Politics

The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

The Incorporated Village of Poquott voted in three new trustees and a write-in village justice candidate in Tuesday’s election, the village clerk confirmed Thursday.

In the trustee race for two seats carrying two-year terms, Harold Berry and Jeffrey Koppelson were elected with 105 votes and 131 votes, respectively, beating out Gary Garofano, the third candidate vying for one of the spots.

Another trustee position, but carrying a one-year term, went to Sandra Nicoletti, who received 113 votes over Karen Sartain, who garnered 69 votes, the village clerk said Thursday.

Poquott also elected a new village justice on Tuesday with a write-in candidate, the clerk said. The village did not have any names on the ballot for the position, so the spot went to Paul Edelson, who received 96 votes, over Alexander Melbartis — another write-in — who received 87 votes.

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Democratic Committee unanimously nominates Vetter for Town Board seat alongisde receiver of taxes position

Suffolk County Executive stands with Larry Vetter in support of his bid for Town Board. Photo from Ed Maher

The all-Republican Smithtown Town Board has a member of the opposing party stepping up early to challenge for a spot at the table.

The Smithtown Democratic Committee unanimously nominated Smithtown businessman Larry Vetter for Town Board at its nominating convention earlier this month.

Vetter, a 36-year resident of Smithtown and father of four, is the owner of Vetter Environmental Services Inc. (VE Science), which provides residential and commercial environmental solutions.

Following his nomination, Vetter addressed the enthusiastic crowd of Democratic supporters in attendance at the IBEW Local 25 hall in Hauppauge.

“I’m proud to represent the New Democratic Party of Smithtown,” he said. “I look forward to carrying our message of government accountability, financial responsibility and enhanced quality of life to the voters of Smithtown this fall.”

Smithtown Democratic Committee Chairman Ed Maher was equally optimistic at the nominating event.

“When you consider Larry’s lifetime of accomplishments running a successful business preserving our environment, the choice is clear. Larry Vetter is the right man for the job,” he said. “Like most Smithtown residents, Larry Vetter earns his living in the private sector. The members of the Town Board should reflect the demographics of the town. He will provide new leadership with a fresh perspective.”

The Democrats completed their slate by nominating longtime Smithtown resident Margot Rosenthal, a registered nurse midwife and mother of four, to run for receiver of taxes.

“The current receiver of taxes has run unopposed since 2003,” Rosenthal said. “This is not the way democracy is supposed to work in America. The people of Smithtown deserve a choice.”

Election turnout reaches highest in years

Port Jefferson Treasurer Don Pearce and Village Clerk Bob Juliano tally the 2015 election results. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The “unity” slate cleaned up in the Port Jefferson Village election Tuesday night, with Mayor Margot Garant and Trustee Larry LaPointe securing additional terms on the board of trustees and newcomer Stan Loucks winning his first.

Garant, who will start her fourth term this summer, beat out challenger Dave Forgione, a 15-year resident and the owner of a billing and accounting business in upper Port, with 1,162 votes to his 753.

“I’m just really elated that the people are entrusting and allowing me to continue to do the work that we do for the village,” Garant said about her win in a phone interview Wednesday. “Super psyched.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Forgione said he was “humbled” by the support he received from the community.

“I’d like to congratulate Margot on her victory and wish her all the success in her upcoming term,” he said.

Forgione would not say whether he would run for village board again in the future, after experiencing a busy campaign season this time around.

“At this point I’m just trying to get my life back in order,” he said with a laugh.

There were two trustee seats up for election — LaPointe’s and that of Trustee Adrienne Kessel, who did not run for another term. The three candidates ran at-large for those spots.

Loucks, a longtime volunteer at the Port Jefferson Country Club and a retired athletics teacher and administrator in Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, garnered the most support of any candidate vying any seat, with 1,205 votes. LaPointe came in second out of the trustee candidates, with 1,160 votes, and secured a third term on the board. In third place was challenger Matthew Franco, a 10-year village resident and a pediatric occupational therapist for Nassau BOCES, who fell short with 822 votes.

LaPointe emphasized in a phone interview Wednesday morning “just how gratified and grateful I am to my friends and neighbors for coming out to support the unity team.”

Loucks is looking forward to getting to work.

“I’m just flabbergasted at the outpouring of support,” Loucks said Wednesday, speaking in a phone interview of his gratitude to his supporters. “I was blown away by the results last night.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Franco congratulated LaPointe and Loucks and said he hopes they take it to heart that 40 percent of voters cast ballots for him.

“Don’t dismiss the minority,” he said. “There’s 40 percent of this population of the village that wants change.”

Franco said he would run again for the village board in the future.

“I am preparing for next year,” he said.

Village Justice Peter Graham ran unopposed for re-election and was also returned to his role, receiving 1,031 votes.

Resident turnout for the election was high, especially compared to recent years.

As the Village Center buzzed with activity 10 minutes before the polls closed, Village Clerk Bob Juliano said the building had been busy all day. He noted that in previous years, the crowd usually died down in the last hour of voting, but that did not happen this year.

Counting absentee ballots, almost 2,000 Port Jefferson residents voted in the election — about double the number who turned out to the polls last year. And the voter turnout was dismal in the two years prior to that: In 2013 there were 84 voters total, and in 2012 there were close to 150 who cast ballots.

Port Jefferson Village code enforcement officer Lt. John Borrero said, as the 69 absentee votes were being tallied at the end of the night, “I’ve never seen an election so crowded.”

Faces off against incumbent Sarah Anker for 6th District seat

Steve Tricarico photo by Erika Karp
Steve Tricarico photo by Erika Karp
Steve Tricarico photo by Erika Karp

After years of working in the public sector and for local government, Republican Steve Tricarico, Brookhaven Town’s deputy highway superintendent, is making his first run for elected office.

The 30-year-old Wading River native will face off against incumbent Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) for the 6th District seat in November. In a recent interview, Tricarico touted his years of experience working within local governments and his fiscally conservative approach when it comes to budgeting.

Bettering the county’s finances is a main focus of his campaign, Tricarico said. He was critical of the county increasing departmental fees, over relying on sales taxes and borrowing to pay for its operating expenses. He said the county, like its residents, should be living within its means and cut its borrowing.

“The county just doesn’t seem to be getting that message,” he said.

Tricarico said he took issue with how the county overestimated its sales tax revenue in 2014 by 1.5 percent, causing an $18.1 million shortfall, according to a June Fitch Ratings report. Despite the shortfall, the county budgeted for a 4.87 percent increase in sales tax for 2015.

Tricarico said this practice is “hurting our ability to function,” and if elected, he wouldn’t budget for any increase in sales tax, as to not overestimate.

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle described Tricarico as the “ideal candidate,” and one that people — from Dan Losquadro to former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy — have sought out to work with.

“He has really excelled everywhere he has gone,” LaValle said.

Prior to working for the town, Tricarico worked as a district manager for LIPA, liaising between government officials and constituents. He also worked under Levy in the intergovernmental affairs unit. Tricarico said the jobs provided him with the best background as he understands local government, constituents and budgets.

Sarah Anker file photo by Erika Karp
Sarah Anker file photo by Erika Karp

Tricarico, who still lives in Wading River with his wife, Francine, said their two-year-old daughter, Charlotte, served as an inspiration for him to run as he wants to leave the county better than how he found it for her and for future generations.

As an adjunct professor at Farmingdale State College, Tricarico said he hears from students all of the time about how they would like to stay on Long Island, but just can’t because of the high-cost of living and lack of good jobs.

So if elected, he said he would like to explore ways to provide additional incentives to local businesses and create an economy that grows jobs. All options must be on the table when looking at how to better local government and its economy, Tricarico insisted, stating that he would explore the privatization of some government functions, like health and social services.

“As county representatives there is only so much we can do, but in order to start keeping good businesses here on the Island, we need to make sure that our county legislator, especially in the 6th District, is representing the constituents of the 6th District,” he said. “In my opinion, the current county legislator is rubber-stamping every policy that comes across her desk.”

In a phone interview, Anker said she is focusing on her responsibilities as a county legislator. She said she is grateful that she has had the opportunity to serve the people of the 6th District and would like to continue to do so.

Like Tricarico, Anker said she believes the county needs to start borrowing less. She described taking office in 2011 during one of the worst fiscal challenges anyone has faced  — a time when the county didn’t have much of a choice but to borrow.

“I don’t think he understands the government process,” she said.

Anker also defended her position on creating task forces to look at problems. Tricarico described this as creating “bureaucracy to solve problems.”

But Anker said the groups focus government resources on an issue and create plans to fix things. For example, the SAVE Hotline, which provides schools a direct line to police in the case of an active shooter situation, came out of task force discussions.

“I don’t wait for something to happen,” Anker said. “I actively and proactively [look at] what needs to be focused on, what needs to be changed.”

Education advocates march into the office of state Sen. John Flanagan on Thursday calling for the passage of the New York State Dream Act. Photo by Phil Corso

The Smithtown office of state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) had a line going out the door last week as advocates called on him and his fellow lawmakers to pass the New York State Dream Act before legislative session ended.

Dream Act advocates congregate outside Sen. John Flanagan's office Thursday in prayer. Photo by Phil Corso
Dream Act advocates congregate outside Sen. John Flanagan’s office Thursday in prayer. Photo by Phil Corso

Various faith leaders from congregations across Long Island gathered in prayer outside Flanagan’s office on Thursday with hopes of nudging the recently appointed Senate majority leader to help pass the Dream Act before session ended June 17. The advocates held up signs in protest of the state’s sluggish pace in making the legislation a reality for the nearly 146,000 undocumented immigrants across New York who graduated from public high schools but are unable to access federally-funded financial aid for college.

The bill, which has passed in the Assembly in February by a vote of 87-45, would open up state aid for the students.

Peggy Fort, a retired teacher and social justice chair of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, stood in the crowd outside Flanagan’s office Thursday and said the state had to act before thousands of up-and-coming immigrant children are locked out of the higher education process.

“Allowing our New York State ‘dreamers’ who are full of courage, creativity and intellect to access funding for higher education is a way of ensuring the future of New York State,” she said. “It makes absolutely no sense to continue this policy of no action. But I think we will be able to turn that around.”

A June 2015 report from the Fiscal Policy Institute found there were 526,000 immigrants living on Long Island, making up 18 percent of the population and 20 percent of the economic output. Of those immigrants, almost 100,000 are undocumented — about half living in Suffolk County and half in Nassau.

Sister Rosalie Carven delivers petitions to state Sen. John Flanagan's Chief of Staff Ray Bernardo on Thursday. Photo by Phil Corso
Sister Rosalie Carven delivers petitions to state Sen. John Flanagan’s Chief of Staff Ray Bernardo on Thursday. Photo by Phil Corso

Victoria Daza, of workers advocacy group Long Island Jobs with Justice, said Flanagan was an ideal Long Island lawmaker to head up the Dream Act push, as his North Shore district encompasses educational hubs Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College. Daza said it was unacceptable that Flanagan has yet to publicly support the legislation in the four years since it was first introduced, leaving students to foot their full college bill with each passing year.

“The Dream Act cannot wait,” she said. “Education is a human right and these kids should not be excluded.”

Flanagan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Soon after a short prayer vigil outside, the throng of advocates marched into Flanagan’s office along with more than 100 petition signatures. Sister Rosalie Carven, a social justice coordinator with the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood, walked into the office with conviction before handing over the paperwork and asking Flanagan Chief of Staff Ray Bernardo to deliver their message.

“It can’t stop here. Everyone here is an advocate for the passage of this,” she said. “The time is now. The job has to get done. It’s discriminatory to keep kids out of higher education.”

Village Center file photo by Heidi Sutton

It was mostly incumbents versus challengers during a debate between candidates for the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees on Wednesday night, with the two groups standing apart on issues such as the village’s comprehensive plan, taxes and the local power plant.

The event, run by the chamber of commerce, featured all of the board candidates: Mayor Margot Garant is running for her fourth term against businessman Dave Forgione; and Trustee Larry LaPointe is running for his third term against resident challengers Matthew Franco and Stan Loucks.

Two trustee seats are up for election — LaPointe’s and that of Trustee Adrienne Kessel, who is not seeking re-election — so the two candidates with the most votes will win slots on the board.

Longtime village Judge Peter Graham, who is unopposed for re-election, was also present.

At the Village Center debate, the five candidates sparred on the topic of the aging Port Jefferson power plant, which could need to be upgraded — or repowered — soon if locals want to keep it as a key source of property tax revenue for the village. Locals have feared the plant will not be repowered for several years, and village officials have been lobbying to save it.

Franco said the village is in a “wait-and-see pattern” on those efforts, but needs to be more proactive by finding places to cut the budget and thus lower taxes. Forgione also pointed to reducing taxes as a solution, saying that year-to-year village tax increases are too high.

On the other side of the argument were incumbents Garant and LaPointe. The trustee said he “resents the implication” that the village board has been just sitting and waiting, as members have been visiting Albany to lobby for repowering and bring parties to the table to negotiate as much as possible. Garant added that to help prepare residents for a potential loss of tax revenue from the plant, the board has been putting money aside each year and working to resolve tax grievances in order to stabilize the tax roll.

Loucks, who fell on different sides of different issues throughout the night, said the village must continue pressuring state officials to push for repowering.

On the topic of the draft comprehensive plan, which includes recommendations for development throughout the village, candidates were asked if they support the document as it reaches its final stages of review.

Garant, LaPointe and Loucks spoke in favor of the plan, with the incumbents saying it will work to improve the commercial areas uptown and downtown in particular.

“We have the problems of a small city,” LaPointe said that night, imploring the audience not to fear change. “I want the blight gone.”

Forgione and Franco argued the village should modify the plan based upon recommendations that the Suffolk County Planning Commission listed in its letter approving the plan.

In the fight for mayor, the candidates closed with Forgione saying he would strive to get more community input.

“I will do more than run this village,” he said. “I will serve this village.”

Garant called on the audience to return her as the village leader.

“This is a very critical time,” she said. “I am your mayor.”

Dave Calone has had his eye on the 1st Congressional District representative since the election last November, and he has already seen enough.

Challenger Dave Calone wants to unseat Congressman Lee Zeldin. Photo from Maria Hoffman
Challenger Dave Calone wants to unseat Congressman Lee Zeldin. Photo from Maria Hoffman

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) unseated six-term Democrat Tim Bishop by a wide margin — 54 percent of the vote to 45 percent — but Calone, a Setauket native and Port Jefferson high school graduate, said the new congressman’s voting record has motivated him to throw his hat into the ring.

“He’s out of step with Long Island and what we need to do to grow this economy,” said Calone, who works as CEO of Jove Equity Partners LLC, a venture capital firm that helps start and build technology companies. “I was disappointed to see Tim lose because I thought he had done a good job. When I saw the [floor] votes Zeldin was taking, I felt it was very partisan voting.”

Government tracking website OpenCongress reported Zeldin has voted along party lines 94 percent of the time since taking office in January. Of those votes, Calone said he took issue with Zeldin’s positions in favor of Republican budget plans that cut Homeland Security funding, and he disagreed with the congressman’s remarks referring to President Barack Obama as a monarch.

Jennifer DiSiena, a spokeswoman for Zeldin, said with 17 months until the next election, the congressman would be focusing his efforts on improving the lives of the middle class and not engaging in politics.

“Congressman Zeldin has been working across party lines since day one,” she said in a statement. “He has been recognized as the top Freshman Republican likely to co-sponsor legislation with members of the opposite party. He has also broken from party lines on critical votes to protect working class residents of Long Island. While people make false accusations regarding the congressman, Lee Zeldin is working tirelessly for the residents of Long Island. These people can continue to throw mud and lies about the congressman, but the residents of the First [Congressional] District are smarter than that.”

Calone is director of six privately held companies throughout the country and has helped organize the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the U.S. House of Representatives, advocating federal policies that promote job creation through the development of startups and other small businesses.

In that role, he helped launch Startup Day Across America, an event to connect federal officials with early-stage companies in their region. He also founded the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund, which provides funding to six early-stage companies based on technology developed at Long Island’s research institutions.

Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo
Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo

Calone said his hands-on experience helping Long Island businesses thrive was a driving force behind his decision to challenge Zeldin, and he hoped to apply his experience working to keep his hometown attractive, and retain residents living there.

“What I want to bring is someone who helped start and grow businesses across Long Island,” he said. “This area was a great place to grow up and a lot of my classmates have already left and don’t come back. We need to be a leader in the economy of New York and worldwide.”

Since 2008, Calone has worked as chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission. He also helped initiate the county’s first comprehensive plan effort in nearly 40 years.

On the local level, Calone has already garnered support from various political leaders and community activists. His campaign committee is headed by Virginia Capon, president of the Three Village Democratic Club, and he has received early support from Tony Parlatore, chair of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee.

“Dave Calone has never run for office before, but he is a lifelong supporter of Democratic values,” Parlatore said. “His father was an engineer and local chamber of commerce leader and his mother was an elementary school teacher here in our community. He is well respected in our region for his work to cut government red tape and enact policies that support job growth. He also has been a leader in protecting Suffolk County’s natural environment by fighting to protect our waters and has been nationally recognized for creating policies that promote renewable energy usage across Long Island.”

As a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Department of Justice Honors Program, Calone worked on prosecuting cases involving international economic crime and terrorism — efforts for which he was named a recipient of the 2003 Attorney General’s Award.

Calone is an honors graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He lives with his wife Kate, a Presbyterian minister, and their three children.

File photo by Rohma Abbas

The political season is swinging into high gear in Huntington.

Last week, town Democrats and Republicans tapped their picks for two open seats on the town board. The Huntington Town Democrat Committee nominated incumbent Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and town Deputy Director of General Services Keith Barrett for the spots, according to Mary Collins, chairwoman of the committee. The committee also nominated incumbents Ester Bivona for town receiver of taxes and Marian Tinari for district court judge.

The Democratic nominations took place last Wednesday, Collins said.

“We think they’re the best people we have,” Collins said. “They’ve shown an interest in good government and getting things done.”

The Huntington Town Republican Committee unanimously picked incumbent Councilman Gene Cook (I) and Northport-East Northport school board member Jennifer Thompson, according to Chairwoman Toni Tepe. The nominations took place last Friday.

“The screening committee recommended [them] to the full committee because they feel that Gene has been a stalwart supporter of the people and that he always has the interest of the people at heart,” Tepe said in a phone interview this week. “And Jennifer Thompson came in, screened very nicely, [was a] very personable, knowledgeable individual and would be an asset on the town board.”

Republicans also nominated Tom McNally, a Huntington Station-based attorney and a Republican committee member, for the Suffolk County Legislature 16th District seat, held by Democratic incumbent Steve Stern. The party also chose Jennifer Heller-Smitelli, a civil litigator from Huntington, to run for the 17th Legislative District seat, held by Democratic incumbent Lou D’Amaro.

At this point, the candidates need to collect signatures to get on the ballot. And it looks like there might be a contest for getting on the ballot — at least over on the Democratic side — with former Highway Superintendent William Naughton announcing this week that he wants to run for town board. In addition, newcomer Drew Merola, a business account manager at Verizon is vying for a seat.

Asked for her thoughts on primary elections, Collins said they could be good or bad.

“Sometimes they help solidify the party,” she said. “Sometimes they can cause rifts. It all depends on how people conduct themselves while the primary process is going on.”

Berland and Barrett, when reached this week, said they were excited to get the Democratic committee’s nomination. Cook and Thompson didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday morning, but Cook stated in a previous interview he’s running for a second four-year term because he’s taken issue with the way the Democratic majority has spent money.

Tepe and Barrett agreed that this year’s election would be about transparency and ethics.

“And also to maintain a community that is in the liking of people who live here,” Tepe said.

New York native to start on July 6

MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department
MaryEllen Elia succeeds John B. King Jr. as the state’s next education commissioner. Photo from state education department

MaryEllen Elia, a former Florida superintendent, will succeed John B. King Jr., as New York’s next education commissioner and local education leaders across the North Shore are anxiously waiting to see if she’ll pass the test.

The New York State Board of Regents formed a seven-member search committee in January to find a replacement for King, who announced he was leaving his seat after accepting a federal senior advisor position to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

For a decade, Elia served as the superintendent of Hillsborough County, Florida, and was named state Superintendent of the Year in 2015. She is credited with much success in Hillsborough, as her district won $100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop a teacher evaluation system that used student standardized test scores as a key factor.

The system, Empowering Effective Teachers, received national praise from Duncan and the American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who stated in a press release the system provides extensive support for teachers and pay structure incentivizes teachers to take on more challenging positions.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a press release that Elia has a remarkable record of working collaboratively with parents, students and teachers to get things done, which was crucial to make sure the implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards went smoothly for students and teachers in Florida.

Elia is delighted to return back to New York, and said in a press release that she is happy to work on behalf of the children. She still considers herself a teacher at heart, and believes that a good teacher is also a good listener.

The New York native had her first teaching job in Sweet Home Central School District in Amherst, N.Y., where she taught social studies for 16 years. In 1986, when her family moved to Florida, she became a reading teacher for three years and then held various administrative positions in the district until her departure.

During Elia’s 10-year tenure as superintendent of Hillsborough, students have received national recognition for their achievement. Fourth and eighth grade students earned high reading scores than any of the other 22 districts that participated in the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment.

All of Hillsborough districts public high schools placed on the Washington Post’s list of “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” in 2012 and 2013.

Former state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. at a community forum. File photo by Erika Karp
Former state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. at a community forum. File photo by Erika Karp

King stepped down last December amidst much controversy, specifically for his methods of implementing the highly controversial Common Core in New York.

Superintendents, politicians and members of the community all found problems with King’s techniques, feeling that the Common Core was rushed into the schools and not given enough time for teachers and students to understand it. Another fault was his background, which lacked any teaching jobs. King was a co-founder of Roxbury Prep, a charter middle school in Massachusetts.

“I was the first to call for his resignation, he developed a hostile approach and seemed oblivious to his role,” New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

Englebright said he hopes Elia will provide a fresh look at the system, and that she’ll bring her background as both a teacher and an administrator to the schools of New York.

One thing is for sure; Elia has her work cut out for her.

“I think she has a monumental task ahead of her, “ Timothy Eagen, Kings Park’s superintendent said. “On Long Island, about 50 percent of students in grades three through eight refused to take the assessments this past year. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Middle Country school district Superintendent Roberta Gerold felt there wasn’t a collaborative culture surrounding the application of the Common Core under King’s tenure.

“There needs to be a responsible conversation, and I don’t think we had that with King, he was reluctant to slow down,” said Gerold, who also serves as president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.

Fellow superintendent, Joe Rella, of Comsewogue, said he is desperate for a more collaborative and ongoing conversation.

“This reform dialogue needs to stop, he said. “We need time to examine what has happened. I am optimistic on Elia’s hiring until further notice.”

The superintendent’s prayers may just be answered, as Elia stated that her first item of business as commissioner will be listening to the members of the community, parents, teachers, students and administrators.

Johanna Testa, vice president of the Miller Place Board of Education, said while she is 100 percent happy to see a new commissioner, who has experience teaching in New York, she still has some concerns over Elia’s track record of student test scores being tied to teacher evaluations.

“I’m just not convinced she’s the right person for the job,” Testa said.

Republican Party establishes new Hispanic alliance

Latinos congregate at Xavier Palacios’ law office in Huntington Station last year to watch President Barack Obama announcing executive orders on immigration. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Republicans are vying for the votes of Suffolk’s Latinos.

The county GOP committee announced in a press release last week that for the first time in its history, it would create a Hispanic alliance tasked with registering Latino voters and recruiting potential candidates to run for office.

“For far too long, the political left has taken the Hispanic community for granted and recent polls indicate a growing frustration with the [Democratic] Party’s lack of family values and understanding of small business,” GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said in the statement.

Republicans are seeking to tap into a growing Latino electorate in Suffolk County, the statement said.

According to Nick LaLota, the Republican commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Latinos comprise about 7.8 percent of Suffolk County’s 907,000 total registered voters this year. That’s up from 5.82 percent in 2006, he said.

When drawing up the figures, BOE officials analyzed the last names of voters to determine which individuals have “Hispanic-oriented” names, LaLota said. And while it’s not an “exact science,” it gives officials an idea of the growth of the population.

Two Hispanic Republicans — Brookhaven’s Jose Nunez and Victoria Serpa of Islip — will co-chair the Suffolk County Republican Hispanic Alliance, LaValle said. When reached this week, Nunez said there was a great opportunity for the Republicans to attract Hispanic voters, who traditionally lean Democratic.

“We believe that they have the same core values — family, business,” he said. “They’re very conservative. There’s a lot of religion.”

But as far as Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer is concerned, the Republicans are late to the party. He noted the Democrats have backed several Hispanic individuals who were elected.

“It’s about time,” Schaffer said. “We welcome them to finally recognizing that the Hispanic population is an important part of our county.”

Nunez said the GOP’s new alliance would also serve an educational purpose — engaging Latino voters in a political dialogue and perhaps dispelling fears of the political process that some may have learned in their native countries.

It’s “smart” for Republicans to be reaching out to Hispanic voters, according to Xavier Palacios, a Huntington resident, school board member and co-founder of the Friends of Huntington Station Latin Quarter — a group established to revitalize Huntington Station through business development, mentorship, vocational training and other programs. The No. 1 issue on the minds of Hispanics, Palacios said, is immigration reform, and Republicans need to address the issue head-on if they’re going to attract Latino voters.

“I think it can no longer be the hot potato,” he said. “A solution to real immigration reform needs to be had.”

Not everyone thinks that Latinos care most about the immigration issue. Nunez said there are many Latinos out there who feel people should arrive and settle in the country through legal channels. He also said immigration was a federal issue, not a local one.

Other issues on the local level are of importance to Latinos too. Palacios said Republicans and Democrats would be smart to focus on economic issues, as many Latinos are staggered in professions or can’t afford college. Immigrants come here to fulfill the American Dream, something that appears to be becoming more challenging.

“Folks nowadays, in my view, are losing that dream,” he said.

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