Voters have a choice this year between a longtime Democratic local legislator and a Republican newcomer for the Assembly District 10 seat.
State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who is finishing up his first two-year term in the Assembly, is facing off against Republican Jamie Silvestri, an office manager at RSA Financial Group in Melville and current press secretary for the Huntington Young Republicans.
Silvesri, 30, said she has lived in Melville her entire life and has worked for several different small businesses over the years in the Town of Huntington. She said she was inspired to run after working on a campaign last year, but also the bail reform law passed last year.
“I just really appreciate learning from everyone’s experiences, and hearing from everybody what matters most to them,” she said.
An attorney with 25 years of experience, Stern, 51, had served as Suffolk County legislator from 2006 to 2017, and has previously primaried for the 3rd District Congressional seat in 2016 but lost to U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3). He won his first term as assemblyman in 2018, and said he is running to protect taxpayers, protect the environment and protect “our suburban quality of life.”
“I’ve worked really hard since going up to Albany to help lead a coalition that reflects our suburban values and supports common-sense solutions,” he said.
Reaction to William Spencer’s Arrest
Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) was arrested Oct. 20 for allegedly attempting to use opioids to solicit sex during a police sting operation. When the news broke, it devastated the local community, as he is a well-known doctor and community member who was thought to be a strong voice against the ongoing opioid crisis.
Stern, who served alongside Spencer for several years, called the news “deeply disturbing, if true.”
“He is extremely popular throughout our town and throughout our region, and has done an awful lot of good things for a lot of people,” he said.
Whether or not this sets back the area’s efforts in fighting opioid addiction, Stern said he has been working “diligently on the state level when it comes to law enforcement and cracking down on the opioid trade and, in our area, mixed with education and with treatment and rehabilitation.”
Silvestri said she is “praying for him and his family,” as she too was shocked to hear the news.
As far as the opioid epidemic goes, she said she has had people in her life who have had problems with opioids, and the issue hits close to home.
“Education is a very important aspect of it and making sure that we do have the treatment available for people who need these resources and that they are effectively being communicated,” she said. “So, when people are willing to seek help and actually go out and get the necessary help that they need, it can really do a lot to make a change.”
Silvestri said the initial response to the pandemic from the community was great to see, especially in the way everyone pulled together to keep each other safe.
As time has gone on, she said there has been “a little bit too much in restricting our small businesses at a time where they really do need to get back to operating as close to normal as possible.”
She said as New York has a relatively low infection rate, despite a few hotspots, the state needs to trust small business owners. “As places like Huntington village have a large restaurant industry, I think it’s very important that people can somewhat get back to normal, as close as possible while still being responsible,” she said. “It’s a matter of personal choice and responsibility.”
In the case of a second wave in New York, she said the state’s knowledge of the virus has come a long way in terms of looking out for symptoms, and that knowledge will help resist any kind of new shutdown.
‘Yes, we want to open as quickly as we can, but we’ll do it as safely as we can.’
Stern said that the response in New York and Suffolk County, despite some early setbacks, “the numbers speak for themselves.”
He said the philosophy from the outset has been to follow the science and trust the data and experts.
“We acted quickly to provide protections on the economic side, on the housing side, on the quality of life side, to make sure that our neighbors were supported during some pretty dark days in the beginning,” he said.
He said there is concern as time goes on that people are becoming less vigilant toward halting the spread of COVID-19.
“Yes, we want to open as quickly as we can, but we’ll do it as safely as we can,” he said. “So, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic or at least moving forward, it’s going to be critical that that we support particularly our local businesses.”
Some industries in particular have complained about restrictions, including the gym and catering industries. Restaurants have also made their voices heard over what they consider harsh and consistent State Liquor Authority inspections over COVID compliance.
Stern said he has heard from many of these businesses owners over restrictions and the inspections. However, he said there are some industries that are, by their nature, less safe than others, so reopening needs to be done “methodically.”
“There is a balance to strike here,” he said. “Certainly, [SLA wants] to make sure that we’re carrying out the protocol and keeping our people safe, but they also need to make sure that we’re giving our local businesses every opportunity to succeed and to show that they can keep our people safe.”
Silvestri said she would push for a $5,000 tax credit for small businesses to aid in their recovery.
“I think that we should really be looking at ways that we can help empower business owners,” she said.
Regarding SLA inspections, she said some businesses have received inspections 20 out of 30 days, saying “it’s almost like they’re being babysat.”
Stern argued the case for small businesses is “well beyond some nominal tax credits. … This just screams out for so many industries to receive meaningful support from the state government, and particularly our federal government.”
He said the job of a Long Island representative in Albany is to make sure the suburban environment brings home its fair share, adding the state needs to continue to lobby the federal government for more aid.
Stern said a big part of the state’s job is trying to protect the drinking water in the county’s sole-source aquifer, adding that protecting the local water goes to protecting the quality of life and local economy.
He also cited his work with the environment with such things as banning 1,4-dioxane and cracking down on illegal dumping.
He added there is a real possibility of pulling that “desperately needed” funding for sewer infrastructure on Long Island. Though with revenues down throughout the state, and with cuts of multiple state agencies looming, the assemblyman said that with budgets down, now is the time the state needs to invest in infrastructure “to make sure that we provide good paying jobs to make sure that putting people back to work, now is a better time than any.”
He said there could be a need to look at new revenue sources, including some kind of bond referendum, grants or low interest loans for the millions of dollars needed to build out sewer infrastructure.
‘I think that we should really be looking at ways that we can help empower business owners’
Silvestri said a recent Long Island Sound report by the nonprofit Save the Sound was “concerning,” and though the open water of the Sound was relatively stable, 56% of the monitored bays received “C,” “D” or “F” ratings.
“You have a whole ecosystem happening under the water that we need to make sure that we protect,” she said. “I just would fight as much as I could to make sure that we are exploring every possible option to make sure that we can continue upgrading the sewer systems we have
The young Republican challenger said a big reason she got into this race was because of recent police reforms as well as bail reform.
She said certain new legislation like the repeal of section 50-a, which had shielded officers’ records and complaints against them from scrutiny, can now be used in court should an officer need to testify as a witness.
She also said her opponent voted for such reforms even though he could have voted “no,” and it would have passed anyway.
Stern said many reforms passed as part of the criminal justice reform package were such things like a ban on chokeholds, increase in body cameras for cops and establishing an office of special investigations to handle police complaints.
He said section 50-a was about “transparency and accountability,” though he added he has also introduced legislation that presents new penalties for crimes against police officers, military personnel and other first responders.
The controversial bail reform law was something Stern said he was only made aware of a few weeks after coming to Albany after the special election in 2018, and that he voted against party for the original bail reform bill, “just a matter of weeks after I first got to Albany, which was not an easy position to take.”
Bail reform ultimately passed as part of the 2019 state budget, but he said the latest governor’s budget rolled back some of the elements of bail reform that went “too far,” such as robbery, child pornography, strangulation or lower degrees of manslaughter.
“So, what can be done? I’ve done it,” he said. “Because I’ve been doing it right after our bail reform was rolled into the governor’s budget and passed, working hard with like-minded suburban colleagues from all over the state to roll back some of the most dangerous elements that had passed initially.”
Silvestri called the new bail reform “catch and release,” even with recent changes to the law, and said she supported a full repeal of the law. She named laws that were still a part of bail reform, including possession of a weapon on a school ground, prostitution in a school zone, stalking and endangering an animal.
“A lot of these instances, after people are arrested, the officers are still filling out the paperwork, when these people are getting able to be able to walk out of jail, and that’s very, very frightening to me,” she said.