Politics

North Shore natives travel to Washington with hopes of swaying lawmakers to renew health care benefits

John Feal speaks at the September 11 memorial ceremony in Commack last week. Photo by Brenda Lentsch

The 9/11 first responders who have fought for years to get health care support are heading back to Washington, D.C., in hopes of ushering in the renewal of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. And for one Nesconset resident, change cannot come soon enough.

Parts of the bill will expire next month, and other parts in October 2016.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would extend the programs of the original Zadroga act indefinitely. It was introduced to Congress in April and currently has 150 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“When this bill expires, our illnesses do not expire,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, in a phone interview. Feal, of Nesconset, has been walking the halls of Congress for the past eight years to help get this bill passed.

He is also a 9/11 first responder who worked on the reconstruction at Ground Zero, and lost half of his foot in the process. He suffered from gangrene, but he says his injuries “pale in comparison to other first responders.”

President Barack Obama signed the current Zadroga act into law in 2011 and established the World Trade Center Health Program, which will expire in October if not renewed.

The WTC program ensured that those whose health was affected by 9/11 would receive monitoring and treatment services for their health-related problems. It consists of a responder program for rescue and recovery workers and New York City firefighters, and a survivor program for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Zadroga act also reopened the September 11th Victims Compensation Act, which allows for anyone affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. That will expire in October of next year.

Feal said he was asked by television personality Jon Stewart to come on “The Daily Show” in December 2010, but the Nesconset native said he did not want to leave the real legislative fight in D.C. Instead, he helped get four 9/11 responders to the Dec. 16, 2010, episode, who helped shed light on the ongoing battle these responders were dealing with in Congress.

“He was definitely one of the reasons the bill got passed,” Feal said of Stewart. Stewart accompanied Feal and many other first responders when they traveled to Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and took part in a mini rally.

The bill did not pass the first time it was presented to Congress back in 2006. A new version was drafted in 2010 and passed in the House of Representatives, but was having trouble getting through the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The bill received final congressional approval on Dec. 22, 2010, and was enacted by the president on Jan. 2, 2011.

“As we get older these illnesses will become debilitating,” Feal said. “Not extending this bill is criminal. People will die without it. It’s a life-saving piece of legislation.”

Jennifer McNamara, a Blue Point resident and president of The Johnny Mac Foundation, is also actively involved in the fight to keep responders health costs covered. Her late husband, John McNamara, passed away in 2009 from stage IV colon cancer.

He was a New York City Firefighter and worked more than 500 hours at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked with responders to get support for the Zadroga bill before he died.

“I made him a promise to continue to lend support to get this legislation passed,” Jennifer McNamara said in a phone interview. When her husband passed away, she said there weren’t as many responders getting sick as there are now. “People are dying more quickly, and more are getting diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses.”

The two big issues that McNamara said she feels need to continue to be addressed are monitoring these diseases and coverage of costs once someone is diagnosed. McNamara said she believes that if there were better monitoring programs earlier on, her husband could’ve been diagnosed before his cancer was stage IV, and he could’ve had a better chance.

“These people did tremendous things for their country,” McNamara said. “They shouldn’t have to guess about whether they are going to be taken care of.”

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Smithtown Councilman Bob Creighton. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Thursday’s Republican primary in Smithtown saw an incumbent fall to the bottom of the pack in the town board race, but only by a slim margin.

Councilman Bob Creighton (R) came in third out of three candidates seeking the Republican line in November’s general election. The other two, incumbent Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) and challenger Lisa M. Inzerillo came in first and second, respectively, all but assuring them Republican spots, according to unofficial Suffolk County Board of Elections results.

By Friday morning, Wehrheim had collected 40.49 percent of the vote — 1,673 total votes — and Inzerillo earned 31.27 percent, or 1,292 total votes. Creighton came in close behind Inzerillo with 27.81 percent — 1,149 votes.

Creighton had focused much of his primary bid on development in Smithtown that he said could attract new business to the community. He has served on the Smithtown Town Board since 2008 and has been a longtime ally of Wehrheim, often aligning with him in critical votes put before the board over recent years.

“There are still some 200-odd absentee ballots to count, but I have no illusions about that,” Creighton said. “I lost — period.”

Creighton said he attributed part of the loss to low voter turnout, with just about seven percent of Smithtown Republicans hitting the polls. The councilman also said he had full intentions of still running on the Independent, Conservative and Reform party lines come November, whether or not absentee ballots salvage his primary bid later next week.

Wehrheim has been on the board since 2003 and said in a previous interview that he would like to use another term to work on funding more projects to revitalize Smithtown’s downtown area. In a phone interview, the councilman said torrential downpours throughout the voting hours on Thursday may have had an impact on voter turnout, which was slightly lower than the average primary.

“I am very pleased with my position as number-one in the race, but I do believe the weather certainly had an affect on the voter turnout,” he said. “The board, as of late, is fairly divided, but I have a long tenure with the town and I will continue to do what I’ve always done. I will go in there, and work on behalf of the Smithtown resident.”

Inzerillo, a business owner from Kings Park, focused her campaign on making Smithtown’s downtown business district more vibrant. She declared victory following Thursday’s vote in a statement, looking forward to discussing the town’s most pressing issues.

“This grassroots campaign, fueled by family and friends, has inspired and humbled me and I am ready to represent the Republican Party in November,” she said.

Both Creighton’s and Wehrheim’s seats on the board will be up for a vote come November, with the incumbents facing off against Inzerillo and Democrat Larry Vetter, who announced his candidacy earlier this year. The winners will join incumbents not up for re-election, Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Councilman Tom McCarthy and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick — all Republicans.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from Councilman Bob Creighton and Councilman Ed Wehrheim.

Gene Cook. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Councilman Gene Cook (I) said he has his eyes on the money — the money of Huntington Town and its taxpayers, that is.

“Huntington doesn’t manage its money properly,” the councilman said, in a sit-down interview at his Greenlawn home. “Coming from the business world, we need good business people in [Town Hall] to manage it correctly.” He believes the amount of money the town has borrowed in long-term bonds is “ridiculous.” Cook said he very rarely votes for bonding.

Cook is seeking re-election for a second term on the town board in November. He’s running with Republican-backed Jennifer Thompson, and he’s running against incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and contender Keith Barrett.

Cook said he believes the town’s money needs to be spent more wisely. He said he would like to see a forensic audit of the entire town government. When he first entered office, he said, he pushed for such an audit by the state comptroller’s office.

“I’m all about where our money is being spent. When I looked at the books, I was not happy with the way I saw things being done. So I put up legislation to get the state comptroller to come in and audit. I was hoping they would audit all the books.”

The state comptroller’s office only ended up auditing two departments — outside legal services and overtime — and in both, issues were unearthed. Since then, those issues have been addressed.

Cook emerged from his garage to start the interview, where he had been tinkering with his favorite hobby, his cars. He resides at his Arbutus Road home with his wife Lisa. They have five children: Danielle, Nicole, Monica, Brendan and Olivia.

Owner of Cook Industries Inc., a construction company, which was established in 1986, the councilman has learned how to run a fiscally sound business and tries to bring those ideals to the town board as much as possible.

“A lot of business work is right now, it has to get done immediately,” Cook said. He runs his office the same way. “We have to get an answer back to a constituent within 24 hours. I made that a mandate in my office. Good, bad or ugly, even if it’s something the constituent doesn’t want to hear, we have to do that.”

Toni Tepe, chairwoman of the Huntington Republican Committee said Cook is devoted to doing what’s right for the public.

“Gene has shown the public that his interest is doing what is right for them,” Tepe said. “He works for the taxpayers.”

Moving onto other matters facing Huntington Town, Cook spoke about crime in Huntington Station. While Cook said the police force is stretched, he feels there are other ways to beef up security that don’t involve hiring more police.

Cook said he has no problem with development projects requesting changes of zone, like Benchmark Senior Living, a proposed assisted living facility in Huntington, and The Seasons at Elwood, as long as they are handled responsibly and in a smart business fashion. “Lets do proper, smart, development that makes everybody happy.”

But he does not believe that was the case with The Seasons, which is why he voted against it. Cook’s was the sole vote against the 55-and-up condominium project.

“Because of my business background in construction and roadwork, I knew Elwood Road was a problem. It was said [The Seasons] was not going to change the difference of traffic on that road. That’s nonsense. We need people on the board that say wait a minute, lets take a good look at this and see what’s really needed there and what the community wants,” Cook said. “I was the only vote with the people of Elwood.”

He said he felt the same community resistance against Benchmark as well.

“People were there crying to me, saying they don’t want this. We’re supposed to take care of the residents of the town, not developers that come in with big pockets,” he said.

Cook described being the minority on the board as “brutal.” He thinks having Thompson on the town board “would really benefit the people.” Cook hopes to one day have a third member on the board, creating a majority voting bloc.

Bow hunting  of deer in Eaton’s Neck has been a pressing issue for the residents of Eaton’s Neck and Asharoken, and Cook has changed his stance of opposing the measure since the town board public hearing last month on this issue.

“What I like about town board meetings is that you do hear other sides,” he said. “I was unaware of the Lyme disease issue and the tick issue, it was the first time I had heard of that. I may vote for it if it comes up.”

If re-elected, Cook, like his running mate Thompson, hopes to push term limits right away. He said he supports a two-term limit for council members.

“I believe we need term limits,” he said. “For me, what I’ve seen is, the first term you’re learning, second term you’re doing, third term you’re abusing the power. I think we as people need to keep it moving.”

Susan Berland is seeking reelection to the Huntington Town Board. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) has made the Huntington Town Council her full time job since her inaugural election in 2001. She pledged, when she was first running for election, that she would stop practicing law and dedicate all her time to the board.

“I think the job really deserves that,” she said. “I’m the one who’s in the office, 95 percent of the time, when people come into the office to see a councilmember; I’m the one they get. I do a lot more events than anyone else does because I can and because I want to.”

On Monday, Berland sat down for an interview, at Book Revue in Huntington, to discuss her past achievements on the Huntington Town Board, and her campaign for re-election this November. She had just returned from a weekend away, helping her youngest son move into Yale University for his freshman year. Berland and her husband, Sandy Berland, live in Dix Hills and have four children: Stephanie, Alex, Schuyler and Grant.

“She is a person of action,” John Cooney, commander of Northport American Legion Post 694, said in a phone interview. “Susan has worked tirelessly on behalf of veterans in the community. We hold many different events, and in my 16 years, I have never seen Susan absent from one. I’m proud of what she’s done for this community; she follows through and listens.”

Berland was first elected to replace U.S. Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-Huntington) seat, when he won his seat in the House of Representatives in 2001. She previously worked on Israel’s Town Board campaign, and once he was re-elected, he asked her to work in the town attorney’s office to prosecute code violations.

When she first got into office, Berland moved to make government more transparent.

She said her first piece of legislation the board approved made parts of the town’s government more accessible. The Fair, Open and Accountable Government Act requires the zoning and planning boards to have their meetings in a public hearing room — the town board room at Huntington Town Hall. According to Berland, before she came into office that was not the case.

“I fought for 10 years to get the town’s television channel because I wanted town board meetings to be televised,” she said. “I’m really an advocate of open and accessible government.”

She thinks people need to have access to these meetings.

“If people have the opportunity to watch town board meetings in the comfort of their own homes, they’ll be more inclined to watch it.”

Huntington Town has its share of blighted homes — another issue Berland’s addressed with legislation.

“We don’t have rows and rows of houses that are blighted, we have one on each street,” she said. “They come as a patchwork, but it affects the street it’s on tremendously, and I think that’s important to people.”

In order to fight the blighted houses, Berland’s legislation created a new system that assesses if a house should be put on a townwide blight registry. If the property is added to the list, the owners are hit with a fine from the town and are allotted a certain amount of time to fix the problems with their property. If the owner doesn’t do so before the allotted deadline, the town pays for the cleanup of the property, and the money it costs the town to right all the problems is then added to that property owner’s tax bill.

When speaking to crime in Huntington Station, Berland said, “It’s always good to have cops on the beat.”

“The more they’re in the community and get to know the community, the better it is. For a lot of people, if you know the officer and have a relationship with the officer, I think you’re less likely to do something you shouldn’t do.”

Berland believes that large-scale projects that require a zone change, like The Seasons at Elwood, a 256-unit 55-and-older condo home community, and Benchmark Senior Living, a proposed 69-unit assisted living facility, are not issues of overdevelopment.

“I voted in favor of the Seasons,” she said. “Anytime we can create senior housing, where our seniors stay here and aren’t leaving, I think that’s a benefit. But you have to watch the density numbers.”

She originally voted no to Avalon Huntington Station, because of the number of units they wanted to fit in per acre. When Avalon compromised months later and reduced the number of units, Berland voted yes.

Berland has also been involved in legislation that benefits the youth of Huntington Town. According to Berland, the Huntington Youth Council, which is comprised of students from each of the town’s school districts, meet to discuss issues that affect students today.

When asked about her opponent’s support of term limits, as Berland is seeking her fifth term in office, she said, “the best manifestation of term limits is elections.”

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Working Families Party voters of Huntington Town will get the chance to choose between five town board candidates in a primary election on Sept. 10.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and candidate Keith Barrett are the two candidates backed by the Working Families party. Charles Marino, Richard Hall and Valerie Stringfellow are also running in the primary.

“The Working Families Party endorsed Keith Barrett and Councilwoman Susan Berland because they’ve demonstrated they share our values and support our key legislative issues like raising the minimum wage and passing paid family leave,” Emily Abbott, the WFP Long Island political director, said in an email. “We have no doubt they will be the best voice for Huntington’s working families.”

Since submitting their names to the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Hall and Stringfellow have both decided not to actively campaign. While their names will still technically be on the ballot, they said they have put their support behind Marino and Barrett, who they believe best support minorities in Huntington Town.

Marino said he is running to bring an end to the corrupt political system in Huntington. “As a registered Working Families Party member who believes in putting workers first, not in lining one’s pockets, I am challenging Ms. Berland in the primary,” Marino said in a statement. Attempts to reach Marino were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Barrett and Berland said they’re the best picks for the WFP line.

“I come from a working family,” Barrett said. “I’m a union guy, a blue-collar worker. I’ve always been in the working guys shoes.”

Barrett is a Huntington native. He went to Walt Whitman High School,and started his own business, Barrett Automotives, in 1997 in Huntington Station. He is currently the town’s deputy director of general services.

Berland, an incumbent who is seeking a fifth term, said she is the only town board member who has been a member of a union during high school and college.

“I’ve passed legislation that helps our town workers,” she said. “I’m very pro-workers and I’m very pro-military. I am a staunch labor and working families supporter.”

File photo

Smithtown residents will have some choices to make come November, as two candidates have stepped up to challenge incumbent councilmen Bob Creighton (R) and Ed Wehrheim (R).

Democrat Larry Vetter and Republican Lisa Inzerillo are both running for Smithtown Town Board, but they have differing views on what to do when they get there.

Vetter, 62, said he believes he will bring a new view to Smithtown if elected.

“I look at things from a different perspective,” Vetter said. “I come from a different background.”

Vetter, of Smithtown, comes from the private sector and has owned an environmental consulting firm, Vetter Environmental Science, for the past seven years.

Challenger Lisa Inzerillo (R) is throwing her hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate
Challenger Lisa Inzerillo (R) is throwing her hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate

Among the biggest issues he said he thinks Smithtown is facing right now is a reinvigoration of the downtown area. Vetter said he wants to find new and innovative ways to find revenue and cut costs, to help fight the brain drain he believes Smithtown is currently experiencing, driving youth out of town.

“I know what it’s like to raise a family and see them leave, it’s disappointing,” he said. “Both of my children have left Long Island and are probably not coming back. Young people are constantly getting educated here and then leaving.”

Vetter said he would work with an industrial development association as other townships have done to retain youth.

Vetter also spoke of tax breaks and different incentives that could be given to businesses that develop in Smithtown.

Lisa Inzerillo, 50, a business owner from Kings Park, is also focusing on the issues of developing a more vital downtown business district.

If elected, Inzerillo said in an email that she plans to “use my influences to require our town planning and development staff to aggressively pursue state and federal grants designed toward revitalizing our downtown areas.”

Inzerillo said her stance on the environment is what sets her apart from her challengers.

“I am the only candidate that wants to protect the environment, green spaces, and quality of life,” she said. “Misguided development, contamination of our environment and abuse of sensible town zoning regulations will be at the top of my agenda.”

Both incumbents Wehrheim and Creighton said they felt that economic growth in the downtown area is key to ensuring that Smithtown continues to prosper.

“We need to ensure that the commercial tax base remains stable or is increasing,” Wehrheim said in a phone interview. “The healthier that is, the better able we are to keep residential taxes stable.”

Larry Vetter (D) is throwing his hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate
Larry Vetter (D) is throwing his hat into the race to unseat a Republican incumbent on Smithtown’s Town Board. Photo from the candidate

The redevelopment of the Smith Haven Mall, as well as adding larger stores like Bob’s Discount Furniture to the Smithtown area are all projects that Wehrheim worked on during his last three terms, some with Creighton’s involvement as well.

Wehrheim also said that he intends to use bonding to help fund more projects in the downtown area. If elected, this will be Wehrheim’s fourth term in office.

When speaking on Creighton and himself, Wehrheim said, “I feel that we have a vast amount of government experience in Smithtown government. I believe firmly that our experience and dedication shows we’re the right people to put in office.”

Increased development is something that Creighton said is a perfect example of smart growth, and would encourage new businesses to come into Smithtown.

“We must do something to generate commercial enterprises,” Creighton said. “There are too many empty stores.”

Recently, a proposal to restructure Smithtown’s government has come to the attention of the board. Creighton brought the idea to the board and stressed that while it is still only in the proposal stage, it could lead to more accountability and cooperation in Smithtown’s government.

The restructuring would create four commissioner positions that would each look over approximately five to six department heads. Creighton believes this would be more successful than having all 26 department heads answer to Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R).

Wehrheim supported the proposal of this idea. If elected, this would be Creighton’s third term as councilman. He was elected to office in 2008, and Wehrheim was elected in 2003.

Jennifer Thompson, center, with her family, husband Brent, son Sterling and daughter Lauren. Photo from Thompson

After serving for more than six years as a trustee on the Northport-East Northport school board, Jennifer Thompson has set her sights on a bigger role.

Thompson, 44, wants to be the Huntington Town Board’s next councilwoman, and she is seeking election to one of two seats up for grabs on Nov. 3. She’s running alongside incumbent Councilman Gene Cook (I), both of whom are endorsed by the Huntington Town Republican Committee.

Last Friday, the Northport mother-of-two sat down for an interview at Book Revue in Huntington to talk about her campaign. She had just gotten back from a boat trip to Connecticut to celebrate her birthday on her family’s 27-foot sailboat, with her husband Brent and their children, Sterling and Lauren.

A passion for education was instilled in Thompson at a young age — through her parents who emigrated to the U.S. from eastern India — and it seems fitting that Thompson’s first role as a public servant was on the school board, where she felt a responsibility to be engaged in the community.

“Both of my parents had a strong sense to live differently, and the main reason they immigrated was for a better education,” Thompson said.

Although she was born in Queens, she lived in California for most of her life, moving there when she was four years old. Thompson received her undergraduate degree from The Master’s College, and her graduate degree from California State University. After graduating, she worked as a special education teacher in California and then as an administrator.

In 2006, Thompson and her family moved to Northport. Her husband got a job at Suffolk County Community College. Just four years later, she was petitioning for her first term as a school board trustee.

If elected, Thompson would transition off the school board, and her seat would likely remain vacant until elections in May, although it would be up to the board to decide exactly how to proceed.

“She is very focused and approachable, and is 100 percent focused on whoever she is representing,” Tammie Topel, a fellow school board trustee, who has served four years with Thompson, said about her colleague. “She dedicates herself and is extremely reliable.”

At a recent Suffolk County Police Department 2nd Precinct community meeting, residents called for an increase in the police force following three shootings in July and August.

Thompson was at that meeting, and afterwards she researched whether adding staff is the best solution to solve the problem. “Sometimes it’s about your resources and seeing if you’re using them as effectively as possible.”

According to Thompson, the Town of Riverhead has specialized police forces, and she believes this contributes to the town thriving in the last five years. She said she believes the solution of more specialized forces would work in Huntington as well.

Residents have sounded off on overdevelopment in Huntington Town in the past few years. Thompson is clear that she is against overdevelopment, and that she would’ve voted against the zone change permitting the Seasons in Elwood, a 256-unit project for individuals 55 and older, to go through.

“That community did not want it in their community, and the fact that the town council disregarded that is, I think, heartbreaking,” she said. “They were elected by these people to be their voice and to not come alongside the very residents they represent. I think it is anti-democratic.”

She added that she feels that Huntington has the right balance of industrial and business areas and open land, something she doesn’t want to see compromised. “If we wanted to live in Queens, we would’ve bought a house in Queens.”

Recently, Eaton’s Neck residents have been urging the town board to allow for longbow hunting of deer. The residents claim deer have overpopulated the area and pose a public health risk, as the animals are linked to increases in tick-born illnesses like Lyme disease.

This issue literally came into Thompson’s backyard the night before, as she showed a photo of the deer by her fence she snapped from her bedroom window. While she is mindful of animal’s rights, she said she is more mindful of the risk to the public. “I’m always going to be more concerned with public safety.”

If elected, Thompson would like to introduce legislation governing town board term limits. Two terms would be her preference.

“If our highest elected official can’t go more than two terms, why should local officials go longer?”

Thompson confirmed that if not elected, this would be her last term as a school board member. She signed a petition brought to the board earlier this summer to reduce the size of the school board. The petition also suggested looking into term limits.

“I signed the petition because I think the community deserves the opportunity to vote on it,” she said. “Whatever the community decides, I will support that.”

Tim Farrell, a personal friend of Thompson’s for more than 10 years, believes Thompson will bring a powerful work ethic to the town board, if elected. He believes she will also bring a level of transparency and honesty.

“She never settles for anything, even small things, like planning a weekend for the kids,” he said. “She doesn’t generally fail; she won’t allow it.”

File photo by Rohma Abbas

Keith Barrett believes he can improve Huntington Town by running it more like a business.

“I bring commonsense solutions to everyday problems,” Barrett said in a phone interview. “It’s what I’ve done as deputy director of general services for Huntington Town.”

Keith Barrett is the town’s deputy director of general services. Photo from Barrett
Keith Barrett is the town’s deputy director of general services. Photo from Barrett

Barrett is a Democrat running for one of two seats up for grabs on the town board this November. He’s running alongside Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), and both are backed by the Huntington Town Democratic Committee.

Barrett is a Huntington native. He went to Walt Whitman High School, and started his own business, Barrett Automotive, in 1997 in Huntington Station. He’s been involved in multiple organizations in Suffolk County, including the Huntington Station Business Improvement District, or BID, and Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization Grant Program.

“I’ve seen the inner workings of town government, and it’s prepared me for the role of town councilman,” Barrett said.

Appointed deputy director of general services about a year ago, Barrett has learned how to maximize the work of the department to make it work better for the residents of Huntington Town.

Previously, state inspections for Huntington Town-owned cars were not done inhouse, which he said was costing much more than having Barrett’s department perform them.

“I had the business sense to see that if the inspections were done inhouse, it would save the taxpayers a significant amount of money. It saves approximately $450,000 annually.”    

Barrett also made sure all his employees were certified and earned their inspector licenses, so that he was not the only employee who could perform state inspections.

As president of the Huntington Station BID since its inception in 2004, Barrett has been able to continue to bring improvements to Huntington Station. Improvements include decorating the community with flower baskets, putting more garbage cans out on the streets and installing 43 security cameras that the Suffolk County Police Department has access to.

Brad Rosen, a member of the Huntington Station BID, said the reason he and Barrett get along so well is because they both come through on everything they commit to.

“All town government is a business, and one thing I know of Keith is that he’s a businessman,” Rosen said in a phone interview. “America is a business now and it needs to be run like one.”

He also praised Barrett’s ethics as being nothing but “perfect.”

The annual Huntington Station Awareness Parade, which Barrett co-chairs, is another project the BID is involved with.

“I try to make business propositions better in Huntington Station,” Barrett said. “I’ve always wanted to make Huntington Station a destination, not a drive-thru. My assumption of Huntington Station was that you drove through there to get to the village, or you drove through it to get on the expressway. We want people to stop there, shop there, live there, work there and play there.”

Barrett’s involvement spans further than just Huntington Station. As a member of the Suffolk County Downtown Revitalization Grant Program, Barrett said he has worked to get grants for Northport and East Northport to help better those areas as well.

Currently in the works, and a project that Barrett helped pushed through, is a grant for Northport to develop kiosks and an information center. This would help spread information about events going on in Northport to the many visitors the village gets during its busy summer season.

Grants to improve the intersection marking entrance to Northport Village and to revamp crosswalks in East Northport are other projects Barrett has fought for while a member of the grant program.

In terms of issues facing Huntington Town, Barrett said public safety is among the biggest. “It needs to be addressed.”

A committee for Huntington Station public safety is one idea Barrett is interested in pursuing if elected. He wants to hear insight from community members.

“I believe police presence makes a big difference,” he said. “I’d love to see more patrols,” Barrett said, when asked whether he agrees with recent outcries from residents for an increased police force after several incidents of violence this summer.

When asked his position on over-development, Barrett said, “as long as it’s regulated, I don’t see it as a terrible problem. To an extent, we need to do it. As long as it doesn’t end up looking like Queens.”

Overall, Barrett said he’s got a unique perspective to bring to the board.

“We have lawyers on the board. I am a businessperson. I’m going to take a business aspect. I want to best utilize our labor for the best use for the community,”

Recently, Barrett used his labor force to better the community by redoing a basketball court in Otsego Park in Dix Hills. He asked Highway Superintendent Peter Gunther to repave the court, which was full of cracks, instead of hiring an outside contractor, which would cost much more.

Barrett then had his team repair the backboards and, soon enough, a new and improved basketball court was ready for the kids. He said he hopes to continue this idea and repair two more basketball courts at Veterans Park in East Northport.

“I want to see more things like this being done in all departments,” Barrett said.

Election signatures deemed invalid by court, BOE

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

A primary election for the Democratic Party line in the race for the Huntington Town Board has been squashed.

The campaigns of former Highway Superintendent William Naughton and Huntington Station resident Andrew Merola — who were vying for the line against incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland and running mate Keith Barrett and hoping to win in a primary election — came to a halt earlier this week after a number of signatures on their candidate designating petitions were rendered invalid.

Naughton lost a challenge waged by two committee Democrats in state Supreme Court and the Suffolk County Board of Elections ruled a number of signatures on Merola’s petition invalid.

Signatures may be deemed insufficient for several reasons, including whether or not a person is a registered Democrat, or registered to vote and more. Candidates need 1,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot, and those petitions were due July 9.

Merola submitted 1,097 signatures, Naughton garnered 1,552, Berland and Barrett, who were on the same petition, collected and submitted 2,600 signatures, according to Anita Katz, the Democratic commissioner at the BOE.

William Naughton. File photo
William Naughton. File photo
Andrew Merola. Photo from Andrew Merola
Andrew Merola. Photo from Andrew Merola

Several Democrats filed objections to Naughton’s and Merola’s. The BOE reviewed Merola’s petition and ruled that a swath of signatures did not count, bringing his total count below 1,000. In Naughton’s case, two Democrats, Sherry Ann Pavone, a Northport resident, and Anne Berger, of Huntington, filed a lawsuit challenging the petition’s signatures under election law. Sandy Berland, Councilwoman Berland’s husband, represented the two pro bono, he said.

After the judge reduced Naughton’s signature count below 1,000, the former highway superintendent bowed out, Sandy Berland said.

“He made the judgment to end at that point,” the attorney said. “And of course we couldn’t end unless he agreed not to take an appeal.”

Naughton’s campaign declined to comment on Friday.

Merola didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday, but he took to Facebook to air his frustrations.

“Unfortunately, both myself and Bill Naughton have been forced off the ballot, thanks to Susan Berland and her husband deciding that they know better then the citizens of the Town of Huntington,” he wrote. “Instead of giving the voters a choice on who they’d like to represent their interests, Susan Berland has made that decision for you. We should have had four choices on [Sept. 10], and now, we won’t even have a vote.”

Sandy Berland, however, pointed out that petitions require valid signatures on them that abide by election law. He noted there’s a legal process in place to pursue challenges to those signatures.

In an interview this week, Susan Berland said she was pleased with the results.

“Keith Barrett and I are the designated candidates from the Democratic party,” she said. “We went through the process. We screened. We appealed to the Democratic membership and we got the nomination. I am proud to continue to represent the Democrats, and thankful that the Democratic party fended off any challenges to their designations.”

Jason Kontzamanys takes on Dan Losquadro on Nov. 3

Road paving is just one of the issues highway superintendent candidates will debate. File photo by Erika Karp

Jason Kontzamanys has been working in the Town of Brookhaven parks department for a decade, but the Democrat said he is looking for a new challenge, which prompted his decision to face off against Republican incumbent Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro in November.

Jason Kontzamanys is running on the democratic ticket against incumbent Republican Dan Losquadro. Photo from the candidate
Jason Kontzamanys is running on the democratic ticket against incumbent Republican Dan Losquadro. Photo from the candidate

In a recent interview, Kontzamanys, 45, of Port Jefferson Station, spoke about his plans for his campaign and what he would do if elected to the position. He said his years of experience working as a maintenance mechanic in the parks department and with blue-collar workers makes him the man for the job.

This is Kontzamanys’ first time running for office and the Comsewogue High School alumnus recently went back to school to earn his master’s degree in social studies education from Dowling College. He plans to obtain his doctorate in education administration and become a school administrator.

“I knew I could make a difference,” he said about accepting the nomination.

Kontzamanys said he believed the biggest issue plaguing the department is the overuse of subcontracting.

“The taxpayers should be upset as well,” he said. “The taxpayer is paying for a unionized workforce and they’re not being worked to their full potential.”

Kontzamanys began working for Brookhaven at the landfill and currently works out of the parks department’s base in Holtsville, where he helps with “all aspects of construction and maintenance,” he said. This has given him the opportunity to be versatile and get to know the whole town, he said.

He also has his Class A Commercial License to operate heavy equipment.

Bringing the subcontracted work in house is one of the first steps Kontzamanys would take to help boost the department’s morale, which he alleged is almost non-existent. He said keeping an open-door policy would also help boost spirits.

“You have to keep an open mind, because everybody has the right to be heard, whether it’s a taxpayer or an in-house union member,” he said.

Kontzamanys also said he has a vision to modernize the department and reduce the department’s debt service.

Jason Kontzamanys is running on the democratic ticket against incumbent Republican Dan Losquadro, above. File photo by Erika Karp
Jason Kontzamanys is running on the democratic ticket against incumbent Republican Dan Losquadro, above. File photo by Erika Karp

Losquadro, who was elected as superintendent in 2013, said in a phone interview that he disagreed with Kontzamanys’ notion that subcontracting was bad for the department and the workers aren’t being used. Losquadro said there was a tremendous backlog of work that needed to be done when he took office.

“We needed to go out and contract for that work to keep up with the volume,” he said.

He added that department crews are still responsible for responding to day-to-day complaints and completing routine work. He said the response time for services performed has greatly improved and the fixed-cost contracts gave the department the ability to attend to a high volume of work.

“I think it has been a great boon for the taxpayer,” Losquadro said.

Losquadro also responded to Kontzamanys’ claim that morale was down in the department, stating it is “exactly the opposite,” as he as tried to maintain a direct and open line to his employees.

Making the department more environmentally friendly is also crucial to Kontzamanys, he said, and he spoke about going after federal grants for solar sidewalks and solar panels on highway department land.

Looking at the big picture, Kontzamanys wants to explore additional shared services between municipalities in order to create a synergy between them. For example, collectively bidding on asphalt could help drive down the price.

“I don’t want to just manage, I want to completely transform,” he said.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

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