Politics

Smithtown Councilman Tom Lohmann will compete with Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato for a seat on Smithtown Town Board. Photos by Kyle Barr

Town of Smithtown voters can choose between incumbent Tom Lohmann (R) and Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato for town council seat where both want to continue efforts toward downtown revitalization.

Fortunato and Lohmann stepped into the TBR News Media offices to debate about the problems and efforts circulating throughout the town’s eight hamlets.

After being in office 10 months, Lohmann said he has an appreciation for the inner workings of Smithtown’s government. While the councilman said he has worked hard with the town’s Highway Department to fix roads, he wants to see the local business districts built up to incentivize young people to remain in town.

“People I speak to don’t mind paying a little bit more if they have good roads,” Lohmann said. “These are things we use. You want to have businesses we can patronize. We don’t have businesses there because we let it deteriorate to something unsustainable.”

Democratic challenger Amy Fortunato is looking to break the Republican stranglehold on the town council, one that has been in place for more than two decades. She said the town needs to improve its communication and transparency with the community.

“Our towns look shabby, but we’ve got plenty of money, and our budget needs to move there,” Fortunato said. “What is so important is a comprehensive master plan — we’ve been talking about that for a long time, and I’m just concerned that the community has heard what we want to see in Smithtown.”

2019 Budget

On Oct. 5, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) released his draft 2019 budget that increases $4 million from this year, and includes a raise for all board members from $65,818 to $75,000. Fortunato said she
disagreed with the pay increase, especially when comparing the council members’ salaries to either Huntington or Brookhaven, two larger townships than Smithtown.

“I would not take that salary,” the Democratic challenger said. “[Supervisor Ed Wehrheim] should be longer in government before taking a raise.”

Lohmann said that, compared to previous boards, he and other council members are working full time on town matters. He says he is in his office full time, not including other night or weekend events. The councilman said the largest increase to the town’s budget is due the town’s employee health care costs, which he hopes to address if he gets another term.

“I think I’m worth $75,000,” the incumbent said. “One of the biggest increases is $1.1 million
to support health care costs. We’re on an unsustainable course of action. We have to look to
employees to subsidize their own costs.”

Lohmann was appointed to the board in January 2018 after the seat was vacated by Wehrheim.  Some, including Fortunato, originally protested the decision, saying that the move was unilaterally made without input from the community.

Infrastructure

The Town of Smithtown is involved in several sewer projects at various stages of development in Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James. Lohmann said that while New York State politics has put the project on hold by keeping an alienation bill required for the Kings Park pump station from being voted on in the state Assembly, he and the rest of the board are still wholly committed to these projects.

“We’re not going anywhere without sewers,” the incumbent said. “In Kings Park, it’s ready, but unfortunately what’s going on in Albany that died on the vine … A true comprehensive master plan has to involve community input and town hall meetings to drive the picture of what we want to see which is a living breathing document updated every 5 to 10 years.”

Fortunato said she is in full support of sewering, but that she wants the town to be open in relaying to the community what environmental impacts the new sewers could have.

“We got to be careful, and we want transparency,” she said. “We should have a public forum to present these options [for sewer treatment plants] and what we are looking at.”

Republican challenger Jim Leonick will take on incumbent Councilwoman Joan Cergol, on right, Nov. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

There’s a hot race for a one-year term on Huntington Town Board that could tip the scale of the council’s political leaning.

Incumbent Joan Cergol (D) is a lifelong Huntington resident who was appointed in December 2017 to the seat vacated by former councilwoman Susan Berland, who was elected to the Suffolk County Legislature. She previously served as the town’s director of the Huntington Community Development Agency, executive director of the Economic Development Corp. and executive director of the Local Development Corp.

Republican challenger Jim Leonick should be familiar name with Nov. 6 voters. The East Northport attorney unsuccessfully campaigned for Town Board as a running mate with Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) in 2017, coming up just short by less than 650 votes. Now he’s back, seeking to fill the remaining year of Berland’s term.

“I’ve heard more and more complaints of things wrong with the town,” Leonick said. “There are many people complaining about things that don’t have the wherewithal to do something, but I do and that’s why I’m running.”

LIPA lawsuit/Northport Power Station

The Republican challenger said he believes the most important issue in this election is Long Island Power Authority and National Grid’s lawsuit against the town over the tax-assessed value of Northport Power Station.

“It will have the greatest financial impact on town residents, and the tax bills of the Northport-East Northport school district,” he said.

Leonick said he supports levying a fossil fuel tax on the plant to recoup any lost tax money, believes the plant is not currently properly assessed for taxes given its gas and electrical transmission lines should make it more valuable, and is in favor of spending money investigating if using eminent domain to take control of the plant is feasible.

“I agree it’s an anvil hanging over the town’s head for seven years,” Cergol said. “We need to be a unified front.”

She agreed more information would be needed before considering proceeding with eminent domain, as it would require a townwide referendum. Cergol chastised the topic being used as a “political divisive tactic.” The councilwoman said she has been following the advice of the town attorney on how to proceed.

Development

Cergol said the most common issue she hears about is Huntington’s overdevelopment and its impact on the character of the town. She wants to see changes made to C-6 zoning code that affects apartments over commercial space and wants to require all parking needs to be contained by each individual project or on private lots. The Democrat also supports construction of a parking structure or other means to alleviate the village’s parking issues.

“Residents are not happy with downzoning, the town should stick to what the master plan says,” Leonick said. “People who have lived here 30, 40 years and paid taxes don’t want their community to start looking like Nassau and Queens.”

The Republican said a simple fix to the C-6 zoning issue would be to increase the number of parking spaces needed to build apartments. Leonick also criticized the town for not constructing a parking structure for Huntington village, suggesting a modular unit could be purchased and easily constructed.

Government Transparency

On issues like the LIPA lawsuit and parking, Leonick said he feels the town lack’s transparency on its actions. Cergol responded by saying the town’s website has an entire section dedicated to the LIPA lawsuit.

The councilwoman said she authored and co-sponsored the bill that led to live streaming of the town’s meetings and events. She also offered to host monthly forums at Town Hall to delve into topics like 5G cellular service transmitters, where residents can ask questions of town officials and discuss the issue.

Leonick said the town’s web page on LIPA doesn’t go far enough and suggested development of additional electronic communications with residents, like a blog.

2019 Tentative Budget

In review of the 2019 tentative budget and government costs, Cergol said the town has
reduced expenses by using technology to allow residents to apply for affordable housing and register for recreational programs online. She is willing to negotiate the number of full-time staff members per council member, which the tentative budget calls to cut from two to one each with a shared secretary.

Leonick said that he’s glad the proposed budget stays within the 2 percent tax cap but believes there should be an increase in personnel in the town attorney’s office to help reduce outside legal fees and that each council member should have two full-time staff.

Sen. John Flanagan (R) hopes to retain his seat in New York State’s 2nd District. His challenger is political newcomer Kathleen Cleary (D). Photos by Kyle Barr

State Sen. and Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) believes his length of tenure is an asset to New York State’s 2nd Senate District, while Democrat Kathleen Cleary hopes to bring new ideas to the floor.

“I believe my opponent with the utmost sincerity takes it seriously. We just come at it from a different angle.”

— John Flanagan

Cleary, a 20-year resident also of East Northport, is a former contract manager for companies such as Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. While she thinks Flanagan has done a good job in his 32 years in office, she said she believes he has also held up key legislation including the Child Victims Act and Reproductive Health Act.

“We need to have new voices up there and to be able to be a little more diverse in backgrounds of people who are working there to be more reflective of the people in the district and not to have career politicians in the position for many years,” she said.

Cleary would like to see the Child Victims Act passed in the state Senate, which would extend the statute of limitations involving child sex abuse survivors in both criminal and civil cases and provide a one-year look-back window for victims to bring civil claims in cases where the statute of limitations has expired. She said most children don’t report a sexual crime because they are afraid the abuser will hurt them, or they weren’t aware what was done to them was wrong.

Flanagan said while the Senate has not passed the bill introduced by the state Assembly, senators have been working on pieces of legislation directed toward extending the time period to report from 23 to 28 years old or even 33 years in some cases.

“Everybody takes this issue seriously,” he said. “I believe my opponent with the utmost sincerity takes it seriously. We just come at it from a different angle.”

The two also disagreed on the best practice when it comes to gun legislation.

“We’re going to be penalized by the way our state funds our schools and that is something that we don’t want — to be cutting our budgets and taking money away from our children.”

— Kathleen Cleary

Cleary would like to see the Red Flag Gun Protection Bill pass. It would prevent those determined by a court to have the potential to cause serious harm to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any type of firearm. The bill hasn’t made it to the Senate floor.

Flanagan said the Red Flag bill sounds great in theory, but is too broad to a point where it’s possible for a police officer’s firearm to be taken away. He believes it needs more work before it is passed.

He said part of the recent budget included new measures involving domestic violence and the ability for the abuser to have or not have a firearm. He believes in gun control and supported the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013.

“I took a lot of grief, which is fine,” the senator said. “I believe I made the right vote.”

As for money matters, both candidates looked toward schools as a way to save money for taxpayers.

Cleary said with the loss of the SALT deduction on federal taxes the state needs to rethink how it funds schools through property taxes.

“We’re going to be penalized by the way our state funds our schools and that is something that we don’t want — to be cutting our budgets and taking money away from our children,” she said.

Cleary talked about shared services for school districts, for example transportation, even though she believes districts should continue to have local control.

Flanagan said BOCES is an example of sharing services, and he believes keeping the 2 percent property tax cap is important for school districts as well as libraries, sewer districts and similar entities to control spending.

When it comes to the economy, Cleary and Flanagan agreed that the state needs to make it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business to help the local economy and conduct cost-benefit analysis on every regulation.

Flanagan said Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) needs to stop blaming the federal government and president.

“[The governor] should be looking at his own house,” Flanagan said. “What is our tax policy here in New York? What are we doing for the middle class? What are we doing to make sure those high-income people stay in New York?”

Voters heading to the polls Nov. 6 who live in the Town of Brookhaven will find this proposition on the back of their ballots.

Brookhaven Town residents will have to flip over their ballots Nov. 6 to respond to a referendum pertaining to councilmembers’ terms in office, but they’d have to do backflips in the voting booth to be able to respond to the two-part question which allows for a single “yes” or “no” answer.

After a public hearing featuring speakers mostly in opposition in August, Brookhaven’s board unanimously moved to proceed with establishing a referendum on the back of this year’s ballot, an off year for Brookhaven’s representatives.

“Should the town code of the Town of Brookhaven be amended to establish term limits of three (3) four-year terms for elected officials, and amend the length of term of office from two (2) years to four (4) years for all elected officials commencing January 1, 2020?” the referendum will read verbatim.

Despite there being two components to the question, voters can only respond “yes” or “no.” The wording of the referendum was written by the town’s Law Department, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto.

When asked why they wanted to expand terms from two to four years councilmembers and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) in interviews and during the hearing offered similar, admittedly understandable explanations for the change. Having to campaign and fundraise for elections every two years is laborious, and makes getting things done difficult once in office, they said — both the Republicans and the board’s lone Democrat. While we can see how this would be a problem, we’d prefer to see adjustments to campaign finance law, requiring less fundraising and allowing more time for actual legislative work, before going with a solution that results in voters having less frequent opportunities to express their opinions.

Issues could be raised and conspiracy theories crafted for the motivation of the Town Board to advance a referendum like this during an otherwise ordinary August meeting based on the fact more than one member of the current board is nearing 12 years in office. If passed, based on the wording, term limits would begin to be instituted on councilmembers beginning in 2020, meaning years already served will not have started their clocks. Fair or unfair, the process did nothing to squash those theories. And even without those issues, there is still no way to reconcile that putting a referendum with perplexing verbiage before town voters will somehow yield the will of the people.

This is not to mention an additional element — that in 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials in Brookhaven thanks to a referendum, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the August hearing. That interpretation has been questioned by many and could conceivably lead to a lawsuit if the referendum passes.

Add it all up and the answer became clear to our editorial staff: We’ll be voting “no” on Proposal One.

New York State sen. Carl Marcellino will face a challenge from Democrat Jim Gaughran Nov. 6. Photos by Alex Petroski

It’s a political rematch two years in the making for New York State’s 5th Senate District.

Incumbent Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), who was first elected to office in a 1995 special election, currently represents the mixed district consisting of Nassau and Suffolk residents. He claims to have successfully gotten 275 laws passed and serves as chairman of the Senate
Education Committee.

Democrat Jim Gaughran, of Northport, is a sole-practitioner attorney of nearly 30 years experience and current chairman of Suffolk County Water Authority. He’s previously served as a councilman for the Town of
Huntington and a Suffolk County legislator. In the 2016 race, he came up short against Marcellino by a slim margin of 
1,761 votes, or roughly 1.2 percent of the roughly 145,000 ballots cast.s. Now, he eyes an office in the state Senate.

“One of the primary differences is the senator is very happy with the way things are going, the way Albany works,” Gaughran said. “I think there’s a lot we need to do in Albany that hasn’t been done.”

Both candidates sat down for an exclusive interview with TBR News Media on state and local issues.

Education

The challenger recognizes that the federal government’s action to cap state and local tax deductions at $10,000 will pose a financial challenge to homeowners. If elected, he’d like to use it as a reason to increase state funding of public schools, while gradually cutting property taxes.

“To me, public education should be the No. 1 funding priority for the State of New York, period,” he said.

Gaughran said he believes there are too many unfunded mandates on schools, the state needs to provide funds for projects, and would like to decouple state testing scores from teacher evaluations.

Marcellino claimed he has increased state aid to school districts by approximately $1,500 per pupil while serving as state education chair. He supports the 2 percent state-mandated tax cap to keep taxes under control. Marcello said he also believes the state needs to study and review efficiency of school programs it sponsors and pays for. The incumbent said part of that burden also falls on school districts to be careful with what programs they introduce, ensure they are needed and all districts should consider consolidation.

Infrastructure

One area Gaughran said he’d like to see Long Island receive more funding is for infrastructure, particularly relating to improving water quality. He will fight for more state funding to upgrade sewer treatment facilities to state-of-the-art  technology and expand sewers. The Democrat said the biggest issue faced in Suffolk is to improve the water quality by replacing current cesspools with microsewers. He believed the state should provide tax incentives and grants.

Marcellino said he’s a strong proponent of environmental protection, citing his work requiring notification prior to pesticide application and a bill written to reform the state’s cleanup of brownfield and superfund sites in the early 2000s.

“Preserving of our open space and our clean air, preserving green fields is a key element here. It’s important we move forward with that and we do more of it,” he said. “Frankly, not enough is being done and we need to do more.”

The incumbent said the state needs to do more to partner with lower levels of government, help out financially where possible and supports offering state tax incentives.

LIPA’s lawsuit over Northport power plant

Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district residents have been calling on elected officials for their help and assistance this year in mitigating any impact Long Island Power Authority’s tax certiorari case could have on local property owners as it moves toward a trial.

Gaughran said he was a member of Huntington Town Board when the original agreement was made for LIPA taking over the Northport Power Station and believed that the town should be protected in the tax certiorari case.

“The state needs to support the Town of Huntington and its residents,” the Democratic challenger said.

Marcellino cited his efforts to aid the town and school district by drafting and co-sponsoring a bill that would have spread out the difference in taxes over a 15-year period and allowed access to state funds to offset any tax revenue difference. He said he would support possible LIPA reform and changes that he felt would benefit his constituents, but any action would need to be carefully thought through and studied in advance for potential ramifications.

His challenger said he would look to reform LIPA in two ways: First would be to make appointment to its board a process of government approval and confirmation by the state Senate; and, second, he would look to force the utility company go before the state’s Public Service Commission for approval of its consumer fees and rates.

Ethics reform

If elected, Gaughran said he would like to push for real ethic laws in New York State politics. As former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D) appeals a public corruption conviction, the Democratic challenger said he fears others may be using public office for private benefit. He proposes to force state elected officials to not have outside employment while serving in state Legislature and push for campaign financial reform to close existing loopholes.

“We are capable of policing ourselves,” Marcellino replied. “No one likes to see someone game the system.”

The incumbent said to force state elected officials to give up outside income would cause many talented individuals to leave office, and anticipates those remaining as full-time legislators to request an increase in pay. He said changes like those proposed by Gaughran would require a statewide public referendum.

“Their ability to make change happen is there, but it’s not that simple,” Marcellino said.

From left, incumbent Assemblyman Steve Stern will run off against Republican Jeremy Williams Nov. 6. Photo by Kyle Barr, photo from Jeremy Williams

The New York State Assembly’s 10th District seat is up for grabs. Come Nov. 6, residents have the choice between age and experience, or a youth with enthusiasm.

TBR News Media was prepared  to host a debate with state Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) and his Republican challenger Jeremy Williams, but the latter candidate did not show.

Stern, a prior Suffolk County legislator for 12 years, won a special election to the state Assembly after Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) vacated the seat in January. Now, the incumbent said he has a great track record in government, sponsoring and helping to pass six separate bills in six weeks on a number of state and local issues.

“I was dropped into session and not even told where the bathroom was,” Stern said. “I’m proud in being able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.”

I’m proud in being able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time.”

— Steve Stern

The 22-year-old Williams is a lifelong Huntington Station resident, and now lives in a house close to the one his great-great-grandparents built. The Republican challenger said previously that he decided to run for office after commuting to his job in Manhattan, working as a public relations representative for several technology companies, and seeing how expensive it was to live on Long Island.

Williams said he wants to focus on getting more funds to Suffolk and that he would work to end what he called an unfriendly business climate, especially in regard to high tax rates and fees.

“We have to fast track the application process for these businesses, maybe with a five-year property tax abatement,” Williams said in a phone interview after the debate.

Stern said he also believes that businesses need incentives to come to and grow on Long Island. Specifically, he would want to offer tax breaks for companies looking to set up shop on Long Island, and that he would use state funds to incentivize the county to reduce its business and development fees, specifically environmental fees. The incumbent  also said that he will focus on making sure Suffolk gets a higher percentage back from the $5 billion in taxes it pays out to the state annually.

“The $5 billion that we send up to Albany is enough to fund both Suffolk County and a good bit of Nassau county as well,” the Democratic candidate said. “If we receive some significant percentage of that back, our taxpayers would be able to have a better quality of life.”

In development, Stern, who was opposed to enterprises like Villadom that would have created a mall on vacant land in Elwood, said there should be more incentives from the state to build new projects on developed parcels rather than on open space. “Before anybody goes knocking down areas of pristine property there has to be an incentive for redevelopment,” he said.

Williams said he agreed with redevelopment over new developments, but he emphasized the problems with modern transit-oriented developments don’t aid in helping young people stay on Long Island.

“Transit-oriented developments are disingenuous — most of those affordable homes go to people 55 years or older,” he said.

Stern said if re-elected he would work with Republicans and Democrats to provide commuters or their employers access to funds for transportation purposes, and encourage programs for college students to work with local businesses or startups.

Transit-oriented developments are disingenuous — most of those affordable homes go to people 55 years or older.” 

— Jeremy Williams

“There has to be a public-private partnership that has real meaning for the development of this company, but as local taxpayers, if we are to make investments into this company and provide the intellectual capital, that this is going to be a company that will commit to its future growth on Long Island,” the incumbent said.

Williams said he agrees with more public-private partnerships with businesses, especially if they are located in areas of Huntington,  like stretches of the Melville business corridor that have degraded in both looks and number of storefronts. The Republican challenger added if he is elected he would be both willing and able to work with the Democrats in the state legislature.

“Lupinacci and other people in the district seat were in the minority seat for years, and they still got a lot done,” Williams said. “The only people I am beholden to are the people in my community.”

Overall, Stern said he is more than willing to work across the aisle with Republican colleagues.

“I don’t care what letter you have after your name. The most important thing is putting points up on the board and delivering to my community,” he said. “If nobody has a sit down with each other or a working relationship with each other, then top priorities don’t get done.”

Above left, Democratic challenger Avrum Rosen and on right, incumbent Andrew Raia

Both candidates seeking to represent New York State’s 12th Assembly District are aware of the challenges the area faces, but have key differences on the solutions they propose.

Incumbent Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) was elected to represent the 12th District in 2002 and seeks to return to Albany for his ninth term.

His Democrat challenger is Avrum Rosen, an attorney specializing in bankruptcy and tax law at his Huntington-based practice.

Rosen jumped into the race after New York State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division ruled Aug. 22 that Northport resident Michael Marcantonio, 31, Raia’s original challenger, did not meet the state’s minimum five-year residency requirements.

“When Michael Marcantonio got thrown out this race, I decided someone had to step up,” Rosen said. “While I like [Raia] very much, I don’t like his position on a lot of things. This is not a year when any Republican should go unchallenged in an election.”

LIPA/Northport power plant

Long Island Power Authority’s tax certiorari lawsuit against the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district over Northport Power Station is a top concern of district residents as mediation begins and possible court trial looms.

“There was never any pressure on [LIPA] to upgrade, do any of the things they needed to do to make it what it should have been,” Rosen said.

Rosen suggested the state should allow town officials to levy a carbon tax against the Northport power plant to encourage LIPA to upgrade it, ultimately raising the value of the plant.

Raia highlighted legislation he co-sponsored earlier this year that would allow the town to spread out any tax rate changes over a 15-year period and granted access to state funds to stabilize taxes. Raia said environmentalists rallied against it for proposing to take money from the greenhouse gas initiative funds.

“No matter who comes back, it’s something that should be reintroduced and maybe we get the money from another pot that the environmentalists are not so concerned about,” the incumbent said.

Taxes 

Raia said he believes the 2 percent state-mandated tax cap has been one the “best things” the state has done to control taxes and cost-of-living on Long Island. He wants to encourage consolidation of services among municipalities and school districts while supporting the lawsuit of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) against the federal government for placing a $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions. Raia said he has researched shifting from a property-based to income-based tax model, creating a commercial tax fund and other ways to ease the burden on Long Island homeowners.

Rosen agreed with his opponent that the SALT tax deduction cap needs to be addressed by the state. If elected to office, he proposes the state Legislature considers offering straight tax credits to those with student loans, those entering STEM professions and for parents paying childcare costs. The Democratic challenger said commercial taxes need to be addressed and he believes it needs to be done through a tristate regional approach that brings both New Jersey and Connecticut on board. Rosen questions if the 2 percent state-mandated tax cap can be kept in place in the future if the rate of inflation increases.

Gun Control

Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this February, gun control has become a larger national issue.

Rosen said he is in favor of microstamping guns, broader background checks and a red flag law that allows police or family to request firearms be removed from owners who might present a danger to themselves or others. He criticized Raia for voting down gun control measures in the past.

The incumbent said over time he has “evolved on the issue,” arguing against parts of various gun control bills for lacking due process. Raia cited that he voted in favor of taking firearms from those convicted of domestic violence once the language was tweaked to only include related crimes, and he wanted to enable investigators charged with researching the mental health backgrounds of those requesting gun permits to cross state lines.

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.

Businessman Greg Fischer (D) is challenging Sen. Ken LaValle (R) for his seat in New York State’s 1st District. Photos by Kyle Barr

It’s déjà vu in New York State’s 1st Senate District.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) finds himself once again being challenged by Democrat Greg Fischer to retain his seat representing the district. The two squared off in 2016 when LaValle won with more than 67 percent of the vote.

“We’ve created literally a generation of homeless people.”

— Greg Fischer

Fischer, a Calverton resident and businessman who specializes in strategizing and consulting, said during a debate featuring the candidates at the TBR News Media office in Setauket he is concerned that no one on either side of the political aisle is doing anything to increase personal incomes in the state. He said this lack of progress is leading to a brain drain on Long Island where residents pay the overhead to educate the youth but get none of the benefits when they move on for better opportunities.

“We’ve created literally a generation of homeless people,” Fischer said. “Those are people that can’t leave their houses and have their own homes. But they’re not necessarily on the streets — they’re on the couches or they’re still in their childhood bedrooms.”

When it comes to strengthening the economy, LaValle said he sees potential in places like the Research and Development Park at Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as economic centers on Long Island. He said he supports more high-tech parks being constructed along the expressway to connect to these centers.

“We cannot afford one system for all.”

— Ken LaValle

The two had differing opinions on how to improve transportation for Long Islanders. While LaValle is looking locally, Fisher is thinking more statewide.

Fischer is proposing a bond-funded transportation system which would produce jobs statewide to connect New York City and Long Island to places like Quebec in Canada and Buffalo, and everywhere in between. He said the system would use subterranean vehicles able to go 150 mph on tracks that curve and 600 mph on straight tracks.

“It creates tens of thousands of jobs,” Fischer said, adding the use of bonds to fund such a project would see immediate payback.

The incumbent said he has led the charge in getting a state investment of $150,000 to conduct a feasibility study of electrifying the northern Long Island Rail Road line between Huntington and Port Jefferson, something he said people have talked about since before he took office 42 years ago.

“I believe, especially considering the economics of our day, that health care becomes a right.”

— Greg Fischer

“It’s something that I think that we’re finally, with money that I put in, that we’re going to get some attention,” the incumbent said.

Fischer criticized the idea of committing funds to invest in what he called “outdated technology.”

“No matter how much money we spend on horses and buggies it’s not going to help us,” Fischer said.

Both candidates said they believe better health care should be accessible to all.

“I believe, especially considering the economics of our day, that health care becomes a right,” Fischer said.

LaValle said the goal of the senate is to ensure access to health care for all. However, there are obstacles.

“We cannot afford one system for all,” LaValle said. “We tried. We looked at Obamacare and other types of things. I think we need to tweak what we have and make sure that no person goes without health care.”

“Waste, fraud and abuse cannot be tolerated at any time.”

— Ken LaValle

When it comes to education, Fischer said he believes there should be an inspector general assigned to NYS Education Department to investigate departmental waste, as its expenses are more than 50 percent of the state budget. He said currently any waste and mismanagement falls to the attorney general while other departments have inspector generals. Fischer, who has done audits of school districts, said he has found a lot of waste including not using best-value contracting.

LaValle said he has no problem looking into an inspector general for education.

“Waste, fraud and abuse cannot be tolerated at any time,” LaValle said.

Both candidates agreed more could be done for those suffering from drug addiction, especially in schools and colleges, including organizing public forums.

“Young people growing up today have lots of pressures, and it’s starting to show in so many ways, opioids being one of them,” LaValle said.

Fischer said he believes addiction comes from helplessness many young people feel from not being able to make a decent living and afford their own homes.

“As you become less and less of a stakeholder in the future, you destroy yourself,” Fischer said.

 

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.

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