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Affordability

Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers the New York State Executive Budget proposal at the State Capitol in Albany on Jan. 16. Photo courtesy Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul

By G.T. Scarlatos

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) delivered the Fiscal Year 2025 New York State Executive Budget proposal at the State Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, Jan. 16, where she announced her record-breaking $233 billion spending plan that looks to allocate funds toward public safety, education and the influx of migrants coming to New York. It also closes a $4.3 billion deficit the state faced. Although the budget proposes a roughly 2% increase from the previous year, this burden won’t be falling on the taxpayer as Hochul made it clear there would be no new increases in state income tax.

In the address, Hochul focused on the needs of everyday New Yorkers with an emphasis on investing in initiatives concerning public safety and affordability. 

“I stand by my commitment to fight the right fights for New Yorkers and pursue the common good,” Hochul said. “We must crack down on persistent crime, invest in children and families, and build the economy of the future. We’re taking action with common sense solutions that are simple, easy to implement. But the truth is, we can’t spend like there’s no tomorrow because tomorrow always comes.”

The governor outlined how the state will strengthen its public safety efforts by continuing to invest in initiatives that work with local communities, law enforcement and nonprofit groups to stem crime and gun violence statewide by devoting additional resources to youth mentorship programs, the police and district attorneys. 

The budget includes $40 million toward tackling property crime and retail theft that looks to bring relief to small businesses by creating a new state police enforcement unit dedicated to driving down the recent spike in retail theft.

“Keeping New Yorkers safe is my number one priority,” Hochul said in the address. “Over the last few years we’ve made historic investments in gun violence prevention programs and it’s paid off. Shootings and murders are way down. Gun seizures are up.”

The spending plan also proposes to increase school aid by $825 million, just a 2.4% increase from last year, considerably less than the 7.7% average increase in aid that districts have received in recent years. 

In an attempt to get ahead of the criticism she would potentially face, Hochul explained, “As much as we may want to, we are not going to be able to replicate the massive increases of the last two years. No one could have expected the extraordinary jumps in aid to recur annually.” 

She also attributed the disappointing figure to a decade-long trend of declining school enrollment for students K-12, by saying, “It’s common sense to ensure that the schools are getting the appropriate money based on their enrollments today compared to what they were a decade and a half ago.”

The governor then recalled how she worked with legislators to bring the state’s reserves from 4% of the budget to a now historically high level of just over 15%. The reserves can be used to stabilize public spending or for one-time emergencies that may leave the state vulnerable. 

In order to provide aid for what she referred to as a “humanitarian crisis,” Hochul plans to dip into the state’s reserves, allocating an extra $500 million of aid to support the approximately 13,600 asylum seekers arriving in New York each month, bringing state spending for the cost of shelter, social services and resettlement up to $2.4 billion. 

Hochul addressed the politically-charged issue and called out for additional support from Washington, saying, “New York continues to carry the burden of sheltering more than 69,000 migrants. Since day one, I have said that it is ultimately the responsibility of the federal government to address this crisis. Congress — the House of Representatives in particular — and the White House must remain at the negotiating table until they restore the rule of law on our border, fix our asylum system and provide relief to states like New York who’ve been shouldering this burden for far too long,” Hochul said. 

She continued addressing her efforts to combat the crisis saying, “I’ll be traveling once again to Washington to advocate for effective immigration reform, a stronger border and increased support from the federal government for New York. But until we see a change in federal policy that slows the flow of new arrivals, we’re going to be swimming against the tide.”

To see the whole budget presentation go to: budget.ny.gov.

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.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner, left, and attorney Carol Russell debate the issues facing the town’s 2nd Council District. Photo by Raymond Janis

This year, incumbent Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) is defending her seat against attorney Carol Russell (D-Coram).

The district lines for Council District 2 shifted substantially due to last year’s redistricting process. Covering the northeastern hamlets from Mount Sinai to Wading River, the district expanded southward and received a sizable chunk of Coram.

In a debate at the TBR office with the two candidates, Bonner, who was first elected to the office in 2007 and has held the seat ever since, explained the motivations behind her reelection bid. “I think my record has proven itself — hands-on, full time, civic-minded,” Bonner said. “I’ve been instrumental in putting the town on the right track, and I’m looking forward to serving four more years.”

Her opponent is a former critical care nurse who transitioned into the law and spent three decades representing nurses. After ending her legal practice in 2017, Russell became a more active member in her family farm business in Coram.

She cited her community involvement efforts, such as mentoring with the Dress for Success Brookhaven program and volunteering for the mock trial team at Longwood High School.

“I’ve been a patient advocate, a legal advocate, a women’s advocate … and I’m a voter-protection advocate,” she said.

Quality of life

In speaking with CD2 residents, Russell highlighted affordability and taxes as a paramount policy concern. She said public safety, particularly the opioid crisis, has been a significant local concern.

“Overdevelopment and the environment are big concerns of a lot of people,” she said. “We want to keep our open space. We don’t need any more 5,000-square-foot, multifamily, million-dollar homes. We need workforce housing. We need redevelopment of our blighted areas … and our abandoned properties.”

She also suggested that the town’s permitting process could be streamlined.

For Bonner, crime and public safety are her highest priorities. She said the district is seeing a high volume of “squatting issues” and vacant homes that have stalled in the foreclosure process.

She said preserving open space remains a critical policy focus for the 2nd District. “I was instrumental in helping to preserve the over 700 acres in Wading River that was slated to be clear cut for a solar farm,” the incumbent said. “I was instrumental in helping craft that legislation that you can’t clear cut woods to create solar farms.”

She added that being mindful of the tax burden on residents remains another quality-of-life concern for her.

Vacant storefronts

Lining some of the primary commercial corridors within CD2, such as state routes 25 and 25A, are vacant storefronts, signaling a difficulty in attracting and sustaining businesses within the area.

Bonner supported adjusting land-use policies to adapt to the new commercial real estate climate created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we evolve out of this pandemic, we need to go back and adjust these land-use plans to allow for different uses than [those that] were originally adopted,” she indicated. “And we’ve started to do that.”

Russell referred to these blighted commercial areas as “very complicated.” She called for creating a master plan to guide the development of these commercial zones. “I think we really need to find a good, comprehensive plan to bring back the stores and the commercial industry,” she said. “It’s changed over the years, but it hasn’t changed that dramatically since COVID.”

The challenger added, “People want to shop local. They want to be engaged with the business owners. … I just think we need to do better with a comprehensive development plan to redevelop those blighted areas.”

Traffic/pedestrian safety

Russell stated that “the roads around here are horrible.” She raised concern over trail crossings, advocating for roadway reconfigurations at these intersections. She also supported other pedestrian safety enhancements to promote walkability in places with greater foot traffic.

“We need more sidewalks,” she said. “Wherever there are shopping centers and strip malls, and particularly where they are crossing the street, we need to have sidewalks so people can park on one side and get to the other side if they need to.”

Bonner cited a recent article referring to 25 and 25A as among the most dangerous state routes on Long Island. To ameliorate traffic safety concerns, she said she has coordinated with the town’s Highway Department in obtaining grants for sidewalks, driver-feedback devices and striping.

She said continued collaboration with the New York State Department of Transportation, which oversees the state roadways, remains challenging. “I will tell you that the DOT is one of the most difficult agencies to deal with,” she said. “We work with other partners in government on the roads that [the town is] not responsible for, but they are responsible to help bring about some traffic-calming measures.”

Affordability

Throughout the region, seniors and young people are becoming priced out, fleeing the region for places with a lower cost of living. Given the land-use powers within town government, Bonner said the town is already pursuing some “large-scale affordability projects” within the district.

“The Mount Sinai Meadows project and the amenities that they offer will be geared toward millennials to keep them on the North Shore and in the community in which they grew up,” the councilwoman indicated.

She added that wastewater remains a factor in supporting new residential units. “We lack sewers on Long Island, especially on the North Shore,” she said. “I have every confidence that whoever our next county executive is he is going to figure out this sewer bill” — referring to the county’s Water Quality Restoration Act — “so we can hit the ground running regarding affordability projects for our seniors” and youth.

For Russell, promoting affordability starts with reforms within the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. “I think the Town Council has the responsibility when it appoints members of the IDA to not reappoint them if they’re not bringing in affordable housing — workforce housing,” she said. “That’s what’s going to keep our students when they graduate here. That’s what’s going to keep our seniors here.”

She agreed with the incumbent’s assessment of the need for modernized wastewater infrastructure but said the 2nd District would likely require Innovative/Alternative septic systems instead of sewers. She advocated for the town to take greater initiative in modernizing the area’s wastewater systems.

“I think what has to happen is a little less of, ‘That’s the county’s job,’ or, ‘That’s the state’s job,’ and a little more of, ‘We all need to be working together,’” Russell said, adding, “All of the departments have to be working together.”

Voters will get the final say on these two candidates Tuesday, Nov. 7.

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.

Rising energy prices, rents and wages are all applying greater pressure on small business owners. Pictured above, storefronts in downtown Port Jefferson. File photo by Julianne Mosher
By Rita J. Egan & Raymond Janis

Residents of communities throughout the area came out on Saturday, Nov. 26, to support local downtowns during Small Business Saturday.

Small Business Saturday was a campaign first developed by American Express in 2010. Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, detailed the history and purpose of this effort.

“Because everybody was focusing on Black Friday, American Express wanted to focus on small businesses,” he said.

Mary Joy Pipe, owner of The East End Shirt Company and president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, described this year’s iteration of Small Business Saturday as a success. She forecasts a favorable holiday season for the small business community this year based on the turnout.

“Am I optimistic about how I did on Small Business Saturday and over that weekend, and that things should go well?” she said. “Yes.”

The success of these business initiatives, according to Pipe, is primarily contingent upon the weather. She characterized the clear skies on Friday and Saturday as fortunate for the business community.

Tandy Jeckel, owner of TandyWear in Commack, said Small Business Saturday was similar to last year saleswise but that Black Friday was better.

Black Friday “was major,” she said. “We beat last year. Small Business Saturday was pretty much the same as last year.”

Confronting difficult times

While some storefront owners saw favorable returns over the weekend, others discussed the several factors working against their businesses. Among these are nationwide economic instability and inflation, soaring prices and hardships related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jeckel said her business did well during the pandemic by making masks to match outfits and so drawing in customers. She added she had noticed customers opting for dressier outfits where people were looking for more comfortable loungewear for a while.

Joe Schwab, co-owner of Schwab’s 2nd Wind in East Setauket, said he didn’t experience an increase in traffic on Small Business Saturday. He said that the special shopping days did not necessarily boost sales, even though Black Friday was better this year than it has been in years past.

“I would love to have a big excitement about shopping days again, but for the time being it seems to be a bit lost or fizzled out,” he said.

Cantor maintains that the broader economic trends are squeezing small businesses and local downtowns. Ballooning costs associated with energy prices, rents and wages are making it harder for small businesses to stay profitable. At the same time, consumers have less discretionary income and, therefore, less to spend in these downtown settings.

“Right now, small businesses are caught between trying to recoup the high rents, energy costs and things like that,” he said. “And then they’re running into the competition and the fact that consumers don’t have the money to spend.”

Competing with big businesses

Inflation and other economic pressures are driving consumers to try to stretch their dollars, Cantor said. This is adding even greater strain on small businesses compared to big businesses.

“The reality is that these big businesses can buy goods and services at much cheaper prices, and consumers are certainly looking for bargains,” he said.

Despite this popular narrative, Patty Kaczmarczyk, owner of Cheese & Spice Market in Wading River, insists that her prices are competitive and often outperform her larger competitors.

“People sometimes feel, ‘I’m going to go to the supermarket where I can get things cheaper there,’ but now that’s not so true,” she said. “I’m a small business, so I’m trying not to kill people in pricing to stay very competitive. That’s my goal.”

Contrasting the business models of large and small businesses, Kaczmarczyk said smaller stores are better adapted to meet the needs of consumers. Whereas large retailers emphasize bulk purchases, she said small vendors allow for smaller, often cheaper orders.

“I carry so many loose spices, which are way cheaper than buying them in a grocery store,” she said. “I sell it loose, and you can buy smaller amounts.” Maximizing these advantages, she suggests, can keep small businesses afloat while competing against their larger counterparts.

Susannah Meinersman, owner of Huntington-based Bon Bons Chocolatier, said the store has been busy in general, which she attributes to making a great product. Meinersman said she appreciates Small Business Saturday: “I think the day brings awareness to the small Main Street business, so that’s a good thing.” 

Giving back to the community

David Wolmetz is co-owner of Urban Air Adventure Park in Lake Grove. He described the small business sector as an extension of the greater community. Through various interactions of small businesses with community members, he said these businesses foster a greater sense of local cohesion.

“It’s not only about money for us,” he said. “It’s about connecting to the community.” 

For example, Wolmetz sits on the board of the Stony Brook Cancer Center Community Advisory Council. Maintaining connections between small businesses and other local institutions is crucial, Wolmetz said, for community prosperity.

“We look for them: Girl Scouts, Boys Scouts, anything that’s related to our demographic of a youth, family oriented connection,” he said. “I’m very familiar with that connection, and that’s my reason for having the business.”

This connection will be imperative as businesses transition into the post-pandemic era. For Suzanne McEnroe, owner of This n’ That Gifts in St. James, the turnout on Saturday was encouraging. 

She said she appreciates resident support as the business owner opened the gift store in February 2020, just a few weeks before the COVID-19 shutdowns. She is grateful to be open.

In general, she noticed a difference in business this year with more people out shopping. “They love to have a town shop to be able to just come and get a quick gift,” she said.

A critical juncture

While Small Business Saturday primarily targets the retail and service sectors, Long Island’s regional economy consists of small businesses across many other industries. 

John Hill is the founder and CEO of the Long Island Advancement of Small Business, an organization committed to the growth and development of small businesses that do not interface with customers, such as financial planners, bankers and IT service providers, among others.

Hill contends that these small businesses are struggling, too. “They’re not growing, they’re not failing, they’re just eking out a living right now,” he said.

Given the high living costs on Long Island, Hill sees more small business owners closing up shop and heading to more affordable regions in the country, a startling trend for Long Island’s regional economy.

“We’ve had four people leave our organization to move off of Long Island,” he said. “Two moved to Florida, one to North Carolina and one to Tennessee.”

To stay afloat, Cantor suggests business owners will soon have to find creative ways to attract consumers to downtown areas while eliminating operating expenses.

“Businesses are at a critical juncture,” he said, noting that Small Business Saturday is “super.” He added, “We want all these small businesses to survive, and it’s great that Long Islanders are coming out to the downtowns to shop on Small Business Saturday. But they have to continue to do it.”

Republican Party nominee Edward Flood and incumbent state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photos by Rita J. Egan

In New York’s 4th Assembly District race, incumbent Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is up against Republican Party challenger Edward Flood. During an office debate with TBR News Media, the two candidates confronted various issues, from affordability to the environment, prescription drug costs and more.

Introductions

Before entering government, Englebright was a trained geologist, museum curator and educator. He served as a Suffolk County legislator and then ran for the state Assembly, where he has served since 1992. 

He is chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation. He said he is running for reelection to continue his work promoting clean air and water, among other legislative issues. 

Flood is a practicing attorney based in Port Jefferson. He is also an assistant town attorney for the Town of Brookhaven, where he tries quality-of-life cases and environmental crimes. He said he is running because he has observed changes in the area’s cost of living and heightened public safety concerns, and seeks to rectify those issues.

LIRR electrification

On the subject of electrifying the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road, Englebright advanced his multiphased approach. First is cleaning up any remaining contamination of the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site, a 126-acre property at the core of the electrification plan.

The assemblyman then favors moving the terminus of the North Shore line onto the Superfund site, enabling a new rail yard to support the electrification process. 

“At this point, we have something that has transformational potential for the entire region,” he said. “We should be looking at this as what it is, which is a regional, statewide and even national model.”

Flood agreed with Englebright, referring to electrification as “the common sense thing to do.”

“It’s kind of a win-win because it will reduce contaminants going into the air … and it will also help speed up the process of getting rid of the Superfund site,” he said. “Like any other project with the MTA, the MTA drags their feet.” The challenger added, “I think we get the short end of the stick with them as Suffolk County residents, where they like to have our money but don’t like to give us a seat at the table.”

Declining student enrollment

One of the critical issues facing policymakers of this region is declining student enrollment in school districts throughout the area.

For Englebright, attracting families with students requires cutting costs where possible. He cited the Comsewogue School District, which put solar panels on top of the Terryville Road Elementary School, as an example of exploring creative ways to limit costs within the district.

“That was an experiment of sorts,” the assemblyman said. “That installation was completed in ‘96. Today it’s saving that school district $40,000 a year, just that one roof.”

Flood held that attracting and keeping families with children on Long Island is a matter of lowering the cost of living.

“I think that’s the overwhelming reason why you’re seeing a decrease in enrollment,” he said. “The only way that’s going to change is if we can make Long Island a more affordable place for the youth to stay. … We have to make Long Island more affordable so people can afford to raise families here.”

Affordable housing 

The problem of affordability is not limited to the youth, according to Englebright. He advocated expanding affordable housing options to those living beyond or entering retirement age.

“Part of the housing issue is not only providing housing for young people but also for the pioneers of suburbia who now have three or four empty bedrooms in the house,” he said. “They need housing opportunities that will, in turn, enable them to stay in the community, so we don’t lose them.”

To remedy the housing and unaffordability problem, Flood supported exploring more opportunities for mixed-use development. “We do need to find cheaper housing,” he said. “Going to a Fairfield, or something like that, where they’re just going to build these giant complexes and charge astronomical fees … doesn’t really do much for our community.”

Englebright added that the housing crisis is linked to the ability of Albany to support the creation of new jobs. “The issue of housing continues to be a barrier,” he said. “The antidote to that is developing new jobs so that people can afford to stay. Too many young people are just priced out.”

For Flood, the state government can support local communities by lowering taxes. “I do believe on a statewide level that we can reduce the tax burden by canceling contracts that are no longer effective, doing a better job with how we spend money,” he said.

Prescription drugs

Flood was given the opportunity to respond to a letter to the editor published last month criticizing his platform on prescription drugs. [See letter, “Flood’s dangerous rhetoric on prescription drugs,” The Port Times Record ePaper, Oct. 6.]

Responding to this critique, Flood said his platform acknowledges the realities of business. “The only way to reduce the cost to the citizenry is to reduce some of the costs to the manufacturer,” he said. “Obviously, you can sue — and you can still sue for massive amounts — but the insurance for what pharmaceutical companies are paying is astronomical.” 

He added, “It’s not saying that the individual, if there was an issue, wouldn’t be compensated. It would just be that it’s a common-sense measure to say that they can’t increase the cost to the pharmaceutical companies so much that they have to, in turn, turn it around on you [the consumer].”

Englebright retorted Flood’s position: “My distinguished opponent is obviously biased toward business,” the assemblyman said. “I was not surprised by the answer, but what we really need is, if we’re going to have a benefit of doubt, it should be in the direction of the consumer.”

Environment

The candidates debated some of the pressing environmental phenomena unique to the area. Englebright firmly supported the continued preservation of open spaces.

“If you preserve open space in a community plan, that allows open space to give its benefits, including environmental benefits to nearby streams from runoff,” he said. “Many of the woodlands that have not been built [upon] deserve preservation.”

Tangentially related, communities along the North Shore are experiencing the effects of eroding bluffs and cliffs. Most notably, the Village of Port Jefferson is deciding on a proper action plan concerning the village-owned country club atop the East Beach bluff.

Englebright did not favor manmade efforts to armor these bluffs. “The entire coastline is a dynamic reality,” he said. “Port Jefferson would be wise to reconsider the advice that they’ve been given by the engineers that they’ve hired. Engineers tend to think they can fix it.”

He expressed his support for the upcoming $4.2 billion state environmental bond act: “We need that money. About a third of it will be for coastline stabilization and activities that are related to climate change.”

Flood also supported the bond act, stating, “I agree with the bond act, and I agree we need something to step in.”

As for the eroding cliffs, he said he would follow the expertise of scientists. “I would rely a lot upon the advice of those people who are scientists, the people who work in this field every day and come up with a solution.”

Partisanship/polarization

In a period of intense partisanship and polarization at all levels of government, the candidates offered their favored approach to working across party lines and building common ground.

Flood said many issues confronting the state government do not lend themselves to vehement policy disagreements. He attributed the lack of bipartisanship to an inability of legislators to treat each other with respect.

“At the end of the day, people want safe streets, they want economic opportunity for their children, people want clean water and clean air, people want an ability to advance their careers,” Flood said. “Two people are able to sit across the table from each other and express their ideas. Maybe they don’t agree, but they can do it in a fashion that is respectful of each other.”

Englebright said his record indicates that he “keeps an eye on the prize,” not allowing partisanship to get in the way of progress for his constituents. He invoked his productive working relationship with former state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) as the kind of work that can occur when policymakers check their party affiliation at the door.

“The prize is getting things done for the people that sent you [to Albany],” he said. “I actually enjoy working across the aisle. When Senator LaValle was there, we did a whole variety of really important bills.”

The assemblyman added, “If somebody is also willing to pursue the objective of the overarching public benefit and set partisanship aside, I will be the first to work with them.”

Voters will decide upon their preferred state Assembly candidate for the 4th District on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Incumbent Tom Muratore is being challenged for his county legislator seat in the 4th District by Holbrook resident David Bligh. Photo of Muratore from his campaign site; photo of Bligh from candidate

In Suffolk County’s 4th District, Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) is seeking his sixth term and is being challenged by Democrat David Bligh, an environmental engineer from Holbrook. We reached out to both candidates via email to allow them the opportunity to fill us in on what is on their minds as they campaign.

Incumbent Tom Muratore

We asked Muratore what he was most proud of during his tenure as a county legislator. One was working with multiple government agencies as well as community groups to purchase land for a 24-acre park. The future Selden Park Complex will include multipurpose fields, a walking trail and more.

“This allows for more field space and places for our children to play baseball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, soccer and softball right here in our district,” he said. “The state-of-the-art facility is also a great place to host children with specials needs learning new sports through challenges and inclusive sports offerings.”

The county legislator also counted securing funds for a feasibility study for sewers in his district among his accomplishments.

“The availability of sanitary sewers has the potential to increase business investment, improve water quality and provide greater environmental protection in the Selden/Centereach communities,” Muratore said.

The legislator also has secured $6.6 million for road improvements on County Road 16, Horseblock Road. He said in addition to the road being repaved, handicapped-accessible sidewalks were installed and there were improvements to several crosswalks.

Among the issues facing the county, Muratore cites Suffolk’s financial crisis as one of the biggest issues.

“We must budget responsibly, hold the line on taxes and eliminate the outrageous fees, such as the red-light camera fee,” he said. “We must also reduce our capital borrowing. In the next term, I support a 5-10 percent reduction in capital borrowing.”

Other issues he said are protecting the environment and open spaces; supporting law enforcement and first responders for tackling the opioid crisis; and growing the economy by investing in our energy and transportation infrastructure and revitalizing downtowns.

Challenger David Bligh

Bligh said he feels the biggest issues facing Suffolk County currently are affordability, government accountability and responsiveness. The county’s deteriorating water quality he views as a crisis.

Bligh, who grew up in Ronkonkoma, said he hopes his three children will be able to afford to live on the Island when they grow up.

“We have to make Long Island affordable, especially here in Suffolk County, so that our young people and elderly can afford to stay here, and this county doesn’t simply become a place for the wealthy to dwell in their summer homes,” he said.

Bligh said he considers the deteriorating water quality in the county a crisis as it recently had the highest rate of emerging contaminants in New York State, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group May 2019 report entitled “What’s in My Water?: Emerging Contaminants in New York’s Drinking Water Systems.” He said “every elected official’s number one priority must be the safety of the constituents they serve.”

“If people cannot drink water without fearing toxins such as 1,4-dioxane, PFAS [polyfluoroalkyl substances], and other carcinogens, then we have failed as a government,” he said.

When it comes to government accountability and responsiveness, he said his team knocked on more than 14,000 doors while campaigning, and they repeatedly heard about “constituents calling their local officials about concerns in the community and being largely ignored.” He said too many times elected officials will say that an issue cannot be dealt with on their level of government or it’s outside of their jurisdiction.

He said if a legislator cannot handle an issue, they should call those who can and connect the constituent with them.

“We work for the people, not the other way around,” Bligh said.

If elected, Bligh said he would introduce a comprehensive package of ethics and good government reforms, and implement legislation that allows for the development of affordable housing units.

Also, he said as an environmental engineer for the past 15 years, his job entails remediating contaminated sites, and he looks forward to passing further legislation to protect the water quality and to safeguard Long Island from the effects of climate change.

A Reclaim New York study suggests that it is increasingly difficult to afford living on the Island. File photo

By Brandon Muir

Long Island is a place that should be synonymous with thriving families, beaches, and the best New York has to offer. However, as more people and businesses struggle to stay here, it has become, unfortunately, just as associated with high taxes, a stagnant economy, debt, and public corruption.

It’s no mystery to Long Islanders that the region has struggled. They read the headlines about population decline, while they watch their neighbors move south. As they work to make ends meet, they may not realize they are fighting an uphill battle against a deep and widespread affordability crisis that has consequences for virtually every household.

Long Islanders are paying the price for high taxation, endless regulation, and corruption that drive the cost of government sky-high.

A new study by Reclaim New York provides the most alarming evidence yet that recent graduates, middle-class families, and even people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are struggling to achieve financial stability and save for the future.

The analysis has computed Long Islanders’ total tax burden, including income, sales, excise, and property taxes, together with basic living expenses — what you have to pay just to wake up every morning on Long Island.

The results show that wherever you live, across Nassau and Suffolk Counties, the affordability crisis follows.

For instance, the median family of four living in Huntington school district earns over $118,000 annually. Even by New York standards, that should make for a comfortable living.

But after government and basic expenses take a bite out of their wallet, they are left with four percent of their income.

Across the Island, in Port Jefferson, the situation is similar, yet somehow worse. A family earning the median income there goes into the red, losing $2,855 per year.

That is before they pay off debts, save for college or retirement, and cover additional expenses. Even if they cut back on basics, they are not close to building a future.

Analysis of a range of other cases, across regions and income spectrums, reveals more trends. Like why the boomerang effect is so prominent on Long Island.

Many young people are barely in the black, and too frequently in the red, if living on their own.

A recent college graduate in Lake Ronkonkoma (Sachem School District), fortunate enough to get a job in his area of study, making $48,707 annually, can only save two percent of that, or $955. That’s before any student loan payments.

It’s going to be hard to enjoy a night out too often, let alone buy a house or get married.

For the people across all these examples, New York costs 90 percent or more of their income.

When tax policies are preventing earners high and low from building financial stability, they’re no longer progressive, but simply oppressive.

This is the iceberg that is sinking Long Island. If people can’t save, they will never be on sound financial footing, especially as they get older.

An affordability and savings crisis this deep requires citizens to get informed and engaged. The key to solving it will not be figuring out better policies on paper, but changing an environment that has fostered failed policies for too long.

Brandon Muir is executive director for Reclaim New York, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to advancing a state-wide, grassroots conversation about the future of New York, its economy, and its people.