Suffolk County

Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy discusses her reelection bid. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Samantha Rutt

Incumbent Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) has represented Suffolk County’s 12th Legislative District for the past eight years and now seeks a fifth term this election cycle. Challenging Kennedy is Denis Graziano, listed as the Democratic candidate but who is not actively campaigning.

Legislative District 12 includes Smithtown, Nesconset, Hauppauge, Village of the Branch, Lake Grove, parts of St. James, Commack, Lake Ronkonkoma and Centereach.

Before assuming the role of county legislator, Kennedy worked for years as a legislative aide for Donald Blydenburgh and, before that, in the public health space as a registered nurse.

TBR invited Kennedy and her opponent to a debate-style forum to discuss their campaign objectives. Graziano did not appear. Kennedy touched on her points of view regarding the latest redistricting, affordable housing, Suffolk County’s water infrastructure, downtown revitalization and unsafe road conditions across the county.

“I love my job. I love what I do,” Kennedy said during the interview with TBR’s staff. “I never thought that I would be a legislator. I didn’t wake up one morning saying, ‘This is my ideal job.’ I think I was in the position I was in and live the life I live because I was being prepared for this.”

Wastewater infrastructure

Wastewater infrastructure has been one of the most pressing issues in this year’s county election cycle. Specifically, the Republican-blocked referendum instituting a 1/8-penny sales tax increase designed to update the current infrastructure has become a significant point of contention. Kennedy voted against advancing the bill.

Kennedy expressed concern over the proposed referendum to improve the infrastructure, noting that the current plan felt rushed. She held there is potential to improve the wastewater legislation with more time and consideration.

“Just hold off till we get it right, let’s get it right,” Kennedy said. “I don’t like to waste money and delude people into thinking that something really good is happening when it could be really good.”

Kennedy spoke of the supposed plans to invest in filters for 1,4-dioxane, PFAS and PFOS, among other carcinogens. The incumbent also alluded to concerns with the tax increase as she continues to see several residents in her district struggle to afford necessities.

“1/8 of a cent … well, it’s nothing, I would say inconsequential, but it’s not — this is not the time to raise taxes at all,” Kennedy said. “It’s consequential with what I’m going through the last month with my people financially, and it’s not just the seniors, it’s the young people, not just the married ones, the ones with kids, but the single ones too are having difficulty with housing, food, gas, everything in there.”

Roadways and walkability

Suffolk County has seen an increasing number of car accidents recently, raising the question of roadway and pedestrian safety. TBR recently reported on a tragic motor accident that occurred on Harned Road, which lies within Kennedy’s district, where a pedestrian was struck and killed. [See story, “Jogger killed in Commack crash, two others injured,” Aug. 31, TBR News Media.]

Kennedy addressed the concern, promoting walkability and pedestrian safety measures.

“Plans for sidewalk development are in the works,” she said, adding, “We have seen tremendous success at the intersection of Smithtown Boulevard and Gilbert Avenue/Sheppard Lane.”

Kennedy added that AARP helps by providing road “diets” fact sheets and other roadway-related improvements to help promote walkability.

“It’s an important issue because [walkability] saves money,” the incumbent concluded. “It saves time, and it makes people healthier.”

Affordability

Due to the recent redistricting, District 12 now includes more low-income residents. The long-time legislator spoke to her concerns within her district regarding rising costs and the ability for residents to live under the increasing cost of living on Long Island.

If reelected, Kennedy said she plans to continue to monitor the economy at the federal, state and local levels.

Voting for the county’s 12th District will take place Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa opens up during a one-on-one interview with TBR News Media. Photo by Raymond Janis

In the race for Suffolk County’s 4th Legislative District, incumbent Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) is running virtually uncontested.

Caracappa’s Democratic Party challenger, Tim Hall (D-Selden), is not openly campaigning and declined to participate in an office debate with TBR News Media. One-on-one with the incumbent, who currently serves as majority leader within the county Legislature, Caracappa outlined various quality-of-life concerns within the 4th District, touching upon the ongoing countywide wastewater debate, economic development, homelessness and finances.

Wastewater

This year’s county elections are happening beneath the cloud of the Water Quality Restoration Act, a proposed 1/8-penny sales tax to finance wastewater infrastructure in Suffolk County. Along with the Republican Party caucus, Caracappa voted no, pointing to several perceived deficiencies within the legislation.

He suggested that the debate over wastewater infrastructure is a matter of finding the correct balance between laying down seed funds for large-scale sewer projects and financing innovative/alternative septic systems, known as IA systems.

“The most critical flaw of that legislation was the distribution percentages,” he said. “No less than 75% would go toward IA systems, and the rest would go toward sewers.”

Caracappa contended that IA systems have not been requested or used by LD4 residents, saying that this technology is necessary for places along the East End that lack the density to support sewers.

“We have these hundreds of millions committed to shovel-ready projects,” he said. “Planning and development stages are already done. All we’re waiting for is to get the shovels in the ground.”

But getting those shovels in the ground, the legislator noted, requires significant state and federal subsidization. To tap into those large pots of cash, he said a reworded wastewater protection plan would be appropriate, devoting a much larger percentage toward sewers.

“We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars” to complete full-scale sewer projects, Caracappa said. “We don’t have that kind of money in Suffolk County, but we do have the tens of millions” to generate the local match necessary for full-scale subsidization.

He added, “I will continue to fight for legislation for the projects that are needed at this time,” namely for sewers.

Middle Country Road

Amid the countywide debate over wastewater, there remains the local matter of introducing sewers into the Middle Country Road corridor, extending a sewer line from Lake Grove to Coram.

Caracappa stated that various businesses and restaurants are interested in entering the Middle Country area, though the existing wastewater infrastructure cannot adequately accommodate these establishments. “Because of the lack of sewers, we can’t facilitate their waste needs,” leading to a local decline.

He said that new sewers would revitalize the Route 25 commercial strip, enhancing the quality of life for residents.

“The sewers, in this case, are for downtowns, for economic development and for new businesses coming in,” he said, adding that the project aims to incentivize “knocking down those small, shuttered buildings and attracting businesses that can come in.”

He pointed to downtowns such as Patchogue, Babylon and Sayville as a model for downtown development along Middle Country Road. “All those downtowns are thriving, and the common denominator is that they have sewers in the ground.”

He regarded sewers as a regional economic development tool. “From putting in the sewers to roadways to drainage to new businesses coming in, they’re going to need employees, and it’s going to create jobs,” Caracappa said. “Jobs give people a reason to stay.”

Affordability/housing

In attracting new businesses into the Greater Middle Country area, Caracappa said there would be several steps toward overseeing the planning for new developments.

“We have to recognize the housing issues here in Suffolk County,” he said. “That’s why I’m a staunch advocate and supporter — and I generated two bills signed into law — that for each development that’s built and that seeks county subsidies, they have to set aside a certain amount of affordable housing for veterans and those in our special needs community.”

Due to the high cost of living in Suffolk, he noted that many young people are struggling to find a place to live. He proposed that county subsidization should come with the caveat of setting aside workforce housing for those earning below the average median income.

Developers “may not get as rich or as quick as they want, but if they’re going to get county taxpayer funding, then there has to be a return on that investment,” he added. “That’s true workforce housing.”

Budgets

With long-term economic uncertainty and a county budget increasingly unstable, Caracappa offered his approach to reigning in the county’s budget. He highlighted some of the principles he said have guided the Republican majority in the county Legislature, noting efforts to improve the county’s bond rating and lower interest rates.

“The first initiative we took is to stop bonding everything,” he said. “We have cash on hand, so we stopped bonding out projects that were $50,000 or less,” adding, “Taking out a bond on $50,000 makes no fiscal sense because you’re going to pay more on interest than you are on the initial loan.”

He also advocated against appropriating funds for projects and programs with minimal return on investment. He supported filling vacant positions within the government and raising salaries for existing county employees.

The majority leader added that the county Legislature must consider a “full circle” approach to economic sustainability, exploring ways to keep young people living and working in Suffolk, where their money can be returned to the community.

“You have to create opportunities here, so they can work here, collect a salary here and recycle that money back into” Suffolk County, he noted.

Homelessness

Amid these fiscal and regional economic challenges, LD4 communities continue experiencing pockets of homelessness, notably in and around Coram.

In addressing the plight of homelessness, Caracappa supported a multipronged effort, tailoring unique intervention strategies to different cases.

“We have to provide opportunities,” he emphasized. “A lot of these homeless people are veterans or people who lost their jobs due to COVID. … For others, there are mental health issues, and we have to provide opportunities for that and get them treatment.”

He referred to homelessness as a “very difficult issue,” especially given the challenges within the shelter system. He noted, “There’s never going to be an answer to all of it because not everybody wants to be helped.”

Given the influx of migrants entering New York state, Caracappa expressed concerns over its implications on local homelessness. 

“Promises that are being made to these individuals who are crossing our border are fundamentally and outright lies,” he said. “They’re being promised an opportunity for a better life, and they’re all ending up in gymnasiums and warehouses.”

He added, “It’s a false promise for a false life that cannot be provided. I will not support having the taxpayer money of Suffolk County residents — who are already struggling day-to-day to help their own families — to provide for these other families.”

Political influence

When asked about the role of outside stakeholders in county government, Caracappa responded that these influences did not affect him personally.

He cited the wastewater bill as a moment in which he received considerable pushback from stakeholder groups, such as unions and environmentalists.

“My job is to protect and serve those in Suffolk County — be their voice and present legislation that’s going to benefit them,” he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk police commissioner Rodney Harrison. File photo

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison, who helped the department crack the Gilgo Beach serial killings case, announced on Nov. 2 that he is resigning after nearly two years on the job.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone released a statement on Nov. 3, thanking Harrison for his service.

“For the last two years, Commissioner Rodney Harrison has led the Suffolk County Police Department with honor, integrity, and distinction,” Bellone said. “Because of his efforts, our communities are safer, the department is more equitable, accountable and transparent, and meaningful relationships have been fostered with our diverse communities.”

The county executive released a statement, saying, “For the last two years, Commissioner Rodney Harrison has led the Suffolk County Police Department with honor, integrity, and distinction. Because of his efforts, our communities are safer, the department is more equitable, accountable and transparent, and meaningful relationships have been fostered with our diverse communities.
Commissioner Harrison’s achievements are innumerable, including the continued implementation of our historic police reform plan, significant investments in officer safety and tackling quality of life issues, but the most significant in his tenure is the arrest of an alleged serial killer in connection to the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation.
On the day I nominated Commissioner Harrison for the post, December 14, 2021, I specifically cited the Gilgo Beach serial murder case as the top priority. I said that Commissioner Harrison would ‘bring to bear his extensive investigative experience on this case and work with our federal, state and local partners to help bring closure to the victims and their families.
In his first week on the job, Commissioner Harrison toured the Gilgo site himself and made a commitment to families to do everything in his power to solve the case. And just six weeks later, he established the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation Task Force on February 15, 2022, which ultimately led to the arrest in the case.
Commissioner Harrison was the first person ever to rise from the NYPD Cadet program to become the top uniformed officer in the largest police department in the nation. He continued to make history in Suffolk County as the first black Commissioner in the Department’s history.
The SCPD is one of the greatest police departments in the nation and Commissioner Harrison’s legacy here will be one of professionalism, integrity and progress. I extend my genuine gratitude to the Commissioner for his historic service to our county and wish him the very best in his future endeavors.”

 

 

Dorothy Cavalier, left, and Chad Lennon debate for Suffolk County’s 6th Legislative District. Photo by Raymond Janis

Two lawyers are vying to succeed incumbent Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) who is term limited.

Dorothy Cavalier (D-Mount Sinai), Anker’s chief of staff, is running to fill her boss’ seat against Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point), a congressional aide to U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1).

In a debate at the TBR office spanning over an hour and a half, the two candidates presented their respective visions for the county’s 6th Legislative District, which covers the Town of Brookhaven’s northeastern hamlets from Mount Sinai to Wading River, extending as far south as Middle Country Road.

Introductions

Cavalier has been a practicing attorney for two-and-a-half decades, working across the legal spectrum in such areas as personal injury, criminal defense and family law, among others. She was a traffic court prosecutor before entering Anker’s office in 2019.

Since entering county government, she said she has worked at “handling every aspect of the office,” from staff management, constituent services, drafting resolutions, reviewing the budget and advising the incumbent.

“I’m running for this seat because, for me, this is the next logical step,” she said. “I’ve come to love the job that I’m doing. I want to continue taking care of the constituents in the community that I raised my kids in and that I love.”

Lennon is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He did four years of active-duty service, with combat deployment to Afghanistan, where he led over 50 combat missions.

In his professional life, he is an attorney at Tully Rinckey, specializing in military law, veterans law, security clearance representation and federal employment law.

“It’s all about service for me,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years and want to continue to do it.”

Wastewater

This year’s 6th District election comes at a time of countywide contention over the future of its wastewater infrastructure. Earlier this year, Republicans in the county Legislature blocked introducing a 1/8-penny sales tax to the November ballot, which, if passed, would have created a fund for innovative/advanced septic systems and sewers.

Lennon pointed to perceived deficiencies within the Water Quality Restoration Act, contending that too small a share of the revenue would have supported sewers.

“Right now, the problem is that three-quarters of that money is going to go to IA systems, and one-quarter is going to go to sewer systems,” he said. “We have hundreds of millions of dollars in shovel-ready projects to get sewer systems. That’s going to create more jobs, cleaner water and more affordable housing.”

Responding, Cavalier said she believed the proposed sales tax should have gone out for a public vote this November.

“The one-eighth of a penny in increased sales tax I don’t think is a burden,” she said. “It’s something that we should have given the people a choice on, whether to do that or not. Really, they just took the choice away from the people.”

She added that sewers are “not going to be a viable option” for much of the county, maintaining that IA systems are more likely to be implemented within the 6th District as well.

Economic development

Throughout the 6th District, commercial corridors are increasingly experiencing vacant storefronts and economic stagnation. Asked for the mechanisms the county can use to introduce public investment into struggling commercial districts, Cavalier touted the work she has done within the district office.

“We’ve worked with the Department of Economic Development and created a small business website so people interested in small business” can access grants and learn to finance their small business operations.

She advocated for creating a county department for prospective small business owners, who can receive advice to help tailor their business plans.

“I think we need to do more than just a job fair,” she said, saying the county could assist entrepreneurs by getting them on their path toward opening a business.

Lennon advocated hardening the built environment across commercial districts such as Sound Beach and Rocky Point, which he said are susceptible to flooding.

“Right where those downtown areas are, they can be really affected by four weekends in a row of heavy rain,” he said. “That could affect the businesses because if they get flooded, they get ruined, and when one business goes in that downtown district, it can have a cascading effect.”

Along with infrastructure improvements, he said the county must establish incentives not merely to introduce new businesses but to encourage them to stay in the area.

“We need to make sure that we incentivize businesses to stay with us,” Lennon said, endorsing the suspension of the county energy tax, which can eat away at proprietors’ bottom lines.

Affordability

The county is also experiencing a regional flight of seniors and young people who are becoming priced out due to the high cost of living.

Lennon identified several tax categories he would “suspend right away,” such as energy, mortgage, gas and some property taxes.

“We need to look at our first responders, such as our firefighters, and see if we can give them some type of incentive to stay here as well as our parents and grandparents — anyone 70 years and above,” he said.

Cavalier said the county could support seniors and youth by promoting affordable housing investments. “I think that we really need to take a look at how to make it more affordable for our children, our seniors and for our veterans to stay here and retire here,” she noted.

The Democratic candidate also cited vacant strip plazas as a possible destination for mixed-use redevelopment. “We have a lot of commercial buildings and office space that maybe we can consolidate,” she suggested. She added that cutting back existing taxes and reinstituting the county’s task force for retired veterans are necessary policy solutions.

Pedestrian safety

Cavalier suggested a civic-oriented approach to identifying areas for new sidewalk projects. She prided herself on the North Shore Rail Trail, noting that pedestrian safety along the trail remains a continual work in progress.

She suggested that state Route 25 and pockets along 25A have created a public safety hazard. She backed “working with [New York State] to try to get a light on 25A” to stop the speeding from Oakland Avenue to Miller Place Road.

Lennon supported greater coordination between the county and the Brookhaven Highway Department to construct new sidewalks and expand bike lanes.

“The problem that we have is that a lot of the main roads are state owned, and to get anything changed — for instance, having traffic lights put up — the state has to come in, recommend a study and do a change,” he indicated. “The state’s not even coming in right now, so we need to work with our state partners in the Assembly and the Senate.”

Veteran services

The 6th District is unique for its concentration of veterans. An area of focus for Lennon, he outlined a multipronged vision for bringing more veterans in touch with the existing benefits available to them. “The biggest thing is information,” he said. “Who do I speak to, and how do we get it to them?”

He noted that introducing veterans to union jobs and enrolling them in college programs on Long Island would be steps in the right direction.

To continue to support the veterans within the district, Cavalier said the county could lend a hand in coordinating with veterans groups and creating housing opportunities for homeless veterans.

She said there are various services and programs tailored for veterans that many do not realize exist. “We really need to not only strengthen those services, but we need to get the information out there that they exist,” she said.

Quality of life

Cavalier identified public safety as a top quality-of-life concern for 6th District residents. She expanded those public safety concerns to fears over environmental degradation and roadway safety. Summarizing her local priorities, she said, “For me, it’s public safety, it’s affordability and it’s traffic safety.”

Lennon agreed with Cavalier on public safety and the cost of living in the area. But he cited the ongoing migrant crisis within New York state as problematic for Suffolk County.

“We don’t have the infrastructure” to support new migrants, he said, identifying potential shortages of teachers and a lack of available resources. “You can’t just say we’re going to dump hundreds if not thousands of people into this county and think it’s going to be successful.”

District 6 voters will have the final say on these two candidates. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, left, and Anthony Figliola debate the issues. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Mallie Jane Kim

Forty-year political veteran Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is facing off against business development and government relations professional Anthony Figliola (R-East Setauket) to be the next Suffolk County legislator for the 5th District. The recent incumbent, county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), vacated her seat in August to take up a New York State parks post.

The two candidates discussed current county issues in a rather tense debate hosted in the TBR News Media office. “Can you tell we are passionate?” Figliola asked at one point.

Indeed, their passion was evident as they expressed frustration about each other’s negative political mailings and questioned aspects of each other’s backgrounds. On the issues they discussed that were pertinent to governing the county, their differences were nuanced.

Key issues

Englebright previously held the county post for nearly a decade before he was elected in 1992 to the New York State Assembly, where he stayed until he narrowly lost his seat last year.

He said he felt his work in the county is not yet done, especially in light of the move last summer by the county Legislature to table a bill that would have allowed residents to vote on establishing a 1/8-cent sales tax to create a water quality protection fund, which would help add sewers and Innovative/Alternative septic systems.

“The future of drinking water in this county is in peril,” he said at the debate, pointing to the decision not to include the water referendum on November’s ballot. “They denied that opportunity for people to vote to determine the future well-being of their families and our communities.”

Figliola said he is invested in the community despite watching so many friends leave due to quality-of-life and cost-of-living issues. He said that a priority for him is making sure the Suffolk County Police Department has the resources it needs to fight crime, and in particular to address deadly fentanyl overdoses.

“This is a serious issue,” he said. “It doesn’t care about your political ideology or gender, it’s designed to kill — and we have to put these drug dealers in jail.”

Wastewater

Both candidates agreed Long Island has a wastewater issue — the sheer volume of cesspools on Long Island puts the area’s waterways and sole-source aquifer at risk.

Englebright claimed the county Legislature’s down vote of the referendum over the summer was an effort at voter suppression, assuming the clean water vote would have drawn more Democratic voters to the polls in November. “It was a partisanizing of an issue that has been bipartisan for years,” he said. “Our drinking water is a limited and finite resource, and it should not be partisanized. But it was.”

Figliola said he’s been supportive of the measure as a private citizen, but he also thought the bill, which would designate a majority of the funds to updated septic systems, had flaws. He argued there should be a 50/50 split of funds in order to add more sewers in places like Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station and other main streets, and perhaps a percentage of funds could be left as wiggle room. 

“I would like greater flexibility to be able to give dollars more to sewers — or perhaps in 10 years, there’s some new technology that we don’t even know about, but we’re handcuffed because there are specific percentages,” he said.

Englebright rebutted that in the decade of preparation for the clean water bill, the proportion was worked out by Stony Brook University scientists and “field tested” in public hearings.

“It’s proportional that it’s about 75% of the problem is in cesspools, not in business districts,” he said.

Migrants and asylum seekers

Both candidates condemned the tactic by Republican governors of busing illegal migrants from border towns to Democratic-leaning so-called sanctuary cities, including New York City, as inhumane. But they agreed the county was right to block any move to bring the migrants to Suffolk, after Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) eyed SUNY campuses like SBU as temporary migrant housing.

The candidates said the county does not currently have the capacity to accept a sudden influx.

“You can’t just unilaterally start flooding this area without any preparations,” Figliola said, adding that there could be ways to activate churches and nonprofits to help out, but leadership on this issue needs to come from the federal government.

Englebright balked at any mandate to receive migrants without funding and time to prepare.

“New York City’s plight is serious and not New York City’s fault, but it shouldn’t be translated into Suffolk County,” he said. “There’s a way to do it the right way, and that’s not what has been proposed.”

Pedestrian/bike safety

Both candidates are pro-sidewalk, saying they think new developments should be required to install them, though Englebright said he sees a “built-in conflict” in mature communities where beautiful trees have grown up where sidewalks should be.

Englebright pointed to other solutions, like recreational walking and biking trails such as Trustees Road at West Meadow Beach and also to potential commuter routes, such as the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway and the bike paths on SBU’s campus — all of which he said he had a hand in creating through his position in the state Assembly.

But walkers on the Greenway itself see issues of safety and potential drug activity. Figliola said he would like to see bike patrols by the Suffolk County Police Department, and perhaps even call boxes along the trail for easier reporting.

“We need to give police the resources they need so that if you’re walking with your kids, you can feel safe,” he said.

Englebright agreed that the county has a big role to play. “Almost 200 acres of county parkland is strung like jewels on a necklace if the string of the necklace is the trail itself,” he said, suggesting county police should be involved, but this county land could easily house call boxes.

County police

Englebright called the Suffolk County Police Department “almost overwhelmingly the most important issue from an economic perspective of the county budget,” and said upcoming contract negotiations are important since public safety takes up about 70% of the budget.

“We need to have a clear-eyes reappraisal of how we go about the very real need to support our police and make sure the thin blue line is not made so thin that it weakens the protections we depend upon in our communities and for our children,” he said. 

Figliola stressed again the need to give police the resources they need to keep communities safe but agreed the contract negotiation is important. “There has to be transparency in the process. We need to make sure what we do is in the benefit of the people,” he said. “We need to have a need matched with a public benefit.”

He also expressed frustration over positions at the county left open, particularly detective positions. He said the Suffolk administration under County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has been “crafty with budgeting” by not filling positions already in the budget and paid for by taxpayers.

Homelessness

Figliola said the county’s Department of Social Services could better coordinate with the towns to assist people living in encampments but said a huge factor is mental illness.

“We have to find a way to help these folks,” he said, suggesting a partnership with SBU to incentivize people to become social workers. “There’s not enough people to help those who are mentally ill.”

Englebright praised the county for working with nonprofit organizations on this issue, but said that could be expanded, and engaging with area churches in particular could work well. He said the county needs to find a way “to incentivize people to leave who are just camping out in open spaces and causing a lot of young families to not want to venture into those spaces.”

County District 5 voters will decide on these two candidates Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta discusses his plans for the coming term. Photo by Raymond Janis

“I think I’m going to win,” Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) confidently told TBR News Media. That is because there is no other candidate on the ballot.

Without a challenger, Trotta, who has held the 13th District seat since 2013, will coast to a sixth and final term this November. The 13th District includes Smithtown, Fort Salonga, Kings Park, San Remo, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor and St. James, as well as portions of Commack and East Northport.

During an office interview with Trotta spanning just under an hour, he painted a dreary portrait of the inner workings of county government, describing an “insane” world of hidden taxes, political diversion tactics and underhanded political games that predominate.

“It’s a broken system,” he said. “It’s all about money.”

The incumbent pledged to go out with a bang during his final term. “I’m giving one last shot to clean up this mess, this cesspool I call Suffolk County,” he said. “I want to finish cleaning up the corruption, and I want to buy some more open space. Those are my two top concerns.”

He based his open-space agenda upon a deep-seated fear of potential overdevelopment. He said protecting available parcels within his district and throughout the county would maintain the natural character, keeping it from “looking like Nassau County or Queens.”

Wastewater

Trotta’s reelection bid comes amid an intense countywide debate over wastewater infrastructure, notably the proposed 1/8-penny sales tax he and the Republican majority in the county Legislature had voted down earlier this year in connection with the Water Quality Restoration Act. 

“I would never vote for a tax increase for that,” he said in defense of his “no” vote.

Trotta pointed to the county’s roughly $1 billion budget surplus, saying that revenue pipeline is better suited for investments in wastewater infrastructure and treatment centers.

The county legislator suggested that the ongoing debate around wastewater infrastructure was little more than political subterfuge designed to stir confusion and blame the Republican caucus.

“They’re trying to make it look like the Republicans voted against giving people a choice,” he said. “No, the people of this county hired me to get inside and look at what’s going on. And when I look at what’s going on, it’s not what they’re being told.”

Outlining his vision for modernizing wastewater infrastructure, he said the county should actively work toward identifying and replacing cesspools in watershed areas or near surface waters.

‘Shams’

Along with the wastewater fight, Trotta addressed several perceived “shams” within the county government that he seeks to remediate in the coming term. He cited the county’s School Bus Safety Program as “the ultimate sham” designed to raise county revenues from unwitting victims.

“There’s a bus stop in Commack where 3,000 tickets were written on Jericho Turnpike,” he said. “No one’s crossing Jericho Turnpike, yet it raised $800,000 of taxpayers money.”

He added, “No kids are crossing that road, so this is strictly about money — make no mistake about it.”

Trotta also objected to the existing Red Light Camera Program, stating that roughly 95% of violations are for right-on-red turns.

Planning

To assist young people struggling to afford Suffolk’s high cost of living, the 13th District incumbent said he preferred promoting private ownership over renting.

“I don’t like apartments because I don’t want to see the rich get richer,” he said. “If you put something down by the railroad station and charge some young professional $3,500 a month, he’s never going to be able to buy a house.”

Trotta said the affordability problem is due to governmental mismanagement and ill-conceived tax breaks for developers.

“When you’re giving a tax break to a billionaire and making everyone else pay, it’s corrupt,” he said.

Reforms

In achieving policy victories for county residents, Trotta said legislators must conduct themselves with “integrity, honor and how about admitting that [county programs are often] nothing more than a money grab.”

Along with his reformer aspirations, Trotta touted a recent acquisition of 15 acres for open-space conservation in Head of the Harbor with plans for additional acreage in Fort Salonga, among other scattered parcels throughout his district.

Despite his efforts to reform the system, Trotta indicated that progress has been “very disappointing.” He nonetheless said he remains committed to carrying out his whistleblower role for this one last term of service.

“I shine the light in what’s going on,” he stated. “I have a view of it. You pay me to look at it, and I’m looking at it.”

But, he added, “I’m getting tired.”

The county 13th District voting will take place Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, left, and businessman Dave Calone debate the future of the Suffolk County government. Photo by Raymond Janis

This year marks the first open contest for Suffolk County’s top post since 2009 when three-term incumbent County Executive Steve Bellone (D) first won the job.

Bellone cannot seek reelection due to 12-year term limits for county offices. In his place, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is opposing businessman Dave Calone (D).

At the TBR News Media office, the two candidates debated for roughly an hour and a half. Their conversation covered an array of policy matters from wastewater, municipal solid waste, public safety, budgets, homelessness and transit.

Introductions

Calone is a Setauket resident who said he is running because “we need people with new backgrounds and different skill sets as county executive.”

The Democratic candidate is a former state and federal prosecutor whose private-sector experience entails assisting startup companies and working with owners to help build their businesses.

Romaine is a Center Moriches resident who said he is running because he views the county government as headed down the wrong path. He served two terms in the county Legislature before serving five terms as Suffolk County clerk. He then reentered the Legislature before assuming the position of town supervisor via special election in 2012.

In his 38th year in public office, he contended that “experience is needed now more than ever, and I think you have to be able to start a job from day one.”

Issues

Identifying the issues motivating his campaign, Romaine cited budgets, administrative vacancies, public safety concerns and outdated infrastructure. He said he supported the federal $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and New York State’s $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, although infrastructure investments into Suffolk have lagged.

“We need someone that is going to be an advocate for Long Island to try to get that money because we need to rebuild our infrastructure,” he said. “Getting sewers, clean water — these are major issues that have to be dealt with.”

Calone said the voters he canvassed expressed great interest and concern over affordability, coupled with a lack of affordable housing options.

He proposed appointing a chief housing officer within the county government to coordinate with towns and villages, advocating for repurposing malls and strip plazas to address the county’s housing needs.

“Let’s identify housing priorities across the county, and then let’s say to developers, ‘This is the place to do it,’” Calone said, supporting streamlining of the permitting process and cutting red tape. He also emphasized public safety, affordability, well-paying jobs and the environment as other motivating factors.

Wastewater

This year’s election cycle is taking place concurrently with a countywide debate over the future of the region’s wastewater infrastructure. Over the summer, the Republican-led county Legislature blocked a 1/8-penny sales tax for wastewater investments from reaching the November ballot in the form of a referendum. If passed, the measure would have helped finance new wastewater investments.

Calone said he disagreed with the Legislature’s action. “What I would do as county executive is put that back before the Legislature,” he said. “If we need to tweak it in some way, I’m open to that.”

“The most important thing is that we have something we can put before the voters … that they can vote on because right now we are behind other places in going after” federal and state subsidies, he added.

Romaine condemned the process through which the current administration pursued instituting the sales tax, saying the correct approach would have been the county Legislature passing a Home Rule Message rather than including language through the state budget.

He also objected to the revenue split between IA, or Innovative/Alternative, septic systems and new sewer infrastructure. “To say that this bill is perfect, it’s not,” he said. “I want to see sewers because we have more densely populated areas in this county that do not have sewers and need sewers,” adding, expanding sewer access “would do more to clean our waters.”

Garbage

The planned closure of the Brookhaven Town landfill — which services the entire region — places uncertainty over the long-term future of the county’s waste management system.

Romaine said averting an islandwide garbage crisis would require a regional approach to garbage disposal.

“We need to get the 31 villages and the 10 towns on the same page, working with the county and maybe even Nassau County to create a regional approach to solid waste,” he stated.

To facilitate a regional program, he supported transporting garbage by rail. “Since it can’t be buried here, can’t be maintained here, can’t be kept here, it has to leave the Island,” Romaine added. “The best way to do that is by rail.”

Calone pointed to the Brookhaven landfill as a failure by Brookhaven Town. He said the county government must roll out a more comprehensive recycling and composting program with the goal of achieving zero waste, though this ideal is likely unattainable.

Given that the county will inevitably produce some waste in the years ahead, Calone endorsed the proposal to ship the remaining garbage by rail. “There’s going to be some waste left,” he maintained, “and it will need to be railed off of Long Island.”

Public safety

To combat crime within Suffolk County, Calone called for a fully-funded, fully-staffed Suffolk County Police Department.

“We need to make sure law enforcement has the technology and tools they need,” the Democratic candidate said. “We need to make sure that every school has a school safety plan and has school safety officers that are well trained — there’s no minimum training requirement for school safety officers.”

He also advocated for targeting drugs and drug trafficking into the county with more aggressive prosecutions while “taking guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals.”

Romaine centered his public safety priorities around vacancies within the police department, pointing to 51 unfilled detective slots.

“That’s also true for patrol officers, that’s true for superior officers, that’s definitely true corrections officers, it’s true for deputy sheriffs, and it’s true for a whole host and character of law enforcement,” the Republican candidate said.

Budgets

With long-term economic uncertainty and growing concerns over the county’s finances, Romaine said he would seek to achieve a AAA bond rating for the county government, pledging to apply the fiscal strategies from Brookhaven’s budget process.

“What we did is we began to pay off debt and reduce debt with any budget surpluses that we had,” the current town supervisor said. “We have, despite inflation, been able to put together structurally balanced budgets. We have been able to reduce our fiscal stress to nothing, our environmental stress to nothing.” He added, “I would do the same” for the county.

Calone highlighted the pending closure of the municipal landfill as deeply problematic for Romaine’s constituents, suggesting budgetary mismanagement by his opponent.

The businessman referred to the county government’s current financial state as “the best financial situation it has ever been in.”

With substantial reserves, Calone offered to return some surplus money to county taxpayers through a 10% general fund property tax cut.

“I want to look at the Suffolk County budget, one with an eye toward giving some of that money back to taxpayers, and two looking at it with a businessperson’s eye.”

Rebutting Calone, Romaine said that as revenue from the landfill gradually goes away, the town will install solar panels around the landfill complex and advance related alternative energy projects to recover the lost funds. “We have sufficient revenue for the town,” he said.

Responding, Calone noted that regardless of the recovered funds, a significant budget shortfall would likely befall the Brookhaven budget, triggering a sizable tax increase for town residents in the coming years.

Homelessness

In recent years, the county has observed a rise in homelessness, with many homeless individuals turning away from the shelter system.

Calone said the county government lacks adequate personnel within its Department of Social Services, with current staff inadequately paid.

He said addiction and mental health issues tend to be the primary drivers of homelessness and that the county is not tapping into various granting opportunities to address these problems.

“I propose having a county grants office,” he said. “We don’t have one now, and there’s no coordinated way of going after grants,” noting, “This is a way to tap into federal and state funding that we’re not getting right now when it comes to mental health, veterans issues and things like that.”

Romaine agreed that grant writing remains a deficiency within the county government and that social service workers deserve better pay.

He said the best explanation he has seen on homelessness came from a recent CBS “60 Minutes” interview by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who is pursuing a new model for curtailing homelessness within the Golden State.

Newsom is “not of my party, but I’ve never heard somebody speak as well as he did on that issue,” Romaine said. “It impressed me. I’ve done some research on it, and I have some people working on it. If I have the good fortune to be elected, we’re going to take a look at it.”

Transit and trails

Officials have cited high costs associated with maintaining the county’s bus system as barriers to system expansion and modernization. To better serve the needs of riders, Romaine said modernizing the bus system begins with focusing on rails.

“We need to electrify our rail,” he said. But, he added, “None of our county buses meet the trains. You would think that you would want to create a synergy between trains and buses.”

Calone proposed reimagining the disparate modes of transit as “an integrated system.” He considered the current ridership within the county’s bus system as “ridiculously low,” arguing that empty buses give residents a sense that their government doesn’t work.

“We need to move away, I believe, from a fixed-route system everywhere except the far western part of the county,” he said. “As we move further east, we need to move toward more of an on-demand system” that uses smaller buses and modern technology to boost ridership and enhance the rider experience.

Along with traditional mass transit options, the county’s 2020 Hike-Bike Master Plan calls for expanding active-use recreation as an alternative form of transportation. To implement the ideas within the plan, Romaine supported connecting trails as part of an “overall transportation system.”

“I’d love to provide viable alternatives so that people don’t have to use a car-based system,” he said. He added that conserving open space would help expand nature trails.

Calone regarded the master plan as a “great plan” with many gaps to fill in.

He said the county must work with private landowners to acquire the lands to connect existing greenways and expand its linear park network.

“We need to have blueways [water trails] as well, where people can boat and kayak,” he said. “We’re going to put this sewer and septic program in place and, over these next bunch of years, are going to improve our water quality, and we’re going to make that available.”

He continued, “We pay a lot of money to live here, and we should enjoy what makes this place so special.”

Suffolk voters will pick one of these candidates to be their next county executive on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Public officials from the Town of Huntington celebrate new downtown revitalization stimulus funds for local communities. Photo from Stephanie Bontempi’s office. Photo from Leg. Bontempi's office

On October 31, at Heckscher Park, Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) joined with her colleagues in government to announce the local recipients of the Suffolk County JumpStart and JumpSMART grant programs.  Combined, these two programs are focused on stimulating downtown revitalization, economic activity (especially tourism) and the arts.

The organizations and/or projects receiving the funds are: Huntington downtown parking and waterfront improvements ($1.25 million –JumpStart); Greenlawn downtown streetscape improvements ($650,000 JumpStart); 1653 Foundation – Artists Alley in Huntington downtown ($250,000); Heckscher Museum of Art – development of an outdoor café on the terrace of the museum ($100,000); Huntington African American Museum ($500,000); Huntington Arts Council – door and window replacement and ADA upgrades ($157,000); Huntington Cultural Affairs Institute – Chapin Stage ($170,000); Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society – electric hookup for overnight guests and humidity control ($100,000); YMCA of Long Island – Huntington ($500,000); and The Whaling Museum and Education Center – expansion of museum ($300,000).

“This is an exciting time to be in the Town of Huntington,” said Bontempi.  “All of these projects will add so much to not only our local economy, but our enjoyment of our community.  This will also attract visitors from near and far. Huntington is a special place.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, at podium, announces new downtown revitalization stimulus funds for Smithtown communities. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

By Sabrina Artusa

Suffolk County is giving Kings Park, St. James and Smithtown a sizable chunk of downtown revitalization stimulus.

These funds, made available by the pandemic economic recovery allotments, will help revitalize the downtown districts while investing in developing infrastructure in downtown areas.

Through the JumpSMART Small Business Downtown Investment Program, which awards money to nonprofits, organizations and businesses, and the Jumpstart program, which awards money to towns and municipalities, the county gave $5.5 million to improve the local downtown economies.

“We recognize that our long-term economic prosperity is dependent to an extent on the success of our downtowns,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). “Our downtowns are the places where we have the vibrancy we need to keep and attract young people in our community.”

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center was awarded $500,000, and Celebrate St. James, a leading organization in preserving arts and culture in St. James, was awarded a $100,000 JumpSMART grant. The town was additionally given a $900,000 JumpStart grant for the acquisition and restoration of the century-old Calderone Theatre, which is currently in disrepair.

Kings Park, Bellone said, has one of the most prosperous downtowns in Suffolk County. The Agape Community Sports Services was awarded a $1.45 million JumpSMART Award. Bellone described the organization as a “major regional tourism asset” expected to attract 350,000 people to Kings Park.

The Town of Smithtown was also awarded $2.5 million for traffic and street improvements in Kings Park.

“Every single penny we receive will be well spent, and it will be to benefit the Smithtown community,” Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said.

“This is how we are able to raise local talent, invest in local communities and, more importantly, put your tax dollars back in your hands, which is why we are doing it.” Minority Leader Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon) added.

Also in attendance were legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), Suffolk County’s commissioner of Economic Development and Planning Sarah Lansdale, and Jonathan Keyes, director of downtown revitalization and transit-oriented development.

“Without the Legislature voting to put these funds in place in this year’s operating budget and in the capital budget over the last couple of years, this wouldn’t be possible,” Bellone said.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Building 77, Hauppauge in conjunction with the DEA and the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, will be hosting a “Shed the Meds” event on Saturday, Oct. 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Members of the public can bring their unwanted medication or any controlled substance (just no liquids or needles) to either location during the designated time (note, if you have such needles or liquids, they can provide direction as to how to safely dispose of such).
Questions? Call 631-637-1582.