2023 Elections

A special election for Brookhaven Town Clerk will take place Tuesday, Jan. 17. Above, Kevin LaValle (left) and Lisa Di Santo, respective nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties. Photos by Raymond Janis

Early voting is underway for the next Brookhaven town clerk, and the two major party candidates are making their pitch to the voters.

Former Town Clerk Donna Lent (I) retired in November, triggering a special election for her unexpired term ending in 2025. Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) and community advocate Lisa Di Santo, the Democratic Party nominee, will square off at the polls Tuesday, Jan. 17.

During a joint meeting of the Selden and Centereach civic associations Thursday, Jan. 5, the two candidates were questioned on a range of topics related to the operations of the Town Clerk’s Office. Civic members generated some of the questions with others fielded from the audience.


Di Santo is a former social studies teacher who taught students about participation in government. She also served as a trustee of the South Country school board in East Patchogue, where she lives. 

“I have always participated in government, and I feel that I can be an independent voice of reason in the Town Clerk’s Office,” she said. “We have many of the same people filling many of the same positions over and over again. … That leads to a bit of stagnation, and I think it’s time for a fresh set of ideas, a fresh set of eyes, on what’s happening in the Town Clerk’s Office.”

Before entering government, LaValle owned a title agency. He then received a loan mortgage originator’s license and has worked in mortgage banking ever since. The councilman worked on the staff of former Suffolk County Legislators Dan Losquadro (R) and Tom Muratore (R). He was elected to serve Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District in 2013 in an area which includes Lake Grove, Centereach, Selden and parts of Lake Ronkonkoma, Farmingville, Port Jeff Station and a piece of Holbrook. 

 “I think I’ve accomplished a great deal as councilman, but I come before you now, again, to say that as town clerk, I am going to bring a new energy,” he said. “I am going to bring a new work ethic to the Town Clerk’s Office that has not been seen before.”

Duties of town clerk

Both candidates were asked about the function of the town clerk. For Di Santo, the clerk must ensure the accurate recording of Town Board meetings and the efficient filing of legal records, among other tasks. She emphasized the significance of the Freedom of Information Law request process.

“One of the most important things has to do with [being] the appeals officer for FOIL requests that come to the town,” she said. “People who live here and pay taxes should be able to access that information.”

The Democratic candidate also said the incoming clerk must assess and modernize the existing technology in the office. “I have spoken with some people who work in the Town Clerk’s Office and told me that their technology is at least 10 years out of date,” she said. “That is something that is certainly personally scary to me.”

LaValle viewed the clerk’s role as threefold, that is to “secure, maintain and distribute vital records of the residents of the Town of Brookhaven.” He referred to the office as a “vital hub,” servicing residents in the best and worst times.

“I believe the efficiency could be improved in the Town Clerk’s Office,” he said. “Cybersecurity, I think that’s something we can take to another level.”

He viewed the clerk as a service provider rather than a policymaker or revenue generator, noting that empowering and providing the staff with the necessary resources will be critical. “As the clerk, the focus will be about making sure the staff has the tools to be able to do their job,” he said.


Addressing the September ransomware attack against the Suffolk County government, LaValle assessed shortcomings within the county’s IT network. He described the need for coordination between departments, recommending the town continues its transition to cloud technologies to avert a similar scenario.

“The cloud is probably the best security that you can have, but we have to stay vigilant and make sure we’re looking at new technologies as we move along to make sure our information stays secure,” the councilman said.

Di Santo concurred that replacing outdated technology will be a priority. She stressed the need to properly oversee the transition to new platforms and work out any technical or logistic challenges that may arise.

“When you have new technology, one of the things that is crucial is to make certain that the staff is comfortable with that technology, that they’re fully trained so that they are able to use that to the best of their ability,” she said.


After conversations with staff members, Di Santo painted a bleak picture of the current situation within the Town Clerk’s Office. “The office is actually understaffed,” she said. “Morale is really not very good in the office. You have a lot of turnover, so it’s very difficult to have the best customer service when you have staff changing and needing to be retrained.”

She reiterated that “a fresh set of eyes” from somebody outside government will help identify areas for improvement and generate potential solutions.

LaValle said he would prefer close collaboration with the Town Board, analyzing any barriers to efficient staff operations. He then stated a desire to fund personnel better.

“I want to be able to go in, take a real good look at what is going on in the office,” he said. “Do we need more employees? Should we pay our employees more?”

He also advanced the need to offer a vision the staff can get behind. “We have to work with the employees and build a team concept,” he said. “I want to make this the best clerk’s office in New York state. Without our employees buying into my leadership and what I want to do, that’s not going to happen.”

Resident access

Both candidates addressed the need to decentralize the office, to move services out of Town Hall and into the various hamlets and villages throughout the township. LaValle introduced a multipronged approach, including attending community meetings and building a more prominent multimedia presence.

“I want to be a town clerk going out to various functions,” he said. “A lot of people here see me in a lot of different events. That’s something I’m going to continue to do because I think the outreach of going out to the public and showing them what the clerk’s office does … is fundamentally important.”

He added, “I want to be able to go out and bring back some transparency — new social media platforms, doing videos on Channel 18 talking about what we can do to help residents.”

Di Santo said she has heard from multiple residents that resident access to public records can be slow. She again centered on requests for public information.

“The town clerk is the final appeals officer for the FOIL law,” she said. “In some cases, those requests get bounced from one department to another and the clock seems to run out.”

She added, “People who are residents, our taxpayers, are asking for information from their town, and in many cases it seems that it is being stonewalled. The town clerk has a responsibility to provide that information.”

Open government

Candidates were asked what the term “open government” means and how they would bring town government closer to the people.

“Open government means giving everyone the opportunity to participate at their fullest,” Di Santo said. “I would, as town clerk, try to appeal to the Town Board members to make many of the meetings much more accessible to the many people in the town who work.”

She also proposed bringing the operations of the Town Clerk’s Office to local libraries and other community forums. “The town clerk [could] go into each and every one of those council districts several times a year, appear at the senior centers and the local libraries to have discussions with people,” she said.

Like Di Santo, LaValle stressed he would maintain an active community presence if elected. “I want to go out, I want to be at senior centers, I want to be at civic meetings, I want to be in chambers of commerce, talking about what the clerk’s office does,” he said. “You have to get out there. You have to be a part of the community.”

Brookhaven residents will decide on these two candidates this Tuesday, Jan. 17. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and residents can report to their regular polling place on Election Day.

Pictured above, Lisa Di Santo and Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden). Left from Di Santo’s Facebook page; right from the town website

In a race to fill former Brookhaven Town Clerk Donna Lent’s (I) seat, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) will square off against community advocate Lisa Di Santo, of East Patchogue.

Lent announced her retirement last month, vacating her seat and triggering a special election for her expired term ending in 2025. [See story, “Brookhaven’s town clerk retires from public service.“] 

Both candidates were chosen unanimously by their respective parties during separate nominating conferences last week. In phone interviews with TBR News Media, the candidates discussed their professional backgrounds, reasons for pursuing the office of clerk and plans for the future.

Before entering elected office, LaValle, a lifelong Brookhaven resident, owned a title agency, assisting prospective homebuyers with vital records, such as liens, deeds and similar documents. He then transitioned into the mortgage business, where he still works today. 

In 2013, LaValle campaigned successfully to represent Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District, an office he has held ever since.

“Why I’m making this run for town clerk, I think it’s [because] we see in the paper every day with what just happened with Suffolk County, the hack that happened,” he said. “You can see very clearly that that’s something we don’t want to happen in Brookhaven. Managing people’s personal records is critical to our county and our township.”

Di Santo is a 50-year resident of Brookhaven whose background is in community advocacy. Before running for office, she was a social studies teacher, served as vice president of the Bellport Area Community Action Committee, and for over a decade was a trustee on the South Country Central School District Board of Education.

In her interview, she emphasized the need for citizens to have a stake in their local government and connect to the democratic process.

“When looking at the way the town functions, the town clerk plays a very important role in the accessibility of good government, accountability of good government and the security that’s necessary in good government,” she said. “In all of those three areas, I currently see that the town fails miserably.” 

The Democratic candidate added, “I’m running because I do believe wholeheartedly that the town clerk, especially now, needs to be an independent person and an independent voice to be certain that there is truly open government in Brookhaven Town.”

For LaValle, the protection of residents’ sensitive information is paramount. Like Di Santo’s proposal, he said he intends to promote efficiency and expand resident access to their records and to the office of clerk.

“We have to make sure records are secure, but we want to increase access,” the town councilman said. “We want to be able to have people with disabilities not have to come up to Town Hall to get handicap parking passes, and what have you.” 

He added, “We have to increase our internet capabilities to be able to service residents’ needs without making them have to come to Town Hall. And certainly, we have to work to increase the transparency within the government.”

LaValle contends that town clerk is a technically demanding position to learn and to hold. However, he maintains that his professional training within the public and private sector have prepared him in unique ways for the demands of the office.

“I believe that I have the ability and the experience to be able to do this job effectively, managing an over-30-person staff, and making sure residents are taken care of as we move forward,” he said.

On the whole, Di Santo viewed Brookhaven as failing in its obligations to promote open government. She cited the Freedom of Information Law request process as needing reform.

“You’d be hard to find an individual who has taken the time to participate in Brookhaven Town government who would tell you that the FOIL process is one of accessibility and accountability, and there’s a serious problem there,” she said. “If a citizen, a taxpayer, can’t access information, then how can the government represent those people?”

Di Santo said her campaign rests on the notion that quality governance requires informed and engaged citizenship. Given her advocacy background, she considered herself uniquely suited to this task. 

If elected, Di Santo said she intends to begin by reforming the scheduling of open meetings to bolster public participation. 

“When government continues to schedule meetings that are inaccessible to people, they’re sending a message that they do not want to have a democracy,” she said. “You can’t have a democracy without the participation of the people.”

Brookhaven residents will get the final word on these two candidates during a townwide special election on Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Special election to be held Tuesday, Jan. 17, following former Town Clerk Donna Lent's retirement

Photo from Di Santo's Facebook page

The following is a press release from the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee:

The Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee has selected Lisa Di Santo, of East Patchogue, as the party’s candidate for Brookhaven Town Clerk. 

Former Town Clerk Donna Lent (I) vacated her seat earlier this month, triggering a special election to be held Jan. 17. [See story, “Brookhaven’s town clerk retires from public service.“] 

Di Santo was selected unanimously during a telephonic convention of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee on Friday, Nov. 25. 

Di Santo will face off against Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), the Brookhaven Republican Committee’s nominee.

“To be given the chance to be our next town clerk is nothing short of humbling, and I will give this opportunity nothing less than my very best,” Di Santo said.

Special election to be held Tuesday, Jan. 17, following former Town Clerk Donna Lent's (I) retirement

File photo by Kyle Barr

The following is a press release from the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee:

Jesse Garcia, chair of the Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town Republican Committees, announced Tuesday, Nov. 22, that Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) will be the Republican and Conservative Party’s nominee for Brookhaven Town Clerk. LaValle was nominated to the position unanimously during a convention of Brookhaven Republicans held in Medford.

The position of town clerk opened following the retirement of Donna Lent (I) on Nov. 14. [See story, “Brookhaven’s town clerk retires from public service.“] A special election to fill the vacancy will take place Tuesday, Jan. 17, to serve out the unexpired term through December 31, 2025.

“I am proud to accept the Republican and Conservative nominations to run for Brookhaven Town Clerk,” LaValle said. “I am excited to get this campaign started, and I look forward to getting out and talking to residents about my vision for the future of our clerk’s office.”

Kevin LaValle was elected as town councilman in 2013, representing Council District 3, where he has served until now.


State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick stopped by the TBR News Media’s offices to discuss the 2022 race. Photo by Raymond Janis

We are endorsing Michael Fitzpatrick for New York’s 8th Assembly District. Like us, the assemblyman was disappointed that he didn’t have an active opponent in the campaign, and he said he likes discussing local issues, debating and having the exchange of ideas that come from such meetings.

Fitzpatrick steps up to the plate time and time again and looks out for the district. He has made this evident in the past with supporting sewer installation in the Town of Smithtown, supporting bills to curb the heroin problem in Suffolk County and for a 2% tax levy increase cap for school districts to limit spending.

His idea to make State University of New York a national brand by changing the name to University of New York, and making Stony Brook University the flagship of such a brand will give the Seawolves a chance to be part of the Top 10. The idea is an example of how his decades of experience has enabled him to look at the larger picture as such a move can bring economic benefits to our area of Long Island.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was joined by several county legislators on Tuesday, June 13, at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, signing legislation that will fortify 12-year term limits for county offices.

Although term limits have existed in Suffolk County since 1993, the original statute was ambiguous. This new law, which was passed unanimously by the county Legislature last month, will cement 12-year terms for the offices of executive, legislator and comptroller. 

Bellone considered this a much-needed measure that has received “overwhelming support” from the public and that reaffirms the original intent of the 1993 law.

“People really believe and understand that there is a value in turning over the people who are in office, that after a period of years — 12 years in this case — it’s time to give someone else an opportunity,” he said. “If there is a time limit in office, there’s more likely to be a focus on what’s in the interest of people rather than maintaining themselves in that office.”

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) discusses the legislative intent of the 1993 term limit law. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

The 1993 law was poorly written, offering a loophole for those eager to circumvent its legislative intent, allowing officials to bypass its 12-year cap after a break in service. Bellone said this new law closes that loophole, establishing a fixed-term limit of 12 total years for each respective office.

“This Legislature has made it clear in this action today that they want to limit government, that they want to limit the time that someone can serve,” the county executive said. “Our experience here in Suffolk County is that that is absolutely a good thing.”

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) shared why this law will benefit voters. By creating more turnover in county government, the term limits will make room for new blood and fresh ideas.

“I’ve served in the Legislature for a little bit over eight years now,” he said. “I have seen some come and go and said, ‘I hate to see them go.’ But you know what? Someone takes their place and we have an input of different ideas and different personalities, and I think it’s been positive.”

Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), at podium, sponsored this legislation. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) sponsored this legislation. Elected for the first time in 2021, Bontempi views the term limits as a motivating influence, creating a fixed window of time for her to deliver results for her constituents.

“There will be no more sitting idly, languishing over decisions for decades,” she said. “I want to actually produce results.” The legislator added, “It just simply is good government — new ideas, new candidates.”

The law will make one final pit stop before it is formally enacted. County voters will weigh in on the matter in a referendum this November. Both the county executive and the legislators present urged Suffolk County residents to ratify this legislation.

Photo from Steve Bellone's Flickr page

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) held a press conference in Hauppauge on Friday, June 17, in support of public campaign finance for county offices. 

Under a 2017 statute, a public campaign finance fund was created to use revenues generated by Jake’s 58 casino. The program, which is set to begin during the 2023 election cycle, is now meeting stiff opposition from the Republican majority in the county Legislature, which favors using those funds for public safety initiatives. 

Under pressure to repeal the law, Bellone explained the intent of this experimental program, saying its basis is to maintain “the people’s faith and trust in government.”

‘For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences.’

— Steve Bellone

Bellone defended the public campaign finance law, claiming that it achieves two goals: Empowering ordinary citizens to run for public office and weakening the power of special interests and party leaders. He suggests the law preserves the integrity of the electoral process and strengthens democracy.

“For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences,” he said. “It has consequences for taxpayers because you get a less efficient government, a government that is not necessarily focused on solving problems for the citizens it represents but focused more on those other stakeholders, those special interests.”

The county executive emphasized that the campaign finance program is not financed through tax dollars. Rather, it is supported through revenues collected from Jake’s 58 casino, which Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting purchased last year for $120 million. “I can’t think of a better way that we can utilize those dollars,” he said.

Compared to the multibillion dollar annual county budget, Bellone added that this fund is negligible. For this reason, he advocates using this small portion of public revenue to invest in the political process.

“We spend public monies every day with the intent of benefiting the public, whether it’s on housing or on water quality or a host of other issues,” he said. “We’re talking about a little relative to the county’s $3.5 billion budget — it’s virtually nothing. Let’s spend that small portion on our democracy.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, joined Bellone in defending the program. Richberg primarily objected to the repeal efforts on the grounds that the program has not even been tested, arguing Republicans in the Legislature should give it a chance before tearing it down.

“Time and time again, we hear in the Legislature that we’re putting good money after bad,’” he said. “There’s funding. We have a plan. Run it and let’s critique it after it runs.” He continued, “Let’s let it go through and if you don’t want to join, then don’t join.”

Mercy Smith, executive director of the Suffolk County Campaign Finance Board, reiterated these points. She highlighted the program’s voluntary nature, saying that individuals can opt out if they do not want to partake in it. She also said the program encourages grassroots campaigning, a departure from the current practice of soliciting large contributions from special interest groups.

“The program is really designed to optimize the potential of all Suffolk County residents who have the desire and the gumption and the ability to persevere and want to run for office,” she said.

Smith said that the program holds participants to a high standard, promoting transparency in the public disclosure of their campaign finances. Participants are asked to be fully fiscally responsible, to adhere to conservation and expenditure limits, to comply with the board’s oversight and audit procedures, and to commit to the program’s spending limits.

Additionally, the program does not discriminate on the basis of party, incumbency status or any other criteria. “This program is for teachers, it’s for first responders, police officers, it’s for business owners,” she said. “This program is for anyone who wants to participate and become a public servant and make our government in Suffolk County better.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the purpose of public campaign finance both in Suffolk and around the country is to place voters at the core of the political process.

“The whole purpose of the campaign finance program, a matching fund program, is to center the voters in our government process,” she said. “Not special interests, not people who can write outsized checks, but the everyday residents of Suffolk County.” She added, “This system is set up to do exactly that, using specially designated funds, not taxpayer money, to encourage candidates to invite the voters into the system.”

A vote to repeal the program is scheduled for Wednesday. Republicans control the county Legislature with an 11-7 majority. A two-thirds majority of the Legislature, or 12 votes, would be required to override a veto from the county Executive.