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Leslie Kennedy

John, Jr. and Leslie Kennedy, of Nesconset, both serve as elected county officials. Photos from The Kennedys.

Nesconset resident Leslie Kennedy stepped into Giorgio’s of Nesconset Pizzeria & Restaurant Dec. 15, but not to grab a bite to eat. She had a busy day ahead. Her schedule only allowed for a short stop at the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce’s annual holiday luncheon. But the local business owners knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Kennedy would come by to say hello and ask how they were doing.

“Even though she only had 10 minutes, she came by to show her support,” said Christine DeAugustino, president of the Nesconset chamber. “We are so grateful for her support.”

It’s no surprise to residents when Suffolk Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) or her husband, county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), show up together at a business luncheon, parade, street fair, blood drive, civic association meeting or any number of local events.

“They are huge supporters of the local community,” DeAugustino said. “They are tremendous. Every time we have an event, her and her husband both come.”

Now both elected county officials, they have deep roots in public service and dedication to their constituents. John Kennedy Jr. was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature representing the 12th District in 2004, where he served for 10 years.

“John has been there from the very, very beginning when they were reconstructing Smithtown Boulevard, Rosevale Avenue and Gibbs Pond Road intersection,” said Martin Aponte, president of the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Nesconset.

John Kennedy Jr. was fundamental in securing the land for the memorial to first responders who died on 9/11 or as a result of 9/11-related illnesses, Aponte said, and even set aside his office’s roundtable space for the organization’s meetings. Leslie Kennedy has continued to set aside meeting space for the foundation since filling her husband’s shoes, being first elected to represent the 12th District in  the county Legislature in 2015.

They are extremely involved in the community, both John and Leslie, most of the time you’ll find them there. They have a very positive effect on the community.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“[Leslie]’s not only there for moral support for the chamber and businesses, she’s always there for me as a resource,” DeAugustino said. “She makes herself and the office available to the people of Nesconset as a resource.”

The Kennedys, together, have sponsored and help establish the chamber’s annual Nesconset Summer Concert Series which draws hundreds of residents to the Nesconset Gazebo each July and August.

“They are extremely involved in the community, both John and Leslie,” Smithtown Supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Most of the time you’ll find them there. They have a very positive effect on the community.”

Wehrheim said the county comptroller has always been responsive to Town of Smithtown’s tax questions and fiscal concerns.

“What he is there for, that I appreciate, is anytime we have a question he makes himself and his experience available to us,” Wehrheim said.

Similarly, the town officials are in frequent communication with the current legislator regarding how to best address and tackle the opioid issue in Smithtown and as a channel to communicate with Suffolk County police. The supervisor-elect said the Kennedys have been helpful in pushing the downtown revitalization of Kings Park forward at the county level through their respective offices.

This year, Legislator Kennedy secured the acquisition and preservation of the Hauppauge Springs property on the south side of Route 347 in Hauppauge, preserving open space at the headwaters of the Nissequogue River. It’s been sitting on the county’s master list of environmentally sensitive priority properties for more than 20 years, dating back to when she worked as a legislative aide.

The legislator has called it one of her biggest victories, one she hopes will be remembered as part of her legacy. It was a priority, she said, to protect the environment and help ensure safe drinking water for local residents.

 

Suffolk County district attorney candidate Tim Sini and sheriff candidate Larry Zacarese during recent visits to the TBR News Media office. Photos by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County District Attorney

A fresh start for DA’s office

It’s no secret that Suffolk County’s District Attorney office is in desperate need of a culture change. The allegations-turned charges against Thomas Spota (D), who held the position since 2001, have created public distrust in a position that requires it. The district attorney decides who gets charged with crimes, and a lack of confidence in the integrity of the person leading that position creates a tangled web of problems Suffolk County residents shouldn’t have to worry about.

To that end, Tim Sini (D) has dealt with a startlingly analogous situation as police commissioner, which ironically features many of the same players, and he’s handled it as well as anyone could have asked. Real progress is being made on the gang front, and we think his experience in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, coupled with his time as police commissioner are more than enough to put to bed concerns from people like his challenger about his age and relative inexperience.

On Ray Perini (R), we were mostly satisfied with his defenses of two scandals from his past brought to light during this campaign. However, at a time like this, the mere hint of possible wrongdoing in the position of district attorney is enough to continue damaging public perception of a position in need of a fresh start.

With all that being said, we’re endorsing Sini for Suffolk County district attorney.

Suffolk County Sheriff

A new sheriff in the county

With two new candidates boasting impressive work backgrounds running for Suffolk County sheriff, Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon, it was difficult deciding who to endorse. After much deliberation Zacarese gets our endorsement.

We believe Zacarese has done his homework when it comes to the job as sheriff and his experience at Stony Brook University as assistant chief of police and director of the Office of Emergency Management will be an asset. His position there is a well-rounded one. He is involved in operations, planning, mitigation, response and recovery and working with the installation of and maintenance of the electronic security system for more than 250 buildings.

He has also met with those on task forces dealing with the gang problems on Long Island to ensure that they are well staffed and good relationships between federal and local agencies are intact.

We hope that Toulon will continue to pursue a career in politics. With a great deal of experience in law enforcement including at Rikers Island, we can see him serving the county in the future, perhaps in a role such as police commissioner.

Suffolk County Legislator District 5

Hahn handles county business

Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has the experience to take care of business in the 5th Legislative District of Suffolk County, and we endorse her in her run for a fourth term as a county legislator.

Approachable and accessible, Hahn listens to the needs of her constituents.

The chairwoman of both the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee and Parks & Recreation Committee, she supports the county’s program to update septic systems, which will reduce nitrogen in our waters. In the past she has sponsored initiatives authorizing appraisal of lands under the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program.

She has been a steward for our local parks by tackling illegal dumping by increasing county penalties and creating programs for children to explore local public lands with her Parks Passport program.

We were impressed with her challenger Republican Edward Flood, and we hope he will continue to pursue a political career. A lawyer who is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), we believe Flood has the potential to serve in office, and as a supporter of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip, he has good ideas when it comes to bringing in more tax revenues while creating minimal disruption to residents.

Suffolk County Legislator District 6

Safe in Sarah Anker’s hands

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is focused on local issues.

Although legislative issues may reach further than that of the town, we appreciate the incumbent’s care and concern for her district’s constituents and the challenges they face, not just the ones that the county does.

We think she works diligently and closely with her constituents, making her the best candidate in this race. We commend her track record on issues like parks creation; protecting drinking water by prohibiting the acceptance of wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing; and her work with Father Frank Pizzarelli and Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson to try to quell opioid addiction.

Some of the points her Democratic opponent Gary Pollakusky made about the county’s lower bond rating, $2.1 billion debt and $200 million structural deficit are all causes for concern, but Anker is just one member of a larger group, and should not be held accountable for all of its ills or credited with all of its successes.

Pollakusky’s campaign style tends to be rough, even bullying. We are also concerned about the merits of his business ventures and nonprofit organization based on the odd mechanics of the website and social media.

Anker has shown leadership, being able to see the problem, recognizing who can solve the problem, getting in touch with the right people, putting them all together in a room and stepping back and letting the solution evolve. She listens to people and sees if she can help. We’re all for that.

Suffolk County Legislator District 12

Kennedy should keep at it

As her first full term in the Suffolk County Legislature comes to a close, we feel that Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) has proven to be a passionate, effective and caring leader for the 12th District.

Kennedy, a longtime nurse, is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her colleagues from both  sides of the aisle, whether it’s regarding hikes in county fees or public safety projects, and seems to have the residents’ needs in mind with every decision she makes. It’s very clear she is rattled by the county’s current financial situation and is doing everything in her power to make sure families and constituents have the opportunity to grow and thrive. She has also done plenty of research on a wide variety of issues not only in her district but Suffolk County as a whole, and seeks to find a pragmatic solution to every one of them.

Suffolk County Legislator District 13

Trotta tackles Suffolk’s issues

It’s important, and rare, in politics to have a watchdog in the ranks —  a whistle-blower who’s not afraid to call out colleagues and issues for the greater good. And there’s perhaps nobody on the local level with a louder bark than Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Trotta, a former county police officer, has for the last four years consistently fought in favor of making Suffolk County an easier and cheaper place to live for residents of all ages even at the expense of making enemies. He’s become the face of exposing corruption in the county, whether it’s egregious hikes in fees or the connection between campaign contributors and elected officials. He’s also on the front line of the debate against the Suffolk County Red Light Safety Program, which has been proven to increase accidents at busy intersections and seems to serve no other purpose than to collect more fees from residents.

His Democratic opponent Colleen Maher doesn’t appear to show any interest in campaigning and, as far as we know, is just a name to put on the ballot.

Trotta is brutally honest, a statistics and facts-based whiz and the very definition of a realist. He tells it like it is and actually backs up his accusations with ways to fix the problems.

As cynical as he is about the way the county runs, it’s apparent that Trotta still very much cares about the region and is rooting for it to turn around, especially for the sake of young people. He wants them to have an opportunity to grow and thrive here. And,  with him serving more terms as legislator, there’s a chance they will one day.

Suffolk County Legislator District 16

Bring Berland to the county

When it comes to Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District, we believe that Democratic hopeful Susan Berland has the experience and community knowledge needed fill the seat of termed-out Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

Berland has shown her devotion to the Town of Huntington’s residents by working full time as a councilwoman for the last 16 years, despite it being only a part-time position. She demonstrates a fine-tuned understanding of the taxpayers needs on multiple issues: sticking to a tight budget while maintaining town services and supporting affordable housing projects while promising to fight for preservation of open space.

Her prior work experience as a state assistant attorney general will give her insight into tackling the area’s challenges of combating gang violence and drug addiction. Public safety remains another big task.

While we applaud the efforts of Republican candidate Hector Gavilla in his first run for political office, he needs to gain a better grasp of a county legislator’s role and how national issues translate the local level first. It’s difficult to understand his position on some issues. Gavilla said he was strongly in favor of cutting back on Suffolk police officers’ salaries while simultaneously stating that the government should spare no expense in protecting the public’s safety, also noting that he would increase police patrols.

The next individual elected to the county legislature will need a nuanced, detailed understanding of budgets, contracts and smart growth, and we think Berland fits the bill.

Suffolk County Legislator District 18

Doc Spencer can fix Suffolk

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) has served admirably in his role representing the northern portion of Huntington township in the county’s 18th Legislative District for the last six years.

Spencer’s background as a licensed physician has given him the insight and experience to successfully tackle several serious health issues. Spencer’s résumé includes raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21; banning the marketing of energy drinks to youth; prohibiting the sale of powdered caffeine to minors and more. In our conversation with him, Spencer demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the different challenges the county faces in addressing the opioid and heroin problem.

While his Republican challenger Dom Spada raises legitimate concerns regarding Suffolk County’s fiscal situation, it is a crisis that every elected official is aware of and has spoken about at length. No one is arguing against cutting costs, but the bigger challenge is reaching a consensus on where to make cutbacks and trim programs.

We believe that Spencer is an overall stronger candidate to address the county’s pressing health needs and build the consensus in the Legislature needed to fix the county’s budget woes.

Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R) is being challenged by Democrat Kevin Hyms to represent Suffolk County’s 12th District. Photos by Kevin Redding

Two candidates vying to represent Suffolk’s 12th Legislative District Nov. 7 share a common ground on several key issues, making for a very respectful debate between a one-term incumbent Republican and her Democratic challenger.

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), a longtime nurse and former small business manager who was elected in 2015 to succeed her husband and now-county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), pledged to continue serving in her position “fulltime,” drawing businesses to the region and working to control as much county spending as possible.

Her Democratic opponent is Lake Ronkonkoma resident Kevin Hyms, a former environmental, health and safety engineer and prior Brookhaven Town board candidate who wants to put community ahead of politics.

“I want to protect and preserve our precious environment, provide incentives, career opportunities, workforce and affordable housing to keep our youth from migrating off here,” Hyms said during an Oct. 20 sit-down with Kennedy at the Times Beacon Record News Media office. “I believe in doing the right thing for Suffolk County and the community.”

Kennedy said she initially ran for office out of frustration seeing elected officials not doing what’s needed to improve Suffolk.

“It’s because I love where I live — I’ve lived in my district since 1958 and have no intention of ever retiring to Florida,” she said. “I don’t want to see this place destroyed, and more and more I see it becoming impossible to live here. We have to make drastic changes and have to start by developing the ability to say ‘no’. Now that we do not have a penny left to our names, I think the majority is getting it.”

Since being elected, Kennedy said she has voiced her concerns over the county’s financial problems by voting against all fee hikes introduced in the budget from mortgage fees to false home alarms which have been labeled “backdoor taxes.”

“I don’t lie to people,” she said. “We keep spending other people’s money and it makes me crazy. I don’t think a majority of people can afford this … and it’s our job to smack people into living within their means.”

Hyms, who has served on a number of community groups including the board of the Ronkonkoma Chamber of Commerce and Sachem PTA Council, agreed with Kennedy. He proposed further consolidating services within the county to minimize budget shortfalls and debt. The Democratic candidate wants to control the cost of the police department; provide overtime to younger officers instead of older, higher-salaried ones; and hopes to tackle the county’s drug problem by providing better prevention and treatment programs to elementary school students.

“We have to impact the children when they’re younger because by the time they hit middle school, that’s when the real problems occur,” Hyms said. “I don’t think we’re doing as good a job today as we used to with the  DARE program.”

Kennedy acknowledged the opioid and heroin issue as well, pointing to her 30 years of experience as a nurse and medical experience treating gang members.

“With education on drugs, we definitely have to start earlier, but we also have to teach our kids self-confidence and self-esteem,” the legislator said. There’s more pressure on children today created by their parents and society, and they’re being taught they must be superachievers.”

Both candidates share similar views on the environment. Hyms addressed a need to install new types of sanitary systems to replace old concrete cesspools to greatly reduce the nitrogen contamination that enters the groundwater. Kennedy has pushed for projects that aim to clean up the county’s water supply. Both candidates strongly advocated for the importance of sewers as a way to improve not just the environment but the economy of downtown areas as well.

Legislators DuWayne Gregory and Leslie Kennedy smile with young Suffolk residents. Photo from Leg. Gregory’s office

By Victoria Espinoza

Beneath the sunny rays in Smithtown’s Blydenburgh County Park June 29, Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) announced a new program to celebrate Suffolk’s youth community.

The Distinguished Youth Award program is meant to promote and recognize the achievements and initiatives in service of Suffolk County’s youngest contributing members.

The program is open to county residents between the ages of 13 and 18, and registrants will work with local officials throughout the course of a year to lay out plans and goals that touch on volunteerism, personal development, exploration of Suffolk County, and physical fitness.

Gregory announced the program alongside young residents who have already registered, and with colleague, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset).

“Suffolk County is lucky to be home to so many wonderful young people who have distinguished themselves in many ways.”

— William Spencer

“The goal in establishing this program is to encourage young people to become well-rounded and engaged in local issues and initiatives,” Gregory said. “Our young people are our future. This program is one way to build a foundation on which these young adults can continue to develop a connection to their communities, to understand their needs, and to explore solutions. We are encouraging them to be leaders whose roots are firmly planted in Suffolk County.”

According to Gregory’s office, the program is modeled after the Congressional Youth Leadership Council, and challenges participants to take part in two or more program categories: volunteer service, personal development, exploration of Suffolk County parks, and physical fitness. Medals will be awarded to participants based on the number of categories in which they engage  as part of their individual challenge. The bronze medal will be awarded to teens that successfully complete two of the four program areas. The silver medal will be awarded to participants who complete three of the four program areas. The gold medal, which signifies the highest achievement, will recognize participants who complete their established goals in all four program areas.

Fellow legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) co-sponsored the resolution.

“Suffolk County is lucky to be the home to so many wonderful young people who have distinguished themselves in many ways,” Spencer said in a statement. “It will be a great honor to recognize them individually.”

Kennedy echoed the sentiments.

“In Suffolk County we have many accomplished young men and women,” she said at the event. “The Distinguished Youth Award will foster an environment where our youth will continue to accomplish great things, and grow into civically minded adults.”

Registration forms are available online on the Suffolk County Legislature’s Distinguished Youth Award program’s web page at legis.suffolkcountyny.gov/DYA.html. They can also be mailed to Suffolk County Legislature Distinguished Youth Award, Office of the Presiding Officer, Suffolk County Legislature, P.O. Box 6100 – Bldg. 20, Hauppauge, NY 11788-0099.

File photo

By Kevin Redding

In celebration of Presidents’ Day, local elected officials weighed in on the occupants of the Oval Office who inspired them to do what they do.

Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) – Ronald Reagan/George H.W. Bush

“It would have to be Ronald Reagan. He was the first president that I became familiar with as a young adult, in terms of my interest in politics. He had such a unique ability to communicate a conservative message to the country in a way that wasn’t divisive, in a way that was inspiring and uplifting, and so I really admire him for that and so many other things.

And, of course, George H.W. Bush, who took over the Oval Office after Reagan. He was the first politician I ever helped campaign for and that was during his re-election effort in which he lost to Bill Clinton. That same year Rick Lazio ran for Congress against Thomas Downey and I got pretty heavily involved in volunteering. If it hadn’t been for that, honestly, I would not be sitting here today.

From that experience, I met a former county legislator I ended up working for for a short period of time and he introduced me to county government and lots of different folks in the party, so I would say: purely from an inspirational point of view, it would be Reagan and in terms of the one president that really motivated me to get actively involved in politics, it was George H.W. Bush.”:

Legislator Al Krupski (D) – George Washington

“I think he was someone that really believed in a cause. In his case, the cause was an independent America and he was willing to sacrifice his time and his family’s time to make that happen. He certainly took great personal risks as a general and, again, as president, he sacrificed his time and the rest of his life was dedicated towards the country.

The way he was able to handle power was admirable. The rest of the world thought he was going to become a dictator, and he could’ve, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to be the dictator. He wanted America to be a democracy; he believed in that. I’ve always liked history and I’ve always read about history and been [fascinated] by him pretty much my whole life. If you look at his cabinet, he surrounded himself with people with diverse backgrounds and ideologies and I’ve always listened to people with different viewpoints. I think that kind of mentality as a leader is important: to not just have a bunch of “yes men” but being able to listen to people with different viewpoints.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) John F. Kennedy

“Kennedy had a sense of humor, had a sense of history, and he learned from his mistakes. His mistake early in the administration was to follow through with Eisenhower’s decision that he did not execute well, with the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and he learned from that. I think that’s why he was so successful thereafter when, in 1962, a year and a half after, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis, and he was able to diffuse that despite the urging that we invade or bomb Cuba. He avoided that and avoided a crisis and potentially a World War.

I was also extremely impressed with his June 1963 speech at American University about how we all live on one planet and talked about peace being a much nobler goal while we were in the middle of the Cold War and he could see beyond that, so I think he had vision.

Obviously as a person, he had a lot of shortcomings, which a lot of people have dwelled on since the time of his death, but I think as a man and as a leader, people wanted to follow him and I think he was a good president. I knew if he had lived, we would not have been in the Vietnam War. He spoke against getting involved. It was sad to see him go, because in going, the policies changed dramatically, and when we changed leaders, we committed an entire generation to war and turned a lot of people into cynics against their government.

[Inspired by him], I try not to rush to judgment, I try to step back and put things in context and have a sense of history. As someone who has all my degrees in history, I try to put things in context and that helps a lot.”

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) – Barack Obama

“I’ve been in the Legislature for six years, and got elected in 2011, which was then-president Obama’s third year in office. I had been a physician and I was a big participant in getting involved in the hope and change … Obama being the first Black American president was inspirational for me as one of the few Black American elected officials.

I appreciated the fact that he started out working in the community, was someone that had all the education and training, and was a community organizer. I believe he exhibited the qualities of service and compassion for our fellow man and for those who have the smallest voice, and I believe in hard work and education as well. He had a very clear message that resonated and it got a lot of people involved, and I think that was transformative.

I don’t want it to appear that just because he was black, he encouraged me because I’m black. That had some significance but what I appreciated most was his character. He was a slow and steady hand and he brought qualities of dignity and respect … I also admired the way he conducted himself personally with his family.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson) – Barack Obama

“I think Obama, who was a law school professor, intimately understood how to use the law to help others and he actually worked his way up through government, so he took all the steps and is a bottom-up leader. Obama being an activist and community organizer really impressed me. I think it’s important that we [as elected officials] are in the community, and talk to people face-to-face about their issues. I think that he is, arguably, the most eloquent, dignified, and diplomatic president of my time and I try to emulate his qualities.”

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) – Ronald Reagan

“He was a fiscally conservative guy who was socially moderate; he would try to save money and have less government … and keep government out of things. That’s what I believe: we shouldn’t be involved in a lot of these things.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) – Harry S. Truman

“Harry Truman’s my favorite president. He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things and demonstrated that you can reach the highest levels of our government while maintaining your integrity. More than 20 years ago, I read David McCullough’s book “Truman” and it was one of the best political biographies I’ve ever read. When I served on active duty in the U.S. Army, I was based in Missouri — which is the home state of Truman — and I visited his home and library in Independence.

What was inspiring to me, and it really represents what our country is about, was that anyone can be president and that you can reach the highest levels of our government and really maintain your integrity. Truman’s honesty really impressed me.”

Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) – Abraham Lincoln

“If you were in my office, whether in Albany or here in the district, you would see lots of pictures of Abraham Lincoln. When you’re growing up and you’re reading about different presidents, the idea of Lincoln being kind of a frontiersman and the way he grew up and the stories about him are very exciting. As you get older and you start looking into Lincoln’s life, you see the kind of person that he is. He cared very deeply about people and if you look at photos of Lincoln, you could see the deep lines, as some people call “worry lines,” because he cared so much. During the Civil War, he visited wounded soldiers and was very touched by their lives.

I have great concern for people and try to be very helpful to people, and I think Lincoln certainly reinforces those goals.”

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) – Ronald Reagan

“Reagan was the president I admired most. When you’re an elected official, I think you have to have two great traits: good decision-making skills and the ability to articulate the message you want to get across to people in an effective, understandable and inspiring way, [which he had]. Reagan came into office in 1981, a point in our country’s history where, internationally, we were in the middle of the Cold War, just got done with the Iranian hostage situation, and the economy wasn’t doing well and the morale in the country was at an all-time low — so he had a lot that he was getting ready to take on. He lowered taxes, attacked the problems we had, deregulated the government and opened up the economy, which triggered a boom throughout the decade. He stood up and brought pride back into being American.”

Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) – Abraham Lincoln

“First of all, he was honest, he truly preserved the unity of our nation and he freed the slaves. He was brought into office during what was probably one of our nation’s first economic crises, and he dealt with the Civil War, dealt with issues of taxation and imports and exports, and handled it in a thoughtful, intellectual way. Those were difficult times and he made our nation what it is.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) – John F. Kennedy

“His presidency changed America. I think so many presidents bring so many different skillsets, and Kennedy believed in America, was passionate about America, put people to work, held the line on taxes, and was a compassionate person. Then there’s the whole history of Kennedy and how he was raised and groomed, and how his life was tragically cut short, and I think that adds an air to his [legacy] as well.”

 

Stephen Ruth Jr. reached a plea deal for tampering with red light cameras, which will place him on probation for a year in lieu of prison time. Photo from Stephen Ruth Jr.

The merry adventures of Suffolk County’s “Red Light Robin Hood” continued last week as the Centereach resident who took matters into his own hands by tampering with red light cameras across county intersections struck a plea deal with prosecutors. The agreement reached will place him on interim probation for one year in lieu of any prison time.

Stephen Ruth Jr., who has been crusading against the county’s red light camera program since 2015 in an effort to “take the power back” by exposing what he considers government corruption and helping save Suffolk resident’s lives — for which he’s been called a domestic hero on social media — pleaded guilty in Riverhead Feb. 8 to a felony charge of criminal mischief.

Red light cameras along Route 25A, which is where some of the cameras were located that Stephen Ruth Jr. tampered with. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Since the county first installed red light cameras at busy intersections in 2010, which snap flashing photos of cars that run a red light or don’t come to a complete stop before turning right on red, they’ve been widely opposed across the county.

Ruth, who’s become the boastful face of the opposition — as evidenced by his smiley mug shot after first tampering with the devices in 2015 —has consistently called for the program’s repeal before the Suffolk County Legislature. He said the cameras and shortened yellow lights, “shortened to cause red light running for a profit,” are responsible for fatalities and accidents on the roads, have been illegally constructed without an engineer signing off on them, and are nothing more than a Suffolk County “money grab.”

“I was willing to go to jail from the beginning because I’m sticking up on behalf of those people who don’t have a voice anymore,” Ruth said. “These cameras are completely illegal and the [county] is not allowed to collect any money off them whatsoever … I knew this was going on and made my own news.”

Under the plea deal, Attorney David Raimondo said if Ruth successfully completes his probation, the felony plea will be dropped to a misdemeanor.

Stephen Ruth Jr.’s mug shot. File photo from SCPD

The 44-year-old real estate salesman may also have to pay up to $85,000 in restitution for all the cameras and equipment he’d left inoperable — a charge that will be challenged during a restitution hearing in April. Raimondo said he and his client will fight because “we believe that the entire red light camera system program is illegal and every single ticket issued from day one is a nullity.”

In the wake of the court ruling, Raimondo acknowledged that it was a good plea.

“This is something the county has to atone for and will atone for in civil litigation … it is not Stephen’s or his family’s cross to bear,” Raimondo said. “Why should Stephen sacrifice his personal freedom for what I think is nothing more than enterprise corruption?”

As Ruth has always worn his criminal tampering and obstruction of governmental administration as a badge of honor — even proudly demonstrating on his YouTube channel how he uses a painter’s extension rod to reach high-positioned red light cameras to turn its lens away from the road — Raimondo applauded his client for always taking responsibility for what he’s done.

“While I absolutely don’t condone or approve of any form of violence or destruction of property, I admire Stephen’s willingness to bring attention to the public the failures in the engineering behind the camera and how it’s affecting the taxpayers as a penalty and tax,” he said. “I [especially] admire that Stephen brought to the public’s attention the fact that the yellow light times have been shortened by the engineers because unfortunately people have been seriously injured and perhaps killed as a result.”

Red light camera. File photo

Ruth, in calling for a full investigation into the camera program to prove it’s an illegal operation, also wants to spotlight that the county continues to delete videos of any and all accidents that take place at intersections.

James Emanuel, a retired Suffolk County police officer, has dedicated himself to researching and testifying against the program, and is one of Ruth’s avid supporters.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of police officers who privately are a big fan of what he did,” Emanuel said. “You get to the point where you have to push back against the system; you just don’t have a choice. The guy saw a danger and his attitude was, ‘I’m gonna push back.’ He turned himself in every single time and he didn’t have to do that.”

In regards to Ruth’s plea deal, he said the county wants to prevent the program from being put on trial.

“There are thousands of infuriated people,” he said. “How would they find a jury of 12 people that wouldn’t find Stephen not guilty?”

Suffolk County Leg. Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said she understands Ruth’s strong feelings and acknowledges that red light cameras, although useful in some intersections, are overused and costly.

“I think what Ruth thought he was doing was making a statement, and he clearly did make a statement,” she said. “But you have to stay within the parameters of the law to make a statement that’s not going to get you in big trouble.”

But county Legislator Sarah Anker has just one-vote lead; longtime Smithtown board member ousted; and all local boards maintain huge majorities

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker are all smiles on Election Day. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The incumbents won big on Suffolk County’s North Shore this Election Day, with only a couple real upsets at the county and town levels.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) handily won a second term at the helm against his Republican challenger, lawyer Jim O’Connor, with 57 percent of the vote.

Bellone thanked many people for his victory and also thanked his opponent for a “good race.”

Steve Bellone gives a speech after being re-elected Suffolk County executive. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Steve Bellone gives a speech after being re-elected Suffolk County executive. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Tonight the people of Suffolk County delivered a mandate: to advance the issues we talked about in this campaign,” he said, at the Democratic Election Night headquarters in Hauppauge. “To continue the reform government so that we can protect taxpayers, make government more efficient and effective. To reverse the decades of decline that we have seen in water quality so that we can protect this precious natural resource for ourselves and future generations.”

He vowed that he would work hard for the voters.

“To the people of Suffolk County: I want to thank you for the confidence you placed in me and this incredible team of legislators. I can guarantee you we will repay that confidence by working hard every single day to make progress on the issues that matter to you and to you families. We may celebrate a little bit tonight but that work begins tomorrow.”

Though Bellone was the clear winner early on, O’Connor said he was proud of his campaign.

“I think we talked about the issues that need to be talked about here on Long Island,” he said.

Despite the results, the challenger enjoyed himself: “I love this. … In America we run for office, we put our ideas forward and we let the people decide.”

Steve Tricarico, Legislator Sarah Anker's Republican challenger, feels confident about a win on Election Day. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Steve Tricarico, Legislator Sarah Anker’s Republican challenger, feels confident about a win on Election Day. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In the Suffolk County Legislature, incumbents from Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns won re-election, one of them by a razor-thin margin: Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who represents the 6th District, was leading her challenger by just one vote after the polls closed. It was not immediately clear if absentee ballots would tilt the scales in the favor of Republican candidate Steve Tricarico, a Brookhaven Town deputy highway superintendent. But Anker said Tuesday night that she felt “cautiously optimistic.”

Tricarico felt the same way.

“I’m feeling very confident,” he said before results were in. “This shows … that people are looking for a change. That’s what I’ve been offering.”

According to Tricarico, Republican absentee ballots outnumbered those of the Democrats, which he said boosts his confidence.

But Suffolk County Democratic Party Chairman Rich Schaffer was calling it in the other direction: “Sarah Anker — mark my words — in about two weeks will be a newly re-elected legislator.”

Anker said her election demonstrates that each vote counts. Asked what could have led to such a close race, the legislator said she’s got the political cards stacked against her as a Democrat representing a largely Republican district.

Legislator Kara Hahn and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone embrace after both are re-elected. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Legislator Kara Hahn and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone embrace after both are re-elected. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Most political strategists have never understood how I won it the past three times, much less this fourth time,” she said. “But I feel it’s because the people appreciate what I do. They’re looking for leadership.”

From there, it was smooth sailing. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the 5th District legislator, beat Republican challenger Donna Cumella, of Port Jefferson Station, with 63 percent of the vote. In the 13th, Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) beat Kings Park Democrat Rich Macellaro with more than 70 percent of the total.

In Huntington, Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) won his final term in the 16th District against Republican attorney Tom McNally with 60 percent of the vote.

“We understand what’s on the minds of our constituents, we listen to our constituents, and we deliver for our constituents,” Stern said.

Also, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) took the 18th District against his challenger from the right, Grant Lally, after garnering 56 percent of the votes.

“It’s exhilarating,” a joyous Spencer said. “It’s really is. After two years of hard work and six-month campaign, to really have the people recognize I’m giving my heart and soul to try to support us means a lot to me.”

Doc Spencer celebrates a win on Election Day. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Doc Spencer celebrates a win on Election Day. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Despite her loss, Cumella stayed positive and said she wouldn’t let this year’s election deter her from running for the same position in the future. She said she is now “a little bit more educated with the political arena.”

About her victory over that Republican, Hahn said, “I’m really gratified by the confidence the community has shown in me and I very much appreciate it and I plan to work just as hard as I’ve worked in the last four years.”

Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), the 4th District legislator, and the 12th District’s Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) were effectively unopposed for re-election and secured their next terms.

“I’m ecstatic,” Muratore said. “Maybe we can bring some of our ideas to the table … We’re about doing the right things to people.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine celebrates his re-election as the head of Brookhaven Town. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Supervisor Ed Romaine celebrates his re-election as the head of Brookhaven Town. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Kennedy said she did not spend time campaigning and was pleased with the outcome.

“I want to go home and go to bed so I can wake up tomorrow ready to vote on the Operating Budget Committee board,” she said.

Brookhaven Town saw its supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), and its highway superintendent, Dan Losquadro (R), re-elected easily — Romaine won 72 percent of the votes against Democratic challenger Douglas Dittko and Losquadro beat out his own Democratic opponent, Jason Kontzamanys, with 69 percent of the voters’ support.

Romaine called his landslide victory “encouraging” and Losquadro said, “I really feel that this is a validation of the work that we’ve been doing in the town.”

“It’s such a big department, and really, for the fundamental services that people expect from their tax dollars are that their roads are safe, cleared of snow and debris, and I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to continue to do that work.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright go in for a kiss after both win re-election. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright go in for a kiss after both win re-election. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The three incumbents running for re-election to the Brookhaven Town Board on the North Shore were returned to their seats. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) beat Republican challenger Ed Garboski, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association. She had 56 percent of the vote to his 44 percent.

“I worked really hard,” she said Tuesday night. “The community came together.”

She has no small task ahead of her. If all of the election results stand, she will be the only Democrat on the Town Board next year, after her effectively unopposed North Shore colleagues Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) won re-election, as did South Shore Republican Councilmen Dan Panico and Neil Foley. But Cartright’s lone Democratic colleague, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, was ousted by Republican challenger Michael Loguercio Jr.

“I’m kind of speechless, which isn’t normally the case for me,” Bonner said about winning by a large margin. “I’m super, super excited to get started, move forward. I can’t wait to get to work tomorrow.”

LaValle called his own win an “honor.”

Over in Huntington, town board incumbents Gene Cook (I) and Susan Berland (D) were returned to the board after a four-way race with 27 percent and 24 percent of the vote, respectively. Democratic challenger Keith Barrett and Republican challenger Jennifer Thompson fell short, each garnering about 22 percent of the vote.

“I can’t wait until tomorrow,” Cook said Tuesday night. “I felt good throughout today because I’m always honest and I think I’ve shown that in the last four years.”

Councilmen Ed Wehrheim and Bob Creighton discuss the Smithtown board election results. Photo by Phil Corso
Councilmen Ed Wehrheim and Bob Creighton discuss the Smithtown board election results. Photo by Phil Corso

Berland said she was “proud and humbled” to be re-elected.

“I just want to keep doing good things for the people of the town and making the town the best place it can possibly be,” she said.

Smithtown Town Board experienced a bit of an upset. Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) was re-elected to one of two board seats, after receiving 31 percent of the vote, but his colleague Bob Creighton (R) was unable to battle back after losing a Republican primary to newcomer Lisa Inzerillo.

Inzerillo was elected Tuesday night with 28 percent of the vote, as compared to Creighton’s 20 percent. The latter total was even lower than that of the lone Democratic candidate for Town Board, who lost after garnering just 22 percent of the vote.

Inzerillo held a private gathering at her home Tuesday night and did not respond to requests seeking comment, but took to her Facebook page to thank her team.

Larry Vetter says the people have spoken in choosing not to elect him. Photo by Kevin Redding
Larry Vetter says the people have spoken in choosing not to elect him. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I am grateful beyond words for all of the support I received from residents,” she said. “It is very humbling to know my grassroots campaign was successful. I look forward to working with the new town board and working for the residents that elected me.”

Wehrheim, who frequently works with Creighton on town projects, called Inzerillo’s win “a loss for Smithtown” and called his own victory “bittersweet” as he prepared to work with the newcomer. Creighton apologized to his room of supporters Tuesday night, adding that he was “sorry things didn’t work out.”

About his defeat, Vetter said, “The message is clear: The town didn’t want me. … Apparently the town is satisfied with what they have.”

Earlier in the night he had said, “If I lose and it’s tight, I might try again. If I get clobbered, I’m not gonna do it again.”

Rohma Abbas, Giselle Barkley, Phil Corso, Victoria Espinoza, Desirée Keegan, Kevin Redding and Eric Santiago contributed reporting.

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Leslie Kennedy photo by Desirée Keegan

Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) is new to the Suffolk County Legislature but is by no means new to the governmental process. And with more time, we feel she could be an effective leader for the 12th District.

After being voted into office via a special election when her husband and predecessor, John M. Kennedy Jr., took on the county comptroller role, Leslie Kennedy has been tirelessly working as the peoples’ advocate and a fighter for constituent concerns. In a sit-down interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers, she brought discussion on almost any topic back to her constituents’ needs in an effort to drive home the importance of constituent services to both her and her office.

The family has been a key component of determining where she stands on any given issue. She said one of her goals in all things she does is to make sure Suffolk County remains a place where families can grow and thrive without being overburdened by financial concerns or other detriments to quality of life.

Her opponent, Adam S. Halpern, has not actively campaigned for the seat and did not participate in an interview with our newspaper. Leslie Kennedy, however, demonstrated to us that she is a caring and palpable leader.

She may be untraditional in her approach, but we feel Leslie Kennedy truly wants to respond to the needs of her constituents and has a firm grasp of the issues to respond accordingly.

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Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy is looking for her first re-election on Nov. 3. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Just months removed from a special election that brought her into office, Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) faces her first re-election bid.

Kennedy was elected to represent the 12th District — which includes Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, the Village of the Branch, Lake Grove, and parts of Commack, Islandia and Ronkonkoma — in April to succeed her husband, former county legislator and now county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), and has since placed constituent concerns at the core of her campaign. Her Democratic opponent, Adam Halpern, has not actively campaigned and did not attend a debate at the Times of Smithtown’s headquarters.

In the interview, Kennedy prided herself as being a researcher and a behind-the-scenes government official who wears her heart on her sleeve. While serving on the county’s operating budget committee, she said she takes the county’s finances very seriously and often refers to tax dollars as “OPM” — other peoples’ money.

“I debated hard whether or not to run, but I love government,” she said. “I love the ability to help and serve. There has to be a voice of reason that realizes the enormity of the financial problem we are in.”

With her husband also serving the county as comptroller, Kennedy said she gained perspective on what kinds of things Suffolk could and should do to make money.

“We don’t collect what we should collect,” she said, referring to certain taxes not being actively pursued in areas like hotels, motels or bed and breakfasts. “We need to recoup that money. If we did, we wouldn’t be seeing historical buildings fall, or arts and entertainment budgets being cut.”

The legislator has spent her time pushing for top-tier constituent services while also keeping her ear to the ground when it comes to the county’s business community. She has been attending several Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency meetings since being elected and said she wanted to work to employ tax incentives to draw businesses to the region.

As for quality of life concerns, Kennedy said public safety projects like new sidewalks and infrastructure upgrades were top priorities of hers. She has also identified herself as an environmentalist and backed that up by pushing for projects that aim to clean up the county’s water.

One of her biggest qualms with how county government works, Kennedy said, was an overabundance of management. If re-elected, she said she would advocate for less management and more action.

“We’re top heavy,” she said. “There is more management than necessary. I have never seen so many titles.”

In order to make the county a more vibrant place for young people to grow and raise families, Kennedy said the Legislature needed to act on keeping taxes low and the streets safe. If re-elected, she said she would keep her constituents at the heart of her decision making.

“We have to get our act together,” she said. “It’s sad to watch people have no opportunities. They are struggling to stay in their houses and I don’t think life should be that hard.”

Geese hang out on the banks of Lake Ronkonkoma. Their waste pollutes the lake. Photo by Phil Corso

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake is not what it used to be, but North Shore lawmakers and educators are teaming up to bring it back.

Darcy Lonsdale and her students attending the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences arrived at the docks of the 243-acre Lake Ronkonkoma on Tuesday morning, equipped with various aquatic testing supplies to study marine life in the waters. Bill Pfeiffer, part of the Nesconset Fire Department’s water rescue team, helped guide the students as residents and government officials flanked the docks in talks of a Lake Ronkonkoma that once was.

Pfeiffer has been diving in and exploring around Lake Ronkonkoma for years, mapping out the bottom of the lake and chronicling the different kinds of debris on its floor, which he said includes anything from parts of old amusement park rides to pieces of docks.

Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso
Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso

“This lake needs a healthy amount of attention,” he said. “It has been appearing clearer, but [Superstorm] Sandy turned it into a brown mud hole again.”

The lake is home to various species, including largemouth bass and chain pickerel.

Members of the Lake Ronkonkoma Advisory Task Force hosted Pfeiffer and the students with hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the waters and encouraging the four jurisdictions overseeing it — Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown towns and Suffolk County — to form one united board to advocate for the lake.

Newly elected county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the goal was to compile data that will help secure grant money, channel stormwater runoff away from the lake and garner legislative support for the lake.

“Years ago, this was a resort. There were tons of beachfronts. There were cabins and cabanas,” she said. “This is something we all could be proud of. It could be a site where people recreate.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy said she hoped a united front could attract more foot traffic and fishing to the lake. She stood along the waters on Tuesday morning and said she was anxious to see the kinds of results the Stony Brook students help to find.

“I am dying to know what the pH levels are at the bottom of the lake,” she said.

Lawmakers and Lake Ronkonkoma advocates said one of the biggest hurdles in the way of cleaner waters rested in the population of geese gaggling around the area. As more geese make their way in and around the lake, the nitrogen in their waste pollutes the water. Volunteers with the Lake Ronkonkoma civic had to sweep the length of the dock Tuesday morning, as Pfeiffer prepared for the students, in order to rid it of geese excrement.

“To help the lake, relocating or terminating some of the geese might not be a bad idea,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

The students could be funneling data to the different municipalities overseeing the lake by the end of the summer.

“You want a report that will spell out how to improve the clarity of this water,” Romaine said. “The students are welcome back anytime.”

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