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Anthony Palumbo

Rona Smith is challenging Anthony Palumbo for his New York State Assembly seat. Photos by Alex Petroski

The North Shore’s easternmost New York State Assembly District — which juts as far west as Mount Sinai and portions of Port Jefferson — has been represented by an incumbent Republican since 2013, and a first-time candidate for political office is seeking to unseat him.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) was elected in a special election to represent the 2nd District in 2013 and won subsequent races in 2014 and 2016. The 48-year-old practicing lawyer will be challenged this Election Day by 73-year-old Democrat Rona Smith, a newcomer to politics from Greenport with government experience, as she currently serves as the chairwoman of the Housing Advisory Commission for Southold Town.

The candidates sat down for a debate at the TBR News Media in Setauket in October to discuss issues impacting the district.

Health care

The future of health care is at the top of minds for candidates in federal and state races alike this cycle, likely because it’s on the minds of their common constituents. State law can be used in conjunction with federal law regarding health care, meaning the legislative houses of New York’s government will have an opportunity to stabilize health care policy for its residents as the federal Affordable Care Act waits in limbo for a bipartisan solution in Congress.

Democrats in the Assembly have passed a single-payer health care bill — meaning essentially everyone in the state would pay into a pool and everyone would be covered — which has gotten no traction in the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, and appears unlikely ever to become the law.

As the ACA suffers, Palumbo said he would suggest some simple tweaks to improve the current system, rather than implementing a single-payer bill, which he said he believes will be too expensive.

“When you think about the numbers, we’re talking about 900,000 people in New York state are uninsured — they’re between the Medicaid gap and the private insurance gap — that’s 5 percent,” he said. “Not a lot I think, generally speaking.”

He suggested bringing back the Family Health Plus option, a subsidized plan for low-income individuals, which wasn’t available under the ACA, rather than “overhauling” state tax code to afford a single-payer scheme.

“Nothing comes off the shelf perfect,” Smith said of both the ACA and the single-payer bill passed by the Assembly. “They’re not perfect, they’re attempts to try to make sure that everybody — rich, poor, old, young — has health insurance they can depend upon for any health need that comes up. We have got to figure out how to do it.”

Affordability and opportunity

The candidates agreed there are obstacles for people — but especially recent college graduates — for being able to live and prosper both in the district and in the county as a whole. The problem will only be exaggerated going forward by the capping of state and local tax deductions, a component of the new federal tax code bill that will disproportionately impact homeowners in high-tax states like New York.

Smith said she would home in on reducing student loan debt as a means to foster more affordability, in addition to investment in more affordable housing projects for low-income individuals, a plan she said Democrats in the Assembly are already working on.

She said students need access to mandated, objective advice when it comes to borrowing and affording college, rather than just input from for-profit loan collection businesses.

Palumbo said New York’s susceptibility to outward migration can be traced to out-of-control budgeting and spending.

“It’s conservative fiscal values that we need to have,” he said.

He said the Assembly has been working on a solution to mitigate the capping of the SALT deduction at $10,000, though so far the IRS has not blessed any of the fixes.

Infrastructure investment

Investing in projects that could stimulate the local economy is seen as a solution by members of both parties. Currently legislators in New York are gathering funds to study the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road east of Huntington on the North Shore line, an idea many have suggested to increase opportunities for people to live and work in the area.

“I think investments in infrastructure always come back in salaries and benefits for people,” Smith said. “It might make housing more accessible.”

She said electrification might be the answer, but the state’s economy could be better served by using the LIRR to ship freight, an idea that would allow farmers and vineyards on the East End to ship fresh products beyond the direct vicinity.

Palumbo said he would go in another direction instead of committing major funds to electrify the LIRR line. He said he would like to see the results of a study examining LIRR ridership to the East End before going down that road and would prefer to see smarter leadership from the Metropolitan Transit Authority when it comes to train schedules and usage.

He also called on school districts to examine ways to scale down spending, which is the largest driver of increasing property taxes.

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

After a Republican primary characterized by a challenger’s legal battle, the status quo prevailed in New York’s 2nd state Assembly District Sept. 13.

Two-term incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) defeated challenger Mike Yacubich, a Shoreham resident and chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, to earn a spot on the general election ballot in November. Palumbo secured more than 80 percent of the vote, with 2,740 registered Republicans in the district casting their ballots for the incumbent to just 641 for the challenger.

“Thank you to all of the friends, supporters, staff, volunteers and especially family who sacrificed the summer to get this done,” Palumbo said in a post on his campaign Facebook page. He did not respond to a request for comment sent to his campaign email. “I’m humbled by the tremendous turnout and the results last night are a reflection of your hard work and support. It’s an honor to serve you and we are on to the November general election.”

Yacubich’s effort to challenge Palumbo wasn’t without a dose of intrigue. Judges from the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in his favor Aug. 24 allowing his name to appear on the Sept. 13 ballot following challenges to his petition signatures raised by three citizen objectors from the district concerned two Mike Yacubichs were registered to vote at the same Shoreham address — both the candidate and his 25-year-old son.

The objectors argued that since the father and son are registered to vote at the same address, those who signed the petition approving the elder Yacubich as a political candidate couldn’t have distinguished between he and his son, who also goes by Mike. The argument was heard by the Republican and Democratic commissioners of the Suffolk County Board of Elections — Nick LaLota and Anita Katz, respectively — who brought the case to the Suffolk County Supreme Court. The lower court initially ruled against Yacubich, who then appealed and won to restore his name to the ballot. The appeals court judges ruled the board of elections “exceeded its authority,” in disallowing Yacubich’s signatures, finding no proof of any intention to confuse voters.

“We fought hard and put a lot of time and effort into an election process that clearly does not welcome outsiders,” Yacubich wrote in a Facebook post. “I can only hope we shed some light on an election system that could certainly use some changes, and I hope that some good will come from us expressing our frustrations with our elected officials.”

Palumbo, who won a special election in 2013 to assume the seat he has held for two official terms following campaign victories in 2014 and 2016, will now turn his attention to Democrat Rona Smith, who he will meet in the Nov. 6 general election. Smith is a Southold resident who currently serves as chair of Southold’s Housing Advisory Commission, sits on the town’s Economic Development Committee, and is vice chair of the Southold Local Development Corporation.

“Now we move forward with real issues that are important to constituents,” Smith said in a phone interview following the primary. “It’s about coming out and saying what you believe in, what you stand for and if that connects to the constituents.”

Mike Yacubich is hoping to run for the New York State Assembly, but is tied up fighting challenges to his petition. Photo from Yacubich's campaign website

When a Shoreham resident decided to bestow his first name upon his son 25 years ago, no one could have predicted the obstacle it would create for him running for office decades later.

Though an appeal could still be heard this week, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in favor of Republican Mike Yacubich, chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, who wants to represent New York’s 2nd Assembly District, in a decision levied Aug. 24.

The would-be candidate garnered enough signatures on his petition to be placed on the ballot for the Sept. 13 primary, but was challenged in court by three citizen objectors in the district. The objectors argued that since two Mike Yacubichs — father and son — have lived and are registered to vote at the same address, those who signed the petition approving the elder Yacubich as a political candidate couldn’t have distinguished between he and his son, who also goes by Mike. The argument was heard by the Republican and Democratic commissioners of the Suffolk County Board of Elections —Nick LaLota and Anita Katz, respectively — who brought the case to the Suffolk County Supreme Court. The lower court initially ruled against Yacubich, who then appealed and won to restore his name to the ballot.

“The board exceeded its authority when it invalidated the designating petition on the ground that it could not identify which registered voter was the candidate,” reads the unanimous decision reached by four appeals court judges. “There was no proof that Yacubich intended to confuse voters, or that any voters were confused as to his identity.”

Yacubich hopes to challenge incumbent Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) in the primary for the right to represent the Republican party on the general election ballot in November, barring an appeal to the Aug. 24 ruling being filed by the objectors this week.

“It’s satisfying to try to be moving forward here, but apparently it’s not meant to be until we can finalize this process,” Yacubich said. “It does make it a little bit difficult, but we’re committed to the program.”

The political hopeful said he couldn’t believe there would be any confusion as to who was running given people in the community know him as “Mike” or “Chief Mike” at the fire department in addition to his past service on the Shoreham-Wading River school district board of education. He added that his son hasn’t lived with him for more than two years.

“I think our argument has been and still is there is no confusion as to who the candidate would be,” he said. “Certainly, my son is not a chief in the fire department, an accountant, has never been a member of the school board.”

A senior official at the BOE, who asked not to be named as the issue continues to be played out in court cases, said the candidate complicated the matter by going with a shortened version of his first name — Mike instead of Michael — as well as opting not to include a middle initial on his petitions, which would have served as a delineator between the father and son.

“If you are attempting to be a state Assembly member, someone responsible for passing laws, details matter,” the official said, adding that the mix up shows a lack of experience on the part of the candidate and his campaign team.

Yacubich rejected the notion the mix up had to do with a lack of experience.

“How could they expect anybody from the public to get through the process if these are the hoops they have to jump through to get on the ballot,” he said. “To be thrown off the ballot for a technicality such as this [is] just unreasonable.”

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