Election News

Nick LaLota, above, who won the Republican nomination on Tuesday for New York’s 1st Congressional District, will face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) in the general election this November. Photo from LaLota’s campaign website

After a contentious primary contest for New York’s 1st Congressional District, Nick LaLota won the Republican nomination on Tuesday, Aug. 23. 

LaLota, chief of staff to presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), has also served as a commissioner on the Suffolk County Board of Elections and a trustee of Amityville Village. He will face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) in November in a race to fill the seat of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-01), who is running for governor.

With over 95% of precincts reporting as of 9 a.m. Aug. 24, LaLota received just over 47% of the total vote count. Responding to the election result, LaLota put out a statement on social media. 

“Thank you, the voters of Suffolk County, for placing your trust in me,” he said. “Tonight, we celebrate a primary win against $3 million in outside special interests. Tomorrow, we fight for our community and country against a liberal rubber stamp for [the] Biden-Pelosi agenda.” He added, “Together, we’ll stand up for hardworking Long Island families, hit so hard by their tax-and-spend agenda, and always put #LongIslandFirst.”

Michelle Bond and Anthony Figliola received 28% and 25% of the vote, respectively. Left photo from Bond’s campaign website, right courtesy of the candidate

Although he received the endorsements of the Suffolk GOP and the Suffolk County Conservative Party, LaLota faced two primary challengers before receiving his party’s nomination. 

Michelle Bond, chief executive officer of a cryptocurrency trade organization, and Anthony Figliola, a former Brookhaven Town deputy supervisor, received roughly 28% and 25% of the vote, respectively. Neither candidate could not be reached for comment for this story. 

Following the primary election result, the Fleming campaign also put out a statement. The Democratic nominee condemned LaLota for running on what she considers an extremist platform, arguing that his views are detrimental to the political process.

“Nick LaLota wants to govern from the extremes,” she said in a press release. “He has proven time and time again that he doesn’t know what’s right for our district. From trying to defund the police, to weakening gun safety laws, to disenfranchising Suffolk County voters and supporting efforts to strip women of their fundamental freedoms, LaLota is only committed to exploiting division and advancing his own dangerous agenda.”

Voters will have the final say on Tuesday, Nov. 8, when LaLota and Fleming face off in a general election showdown.

Anthony Figliola (left) and Nick LaLota (right) tackled a range of issues during Monday’s Zoom debate. LaLota’s photo from candidate’s websites; Figliola’s from candidate

Two candidates took to the virtual debate stage on Monday, Aug. 8, as the Republican primary contest for New York’s 1st Congressional District ramps up to succeed Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who is a state gubernatorial candidate.

Hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons, Shelter Island, and the North Fork, declared Republican congressional candidates Anthony Figliola, of East Setauket, and Nick LaLota, of Amityville, squared off for the second time. The debate moderator was Estelle Gellman, who asked questions that were submitted in advance by the public. The third candidate in the race, Michelle Bond, declined the invitation to participate, according to Gellman.

The winner of the Republican primary race will likely face Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), the presumptive Democratic nominee, in the general election this November.

Introductions

Figliola was born and raised in Rocky Point and currently resides in East Setauket. After serving as deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven, he is executive vice president of a government relations and economic development business, according to his website. He said he entered the race due to a sense of frustration with Washington, which he believes has neglected ordinary citizens.

“People are hurting tremendously,” he said. “What’s happening is that Washington is not listening to them. I’m a regular working-class individual. Our family, we’re in the struggle with you. We understand what’s going on and I think we need someone who’s a regular, working-class person that’s going to fight for the people of this district.”

LaLota is the designated candidate for both the Republican and Conservative parties of Suffolk County. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, he was deployed three times overseas and is a former Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner. He said he is running to address the numerous complex issues facing the nation.

“There are important issues that we need to tackle as a nation,” he said. “Issues with respect to the economy, inflation, public safety, the border, protecting our constitutional freedoms — I’m eager to tackle those issues in Congress. There are good Republican and Conservative solutions to each one of those issues.”

Gun violence

After a proliferation of recent mass shootings around the country, the candidates were asked whether they would support additional restrictions on access to firearms, such as a ban on assault weapons or high capacity magazines. 

As a gun owner, Figliola expressed his support for the Second Amendment and added that the majority of gun owners act safely.

“We have some very insane people that are committing these horrendous and heinous crimes,” he said. “I don’t believe we should be throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

Figliola said the issue of mass shootings is a matter of enforcement rather than additional restrictions. To curb mass violence, he believes that the laws on the books should be enforced and that illegal guns should be targeted and removed.

“The issue here is that we are not enforcing the laws,” he said. “When you go to places like Buffalo and that horrendous mass shooting — a shooting of 10 people — there were all these laws that the Democrats and Kathy Hochul, our governor, put in place and they said that that was supposed to stop mass shootings and it didn’t.” He also advocated for adding armed security in schools and for “a solution with mental health, but not going after law-abiding gun owners.”

LaLota said that the majority of gun crimes are committed with unregistered firearms. Like Figliola, he favored tougher enforcement of existing laws. Given his background, he suggests that he has a unique understanding and appreciation for responsible gun ownership.

“I’m a legal gun owner,” he said. “I grew up in a law enforcement family with a deep respect for the Second Amendment and for safely operating a firearm. I furthered that understanding as an officer in the military, where I learned to safely handle firearms.”

For LaLota, the problem of gun safety is closely tied to the issue of criminal justice reform. “In New York, we’re living in tough times with this bail reform law,” he said. “We have some folks out on the streets who should not be out on the streets.” He added, “It’s not a fact of not having enough laws. It’s a fact of not enforcing the laws that are on the books right now.”

Abortion

The recent Dobbs decision out of the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, has placed a cloud of uncertainty over the future of abortion access nationwide. When asked whether they would support legislation that would legalize abortion nationally, they each declined, opting instead to limit the existing abortion laws in the state.

“The recent Supreme Court decision, which gave the power back to the states and thereby the people, is good,” LaLota said. “This gives the maximum amount of power to we, the people, to hold the politicians accountable and have a policy that comports [with] their values.”

He referred to the existing abortion policies in New York as “radical,” suggesting that the state should modify its abortion laws to eliminate late-term abortions.

“We should celebrate life,” LaLota said, adding, “And the way that we celebrate life is by protecting it. I think that in New York, abortion should be on the ballot this November. We should ask every state assemblymember, every state senator and every candidate for governor: Would you support the repeal of the third trimester abortion provision?”

Figliola also supported the Dobbs decision. He argued that the decision-making power to regulate abortions should be in the hands of the people and their elected representatives rather than the Supreme Court.

“I believe that this current court got it right in giving it back to the states because the court should not be in a position to be legislating,” he said. “As a strict constitutionalist, it is the people who elect their representatives, petition their members of Congress and their state legislatures, and they choose what they want to vote on.”

Figliola favored drastic changes to existing abortion laws. “The reality is there shouldn’t be abortions at all,” he said. “On Long Island, between the ages of 18 and 24, we have a third of pregnancies that end in abortion. This is horrendous.” He added, “History is going to look back on us and they’re going to look very unkindly on us that we’re not choosing life — and not just the life of that child but the life of that mother and the hope and the amazing life that the two of them could live.”

Public health

The threat of COVID-19 remains a priority even two years after the height of the pandemic. Both candidates were asked whether they would favor mask mandates, quarantines or mandatory proof of vaccination for public events. In addition, they were asked to provide the steps that the federal government should take to promote the health of American citizens.

LaLota emphasized the importance of providing accurate information to the public while also empowering citizens to make their own health decisions.

“The federal government should allow people to have access to real, reliable information and people should be able to make decisions on their own,” he said. “I would be tremendously against any sort of federal law or federal mandate involving these sorts of health issues.”

Figliola condemned what he called “unconstitutional mandates,” which, according to him, have put people out of work. Regarding potential solutions, he suggests that the federal government begins to put together an endgame strategy for the postpandemic United States.

“I think that the pandemic, by and large, is over,” he said. “We’re now in the ‘endemic’ stages of things, and I think politicians want to find a way to control the people. They’re using the pandemic or whatever the next variant is to try to make people subservient.” He continued, “It’s people’s own individual rights to decide what they want to do with their body, with their children, with their health care — and we’re moving away from that.”

To watch the entire nearly one-hour debate, visit the SeaTv Southampton YouTube channel.

Concluding a hotly contested election season in the Village of Port Jefferson, Rebecca Kassay and Lauren Sheprow were sworn into office for two-year terms on Monday, July 4.

Joined by family and friends, Trustee Rebecca Kassay takes the oath of office. Photo by Raymond Janis

Immediately after dozens of groups and community organizations paraded through the streets for the Fourth of July celebration, community members gathered on the front lawn of Village Hall for the formal swearing-in ceremony. 

Members of Cub Scout Pack 41 performed the ceremonial raising of the flag, which featured a historic 46-star flag that was donated by the Squires family. For more on this flag, see The Port Times Record’s April 28 story, “Squires family heirloom returns to Port Jefferson.”

Following the flag ceremony, Mayor Margot Garant, Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden and Trustee Stan Loucks gathered on the steps of Village Hall to join their incoming colleagues. Barbara Sakovich, the Village clerk, administered the oath of office to Kassay and Sheprow, who each took the oath while surrounded by family and friends. 

Upon taking office for a second term, Kassay thanked members of the Port Jeff community for entrusting her to continue her work on the Village Board. 

“Thank you everyone for being here today, for being a part of this village and for entrusting part of it with me,” she said. “It’s truly humbling to be entering my second term, and I am so very much looking forward to continuing to add strength to this already strong community.”

Trustee Lauren Sheprow sworn in for her first term of office. Photo by Raymond Janis

Sheprow, a first-time public officeholder, was surrounded by a sizable party of family members, including children, grandchildren and her father, former Mayor Hal Sheprow. 

On a similar note as Kassay, Sheprow thanked the community members for their support. “I can’t express how grateful I am that the Village of Port Jefferson has put their faith and trust in me to represent them for these next two years,” the new trustee said, adding, “I hope that I can live up to that faith and trust.”

The trustees took their seats before the public the following night. For more on this meeting, see The Port Times Record’s July 7 story, “Port Jeff board of trustees updates public on recreation, vandalism and local heroism.”

Voters will choose between Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) for governor in the November gubernatorial election. Photos from candidates’ offices

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) each won their party’s primary election on Tuesday, June 28, setting the stage for the gubernatorial election this November.

Hochul won her race handily, winning every county in the state. She became the first female candidate to win the Democratic nomination for governor.

“I stand on the shoulders of generations of women, generations of women who constantly had to bang up against that class ceiling,” the governor said. “To the women of New York, this one’s for you.”

Hochul bested New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Long Island native Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3). Along with his unsuccessful bid for governor, Suozzi vacated his seat in Congress, triggering a primary election to fill that seat which will be held Aug. 23.

Suozzi was not the only Long Islander in the running for governor. On the Republican side, Lee Zeldin, of Shirley, beat out three other Republican candidates, including Andrew Giuliani, carrying 43.9% of the vote statewide with over 95% reported.

In his victory speech, Zeldin said, “I commend all of the candidates in this primary for running a hard-fought race and look forward to working together to fire Kathy Hochul and save our state. This is a rescue mission to end the attacks on our safety, wallets, freedoms and kids’ education. Losing is not an option.”

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado (D) also won his race and will run alongside Hochul throughout this election cycle.

In the legislative race, two Republican candidates — Edward Flood and Thomas Wiermann — competed for their party’s nomination in the 4th Assembly District. Flood, a narrow winner unofficially by 2,491 votes to 2,375, will take on state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) this November in the general election.

At the county level, Republican Vincent Puleo, town clerk of Smithtown, defeated incumbent Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale, who has served in that position since 2006. Puleo received 60% of votes in the primary election.

How changing political boundaries can have real consequences for voters and their representatives

An early political cartoon criticizing former Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry’s practice of drawing bizarrely shaped state senate districts for partisan gain. Stock photo by Pixy

Redistricting is shaking up this election season.

Redistricting is the process by which new political boundaries are drawn to reflect the changes in populations across regions and states. New congressional districts, as well as state Senate and Assembly districts, are redrawn by state Legislatures every 10 years to accord with the most recent U.S. Census results.

‘Government at its worst.’

— Mario Mattera

This year, a cloud of uncertainty was placed over the electoral process when the state Court of Appeals blocked the New York State Legislature’s plans for redrawn district maps. The majority 4-3 decision sent the responsibility for redrawing the lines to an out-of-state independent commission.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), whose District 2 was altered significantly under the new lines, accused the majority in the state Legislature of attempting to gerrymander his district.

“What happened was — and I’m going to say this — the Democrats went in and gerrymandered the lines in the Senate and the congressional lines,” he said.

Unlike the district lines for the state Assembly, which Mattera suggested were worked out through a series of compromises between party leaders, the state Senate could not find a working agreement for new lines. The state senator also said that the lines could have been revised before they went to court, but the majority objected, hoping to win a favorable opinion for its unfair district maps.

“The judges ruled it gerrymandering, so it went to an outside commission called Special Masters, out of Pennsylvania, and it cost the taxpayers money to do this,” he said. 

Mattera expressed frustration at the process, which he said wasted time and taxpayer dollars unnecessarily. He called the recent redistricting process “government at its worst.”

‘I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines.’ — Jodi Giglio

New boundaries, altered communities

Under the new district maps, people in communities throughout Long Island will see major changes this year in their political representation. Mattera, whose district currently includes Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field, will no longer represent those areas after this year. 

“Even though, as a Republican, I wasn’t getting the best results out of Setauket and Stony Brook, I still loved my district,” he said. “I did very well in knowing the people and getting to know everybody, and now I’ve lost all of the Township of Brookhaven.”

Mattera is not alone in losing a significant portion of his current constituency. State leaders all across the Island have had their district lines redrawn as well.

“Southold in its entirety has been taken away from Assembly District 2 and has been placed in Assembly District 1,” said state Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), who represents the 2nd District. 

Despite losing Southold, Giglio is not disappointed by the changes in her district. She considered the redrawing of the Assembly lines a product of bipartisan negotiations and was glad to pick up new constituencies elsewhere. 

“I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines,” she said, adding, “I was pleased to pick up many people in the 2nd Assembly District and will continue to work for the people of Southold as I have grown very close to them.” 

‘It’s a fact of life.’

— Helmut Norpoth

Redistricting, past and future

Helmut Norpoth, professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, detailed the long history of partisan squabbles over district lines. He said gerrymandering has existed since at least the early 19th century. 

The word “gerrymander” was created after the infamous Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, a Founding Father and later vice president who first employed the tactic to create bizarrely shaped state senate districts. Norpoth said gerrymandering has been around “forever” and that “it’s a fact of life” whenever district maps are redrawn.

Norpoth and two of his students recently submitted a proposal to the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. Their work is centered around making district maps fairer and elections more competitive. 

“One of the requirements that we followed in our proposal is to keep communities intact and minimize any splitting of a natural community into different districts,” Norpoth said. Districts “have to be contiguous, they have to be compact. They have to be as competitive as possible, so that the balance can give both parties a chance.” He added, “There are so many different angles that you have to abide by. It’s sort of a magic act to put it all together.”

‘It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts.’ — Robert Kelly

While there are so many variables considered while drawing district lines, supercomputing may help to speed up and simplify the process. Robert Kelly, professor in the Department of Computer Science at SBU, focuses on automated redistricting, which uses a mathematical formulation to generate district lines based on a wide range of constraints.

“That allows us to look at, for a given state, what the constraints are in redistricting, whether they be constraints by the state constitution, state laws or constraints given by federal court rulings,” he said. “With that, we can formulate a way to evaluate the quality of the given redistricting plan and then we can try to optimize that result.” 

While advancements in computer programming and supercomputing are helping researchers improve redistricting models, Kelly acknowledged that they can also be used for nefarious purposes.

“It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts,” he said. “The conclusion would be that with the availability of so much digital data that allows you to predict the voting patterns of individual voters and allows you to manipulate these district boundaries, it is creating a situation where more and more states are creating district boundaries that favor the political party that happens to be in power in the given state.”

With so much controversy today surrounding redistricting, it is questionable whether the problems of partisan gerrymandering will ever go away. Despite considerable effort by researchers like Norpoth and Kelly, conflict over district boundaries may be a feature inherent to any system that requires those lines to be redrawn.

When asked whether the redistricting process could ever become fairer, Kelly said, “Yes, I believe it could be more fair. … But would I predict that would ever happen? I would not bet on it.”

Rebecca Kassay, left, and Lauren Sheprow, right, were both elected to two-year terms as village trustees. Left photo from the village website, right courtesy Sheprow

Hundreds of Port Jefferson village residents hit the polls throughout Tuesday, reelecting Rebecca Kassay and promoting upstart Lauren Sheprow to two-year terms as village trustees. 

In this strongly contested election, five candidates competed for two available seats on the village board of trustees. Kassay, who has already served on the board for two years, received a vote of confidence from residents and retains her seat. Sheprow, on the other hand, unseated eight-year incumbent Bruce Miller. Gerard Gang and Ana Hozyainova were also in the running, with both candidates receiving a respectable show of support from the voting public. 

‘I commend my fellow candidates for races well run and hope that their passion and desire to strengthen and enrich our community continues beyond the election.’ — Trustee Rebecca Kassay

Kassay praised the other candidates in the race whose platforms helped raise awareness around important topics for the incoming board to consider.

“I commend my fellow candidates for races well run and hope that their passion and desire to strengthen and enrich our community continues beyond the election,” she said in an email. “I hope that I can serve as a resource to help them turn their ideas into action for the betterment of our village.”

Interpreting the election results, Kassay suggests they indicate that the community favors more robust exchanges between trustees and residents along with long-term strategic decision-making.

“These election results represent the voice of residents who are interested in long-term considerations in village decisions, and the voice of those who want more conversation not only among board members but also between the village government and its constituency,” Kassay said. She added, “I look forward to building upon efforts started in my first term — the Six Acre Park project, infrastructural grants and various code updates — and working with community members on a number of quality-of-life and safety efforts to help our residents make the most of this incredible village they call home.”

‘I have a healthy respect for this process and for the other candidates who put themselves out there to ask for a chance to serve their community.’

— Trustee-elect Lauren Sheprow

Sheprow, whose father Hal previously served as mayor, will continue the family tradition of public service in the coming term. She offered her perspective on the race, acknowledging the efforts of the other candidates and thanking the public for its engagement throughout the process.

“I am humbled by the trust the residents have put in me to represent them and was struck by how competitive this race was and how engaged the people in the village are about their elected leadership,” she said in an email. “I have a healthy respect for this process and for the other candidates who put themselves out there to ask for a chance to serve their community. I wish them the best and hope they remain involved in the areas they are most passionate about.”

A first-time elected officeholder, Sheprow recognizes there is still much to learn. The trustee-elect said she hopes to familiarize herself with the village code and continue to meet her new constituents.

“There are a lot of people I didn’t get to speak with and will proactively continue to pursue these face-to-face interactions that will help guide my focus and activity as a collaborative member of this board,” she said, adding, “I plan to become well versed in village law and use the code of the Village of Port Jefferson to guide my thinking and in the decision-making process where appropriate.”

Kassay and Sheprow will officially take office on July 4 after a formal swearing-in ceremony held at Village Hall.

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.

State assemblywoman on Albany’s neglect of Long Island

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead). Photo from Giglio's website

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) has openly criticized the state government for neglecting Long Island communities.

In an interview earlier this week, she addressed the upcoming gubernatorial primary election, her efforts to reach out to colleagues across the political aisle, the backward state of public infrastructure on the Island and more.

What is your professional background and how did you end up in the state Assembly?

I started my own construction company in 1997. I went to Stony Brook [University] at night while working full time during the day. I started to become very active in the construction industry and in land use — we owned 146 acres in East Quogue. My company is a certified Women Business Enterprise and I’m also a member of [the International Union of Operating Engineers] Local 138.

At the time, the Southampton Town Board put us in a moratorium for 2 1/2 years and raised our property taxes from $80,000 to $400,000. I was present at every hearing for the moratorium, where we couldn’t file an application and basically couldn’t do anything with our property. I felt that my property rights had been violated and became very involved in the political spectrum.

I started the Riverhead Business Alliance, where I had 50 businesses pay $300 a year so that I could hire somebody to send out emails letting businesses know about zoning changes that would be detrimental to their businesses. I set up a board of directors — and I was the president and the founder — and we just let everyone know what was happening in local government. A couple of years later, the business community asked me to run for the Town Board, which I did. I served on the Riverhead Town Board [as councilwoman] for 10 years.

There was a shift in government when [former state] Sen. [Kenneth] LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], who was a tremendous asset to the 1st Senate District, decided that he was no longer going to run. That’s when Anthony Palumbo [R-New Suffolk] decided to run for Senate. They asked me to run to fill his [state Assembly] seat, which I did, and I’m happy to serve the 2nd Assembly District in Albany.

You have spoken recently about the need to funnel tax dollars back into Long Island communities. In your opinion, are Long Islanders underserved by Albany?

Absolutely. I think all of Long Island is underserved by Albany. The largest concentration of New Yorkers is in New York City, so a lot of the money gets funneled into the five boroughs. I think that we pay a tremendous amount in tax dollars and a tremendous amount in our utility costs and that we are underserved.

However, I am very close to a lot of people on the other side of the aisle. I explain to them the problems that we have in our district and that we need help. I have been inviting them out here to come to different events, such as the Bell Town Heritage Area [in Aquebogue], where a friend of mine in the Assembly, Alicia Hyndman [D-Springfield Gardens], actually came out with her daughter and spent the day with me out here in the district, so that I could show her some of the challenges we face. On Saturday for Juneteenth, I went into Hempstead and spent the day with my dear friend, Taylor Darling [D-Hempstead] who is also in the majority, to see what her population is faced with.

I think that’s what it really takes: Not being a foreigner to other areas of the state, to realize what their needs are, and to make sure that we all work together to bring some of that money and some of those resources back to Long Island. 

As local residents enter the voting booth for next week’s gubernatorial primary elections, what are some important issues that they should keep in mind?

The important issues are the high taxes that we pay in New York state and getting people back to work. I think that shutting down the economy and making people dependent on the government is problematic and it hasn’t worked in other countries. 

I’ve worked with Congressman Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] since 2009 in his campaigns and have worked very closely with him over the years to make sure that our voices are heard here on Long Island. I think he’s been a pretty good advocate for us. I’ve listened to the debates and I think all of the candidates make great points. They have different areas of expertise that could help the state and I hope that whoever becomes the governor will tap into those assets, knowledge and experience that those others have. 

I think that Lee Zeldin is the most experienced person running for governor in that he served in the state Senate and he also served in Congress, so he knows the mechanisms of government and can hit the ground running right away because we need a quick reversal of what is happening right now in the state.

Two Long Islanders will be on the primary ballots next week: Zeldin and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3). What does this say about the relationship between Long Island and Albany?

Long Islanders are mad. Whether it’s from the South Shore or the North Shore, the East End or the middle of Long Island, people here are mad. Our Long Island Expressway was a debacle for too many years. We needed that federal infrastructure money and I’m glad to say some of it is coming back to Long Island. 

Long Island is a very unique place. There are a lot of people across the state that are spending a lot of time on Long Island, enjoying our waterfronts and our fisheries, our marinas and our farms, our commerce and our beaches. It’s important that we promote ourselves and make sure that Long Island has a strong voice in the state government.

In your opinion, is the MTA-LIRR underperforming? And what can be done to expedite services and make the railroad more responsive to Long Island communities? 

I can tell you that the New York State government is a crutch for the MTA whenever the MTA fails or overspends or has issues. I think that the current governor [Kathy Hochul (D)] shutting down the government for so long, especially in New York City — and the city government that shut everything down from theaters to shopping to restaurants — it really showed New York City that Long Island can work from home and that we don’t need to go into the city. 

I think that is going to cripple the MTA even more. The fact that the current governor held back and kept shutting everything down, sending the troopers and child protective services into restaurants on Long Island and throughout the state to make sure that everybody was shut down was a further step into government dependency. We were just writing unemployment checks and encouraging people to stay home and not go to work. 

How can the state government be brought closer to the people of Long Island?

As I said previously, by bringing people out here. A lot of people on the other side of the aisle in the majority are planning on coming out and spending some time with me out on Long Island this summer, including Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes [D-Buffalo]. We’re going to visit the wineries and the farms, look at the beaches and spend some time together. She has assured me that she will be out here with me and I plan on taking a trip up to Buffalo to see what her hurdles and her struggles are.

I think that by bringing people out farther on Long Island and seeing what we have out here … especially our expressway. Long Island has been neglected for far too long and we need to make sure that our roads are safe, that our law enforcement is making sure that our communities are safe and that there’s always somebody at the other end of the phone to answer the call. 

Our volunteer firefighters and our volunteer EMS workers, they are finding it very unaffordable to live here. We need to make sure that there are incentives for them to stay as another aspect of public safety. That is the fundamental reason why we have a government: public health, safety, welfare and prosperity.

Is there anything else you would like to say to our local readers?

I would like to say that elections have consequences. It’s very important that everyone pays attention to who is running for office. Look them up on the internet. We have easy access now to look at the platforms of the people running for office. Pay attention to who’s running and who best represents your ideals, your values and your concerns.

Port Jeff village trustee candidates during the "Meet the Candidates" forum hosted by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce on June 8. (Left to right) Lauren Sheprow, Bruce Miller, Ana Hozyainova, Rebecca Kassay and Gerard Gang. Photo by Raymond Janis

Incumbent trustees Bruce Miller and Rebecca Kassay, who are both up for reelection, will be challenged by Gerard Gang, Ana Hozyainova and Lauren Sheprow in the village election on Tuesday, June 21. 

During a “Meet the Candidates” event held Wednesday, June 8, the five declared candidates presented their visions before an audience of dozens of residents in the Wayfarer Room of the Village Center.

Candidates each delivered two-minute opening remarks, answered questions on various subjects regarding the major issues currently facing the village, and finally made concluding remarks.

The event was sponsored by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce. Barbara Ransome, director of operations at the chamber, asked the questions. Seating arrangements and response orders were both determined at random by pulling the candidates’ names out of a bag.

Questions were selected by a panel of moderators that comprised of Suzanne Velazquez, former chamber president; Stu Vincent, director of public relations at Mather Hospital; and Thomas Donlon, director of Port Jefferson Free Library.

Chamber president Mary Joy Pipe was the official timer for the event, signaling to the candidates their remaining allotted time with colored cards. After opening remarks, the candidates debated a range of topics such as term limits, bluff stabilization, Upper Port revitalization, potential redistricting schemes for the school district, among several other subjects. 

The entire candidate forum clocked in at nearly two-and-a-half hours. For more information, click here.