Two candidates vying to represent Suffolk’s 12th Legislative District Nov. 7 share a common ground on several key issues, making for a very respectful debate between a one-term incumbent Republican and her Democratic challenger.
Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), a longtime nurse and former small business manager who was elected in 2015 to succeed her husband and now-county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), pledged to continue serving in her position “fulltime,” drawing businesses to the region and working to control as much county spending as possible.
Her Democratic opponent is Lake Ronkonkoma resident Kevin Hyms, a former environmental, health and safety engineer and prior Brookhaven Town board candidate who wants to put community ahead of politics.
“I want to protect and preserve our precious environment, provide incentives, career opportunities, workforce and affordable housing to keep our youth from migrating off here,” Hyms said during an Oct. 20 sit-down with Kennedy at the Times Beacon Record News Media office. “I believe in doing the right thing for Suffolk County and the community.”
Kennedy said she initially ran for office out of frustration seeing elected officials not doing what’s needed to improve Suffolk.
“It’s because I love where I live — I’ve lived in my district since 1958 and have no intention of ever retiring to Florida,” she said. “I don’t want to see this place destroyed, and more and more I see it becoming impossible to live here. We have to make drastic changes and have to start by developing the ability to say ‘no’. Now that we do not have a penny left to our names, I think the majority is getting it.”
Since being elected, Kennedy said she has voiced her concerns over the county’s financial problems by voting against all fee hikes introduced in the budget from mortgage fees to false home alarms which have been labeled “backdoor taxes.”
“I don’t lie to people,” she said. “We keep spending other people’s money and it makes me crazy. I don’t think a majority of people can afford this … and it’s our job to smack people into living within their means.”
Hyms, who has served on a number of community groups including the board of the Ronkonkoma Chamber of Commerce and Sachem PTA Council, agreed with Kennedy. He proposed further consolidating services within the county to minimize budget shortfalls and debt. The Democratic candidate wants to control the cost of the police department; provide overtime to younger officers instead of older, higher-salaried ones; and hopes to tackle the county’s drug problem by providing better prevention and treatment programs to elementary school students.
“We have to impact the children when they’re younger because by the time they hit middle school, that’s when the real problems occur,” Hyms said. “I don’t think we’re doing as good a job today as we used to with the DARE program.”
Kennedy acknowledged the opioid and heroin issue as well, pointing to her 30 years of experience as a nurse and medical experience treating gang members.
“With education on drugs, we definitely have to start earlier, but we also have to teach our kids self-confidence and self-esteem,” the legislator said. There’s more pressure on children today created by their parents and society, and they’re being taught they must be superachievers.”
Both candidates share similar views on the environment. Hyms addressed a need to install new types of sanitary systems to replace old concrete cesspools to greatly reduce the nitrogen contamination that enters the groundwater. Kennedy has pushed for projects that aim to clean up the county’s water supply. Both candidates strongly advocated for the importance of sewers as a way to improve not just the environment but the economy of downtown areas as well.