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John Jay LaValle

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From left, Kathianne Snaden, Margot Garant and Stan Loucks just after learning the election results Photo by Kyle Barr

The results are as follows:

Unity Party candidates

  • Margot Garant (Incumbent) 1519
  • Stan Loucks (Incumbent) 1387
  • Kathianne Snaden 1383

Residents First Party candidates

  • John Jay LaValle 1013
  • Thomas Meehan 1230
  • Tracey Stapleton 1009

Two separate restaurants and bars in Port Jeff told two different stories the night of June 18, election night in the village. In Tommy’s Place, where the Residents First Party candidates learned of results, the air buzzed with cool conversation throughout the room, offering condolences and thinking about next moves.

In Old Fields Restaurant, with the Unity Party candidates, the room exploded with noise once the results came through. Mayor Margot Garant stood up on a chair, her brow sheened in sweat from the packed bar area and addressed the crowd.

“I have chosen unity and community for the last 12 years, and I’m so proud that everyone who lives here, who comes and plays in our parks, who visits our restaurants, who comes and visits for a day is always welcome and always will be welcome in this village,” she said to cheers of the gathered crowd. “I am going to tell you right now, every store that’s vacant, let’s get it rented tomorrow.”

Mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle was considerate once the results came through, saying they ran their case on the issues.

“This was going to be a race of a referendum on Donald Trump or a referendum on the uptown and downtown of Port Jeff and unfortunately that was their game; we were focused on uptown and downtown,” he said.

He said he wishes the best for Garant, adding he hopes she focuses on uptown revitalization and starts working with business owners to get businesses back into downtown.

“Stan Loucks and Kathianne Snaden are real class acts, they ran a nice race and I really gained a good deal of respect for them,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re all residents and we want to see Port Jefferson succeed
and thrive.”

Incumbent trustee Loucks said the vote was a mandate to move forward with current plans.

“The village has spoken, I think the village is happy with the administration, and they came out today to support them,” he said. “They know we are on the right track, and I think in two to three years we will have proven it to them.”

Newcomer candidate Snaden was close to tears as she spoke to the crowd in Old Fields, saying she looks at Loucks as a father figure and Garant as a “wonder woman.”

“Thank you to everyone who believed in me and supported me” she said. “I plan to do what I said all along, and that is to be the voice of the families in the village.”

Trustee candidate Tracey Stapleton said she wishes the best for those elected, and that hopefully the village can come together after what was a divisive time for a few months.

Mayor Margot Garant addresses the crowd at Old Fields Restaurant the night of June 18. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I hope everyone can be a little together now,” she said. “Just work to get Port Jeff on a good path.”

Garant has been mayor of Port Jeff for close to a decade, and in that time has been head of the village through numerous hurdles, from Upper Port being declared with blight to the settlement with the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over the Port Jefferson Power Station.

LaValle was councilperson and supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven from 1996 to 2005. Afterward he became Suffolk County Republican Party chairperson, advocating for Republican causes for over a decade before stepping down at the beginning of this year. 

The Port Jefferson Village Center bustled with activity June 18 as thousands braved the rain, streamed through the doors and huddled over election ballots.

This year’s mayoral race has been contentious, as camps of supporters for Garant and LaValle butted heads over a number of issues, including the blight in Upper Port, empty storefronts downtown and the tax assessment settlement between the Town of Brookhaven and the Long Island Power Authority over its Port Jefferson Power Station.

Garant said she was looking forward to another two years as village head.

“I’m elated I get to work two more years for the village,” she said. “Just want to thank the people who trusted me, I wish my opponents well, and we’re going to carry on.”

 

Village Mayor Margot Garant, left, and John Jay LaValle, right. File photos

As signs for both candidates are loudly displayed across the village in preparation for the June 18 vote, mayoral challenger John Jay LaValle and incumbent Mayor Margot Garant stepped into the TBR News Media offices June 10 to share real policy about the ongoing issues in Port Jeff.

Staff issues

LaValle has made clear his issues with some village employees. Specifically, he referenced Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood. He has compared it to Patchogue, where two parking meter officers are each paid just under $65,000 annually to write tickets and manage the meters. 

Wood is paid a similar salary to the two officers, though Garant said he is in charge of repairs and IT work involving the way the meters send information to the code enforcement in regard to timed meters. She added Wood has been involved in other village programs, such as the Jitney and cameras around the village.

“He runs around the village in addition to what he oversees in our parking,” she said.

LaValle called that a false equivalency between Patchogue and Port Jeff’s parking administrations. He called Wood “your [public relations] guy” — there’s not a moment I don’t see him following you around with a camera.”

Garant said in addition to his duties as village employee, he creates video for the village with his company FPS Inc. at $12,000 a year.

“He never does that when he’s on the clock, he’s always off the clock.” Garant said.

LaValle said he does not believe Wood was qualified for the position.

Crime

LaValle said the uptown area has become intense in its illicit activity and said there has not been enough done to rectify it. He cites prostitution, drug dealing and a murder that occurred in July of last year just outside the Port Jefferson Billiards BDM.

He said in speaking to law enforcement that numerous buildings are fronts for drugs and prostitution, and they are currently collecting data.

“We literally have a slum right in front of us,” he said. “It’s literally a ghetto, and that’s the kind of thing that occurs there.”

The mayor said she talked consistently with the Suffolk County Police Department about illicit activity in Upper Port. She called her current relationship with the SCPD “the best it has been,” and added the security cameras having been hooked up to the county’s Real Time Crime Center is making strides in enforcing a police presence.

Garant said code enforcement is up at the station for every train and has helped bring in MTA police into the station, but she added they have no powers of arrest and can only create a presence and deal with immediate situations while waiting for police.

LaValle said the major issue with why crime has become so bad in Upper Port is due to the lethargic rate of the area’s revitalization.

Upper Port Jeff revitalization

Garant said part of the issue in redeveloping Upper Port comes down to the developers and owners of the uptown properties to manage their buildings. She said they had assisted in getting certain property owners government grants to demolish a particular property, but the negotiations with other developers stalled that progress and the grant funds were timed out, adding the problem is owners need to amass enough property in order to start real construction.

“We’re doing everything we can between revising the code, getting state grant money and partner to make applications to state agencies,” she said. 

As a last resort, she said the village would have to use eminent domain on these particular properties.

The mayoral challenger said in speaking with developers they are upset with the village, mostly in terms of getting permits for their properties. He said the planning staff have been restrictive in getting their applications through, except for specific developers.

“It shouldn’t take 10 years to take what is clearly an eyesore and turn it into a thriving uptown,” he said. “We need to bring the project to a finish, give the individuals their permits.”

The mayor said none of the developers are currently in the application process for permits. 

“The fact that people keep throwing the planning department under the rails … if he doesn’t have an application in,” she said.

She added the village is waiting for the Conifer Realty property, located in the old Bada Bing parcel, before putting in Station Street as part of her administration’s Uptown Funk project.

“You have to be careful with the density you give them, we’re only talking about four small blocks here,” Garant said.

The mayoral challenger said he does not support the Conifer development, citing an experience with them in Brookhaven Town and a need for “workforce housing, not affordable housing,” saying that affordable will eventually become Section 8 housing. He said village code should be changed to mandate affordable units in any new apartment complexes.

How the village will resist floods

With the potential for future storm surges and the threat of rising tides, Garant said the village is currently bringing a presentation to the Long Island Economic Development Council to request grant funding in terms of flood mitigation and stormwater runoff. 

She added that her administration is spending money to scope out the village’s drainage system, and the village is looking to find ways to absorb the water so it does not flood onto the village’s hardscape. 

“We’re in a bowl … these are low-lying marshland areas, it’s a great challenge,” she said. “There’s no magic bullet.”

LaValle said the village needs to look globally when it comes to flood mitigation.

“You got to bring in the best of the best, and I don’t know if we’re doing that,” he said.

Port Jefferson residents can vote on mayor and trustee candidates Tuesday, June 18, at the Village Center from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

From left, John Jay LaValle, Margot Garant, Tom Meehan, Stan Loucks, Tracy Stapleton and Kathianne Snaden at the June 6 meet-the-candidates night. Photo by David Ackerman

A crowd packed itself as tight as sardines into the Village Center June 6, all to have the six people looking to be the village’s next mayor and trustees show just what makes them worthy of residents’ votes.

Four people are looking to fill two trustee seats, while two heavy hitters are asking for residents’ vote for mayor. The Resident’s First Party includes candidate John Jay LaValle and newcomer trustee candidates Tom Meehan and Tracy Stapleton. The Unity Party includes incumbent Mayor Margot Garant, trustee Stan Loucks and newcomer candidate Kathianne Snaden.

Turn to Page 5 to read  a number of highlights from the near-three-hour debate.

Impact of the LIPA settlement and glide path

With the settlement between the Town of Brookhaven, Port Jefferson Village and Long Island Power Authority into its second year, candidates disagree just how much of an impact the loss in tax revenue from the power plant will have.

Unity Party candidates said that while the Shipyard apartments still have a few years to go before their Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement is up, that, and new and incoming apartment complexes, will help offset the loss of revenue from the LIPA settlement while they look for means to repurpose the plant in the near future.

“The average home is only paying $35 per year more in taxes, and that’s in year two of the glide path,” Snaden said.

Port Jefferson candidates say their piece. Photo by David Ackerman

The incumbent trustee added the village has already started attempting to take over some school programs to help offset their revenue loss, including sports programs.

Meanwhile, Residents Party candidates say increased taxes will hurt some residents more than others.

“Fortunately, I can afford them, but I have a 90-year-old mother in the village, and I’m not sure she can,” Meehan said.

LaValle said the glide path will only do more harm to the village, which will need to cut spending. He added that “it’s not a glide path, it’s a free fall.”

Wages of Port Jefferson employees

Residents First candidates targeted some $10,000 raises that certain employees received in this year’s budget. Meehan said they would need to look at those employees and other programs would “need to be looked at” to help offset lost tax revenue.

Garant fired back saying those employees got raises that need to compete with wages they could receive in the private sector. “They all work hard, and as far as I’m concerned, we would pay them more if we could,” she said.

School safety

Snaden was adamant that not enough has been done to facilitate communications between the school district and village officials in case of an emergency. She cited a school shooting threat for the Port Jefferson high school that was posted to social media in February 2018.

“There was zero communication between the school district and village residents,” she said, especially in knowing where children would be located if they were evacuated. 

The district had sent an email to parents that night of the scare, though Snaden said she had contacted the mayor’s office and said they were unaware the investigation was ongoing. She said the district should have some sort of information pipeline to the village in case of emergencies. She says nothing has been done since she brought this proposal to the district.

Meehan, the Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal, took exception to this. 

“I’ve been involved in many emergency situations,” he said. “We do have plans, we don’t make them public. We do not want the bad guy finding out about them.”

He added, in terms of evacuations, the district did not want to initially reveal where students would be evacuated in order to aid in their safety and the parents’ safety.

“We can’t have the parents all rushing up to the schools,” he said.

Business in Port Jeff

LaValle and his party have made empty storefronts a big part of their campaign, saying during the debate the number of businesses filing tax grievances will lead to higher taxes for residents. He specifically hit on issues of blight uptown.

“It does not take 10 years to do that project,” he said. “Like I did in the Town of Brookhaven, I will establish an architectural and historical review board that will maintain the integrity … of our heritage.”

Garant responded it has not taken 10 years, but the village had constructed a master plan that was adopted in 2016, not to mention the blight review study and other state-mandated tasks a municipality must complete before an area can be redeveloped after it is declared blighted.

“We don’t have a lot of space, and we’re trying to encourage the right developer, a careful developer, someone who is going to be in tune with the Village of Port Jefferson.”

Port Jefferson candidates say their piece. Photo by David Ackerman

She specifically cited The Hills complex in Upper Port.

The candidates largely agreed on the importance of these new apartment complexes for incentivizing walkability and patronizing businesses, though Stapleton in particular emphasized the need for finding ways to speed up the permitting process for new businesses coming into the village.

“It’s too difficult and it takes too long,” she said.

Garant said they have had multiple projects go up in less than two years’ time from start to finish, and pointed to places like Chandler Square, where she said a previous board had allowed buildings with a lack of parking spaces.

“When a building is put down by a board that just expedites, they have 12 parking spaces for that entire building right on a three-lane road,” she said.

LaValle said businesses are leaving because the village is not business friendly, pointing to Brewology which moved to Huntington.

“We’ve got to clean this place up first,” he said. “We have to improve our image.”

Loucks said the major issues come in the form of rents, which he said can be as high as $37,000 like it had in the case of the now-empty Gap building. Unity Party candidates said the board was working with the landlord to help in acquiring a new tenant. They also cited a new business, an Italian restaurant, coming into the old Graceful Rose property.

“Things aren’t as bad as they sound,” Loucks said.

Check back later today for a one-on-one breakdown of the mayoral candidate’s positions.

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Voting for the 2019 village elections will take place 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the Village Center. File Photo by Heidi Sutton

The race for Port Jefferson mayor has heated up, and like an overfilled spaghetti pot has boiled over and started to burn the table we eat from.

Conversation online has started to grow toxic in several places. There is room for discussion about the past history of both candidates, but it has to be based in the realm of fact. The Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a meet-the-candidates night this Thursday, June 6, from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Village Center. It is the perfect time to ask the pertinent questions, but there should be a number of facts that every villager is on the same page with before the start of the meeting.

Falsehood: “[X] candidate does not live within the village!”

Both candidates live within village limits and have for several years. Mayor Margot Garant lives in the westernmost portion of the village, while newcomer John Jay LaValle lives in The Highlands at Port Jefferson.

Falsehood: “John Jay LaValle was indicted of corruption while town supervisor!” 

This one is often a confused topic. LaValle was the Brookhaven Town supervisor from 1996 to 2005, when he stepped down from his position and later moved on to be Suffolk County Republican chairman. While others in the Republican Party were indicted for corruption around that time, no official charges were ever brought against the candidate.

Falsehood: “Garant took out a campaign ad against LaValle trying to discredit him!”

The May 30 edition of The Port Times Record newspaper contained an advertisement from Taking Action Suffolk County, a nonprofit that is involved in electing Democrats over Republicans. The ad asked for people to vote for Garant, but the ad was paid for by TASC, which stated on the ad it was not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

Falsehood: “Village officials are specifically targeting LaValle signs!”

After certain Residents First Party candidates got heated over issues involving their signs several weeks ago, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. looks to set the record straight.

He was originally told by an official in the village that signs were not allowed on public property, which is correct according to Village Attorney Brian Egan, but he was also told that anything 3 feet from the curb is prohibited as an easement.

“They did not want me to take signs off easements,” he said, admitting it was a mistake not to ask another village official first. 

The acting chief said he uses Tuesdays to do paperwork and other administration duties, and usually dresses in plain clothes to do that work. He also takes his personal vehicle to Village Hall on Tuesdays, as he said he doesn’t wish to waste taxpayer money using a public safety vehicle.

On his way to work he drives around the village interacting with homeless populations, but he also noticed several signs along his way that were on public property, and others on residential property right next to the road near St. Charles Hospital. Another sign was in front of The Steam Room seafood restaurant in the garden facing the road, which he originally thought was public property. He said once he learned it was not village property, he took that sign and replaced “in the same holes I took it.”

He added that he did not know where the signs removed in the residential section were precisely, and those signs were instead picked up by trustee candidate Tom Meehan, of the Residents First Party. Leute said the event became a big misunderstanding.

“There was no malice against LaValle,” he added.

Garant and Leute have confirmed signs are not being taken down from private property by village officials.

The story that appeared in the June 6 edition of the Port Times Record stated Margot Garant lived near the country club. Her mother, Jeanne Garant, lives in that portion, while Margot lives in the western portion of the village.

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Mayor responds saying both parties should be aware of code

A Residents First Party sign in front of a Port Jeff home. Photo by Kyle Barr

This post was updated June 5 to add comments by Fred Leute Jr.

After certain Residents First Party candidates got heated over issues involving their signs several weeks ago, acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute Jr. looks to set the record straight.

He was originally told by an official in the village that signs were not allowed on public property, which is correct according to Village Attorney Brian Egan, but he was also told that anything 3 feet from the curb is prohibited as an easement.

“They did not want me to take signs off easements,” he said, admitting it was a mistake not to ask another village official first. 

The acting chief said he uses Tuesdays to do paperwork and other administration duties, and usually dresses in plain clothes to do that work. He also takes his personal vehicle to Village Hall on Tuesdays, as he said he doesn’t wish to waste taxpayer money using a public safety vehicle.

On his way to work he drives around the village interacting with homeless populations, but he also noticed several signs along his way that were on public property, and others on residential property right next to the road near St. Charles Hospital. Another sign was in front of The Steam Room seafood restaurant in the garden facing the road, which he originally thought was public property. He said once he learned it was not village property, he took that sign and replaced “in the same holes I took it.”

He added that he did not know where the signs removed in the residential section were precisely, and those signs were instead picked up by trustee candidate Tom Meehan, of the Residents First Party. Leute said the event became a big misunderstanding.

“There was no malice against LaValle,” he added.

Garant and Leute have confirmed signs are not being taken down from private property by village officials.

Original Story:

It’s a sign the Port Jeff mayoral and trustee race is heating up as signs, specifically political signs, lead to friction between candidates.

John Jay LaValle, who is running for mayor alongside trustee candidates Thomas Meehan and Tracy Stapleton, said he and Meehan received calls the morning of May 14 saying a black Ford SUV was traveling around the village taking political signs from people’s lawns.

Later, while at Village Hall, LaValle said he saw the SUV, a black Ford Escape, in the parking lot and learned it belonged to acting Chief of Code Enforcement Fred Leute.

“We’re pretty upset, we’re trying to play fair, and it really kind of bothered me.”

— Tom Meehan

“We find out he was driving his personal car, in civilian clothes, not his uniform, driving around on government time taking down his boss’s opponents signs,” LaValle said.

Brian Egan, the village attorney, said village code disallows residents to place signs on the right-of-ways of a public street or walkway. It also allows residents to put up political signs on their public property for 30 out of a 60-day period and can be placed anywhere on said private property.

Village Clerk Bob Juliano confirmed that signs may be placed anywhere on private property and that some of the signs should not have been taken.

In an interview, Leute said that two of the signs were on public property, but another few were on private land. He admitted to making the mistake in taking those signs, and code enforcement would no longer be enforcing political signage, instead referring them to the public works department.

Village Mayor Margot Garant said her campaign and LaValle’s received an email from Juliano May 6 about the need to keep signs from public property. She added code enforcement removed signs from both candidates and put notes on each one explaining why they were taken. 

“Both of our signs were taken,” the mayor said. “I had a conversation with John [LaValle], and I said you got guys volunteering, I got guys volunteering. We both got guys who are overzealous — it’s going to happen … it’s about keeping the village from looking like a war zone right now.”

Meehan confirmed hearing about a number of signs taken down near where he lives, and had received calls that the car was a black Ford Escape. People calling him had reported a man picking up their signs and putting them into the back of the car.

“We’re pretty upset, we’re trying to play fair, and it really kind of bothered me,” Meehan said. “For him to take the signs … it takes a lot of brass. Him, in his private car, and I don’t know if he was working at the time and who directed him to do this.”

Though people involved did not agree on the number of signs, among them were a few Unity Party signs — the party featuring Garant, trustee Stan Loucks and trustee candidate Kathianne Snaden  — and one or two additional school board candidate signs.

“Fred is the chief — he’s the chief all the time, 24/7.”

— Margot Garant

The signs were brought to Juliano, who later returned them to the residents. 

Meehan said he was told the removed signs “were on right-of-ways, and two were too close to the road.”

“The courts have said political signage has wider protection than commercial signage,” Egan said.

LaValle took particular exception with Leute using his personal vehicle to remove the signs, instead of a code enforcement vehicle. Garant, meanwhile, said there was nothing necessarily wrong with how the acting chief did it. The acting chief said he uses his personal car on Tuesdays as he spends most of that particular day doing paperwork.

“Fred is the chief — he’s the chief all the time, 24/7,” the mayor said.

The mayoral candidate said he has reason to believe Leute acted under the current mayor’s orders to target his signs directly.

Meehan, Edna Louise Spear Elementary School principal, said he and his party had been efficient in removing signs from where they were not supposed to be, such as in right-of-ways. He added he has heard recent reports of people, not necessarily code enforcement, removing their signs from people’s lawns.

“I wasn’t looking for this kind of a fight, and I’m not saying I’m going to fight dirty,” Meehan said. “Just makes me even more sure I want to win this thing.”

Updated May 23 to correct name of trustee candidate to Kathianne Snaden.

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Village Mayor Margot Garant, left, and John Jay LaValle, right. File photos

Both sets of candidates gearing up for the Port Jefferson village mayor and trustees race will be available soon for two separate “meet and greets.”

The Residents First Party, which includes John Jay LaValle, Tom Meehan and Tracy Stapleton, will be at Harbor Grill located at 111 West Broadway in Port Jefferson April 15 from 6 to 8 p.m.

Contributions are encouraged but not required. Checks can be made payable to Residents First Party.

Prospective attendees must RSVP by April 12 to John Jay LaValle at pjpresidentsfirst@gmail.com.

Meanwhile, the Unity Party, with current Mayor Margot Garant, current Trustee Stan Loucks and trustee candidate Kathianne Snaden will be available at the Waterview at the Port Jefferson Country Club April 16 from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

A suggested donation is $75 per individual and $125 per couple. People must RSVP at unityparty2019@gmail.com

Check back soon for more village election coverage.

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John Jay LaValle in Harborfront Park. Photo by Kyle Barr

The cold race for Port Jefferson village mayor just turned hot as a new contender has stepped up to bat, one whose face has appeared large in politics, even on the national stage.

John Jay LaValle, the now retired chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee and village resident said he will be running for mayor of Port Jefferson.

“We need a fresh set of eyes to see how we can assist, revitalize and rejuvenate the Village of Port Jefferson,” LaValle said in an exclusive interview with TBR News Media. 

LaValle announced he is running alongside known villagers Tom Meehan, the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, and Tracy Stapleton, a local attorney and secretary on the Port Jefferson Free Library board of trustees.

The veteran of politics and local government said he is running mainly to bring back business to the village, which he said was vacating Port Jeff at an alarming rate. He pointed to the multiple empty storefronts both uptown and downtown, and to specific businesses that recently closed their doors, such as Kimi Japanese Restaurant at the end of 2018. He also cites a lack of foot traffic and the seasonal nature of many of the local businesses, which create uneven amounts of patronage throughout the year. On the other hand, he pointed to villages such as Patchogue, which after years of revitalization work has become a booming hub of small businesses, restaurants and bars.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about the village of Port Jefferson.”

— John Jay Lavalle

“The morale in the village needs a bit of a boost,” he said. “You need to encourage the property owners. You can create in government a lot of incentives, expedite applications, rewrite the code to relax certain tax provisions that might be constrictive and restrictive, that’s a simple thing.”

Though he knows Port Jeff as a whole would largely reject the idea of creating a large bar scene, LaValle said he would look to attract young professionals to live and work inside the village, along with expediting the process for businesses to take root in the village and change the village code if necessary.

“If I move my office into the village, I have my employees, myself and my clients who are going to go to lunch every day,” he said. “My clients who are going to see me are going to stop off at different stores. Maybe it creates foot traffic.”

LaValle first held elected office when he was a Town of Brookhaven councilman in 1996. In 2000, he was elected as town supervisor as the youngest man elected to the position. After leaving as town head in 2005, he later became the chairman of the county Republican committee and was a delegate for President Donald Trump (R) in New York’s 1st District during the 2016 Republican National Convention and acted as media surrogate for him on the campaign trail. After the election in November 2018, where LaValle aided U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) into another term, the now ex-chairman said he wanted to get the Republican candidate for Suffolk County executive, the county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), settled before he left his countywide position.

LaValle said it was a good question why he would move from a position of sometimes national focus to one in small local government, but he explained it came down to him having a need to take charge when he sees an issue.

LaValle stepped down from the head of the Republican committee March 18, and he said he wants to avoid partisan politics at the head this hyperlocal elected position. He said people he knew personally have asked him to run for the position before, but he did not consider it seriously until after the congressional election in 2018, knowing he was likely on his way out.

“It’s not about politics, it’s about the village of Port Jefferson,” he said.

Election day is June 18. Five-time mayor Margot Garant told TBR News Media she plans to seek re-election. Trustee Larry LaPointe has already announced he will not seek re-election, though petitions seeking re-election still have to be filed by all candidates. Trustee Stan Loucks’ seat is also up for election. Come June 18, whichever two candidates get the highest number of votes will receive the trustee seats. 

Two community members announce their runs alongside LaValle

Running alongside John Jay LaValle are Tracy Stapleton and Tom Meehan for the trustee positions, both who have deep ties to area functions. Stapleton is on the library board of trustees, has worked on the prom committee and is a member of the village zoning board as well.

Tracy Stapleton

The trustee candidate said she is especially interested in making the process easier to bring businesses into the village.

“There’s a lot of empty storefronts, and I would like to see if I can make it easier to bring more people in, get the stores rented,” Stapleton said. “The process seems to be hard to get people in there, they’re finding it hard to get people in.”

“We like our quaint little village.”

— Tracy Stapleton

She also said she would look at parking enforcement, specifically saying current attention to parking is an issue which she has seen with the Port Jeff free library, which she said loses visitors to Comsewogue.

She added she has spoken with LaValle and believes she can work with him, having agreed that more needs to be done to bring businesses into the community. She would also like to look at more beautification projects within the village, whether its creating additional flower beds or putting fresh coats of paint on old structures.

“We like our quaint little village,” she said. “We like that you can walk around. I like everything the village does, especially in the summer. We just need to make it easier.”

Thomas Meehan

Meehan said he and his family are embedded in the village, having graduated from Port Jefferson High School and having his mother, and two of his sons as homeowners within it. Along with being the principal of Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, he is also an elected commissioner of the Port Jefferson Fire District.

He said he has considered running for village office for several years, and after having conversations with LaValle, said he thought now would be the best time to run

“I don’t do anything without making plans,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of aspects in the community. I’ve always had in the back of my mind someday I’d run for office.”

Along with Stapleton and LaValle, he is also concerned about the loss of business in downtown. He added he is also concerned with certain commercial developments, specifically the tax breaks given to the Shipyard apartment complex along West Broadway.

Principal Tom Meehan is all smiles with returning students on the first day of school. File photo

He promised to add his voice to problems such as downtown flooding and erosion along east beach and the Port Jefferson Country Club. He also has his reservations about the proposed apartment and retail space at the Cappy’s Carpets location

“We can’t put all the burden on the backs of the residents,” he said. “It seems not much thought is put into a lot of what we’re doing. I’m not pleased with some of the endeavors we’ve taken in the past several years.”

The elementary school principal added he would do what he could to reign in some of the village constables, who he said have been too proactive in placing tickets on residents’ cars. 

“That’s how they subsidize the constables,” he said.

While he said he is largely on the same page as Stapleton and LaValle when it comes to business in Port Jeff, he said he wants to remain autonomous in his decisions.

“I’m very independent,” he said. “I can work with whoever, but I make my own decisions.” 

While he plans to finish out the remaining years of his term as fire commissioner, he is still considering what he would do as elementary school principal should he win as village trustee. 

“I said I’d be here five years — I’ve been here eight, after I’ve already retired” he said. “If I’m elected, I’ll have to look at my role here.”

Donates food to St. James' nonprofit after servicemen and women were displaced from Northport VA home

St. James residents William Mountzouros, Robert Cornicelli and Allan Fajardo, members of nonprofit Veterans for a More Responsive Government, deliver donated food to residents on the day of Super Bowl LII. Photo from Robert Cornicelli

On the day of the big game, Tommy O’Grady was the real patriot.

The owner of Miller Place’s Tuscany Gourmet Market donated food for 107 local veterans to make sure the servicemen and women could enjoy Super Bowl LII. Original plans had been to prepare a feast for 40 veterans at the VA Northport Beacon House Homeless Shelter through Veterans for a More Responsive Government, a nonprofit working to increase the public’s awareness of harassment and mistreatment of disabled U.S. veterans. Pipes burst at the Beacon House, and the veterans were split up and moved to nine different homes after making plans to watch the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots duke it out. When O’Grady was approached with the change of plans, he didn’t hesitate to alter his.

Tommy O’Grady, owner of Tuscany Gourmet Market in Miller Place, donated feasts for local veterans in need. File photo

“I have a gifted life, I’m doing well right now, and to see people who put their lives on the line and did their time in need, it’s not right,” O’Grady said. “For me, to give this to them, it’s the only way to say, ‘Thank you.’”

O’Grady had been connected with Robert Cornicelli, founder of Veterans for a More Responsive Government, through his childhood friend and Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle. The two grew up in Centereach together, and when LaValle was approached by Cornicelli asking first for help stretching his $540 into food for 40, he knew who to call.

“Tommy is the type of guy I’m almost afraid to talk in front of because God forbid you mention somebody is in need, he jumps right on it in two seconds,” the chairman said. “I was so embarrassed to call him back and tell him there’d been a change of plans, but when Robert went in to sit with him after the vet relocations he still said ‘I’ve got everything.’ They were stunned — they literally had tears in their eyes. They couldn’t believe how generous he was going to be. That’s a hell of a donation.”

Cornicelli, who served in the United States Army from 1986 to 1994 and retuned as a captain until his retirement in November 2017, has provided meals for veterans around the holidays for some time, but officially founded his nonprofit this year. A disabled veteran himself, he’s undergone four back surgeries, knee surgery and foot surgery, and said while his mission this time around was to make the party happen despite the setback, he said he hopes a mindfulness for the needs of veterans emerges.

“If everyone did what Tommy did, there’d be a lot fewer problems in this world, that’s for sure — certainly there wouldn’t be any world hunger.”

— John Jay LaValle

“The conditions at the Beacon House are horrible,” he said. “I took photos of moldy walls, ceilings, it’s disguising.”

O’Grady said he wanted to donate the not-so-standard London broil and balsamic chicken heroes, wings, salads and cookie trays so that the money Cornicelli had raised, matched with a donation from LaValle’s Republican National Committee funds, could go toward repairs.

“Robert is passionate about this, and I’m just backing him,” the Tuscany Market owner said. “We’re making it all happen for him. We want to raise awareness, so people can come together to get this home fixed.”

Cornicelli teamed up with fellow St. James residents William Mountzouros, a volunteer, and Allan Fajardo, a veteran, to drop off the food at the various veteran homes. Fajardo said he has been directly affected by Cornicelli. The Honduras native served in the Army from 1994 to 2016, and enlisted Cornicelli. He returned to the states a homeless veteran, and his friend opened his home to him, providing food and shelter. With the help of LaValle and former Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Fajardo earned part-time jobs within Smithtown and Brookhaven towns, eventually becoming an investigator for the Town of Islip.

“It’s thanks to those guys that I’m here,” Fajardo said. “When I saw the work [Cornicelli] was doing I immediately hopped on board. It’s a great feeling helping out brothers and sisters in need.”

Forty veterans were displaced after pipes burst at the VA Northport Beacon House Homeless Shelter. File photo

LaValle said seeing the groups of “good guys” come together has been mental therapy for him.

“It’s a tough world right now,” he said. “It’s a very hostile world at times. This is something that’s been really rewarding because you learn you may think you have it bad, and you may be whining about something, but it’s very true that there’s always someone out there who has it worse. Now I want to do more to help out.”

He pointed to Cornicelli and O’Grady as prime examples of model citizens.

“If everyone did what Tommy did, there’d be a lot fewer problems in this world, that’s for sure — certainly there wouldn’t be any world hunger,” he said, laughing. “And what Robert is doing is absolutely wonderful, he deserves a lot of credit.”

But on the day of the Super Bowl, Cornicelli called O’Grady the real hero, who donated much more than just heroes.

“I never met the guy in my life, and he tells me he’s taking care of the whole thing. It’s unbelievable,” Cornicelli said. “He broke everything down to the exact amount needed to feed the veterans at each location, and it’s an amazing feeling when these guys’ eyes are wide open, saying, “This is what we’re getting?” rather than bagged lunches. It’s refreshing to see guys helping out. Tommy, he’s one of the greatest patriots I’ve ever met.”

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle at his Holtsville office. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Republican hadn’t won Suffolk County in 24 years. The 2016 presidential election was out of the ordinary on dozens of levels, a fact that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency and helped him to become the first Republican candidate to win Suffolk County since George H.W. Bush in 1992. Trump received just 36.5 percent of the vote in New York state, though 52.5 percent of Suffolk voters selected the first-time political candidate. John Jay LaValle — arguably the most influential Republican in Suffolk politics — played a massive role in securing that victory.

During an exclusive interview at his Holtsville office April 18, the Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman shed light on Trump’s surprising victory locally and nationally, his life in politics, serving as a Trump surrogate and the future of the party.

The state of the party

LaValle, 49, who has been in his current position since 2009, endorsed Trump about a year ago during a campaign event in Bethpage, calling him the most important presidential candidate in modern history.

“I wasn’t happy over the last several years on how the Republican Party — let’s say over the past decade — how the party dealt with the Obama Administration,” LaValle, an attorney by trade, said, sitting at his desk, his eyes glancing up intermittently at a muted television fixed on Fox News throughout the conversation. He said the GOP’s singular purpose, to its detriment, had become opposing former President Barack Obama (D). “We’d become a party without a compass. We didn’t have a purpose.”

John Jay LaValle speaks during an election night party for Lee Zeldin in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

He added he thought it was a mistake for the party to be so focused on social issues, especially because public sentiment was heading in the opposite direction from the traditional Republican ideologies on most.

By the time of his formal endorsement April 9 at that Bethpage rally, only Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) were still alive in the Republican primary process, though LaValle said he made his decision to endorse Trump when he was still in a field of 17 candidates.

“I’m from…what someone would consider to be the establishment of the Republican Party,” LaValle said. “So when I came out and endorsed Donald Trump everyone was like, ‘what?’ And even people, my own cousin, was like ‘what are you doing?’ Everyone thought I was crazy. But one of the things that very much attracted me to Donald Trump was that I really thought that he would be someone that would perform a radical change to the Republican Party.”

LaValle’s cousin is New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), a mainstay in the state senate since 1976. Both are residents of Port Jefferson.

The chairman bought what Trump was selling, and encouraged Suffolk voters to do the same. He said Trump’s position that the government was “broken” and needed an outsider to fix it resonated for him, and believes it’s what voters liked about him locally.

“When I became a councilman in Brookhaven Town in 1996, the dominant issue was illegal immigration, and its effect on the housing,” he said. LaValle would later go on to be the youngest supervisor in Brookhaven’s history. In 2001 he took control at just 33 years old. “So here I was now in 2016, 20 years later and the dominant issue is still illegal immigration.”

LaValle said both Republicans and Democrats had squandered opportunities to make meaningful changes to immigration legislation, which is evidence of an inability in traditional politicians to get things done for their constituents in other areas, like creating jobs and jump-starting the economy.

Trump’s win has put a strain on the Republican Party and clouded its future, especially in light of record low approval ratings so early in his tenure. “Transformation” and “splintering” were two words LaValle didn’t deny were appropriate descriptors of the status of the party at the moment, though he said a polarization of politics is wreaking havoc on both parties.

He likened what’s going on now in the party to his days as Brookhaven Supervisor. He said he accomplished things that were atypical of Republican beliefs at the time, like enacting a $100 million Environmental Bond Act. He also said he was proud of actions he took like appointing women and African-Americans to leadership roles in the town — he named Cecile Forte, an African-American woman, the chair of the zoning board; and Marvin Colson, an African-American man the chair of the planning board — and consolidating town operations to a centralized location in Farmingville, where Brookhaven headquarters still stands.

“There’s…four different parties in this country right now instead of two, and while the liberals are trying to move the Democratic Party left, the conservatives are trying to pull the Republican Party right — it’s a very messy situation in the country,” he said. “You may look back 20 years from now and look at this particular time period in American history as a time period that actually created four major political parties in America. You can’t be a moderate on either side and be with the wings. It’s been too polarized.”

Although he said his job doesn’t entail influencing legislators about policy, the possibility of a splintering of the Republican Party could raise difficult questions for “establishment” Republican lawmakers who don’t join LaValle in subscribing to the book of Trump.

LaValle suggested Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and some other early signs bear this out — Trump campaigned to the right but is governing from a more moderate platform.

“Everyone thought I was crazy…I really thought that he would be someone that would perform a radical change to the Republican Party.”

— John Jay LaValle

“He doesn’t give a [expletive] about Republicans and Democrats and all that,” LaValle said of the president. “In fact, he was a Democrat. Then he became a Republican, but he was a moderate Republican. Then when he was running he became a very conservative Republican. From day one, I recollect him saying to me, ‘there’s only two things I want to do — I want to fix the economy and I want to get rid of this terrorism.’ He goes, ‘the rest of it, I could care less about.’”

The Trump presidency

Despite the missteps and uneasiness that have been hallmarks of Trump’s first 100 days in office, LaValle seemingly has no inclination to reverse course and distance himself from the president.

“I don’t criticize the boss in public,” he said.

After he endorsed Trump he went on to do about 160 television appearances as a surrogate for his candidate during 2016.

The chairman said he first met Trump several years ago when the businessman was considering a run for governor of New York, though little came of that meeting. The two met for the second time during the rally in Bethpage in 2016. Since, the two have spoken regularly by phone, and LaValle said he’d sat in on meetings at Trump Tower in the past, and even weighed in on policy when called upon by the man who currently occupies the highest office in the land.

“He runs his meetings like a game show — it’s phenomenal,” LaValle said. He told a story of the first time Trump called him on his cellphone and asked him to come to Manhattan for a meeting. LaValle said his friends instructed him to keep quiet, prepare to listen and limit his contribution to the meeting to “hello, Mr. Trump” and “goodbye, Mr. Trump.” Instead, LaValle said Trump repeatedly pressed him and others in the room for input on policy and issues, and he felt Trump genuinely listened to others’ opinions. LaValle said he once asked Trump why he valued his opinion so much.

“I trust you, and until you fail me that’s it, I’m going to rely on you,’” the chairman said Trump told him. That trust can be traced to a promise LaValle made to Trump in April 2016 after a campaign event at The Emporium in Patchogue, when he pledged to deliver Suffolk County for Trump during the Republican primary.

“When he was leaving he was telling me ‘oh you know what it cost me to come here? You know what I had to give up?’ I said ‘no, I appreciate that Mr. Trump, and I’m going to tell you right now — Suffolk County will be the number one county for you in the state of New York next Tuesday,’” LaValle said. “He said ‘well I’m going to hold you to that.’ I said ‘good, and I’m going to deliver.’ And we did. And he appreciated that.”

More than 72,000 Suffolk County residents chose Trump on primary day, to just 18,000 and 9,000 respectively for Kasich and Cruz.

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle at his Holtsville office. Photo by Alex Petroski

On another occasion, LaValle was forced to justify comments he made on CNN when he was asked to defend two “diametrically opposed” statements Trump had previously made.

“So my phone rings and he says, ‘what’s this about me evolving?’ And this is classic Donald Trump, by the way,” LaValle said. “So I said, ‘uh, excuse me?’ He goes ‘evolving, John — what’s this about me evolving? I’m watching TV and I hear you say that I’m evolving.’”

LaValle, laughing, said he thought he’d handled the situation beautifully.

“‘John, John, John — I’m not evolving. I’m running for president of the United States of America. I’m not evolving,’” he said Trump told him. “I said ‘well I understand sir, but what would you like me to say?’ He says ‘what would I like you to say? You say Donald Trump is the greatest candidate ever to run for president in the history of the United States.’”

LaValle said he later heard Kellyanne Conway, a key player in Trump’s campaign, use the word “evolving” on television, so he knew Trump was just blowing off steam at the time.

According to LaValle, another byproduct of the Trump presidency has been a head-on confrontation with debilitating political correctness, an aspect of Trump’s persona and platform that the chairman has found invaluable.

The chairman blamed gang violence on Long Island and heroin abuse to political correctness brought about by the Democrats.

“He’s made it okay to kind of tell it like it is — or at least like you see it,” LaValle said. “That was a big problem. In our country, we had gotten so bad at being politically correct that we weren’t allowed to like, even say certain things that were true.”

Attributing the rise of heroin abuse on Long Island to political correctness because of a lack of adequate border security addresses illegal drugs entering the country, but not a growing demand at home, which can be traced back to overprescribing of powerful pain medications, which then leads to heroin when prescriptions dry up.

The chairman offered strong defenses for Trump on issues that few have felt inclined to rush to justify — like supposed ties between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign, transition team and administration. He said the president hasn’t deviated from anything he’s said publicly about Russia. His desire has always been to improve relations, and contacts between his team and Russia make sense in striving to achieve that goal. When asked why the knee-jerk reaction from several associates is to deny said communications, LaValle said the media is granted no prior assumption that sources will respond to questions truthfully, though he said anyone who didn’t given honest answers is “destroying their credibility.”

Although LaValle insisted he didn’t criticize the boss in public, it’s not hard to take that concept and juxtapose it with the fact Trump has had issues as a result of publicly making false statements. The president said he won the most Electoral College votes (306) since President Ronald Reagan — in fact Obama won 332 four years ago and 365 in 2008, and going back to a Republican president Bush senior received more than Trump as well.

He walked the line on the comments Trump was caught on tape making to Billy Bush for Access Hollywood during a candid conversation neither party knew was being recorded.

“I mean I do feel bad that he got, kind of like set up, caught on tape with that whole grabbing thing,” he said. “I mean, I know so many guys that have said stupid things in their lifetime. We always just have the benefit of no one’s paying attention. And I’m not saying it’s right to do, don’t get me wrong, but that sucked for him to be caught on tape saying that.”

Even though he sympathized with Trump, he said earlier he understands why Trump’s own words could create a negative perception.

“It’s America, I guess they can do it. But it doesn’t make them any less sleazy and sleaze balls that they are. That’s what they’re doing. To me it’s a disgrace.”

— John Jay LaValle

“Saying Rosie O’Donnell is a fat slob, the stuff with Megyn Kelly, no, I could understand why there’s a perception that he’s a sexist, because he said things that are not appropriate,” he said.

In the beginning of the interview, LaValle described Trump as a brilliant businessman who understood he could say “something stupid just for the hell of it…he knew that’s the price he had to pay to get all of that free media,” and lauded him for “telling it like it is.”

Suffolk County

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has taken small steps to distance himself from the president of late, though unless something drastically changes, the race for his seat in the House as representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District in 2018 will serve as a referendum on the party of Trump in Suffolk County.

After upsetting U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who held the seat from 2003 to 2014, Zeldin defeated Anna Throne-Holst (D-Southampton) by 18 points to retain his seat in 2016. Zeldin’s big win was seen as an indicator of Trump’s success in the county because he was a strong supporter of Trump in 2016. Zeldin even proclaimed from the podium after the race was called on election night that he was excited to have the chance to “make America great again.”

Zeldin’s proximity to Trump has caused an uprising of some 1st District constituents since the election, with protests occurring throughout the past few months and demands for more access to the congressman. Still, LaValle isn’t concerned about Zeldin’s chances for reelection in 2018.

“Lee Zeldin is going to win big time in 2018,” he said. “I think the Democrat Party has shown itself to be frauds, crybabies, snowflakes and sore losers… It’s all a fraud. It’s not about — this isn’t a grassroots effort. These people are professionals. They’re being paid to be there and to organize individuals to disrupt town hall meetings of our duly elected representatives.”

Politico, an American political-journalism company has maintained there is zero evidence of protestors being paid. This rhetoric may seem familiar to some, as powerful Democratic leaders once made the same claim a few years back. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in 2009 Tea Party protestors disrupting town halls were funded by “the high end,” calling it “Astroturf,” meaning not an authentic grassroots movement, but something supported by benefactors.

“These people are a disgrace,” LaValle continued about the protestors. “It’s America, I guess they can do it. But it doesn’t make them any less sleazy and sleaze balls that they are. That’s what they’re doing. To me it’s a disgrace.”

In a phone interview, Zeldin said LaValle has been a strong ally during his political career. He also praised the job LaValle has done since taking over, noting a large shift in town and county seats in elected positions from blue to red during LaValle’s tenure, which he said the chairman played a role in.

“John is someone who can easily motivate a packed room of volunteers to want to campaign just a little harder and dig down a little bit deeper to help get across the finish line,” he said.

LaValle has been rumored to be a candidate to oppose Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) when he seeks reelection. He criticized the job Bellone has done in the position, saying the county’s finances have been “horribly mismanaged,” and said he doesn’t think Bellone is right for the job, though he didn’t offer any insight on his future aspirations.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ll know it when it happens,” LaValle said. “The one thing I learned is I would have never expected to have done what I did last year in a million years. It was just something that I probably never would even have fathomed. So one thing that I learned is don’t ever try to make your plans too specific. Keep it loose, keep it fluid and be ready for something exciting. I know one thing, it’s going to be something exciting and it’s going to be something big.”

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