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Jim Leonick

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Huntington Republicans have filed petitions seeking to add an additional party line next to their name on ballots this November.

Suffolk County Board of Elections confirmed that petitions were received seeking to create a Stop LIPA party line, a move conducted with the hope of capitalizing with voters on Long Island Power Authority’s ongoing legal battle with the Town of Huntington over the Northport Power Station.

We need to send the loudest message we can to Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo. What better way to send a message than to have those who are concerned voice this at the polls.”

— Andrew Raia

“This is a major issue with us losing a major decision in court,” New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) said. “We need to send the loudest message we can to Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo. What better way to send a message than to have those who are concerned voice this at the polls.”

Raia referenced the decision made by Judge Elizabeth Emerson Aug. 16 that dismissed the third-party beneficiary lawsuits brought forth by the Town of Huntington and Northport-East Northport school district in which the judge found LIPA made no promise not to challenge the tax-assessed value of the Northport plant. 

Raia is one of four political candidates who obtained the 1,500 signatures needed to petition for a Stop LIPA ballot line. The three Republicans who joined him are: Jeremy Williams, challenger for the state’s 10th Assembly District; Jim Leonick, candidate for Huntington town council; and Janet Smitelli, campaigning to be Huntington’s receiver of taxes.

Leonick, who previously ran for Huntington’s board in 2017, said he believes LIPA’s lawsuit against the town should be one of the leading issues this election cycle. In campaigning, the candidate said he feels residents haven’t been kept well informed on the situation and need leadership not simply willing to oppose LIPA, but also to consider alternative solutions.

You are taking a serious issue and you are creating political fodder with it.”

— Joan Cergol

“They haven’t all been open to other methods of addressing the LIPA situation,” Leonick said. “Such as eminent domain or a [British thermal unit] tax. I’m open minded and I think we need to broaden our defense.”

Smitelli could not immediately be reached for comment on her petition to obtain a Stop LIPA party line on the ballot.

Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), appointed to her seat earlier this year and running for a full term against Leonick, called Republicans’ effort to create a Stop LIPA line deceptive.

“You are taking a serious issue and you are creating political fodder with it,” she said. “For him to try to create a Stop LIPA line with his name next to it is basically false advertising.”

The councilwoman said both eminent domain and the energy tax have been discussed, but were measures not supported by Republicans in town government. She said having sat through executive sessions with Huntington’s attorney on the matter, she has gained greater knowledge and insight of the issues that have shaped her decisions and public statements. 

“What makes [Leonick] more dedicated or committed to fighting LIPA’s reassessment than me?” she asked. “He didn’t call me up. He doesn’t know.”

They’re just sorry they didn’t think of it first.” 

— Jim Leonick

Cergol accused Republicans’ canvassers of being deceptive when soliciting signatures for the Stop LIPA petitions, claiming residents thought they were signing a petition to stop the utility company from having the plant reassessed.

“We made an effort to ask volunteers to explain to people exactly what they were signing,” Leonick countered. “We did not do this to be deceptive.”

Suffolk Board of Elections officials said anyone who objected had three days to file a general objection, with six more days to file specific lists of objections. Cergol said her campaign has filed notice of objection with attorneys working on drafting a more specific list of legal objections to be submitted later this week.

“They’re just sorry they didn’t think of it first,” Leonick said.

Incumbent Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), Democratic candidate Emily Rogan and Republicans Jim Leonick and Ed Smyth are competing for two seats on Huntington's town board. Photos by Alex Petroski
Incumbent Mark Cuthbertson (D). Photo by Alex Petroski

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Four candidates for the Huntington town board are deeply divided on what steps are needed to ensure a brighter future for residents.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) is seeking re-election to his sixth term on town council with political newcomer Huntington resident Emily Rogan (D). She is a freelance writer who has served as a trustee for Huntington school board for 12 years, four of which as the board’s president. Rogan seeks to take over the seat of Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), who chose to run for Huntington supervisor rather than seek re-election to town council.

They will face off against Republican candidate Jim Leonick, of East Northport, an attorney with his own practice who has previously worked as a state tax grievance arbiter. He is running with Lloyd Harbor resident Ed Smyth, also an attorney who has served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and previously on the Village of Lloyd Harbor’s board of zoning appeals.

While the candidates all profess a love for Huntington, they disagreed on what shape or form its future development should take.

Republican candidate Jim Leonick. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cuthbertson said one of his main goals is creating more housing for senior citizens and millennials to enable them to stay in town. Rogan agreed to the need for a walkable community that incorporates mixed-use retail and apartment spaces in the town, citing downtown Huntington Station and Melville’s Route 110 as prime locations.

“The entire town benefits when all of our town is thriving and feels uplifted,” Rogan said. “People want to see Huntington Station become as desirable a place to be as downtown Huntington village, downtown Northport Village or Cold Spring Harbor.”

Leonick and Smyth both said they feel these developments aren’t considered desirable by residents, saying current town board simply isn’t listening. The Republican
candidates said rather than high-density apartments, they would make it easier for seniors to put accessory apartments in their homes for additional income.

Democratic challenger and political newcomer Emily Rogan. Photo by Alex Petroski

“Density is part of a plan that will allow us to sustain our local economy,” Cuthbertson responded in a recent debate at TBR News Media offices in Setauket. “We’ve already liberalized the rules of apartments to put apartments over stores in our downtown areas. In Huntington village, it’s been very successful.”

Rather than more housing, Smyth and Leonick said their focus would be outreach to bring large businesses to Melville’s Route 110 business corridor to increase jobs.

“The best path to affordable housing is a bigger paycheck,” Smyth said.

Leonick took it one step further calling for re-evaluation of the town’s comprehensive master plan Horizons 2020.

“The biggest thing we need to do is put the brakes on future development projects until we get a handle on what we need to be doing,” Leonick said.

Both Republican candidates said that if elected, they would focus on improving the status of the town’s roadways and traffic issues. Smyth called the town’s roads “deplorable,” citing Prime Avenue as an example, after utility companies have cut them up to lay wires and infrastructure, calling for changes to town code. Leonick heavily criticized town officials for a lack of parking in Huntington village.

Republican candidate Ed Smyth. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It takes a half hour of driving around to get a spot,” he said. “You can’t continue to develop in the village without solving that problem. We should have had a parking garage a while ago.”

Cuthbertson said the town’s work on a parking garage began two years ago, with a failed attempt at a public-private partnership, but is now moving forward. He pointed to the lack of empty stores downtown as a sign of success.

Rogan agreed that the town’s roadways need change, not more paving, but rather to become more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly. She wants to focus on a public campaign and signage to improve driver awareness.

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