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Anthony Palumbo

From left, Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio (R), and former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith (D). Photos from campaigns

Former Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, a Democrat, will be going against Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio (R) for the 2nd Assembly District. Currently held by incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), he is leaving his seat to run for New York State Senate against Laura Ahearn (D). 

Both Jens-Smith and Giglio have been active in the East End communities for years, with long-standing political careers. 

Elected the first woman supervisor in Riverhead Town’s 225-year history, Jens-Smith, 57, defeated longtime Republican-Conservative incumbent Sean Walter in 2017. During her tenure there, she said she helped revitalize downtown Riverhead and served one two-year term before losing to Yvette Aguiar (R) in November. But before that role, she served as a member and president of the Mattituck-Cutchogue school district board of education and had a long career as a nurse. She is the mom of two children. 

Giglio, 52, has served as Riverhead Town councilwoman since 2010. A small business owner, she owns Bennett Enterprises LLC., a construction management and land-use business based out of Riverhead and has been a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 138 since 2015. She co-founded Riverhead Business Alliance and is a mother of three. 

TBR News Media spoke to both candidates by phone to discuss COVID-19, the environment, agriculture, the brain drain and bail reform.

Environment

Jens-Smith noted that to address water quality and septic systems, a lot of things can be done, but they are attached to a dollar amount. 

“Having been a supervisor of a town, a lot of this, addressing this issue, is done at a small municipal level where it becomes cost prohibitive,” she said. “So, we really need to invest the money at the state level, to deal with this on Long Island as a whole.” 

She said the county needs to prioritize remodeling septic systems close to the water and that more research should be put into it. In order to upgrade a unit to a new, better system, it needs to become more cost effective for the general public. 

“We have to make it affordable, especially in moderate and low-income areas,” she said. 

As a Riverhead councilwoman, Giglio has put several initiatives into effect. She has worked with Suffolk County Department of Health Services, the town Conservation Advisory Council and the town board to adopt requiring sanitary systems to be upgraded.

“I think that getting sanitary systems out of groundwater and getting sewer systems or cluster sewer systems is very important,” she said. “I believe in starting small and making sure that it works and then going big. That’s why I started in the watershed areas and spoke at the Suffolk County legislative meeting, saying that they should focus on the watershed areas first and those systems that are actually sitting in groundwater.”

Agriculture

Jens-Smith has been working hard with the Long Island Farm Bureau to continue growing different crops that help the economy of the East End. “I think that we need to work together to find solutions to be able to keep the family farm here,” she said. “It’s a huge industry, and I think sometimes people overlook how big the farming industry is in the state of New York and on Long Island.” 

She said that preserving farmland is instrumental, and she wants to come up with more ways to keep preserving it. “Once it’s gone, we know it’s gone,” she added. 

Giglio agreed, saying that preserving farmland out east is a priority for her. So far, she said she has preserved over 2,000 acres of farmland and worked closely with farmers who are hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Brain Drain 

Both candidates agree that Long Island is losing too many people because they cannot afford to stay here.

“We cannot continue to tax our middle class off of Long Island,” Jens-Smith said. “We need to take a hard look at every single line item to make sure that we’re not becoming a community where we have the very wealthy; people that are not in the middle class, that they’re living under the poverty level, or they’re very low income — and we’re squeezing out the middle class on Long Island.”She said Long Island is not what it used to be: affordable with a strong middle class and with good paying wages. The former supervisor said that when the middle class has money, they spend it on local businesses and give back to the economy. 

“We’ve lost that here on Long Island, and we need to get back to that,” she said. “We need to make sure that when we pass the laws, and we pass legislation, that we’re keeping the middle class and the working class in mind, so that we can continue to sustain ourselves here.” 

She added that there should be multiple levels of affordable housing, especially for educated young people that will change as salaries increase. 

“I also think we need to be able to work with some of the companies that are here on the Island — some of the major employers — and encourage them to provide housing, also for their workers when they start out,” she said. “We have talent here. Our kids are talented here. They’ve all had a great education provided via public schools. We have good community colleges here. We have good state universities here, and we need to be able to take all of that and harness all of that, and then attract the businesses to come and want to develop here.”

Giglio agreed. “We spend a fortune on Long Island, educating our kids only to see them leave the Island because it’s too expensive to live here,” she said.

Since the councilwoman came into office, she has been pushing to convert the former Grumman facility in Calverton into an industrial park that will bring high-tech jobs and “create the Silicon Valley of the West Coast here on the East Coast.”

“I think now’s the time to do it,” she said. “With technology changing every day, it’s getting great companies to keep our youth here and to create high paying jobs. I see Grumman as the nest for it.” She added that creating affordable housing around the site in the downtown areas with better busing situations would help. 

Bail Reform 

Jens-Smith believes that bail reform should have some judge discretion in it. “I obviously think that it’s unfair and unconstitutional that somebody with a minor crime sits in jail because they can’t pay bail,” she said. “But I think that if there is evidence that there is a harm to the community by somebody being not detained until their court date, I think there needs to be some judge discretion with that.” 

Giglio also agreed, saying it was bad that discretion was taken away from the judges. “Especially in a small court system like Riverhead has, where our judges know who the repeat [offenders] are,” she said. Giglio believes that nonviolent offenders should not have to sit in jail because they cannot afford bail, but she recognizes the stress it puts on local officers who see people walk out “an hour later.” 

“They’re there for hours after doing paperwork, missing their kids’ birthday parties and their anniversary dinners,” she said. “And the same crime is getting repeated over and over again.” 

Giglio said she has been working to convert the old armory into a YMCA to help keep kids out of trouble. 

“I think we need to create more facilities for our youth, and I think YMCAs are great,” she said. “I think we need to create more teen centers, and more availability and access isn’t going to be hard with the 20% cut in funding for the school districts.”

COVID-19

Jens-Smith thinks that as the pandemic continues throughout the remainder of the year and into next, communication with the state Legislature is important, especially communication with local legislatures that understand what Long Island is going through. 

“I think we’re all facing different challenges based on our populations and the amount of people living in an area,” she said. “I think that that input needs to be taken into account, and I think they need to speak up and make sure that that they are being heard a little bit louder than what’s going on right now.” 

Giglio had several first-hand accounts with the virus and worked throughout the pandemic to donate resources to hospitals when masks were unavailable. She is continuing to fight for businesses that are suffering post-pandemic, like the catering and restaurant industries on the Island. On Oct. 15, she held a rally outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to lift restrictions on catering hall capacity. 

“I had that press conference because those people’s lives are really on hold,” she said. 

Democrat Laura Ahearn, left, and Republican Anthony Palumbo, right, are running for New York State Senate District 1. Left, campaign photos; right, file photo

It’s been a long time since state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced his retirement from the state Legislature in January, and so much has changed. Still, both candidates said in an online debate they would live up to LaValle’s 44-year legacy, as well as take the state to task over deaths in nursing homes.

New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) is campaigning based on his political experience with seven years in the Legislature and his past time working as an assistant district attorney for the Suffolk DA’s Office. He said with his history of helping get 22 bills signed into law, including his work on extending the Pine Barrens and establishing the community preservation fund, “my record speaks for itself.”

Laura Ahearn, a Democrat from Port Jefferson, is running for the seat based on her years both as an attorney who represents adults who were sexually victimized as children, but also as her over-25-year stint as the executive director of the Crimes Victim Center (dba Parents for Megan’s Law), which aids victims of crime, especially women and children. She said her experience working with people on the ground to work on subjects like domestic violence makes her a good fit for the office.

“I’m a fighter, and I’m very independent,” she said.

COVID Response

Both candidates argued the state needs to investigate the number of deaths involving nursing homes, though Ahearn disagreed somewhat on how the pandemic has been handled, especially with reopening. 

She said New York needs to keep following the science for keeping the number of infections down. She said, so far, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has done a good job following the science and ensuring they close when they need to close. At the same time, she disagreed with the state allowing big box stores to remain open when smaller businesses that carry the same product were kept closed.

She argued the state needs to start a so-called COVID pandemic unit to identify what went wrong with nursing homes, both in terms of state mandates and of the nursing home directors themselves. 

Palumbo said it’s been long enough, and the Legislature should look to wrestle away unilateral power from the governor, something the congressional body gave Cuomo early in the pandemic. 

“He said the curve needed to be flattened, and it’s been flattened,” he said. “The governor did a good job in the beginning, but I don’t believe he’s continuing to do so.”

With infection numbers on Long Island low, though some statistics have increased in the city, he said some businesses have been “dying on the vine.” He said the governor performed reopening too slowly, and that it was not fair to some small businesses while larger chains were allowed to open and stay open for a much longer time.

He said nursing homes were directed and compelled to take hospital patients into their facilities, and that there should be a state and federal investigation into the issue.

Small Businesses and Federal Aid

Ahearn argued the federal government has been dragging its feet and has not worked in the best interests of the people by not giving any new federal assistance to states and local municipalities, but Palumbo said New York needs to focus less on federal aid packages and should reopen more broadly to make its economy stronger.

Ahearn also noted that the Paycheck Protection Program, which gave loans to small businesses, had been abused by large national corporations and companies. She said there needs to be some kind of restriction, otherwise there might be more situations like the Miller Place Inn, which was cited earlier this month for a so-called superspreader event.

“What we need to do is get that federal money and help small businesses,” she said. “Let’s keep in mind, when you have a large group of people together, that potential for that to become a hotspot, and then completely raise the infection rate, and we’re all exposed to the potential of people dying again. … There are different ways for us to work with businesses.”

On the topic of a vaccine, Palumbo suggested it could be many months before we have a widespread available treatment. And even if Congress passes a new aid package, that money could be gone in six months. 

“The only way to get back on our feet is to allow us to do it smartly,” the assemblyman said. “People with comorbidities and issues need to protect themselves, but we need to provide the tools to do it smartly to our businesses. We can’t just sit back and allow money bombs to come to our state.”

Environment

As LaValle was long known as a steward of the local environment, both candidates argued for more protections of our waterways and groundwater from nitrogen and other chemicals.

Palumbo said in his tenure he has supported the Clean Water Act as well as funding of the Environmental Protection Fund. Along with other state congressmen he helped extend the Community Preservation Act out to 2050. 

“These are all significant for the area because you can’t sewer the East End,” he said. 

The assemblyman said he has supported innovative septic systems and has cosponsored to help give residents subsidies to purchase those systems. He also argued that PFOA and PFOS chemicals, along with 1,4-dioxane, are substances he advocated the state should ban. Though he said it needs to be a balance between the needs of the farm industry and the environment.

Ahearn said our sole-source aquifer is being contaminated with nitrogen and other chemicals from spills, pesticides and fertilizers.

She called wastewater treatment Long Island’s greatest challenge and said the way nitrogen is leaking from outdated septic systems and cesspools needs to be addressed. She praised Suffolk County’s new bill mandating new construction use denitrifying septic systems. 

She said Suffolk only got 10 New York State Septic System Replacement Fund Program grants out of a total of 15 but argued for more of the money lingering in that program be put toward the county. She argued there is a need to steer state such moneys locally.

“There’s a lot more money available on a statewide basis,” she said. 

Police Reform

The 1st Senate District candidates argued back and forth on the issue of police reform, with both candidates arguing they are in support of police.

Though Palumbo said he supported some of the state’s police reform bills, including a ban on chokeholds, he was against such things as the repeal of section 50-a, which now allows people access to complaints of police misconduct. The assemblyman argued the repeal also affects firefighters, and that many of those complaints are not necessarily substantiated. He said the state should have looked to set up an independent commission to maybe look into these claims.

“Is it a systemic change when we paint everyone with a broad brush and don’t even include law enforcement in the discussion?” he said. “To say it’s all racist and we have to make these sweeping changes ourselves, is not accurate.”

Ahearn said she has worked alongside local, state and federal law enforcement, though we have to remember the image of George Floyd’s death in Minnesota at the hands of police that sparked widespread protests across the nation. She argued she supported the ban on chokeholds, alongside the need to increase penalties for assault on law enforcement, as well as penalties on people who make false calls to 911. She said she does not support the release of unsubstantiated complaints on police officers, adding there needs to be a way of identifying a pattern of wrongdoing or abuse.

“We absolutely have to work together to get sustained and meaningful changes in policies and laws that lead to the deconstruction of structural and systemic racism in our health care system, education system, housing and in our justice system,” she said. “I don’t like the idea of sweeping legislation all at once without having a discussion about it.”

On the topic of the bail reform law, Ahearn said reform was needed because of the “economic disparities in the justice system that led to individuals who were poor and minorities lingering in jail while their families fell apart.”

At the same time, the problem with the bill was lawmakers did not sit down with stakeholders like crime victim advocates, law enforcement or prosecutors. She said there were immediate problems with the bill and more changes are needed to allow discretion of a judge to set cash bail.

Palumbo, a former prosecutor, said he has been against the bail reform bill since day one, especially because of it allowing people to walk who committed certain crimes most would consider violent. Yet “they still haven’t gone nearly far enough.”

He said he has argued that judicial discretion is needed in setting bail. 

“It’s socioeconomic, it’s not a system of racism — it’s poor people who can’t afford to pay that money,” he said.

LaValle’s Legacy

Whatever one may think of Ken LaValle, losing over four decades of seniority in the state Senate will be a big blow for representing Long Island’s largest Senate district. Both candidates said they have plans to make their voice heard in the 63-member body.

Palumbo, who bragged about his endorsement by LaValle, said he would continue that line of “1st District first” with his tenure, saying he would be a force beyond the fact that he could still be in the minority Senate party. He added that many Democrats are representing New York City ideals, and that as a Long Island Republicans, he has different values from those upstate or even in the White House.

“It’s not about the party and the machine,” he said. “We have six Long Island Democrats who all voted for New York City ideals. … I think certainly we can bring bipartisanship and vigorous advocacy for the district.”

Ahearn said some of LaValle’s efforts, such as protections of the Pine Barrens and a burn unit at Stony Brook University Hospital, need to be continued. She said she has had across-the-aisle relationships with people and former state Sen. John Flanagan, a Republican. With longtime relationships with multiple state elected officials, she said she can get the ball rolling immediately upon taking up the seat, especially on things like electrification of the Port Jefferson line of the Long Island Rail Road.

She added that being in the majority has its definite perks, saying that once Republicans lost control of the Senate, LaValle and others found their initiatives floundering.

“Once elected, I would be in the majority, and being in the majority means that legislation you carry and resources you can bring back to this district directly,” she said. “Once you lose that position in majority it’s nearly impossible to move legislation.”

Brookhaven Town officials, with Supervisor Ed Romaine at the microphone, join local representatives from the state and nearby townships to protest the LIRR’s planned fare hike. Photo from TOB

Local and state officials, along with citizen advocates voiced a collective message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City during a press conference at Ronkonkoma train station on March 2: “Stop shortchanging Long Island.” 

The group called on the MTA to abandon its plan for a systemwide 4 percent fare increase in 2021 for Long Island Rail Road customers, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The decision was a part of the NYC Outer Borough Rail Discount plan which offers an up to 20 percent discount for city riders. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well.”

— Ed Smyth

“Long Island is not the cash cow for New York City,” said Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor. “This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

Romaine said a typical Ronkonkoma LIRR commuter who purchases a monthly parking pass, monthly train ticket and unlimited ride Metrocard would have to pay $7,224 annually. 

“The MTA has not made the capital investments it should on Long island — what about our riders?” Romaine said. 

The supervisor added that Long Island has already been shortchanged regarding electrification, as there is no electrification east of Huntington and none past the Ronkonkoma station.

The discounts were mandated by the state Legislature as a condition of its approval of congestion pricing legislation, which would create new tolls for drivers in Manhattan to help fund the authority’s $51.5 billion capital program. The plan will go into effect in May of this year. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also took issue with the MTA’s decision. 

“We had the congestion pricing vote, which I voted against it,” he said. “This is completely counterintuitive to the folks using the trains. Congestion pricing was meant to get individuals to start using public transportation and not use their vehicles.”

He added that the MTA has billions of dollars of subsidies from the state and federal government. 

“This is a New York City problem — we should not bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio [D] should pay for this — they are overwhelmingly serviced [by the MTA].”

The MTA board is made up of 21 stakeholders appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), including people recommended by unions and municipalities such as the city and surrounding counties. Kevin Law represents Suffolk County, and was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The other Long Island representative, David Mack, represents Nassau.

Despite their differences, officials continued to agree with the planned change at a Feb. 26 board meeting, saying they expect the up to 20 percent discount to entice Queens and Brooklyn commuters to use the LIRR if they live far from a subway line.

MTA officials say this is a pilot program up to one year’s duration. 

However, on Long Island, other local officials voiced their displeasures. 

“This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

Ed Smyth (R), Huntington Town councilman, said commuters will essentially be paying for their ticket and for somebody in NYC. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well,” he said. 

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Brookhaven Town councilman, said the MTA plan would negatively affect the progress they’ve made to bring transit-oriented development to the area. 

“On a town level, this is something we’ve been working on for years,” he said. “The Tritec [Ronkonkoma Hub] development is an example of that. It will make it easier for Long islanders to get into the city. With these fee increases it will make it harder for them to afford to live here and ride here.”

Palumbo added he will be writing a letter to Cuomo in the coming days and will ask Long Island representatives from both political parties to sign it. The assemblyman is hopeful the plan can be changed before the NYS budget deadline next month. 

“Hopefully he can see it, and this can be fixed on April 1 — I’m just hoping that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said. 

The Rocky Point Fire Department, including the Shoreham fire station, is soon expected to expand coverage for the Village of Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District will soon extend its coverage area to include the Village of Shoreham. 

Town of Brookhaven officials have already scheduled a public hearing later in the month for the resolution, which is expected to pass. In conjunction, as part of the village merging into the fire district, officials passed a resolution that authorized the tax assessor to consolidate the district’s three separate tax zones into one. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said both the Town and fire district could not get it done without the other. The change in tax zones will essentially make for a more streamlined process for the district.

“After the public hearing, if it was supported by my colleagues, [the fire district] would include the Village of Shoreham,” said Bonner. “It is essentially an easier process and less paperwork for both of them.” 

The two latest decisions come after a months-long process where Shoreham officials requested home rule applications to extend the fire district boundaries to encompass the 0.5-square-mile village. In May 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) that authorized the fire district extension. 

Rocky Point Fire District attorney, the Port Jefferson-based Bill Glass who represents the fire district, said the change wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the fire departments and district.

“Operationally there will be no change at all within the district,” he said. “There will not be a significant change to the amount the village already pays for emergency services.” 

Glass said the process should be seamless as the village has contracted out to the fire district for the past decade. He said he doesn’t expect the tax rates for residents to change that much and would probably be similar to the amount that they paid when Shoreham was contracting them. 

On the subject of the consolidation of the three tax zones, the lawyer said the decision was necessary as there was no point in having three separate tax districts anymore. 

“The tax zones were put in place because at one point there were three different water companies [in the area] who had their own tax rates,” Glass said. “That stopped with the Suffolk Water Authority — this helps streamline a lot of things.”

For Shoreham, being a part of the fire district could allow the village budget to decrease as they are not using funds for fire/emergency services. 

A representative from the village could not be reached for comment.

In addition, bringing the village into the fold would allow Shoreham residents to run for positions like fire commissioner. 

The Town will hold a public hearing for the fire district extension Feb. 27. 

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By David Luces and Kyle Barr

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) announced he would be looking for a step up in Albany, as he’s now seeking the hotly contested State Senate District 1 seat. 

The seat has opened up since 44-year incumbent Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced he was not seeking reelection
in November.

“It is apparent that the one party rule up in Albany is not working for those here on Long Island,” Palumbo said as to the reason he decided to run. “They have been instituting a progressive left agenda that is contrary to the way of the life here in SD1.”

Palumbo, 49, whose Assembly 2nd District runs along the North Shore from Fishers Island all the way to Mount Sinai, was first elected in 2013 with 57 percent of the vote and has easily retained that seat in the next three elections by large margins.

Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman, Jesse Garcia, was enthused to see Palumbo moving in as the Republican front-runner. 

“For the people of Senate District 1, this is great news,” Garcia said. “Anthony’s record is second to none.”

Though the seven-year legislator is moving from what has been considered a safe seat into what could be a fiercely contested race, Garcia said he wasn’t concerned.

“He is giving up a safe seat and is answering to a higher calling,” the Republican chairman said. “He will listen to the people and has the experience to lead SD1.”

Palumbo, a former prosecutor, will have to take on whoever comes out on top of a Democratic primary that sees well-known names like Laura Ahearn, Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident, and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). Also running for the Democratic ticket is Skyler Johnson, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident, and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member.

In a prior interview with TBR News Media, Palumbo said he originally had reservations about seeking the higher office. One was the age of his children, one 12 and the other 15. The other was his current leadership position in the Assembly.

“It was a big decision for my family and I, but it is important that we hold onto Senate District 1,” the assemblyman said.

Garcia said this race is one of the big ones of the Republican Party trying to wrest back control of the State Senate from the Democrats.

Two items, he said, are at the highest importance in his run. One is bail reform, which Republicans across the island have called for the law’s removal.

“There was need for tweaking of criminal reform, but this goes beyond safe or smart,” he said. “The new discovery reform also went too far. It will cost millions of dollars in unfunded mandates.” 

Palumbo added he wants to focus on taxes and bringing in more jobs to the district. 

“The county is losing people in droves — I want to do what’s right for the district — I want my kids to be able to live here.”

Democrat William Schleisner is looking to take Anthony Palumbo's seat at the state Assembly. Photo from campaign

William Schleisner is 36 and said that even as a senior live events coordinator for ViacomCBS, he struggles every day to make ends meet on Long Island’s North Shore. Things happen, like his cesspool that gave out on a Sunday, of course costing more on the weekend to fix. Even on his salary and with his stable job, the cost of living is simply too much for him, and many Long Islanders are leaving for greener, and cheaper pastures.

“I love New York — I don’t want to leave,” he said in a sit-down interview Monday, Jan. 6. “Me and my wife are faced with the same thing that every young couple is faced with. It’s either stay and suffer or stay and try and change things for the better.”

It’s for those reasons he said he’s running as a first-time Democratic candidate for the New York State Assembly District 2 seat against six-year incumbent Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). He said making the area more affordable doesn’t just come down to taxes but using progressive initiatives to give incentives for businesses and people to stay.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m going to lower taxes, that’s nonsense; every politician says we’re going to lower taxes, but it never matters,” he said. 

Instead, he said, he supports the New York Health Act, which would provide health insurance for everyone in the state. While this would likely result in higher overall taxes, most people would see the amount they pay for hospital bills and the like decrease dramatically.

Perhaps more importantly, he said, businesses would have significantly less costs in paying for employees’ health care, which would incentivize them staying on Long Island. He related it to ViacomCBS where he works, adding it spends an incredible amount of money on employees’ health care plans.

“First off, you have a mass exodus because of high cost and lack of jobs, so the question is how to bring that back,” Schleisner said. “It would be more affordable to them overall, because even as their taxes are a little bit higher, their overall cost would decrease.”

In terms of the environment, he said not nearly enough has been done to curb the effects of greenhouse gases. He supports current solar and wind farm projects, such as two that are planned off the coast of Long Island, one off the South Shore and another 30 miles off the coast of Montauk. 

While those projects have come under opposition from some groups, such as local fishermen, Schleisner said he would look to sit down with those groups to help form some compromise but stressed the need for such projects.

“A solar farm is better than not having an island, or not having a planet,” he said. 

The Sound Beach resident said if elected, he would also propose legislation that would require all new buildings be made with sustainable energy, either with solar panels or some kind of wind turbine.

Schleisner has lived in Sound Beach for the past five years, having lived in other parts of Long Island at various points in his life. He has two children in the Miller Place School District, one a 7-year-old and the other 4 years of age. He first became involved in elections as someone who knocked on doors for previous candidates such as Perry Gershon. He was also the treasurer for Sarah Deonarine’s campaign when she ran against Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) in 2019. 

In addition, he supports universal prekindergarten for all families. The best means of giving pre-K for those who can’t afford it, he said, is through vouchers and scholarships for either public or private programs that would not be an unfunded mandate on school districts.

Palumbo has won with overwhelming percentages in the last three elections, but Schleisner said he plans to canvass the whole of the district, which encompasses most of the North Fork and the North Shore up to Mount Sinai and as far south as Manorville. As a father of two who works full time, he said it’s going to be a challenge, but said the results would be worth it, likening it to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ victory against her staple opponent in Queens back in 2017. 

He is also going to be running in what is likely to be one of the most contentious years for a campaign, possibly even more so than 2016. He knows it will be hard to break through the miasma of the national stage and its election but added he will not change his stance on his more progressive policies.

“In the end, you have to believe what you’re saying,” he said. “In the end, I’m not going to move off what I believe in.”

Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) co-hosts a forum on water quality Nov. 19. Photo by David Luces

The New York State Assembly Minority Task Force on Water Quality hosted an informational forum at the Mount Sinai Rose Caracappa Senior Center Nov. 19 to discuss the condition of the state’s water sources, address emerging contaminants and prioritize and fix aging infrastructure, but some environmental activists disagree with the officials positions. 

State assemblymen Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Joe DeStefano (R-Medford) and Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), took feedback from community members, stakeholders, environmental experts, among others to assist the group in its efforts to develop long-term solutions to those issues. 

“If we had a different model that said that the use of the water should be returned to nature as clean as we got it [then] we wouldn’t have this problem — and present model.”

— Kevin McDonald

“We all know how important water is — we are here to listen and learn,” DeStefano said. “Hopefully we can have a spirited conversation on the things that are important to you and what we need to do to make those things come to fruition.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Long Island and the state is in a better place than it was five years ago but acknowledges there’s still work to be done. 

“Let’s go to some facts here. We need to treat our sewage in 2019, as you’ve heard we don’t necessarily do that on Long Island,” she said. “Close to 400,000 are still on outdated septic systems which is virtually untreated sewage.”

Esposito brought up harmful algal blooms that are being found throughout Long Island’s coastal waters. She said due to increased nitrogen concerns, which leaks into the local waterways through outdated septic systems and from fertilizer, as just two examples, these algae blooms are spreading to other parts of the state. 

“It is killing off the shellfish industry — people are calling us asking why their water looks like coffee,” she said. 

Palumbo agreed the main issue was excess nitrogen.

“What would you attribute for all the increase in algal blooms and water quality issues?” Palumbo asked. “You could say it is a direct result of excess nitrogen because it’s ‘Miracle-Gro’ essentially that makes this grow at such an alarming rate. It’s a concern for me because clearly nitrogen has been the boogeyman.”

Esposito also mentioned blue green algae being found in all parts of the state, including the Albany drinking reserve, which attacks the liver and could potentially cause liver failure.

The executive director praised Suffolk County’s septic improvement program, saying residents need to replace their old septic systems with new technology, though at the same time current sewage treatment plants don’t treat volatile organic chemicals, 1,4 dioxane, pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides or chemicals found in hair products. 

“It’s going to take time and money, but what plan does not take time and money?” she asked. 

A number of local residents disagreed with scientists’ findings, with a few  skeptical of the recent nitrogen findings on Long Island, one calling it “a naturally functioning
occurrence.”

One resident criticized a map from the Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University showing the impacts of sewage pollution and blue green algae.  

“It has been overstated and overexaggerated. We have looked at the data over the last five years and there is no trend of increase in nitrogen,” he said. 

Kevin McDonald, conservation project director of The Nature Conservancy, on the other hand said we have to reduce nitrogen use. 

“Close to 400,000 are still on outdated septic systems which is virtually untreated sewage.”

— Adrienne Esposito

“It’s a global problem, it’s a national problem, it’s a regional problem. Any rational person would say in a place as populated as Long Island, it is probably a problem as well,” he said. 

Similarly to Esposito, McDonald criticized how the county treats water.  

“If we had a different model that said that the use of the water should be returned to nature as clean as we got it [then] we wouldn’t have this problem — and present model,” he said. “Instead we can use how you want, pollute and dump it back into the environment.”  

In 2014, Suffolk County asked IBM to look at how it could treat water better and manage a water system for the 21st century. McDonald said the corporation told the county to treat water delivery and treatment as a single concept. 

He said the current model is based on selling as much water as it can.  

“That’s how we have the problem we have now, part of the mess is from us and we have to fix it,” McDonald said.

Rona Smith is challenging Anthony Palumbo for his New York State Assembly seat. Photos by Alex Petroski

The North Shore’s easternmost New York State Assembly District — which juts as far west as Mount Sinai and portions of Port Jefferson — has been represented by an incumbent Republican since 2013, and a first-time candidate for political office is seeking to unseat him.

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) was elected in a special election to represent the 2nd District in 2013 and won subsequent races in 2014 and 2016. The 48-year-old practicing lawyer will be challenged this Election Day by 73-year-old Democrat Rona Smith, a newcomer to politics from Greenport with government experience, as she currently serves as the chairwoman of the Housing Advisory Commission for Southold Town.

The candidates sat down for a debate at the TBR News Media in Setauket in October to discuss issues impacting the district.

Health care

The future of health care is at the top of minds for candidates in federal and state races alike this cycle, likely because it’s on the minds of their common constituents. State law can be used in conjunction with federal law regarding health care, meaning the legislative houses of New York’s government will have an opportunity to stabilize health care policy for its residents as the federal Affordable Care Act waits in limbo for a bipartisan solution in Congress.

Democrats in the Assembly have passed a single-payer health care bill — meaning essentially everyone in the state would pay into a pool and everyone would be covered — which has gotten no traction in the state Senate, controlled by Republicans, and appears unlikely ever to become the law.

As the ACA suffers, Palumbo said he would suggest some simple tweaks to improve the current system, rather than implementing a single-payer bill, which he said he believes will be too expensive.

“When you think about the numbers, we’re talking about 900,000 people in New York state are uninsured — they’re between the Medicaid gap and the private insurance gap — that’s 5 percent,” he said. “Not a lot I think, generally speaking.”

He suggested bringing back the Family Health Plus option, a subsidized plan for low-income individuals, which wasn’t available under the ACA, rather than “overhauling” state tax code to afford a single-payer scheme.

“Nothing comes off the shelf perfect,” Smith said of both the ACA and the single-payer bill passed by the Assembly. “They’re not perfect, they’re attempts to try to make sure that everybody — rich, poor, old, young — has health insurance they can depend upon for any health need that comes up. We have got to figure out how to do it.”

Affordability and opportunity

The candidates agreed there are obstacles for people — but especially recent college graduates — for being able to live and prosper both in the district and in the county as a whole. The problem will only be exaggerated going forward by the capping of state and local tax deductions, a component of the new federal tax code bill that will disproportionately impact homeowners in high-tax states like New York.

Smith said she would home in on reducing student loan debt as a means to foster more affordability, in addition to investment in more affordable housing projects for low-income individuals, a plan she said Democrats in the Assembly are already working on.

She said students need access to mandated, objective advice when it comes to borrowing and affording college, rather than just input from for-profit loan collection businesses.

Palumbo said New York’s susceptibility to outward migration can be traced to out-of-control budgeting and spending.

“It’s conservative fiscal values that we need to have,” he said.

He said the Assembly has been working on a solution to mitigate the capping of the SALT deduction at $10,000, though so far the IRS has not blessed any of the fixes.

Infrastructure investment

Investing in projects that could stimulate the local economy is seen as a solution by members of both parties. Currently legislators in New York are gathering funds to study the feasibility of electrifying the Long Island Rail Road east of Huntington on the North Shore line, an idea many have suggested to increase opportunities for people to live and work in the area.

“I think investments in infrastructure always come back in salaries and benefits for people,” Smith said. “It might make housing more accessible.”

She said electrification might be the answer, but the state’s economy could be better served by using the LIRR to ship freight, an idea that would allow farmers and vineyards on the East End to ship fresh products beyond the direct vicinity.

Palumbo said he would go in another direction instead of committing major funds to electrify the LIRR line. He said he would like to see the results of a study examining LIRR ridership to the East End before going down that road and would prefer to see smarter leadership from the Metropolitan Transit Authority when it comes to train schedules and usage.

He also called on school districts to examine ways to scale down spending, which is the largest driver of increasing property taxes.

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

After a Republican primary characterized by a challenger’s legal battle, the status quo prevailed in New York’s 2nd state Assembly District Sept. 13.

Two-term incumbent Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) defeated challenger Mike Yacubich, a Shoreham resident and chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, to earn a spot on the general election ballot in November. Palumbo secured more than 80 percent of the vote, with 2,740 registered Republicans in the district casting their ballots for the incumbent to just 641 for the challenger.

“Thank you to all of the friends, supporters, staff, volunteers and especially family who sacrificed the summer to get this done,” Palumbo said in a post on his campaign Facebook page. He did not respond to a request for comment sent to his campaign email. “I’m humbled by the tremendous turnout and the results last night are a reflection of your hard work and support. It’s an honor to serve you and we are on to the November general election.”

Yacubich’s effort to challenge Palumbo wasn’t without a dose of intrigue. Judges from the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in his favor Aug. 24 allowing his name to appear on the Sept. 13 ballot following challenges to his petition signatures raised by three citizen objectors from the district concerned two Mike Yacubichs were registered to vote at the same Shoreham address — both the candidate and his 25-year-old son.

The objectors argued that since the father and son are registered to vote at the same address, those who signed the petition approving the elder Yacubich as a political candidate couldn’t have distinguished between he and his son, who also goes by Mike. The argument was heard by the Republican and Democratic commissioners of the Suffolk County Board of Elections — Nick LaLota and Anita Katz, respectively — who brought the case to the Suffolk County Supreme Court. The lower court initially ruled against Yacubich, who then appealed and won to restore his name to the ballot. The appeals court judges ruled the board of elections “exceeded its authority,” in disallowing Yacubich’s signatures, finding no proof of any intention to confuse voters.

“We fought hard and put a lot of time and effort into an election process that clearly does not welcome outsiders,” Yacubich wrote in a Facebook post. “I can only hope we shed some light on an election system that could certainly use some changes, and I hope that some good will come from us expressing our frustrations with our elected officials.”

Palumbo, who won a special election in 2013 to assume the seat he has held for two official terms following campaign victories in 2014 and 2016, will now turn his attention to Democrat Rona Smith, who he will meet in the Nov. 6 general election. Smith is a Southold resident who currently serves as chair of Southold’s Housing Advisory Commission, sits on the town’s Economic Development Committee, and is vice chair of the Southold Local Development Corporation.

“Now we move forward with real issues that are important to constituents,” Smith said in a phone interview following the primary. “It’s about coming out and saying what you believe in, what you stand for and if that connects to the constituents.”

Mike Yacubich is hoping to run for the New York State Assembly, but is tied up fighting challenges to his petition. Photo from Yacubich's campaign website

When a Shoreham resident decided to bestow his first name upon his son 25 years ago, no one could have predicted the obstacle it would create for him running for office decades later.

Though an appeal could still be heard this week, the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in favor of Republican Mike Yacubich, chief of the Rocky Point Fire Department, who wants to represent New York’s 2nd Assembly District, in a decision levied Aug. 24.

The would-be candidate garnered enough signatures on his petition to be placed on the ballot for the Sept. 13 primary, but was challenged in court by three citizen objectors in the district. The objectors argued that since two Mike Yacubichs — father and son — have lived and are registered to vote at the same address, those who signed the petition approving the elder Yacubich as a political candidate couldn’t have distinguished between he and his son, who also goes by Mike. The argument was heard by the Republican and Democratic commissioners of the Suffolk County Board of Elections —Nick LaLota and Anita Katz, respectively — who brought the case to the Suffolk County Supreme Court. The lower court initially ruled against Yacubich, who then appealed and won to restore his name to the ballot.

“The board exceeded its authority when it invalidated the designating petition on the ground that it could not identify which registered voter was the candidate,” reads the unanimous decision reached by four appeals court judges. “There was no proof that Yacubich intended to confuse voters, or that any voters were confused as to his identity.”

Yacubich hopes to challenge incumbent Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) in the primary for the right to represent the Republican party on the general election ballot in November, barring an appeal to the Aug. 24 ruling being filed by the objectors this week.

“It’s satisfying to try to be moving forward here, but apparently it’s not meant to be until we can finalize this process,” Yacubich said. “It does make it a little bit difficult, but we’re committed to the program.”

The political hopeful said he couldn’t believe there would be any confusion as to who was running given people in the community know him as “Mike” or “Chief Mike” at the fire department in addition to his past service on the Shoreham-Wading River school district board of education. He added that his son hasn’t lived with him for more than two years.

“I think our argument has been and still is there is no confusion as to who the candidate would be,” he said. “Certainly, my son is not a chief in the fire department, an accountant, has never been a member of the school board.”

A senior official at the BOE, who asked not to be named as the issue continues to be played out in court cases, said the candidate complicated the matter by going with a shortened version of his first name — Mike instead of Michael — as well as opting not to include a middle initial on his petitions, which would have served as a delineator between the father and son.

“If you are attempting to be a state Assembly member, someone responsible for passing laws, details matter,” the official said, adding that the mix up shows a lack of experience on the part of the candidate and his campaign team.

Yacubich rejected the notion the mix up had to do with a lack of experience.

“How could they expect anybody from the public to get through the process if these are the hoops they have to jump through to get on the ballot,” he said. “To be thrown off the ballot for a technicality such as this [is] just unreasonable.”