By Desirée Keegan
With her second full term under her belt, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said she hopes a third term would allow her to expand on the toughest issues facing the 6th District. But her Republican challenger, Steve Tricarico, says it’s time for a fresh perspective.
Tricarico, who works as Brookhaven Town’s deputy highway superintendent, said the county’s finances were a main focus of his campaign to unseat the incumbent. Anker, however, said she is also focused on being fiscally responsible, but keeps tending to the needs of her constituents at the core of her decision-making.
“I’m looking forward to taking on more issues, more problems, and then addressing them, but also taking on projects that are benefiting the community,” said Anker, a 30-year Long Island resident. “I’m ready to jump in the fire and be the action to get things done. I’ve put in so much time and energy and effort — I’ve networked, I’ve created these very strong relationships and I have the knowledge to move those projects forward.”
But community projects, her opponent argued, still cost money, one way or another. Tricarico, born and raised in Shoreham, said he planned to address the county’s financial stress by proposing that legislators avoid budgeting for sales tax increases year to year.
“It would force us to make the difficult decisions in our departments to stay within our means, and any extra revenue could go toward paying off what we’ve already borrowed,” he said. “I think that we’re drowning, and we need someone that understands public finance, and I do it every day of my life, professionally, to make those cuts and find those efficiencies. I think all the services in the world are great, but if people cannot afford to live here, they mean nothing. And I’m fighting to make it more affordable here, in Suffolk County.”
Tricarico said he managed a $115 million budget, as an example of his understanding of finance.
Anker argued that while she and her challenger both understand that addressing issues requires dollars, she’s done work to keep the county financially sound. She helped reduce county government costs 10 percent by streamlining services, saving taxpayers more than $100 million annually.
There are other issues Anker said she’s addressing and projects she’s working on to help the people of the 6th District, which she argues Tricarico does not have the experience to address.
“Besides keeping the county fiscally stable, we need to speak for the residents here, and that’s something I’ve been doing for the last 25 years,” she said. “We can’t address the issues in the community unless we talk to the constituents, work with them and meet with them. My doors are always open, my phone is always available, and I don’t know if [Tricarico] has the experience to do that.”
Anker noted particular projects she’s spearheaded that she feels enhance the quality of life of her constituents.
After her grandmother died of breast cancer, Anker founded the Community Health and Environment Coalition, which was vital in advancing the New York State Department of Health’s research on cancer cluster causes, the legislator said. She also implemented the Green Homes Go Solar program, to bring renewable energy opportunities to residents.
Anker also advocated to create Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, initiated the North Shore Coastal Erosion Task Force, created the Jobs Opportunity Board to connect graduating seniors with local jobs, started a sports safety forum as a result of a recent death and some serious student-athlete injuries, and provided more health services to people struggling with addiction.
While Tricarico, who is also concerned about keeping young adults on Long Island, said he wouldn’t throw away any projects Anker has already put into motion that he in turn supports, he said he disagreed with how Anker handles addressing problems, pointing out Anker’s tendency to create task forces when addressing issues.
“I’m a man of action,” he said. “I think that there’s a lot that we can do to make the government more efficient. What the residents want to see is less task forces, less commissions, less talk and more action, and that’s what I’m offering the 6th District.”
An issue Tricarico brought up was the progression of the 10-mile Rails to Trails recreational path that would run from Mount Sinai to Wading River.
“What have we been doing for 15 years?” Tricarico said of the project, which was originally introduced in 2001. “I grew up in this community and I’ve been hearing about Rails to Trails since I was in high school. I think that the project has taken way too long, if it’s ever going to happen.”
Anker, who took office in 2011, said the federal government takes time on any project, and said that after a year of required public input, a plan will be in place, and the money is there to complete the project.
Tricarico said if elected into the Republican minority caucus, he will work with the Democratic majority to get things done, but said he would not be a “rubber stamp” for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).
“We’re basically seeing one government here,” he said. “To get thing done, of course you have to work across aisles, but we need a check and balance. We need a Republican legislature, which is a check on absolute power.”
Tricarico admitted he does see good work in what Anker has done, but said he wants to work in a different direction.
“I think Legislator Anker is a good advocate to the community,” he said. “I see her at a lot of different events, she’s a good people person, she’s able to relate with folks. I just think the county needs a different leadership at this time, especially when it’s related to fiscal issues.”
This version corrects information about how long Legislator Sarah Anker has been in office.