Local Government

Huntington Town Hall

By Leah Chiappino

As reported by TBR News Media, April 13, the Huntington Town Board will have two open seats in November, with Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) and Councilman Eugene Cook (R) deciding not to run for reelection.

The Huntington Republican Committee has nominated two candidates: attorney Theresa Mari, and town director of labor relations, Brooke Lupinacci. 

Democrats have put forward Don McKay, deputy commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, and Jen Hebert, program director of Kerber’s Farm School and former Huntington school board president. 

TBR News Media spoke to Mari and Hebert for the April 13 edition, and subsequently had the opportunity to sit down with McKay and Lupinacci to discuss their thoughts on the election, their background and what motivated them to run.

Don McKay

Don McKey

Running on the Democratic ticket, McKay was born and raised in Eaton’s Neck, prior to moving to Dix Hills 24 years ago.

Always interested in current events, he decided to pursue a career in journalism, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications in 1987 from Bethany College in West Virginia.

“I started reading Newsday since I could read,” he said, noting he served on his high school paper as a photographer, further fueling his passion for the industry.

After graduation he worked as an admissions officer for Bethany for a year, before returning to Huntington to launch his journalism career as newspaper reporter for the North Shore News Group in Smithtown, covering the towns of Islip, Brookhaven and Huntington.

“You just learn so much,” he said of his time in journalism. “It’s really one of the best jobs to prepare you for your future.”

Two years later, he was hired as the government reporter for The Saratogian, a daily newspaper in Saratoga Springs, through a college friend who took over as sports editor. After four years there, McKay returned to Long Island to run The Huntington News.

McKay said several local topics he wrote about as a newspaper reporter still remain unresolved.

“It’s affordable housing, it’s taxes, it’s public safety, it’s quality of life, maintaining Huntington’s outstanding quality of life, and it’s protecting the environment, our bays and harbors to preserve and protect our marine environment,” he said. “So a lot of issues back then remain constant today.”

McKay, who worked as a commercial fisherman on the weekends while working as a journalist, said the transition out of the profession came when he was getting married, and a reporter’s salary became unsustainable. Still wanting to serve, he said getting into town government was the perfect fit. He served as a legislative aide to then Huntington Councilman Steve Israel (D), and joined the staff of former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) as the town’s public information officer.

“I’ve always enjoyed public service,” McKay said. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people, resolving issues, resolving community issues, neighborhood issues, helping people get through issues of concern.”

In 2006, he was appointed director of Parks and Recreation for the town, overseeing the expansion of Veterans Park in East Northport, Manor Field Park in Huntington Station, Breezy Park in Huntington Station and an expansion of the Dix Hills Ice Rink. 

In February 2018, McKay was appointed deputy commissioner of the Suffolk parks department where he oversees 50,000 acres of parkland, 14 major active parks and more. If elected, he said he would likely step down from the county due to ethics laws.

High taxes are among McKay’s motivation to run.

“I just think that this current administration and Town Board is not being responsive to the community’s needs,” he said. “I feel that I can bring a new perspective.” 

 Brooke Lupinacci

Brooke Lupinacci

The new Republican candidate said she is a lifelong Huntington resident, whose family has lived in the area for generations.

Originally a journalism major at NYU, she decided to go to law school after being inspired by a media law course she took.

“I had a phenomenal professor,” she said. “I was totally intrigued by the law and I wanted to write about cases and legal proceedings. It was at that time that I decided that maybe I could have a better edge in my journalistic writing, if I went to law school to get a legal background.”

Then, Lupinacci took an oral advocacy course at Touro Law Center, inspiring her to delve fully into the legal profession.

 Her first job out of law school was as a Suffolk County assistant district attorney, working on misdemeanor level offenses, such as graffiti infractions, assault, bias crimes and vehicle traffic violations. She then joined the county’s Domestic Violence Unit, before focusing on white collar crimes, such as embezzlement, fraud, home improvement scams, welfare fraud and money laundering.

“I really did enjoy my time in white-collar crime because it was more than just a one witness-type case, or ‘he said, she said’ type thing, if you will,” she said “ It was a real challenge intellectually, because I got to work with forensic auditors and I had a specialized team of detectives when I was prosecuting prevailing wage cases.”

When Lupinacci had her first son in 2015, she decided to leave the county District Attorney’s Office to become a Huntington Town assistant attorney. Mentors also told her that after a decade as a prosecutor, it would be a good time to step down.

“Being a Huntington resident, I thought it would be great to be working for the town that I grew up in,” she said.

Throughout her time with the town Attorney’s Office, Lupinacci helped prosecute zombie homes, hoarder properties and squatter houses, and served as counsel to the town’s elected officials, departments and staff, her campaign said. She said she enjoyed appearing in District Court and, since she loves to write, drafting legislation.

Lupinacci now serves as town director of labor relations in the Office of Personnel, with responsibilities including negotiating collective bargaining agreements, handling complaints and managing recruitment.

“It’s very fulfilling,” she said. “I find that I’ve so far have been able to, I think, make connections between management and the employees. I’ve also been able to help the department heads in building their departments, and establishing some new titles while working with the Suffolk County department of civil service. And it’s really been great.”

For Lupinacci, public service at an elected level was the next logical step in her career. 

“I think that I’ll build on the great things that have already been started,” she said. “I know the people in Town Hall that make the wheels turn.”

One issue she said motivated her to run, was Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) proposal to build 800,000 new homes over the next decade, which requires municipalities to rezone around train stations. 

“I definitely plan to stand ground on and protect Huntington from overdevelopment and some of the initiatives that Hochul seems to be trying to put upon us,” Lupinacci said. “Local control is important. We here know our counties better than those that are far removed in Albany.”

Former Port Jeff village clerk Bob Juliano on his run for trustee. Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

What would be your top priority for the coming term, if elected?

It’s more like a top couple of priorities.

I’d like to see the Building Department be a full complement as far as the planning and enforcement sides. Right now, I know the building department is in the process of interviewing planners. Hiring in the village is tough because you have to go through civil service — you have to exhaust the civil service list before you go outside. It becomes a long, laborious project to interview and hire somebody.

Entering the busy season in the village, as far as tourists, the Code Enforcement office is a little in flux with not having a chief. I’d like to see that stabilized, going ahead and ensuring that the village is a safe place for everyone.

I’d like to see trustee [Stan] Loucks’ plan for the country club implemented. There’s water there that we should be capturing. It just makes economic and ecological sense to put his plan in and create another pond.

Environmentally, Port Jefferson was called Drowned Meadow for a reason. It always flooded out, so we have to work environmentally to do something to either alleviate or lessen the flooding in the downtown area. Especially going forward, I think flooding will be more and more of an issue downtown. 

If elected, how do you intend to help guide East Beach bluff stabilization efforts and maximize the use of the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club?

The country club is a very important piece of property that the village owns. 

The country club is a dedicated parkland, so it’s there to stay. It’s there, and we have to protect it. [The Board of Trustees] started the [lower] part of the wall, which I think should have gone out to public referendum, but that’s water under the bridge — no pun intended.

I think what they have to do is to continue the wall. They have to build the second portion upland. I like the idea that they’re getting federal funds and help to stabilize the bluff and build the second part of the wall. That should stabilize it, but for how long, I don’t know.

I’m not a golfer myself, but I know it does help property values just by the village owning a golf course and having village residents able to join the country club to play golf.

I’d like to see it expanded a little. I know with the bluff issue, they had to close down the tennis [program], and I’d like to see the tennis courts come back for the tennis players to come back and play. I just started to play pickleball, so I’d like to see some pickleball courts put in there, too. 

But I think it’s a valuable asset that the village has to protect.

What is the role of the village board in overseeing new developments and redevelopment projects?

The village board can lead and tell the Planning Board how we want the village to go.

There are two current issues that are going on. There’s the second half of the [uptown] Conifer Project, which I believe has already been approved and starting construction shortly. That’s going to be an asset to the uptown area as a whole. I’m hoping they have [commercial] tenants ready to enter the lower portion. Then they can start renting out the upper portion.

As far as Maryhaven, I’d like to see that thought out fully before they go and say, “Yes, you can do the condos.” I know as much as everybody else — I don’t have any inside information — and what was said at the [May 1] public meeting.

Everything has to be looked at there. Could the village use that property? It’s a perfect piece of property up the hill for the Fire Department, the Building Department and Village Hall. That would be perfect with everything right on the campus there.

That will cost money, so whether that’s feasible or not and whether there’s money out there is a question. But it has to be looked at and investigated before everything’s a done deal.

As far as future developments, I have an idea. I’ve seen it done in Westbury. A lot of times, the IDA will come in, the Industrial Development Agency will go in, and they’ll meet with the developer and say, “We’re going to give you rebates or tax relief.” And the village has no say.

In Westbury, I’ve seen it done where the property in question has to pay at least the taxes they’re paying now. So they don’t go back down to zero but start with the taxes they’re paying now. The village won’t lose any money, and then it builds up from there as the building gets built and the assessment changes.

How can the village alleviate its parking capacity challenges, balancing the competing interests of residents, businesses and tourists?

Parking in the village is very interesting. If you look back at the village’s history, one of the reasons it was incorporated was because of parking.

There’s very limited land in the commercial district to add parking. I can foresee some sort of parking — a level or two — being added to the area. “Where?” is the question. 

If you put a parking structure in the uptown, you have to worry about getting people from the uptown area to downtown. How do we deal with that?

We have a parking administrator. I’d like to see maybe the parking committee come back into being and resurrect the parking committee to get more ideas — ideas from businesspeople and residents.

I think, eventually, the only way to do it is to put up some sort of parking structure. That’s going to have to be built. That leads to other challenges that we’ll have to overcome.

What is your preferred method for public engagement?

My plan is that once a month, I’ll be at the Village Center — in the living room area there — and as a very casual thing, I’ll sit there for anybody who wants to come by and talk to me. I’ll have set hours, and then I can bring those concerns and issues back to the village board.

I’d also like to see some sort of portal added to the village website. People can either volunteer or see what volunteer opportunities there are for various committees. It’s a way to open up to the rest of the village.

What is your professional background, and how does it apply to the role of a trustee?

I’m a graduate of St. John’s University. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in government and politics and public administration. I have an MBA, also from St. John’s, in economics.

Right out of college, I started working for two different banks for 10 years. Then I became a treasurer of the Village of Lindenhurst. I was treasurer for eight years. I had a brief stint working for News 12 and was moving to Port Jeff when a friend of mine said the [then] clerk was leaving Port Jeff and that I should drop my resume off to the mayor. 

I did that and was interviewed by the first Mayor Garant [Jeanne]. She hired me, and I was the clerk of Port Jefferson for 18 years. Then I retired from Port Jeff and went to the Village of Westbury, where I grew up. I was clerk-treasurer of Westbury for two years.

When I was in college, my grandfather was the mayor of Westbury. He was a trustee for many years, so I got my introduction to local and municipal politics through the family.

Note to our readers

We intend to interview each of the declared candidates for village office, starting with those running for trustee, then mayor. In keeping with past practice, we first interview incumbents seeking reelection, followed by nonincumbents, selected alphabetically.

New proposed EPA regulations may affect the Port Jefferson Power Station, pictured above. File photo by Lee Lutz
By Aidan Johnson

The Biden administration and the Environmental Protection Agency announced proposed regulations requiring most power plants fired by fossil fuels to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent between 2035 and 2040, or shut down.

This climate rule would likely affect the Port Jefferson and Northport power stations, since they are both fossil-burning plants.

Under consideration for the new standards are carbon capture and storage, or CCS, a method of capturing and storing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, though this is still not widely practiced.

“CCS has not reached a widespread commercialization stage,” Gang He, an assistant professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, said in an email. “According to the Global Status of CCS 2022 report by Global CCS Institute, there are only 30 operational projects with a total capture capacity of 42.56 million metric tons — about 0.1% of the total carbon emission in 2022.”

As the global climate crisis continues, the World Meteorological Organization announced May 17 that world temperatures are “now more likely than not” to cross the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, recommending policymakers act promptly to reduce carbon emissions and help mitigate the mounting concerns.

Another proposal being explored is hydrogen, a low-emission fuel source which produces power through a process called electrolysis that could move Long Island’s toward a greener future, according to former Port Jeff Village trustee Bruce Miller. 

Miller said hydrogen could play a major role in reshaping Long Island’s economic and energy futures as some companies have already started acquiring and selling hydrogen. 

“It is hoped [hydrogen] will be an important part of our economy in the near future, and there’s a lot of money being allocated for that,” Miller told TBR News Media in an interview. “I believe that National Grid has the capacity to do this in Port Jefferson.”

National Grid did not respond to a request for comment.

Miller said local plant operators would probably need to modernize the existing power stations to accommodate hydrogen in the future.

Also factoring into this hydrogen equation would be energy demand. While a lot of energy is expected to be received from the Atlantic, where offshore wind turbines are currently being developed, these represent intermittent energy sources, Miller indicated.

Given Port Jeff Harbor’s deepwater port, Miller suggested that hydrogen could be feasibly captured, pumped and stored along existing maritime commercial routes and transported via cargo ships. 

While decisions over local power stations remain ongoing, National Grid needs to determine whether it would be worth it to use hydrogen, or whether the electricity generated in the Atlantic would be enough. The municipalities would also need to be on board with repowering the plants.

“We call ourselves a welcoming community,” Miller said. “If that’s the direction that National Grid would want to go in, the village [should] support that.” 

While there is a market to extract and sell hydrogen, it needs to be at an affordable price. Although the amount that hydrogen will play in creating a sustainable future is unknown, questions over local plants remain ongoing with the subsequent detrimental effects on the Port Jefferson and Northport tax bases.

Editor’s note: See also letter, “The reality of closing local generating plants. 

Residents are concerned that a proposed house of worship on the property of Timothy House on Route 25A will destroy the historical integrity of the property. The property is known for its ‘allée’ of sugar maples, which have not yet bloomed in this photo. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A packed room full of Head of the Harbor residents gathered last Wednesday, May 17, for a public hearing on the application of the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, also known as the Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, that occupies the historic Timothy House, to build a church on the property.

The monastery, which purchased the house in 2018, is seeking a special-use permit for religious purposes, to build the church, which will be about 3,341 square feet.  As previously noted by the The Times of Smithtown (March 30, 2023), Timothy House, constructed in the 1800s, was once the home of former Head of the Harbor historian and architectural preservationist Barbara Van Liew, who died in 2005. The house was built by a descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith. In honor of Van Liew, community members passed out buttons with her photo reading, “Save Her Legacy.”

The village board listened to a presentation made by Joseph Buzzell, the attorney for the monastery along with public comments made by the community. A decision has not been made and the next meeting is on June 21. Public comment will be open until then.

Calls for recusal 

At the start of the meeting Deputy Mayor Daniel White addressed calls from some community members to recuse himself from the application, as he has a family member in the monastery. He declined to step aside.

“A grandchild of one of my aunts is affiliated with the monastery,” White said. “While I know this individual, who he is, I have not had any significant conversation or other dealings with him in the last 20 years. I am not required to recuse myself here as a matter of law. I believe I can be fair and impartial in the assessment and determination of this application.”

Village Mayor Douglas Dahlgard stood behind White, and said the village is small, and most people know each other.

Plan details

Buzzell said the Monastery has received a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office noting that the house will have “no adverse impact on the Timothy Smith house.” SHPO is requiring the monastery to take photos of the site for documentation purposes.  He added that the monks “have, do and will fully maintain the Timothy Smith house.”

The plan does not include any changes or modifications to the actual house.

“This is not an insensitive builder, demolishing a historic structure,” Buzzell said. “Part of the monastery’s proposal from the very beginning is to preserve and maintain the Timothy Smith house. It’s done so in the past, it does so now, it will continue to do so.”

Buzzell said that since the monks purchased the home, they have put over $340,000 into the maintenance of the property including structural repairs to the basement and east wing, emergency repairs to beams and front stoop, along with repairs to the roof, plumbing and sanitary systems, electrical repairs, repairs to leaks in the basement and roof and mold remediation. 

The monastery is not presently proposing to widen the driveway, or add new lighting, Buzzell said. The attorney for the monastery said the decision about the driveway came up “late during the SHPO process.”

 The foliage along 25A will also stay the same. A school is no longer part of the plan, according to Buzzell.  It is proposed the church be situated 271.5 feet from the road and that 36 parking spaces be added to the property.

The project would tie the monks to the house, Buzzell said.

“This ties into the church functionally, to the property functionally, to tie them to the property financially, all of which serves to preserve the Timothy Smith house.”

Dahlgard questioned Buzzell as to if the monastery is able to afford the construction.

“My wife and I have two old houses in the village, and we know all too well the cost and the effort that goes into maintaining these houses including money,” he said. 

 Dahlgard continued: “Building a new 3,200 square foot church at today’s prices, the way things are, you’re talking somewhere close to a million dollars.” The mayor asked Buzzell if the village could get  “assurances that [the monastery] has the ability to fund and finance construction.”

While Buzzell previously agreed to  Dahlgard’s request to have a building inspector, he said he was “not involved in the financial aspects of the project but was  sure” something could be worked out.

“If [the monks] didn’t feel that they could actually build and run that church, I would not be standing at this podium,” Buzzell said. 

Parking concerns 

Ethan Schukoske, a traffic engineer for the monastery said they host a large morning service on Sundays for approximately 35 to 40 members.

“They don’t expect a large increase of members,” he said. “Obviously they want to have some space … but it’s really a relocation of services in the Timothy House to their nicer facility on site.” 

Schukoske said the facility had at most 40 cars entering the property during their Sunday peak period, according to his study, in which he observed traffic flow. He noted a maximum of 21 parked cars on site. When projecting the traffic using industry standard data from the Department of Transportation, a standard church of the same size would generate about an additional 17 cars and 31 parked cars, if projecting a typical church of the same size.

  When trustee Jeffrey Fischer pointed out that the study was done in 2021, and it was still at pandemic levels, Schukoske said that around  20,000 vehicles travel on 25A each day, so “when you have less than 100 vehicles during the peak hour, it doesn’t have a significant impact.”

Community response

Erica Rinear, who lives next door to the   monastery, said at the meeting the monks have always been good neighbors.

“They have been nothing but the most wonderful human beings,” she said. Rinear added that she and her husband used to call the section of 25A near their home “highway to heaven,” as there are a number of churches. She welcomes another.

“My husband just died February 5 of this year,” she said. “I like to think that this church will help me get to him directly.”

Leighton Coleman III, the village historian, had a number of concerns about maintaining the historic integrity of the space. He said the SHPO representative, who penned the approval letter for the home, told him she did not make a site visit to the house. He also was concerned that should the parking lot fill up, cars will be parked on 25A, blocking the view of the house.

Natasha Acker, a neighbor, said when she recently went to work, there were three construction vehicles in front of her. Parishioners have also walked up to her fence line, she said. Finally, she was concerned her home would decrease in value after the construction of the church. 

“Say somebody here wants to retire tomorrow,” she said. “It may be years of construction before they’re able to sell their home because nobody wants to buy a home, especially a nice million-dollar historic home, next to a construction area.”

Port Jefferson Village trustee Stan Loucks on his bid for reelection. Sketch by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

If reelected, what would be your top priority during the coming term?

I want to go forward successfully with a plan to capture water — not only to give us more water at the golf course but to protect the environment.

The water now that’s running rampant, a lot of it is dumping right into the Long Island Sound. We have a large spillway that goes right alongside our golf course. All that water we’re going to try to collect, putting it in ponds on the golf course. 

The water we collect will be purified before we put it on the golf course. We’re going to have a system to sanitize the water. 

The one pond we have now is filled with turtles, fish and wildlife. I’d like nothing better than to see more water on our golf course.

How do you intend to help guide ongoing bluff stabilization efforts at East Beach and maximize the potential of the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club?

The lower wall is basically complete. The bluff itself — except directly underneath the clubhouse — has been stabilized.

It’s all been raked out, leveled out and covered with a heavy-duty burlap. And both the east and west portions of the bluff project are fairly complete. Now we’re waiting for [the Federal Emergency Management Administration] to come through with the money to begin phase II of the bluff project — an upper wall.

Our goal at this point in time is to save that structure, our clubhouse up there now. Prior to FEMA, maybe my thoughts would be different. But that [$3.75] million we’re getting from FEMA is a game changer for the taxpayers and the village.

What is the proper role of the Board of Trustees in overseeing new developments and redevelopment of village parcels?

We’re running out of space for further development, barring, for example, uptown. Many developers have come in there and bought out a lot of the businesses.

Beyond the master plan, a lot of that development came in as a way to replace revenue lost from [the Long Island Power Authority glide path settlement]. Unfortunately, the Town of Brookhaven controls the [Industrial Development Agency] tax situation. 

When those developers come in and get a tax break, that’s not on us. That’s very unfortunate because, in the first two or three years, they pay a very small percentage of what they should be paying.

The village has probably reached its max in development. Maryhaven is kind of a foggy area for me right now. I was not involved in any of the discussions leading up to the [May 1] public hearing. I think some of the board members were a little surprised.

I have some great ideas, but I’m not so sure that, moneywise, the village can afford my great ideas. We have some major [flooding] problems with the fire department, Village Hall and all of Theatre Three. The village is built in a bowl, and as we keep developing more buildings and more blacktops, water has nowhere to go. Things are going to deteriorate and get worse downtown.

If I had a magic wand, Maryhaven would be a village possession. Village Hall, the parks department, the fire department — everything can go on that property. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. I definitely would not want and would not vote for any kind of apartment complex to go in there — we have enough of that.

Would I like to see more homes in the village and more green space? Absolutely. But I think we’ve reached the point of density that we want to be at in terms of building in the village.

How can the village alleviate its parking capacity challenges while balancing the competing parking interests of residents, businesses and tourists?

The only solution I see is a parking facility — a parking garage.

It would not be a subsurface parking garage because of the water table in Port Jefferson. Where I would put it, I don’t know, but that’s the only solution I can see — a two-story, maybe three-story parking garage somewhere in the village.

We do have some vacant land that the village owns. It’s the location, the acceptance or rejection of that location and the concept. Some people don’t like parking garages, but I can’t see a solution beyond that.

Would you support resurrecting the parking committee? 

I think a parking committee should be in place. The more people you can get ideas from, the better off you are.

What is your preferred method for engaging the public?

It’s about time that we’ve got a [civic] organization that’s going to take an interest in what’s going on in our village.

I have spent eight years as a trustee, and it was always amazing to me — I’d go to a board meeting and see eight people sitting in the audience. Yet you have all these major problems — parking, flooding, code enforcement.

I come from a small village upstate where their civic association was half the village’s population. It’s a valuable organization — to get information from the people who live there.

I was very pleased the other night with that whole scenario [during the May 1 public hearing]. People were sincere, they were civil and they gave a lot of good feedback. I hope the [Port Jefferson] Civic Association stays active, and I hope they stay in the direction that they’re going in.

When they talk about zoning, I don’t think that’s negative. That’s a sincere concern. The board can listen to the public more, and it’d be nice if even the Planning Board exposed themselves more to the public. I like hearing from the public, and I think that’s important. 

What is your professional background, and how does it apply to the duties of a trustee?

My professional background is in education. A graduate of [SUNY] Cortland, I started as a phys ed teacher. At that time, I immediately started my education at Hofstra University, receiving a master’s degree in secondary school administration, then continued my education and got a master’s degree in districtwide administration.

I moved from a physical education teacher to the local athletic director. Throughout my career, I coached girls tennis, boys golf, boys basketball and varsity football. After 34 years in Plainview, I retired in 1995.

One year after the village purchased the [Port Jefferson] Country Club, I got involved in tennis, belonging to the tennis membership up at the country club. I got involved on the tennis board and became chairman, then moved over to the golf side when it became reasonably priced. I got involved with the board of governors, became president and was later appointed to the [Country Club Management Advisory Committee].

In 2013, [Mayor] Margot [Garant] asked me to run for trustee. At that point in time, I was not interested. In 2015, I did relent and ran for trustee and was elected. I was elected again in 2017, 2019 and 2021, and I’m running again now.

I am involved in the recreation and parks in the village. And, of course, the country club is my main goal. Right now, we have a lot of projects going on up there.

My entire career, my goal has been to work for people and work with students of all ages and backgrounds. My main interest right now is to continue working in pretty much the same direction I have been going in. I’m interested in serving the public, continuing what I did for 34 years [in education].

Note to our readers

We intend to interview each of the declared candidates for village office, starting with those running for trustee, then mayor. In keeping with past practice, we first interview incumbents seeking reelection, followed by nonincumbents, selected alphabetically.

Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, above. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Residents of the Port Jefferson School District narrowly rejected yet another proposed capital bond during the Tuesday, May 16, school elections. Just 34 votes decided the outcome as the community voted down the district’s proposed $15.9 million capital bond by a 708 to 674 margin. 

The “no” vote comes just over six months after the community rejected a pair of capital bonds totaling nearly $25 million. The deferred investments in school infrastructure now raise questions about the school district’s long-term future.

“It’s disappointing that a small bond with critical updates failed by a small margin,” PJSD Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said in a statement. “Our community is clearly divided on how to move forward.”

Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant has been an ardent supporter of these proposed school infrastructure improvements. In an exclusive interview, she expressed her displeasure with the outcome.

“I would have hoped that the members of the community would have a little bit more vision and understanding of the consequences of not investing in our district and our facilities,” she said. “Nevertheless, the schools remain a major selling point in this community.”

The mayor added, “We want to remain positive, support our district and all the programs, making sure the facilities remain safe for our kids. I’m sure the Board of Ed will continue to do that, although they are working with less and less resources every year.”

In preparing this year’s capital bond proposal, the school board had scaled down its financial request to the voters by about a third, eliminating the proposed artificial turf field at the high school that was part of the December proposal. 

Given the challenges of getting these bond projects approved, Garant expressed uncertainty about how the voters can ultimately pass these infrastructure projects.

“I’m not real sure,” she said. “Maybe they put it up with each budget in the years to come, one small bond initiative at a time. But then you’re not doing a long-term project plan.” 

She added, “I’m not really sure if it’s the messaging or just the community’s misunderstanding of the impacts. People [are] making large, generic statements instead of looking at this very carefully.”

The bond’s rejection resurrects long-standing questions over declining student enrollment and public revenue, with some community members beginning to advocate for a possible merger with a neighboring school district.

Garant rejected this thinking, noting the substantial costs associated with such a plan. “I think that would be this community’s gravest mistake,” the mayor said. “Their school tax dollars would immediately almost double.”

She added that there are other unsettled questions over a potential merge, including what to do with the PJSD’s existing properties and whether a neighboring district would even accept its students. “It’s a very long process, and it’s not a solution when you have the opportunity to make a long-term investment to making things better.”

Despite the outcome, Garant said the community should closely assess its priorities and begin to chart a path forward. 

“I think the [school] board is resilient, and the community is resilient,” she concluded. “We’re going to encourage them because they were very, very close, and we just have to keep trying.”

Purple rocks with faces and names painted on them represented local lives lost to fentanyl. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Grieving residents and elected officials gathered on Tuesday, May 9, for a press conference in Hauppauge hosted by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) for National Fentanyl Awareness Day. A pebble was dropped into a jar every 8 1/2 minutes during the press conference, representing the average span that another individual dies from a fentanyl overdose in the United States. Purple rocks with faces and names of lost loved ones painted on them were placed on the ground in front of the podium, representing the 175 lives lost each day due to this epidemic.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, at podium, hosted a press conference on May 9 to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

In addition to Hahn, several other elected officials attended and spoke at the press conference, including county legislators Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville), Manuel Esteban (R-East Northport), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport).

Several parents and family members of individuals who had lost their lives due to an opioid addiction also spoke. One common thread speakers emphasized was that prevention is key.

Something as simple as parents talking to their children about the dangers of drugs could encourage them to never experiment in that area. Dorothy Cavalier, currently chief of staff for county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and future candidate for Anker’s term-limited post, said that she’s “seen the great work that we can do and the amazing things that can happen when people just talk [to their children].” She warned that children might receive a pill from another kid at school thinking that it will help them focus while studying, but it might be laced with fentanyl.

Doctors overprescribing drugs for other issues could also lead to an addiction. Esteban said that there needs to be accountability for doctors to disincentivize giving out dangerous drugs too freely. “We need laws to hold doctors responsible who overprescribe,” he said. Piccirillo added that the county has won lawsuits against large pharmaceutical companies and put that money back into the community to help parents and children that are battling this addiction issue.

Several speakers also touched on the need for better treatment options for those attempting to overcome this battle with addiction. “We need programs that give people a fighting chance,” Esteban said. “Studies show they need at least three months. Why are we not funding these programs?” 

The mental health crisis was also discussed as a factor in this rising issue. Bontempi emphasized that part of this has to do with putting too much pressure on children and keeping expectations too high. Claudia Friszell, who lost her son to an overdose and is a drug treatment advocate, said, “We need to talk to our kids about dealing with stress and our emotions.”

Kennedy emphasized that we “need more funding for mental health treatment, which includes substance misuse.” She said that it should be a focus to get the federal and state governments to fund programs that get treatment to every individual who needs it.

Suffolk County Legislators Kara Hahn and Stephanie Bontempi hug after latter’s speech at the May 9 press conference to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. Photo by Daniel Febrizio

Many speakers wished to remove the stigma around drug addiction. Carole Trottere, who lost her son in 2018 and helped organize this event, said, “Some people think these kids deserved what they got or they knew what they were getting into.” She added that some people will say that all those who have died from overdoses were “just a bunch of drug addicts.”

Blue Point resident Dorothy Johnson, who lost her son in 2011, wants to remove that shame and stigma. She said that when returning to work after her son passed, no one wanted to talk about it with her. Johnson works in her community to get people discussing this issue so that those in need know they are not alone.

Steve Chassman, executive director for the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, emphasized that if a person is struggling with addiction they should reach out for help. “If you’re out in the cold from opiate or substance use, it’s time to come in from the cold, and we will help you,” he said.

Hahn began the press conference by informing the attendees of the fentanyl death statistics in the United States: seven every hour, 175 each day, 1,225 each week, more than 5,250 each month and more than 63,000 each year. The hope is that an environment is built where those battling drug addiction feel supported enough to seek help before they become another number in the rising fentanyl death total.

In a press release from Hahn, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. 

The release noted that since taking office in 2012, Hahn “has sponsored several pieces of legislation designed to help stem the tide of opioid deaths in Suffolk County.”

Above, participants during the conference. Photo courtesy the town’s public information office

On April 28, the Long Island Geographic Information Systems (LIGIS) Conference was held in the auditorium at Brookhaven Town Hall. A Geographic Information System is a computer-based tool to help visualize, analyze and understand patterns and relationships within data that has a geographic or spatial component.

In simpler terms, it’s like a high-tech, interactive map that can display different types of information, such as roads, buildings, weather patterns or even population distribution, all in one place.

GIS combines various types of data, including maps, charts, and spreadsheets, and layers them on top of each other to show a more comprehensive picture of a particular area or topic. This makes it easier for people to understand complex information and make informed decisions based on geography.

It can be used for a wide range of applications, from urban planning and environmental conservation to disaster management and public health.

Alyson Bass, left, candidate for the Town of Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District, and Brookhaven Councilman-elect Neil Manzella. Left from Bass’ LinkedIn page; right courtesy Manzella

In the race to fill Brookhaven Town Clerk Kevin LaValle’s (R) seat on the Town Board, Neil Manzella (R-Selden) handily secured victory on Tuesday, April 25.

LaValle took over as town clerk in February, vacating the 3rd District and triggering a special election to complete his term, which ends in December. An unofficial tally from the Suffolk County Board of Elections indicates Manzella comfortably defeated his Democratic opponent, Alyson Bass, of Centereach, holding a 57-43% margin of victory.

The councilman-elect explained that there was little time to celebrate. The true test will be this November when he and Bass will be back on the ballot to compete again for a four-year term.

In exclusive post-election interviews with Manzella and Bass, the two CD3 candidates set the table for round two. Following resident feedback heard throughout the special election cycle, repaving the district’s roadways will be a primary focus.

“One of the biggest topics that I heard from the district [residents] themselves is the condition of the roads,” Manzella said. “One of my plans is to go and sit down with the Highway Department — the Superintendent of Highways [Dan Losquadro (R)] — and try to see if we get that taken care of during the summer months.”

Bass, too, heard from district residents about the disrepair of the roadways. To mitigate those concerns, she proposed enacting measures to promote transparency within the road prioritization process.

“You hear of roads being paved multiple times while other roads haven’t been paved in six or seven years,” she said. “How does that happen? There are definitely areas in our district that are neglected, and there are other districts that are not neglected at all.”

The two candidates also narrowed in on the other major overhanging issue for the area, commercial redevelopment. CD3 contains two prominent commercial corridors along Middle Country and Portion roads. The candidates departed in their approach to building up the many undeveloped parcels.

Bass approached the redevelopment issue with caution, noting the need to protect open spaces and restrain sprawl. 

“We’re looking at every piece of green land being sold with no inhibition,” the Democrat said. “You have shopping centers with less than 50 percent capacity, parking lots that are barely used, yet all of our green spaces are being sold.”

Manzella offered a different perspective on redevelopment, viewing the undeveloped lots as a potential tax base for the town while building upon the aesthetic character of the area.

“I see our district trying to thrive in the commercial region,” the councilman-elect said. “I want to push redevelopment of areas along our Middle Country and Portion roads. I want to push redevelopment that can help fill vacancies, empty lots, to make it a more aesthetic and more business-friendly [area].”

Ahead of this November, the closure of the Brookhaven Town landfill looms as one of the most pressing issues facing residents townwide, with regional implications as well. 

Manzella said his campaign has yet to focus on the landfill closure but expressed optimism toward working with his colleagues to remediate the issue.

“The plans for what happens when the landfill closes is not something that I would have even been a part of before now,” he said. “But now that I am in a role where I can contribute to it, I can’t wait to have that conversation.”

Bass said the Town Board staying proactive in the landfill closure would serve the best interest of the residents townwide. “I think pushing to have a plan in place so that we aren’t so affected by the closure of the town dump is huge,” she said in an earlier interview.

Residents of the 3rd Council District will decide upon these two candidates again in just over six months. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.