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Tom McNally

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Longtime legislator faces challenge from newcomer

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Rohma Abbas

A longtime Democratic Suffolk County legislator, seeking a final term in office to represent parts of Huntington Town, will go head to head in an election on Tuesday against a political newcomer who said a fresh perspective is in order.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas
Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has been in office for a decade and is seeking a sixth and final two-year term before being term-limited out of that seat. He’ll have to fend off a challenge by Tom McNally, a Republican attorney from Dix Hills, who is part of the Huntington Republican Committee’s executive board.

In phone interviews this week, both candidates talked about what they see as top issues in this year’s campaign. The topics centered on how to steer Suffolk’s financial ship, ways to fund sewers in Suffolk, the government’s role in assisting veterans and more.

Stern touted his signature legislation, the Housing our Homeless Heroes initiative, a package of bills that aims to end veteran homelessness in Suffolk through a number of avenues.

The legislator, who sits on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee, said he wants another term in office to continue accomplishing goals in that package of bills — particularly being able to say “in the very near future, that we have ended veteran homelessness in Suffolk County.”

“I do believe we are going to accomplish that goal,” he said.

Meanwhile, while McNally lauds Stern’s veterans initiative, he said he’d take it a step further. The contender said he’d work to create legislation that would make sure vets returning from service have a job. “If they want a job, they have a job. If I’m fortunate enough to be elected, I would double down and continue forward with all the efforts Mr. Stern has implemented on veterans and senior issues.”

County spending is one of the main tenets of McNally’s platform.

Republican Tom McNally photo from the candidate
Republican Tom McNally photo from the candidate

If elected, he said he’d mandate a reduction in spending at all Suffolk County agencies by 2.5 percent per department, except police, and 1 percent for the police budget. Spending caps are necessary, he said, because of the county’s “huge, huge deficit.”

“It’s not impossible, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

The legislator countered, however, that the county has worked steadfastly to reduce the size of government in recent years by 1,100 positions, and by consolidating departments — like the recent merger of the county offices of comptroller and treasurer.

He said he has had to make tough choices as a legislator, like deciding not to continue operating the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, an operation county taxpayers subsidized at the cost of millions of dollars.

“It was an excruciatingly difficult decision to make, but the right one for Suffolk County taxpayers.”

Another reason Stern said he’s running is to work on the county’s sewer issue. He called himself a leading proponent of sewer infrastructure development, cosponsoring legislation identifying what areas would best served by sewers and choosing how to prioritize which neighborhoods get developed first.

It’s particularly crucial to Huntington, he said, because that priority list includes the expansion of the Southwest Sewer District, which serves Deer Park, North Babylon and other western neighborhoods.

With expanded capacity comes the ability to rev up revitalization in Huntington, particularly in Huntington Station, where developer Renaissance Downtowns already has plans in place.

Stern said the county’s getting $388 million in funding from the federal and state government to embark on these infrastructure projects, something he wants to see through.

“Will we see movement on the issue? The answer is yes. We are starting to see that now.”

McNally, by contrast, agrees water quality is a big issue on Long Island, but doesn’t see how the county could fund such a large investment.

“I think it’s an investment we have to make, but I think we have to cut back in other areas. We’re not cutting back in other areas.”

Stern was critical of his opponent’s take on the issue, noting the $388 million in sewer funds the county has.

“These kinds of opportunities is where the money comes from,” he said. “If you just throw up your hands and say this is too big, too bold, can’t afford it, then you miss out on opportunities like we are participating in.”

Election Day is Nov. 3.

File photo by Rohma Abbas

The political season is swinging into high gear in Huntington.

Last week, town Democrats and Republicans tapped their picks for two open seats on the town board. The Huntington Town Democrat Committee nominated incumbent Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) and town Deputy Director of General Services Keith Barrett for the spots, according to Mary Collins, chairwoman of the committee. The committee also nominated incumbents Ester Bivona for town receiver of taxes and Marian Tinari for district court judge.

The Democratic nominations took place last Wednesday, Collins said.

“We think they’re the best people we have,” Collins said. “They’ve shown an interest in good government and getting things done.”

The Huntington Town Republican Committee unanimously picked incumbent Councilman Gene Cook (I) and Northport-East Northport school board member Jennifer Thompson, according to Chairwoman Toni Tepe. The nominations took place last Friday.

“The screening committee recommended [them] to the full committee because they feel that Gene has been a stalwart supporter of the people and that he always has the interest of the people at heart,” Tepe said in a phone interview this week. “And Jennifer Thompson came in, screened very nicely, [was a] very personable, knowledgeable individual and would be an asset on the town board.”

Republicans also nominated Tom McNally, a Huntington Station-based attorney and a Republican committee member, for the Suffolk County Legislature 16th District seat, held by Democratic incumbent Steve Stern. The party also chose Jennifer Heller-Smitelli, a civil litigator from Huntington, to run for the 17th Legislative District seat, held by Democratic incumbent Lou D’Amaro.

At this point, the candidates need to collect signatures to get on the ballot. And it looks like there might be a contest for getting on the ballot — at least over on the Democratic side — with former Highway Superintendent William Naughton announcing this week that he wants to run for town board. In addition, newcomer Drew Merola, a business account manager at Verizon is vying for a seat.

Asked for her thoughts on primary elections, Collins said they could be good or bad.

“Sometimes they help solidify the party,” she said. “Sometimes they can cause rifts. It all depends on how people conduct themselves while the primary process is going on.”

Berland and Barrett, when reached this week, said they were excited to get the Democratic committee’s nomination. Cook and Thompson didn’t immediately return a call for comment on Wednesday morning, but Cook stated in a previous interview he’s running for a second four-year term because he’s taken issue with the way the Democratic majority has spent money.

Tepe and Barrett agreed that this year’s election would be about transparency and ethics.

“And also to maintain a community that is in the liking of people who live here,” Tepe said.