Politics

Public hearing on code changes to take place May 5

Ethics board attorney Steven Leventhal. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Come May 5, the Huntington Town Board will hear from the public on proposed revisions to its own ethics code.

The changes to the code expand who must file a disclosure statement and what must be disclosed. The revisions also include a comprehensive code of conduct for town employees, according to a town statement. The proposal also calls for a plain-language booklet explaining the ethics code, and for the booklet to be prominently displayed on the town’s website.

Tweaks to the code are the product of work between the town’s ethics board and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D).

“These changes have been in the works for many months, clarifying portions of the previous code and adding new features to further reassure our residents that Huntington conducts its government according to the highest ethical standards,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement.

Edwards said the revisions take into consideration comments made by residents at a recent ethics board public hearing.

“This new code incorporates recent ethics changes enacted by the state, state court decisions, language from the New York State Comptroller’s model code of ethics, suggestions from ethics experts and, most importantly, public input at the recent hearing the Ethics Board conducted,” she said in the statement. “The new code also enhances the education requirements, so town officials and employees clearly know what conduct is allowed and what is not. This is a code we can be proud of, and I hope it will be well-received.”

The new version divides the code into three sections: a code of conduct; expanded disclosure requirements; and powers and duties of the Board of Ethics and Financial Disclosure. It expands the universe of people required to file financial disclosures to include policy makers and requires all public officials to disclose specific client information.

Those interested can view the proposed code at the Huntington Town Clerk’s office, and on the town’s website at huntingtonny.gov. Also, Edwards will be meeting with some who made specific recommendations for code tweaks at the ethics board hearing.

The board is expected to vote on the changes at its June 9 meeting, according to the statement.

Also at the April 21 meeting, the board appointed Edward William Billia of Huntington Station and reappointed Ralph Crafa of Northport to the ethics board. One vacancy still remains on the five-member board.

The May 5 meeting starts at 2:30 p.m.

Huntington Town Councilman Gene Cook. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The Huntington Town Board hired an outside attorney on Tuesday to investigate legal issues surrounding an East Northport rental property that Councilman Gene Cook (I) partially owns.

The board’s Democrats — Supervisor Frank Petrone, Councilwoman Susan Berland, Councilman Mark Cuthbertson and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards — voted in favor of the move. Cook recused himself from the vote.

The resolution follows recent reports in local newspapers the Observer and the Long Islander that focus on the Larkfield Road property Cook co-owns with attorney Josh Price and Huntington real estate agent Tim Cavanaugh. The property, which contains five apartment units in one structure, was written up on a town code violation late last year stemming from work that was done on the site in October.

The property is in a single-family zoning district but the owners claim the house predates Huntington Town enacting a building and zoning code in 1934, and point to a 1997 town document indicating that. The document, known as a letter in lieu of a certificate of occupancy, is issued to properties formed before the town began to issue those certificates. But the property has been on the Department of Public Safety’s radar for various issues, according to town files — most recently in October, over whether work done there had proper building permits. A town inspector told a previous owner that the occupancy document “does not designate use of the structure and that he must go to the [Zoning Board of Appeals] for the use of a five-family dwelling,” according to a town document.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Cook labeled the board’s appointing a special attorney “political payback.” He also noted the town has not issued him a summons to appear in court on any charges. Cook, the board’s minority member who caucuses with the local GOP, is seeking re-election to his seat this year.

Meanwhile, Petrone, who proposed hiring the attorney with a second from Cuthbertson, said the town needed to hire outside counsel to look into the matter.

“The intent is to resolve this.”

According to the resolution, the situation has “created a conflict which precludes the town attorney’s office from investigating further and which requires recusal of the town attorney’s office.”

Petrone said that is to be expected when an investigation involves a board member.

“If there is a violation, or anything that comes forward on a board member, we cannot really investigate the situation or even try to negotiate it out, because it’s a board member that really acts, votes on budgets and votes on the individuals that would be looked at for the solution to a problem,” he said to reporters after the meeting. “So you normally bring in someone from the outside, and that’s what this is for — bring someone in, bring them together, to hopefully resolve whatever the issue is.”

When reached on Wednesday, Price said he felt the situation was politically motivated.

“This is truly an example of a municipality using taxpayer dollars to go after its political enemy for no other reason than that they’re trying to win an election this year and it offends me to the very core,” he said.

The situation was brought up with the town’s ethics board at its annual meeting earlier this year. Northport resident Sherry Pavone read from a letter saying the town’s ethics code needs to be enhanced with regard to town board members disclosing relationships with individuals they recommend for appointments to the town’s decision-making boards. She was speaking specifically about Price, who Cook sought unsuccessfully to appoint to the town’s ZBA last year, and said Cook should have disclosed that he and Price were partners in a limited liability company that owns the multifamily home before moving to make the appointment.

The board hired attorney Edward Guardaro Jr., of the firm Kaufman, Borgeest & Ryan LLP, to look into the East Northport house case. The town is paying $200 per hour out of its operating budget.

Guardaro, who has worked with the town before, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Port Jefferson Treasurer Don Pearce explains the 2015-16 budget at a meeting in Village Hall on Wednesday night. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A week after some Port Jefferson residents called on village officials to keep any tax increases as low as possible in next year’s budget, the board of trustees did just that when they approved a $10.2 million spending plan Wednesday night that complies with the state-imposed cap on tax levy increases.

The budget will raise taxes by $0.46 for every $100 of assessed value on a property. That number comes in just below the village’s tax levy increase cap, at 1.68 percent.

At the time of a public hearing on April 6, the village had been working with a budget draft that would have carried a 4 percent tax increase, even after the board slashed more than $300,000 in expenses during budget workshops. The hearing was on a measure that the trustees ultimately passed that night to give themselves the authority to pierce the cap if necessary — something Port Jefferson has done each year since the state cap was enacted. But some residents implored the board to better control taxes and stay within the cap this time.

Treasurer Don Pearce said at the public hearing that in order to meet the cap, the village would have to cut out more than $140,000 in expenses or add revenues to the spending plan. On Wednesday night, Pearce said the village took residents’ comments and whittled down the budget further to close that gap.

Pearce reported that the 2015-16 budget will represent an increase of about $217,000 over the current year’s budget, which means that the village’s mandated expenses — like employee retirement contributions, health care costs and payments to the local ambulance company — are increasing more than the budget itself.

Eight people are interested in running for two seats

File photo by Rohma Abbas

The weather isn’t the only thing warming up.

With eight people interested in two seats on the Democratic-controlled Huntington Town Board, local party leaders will soon have to roll up their sleeves to choose their picks for the slots.

On the Democratic side, incumbent Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) will seek a fifth term in office. Afghanistan war veteran and Northport-East Northport school district teacher Darryl St. George, of Centerport tossed his hat into the ring earlier this year. Huntington Business Improvement District President Keith Barrett, of Melville, is taking a second stab at nomination after screening for Town Board in 2013. And political science adjunct professor Jim Kelly, of Huntington, who is a retired Nassau County Police Department EMS supervisor, also plans on screening.

The Democrats are screening candidates next week, according to Huntington Town Democratic Committee Chairwoman Mary Collins.

Republicans have already screened Jim Leonick, an East Northport attorney, Janet Heller-Smitelli, a Huntington attorney and Jennifer Thompson, a Northport resident and member of the Northport-East Northport school board. They’ll also screen Independence Party member and incumbent Councilman Gene Cook (I), who said he’s seeking his final term.

The party plans to host another round of screenings tomorrow evening, Toni Tepe, Huntington Town Republican Committee chairwoman said, where she expects two more individuals to screen.

Election Day is Nov. 3.

Susan Berland
Berland, of Dix Hills, has been in office since 2001. During her time in office, she’s sponsored legislation regulating bamboo and blight in Huntington Town, and she spearheaded the effort to televise all official town meetings, according to her bio on the town’s website.

The councilwoman is a member of the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society, Kiwanis Club of Huntington and the Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association of Long Island.

This election is still important, despite the fact that the Democrats control four out of five seats on the board, Berland said.

“I think every election year is crucial. It takes the town in a specific direction. I want to keep it in a positive direction both, economically and realistically.”

Gene Cook
An Independence Party-member, Cook, 53, of Greenlawn, is seeking the nod for a second four-year term on the board. If elected, Cook said it would be his last term in office. He said he believes in term limits, and that board members shouldn’t serve more than two terms.

Asked why he’s running, Cook said he has taken issue with the way the Democratic majority has spent money. He said he’s proud of projects he’s been able to do at no cost to the taxpayer, like getting a group of businesses together to pave the parking lot of the VFW Post 1469 Nathan Hale in Huntington Station.

“I don’t want the children of the future to be paying for our mistakes and I believe that’s the way it’s going,” he said.

Darryl St. George
St. George, 32, a Democrat from Centerport, declared that he is running for the board earlier this year, and is open to waging a primary election if the party does not choose him. A local teacher and veteran, St. George, 32, served as a Navy corpsman with the U.S. Marines and is interested in tackling the “the scourge of addiction” on a townwide level, he said in an interview earlier this year. The cause is personal, as he lost his 21-year-old brother, Corey, to a drug overdose. The tragedy expedited his release from the Navy in 2012. St. George also teaches social studies at Northport High School.

“I think there’s a few reasons why I want to run,” he said in the earlier interview. “Service is a big part of it: My time in the Navy, my time as a teacher has taught me to value my service to the community.”

Jim Leonick
Leonick, 53 and a Republican, said he wants to run because he has an interest in the future of the town for his children and his neighbor’s children. Leonick is concerned about overdevelopment, transparency at town hall and is interested in exploring term limits for council people — “because I don’t think that it’s right for a number of reasons for anyone to be in a position for as long as some of the town council people have been in their offices.”

Leonick is an attorney with a practice Leonick Law, PLLC, located in East Northport. He’s been involved in a number of local organizations, including serving as a Boy Scout leader, a past president of the Rotary Club of East Northport and a past board member of the East Northport Chamber of Commerce, among others.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of different community things and now I think its time to run for office.”

Keith Barrett
This would be Barrett’s second stab at the nomination, after losing out to Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) in 2013. Barrett, 49, of Melville currently works at town hall as the deputy director of general services. He also owns Barrett Automotive in Huntington Station and is the leader of the Huntington Station Business Improvement District — a group he’s belonged to for 11 years — where he said he’s worked to unify the community and beautify the neighborhood.

At town hall, he said he’s learned a lot about budgets and has already made changes in the General Services Department that have saved taxpayers money. For example, he streamlined state inspections of town vehicles through investing in an inspection machine and getting employees certified in motor vehicle inspections. “I’m a business guy,” he said. “Running town hall is a business. I’d like to make it easier for the residents and businesses to be able to facilitate government.”

Janet L. Heller-Smitelli
Heller-Smitelli is a civil litigator who has lived in Huntington for more than 20 years. She screened with Republicans to run for either Suffolk County Legislature — the 17th Legislative District seat held by Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) — or for Town Board. In a statement, she said she’s been active with the Boy Scouts and has served as an assistant scoutmaster.

Heller-Smitelli said she’s been a member of the Republican committee for 10 years. She said she’s running because she believes there needs to be a “fresh vision and renewed spirit” when it comes to the issue of development.

“I am interested in running for office in order to advance my belief that the Town of Huntington needs to be more selective in the development and use of vacant and available parcels of land. Too often we have seen the result of inappropriate and short-sighted projects that result in a drain of our resources and adversely affect our infrastructure.”

Jim Kelly
Kelly, 64, a Democrat, is a Huntington Station resident. He is a retired EMS supervisor with the Nassau County Police Department and is currently an adjunct professor of political science at St. Joseph’s College.

Kelly said he has experience in emergency management — at Nassau County’s Office of Emergency Management, he served as bioterrorism coordinator, where he learned the ins and outs of being prepared for acts of terrorism and natural disasters.

Kelly’s passionate about preserving open space, because he feels it is disappearing.

If elected, Kelly would like to focus on the issue of crime and gangs in Huntington Station and said the way to battle the problem is to provide educational alternatives for youth. He also said he’d partner with state and county officials to offer greater drug rehabilitation and mental health counseling programs.

“Because of the issues in Huntington Station, the entire town is getting a bad rap in the media. It’s not justified and it’s not right.”

Jennifer Thompson
A Northport resident, Thompson screened with the Huntington Town Republican Committee on March 31.

Thompson sits on the Northport-East Northport school board. She first got on the board in 2010, after being appointed to complete former Vice President Arlene Munson’s term. She was re-elected to another three-year term on the school board last year.

In an interview last year, Thompson said she wanted to serve on the board again because she wanted to see some projects through, namely getting the district through a tax assessment challenge on the Northport power plant from the Long Island Power Authority. If it is resolved in favor of LIPA, Northport-East Northport school district residents could see a drastic increase in property taxes, as LIPA would contribute a smaller chunk to the tax pool.

Thompson didn’t return calls seeking comment.

This version corrects a quote by Keith Barrett.

Supervisor Ed Romaine file photo

A state assemblywoman from Ithaca is pushing to provide state aid to municipalities that host four-year, residential State University of New York colleges and universities, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is signing onto the cause because of the potential financial relief it could bring to Long Island.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) on March 24, seeks to offset the cost of providing public safety services to state schools, which are currently tax-exempt. The move came shortly after Romaine vowed to work with the New York State Board of Regents to seek a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for the Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, which both serve SUNY Stony Brook University.

Lifton, who represents the cities and towns of Ithaca and Cortland — which host SUNY Cortland and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University — called the lack of aid a big issue for her municipalities.

“There is a deficit there that we need to makeup,” she said, noting that the state’s Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM funding, has decreased over the years.

The legislation earmarks $12 million in aid for the host municipalities, and establishes a formula to distribute the aid based on the cost of public safety services, how much AIM funding the community already receives and the student population.

Lifton said there are a lot of rental properties in Cortland, so the police and fire departments “provide more than the normal amount of services.” In the City of Cortland, firefighters are paid, but Cortland Town firefighters volunteer their time.

While the legislation currently doesn’t propose aid be rewarded to a fire districts like those in Stony Brook and East Setauket, Romaine still said he was supportive of the idea.

“We think this is a solution,” Romaine said.

Like in Cortland, Brookhaven officials have been dealing with off-campus rental properties, which university students often inhabit. Over the last two years, the town has tried to curtail illegal and overcrowded rentals in the Stony Brook and Setauket area by strengthening its codes, increasing fines and working with the university to educate students about illegal rentals. The town also hired additional investigators to stay on top of the issue.

While Romaine said the legislation would help Brookhaven, he continued to advocate for “some contribution to the fire districts involved so their taxpayers don’t have to bear that burden.”

Romaine also said he hopes Long Island’s state representatives would support the legislation, and that at some point along the line, a PILOT agreement is established.

State Assemblyman Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not return requests for comment.

Stony Brook Fire Department Commissioner Paul Degen, who works as a town investigator, said 50 percent of Stony Brook Fire District’s tax base is exempt, which has made things financially difficult at times as the department has spent money retrofitting trucks and adequately training volunteers.

“It is what it is, but it would be nice if 50 percent of our district paid their fair share,” he said.

According to records from Stony Brook University, alarms requiring a fire department unit on the scene have dropped since 2012 when single detector activations, which are investigated by university fire marshals and don’t require fire department presence, were implemented in May 2012.

In 2012, the Stony Brook and/or Setauket departments were on scene for a total of 137 alarms. In 2013, the number drastically dropped to 25.

While there has been progress, Degen said he would like to see more incentives to attract department volunteers, which aren’t easy to come by these days. The department currently has 72 members, and more than half of them are over 50 years old.

One idea, he said, would be to offer some sort of tuition break or benefit to volunteers, which could help attract students to the department.

“All of that needs to be visited,” he said.

Romaine, Lifton and Degen expressed similar sentiments about the universities, saying they play important roles in the host communities, which welcome them, but still shouldn’t burden the taxpayers.

“All I’m asking for is some kind of remuneration,” Romaine said. “The full burden should not fall on the taxpayer. That is just not fair.”

By Julianne Cuba

Peaches Rodriguez, a break dancing pioneer, stand-up comedian and East Northport resident who broke into stardom after her role in the 1984 film, “Beat Street,” is the unlikely doppelgänger of a well-known French politician.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Peaches Rodriguez
Comic and dancer Peaches Rodriguez, above, is enjoying a new level of fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen. Photo from Rodriguez

After a break dancing competition in Queens last month, Abdel Karim, who is a hip-hop choreographer and a friend of a friend of Rodriguez on Facebook, created a video meme of Rodriguez break dancing with the suggestion that it was actually Marine Le Pen, the popular nationalistic politician, dancing just after local elections in France.

Because of its extreme absurdity, the video went viral in France, with nearly 300,000 views on Facebook. That video, along with a second video of Rodriguez and a few other break-dancers, also went viral in the United States, with more than 100,000 hits.

“It’s always good to get exposure no matter how you get it,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview this week. “You can’t control something that goes viral. And you have to take it as it comes. It’s almost so random you just have to roll with it and enjoy it as it happens … the views are continuing to go up.”

It’s as if there was a video of a Hillary Clinton look-alike break dancing after an election, Rodriguez suggested for comparison — because that’s exactly what happened, she said.

Comedian and dancer Peaches Rodriguez is enjoying a new level of intercontinental fame, thanks to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license
A video of Peaches Rodriguez has gone viral, due to her resemblance to French politician Marine Le Pen, above. Photo by Rémi Noyon, through Flickr Creative Commons license

In the 1980s, after moving from Connecticut to New York with the hopes of beginning a career in comedy, Rodriguez said she got into break dancing after realizing how good she actually was at that style of dance.

Today, Rodriguez still does both — stand-up comedy and break dancing. But her main job is a traveling comedian in the tristate area, she said.

“I break-dance part time, they have battles and events,” she said. “It’s a cool underground scene.”

Rodriguez also spends her time mentoring young, novice dancers in the industry.

Due to her new intercontinental fame, Rodriguez said she has a few gigs already lined up in the U.S.
Rodriguez added that if Clinton wins the 2016 presidential election, she would not hesitate to dress up like the former U.S. secretary of state and bust a move or two.

Some residents concerned as village votes to allow larger budget increase

Port Jefferson Village is crafting its budget for next year. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson Village officials have a green light to override the state’s cap on its tax levy next year, if necessary.

The board of trustees voted 4-1, with Trustee Bruce Miller dissenting, to allow themselves to pierce the cap — as the group has done each year since the state law restricting tax levy increases was enacted.

In the next budget cycle, the village has a 1.68 percent state-imposed cap on its tax levy increase, according to Treasurer Don Pearce. But tentative budget figures would increase the levy — and thus taxes — by 4 percent.

The latter increase would translate to the average Port Jefferson homeowner paying about $37 more next year in village property taxes.

During a public hearing on the matter Monday night, a few residents railed against the prospect of busting through the cap.

“This is just not tolerable,” Molly Mason said about tax increases.

And Matthew Franco pointed to what he saw as wasteful expenditures, such as what the village spent on exploring uses for the Port Jefferson marina, which it had hoped to purchase from Brookhaven Town before the deal fell through. He spoke against the officials’ idea “to come to us and say, ‘Look, we want to go over the cap again.’”

According to Pearce, the tentative budget totals almost $10.3 million. In order to meet the levy cap, instead of piercing it, the village would have to shave more than $140,000 in expenses or bring up revenues that amount.

Mayor Margot Garant said the board would work to reduce that sum, what she called a “gap.” She also noted that the village uses $400,000 from its fund balance each year to keep down resident taxes, a measure she said the village would take again next year.

During recent budget workshops, the board has pored over budget lines, slashing more than $300,000 in proposed expenses. The trustees have also contended with increases in mandated expenditures.

“I don’t know many businesses that go year to year with only a 1.68 percent increase in expenditures,” Trustee Larry LaPointe said. “If you’ve got a union contract, which we do, and there are built-in increases to all your employees’ salaries in that union contract, you’re going to have budget increases unless you fire people and reduce services.”

He added that he did not think there would be resident support for reducing services.

The village will hold a public hearing on a finalized 2015-16 budget on April 15.

Steven Leventhal, attorney to the ethics board, spearheads a work session this week. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Huntington Town officials took steps to strengthen the town’s ethics code by discussing various revisions during a work session Tuesday.

Mulling nearly a dozen residents’ suggestions at its annual meeting in March, Huntington Town’s Board of Ethics & Financial Disclosure discussed topics ranging from campaign finance disclosures, prices of penalties for ethics code violations and how frequently the board should meet during the year.

Training town employees and officials in the town’s ethics code and creating a “plain language” guide to the code are some suggestions board members said they are considering.

Chairman Howard Glickstein and members Lois C. England and Ralph Crafa attended the work session at Huntington Town Hall, as did Steven G. Leventhal, of Leventhal, Cursio, Mullaney & Spector, LLP — the board’s counsel.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) listened on in the audience.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) directed Edwards to spearhead ethics code revisions. She said she plans to have a proposal for town ethics code tweaks in place at the April 21 town board meeting.

Board members said they agreed that creating what Leventhal termed a “plain language” guide to ethics was a good idea. Leventhal noted that the guide, which could be distributed as a small booklet handout to town employees and officials, would have both a simple, clear explanation of what’s right and wrong under the town’s code, and would, in the back, include the actual town ethics code. Ethics board members said they liked the suggestion.

“In my view it’s a great valuable service to the town workforce, to prepare and distribute a plain language guide that helps them interpret the language of the law itself,” Leventhal said. “The plain language guide does not replace the law and must, of course, remind readers that it is the law itself that controls, but that the plain language guide was developed to assist them in interpreting the law and to encourage them to bring any questions to the board of ethics.”

Ethics training of town employees and officials also earned consensus from board members.

“I regard it really as one of the most important functions of the board of ethics,” Leventhal said.
Board members also said they’d be in favor of increasing the penalty for an ethics violation, which is currently $5,000. Residents asked the board to consider holding meetings quarterly instead of annually. Leventhal said as the board’s work increases — possibly through increased ethics training of employees and officials — the board would meet more frequently.

Tom McNally, who spoke on behalf of the Huntington Republican Committee, called for mandatory training in ethics code for all town officials and employees. He also said all ethics complaints filed with the town clerk should be made public, as well as all decisions of the ethics board, how they voted and whether any ethics board members recused themselves from a vote.

“That was very, very well put together,”  board member England reflected.

Leventhal did, however, take issue with making all ethic complaints public, noting that in the early stages of an ethics investigation it “may be premature and ultimately unjust” to publicize the complaint. Many times, complaints are not actual violations — a complainant may allege someone was rude to him or her — but while “rudeness is bad,” it’s not a violation of the code, he said.

Edwards commended the board’s work in an interview after the meeting, saying she was “really pleased with what we heard.”

Leslie Kennedy with her husband, John M. Kennedy Jr., who serves as Suffolk County comptroller. File photo

In a special election held just nine months before the term is over, Leslie Kennedy (R) was elected Tuesday to succeed her husband, Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy  Jr. (R), in the county Legislature’s 12th District.

Leslie Kennedy, a 58-year-old resident of Nesconset, bested Democrat Deborah Monaco of Smithtown in Tuesday’s special election with 993 total votes from Republicans, Conservatives and Independents versus Monaco’s 149 from strictly Democrats, according to the county Board of Election’s unofficial vote totals.

She previously served as an administrative aide under her husband when he held a seat in the Legislature.

The current comptroller was elected to his seat in November, leaving the Legislature spot vacant at the beginning of this year.

Both Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and the entire Suffolk County Republican Committee had pegged Leslie Kennedy as their choice to succeed her husband, calling her a hard-working and popular figure in her community.

“The Democrats tried to make Leslie Kennedy an issue in the [November] county comptroller race, where John Kennedy scored a substantial victory on one line, the Republican line,” Suffolk GOP Chair John Jay LaValle said. “The move backfired terribly and cemented Leslie Kennedy’s reputation as a constituent favorite. Her record of service is unassailable and she will continue a powerful legacy of protecting our tax dollars and serving the people of the 12th District.”

Monaco, 55, had not been actively campaigning for the seat, according to Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer, who said her name was on the ballot in order to provide voters with options come March 31.

She previously served as secretary of the Suffolk Democratic Committee as well as the county’s Board of Elections.

Kennedy Jr. beat Democrat Jim Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, with 53 percent of the vote to 47 percent. After his election, a jubilant Kennedy vowed to “open up the books,” in Suffolk County, while Gaughran said he had “no regrets about this race.”

The 12th Legislative District is a largely Republican-dominated region of the North Shore and includes Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, the Village of the Branch, Lake Grove and parts of Commack, Islandia and Ronkonkoma.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

Just a few hours before the New York State Legislature approved the state’s 2015-16 budget, which includes a number of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform initiatives, school districts across the North Shore finally got to know how much aid they’ll receive next year.

The state aid runs showed districts getting more than they expected, since many budgeted around a 1.7 percent increase. Earlier this year, Cuomo (D) announced state aid would only increase by $377 million — a 1.7 percent increase from this year — if his state education reforms didn’t pass the Legislature.

And while not all of the initiatives passed, a few did, so the aid increased by about $1.4 billion statewide.

“This is a plan that keeps spending under 2 percent, reforms New York’s education bureaucracy, implements the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive disclosure laws for public officials and makes the largest investment in the upstate economy in a generation,” Cuomo said in a statement.

But not all were convinced the education initiatives would reform public schools.

The Education Transformation Act of 2015 amends the teacher evaluation system, changes the time to gain tenure from three to four years and creates two designations for failing schools. The hot-button item, though, was the teacher evaluation system.

Under the act, the State Education Department will develop a new teacher evaluation system by June 30, which school districts will then have to locally negotiate and enact by Nov. 15 in order to receive their allotted aid. The system also includes a component based on students’ performance on the state’s common core-aligned tests. The evaluation system was last changed in 2013.

In a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Middle Country Central School District Superintendent Roberta Gerold, who is also president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said she believed the change to the system was misguided, and wished elected officials would have learned that “rushing into a system that doesn’t have details attached” — as was the case in 2013 — doesn’t work.

Some Assembly members said they shared Gerold’s concerns.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) voted against the Education, Labor and Family Assistance State budget bill, which Cuomo issued on Tuesday with a message of necessity. When asked about the reforms, Englebright immediately interjected, “they are not reforms,” he said.

He said he voted against the measure because it was unclear as to how it would impact students.

“[It] doesn’t mean we can’t make improvements, but those improvements need to make sense,” he said.

Englebright strayed from his fellow party members by voting against the bill, which he said was a difficult decision.

“The people who sent me [to Albany] are the ones who I finally had to vote in accordance with,” he said.

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) said in a press release the education measure “takes away local control and is downright insulting to principals, administrators and teachers.”

While most North Shore Assembly officials voted down the education component, Mike Fitzpatrick (R- St. James) voted yes. In a phone interview Wednesday, Fitzpatrick said he stood by his decision.

He said he believed the reforms would bring more accountability to the system, which needed to be reformed. Fitzpatrick also said the amendments take away some of the New York State United Teachers union’s power. The union referred to the changes as a disgrace and the evaluation system as a sham.

“Good teachers, and they know who they are, they don’t have anything to worry about,” Fitzpatrick said.

Rohma Abbas contributed reporting.