By Rohma Abbas
A doctor and Democratic Suffolk County legislator is vying for another two-year term to lead the 18th Legislative District in a race against a Lloyd Neck resident and former congressional contender who feels he can do the job better.
Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) is facing a challenge from Republican Grant Lally in the election next week. The two men sat down with the Times of Huntington, Northport & East Northport in separate interviews earlier this month to chat about why they’re running for office.
Spencer touts a list of accomplishments in his four years in office, several of them health-related. He spearheaded a measure to stop companies from manufacturing energy drinks to kids. He worked to ban the sale of powdered caffeine to minors, and raise the age of selling tobacco products from 19 to 21. He also helped Northport Village obtain funding to update its wastewater treatment plant.
“I think that we’ve been able to start moving things in the right direction,” he said.
Lally, by contrast, was critical of the legislator at several points in the interview, and said taxes are a big issue in the district, something he feels he stands apart from Spencer on. Lally most recently ran an unsuccessful campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) from his position. If elected, Lally said he would attempt to be more involved than Spencer.
“I’ll be more engaged,” he said. “He’s a very successful doctor. I salute him for that.”
If granted another term in office, Spencer said he would fight to go after pharmaceutical companies to support local anti-drug programs, claiming they’re part of the reason why so many people have become addicted to certain drugs. He also said the county is “terribly lacking” in outpatient solutions for those who do fall to addiction.
“I think we need more community support programs,” he said.
When it comes to crime, Spencer said while cops have made steady progress in making Huntington Station safer, the public still feels unsafe. He said he’d like to engage young people and help bridge a cultural gap between minorities and police, because minorities often feel the police aren’t there to protect them. He wants to add more bilingual officers and appropriately trained officers on the street.
“We have to capture the hearts and minds of these young people,” Spencer said. “ … I don’t think we can shoot our way out of this problem.”
Lally agrees there’s a crime issue in Huntington that needs to be addressed. He suggested doing so by having a stronger connection with federal law enforcement, coordinating resources to attack problems like gang activity, on a regional level.
“Gangs don’t just stop at the county line,” he said.
Spencer suggested tapping federal resources. He said he wants to compete with gangs to recruit young people — who gravitate towards them by societal pressure of not feeling wanted or belonging — to the good side. He said he wants to make it “unpalatable” for gangs to thrive in Huntington Station. “That’s how we change the culture.”