On Oct. 28 Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) sat down with the TBR editorial board to talk about his run for a fourth term in District 3. His opponent Talat Hamdani did not attend the debate and did not respond to voicemails and emails asking for an interview, but we summarized points posted on her campaign website at the end of this article.
Incumbent Kevin LaValle
LaValle said he has spent the last few years in office ensuring that his district, which is the smallest geographically in the county, receives its fair share of funds. He said he is out in the community regularly meeting with constituents and addressing quality of life issues such as zombie homes and illegal apartments.
“Six years ago, people were like, ‘What about us in the community?’” he said. “Now people are asking, ‘What are you going to do next?’”
The councilman said when he first took office, he drove down Middle Country Road and found more than 30 buildings had graffiti on them and over 45 had illegal signs. His staff sent notices to clean up the graffiti and get rid of the signs to owners and tenants, and most complied. With thousands of cars traveling daily along Middle Country Road, he said, the clean sites encourage others to open businesses.
LaValle prides himself on his work with the business community, citing bringing brands such as Rite Aid, Five Guys and Guitar Center to Independence Plaza in Selden, and Panera Bread to nearby College Plaza. The councilman said he will sit with owners and developers to hear their needs about zoning and has them work with the town’s Building Division and Law Department to ensure the businesses know what is required of them with codes. He said representatives from larger corporations such as Target travel to Brookhaven to discuss their needs with him.
He said it’s important to build relationships and foster trust.
“A lot of people don’t trust government,” he said. “[They say,] ‘This guy is all right. He’s going to work with us. If he gives us his word that he’s going to do something, he’ll do it.’”
He said building those business relationships has led to many of them participating in events that he organizes such as the annual National Night Out, where residents can interact with police officers and other first responders at the Centereach Pool Complex.
When it comes to water quality issues, while he said his district does not include much shoreline — just a small piece of Lake Ronkonkoma — he supports the initiatives of Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) whom he called “the most fervent advocate of the environment” that he knows. One of the programs LaValle supported was the requirement that new construction within 500 feet of water be required to install a new nitrogen-reducing septic system.
He also supports legislation spearheaded by Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) for a study to create a sewer district along Middle Country Road. He said it may take eight to 10 years for the district to be included in the sewer program, but he believes it will attract more businesses to the area.
He added a sewer district, in turn, attracts developers who want to buy a few lots together instead of one, which means one entrance for several stores, instead of one for each business, creating a better flow of traffic.
“It’s so crucial that sewer district, on so many different levels, that we get that,” he said.
LaValle also recognizes the opioid problem in the town. He said Brookhaven has two social workers who will talk to teenagers and families for free about drug addiction problems. When the social workers came to him and said it would be beneficial to raise the age they can treat people from 18 to 24, he sponsored a bill to make it happen.
He said many young people who may have overcome addiction can relapse, especially on returning to Long Island from college while having to deal with multiple stresses.
“I can tell you that’s a great key to be able to give that education, to be able to have that outreach,” he said.
LaValle also said he believes that the state needs to push insurance carriers to provide coverage for those battling addiction and has approached both state senators, Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport).
He said the Island currently doesn’t have enough beds for treatment in hospitals and clinics, and patients may be not covered unless they have fought addiction multiple times.
“I think it’s a fight that should be fought,” he said.
He also has worked with Muratore to purchase property behind Hawkins Path Elementary School. An agreement between the county and town allowed the county to buy the property if the town would develop. LaValle said the park, called Selden Park Complex, will have two multipurpose fields with a walking trail, playground and ice-skating rink. Flanagan recently secured $1 million to fund phase 3 of the park, which includes the construction of two baseball fields and a playground.
“It’s great because growing up here, we had the worst fields,” LaValle said.
Challenger Talat Hamdani
Hamdani grew up in Pakistan and immigrated to New York in 1979. She is a retired English teacher, who in 2018 was appointed by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to the Suffolk County Muslim-American Advisory Board. She is also a regular commentator on CNN, MSNBC, “Democracy Now!”and other media outlets.
The challenger’s family was a victim of Islamophobia when false media accusations linked her son to the 9/11 attacks, according to the challenger’s website. Mohammad Salman Hamdani, her son, worked at Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Manhattan and went down to the World Trade Center to help victims. He, too, died in the aftermath of the attacks.
According to her website, she aims to end corruption “by stopping the endless waste, fraud and abuse in the Town of Brookhaven.” She said she will call out “pay-to-play politics and end the hold of special interests in town government and one-party rule.”
Currently, Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is the only Democrat on the Brookhaven Town Board.
Hamdani would also like to enhance residential recycling by implementing weekly pickup of plastic, paper, cardboard and aluminum/metals, as well as expand the types of plastics that get collected. She said this would make it easier for residents and not burdensome for taxpayers.
The challenger plans to work to enhance oversight for clean water to increase environmental safety and incentivize small businesses with economic development zones. Her website says she would look to provide rebates for startups and family businesses. She also wants to curb overdevelopment with plans to put a check on big developers and advance a sustainable affordable housing agenda.
“Today, I am passionately involved in social justice,” Hamdani posted on her website. “I want to serve my local community in addressing their issues and trying to resolve them. Like Salman, we need to transcend the barriers of race, faith and ethnicity and stand united for our democracy and our freedoms guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution, with liberty and justice for all.”