Tags Posts tagged with "Politics"

Politics

Republican Gary Pollakusky is running again to represent Suffolk County's 6th legislative district. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Leah Chiappino

A Republican challenger for Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District is a face that should be familiar to local residents, having run for the same office two years ago.

“I’ve always appreciated where I was from and what this area could become,“ said Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point resident who is running for legislator as a Republican challenger. “Giving back has always been the cornerstone to why I wanted to go into public service.”

Gary Pollakusky, the president of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, helps put up a new tent May 4. Photo by Kyle Barr

As a Rotary member, Freemason, North Shore Community Association founding member, once a Goodwill Ambassador to Russia and the president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce Pollakusky has been involved in public service since childhood. A graduate of Cornell, he has a degree in industrial labor relations. He is also the owner of multiple small businesses including Media Barrel LLC, a media advertising agency; Travel Barrel LLC, a company that holds microbrands, which conduct travel tours; and a nationally syndicated sports talk entertainment network called Sports Garten. His latest endeavor is the race for Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District, against incumbent Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), after an unsuccessful bid for the same seat in 2016.

His biggest policy platforms are supporting small businesses as well as fiscal responsibility for the county. 

“To be able to expand the tax base and reduce the residential tax burden we need to support business,” he said. “We’re seeing seniors and college graduates, and businesses leave Long Island. Long Island is an incredible place to live but it’s very difficult to afford.” 

Pollakusky said he believes he has put this notion into practice as a board member of the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which he says brought in three-quarters of a billion dollars in new investment, as well as over 5,500 jobs. 

“We are cognizant of the fact that we are giving public benefits to private entities, but in turn we expect workforce projection,” he said, adding that the “county is hemorrhaging in debt. Our residents are being taxed out of house and home. I want to reduce taxes and spend responsibly.”

He also calls for the termination of “illegal fees to our residents,” such as the red light camera fees, park fees and mortgage recording fees, the latter of which has increased from $65 to over $600. 

“If we don’t stop the bleeding, people are going to want to leave,” he said. 

In terms of the opioid crisis, he supports holding “big pharma” accountable for its role in the crisis, but he said he feels a combination of solutions needs to occur in order to solve the problem. For one, he called for an increase in preventative education about the dangers of substance abuse in schools. He said the county has been moving backward on addressing it, calling for additional policing.

“We do not have enough officers on the streets,” he said. “We need to support law enforcement to address all of the drug-dealing homes in our community. In terms of treatment, we closed down a perfectly good treatment facility in the Foley Center. It’s disheartening to see how we could be addressing the opioid epidemic, but the county is not.”   

He also called for preventive education in schools for vaping and drunk driving. 

“Vaping has been shown to cause popcorn lung and terrible health ailments,” he said. “Kids doing that clearly don’t understand the repercussions, so constant reminders through education is very helpful to continue exposing the issue,” he said. Pollakusky added that he thinks it’s “unconscionable” to address marijuana legalization in the middle of an opioid epidemic, but sees its benefits when used medicinally. 

As far as the rise of MS-13, which Pollakusky says is tied to the opioid epidemic, he has met with the consulate general of El Salvador in Brentwood through the North Shore Community Association, with whom he worked to attempt to expand prevention education in 2017. 

“We have many law abiding, good citizens in our community that are here legally,” he said. “We don’t want to cast the light that MS-13 represents them in any way, but through the unaccompanied minor program MS-13 was recruiting.”  

Despite most MS-13 activity occurring in the towns of Brentwood and Central Islip, he cited Gordon Heights MS-13 activity as a main reason for the drug flow into the North Shore. 

When it comes to immigration policy, he said “those that break those laws should be sent home,” though dealing with children who were brought to the U.S. by their parents is “a very difficult problem.” The Republican challenger added that those children who have already lived here, such as the Dreamers, immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16 and have lived here since 2007, is a different circumstance. 

He acknowledged Suffolk’s poor water quality, including high nitrogen content in coastal waters and the presence of other chemicals like 1,4-dioxane in drinking water in high degrees across the Island. As a solution, he believes sewer districts should be funded through grants and business investments, which he feels can create revenue for the county. He supports introducing legislation that would prohibit certain kinds of pesticides and fertilizers, such as Roundup. 

“We have a duty to protect people from contaminants and certain types of cancer,” he said. 

The Republican challenger promises that he can work in a bipartisan matter if elected. 

“To be in politics you can’t have an ego,” he said. “We’ve elected the same people over and over again, and we still have the same problems.”

Pollakusky recognizes the challenges to winning his seat, noting Anker’s years in the Legislature and support from existing political action committees, but said he supports both labor and law enforcement. 

“I don’t need this job, I want it because I know I can lead well,” he said. “I am passionate about supporting our residents in an impactful way, so we can all stay here and enjoy Long Island.”

The Belle Terre village board. File photo by Kyle Barr

Two seats are up for Village of Belle Terre trustee positions, where two incumbents and one newcomer are looking for residents’ votes come June 18.

Judy Zaino

Judy Zaino

Zaino, an incumbent and longtime Belle Terre resident, is looking for another two years on the board.

She is a 21-year resident of Belle Terre and said she became extremely active in village life after she retired in 2005. 

Prior to being on the board, she was involved with the Belle Terre Community Association working alongside the village to augment various projects, including redoing the wall in front of the Belle Terre Community Center, parks projects, garden tours and other programs.

“In my own opinion, giving back to your community is a very noble thing to do,” she said.

After being asked to be trustee by the board, she said the village has been working on road and drainage repairs, erosion control on village property, maintenance of the community center and managing the beach, which is used by both Belle Terre and Port Jefferson villages.

In addition, she said the village is in the midst of upgrading the beach facilities with handicapped bathrooms and upgrades to the existing building, and she said she has worked, along with the rest of the board, in getting the cell tower in Belle Terre up and running.

“For the safety of the community, if you lived in one part of Port Jefferson and your teenager was somewhere else, you had communication with them because of the cell service,” Zaino said. “Prior to that it was really spotty.”

She said that she, and fellow incumbent Richard Musto, have been frontrunners on dealing with the deer and tick issue in the village.

Dr. Richard Musto

Dr. Richard Musto

As a resident since 1984, Musto is looking to continue his efforts on the board for the third year and his second term.

Musto, who has held several leadership roles in urology in hospitals across Long Island and is now retired, said he got onto the board through a desire to know what was going on in his hometown. He was asked to fill in the term of one retired trustee and was elected in 2017 to the board.

“I went to meetings and started asking questions, so they asked if I would like to be on the deer committee,” he said. “I’ve always been on committees, so it was really kind of interesting and fun to do.”

After his work on the deer committee, he said the village has been looking for ways to decrease the tick population, and officials have been in contact with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

He said he has also become involved in village security through its security cameras. He said the village is also looking at certain roads and looking to upgrade amenities at the village beach.

“I find it extremely interesting to find how a local government works,” he said. “I find it amazing for such a small village to see all the things that are involved and all the things you have to be aware of and know about.”

Dr. Caroline Engelhardt

Dr. Caroline Engelhardt

Newcomer Engelhardt, a 23-year resident of the village, said she is running to try and put a little energy behind village policy. She said she is uncommon in Belle Terre, as other candidates have been appointed to the board after other trustees retire instead of being elected to the position.

“We have the same people running all the time — I’m actually running as a candidate,” she said. “I’m running because I want to see change in Belle Terre.”

Engelhardt said now that her youngest daughter is out of the house in college, she has time to work for her village. She is a practicing anesthesiologist with degrees from New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, and said she is a community-minded person who works to make people feel better. 

“I’ve been taking care of the community medically for 25 years,” she said. “I have a lot of energy. I can be seen walking through the village at 5 in the morning.”

She’s running on several points. One is to add more amenities to the beach, such as looking to bring in a food truck that could help feed people as they’re enjoying the sand and surf. She also said she would focus on getting roads repaired and working with the Long Island Power Authority to clear tree limbs hanging near power lines. In terms of erosion, she said she is wary of any sort of wall being built without careful consideration and was especially concerned that a wall would stop erosion in one location and create more erosion in another. She said she would like to see the village form a committee in order to deal with erosion on village property.

“We have to protect that property,” she said.

The vote will be held at the Belle Terre Community Center on 55 Cliff Road from 12 to 9 p.m. June 18. 

by -
0 495

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.

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

People enrolled in county septic program say it’s political

Suffolk homeowners, who received county grants to install nitrogen-reducing septic systems as part of the county’s septic program, are facing the reality of additional tax burdens and payments after they received IRS 1099 tax forms in the mail.

Participants in the Suffolk County Septic Improvement Program, which helped install prototype home septic systems that filter out nitrogen in participants homes, were told since the program’s inception in 2017 that only the contractors who did the installation of the systems would need to declare the grant money as taxable income because they received disbursement of funds from the county. 

This year, the office of Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) sent tax forms to the program participants, and in many cases both homeowners and contractors received 1099s for the same job, despite a legal opinion by the county’s tax counsel that advised that the tax forms go to the companies that received the funds, not homeowners. 

SBU’s Christopher Gobler, with Dick Amper, discusses alarming trends for LI’s water bodies at a Sept. 25 press conference. Photo by Kyle Barr

In response, Deputy County Executive Peter Scully sent a letter to the comptroller’s office on March 14 requesting that Kennedy rescinds the 1099 forms issued to homeowners. After getting no response, Scully sent a second letter on March 26 asking Kennedy again to rescind the 1099s and mentioned since the first letter there had been new information that had come to light in the issue. 

Scully stated that the county’s Department of Health Services has confirmed that some of the homeowners who received 1099s have declared the grants as income and like the contractors will be paying taxes on the same grants. 

“It boggles the mind that anyone can believe that having both homeowners and installers declaring the same grants as income and having taxes paid by both parties on the same disbursement of funding is an acceptable outcome,” the deputy county executive said in a statement. 

In a Newsday article earlier this month, Kennedy said he planned to ask the Internal Revenue Service for a private letter ruling on the matter. Scully said that would be unnecessary, citing again the county’s legal counsel advice and other municipalities who have similar programs and are structured the same way. The letter ruling would cost close to $30,000 and could take more than a year, Scully added. 

Some residents who are enrolled in the program have claimed Kennedy, who recently announced he is running against County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in the next election, is politicizing the issue and potentially sabotaging the program. 

“I have no doubt in my mind,” Tim Sheehan of Shelter Island. “I don’t understand the rationale behind double taxing participants besides politicizing water safety and punishing homeowners for doing the right thing.” 

The Shelter Island resident was one of the early applicants of the program and had an advanced septic system installed in his home August 2018. He said without the help of county and town grants he and his wife would’ve not been able to afford the upgrade. 

The deadline to file taxes is April 15.

While Sheehan expected to pay taxes on the town grant, he didn’t anticipate the county liability. He said he is facing close to a $3,000 higher tax bill on the $10,000 grant and as a result has put him into a higher tax bracket and is required to pay a higher percentage on his income.

“Nowhere in the grant contract is there a mention of a tax liability to homeowners,” the Shelter Island resident said. “From the get-go we were told there would be no tax burden.”

Coastal Steward of Long Island volunteer Bill Negra checks the health of oysters in Mount Sinai Harbor. Oysters are one way in which Brookhaven Town hopes to clear up nitrogen in coastal waters. File photo by Kyle Barr

The Shelter Island resident was surprised when he received a 1099 form for the system and reached out to county officials for help. When they said they couldn’t help, Sheehan called the comptroller’s office hoping to speak to Kennedy directly. After numerous calls without getting a response, Kennedy finally called him. 

When questioned Kennedy blamed the current administration for mishandling the issue and told Sheehan that he never agreed with the county’s legal counsel decision. 

Kennedy has not responded to requests for comment.

George Hoffman, co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, said the tax form issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for a program that not only helps homeowners but improves water quality and waterways on Long Island. 

Hoffman said excess nitrogen, from homes with outdated septic systems or cesspools, seeps through the ground causing harmful algae blooms and can negatively affect harbors and marshes that make areas more susceptible to storm surges as well. 

“These people are pioneers, we should be applauding them for doing the right thing,” the task force co-founder said. 

Hoffman added he supports any effort to reduce excess nitrogen in our waterways and said many homes on Long Island have septic system that are in need of replacement. He is also concerned that the comptroller’s decision could stunt the progress the program has already made. 

Bellone has said there are about 360,000 outdated and environmentally harmful septic tanks and leaching systems installed in a majority of homes across the county, and with the issue of being taxed, dozens of applicants have dropped out of the program after learning of Kennedy’s decision to issue forms 1099 to homeowners, according to Scully. 

Officials in the county executive’s office are concerned it could endanger the future of the program and impact funding from the state. In early 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) awarded Suffolk County $10 million from the Statewide Septic Program to expand the county’s denitrifying systems. 

State officials in Albany are aware of the ongoing situation and are similarly concerned, according to Scully. If the IRS were to side with Kennedy, he said they would turn to representatives in Congress for assistance, arguing that those funds shouldn’t be going to Washington but back into taxpayers pockets. 

by -
0 1300
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.”

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) and his wife Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset). Photo by Kyle Barr

Less than a month ago, Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) was still debating whether he would run this year for Suffolk County executive. 

On Feb. 11, Kennedy stood shoulder to shoulder with other top Republican leaders to announce his running for the top county office.

“None of us forgets who we work for, and that’s the taxpayer,” Kennedy said. “We will stop the hemorrhaging, stop the bleeding. We will cut up the credit cards, start to pay our debts and bring life back to Suffolk County.”

John Kennedy Jr. (R) points to the county’s loss in bond rating. Photo by Kyle Barr

Kennedy, along with other county Republicans, has been consistent in attacking county Executive Steve Bellone (R) for the current state of the county’s finances, pointing to a drop in bond rating from A3 to Baa1 on the Moody Rating Scale since 2015. In a Jan. 31 article by TBR News Media, Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating has dropped, Kennedy was “overstating” the impact. He went on to say Moody’s, which gives the bond grades to municipalities, was only looking at the past and not the future. 

Kennedy has called for a 90-day top to bottom look at the county’s offices to see which ones can be pruned, which employees can be shuffled around and what belts can be tightened. He also called for an end to excessive spending, while cutting county fees and reducing the size of the county’s red light camera program. He said he was especially concerned with delays in payment to public employees and to contractors.

“We don’t pay our daycare providers on time, we don’t pay anybody on time,” the comptroller said. “We make them all our bank.”

John Jay LaValle, the Suffolk County Republican committee chairman, said during a phone interview the party is throwing its weight behind the current county comptroller. So far two other Republicans have announced their candidacy, including Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). LaValle said former police officer Larry Zacarese, who previously ran for Suffolk County sheriff in 2017, was also considering running on the Republican ticket. 

The Republican committee chairman said he would ask the current candidates to sit down and work out their differences, saying a primary could do damage to the party’s chance to win.

“If we do a primary, we give the executive seat to Bellone,” LaValle said.

Kennedy announced his plan to run for office at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, surrounded by U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford), along with many other elected Republicans. King ran again for his position alongside Kennedy in the 2018 electoral season.

“If we do a primary, we give the executive seat to Bellone.”

— John Jay Lavalle

“He ran us all into the ground — I’ve never seen a harder working campaigner,” King said.

Trotta said during a phone interview he would be willing to sit down with Kennedy and the Republican leadership, potentially to drop his candidacy if he agrees with what he hears.

“I welcome John Kennedy to the race, this is what democracy is all about, and no one knows more than John about what a financial mess the Bellone administration has created,” Trotta said.

Kennedy has worked in public office for years, working with current Brookhaven town supervisor Ed Romaine (R) when he was county clerk before being elected to the Suffolk County Legislature in 2004. He then later ran for and was elected to the Suffolk County comptroller position in 2014, boasting at the time he was vastly outspent by his opponent on the campaign trail.

Bellone’s office came out the gate swinging as Kennedy’s candidacy was announced.

“No one has opposed government reform or voted to increase spending and debt more than John Kennedy,” said Bellone spokesperson Jason Elan in a press release. 

“Under [Bellone’s] watch, I have seen red light cameras pop up over intersection after intersection, finding new ways to put their hands in their pockets,” Zeldin said during Kennedy’s campaign announcement.

Kennedy was also joined by his wife Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), who is running again this year for re-election. Both husband and wife said partially it took so long for him to announce his candidacy because of the concern one’s campaign fight could affect the other’s.

“It was a weighing process for both of us,” Legislator Kennedy said. “It’s about what he can do to make it better here so that everybody can afford to stay.”

John Kennedy Jr. (R) and Steve Bellone (D). File Photos

Executive Steve Bellone, Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. offer differing view of what financial future holds

When asked to critically examine Suffolk County’s finances and what lies ahead for residents, our executive branch and accounting officials couldn’t be further divided on their vision of the future. 

Suffolk Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said out of the $410 million operating note the county sought to sell for 2019 operating funds only half, or $207 million, could be competitively sold in December. Instead, he had to rely on a negotiated agreement with Bank of America to give the funds needed to run the county’s government at an interest rate of 2.35 percent. 

“This has been one of the toughest times we’d had in the market since I’ve taken office,” Kennedy said. 

“We are in some very strenuous times.”

— John Kennedy Jr.

The county comptroller, since 2015, said it was a combination of factors that negatively impacted Suffolk: seeking funding later than normal, stock market uncertainty and, perhaps most importantly, that Moody’s downgrading the county’s bond rating from A3 to Baa1. 

“We are barred from being purchased by many major investment funds,” Kennedy said, citing Fidelity and T. Rowe Price Group won’t invest. “We are in some very strenuous times.” 

Eric Naughton, Suffolk’s budget director, said while the county’s bond rating was dropped the comptroller was “overstating” its impact and meaning. 

“[Moody’s investors] are looking at the past,” he said. “They are not looking at what is happening in the future.” 

Naughton cited how Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has implemented many structural changes since taking office in 2012 including reducing the county’s workforce by approximately 1,200 employees, closed John J. Foley nursing home in Yaphank that was losing money and creating the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency to bring in additional funds. 

Kennedy countered that from March 2012 to September 2018 Moody’s has downgraded the county’s bond rating by five ranks. 

“We need to change how county government operates,” the comptroller said. 

Suffolk is not likely to see the state takeover of the county’s government like Nassau according to Kennedy, in good part because the county has about half the outstanding debt of neighboring Nassau — a sentiment with which Naughton agreed. 

The comptroller suggested that in order to avoid dire straits, Suffolk officials should move to consolidate by merging county offices with similar functions, encourage shared services among municipalities, reduce its workforce, evaluate and sell off surplus property where possible, like the former Suffolk County Police 6th Precinct building in Coram. 

“Structural changes were needed and these structural changes were adopted.”

— Jason Elan

Jason Elan, a spokesman for Bellone, said the county executive has done just that. Under Bellone, the county treasurer and comptroller positions were merged, as were four departments made into two:  Labor and Consumer Affairs and Economic Development and Planning. Bellone made county employees contribute 15 percent to their health insurance premiums while taking a pay freeze himself, at an estimated savings of more than $300,000. Further, Suffolk’s workforce has been reduced and, according to Naughton, county-operated land and property is being evaluated to see if it can be deemed surplus. 

“Structural changes were needed and these structural changes were adopted,” Bellone’s spokesman said, noting Kennedy voted against or opposed many of the measures. 

What looms ahead for Suffolk is negotiation of a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association. Kennedy said at a current cost of $573 million per year, the police contract is the largest item in the county’s $3.11 billion 2019 budget followed by roughly $451 million for county employee’s health insurance. 

“If we are not focused on actively managing those expenditures in both categories, we might as well shut off the lights and go home,” he said.

In fact, it’s not just the police but all of the county’s employee contracts have expired. Elan said Bellone would not comment on the status of PBA negotiations. 

Rather he said the county’s greatest opportunity lies in furthering its economic development, like the proposed Ronkonkoma Hub and other projects that will bring businesses to the area.

These issues are some that are expected to be addressed by Bellone when he gives his annual State of the County per tradition in May. 

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta confirmed he will throw his hat in the ring for county executive in 2019 — by launching a grassroots campaign, if necessary.

Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he wants to run against incumbent Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) next November in an effort to tackle a series of what he called wasteful spending decisions, illegal fees and poor contract negotiations that have negatively impacted Suffolk taxpayers.

“No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves,” Trotta said. “I think I could make a difference.”

No one can afford to live here anymore, kids are leaving in droves. I think I could make a difference.”

— Rob Trotta

The representative of Suffolk’s 13th District denounced several of the county’s 2018 capital projects as “wasteful spending.” He rattled off examples including the approved plans for construction of a new fingerprint lab in Yaphank, a study for a guardrail outside Rocky Point High School and a resolution to spend $150,000 for the design of a new K-9 headquarters and kennel for Suffolk County Police Department — which ultimately was voted down in July. Trotta said significant taxpayer money could have been saved if the design work, planning and studies for current and future capital projects were performed in-house rather than hired contractors.

“Do you think we have architects capable of designing a dog kennel? Of course we do,” he said. “That is what’s wrong with the county. That is why I want to run for county executive, because it would never happen.”

The legislator alleges the county’s financial woes are a direct result of Bellone’s negotiation of the 2012 police contract. The eight-year contract gave approximately 400 of Suffolk’s top ranking cops a 28.8 percent pay increase, according to Trotta, over the course of six years costing taxpayers from $55.4 million to $72.3 million. Negotiations between Suffolk County and Police Benevolent Association for the next contract will start in 2019, with the next county executive to expected to play a main role.

“The reality is we can’t afford to pay them what we’re paying them,” said Trotta, who retired as a Suffolk County detective in 2013. “If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

Since the 2012 contract, the Republican pointed out that Moody’s Investors Services has lowered the county’s bond rating by five ranks from March 2012 to this September. The county has borrowed $171.3 million from its sewer fund and $384.4 million from the state pension fund in order to keep paying its contractual salaries and pensions — mainly the Suffolk County Police Department, according to Trotta.

“It’s unsustainable,” he said.

Trotta has spoken out against a number of county fees including the red-light camera program, the alarm registration fee, mortgage recording fee and cremation fees, many of which he alleges generate money Suffolk needs to pay its cops. He’s filed legislation to limit the county’s fees in 2017 and 2018, which failed both times.

If they had gotten a cost of living increase — which everyone else on the planet would be happy with — we’d be in much better fiscal shape.”

— Rob Trotta

The county-executive hopeful said he plans to launch a grassroots fundraising effort by creating a website where supporters can donate to his campaign, with a suggested contribution of $80 because it’s the equivalent of a red-light camera ticket — a program he’s called for to be suspended, if not shut down. Trotta said he cannot morally accept funds from any public sector unions he’d be expected to negotiate contracts with, such as the Police Benevolent Association, although not prohibited by campaign finance laws.

“I might not get elected because of that,” he said. “I might not be able to get my message out.”

John Jay LaValle, chairman of Suffolk’s Republican Committee, confirmed Trotta is a possible candidate for county executive, but the party will not make any official decision until January. The legislator wasn’t concerned about vying for his party’s nomination.

“I think competition is good,” Trotta said. “I think hearing different people’s views are good. Ultimately, the party will come together and pick someone, whether it’s me, [county Comptroller] John Kennedy or whoever else.”

North Shore residents line the corner of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station Nov. 7 in response to the removal of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Photo by Alex Petroski

They say all politics is local.

The national drama of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the potential ties between President Donald Trump’s (R) 2016 campaign and Russian interference in the election experienced an escalation of tensions Nov. 7, one day after the midterm elections, and the response could be heard as far from Washington D.C. as Port Jefferson Station.

Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R) resigned that day in a letter that stated the president requested he do so.

As a result, the left-leaning political action group MoveOn organized nationwide protests called Nobody is Above the Law — Mueller Protection Rapid Response to take place across the country Nov. 7 at 5 p.m. A few dozen protestors congregated at the corner of Routes 112 and 347 to make their voices heard and send a message to Washington. The local activist organization North Country Peace Group acted to mobilize North Shore residents in the aftermath of the news.

“[Trump] firing Sessions and everything that he’s been doing since he’s been in the White House is my impetus to get out here,” Ellie Kahana, of Stony Brook, said. “He’s obviously going to try and get rid of Mueller and conceal whatever Mueller is finding out.”

Sessions’ position at the top of the U.S. Department of Justice would ordinarily make him the person in charge of a special counsel investigation, though he recused himself from that investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because he campaigned with Trump during 2016. Sessions’ potential removal was long viewed as a signal by his opponents that Trump may be moving to undermine Mueller’s probe or even fire him altogether.

When asked by White House pool reporters if acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, whom Trump appointed, was installed to harm the investigation, Trump called it a “stupid question.” While Trump has referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” repeatedly on Twitter and in interviews, he has yet to take any steps to conceal its eventual findings or cut off its funding.

“I knew this would happen, in fact I thought it would happen at midnight,” said Lisa Karelis, of East Setauket.

Karelis said the Democrats seizing of the U.S. House of Representatives on election night creating the possibility of increased scrutiny triggered Trump’s urgency for a new attorney general. She added Whitaker’s public statements opposing the expanding scope of the Mueller probe prior to his appointment made it clear what the president hoped to accomplish by naming Whitaker acting attorney general.

Members of U.S. Congress and from both political parties have suggested legislation be advanced to prevent removal of the special counsel. The bill has yet to gain enough support to be delivered to Trump’s desk for signature.

by -
0 811

As I sit here, writing my column on election eve, I can feel — or imagine I can feel — the nervousness of a nation on the threshold of the unknown. More than perhaps any other midterm election, this one has come to epitomize the turbulent and contradictory forces pulsating within America today. One thing is certain, however. The day after the election, we will still be living with those same forces: racism, income inequality, foreign affairs and the role today of the Constitution written more than two centuries ago.

Seemingly just in time, although he explains that he started the book two years before President Trump was elected, Joseph J. Ellis has written about these same subjects by sharing the conflicting viewpoints of a quartet of our most admired Founding Fathers. Remarkably they concern these same issues, and hence Ellis states in “American Dialogue: The Founders and Us” that he is writing about “ongoing conversations between past and present.” He even labels chapters “then” and “now” lest the specific themes of his dialogues and how they relate to today are not clear. Our Founding Fathers not only argued among themselves, they argue across more than 240 years, speaking to us in the present — and in a way reassuring us that the dialoguing is not ruinous but rather an asset of our democracy.

So much for our current concern about a divided country.

The four founders are Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington and James Madison. Ellis describes Jefferson’s contemptible views on race as he grew older, insisting as he did that the two races could not live together and that blacks could never be equal to whites. This after a younger Jefferson wrote that “all men were created equal,” and denounced slavery. But as we know, he benefited from many slaves at Monticello in Virginia and sired multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings. Certainly he struggled with the whole issue of race but did little to try to ameliorate the problem. He might have banned the spread of slavery to the Louisiana Purchase that he so brilliantly acquired in 1803, or sold some of it to compensate slave owners for freeing their slaves or even have provided a safe haven for freed slaves to live there. He did none of that.

In their final 14 years through 1826, Jefferson and Adams exchanged letters regularly, arguing not only for their time but consciously for future Americans to be able to read their deliberations. Jefferson held a romantic notion that economic and social equality — not between the races, however — would come to be the natural order of American life. Adams realistically insisted that “as long as property exists, it will accumulate in individuals and families … the snowball will grow as it rolls.” Adams believed that government had a role in preventing the accumulation of wealth and power by American oligarchs. The Gilded Age of the late 1800s proved Adams right, as the unbridled freedom to pursue wealth essentially ensured the triumph of inequality. So has our own age. We have an endemic, widening gulf. What should be the role of government at this juncture in our democracy?

Madison — who orchestrated the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and the ratification, wrote many of The Federalist Papers and drafted the Bill of Rights — changed dramatically from a staunchly held belief in federal supremacy to one in which states and the federal government shared sovereignty, thus allowing future residents to interpret the Constitution according to a changing world.

Washington famously warned against foreign adventuring in countries of little threat to the United States. It was almost as if he could see Afghanistan and Iraq over the horizon.

Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several books about our early history, believes that history helps us understand the present. We can see the same arguments going back and forth that somehow sound an optimistic chord.

And what does he see as the ultimate fix? A great crisis would certainly unite us, he suggests, perhaps even that of evacuation of the coasts with rising seas. He also thinks mandatory national service would help, not necessarily from the military aspect but toward some form of public good.

Social

9,391FansLike
0FollowersFollow
1,155FollowersFollow
33SubscribersSubscribe