By Skyler Johnson
With November elections rapidly approaching, both sides of the political aisle are tense.
All 18 seats on the Suffolk County Legislature are up for election, and with the end of County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) tenure, the county executive seat will be open for the first time since 2011. Unfortunately, the political desperation to take unilateral control over Suffolk County has led to dirty tricks and unethical behavior.
In late June, the Republican majority in Suffolk County was given the option to vote on a measure which, if passed, would have placed a clean water referendum on the ballot in November. The referendum would give voters the option to approve a negligible sales tax increase — 12 cents for every $100 dollars in spending — and critically, gain access to available state and federal funding.
This was particularly important as voters in 2022 overwhelmingly approved a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act to protect the environment [See story, “NYS offers possibilities of $4.2B bond act for Suffolk County, urges public input,” Aug. 31, TBR News Media], with almost 64% of Suffolk County residents voting to pass the funding. Passing a referendum would allow Suffolk County to access some of these funds.
Clean water infrastructure would greatly improve our drinking water and protect our beaches and natural spaces. In addition, the funding would create new jobs for Suffolk County.
The Republican majority, led by Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), refused to allow residents to vote on approving the referendum. Despite the efforts of labor unions in their efforts to create jobs for working-class individuals, as well as pleading by environmentalists and advocates, the county Legislature tabled the resolution [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 27, TBR News Media].
While McCaffrey made various excuses for his refusal to allow Suffolk County to vote on the issue, the true reason was clear: The Republican majority knew that if the referendum was on the ballot, Democratic voters would be driven to the polls in November to approve it.
The blowback was immediate. People of all political parties voiced their disapproval for the Legislature’s blatantly political action. Despite this, McCaffrey let the deadline to approve the referendum pass.
As residents continued to grow angry, McCaffrey decided to make an attempt to suppress arguments being made by Democratic candidates. Last week, he called a special meeting of the Legislature to approve a December special election for the referendum — a special election which would now cost taxpayers over $2 million to hold.
However, the special meeting of the Legislature was abruptly canceled. While McCaffrey sought to cleanse the record of his heinous political malpractice, he forgot to consider one key problem: The dissent of his own caucus.
The Republican majority refused to vote positively on the issue. With all six Democrats pledging support for the referendum, McCaffrey could not persuade even three members of his 11-seat majority to vote “yes,” and the special meeting was canceled.
Suffolk County residents now bear the consequences of these political games. Tens of thousands of homes throughout the county are without adequate septic systems. Without this funding, these systems will continue to leach toxins into our water — water that we cook with, our kids bathe in and our pets drink.
The failure by Republican leadership to come up with a plan to address Suffolk’s infamously poor drinking water quality is inexcusable. The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting our drinking water, estimates that those served by the Suffolk County Water Authority are ingesting numerous separate contaminants.
In a county with the highest breast cancer rates in the state — rates significantly higher than the rest of the nation — we cannot afford McCaffrey and his Republican majority’s dirty games.
McCaffrey cannot wash his hands of this issue. It is his responsibility to address his majority’s failure of government. If he refuses to do so, voters must take this neglect of duty into account when they cast their ballots on Nov. 7.
Skyler Johnson is the chair of the Suffolk County Young Democrats.