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Election

Scully and Whelan face off in Democratic Primary Sept. 13, but they could meet again in the general election

Theresa Whelan and Tara Scully discuss their Democratic primary race, which takes place Sept. 13, during an exclusive interview at TBR News Media in Setauket Sept. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Alex Petroski

Political races for local judgeships don’t tend to garner much attention, but the 2018 race to preside over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court is breaking the mold.

Judge John Czygier Jr., who currently oversees the county’s Surrogate’s Court, is nearing the mandatory retirement age, leaving a vacancy candidates Tara Scully and Theresa Whelan are competing to fill. The position, which yields a salary in excess of $200,000, carries a 10-year term, and the occupant may serve until age 70. The candidates face off in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 for the party line in the general election.

The situation has drawn criticism far and wide, largely on the practice of cross-party endorsement deals. The candidates sat down Sept. 6 for an exclusive interview with TBR News Media’s editorial staff to set the record straight.

What is Surrogate’s Court?

Surrogate’s Court is responsible for handling all issues involving wills and the estates of people who die. The court also handles guardianship hearings and some adoption cases for children whose parents are deceased. Each of New York state’s 62 counties has one surrogate judge except New York and Kings counties, which have two each. The court’s rulings can involve large amounts of money, making it uniquely susceptible to political patronage.

Scully and Whelan both said they have the utmost respect for Czygier and seek to continue his legacy and practices.

“Surrogate’s Court is there to help families when they can’t really help themselves,” Whelan said. “It has to be fair.”

Scully stressed the importance of having empathy in Surrogate’s Court.

“It’s a sanctuary and it needs to be treated like that,” she said. “People there are dealing with extremely difficult issues.”

Family Court Judge Whelan vies for nod

“I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

— Theresa Whelan

Whelan, 56, a Wading River resident, said she is throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination because of her qualifications and experience.

“I have the bench experience,” Whelan, a registered Democrat, said. “I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

The nominee took the bench in Suffolk County Family Court in 2008, before becoming the supervising judge in 2016. There, she hears primarily abuse and neglect cases. Her responsibilities include overseeing nine judges and seven support magistrates in two courthouses.

“I have assisted hundreds, if not thousands of children to be successfully reunited with their parents,” Whelan said. “And if that’s not possible, we try to find them another loving option.”

Since 2009, Whelan has led Suffolk County’s Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, an initiative to address court practices when a child is removed from a parent’s care while trying to ensure their safety and well-being.

The nominee said she is an active member of the Suffolk County Bar Association and often lectures for them. She co-chaired Suffolk’s Family Court & Matrimonial Law committee for three years and is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association. Whelan’s husband, Thomas, is also a judge, currently serving as a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice.

Despite current calls for an end to party patronage, Whelan said the position she’s running for is not a tool to fix the political system. She hopes to win on her own merits.

“I have support of statewide judges, the chief judge, the administrative judge, the bar association, etc. [in my roll on the Family Court],” the nominee said. “I stand here as my own candidate.”

Scully cites her experience in elder law

Scully, 41, of Setauket, said she’s seeking the Democratic nomination after calls by Newsday and other elected officials to challenge the patronage system affecting this and other judicial races.

A registered Republican, she pointed to her years working in elder law as part of the experience she can bring to the Surrogate’s bench.

“I do recognize I have an uphill battle,” Scully said. “But I love the Surrogate’s Court, and I believe the sanctity of our courts has to be preserved.”

Scully started her career working in the executive chamber of former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R), before serving as counsel in guardianship proceedings for the state’s Appellate Division’s Mental Hygiene Legal Service. Like Whelan, she also is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association.

Scully began her Port Jefferson-based practice in 2011 focusing on elder law. She said she has extensive experience in estate planning and administration, asset protection and guardianship proceedings, all of which she said would be important knowledge for Surrogate’s Court. Like Whelan, Scully also has political connections in the family as her father, Peter Scully, has name recognition in Suffolk County. He previously served as the regional chief for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and currently works as one of County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) deputies.

Tara Scully said she often provides free legal representation for indigent seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.

“I have a poor business sense in the amount of pro bono work I take on,” Scully said.

In 2015, Scully ran for Brookhaven Town District Court judge where she said she saw firsthand the way party patronage has entwined itself with politics after turning down a cross-endorsement deal. She lost by 173 votes.

“I was so green I didn’t realize at the point that in many circumstances it was business as usual,” Scully said. “I think a lot of people were upset with me that my gut reaction was revulsion.”

Political backstory

“Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

— Tara Scully

Although judges are expected to set aside their personal beliefs, politics has marred the race, though not necessarily thanks to the candidates themselves. Neither Whelan nor Scully were involved in this race as of early summer. Newsday reported earlier this year District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, who is married to Conservative Party chairman, Frank Tinari, and is a Conservative herself, had secured the Democratic Party line in the Surrogate’s Court race as a result of a deal with Suffolk Democratic Party chairman, Rich Schaffer, which was one of many similar deals between Suffolk party bosses.

In June, Newsday ran an editorial in the form of a want ad, calling for a candidate “with a backbone to resist pressure from political bosses,” in response to the cross-endorsement of Tinari. Scully said she sprang into action as a result of the editorial to meet a tight deadline, and garnered enough signatures to run as both a Democrat and Republican. With a primary challenger stepping up to the plate, Tinari withdrew. Democrats then selected Whelan, who called herself a lifelong Democrat, as their candidate.

Scully has argued her decision to enter the Democratic primary — despite being a registered Republican — has provided voters with a more transparent choice than if a Conservative had remained on the Democrat line.

“I think the real point is six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, the Democrat candidate was a Conservative, and Democrats would go in and vote and not have any idea that the individual they’re voting for is not in line with their party philosophies,” Scully said. “Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

Whelan argued that voters are equally in the dark with a Republican in a Democratic primary. If she loses Thursday, there will be one name occupying both major party’s lines come November, as Scully has already been penciled onto the ballot by the Republican Party. Whelan joked when voters enter booths Sept. 13 they’ll simply be deciding between two Irish last names with little knowledge of the politics. She also took issue with Scully portraying herself as “standing up for Democratic principles” on her campaign site.

“If I don’t win the primary, voters don’t have a choice, and I think that’s fair to say,” Whelan said. “I’m presenting myself as a Democratic Party member and the experienced judge, so that Tara and I can actually have a real election on Election Day, and I think that’s what she was trying to accomplish in the beginning.”

This post was updated Sept. 11. This post was updated Sept. 12 to clarify a quote from Whelan.

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.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Erika Karp

Although politicians in Brookhaven Town are not up for election this cycle, voters will be asked a question with long-term implications for town government in November.

Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously to establish a referendum on the ballot Nov. 6 asking town residents to weigh in on changes to terms in office for elected officials, specifically increasing terms from two years, as is currently the law, to four years for councilmembers, the supervisor and highway superintendent. The referendum will have a second component as part of the same yea or nay question: limiting officials to three terms in office. That component would impact the above positions, as well as town clerk and receiver of taxes. Both components will appear as part of a single proposition, according to Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto. Putting the issue up to a vote was established as a result of an Aug. 2 public hearing. If passed the law would go into effect for terms beginning Jan. 1, 2020.

“[The voters] have, in the past weighed in, and whatever they weighed in to is not being listened to now,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the hearing. “Maybe that’s fine with them, maybe it’s not, but I would like to go back and ask them, ‘what do you think?’”

In 1993, residents voted to implement a limit of three, four-year terms on elected officials, though that law was no longer applicable following a 2002 public vote to establish council districts, as state law dictates councilmembers in towns with council districts serve two-year terms, according to Emily Pines, Romaine’s chief of staff and a former New York State Supreme Court justice, who spoke during the hearing.

Several members of the public commented in opposition of various aspects of the referendum, saying the two components should be separated to be voted on individually; there’s not enough time to untangle issues with the language of the law, like what to do with an individual who served as a councilperson for 12 years and then is elected to another position such as supervisor; and how to handle time already served by current members. Others cited shorter terms as fostering more accountability for elected representatives.

“I think it’s too complex to be one resolution,” said Jeff Kagan, a resident and representative from Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization. “I think you’re asking the voters to vote on somethings they like and somethings they may not like.”

Anthony Portesy, the Democrat candidate for town highway superintendent in 2017 and a private attorney, spoke against extending terms to four years, but said he would be in favor of three years because having to campaign every two years can be “arduous.”

“While I’m not opposed to the extension of terms per se, four-year terms is an eternity in politics, too long for hyperlocal town races,” he said. “We don’t want to create electoral feudalism in Brookhaven through the coercive powers of incumbency.”

Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri spoke in favor of going to four-year terms during the hearing about having to run for office every two years, saying it can get in the way of accomplishing goals set forth at the beginning of a term. Romaine and councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea in early July when the public hearing was set.

“You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system,” Romaine said. “It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

Eaderesto said the town’s law department will draft the wording as it will appear on the ballot in November and share it with the town board prior to submitting it to the Suffolk County Board of Elections by Oct. 1.

The Stony Brook Fire District seeks to purchase two Spartan pumpers like the one above. Photo from Spartan Motors

Voters in the Stony Brook Fire District will have a chance to say “yes” to the future.

A special election will take place Aug. 7 in the fire district on a proposition to give the board of fire commissioners authorization to purchase two Spartan pumper trucks with a capacity for 1,250 gallons per minute and related equipment for a cost not exceeding $1.4 million.

Fire district commissioner Brian McAllister said the new pumpers, manufactured by Spartan Motors, will replace two 1994 models currently in use by the district. He said pumpers are emergency vehicles that carry the water tank, firefighting tools and hoses. The volunteers need the trucks for any water work during a fire, while ladder trucks are utilized during rescue efforts such as roof cutting or breaking down doors.

McAllister said typically after 25 years emergency vehicles are pulled out of service. Emergency vehicles experience more wear and tear than the average car, especially on the brakes, according to the fire commissioner.

“It’s not normal driving,” he said. “It’s always emergency response, so that puts excess wear on the vehicles. And the vehicles themselves are already 30- or 40,0000 pounds.”

McAllister said there has been a lot of advances in technology and firefighting standards since the 1994 trucks were made, including with data and digital control centers. He said the pump that operates the water is more advanced and the tanks are made of a more flexible material than in the past, which allows for more storage space in the vehicle. Another advantage is that the new pumpers will require less maintenance than older models and therefore will be on the road more, since vehicles needing maintenance are often taken out of service temporarily while being repaired.

Before putting the proposition up for vote, he said the fire district put together a committee that looked at pumpers from various manufacturers and decided what the firehouses needed. The committee sat with a spec writer, visited neighboring departments to inspect their trucks and searched for manufacturers who could meet their requirements. A public informational meeting was held July 17 to allow residents the opportunity to ask any questions.

McAllister said the process took approximately two years, and if the district gets the go-ahead to buy the pumpers, it will be more than a year before the trucks arrive.

“It’s not a fast process but done correctly, spec’d correctly and paying attention to detail, we can try to generate or create a vehicle, in partnership with the manufacturer, for one that will be maintenance-free or at least low maintenance and that will also suit our needs,” McAllister said.

Voters in the Stony Brook Fire District, who were registered with the Suffolk County Board of Elections on or before July 15, can vote in the special election, Tuesday, Aug. 7, between 2 to 9 p.m.

Polls are located at 147 Main St., Stony Brook, for those north of the railroad tracks and at 1402 Stony Brook Road for voters residing south of the railroad tracks.

Brookhaven Councilman Daniel Panico and Supervisor Ed Romaine. File photo by Alex Petroski

Elected officials in Brookhaven Town are taking steps that could both lengthen and shorten their time in office.

The board voted to hold a public hearing Aug. 2 on the idea of instituting a three-term limit on elected positions while also extending the length of a term from two to four years at a June 26 meeting. This would limit officials to 12 years in office.

Brookhaven is currently the only town on Long Island with two-year terms for elected officials, according to Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I’m supporting it because when you have the entire government turn over every two years it can provide for a lack of stability,” Romaine said on changing from two-year to four-year terms. “You don’t have the constant churning in politics that can sometimes undermine the system. It allows for long-range planning and programs. It takes the politics out of local government.”

Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) each expressed similar sentiments when asked if they intend to support the idea. They said having to prepare to run for office every two years hinders their ability to complete and implement projects, especially pertaining to land use, which they said can take time.

“I believe there’s merit in establishing term limits and four-year terms,” Cartright said, but said she intends to keep an open mind and let residents weigh in. “It lends itself to better government.”

Specifically on limiting officials to three terms, LaValle said it should encourage fresh ideas and new faces stepping up to run, which he viewed as a positive, calling it a good combination both for government and residents.

If these changes are approved by the board, the proposal would go to a referendum vote in November giving taxpayers the opportunity to ultimately decide the idea’s fate. It could impact the town supervisor position, each of the six council seats, superintendent of highways, town clerk and receiver of taxes starting as of 2020.

“I think it will be a very interesting referendum on the ballot to see what people want,” LaValle said.

Bonner said she has changed her mind on term limits, saying she was among those who view Election Day as the inherent way to limit the term of a politician failing to serve their constituents.

“What it will essentially do is create not just good government, but better government,” Bonner said.

In January, the Town of Huntington passed similar legislation limiting all elected positions, to three terms of four years each.

“The town is going to be much better off,” Councilman Gene Cook said upon passing the legislation. He proposed the idea to Huntington’s board in June 2017. “Elected officials have an upper hand and can be there forever. Now, we’ve sort of evened the field today. It took a long time, far too long, but I’m glad it’s done.”

Village of Shoreham Town Hall is located at 80 Woodville Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

The votes are in, and in a landslide election June 19 former deputy mayor Brian Vail has become the new mayor of the Village of Shoreham, garnering 109 of 112 votes cast. The other three were for write-in candidates Len Emma (2) and Brian Mahoney (1). Vail will serve a two-year term as mayor.

Mayor Ed Weiss did not run for re-election. 

Gathering a similar number of votes were newcomer Marianne Cogan (106) and trustee Sherry Neff (105), the two running for two, two-year terms as trustee. One write-in ballot was cast for John Bates.

One four-year term for village justice was also up for grabs, and with another lopsided result, David Desmond scooped up 82 of 90 total votes.

Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Port Jefferson Village taxpayers will have the opportunity to hear from the three candidates seeking seats on the board of trustees Tuesday,  June 12 at 7 p.m. in the Wayfarer room at Port Jefferson Village Center, located at 101 East Broadway. The candidates at the event, hosted by The Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, will give opening and closing statements and take part in a question-and-answer session.

The election will take place June 19 and will feature incumbents Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller as well as challenger Kathianne Snaden.

Kate Browning, Perry Gershon, Elaine DiMasi, David Pechefsky and Vivian Viloria-Fisher debate at TBR News Media's Setauket office. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fifty percent of the Nov. 6 ballot in the race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District is already set, but there’s plenty to sort out before the other half is finalized.

Five candidates garnered enough signatures on their petitions for elected office, earning spots on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary. They’ll square off for the right to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the general election.

Kate Browning. Photo by Kyle Barr

All five candidates were at TBR News Media’s Setauket office June 1 for a debate to point to the areas in which they differ, matters they think they’re better suited for the job and ways they can dethrone
their adversary.

In pitching herself as the candidate most capable to do the latter, former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning said she can take votes away from Zeldin in a variety of ways.

“We need to be able to appeal to the blue-collar voters, and I believe that’s something I can do,” she said. “Having a husband who’s in law enforcement, who’s an Army veteran — we hear Lee Zeldin talk about ‘vote for the vet, vote for the William Floyd graduate,’ and I live in his base, and I can tell you I know that I can take votes from his base. And having two kids in the military, I can take a lot of that away from him.”

Zeldin is a U.S. Army Reserve veteran.

Perry Gershon identified a different way that he can pull from Zeldin’s support. The candidate said he made a living in commercial mortgage lending for 25 years and owned a small business — a sports bar in New York City — touting the fact he is a political outsider hoping to shake things up.

“What that background means is that when I talk about the economy and jobs I have a little extra credibility, because I’ve been involved in creating jobs before,” Gershon said.

Elaine DiMasi. Photo by Kyle Barr

Elaine DiMasi provides perhaps the most unique qualifications of the bunch.

“There aren’t too many districts that can add a professional scientist to that problem-solving team that is congress,” said DiMasi, a physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. “There’s 435 professionals there — many lawyers, many legislators, many more people with business degrees than with backgrounds like mine, and it’s badly needed right now.”

David Pechefsky said he offers a blend of foreign and domestic policy experience despite never holding elected office, which is uncommon for most first-time candidates. He has worked as an adviser to governments abroad, in addition to his time as a staffer for the New York City Council.

“We’re going to need that to go toe-to-toe with Zeldin,” he said. “He talks a lot about foreign policy. Our national lawmaking body [is] going to have to vote on a whole host of issues pertaining to foreign policy, and I also feel deeply that the Democratic Party needs to challenge the narrative on foreign policy. We cannot afford to continue to have military interventions.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher said she previously served as a delegate at three Democratic National Conventions in the past. That, her experience as a Suffolk County legislator and living in the district for nearly five decades helps her to understand the needs of 1st District Democrats, she said.

Perry Gershon. Photo by Kyle Barr

“This is who I am, this is who I’ve always been,” she said. “I have a footprint that goes throughout the district and I’ve done good work throughout this district. I’m well-known.”

Viloria-Fisher and Pechefsky said they possess empathy and compassion, respectively, which they said they feel Zeldin lacks. DiMasi said she’s dexterous, or quick-witted, capable of thinking on her feet in the midst of say, a scrutinized debate. Gershon said during his years in business he thought he’d earned a reputation as a person with high integrity, capable of getting along with people from all walks of life. Browning said she’s approachable, often having to remind people to call her “Kate,” as opposed to Legislator or Mrs. Browning.

The winner of the primary will be campaigning for a seat Zeldin won by almost 20 points in 2016, within a county Trump won by seven points, marking the first time a Republican presidential candidate secured Suffolk County since 1992.

Viloria-Fisher said she partnered with Republicans to pass various pieces of bipartisan legislation while representing the county. Pechefsky said he thinks his message — his willingness to advocate for working people — cuts across political lines. DiMasi said she thought her approach to campaigning — sticking to just the facts — would earn her respect with Republicans.

David Pechefsky. Photo by Kyle Barr

Gershon said he believes many people who voted for Trump in the past could be convinced to vote Democratic because he thinks many regret doing so, with an opportunity to score points because of the Republican tax plan, which did particular damage to Long Island property owners. Zeldin was one of few Republicans in Congress who did not vote for the bill.

The candidates identified many of the same issues — gun control legislation, immigration reform, health care options, lack of high-paying jobs, high cost of living in the district — as the most important to the voters they’ve spoken to, while also citing what they said they viewed as Zeldin’s misguided positions on these issues.

Browning named taxes and water quality as among the biggest concerns facing the district in the near future.

“[Zeldin will] come to the Island and say, ‘I have a great environmental record, I’m opposed to the offshore drilling, I’m all about clean water,’ however, he’s voting for bills that are polluting the waters in Virginia,” she said.

Pechefsky identified availability of affordable housing, for people from all income brackets, as desperately needed.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Brookhaven is losing population except for Patchogue, and seniors can’t afford to stay here either,” he said. “When you say we’re trying to figure out interventions that can make for healthier communities, healthier neighborhoods — housing is one you could tackle directly. I worked a lot on housing policy in the city.”

Viloria-Fisher also noted the importance of creating reasons — be it high-paying jobs or vibrant downtowns — for young graduates to remain local and plant roots.

She also referenced Zeldin’s position on guns, and campaign donations he has received from the National Rifle Association, as counter to the values of voters she said she’s spoken to.

“He calls it Second Amendment support, I just call it gun violence support,” she said. “Nobody needs to carry around an assault weapon.”

DiMasi said she’s been trying to get through to those with a distaste for politics, recalling a conversation with an African-American as she was campaigning door-to-door.

“The fact is, I believe that federal law is the place to decrease discrimination,” she said. “Laws create personal biases, much more so than the other way around, and that’s from research. We have to understand just how deeply disenfranchised people have become.”

Rocky Point board of ed Trustees Joseph Coniglione and Ed Casswell and President Susan Sullivan discuss the vote results May 15. Photo by Kyle Barr

Despite a storm that plowed through Long Island at the same time that many residents were to head out to vote May 15, Rocky Point residents passed the school districts $86,128,785 budget with 499 yes votes to 226 no.

“The most important thing for us was to put forward a budget that is fiscally responsible while we continually try to grow options for students at our schools,” Superintendent Michael Ring said.

The largest increases came from teacher benefits and new general education initiatives, like science, technology, engineering and math initiatives, new Advanced Placement courses and special education services.

Ring said he was disappointed with the voter turnout compared to last year, which saw 909 residents come out to vote. Ring partially blamed Tuesday’s storm that came around when the district usually sees most come out to vote.

“Most come out to vote after 5 p.m.,” Ring said. “Thankfully enough came out.”

Two trustee seats were opened on the board. Incumbent Ed Casswell was voted to his second term with 551 votes and newcomer Gregory Amendola was elected to the board with 571 votes. The race was uncontested, with current board Vice President Scott Reh stepping down.

“We have a great board of education — its going to be a loss that Reh is leaving, but Greg Amendola is going to be a great addition to the team,” said Casswell, a 26-year resident who was elected alongside Reh in 2015.

The vice president, who is Mount Sinai’s athletic director, said he felt it was time to step down after nine years on the board.

“I did it for three terms, but it was very time consuming,” Reh said. “I think the board’s doing a great job. I think I’m leaving it in very good hands. I was honored and privileged to serve on it. I wish everyone the best of luck.”

Casswell has been a member of the North Shore Little League for 10 years and is currently the principal of Center Moriches High School.

“I feel it is important to be an active member of a community,” he said. “High levels of altruism and service among citizens help create vibrant communities. This has always been my driving force and calling. I believe in these notions and love serving.”

Amendola, a 13-year resident who is looking to get the community more involved, echoed Casswell’s comments about losing Reh, but said he looks forward to being on the board.

“It’s an exciting time,” Amendola said. “I’m excited to be part of the team and make a difference. As of now I really just want to get in and get my feet wet and help any way I can.”

The board members will assume their trustee positions at the July organizational meeting. There the board will also elect a president and vice president for next year.

New York voters on the North Shore overwhelmingly approved passing all of the proposed budgets and extra propositions, despite low voter turnout May 15. Stock image

The evening of May 15 was a good one for school boards across New York State, as residents cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of district budgets.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, the new state budget delivered a school aid increase of $859 million despite a tight fiscal year. Besides general spending plans and even with some new programs and club offerings, all of our North Shore districts have kept any projected tax levy increases within the state mandated limit. The biggest challenge with budgets this year was meeting most of parents’ and students’ concerns regarding school safety. Some districts had to shift funds around to allocate spending for additional security guards, entrance vestibules and bulletproof glass windows, among other ideas to make sure students and staff are protected and feel safe.

Here’s how school district budget votes on the North Shore of Suffolk County went:

Commack
Voters chose to approve the $193,222,797 proposed Commack budget with 1203 yes votes to 419 no.

Current board of education Vice President Jarrett Behar ran unopposed and received 1,302 votes.

Comsewogue
Comsewogue residents voted 829 yes to 263 no in favor of the proposed $91,947,730 budget. John Swenning, Rick Rennard and Corey Prinz ran unopposed and garnered 901, 818 and 769 votes, respectively. Louise Melious did not seek re-election. A proposition was also approved 768-315 to authorize a $32-million bond proposal for upgrades in all six schools in the district.

Elwood
Elwood’s $61,606,082 budget passed by a vote of 896 to 327. Proposition 2, the establishment of a capital reserve fund, passed by a vote of 854 to 345. Heather Mammolito (918) and James Tomeo (983) were both reelected to the board of education.

“On behalf of the entire administration and board of education, I would like to thank all residents who voted in support of the proposed 2018-19 budget” Elwood Superintendent Ken Bosset said. “Your support will allow the district to continue to enhance our academic program for our students, as well as increase security throughout the district. We are continually grateful to the Elwood community for its support of our district.”

Harborfields
Members of the district voted 966-275 to pass the proposed $86,086,696 budget. Steve Engelmann (862), Joseph Savaglio (744) and Suzie Lustig (949) were all elected to the board of education. Incumbents Donald Mastroianni and Thomas McDonagh did not seek re-election.

“I would like to thank the entire Harborfields community for its support of the 2018-19 budget, as well as the board of education for its commitment to providing the best opportunities possible for district students,” Harborfields Superintendent Francesco Ianni said. “The community’s continued support of the district allows us to provide a ‘world-class’ education to the children of our community. We look forward to implementing several enhancements to the curriculum for next year, including the restructuring of the high school science research program and a new literacy curriculum. In addition, the proposed budget will allow us to enhance security throughout the district. The community’s input was vital to the creation of this budget, so I thank those residents who participated throughout the process and those who took the time to vote.”

Huntington
Huntington’s board of education put forth a proposed $129,812,991 that was passed 1,215 to 314.

Proposition 2, which asked Huntington residents to approve the release of about $7 million from the district’s capital reserves fund for critical infrastructure repairs, was passed with 1,293 yes votes to 209 no.

Proposition 3, which sought to create a new building improvement fund that the district said is necessary in order to transfer money from the district’s existing repair reserve that will be used for turf field replacement, was also passed 1,260-238.

Huntington board of education trustees Christine Biernacki, receiving 1,029 votes, and Thomas DiGiacomo, receiving 898 votes, were re-elected to another term. Lynda D`Anna received 816 and will take over the seat currently held by trustee Emily Rogan July 1, as she did not seek re-election.

Kings Park
The Kings Park community passed its $92,168,700 proposed budget with 1,189 yes votes to 550 no.

This community is very supportive of education and the job that we’ve done here in Kings Park,” Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen said. “It’s a very supportive budget, and we have some strategic adds and supports in the budget. I’m just really happy that we can go forward with the spending plan that the board of education and I have carefully developed over the last couple of months.”

Incumbents Diane Nally and Kevin Johnston won their board of education trustee seats back, with 1,281 and 1,383 votes, respectively. Challenger Darryl Valinchus tallied 530 votes.

Johnston expressed some disappointment regarding low turnout at board meetings

“We would like to have more input from people in the community,” he said as polls closed. “This is a $92 million budget we’re talking about, and very few people show up for the school board meetings. I think over the last few years with Diane [Nally] we’ve accomplished a great deal providing for the students in Kings Park, but we still have a ways to go.”

Middle Country
Resident overwhelmingly passed the district’s $250,124,601 budget, 1,438-495. In an uncontested board of education trustee election, Kathleen Walsh, Arlene Barresi, Karen Lessler and Daniel Hill won their seats back, with 1,467, 1,408, 1,398 and 1,372 votes, respectively.

Miller Place
Voters in the district passed the $72,685,864, 616-209. Keith Frank ran unopposed, and won his second three-year term with 688 votes.

Mount Sinai
The $60,203,745 budget was passed by residents, 769 to 193 and the library 1,111 to 144. A proposition transferring $5 million from unassigned fund balance to the capital fund passed 787-176, and a proposition to transferring money from fund balances to establish $10 million capital reserve fund passed 761-199.

Trustee Michael Riggio was re-eleccted to serve a second term with 747 votes, and newcomer Stephen Koepper earner 651 votes. Koepper ran unopposed after board President Lynn Capobianco decided not to run again.

Northport-East Northport
Northport-East Northport residents said “yes, yes, yes” to all three propositions.

The $166,810,381 proposed budget passed with 2,287 in favor and 754 against.

Proposition 2, which asked voters to approve the release of $900,000 from the district’s capital reserve funds for infrastructure upgrades and repair, also passed 2,524-555.

Proposition 3, which will establish a new Capital Reserve III Fund that the board says is necessary for several critical infrastructural improvements including roof replacements of its buildings, window replacement, bathroom replacement, masonry and concrete work, floor replacement, wall replacement, classroom renovations, library and multimedia center renovations and gym reconstruction, among other projects, was also met with voter approval, with 2,403 in favor and 696 against.

Incumbent David Stein and challenger Victoria Buscareno were elected to serve for three years, and incumbent David Badanes was elected for two years. This staggering the terms of board members is due to a proposition two years ago that reduced the number of board members from nine to seven. Stein received 2,173 votes, and Buscareno received 2,195, and Badanes earned 1,915 votes. Trustee Tammie Topel chose not to run again. Challenger Thomas Loughran did not receive enough votes.

Port Jefferson
Community members passed the $43,889,812 proposed budget 774–362. A proposition for a partial roof replacement at the high school also passed, 874 – 257. In a six-way race for three board of education seats, Ryan Walker (660), Rene Tidwell (649) and Tracy Zamek (604) won seats. Ryan Biedenkapp, Jason Kronberg and Mia Farina lost, with 481, 369 and 276 votes, respectively.

Rocky Point
Rocky Point residents voted to pass the $86,128,785 budget with 499 yes votes to 226 no.

“Voter turnout was a little low,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said. “Most come out to vote after 5 p.m. Thankfully enough came out.”

Although running uncontested, incumbent Ed Casswell and newcomer Gregory Amendola were elected to the board of education, receiving 551 and 571 votes, respectively.

“We have a great board of education — its going to be a loss that [Vice President] Scott Reh is leaving, but Greg Amendola is going to be a great addition to the team,” said Casswell, who will be serving his second term. “With every budget cycle it’s a challenge to enhance and grow programs yet be very fiscally responsible. With that said we’re always looking for any college and career initiatives that will open up options for our kids.”

Shoreham-Wading River
Voters approved the $74,776,072 budget 790 for to 233 against.

It was a very low turnout compared to last year’s more than 2,000 that came out to vote. Current board of education President Robert Rose won his seat back with 772 votes. James Smith ran unopposed and nabbed 767. He will be taking the place of first-year trustee Michael Yannucci, who did not seek re-election.

Smithtown
The community passed the proposed $244,913,464 budget with 1,873 yes votes and 800 no.

Proposition 2 passed 2,090 to 583, which allow the district to use of $13.3 million from the district’s capital reserve, to fund specific projects.

Board newcomer and challenger Mandi Kowalik received 1,618 votes to unseat incumbent board of education trustee Christopher Alcure, who received 935. Incumbent Jeremy Thode was re-elected to his seat with 1,790 votes.

Three Village
Three Village residents voted 1,412 for to 536 against the proposed $209.8 million budget. With no challengers, incumbents William F. Connors Jr. and Deanna Bavlnka won their seats back with 1,553 and 1,482 votes, respectively.

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