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Leslie Kennedy

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1 1022
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.”

Leslie Kennedy with her husband, John M. Kennedy Jr., who serves as Suffolk County comptroller. File photo

In a special election held just nine months before the term is over, Leslie Kennedy (R) was elected Tuesday to succeed her husband, Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy  Jr. (R), in the county Legislature’s 12th District.

Leslie Kennedy, a 58-year-old resident of Nesconset, bested Democrat Deborah Monaco of Smithtown in Tuesday’s special election with 993 total votes from Republicans, Conservatives and Independents versus Monaco’s 149 from strictly Democrats, according to the county Board of Election’s unofficial vote totals.

She previously served as an administrative aide under her husband when he held a seat in the Legislature.

The current comptroller was elected to his seat in November, leaving the Legislature spot vacant at the beginning of this year.

Both Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and the entire Suffolk County Republican Committee had pegged Leslie Kennedy as their choice to succeed her husband, calling her a hard-working and popular figure in her community.

“The Democrats tried to make Leslie Kennedy an issue in the [November] county comptroller race, where John Kennedy scored a substantial victory on one line, the Republican line,” Suffolk GOP Chair John Jay LaValle said. “The move backfired terribly and cemented Leslie Kennedy’s reputation as a constituent favorite. Her record of service is unassailable and she will continue a powerful legacy of protecting our tax dollars and serving the people of the 12th District.”

Monaco, 55, had not been actively campaigning for the seat, according to Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Richard Schaffer, who said her name was on the ballot in order to provide voters with options come March 31.

She previously served as secretary of the Suffolk Democratic Committee as well as the county’s Board of Elections.

Kennedy Jr. beat Democrat Jim Gaughran, chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority, with 53 percent of the vote to 47 percent. After his election, a jubilant Kennedy vowed to “open up the books,” in Suffolk County, while Gaughran said he had “no regrets about this race.”

The 12th Legislative District is a largely Republican-dominated region of the North Shore and includes Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, the Village of the Branch, Lake Grove and parts of Commack, Islandia and Ronkonkoma.