important,” Toulon said.

“I have already had conversations and meetings with Homeland Security investigations, with people on the U.S. Marshals’ task force and making sure we have enough people on those task forces.”

— Larry Zacarese

The candidates touched on the subject of cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both said while the sheriff’s office doesn’t get involved with immigration issues, it’s important to cooperate with the federal agency. Zacarese said many illegal immigrants are held in jails due to being violent predicate felons and people who return to the country illegally after being deported. The two also agreed it’s important for law enforcement agencies to increase communication with immigrant communities to ensure law abiding citizens do not fear deportation from ICE agents, which makes building cases against gang members more difficult.

Both candidates said they want to work on getting more help for those with substance abuse problems while incarcerated, which may decrease the chances of being arrested again.

“There are people who are leaving the correctional facility without so much as a business card for a social worker or any outreach programs [now],” Zacarese said.

Toulon said while substance abusers are seen by a medical staff to be treated, he agreed when prisoners leave the jail, they need assistance with finding housing and jobs.

“What I propose is creating a resource map so in each particular town we would know where those particular resources are for an individual so when we give them a card or give them the information they would be able to connect and have someone in the sheriff’s they can call and be that conduit,” Toulon said.

Both agreed that combating the drug problem, especially opioid overdoses, needs to be a priority in the county. Better tracking of overdoses; where they are happening, how they’re happening and deaths due to overdoses to identify where people need help, were areas each candidate brought up as meaningful first steps. Zacarese said he believes in enforcing the laws on the books and “strict enforcement for the suppliers, help for the people who are there in the middle and giving them long-term treatment options.”

Toulon pointed out that increasing monitoring of physicians who dispense pain management is also needed and fostering communication with communities “to actually acknowledge the problem that our family and friends are having so that we can get the correct treatment for them.”

Smithtown councilman Edward Wehrheim, Independent candidate Kristen Slevin and Democratic candidate William Holst are racing for Smithtown supervisor Nov. 7. Photos by Alex Petroski

As a promise of change hangs over the Smithtown supervisor election, residents will have three very different options when they enter the voting booth Nov. 7.

On the heels of his victory over 40-year incumbent Pat Vecchio in the Republican primary in September, Councilman Edward Wehrheim (R) faces off against Democratic candidate William Holst — an assistant county attorney and former Suffolk County Legislator — and Independent candidate Kristen Slevin — a local business owner and political newcomer — as the race for the top position enters its final stretch.

The three candidates sat down at the TBR News Media office in Setauket Oct. 19 to discuss their stances on a variety of Smithtown-related issues.

Wehrheim, a lifelong Smithtown resident who has voiced his discontentment with the way Vecchio has run town hall for the past five years, is halfway through his fourth term on the board. He vows to get more work done than his predecessor, if elected, and proposed all  elected town officials be considered full-time employees.

Pat Vecchio. File photo

Wehrheim said he will hit the ground running and work diligently to make sure long-dormant downtown revitalization initiatives — like bringing sewers to Kings Park, apartments to Smithtown  and working with civic groups to turn the New York Avenue school property into something fitting for the town  — are pushed forward as quickly as possible.

Wehrheim also wants to make Smithtown’s government more transparent for residents.

“We need to have information or public relations officers there so the public has more access to the work sessions and they know what’s going on,” he said. “Right now, it’s not clear what’s going on in the agendas. The agenda has 75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that. We need more clarification. Whoever is elected to supervisor has to do what’s right for the community.”

Admitting that Smithtown has “a very closed board,” the Republican candidate said he will advocate for more teamwork and openness to allow board members to push legislation of their own. He proposed a business advisory council made up of members from the chamber of commerce, civic groups and local businesses to make new development plans.

“The problem, though, has been that the current town board and the supervisor, in particular, either do nothing or come up with plans that are totally unrealistic in terms of what is appropriate for the area,” Holst said in response to the town’s lack of downtown revitalization. “I think it takes somebody with my background — one who understands land use, knows what is going to be possible in a certain area and has a sense of community.”

Holst, who was president of the Smithtown school district board from 1992 to 1993, touted his experience consolidating two high schools into one to fix declining enrollment. He said, similarly, in downtown Smithtown, “you have to sell off existing [town] buildings and consolidate them to New York Avenue.”

The Democrat also cited that he created the Downtown Revitalization Citizens Advisory Panel during his term in the Suffolk County legislature  representing the 12th district. As a former vice president and president of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce,  Holst said he worked to get paved public parking behind stores on the north side of Main Street — an example of his revitalization experience.

“I think I’m the best person for the job to get people to come to a consensus and make things happen,” Holst said.

He questioned the commitment of Slevin, the 40-year-old owner of Yottabyte Craft Chocolate and Candy in Smithtown, who got on the ballot after gathering more than 1,500 voter signatures across party lines this past summer. She has freely admitted to never setting foot inside town hall.

“I’m an outsider — a regular person,” Slevin said. “When I decided I wanted to get involved with the town, I started watching everything online.”

The Town of Smithtown will have a different look in 2018.
File photo by Phil Corso

Slevin said she never entered this race thinking she would actually win but is proud to be a voice for the 75 percent of people, mostly young adults, who don’t vote in the local elections or involve themselves in politics at all. She pointed to Vecchio’s reign as “a perfect example” of depriving an entire generation of the opportunity to lead and bring new ideas forward.

It’s [not that] my generation that doesn’t care about local politics. It’s because we’re taking care of our kids, our parents, struggling to hold onto a job, continuing our education, and getting advanced degrees,” she said. “When you have [Vecchio] running the town for 40 years, — my entire life — you just take it for granted. Then one day, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, the whole house is falling down. How did I miss it?’

If elected, she wants to implement term limits and proposed council districts for   board members to improve elected officials’ accountability. Slevin said she’d like to see Smithtown be, “a small town USA that maximizes our spot on the Washington Spy Trail” with elements of Sag Harbor and Northport Village — mixed communities that are walkable, bikeable and pet-friendly.”

Even if she is not elected, she hopes any and all Republicans and Democrats out there feeling disenfranchised by local governments continue to stay active in their parties.

The three candidates stood on common ground in regard to the prevalence of opioid and heroin in the town. Wehrheim said local government has a role in it and plans to make education seminars and hearings on the topic mandatory among town council members, while Holst agreed it was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Slevin said although in Smithtown “we don’t talk about these things,” she’s glad there has been an open dialogue on it within the last year. She wants to not only address people’s access to the drugs but also the psychology behind why they’re taking them.

Ray Perini and Tim Sini are campaigning to replace current Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota on Election Day 2017. Photos by Kevin Redding

In life, timing is everything.

Thanks to the indictment of current Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota (D) Oct. 25 for his alleged involvement in the cover-up of former Suffolk Police Commissioner James Burke’s civil rights violation — a charge the ex-police chief pleaded guilty to in 2016 — the high-profile race to be the next DA in Suffolk just got a brighter spotlight.

The next DA — be it Burke’s replacement in the police department, Democrat Tim Sini, or Huntington resident and criminal lawyer with more than 40 years of experience, Republican Ray Perini — will be tasked with restoring public faith in a position now synonymous with corruption. The two candidates have publicly traded barbs during the campaign, and that didn’t stop during their individual interviews at TBR News Media’s Setauket office in October.

Huntington resident and former Suffolk County narcotics bureau head Ray Perini is running to replace Thomas Spota as the county’s next District Attorney. Photo by Kevin Redding

Perini said a key distinction in this race is he is not a politician. His first attempt at political office came four years ago when Perini decided to challenge Spota because he said he was concerned the incumbent would be cross endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats.

“You’ve lost your moral ability to lead an office,” Perini said of Spota, after his announcement that he would be stepping down before the end of the year. “He had to step down for the good of the office.”

The challenger began his career as a lawyer in the 1970s in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, and he spent time working on both narcotics cases and homicides while in Brooklyn. In 1976, he moved to Suffolk County to head its narcotics bureau, where he tried one or two major cases each year, he said.

“There’s nothing I haven’t done as a criminal prosecutor, and I’m very proud,” he said. “I believe I have had a very successful career.”

Perini said he believes his background suits him perfectly to be the next Suffolk DA.

“It’s what I’ve trained my whole life to do,” Perini said. He added his experiences have prepared him to tackle two of the county’s biggest problems: drug addiction and gang infiltration. “I was successful because I actually worked on a daily basis with the [U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration] task force and you can’t do that kind of work without working with the FBI and the DEA.”

Sini also got his foot in the door as a lawyer to the west. He was the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York working as a federal prosecutor under Preet Bharara, where he said he specialized in violent crime cases.

“I loved my job — I loved bringing justice to victims or family members of victims,” he said.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota, who did not plan to run for re-election, was indicted Oct. 25 and will retire prior to the completion of his fourth term in office. File photo

The Babylon resident said he always wanted to make his way back to Suffolk. He eventually returned to serve as the deputy county executive under County Executive Steve Bellone (D), specializing in public safety initiatives. As the successor to Burke, he said he has experience taking over a department in turmoil.

“I have a proven track record of leadership in difficult situations,” Sini said. “I walked into the police department during a scandal and if I’m elected DA I’ll be walking into the district attorney’s office amidst a scandal.”

He explained why he thinks he’s a fit for the position.

“This is, in my opinion, the most important position in Suffolk County,” Sini said of the DA. “The level of responsibility that the district attorney has is enormous. I’m running for district attorney to restore integrity to the leadership of the district attorney’s office, which is sorely needed.”

Both were critical of the other’s assertions that their background has prepared them to serve as district attorney.

Sini pointed out Perini’s resignation from the narcotics bureau amid allegations of illegal wiretapping. A New York State Commission of Investigation report named Perini more than 100 times, according to Sini. The police commissioner has also been vocal about annual parties his opponent chartered for local district attorneys and judges, which Sini saw as a sign of impropriety.

Perini attributed the issues to two narcotics officers within his 12-person department who “went bad,” and said he investigated when allegations arose, eventually forcing the pair to resign, making no attempt at a cover-up. He defended his decision to host the boat parties as standard operating practice amongst defense attorneys, judges and prosecutors who work together closely.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini is running to become the county’s District Attorney. Photo by Kevin Redding

“People have this image of a yacht and call girls — it wasn’t that,” he said. “We don’t do X-rated parties. I never thought it would be this kind of issue. Would I do it again? Of course not.”

Perini, in turn, swung back at Sini for claims the police commissioner’s campaign ads made about some of his accomplishments while working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, saying they were inflated.

“I believe what he’s been doing has been to raise his profile,” Perini said. He referenced Newsday’s endorsement of Sini, which referred to him as “a low-level and undistinguished” prosecutor.

Perini also criticized Sini for telling the Suffolk County Legislature he did not intend to run for DA when being confirmed as the police commissioner. Sini said at the time he didn’t intend to run for DA, but things changed.

The candidates did find some common ground on dealing with gang issues and drug addiction. The pair said they see prevention as the most effective method to deal with addiction, and both suggested plans to reach kids earlier before the problems spiral out of control. Each also preached interdepartmental cooperation and intelligence sharing as the primary solution to dealing with gang-related violence, especially by MS-13.

Perini suggested the county should utilize the existing “kingpin” statute, which sets sentences from 20 years minimum to life for dealers making at least $75,000 during a six-month span.

“Quite frankly, I think that has to be used more aggressively with less plea bargaining to get the word on the street that, ‘If you do this in Suffolk County, you’re going to pay dearly for it,’” he said.

Sini stressed the importance of reaching Suffolk County immigrants, who are recruited by gang members upon instruction from crew higher-ups in home countries, with programs and social service resources — prior to recruitment — as a means to stomp out gang activity.

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, a Republican, faces off against Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards, a Democrat, for Huntington Town supervisor. File photos

Two of Huntington’s elected officials are running against one another to snag the open seat of town supervisor, as 24-year incumbent Frank Petrone (D) announced he was not seeking re-election. The candidates met recently at TBR News Media offices in Setauket.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) was elected to the town board in 2014, after serving 10 years on the Elwood board of education. She worked for 37 years at Verizon, climbing the ladder to regional president of network operations.

Edwards said she is running to see through some of the changes and programs she’s started.

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci is running for Huntington Town supervisor. File photo

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R) was elected in 2012, and serves as the ranking Republican member on the Assembly Higher Education Committee. Previously, he was a trustee on the South Huntington school board for nine years. He now wants to bring his experience to benefit the town.

Both Edwards and Lupinacci agree that public safety is one of the biggest issues the next supervisor will face.

Lupinacci stressed that the next supervisor will need to ensure the town cooperates with county and state officials to pool resources to keep the pressure on gangs and the heroin/opiate addiction issue. He proposes monthly meetings with area school superintendents to help determine how the town can help school districts, and more after-school and summer programs like the Tri-CYA to keep youths off the streets.

Edwards said the effort to cooperate for the sake of improving public safety is already there.

“The things we are doing right is that we have partnered with the [county] police department, we have partnered with the state liquor authority, and we have been a participant going with them on raids,” she said. “We are intimately involved in that to address the criminal nature of the code aspect of it, so that if there is something, we can shut it down.”

The Democratic candidate pointed to the recent shutdown of two Huntington Station bars with ties to gang activity, but said the town needs to be even more proactive. Her five-point plan to improve public safety includes getting more state resources to create a stronger public safety office within the town, creation of a heroin/opiate task force and adding more lighting to improve visibility in areas that are hot zones for crime.

Governmental reforms are needed in Huntington, according to both candidates, starting with a three-term limit, or 12 years, in office.

Edwards also wants to create additional meetings where town department heads meet directly with citizens to hear and answer their concerns, make town hall’s entrance more customer service-oriented, and distributing government forms to local libraries to make them easier to obtain.

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards is running for supervisor. File photo

Lupinacci suggests increasing the number of town board meetings and taking them on the road, hosting them in schools to allow more people to attend. Edwards disagreed.

“Taking town hall on the road would be confusing to people,” she said. “I think people will be showing up at town hall and have no idea where the town board is meeting.”

Lupinacci said a list of town board meeting dates and locations could be printed on the annual recycling calendar mailing.

“We also need to increase the amount of residents’ speaking time,” he said. “Right now, it’s clipped at three minutes. We want to increase it to five minutes to give people more time to speak on the issues.”

His other proposals include creating an online checkbook on the town’s website where taxpayers can see where their money is being spent, create an online freedom of information to request town documents, and providing a greater breakdown of the town budgeting process over a series of meetings to allow for more input.

Lupinacci also stressed the lack of available parking in Huntington village is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed — he says a parking garage is overdue.

Edwards insists a parking garage for the village is currently in the works, but said each of the town’s hamlets have different issues of importance.

The reverse of the 2017 Election Day ballot will feature a proposition regarding a Constitutional Convention. Image from Suffolk County Board of Elections

By Donna Newman

As amended in 1846, the New York State Constitution includes a mandatory requirement that every 20 years state voters be offered the opportunity via a ballot proposal to convene a constitutional convention — called “Con Con” by those familiar with state politics — to review and revise the existing document. If a majority votes “yes,” delegates are elected to serve at a convention held in Albany.

A recent meeting of the Three Village Civic Association was devoted to informing the public about the proposal to be presented to New York State voters on Election Day with the debate titled “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

Two guest speakers were invited to present opposing views of Proposal 1, the first of three proposals that will appear on the reverse side of the ballot listing the candidates for office Nov. 7. The civic association’s Vice President George Hoffman moderated the debate at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket.

The ballot question was last posed in 1997, when a majority of those voting said “no.” The last Con Con was held in 1967 and the voters later rejected all of the proposed changes. If a majority votes “yes” this time around, three delegates from each state senatorial district and 15 at-large statewide delegates will be elected in November 2018, according to the State Board of Elections website, www.elections.ny.gov.

“The delegates will convene at the Capitol in April 2019,” according to the website. “Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection in a statewide referendum to be held at least six weeks after the Convention adjourns. The delegates will determine whether to submit proposed amendments as separate questions. Any amendments that the voters approve will go into effect on the January 1 following their approval.”

Anyone may run to be a delegate.

Anthony Figliola, vice president of Empire Government Strategies of Uniondale, a governmental consulting firm representing a variety of clients seeking liaisons in Albany, New York City or local municipalities, recommended a No vote.

Figliola’s primary argument is that a constitutional convention is an extremely expensive and risky way to affect change, especially when the document itself provides an alternative.

Anthony Figliola and Al Benninghoff participate in a debate about the constitutional convention at a recent Three Village Civic Association meeting. Photo from Jonathan Kornreich

“The referendum process has been more successful as compared to Con Con,” he said. “There have been 600 amendments passed by the voters in our history. This year there will be a question on the ballot as to whether pensions should be taken away from any state legislator convicted of a felony. In 2013 there were six constitutional amendments proposed. Five of them were approved. The good government groups are coming from a good place. They are [working] to enact change and they are trying to move the legislature and get the public at large involved in the process.”

He also spoke about the last Con Con, held in 1967, calling it “an utter failure.”

“Of the delegates elected 80 percent were politically connected,” he said. “And 45 percent were either sitting [or retired] elected officials … collecting — or in the pension system. This allowed them to take two salaries, as there is no prohibition against it in the constitution. In addition to doubling their income, pension credits accrued by doing this raised their pension payouts.”

In the end, all of the proposed amendments to the constitution were submitted for voter approval in one package — which the voters rejected.

Al Benninghoff is a campaign manager for the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and also with New York People’s Convention. A longtime political strategist and reform advocate, he recommended a Yes vote.

Benninghoff’s case can be summed up in two words: It’s time.

The last time a Con Con question was proposed to voters in 1997, the New York City Bar Association called for a “no” vote and suggested: “Let’s give the legislature a chance to reform itself. We gave it 20 years and nothing has happened,” he said.

“Frankly, enough is enough,” Benninghoff said. “The legislature holds all the power. If the legislature doesn’t want to find it within itself to give us the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the constitution, then they can absolutely withhold it. And they have done that a lot.”

He went on to list things he believes should have already been addressed.

“There have been no ethics reforms; independent redistricting in name only, not in actuality; no term limits; and no campaign finance reform,” he said. “There’s still a tremendous loophole with LLCs [limited liability companies]. If a person running for state legislative office wants to take campaign donations from an infinite number of LLCs created by one person, or one company, they can do so. That’s a campaign finance loophole big enough to drive a truck through. What it does is empower the political status quo. It takes all the power away from the people — and that is exactly what a New York State Constitutional Convention changes.”

In New York State history there have been nine constitutional conventions. The longest gap between conventions has been since the last one in 1967. It’s been 50 years. The last one did not produce any changes, arguably because all the proposals were lumped together in a single vote.

As moderator of this informational session and the Q&A period that followed it, Hoffman remained clearly impartial. But in supplying additional data after the event he said he formed an opinion.

“I take the question to hold a constitutional convention very seriously and I am leaning to supporting it,” Hoffman said. “I see it as a solemn responsibility to periodically review our state constitution. I think it’s clear to most that many things need to change in Albany and a constitutional convention might be the only way to bring that change. I would seriously consider running for delegate if the constitutional convention is approved.”

For more information on the New York State Constitutional Convention, visit www.rockinst.org/nys_concon2017.

Social

4,898FansLike
1,036FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe