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Anthony Palumbo

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Photo by Karina Gerry

By Karina Gerry

Sound Beach community members gathered at the Sound Beach Veterans Memorial Park on New York Avenue Thursday to honor Veterans on the “11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.”

The Sound Beach Civic Association held its annual Veteran’s Day Ceremony, and members of the civic association were joined by the Sound Beach Fire Department, Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), Senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Scout Troop 2019, and Rocky Point High School chorus and band members leading the ceremony. Last year’s ceremony was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as this year’s Memorial Day Ceremony.

“The freedoms we enjoy every day are due to your sacrifice,” said Bea Ruberto, president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, during her opening remarks. “All we can do today is say thank you, but there is so much more that we can do and that we should do every day … At this point we thought, it’s time, we need to do this.”

During the ceremony Rocky Point High School Chorus led the crowd in the National Anthem and America the Beautiful, while the band played God Bless America. The students were applauded for their performance and for coming out on their day off.

Photo by Karina Gerry

Palumbo gave the reins over to his Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs, Chad Lennon, a Veteran and Major in the Marine Corps Reserves, to speak to the crowd about his experience and the importance of honoring them not just on Veterans Day, but every day.

“Today’s the one day that we come out to recognize but there are sacrifices made every day,” Lennon said. “It’s not just the sacrifice of the bodies, it’s the sacrifice of the families, it’s not just a one-day event it’s every day.”

Lennon noted that Suffolk County has the largest population of veterans out of all 62 counties across the state. 

The high numbers from Suffolk and Nassau came as “a shock” to Lennon, but the high volume of vets in the county could be seen even during the intimate Sound Beach event — when during the ceremony Veterans were called up to stand under the flag of the branch they served and a little over 40 vets came forward from the crowd.

“We couldn’t be where we are today without the service of those who came before us and laid the foundation,” Lennon said. “Our responsibility is to continue to push that legacy by giving a good foundation for the next generation that comes through.”

Photo from PJST civic

Following the June 17 stabbing of 39-year-old Benjamin Flores-Mendez — who was found dead in Port Jefferson Station on the Greenway Trail — the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association called an emergency meeting this week to demand answers on a variety of issues from local representatives.

On Tuesday, July 6, nearly 150 people attended the meeting at Comsewogue High School. Suffolk County Police Department 6th Precinct officers joined elected officials from town, county and state offices to listen to topics such as the Lawrence Aviation space, homelessness, gangs and drug abuse which were brought up by concerned residents.

While the stabbing sparked the meeting, SCPD officials were unable to give details or answer questions surrounding the death, as it’s still an ongoing investigation. 

But that didn’t stop Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and town Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) from joining the panel. State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) could not attend, but a representative joined in his place. 

“I’m going to tell you that myself and my colleagues from the Town Board are upset, disturbed by what we see is a growing problem in various communities in the Town of Brookhaven,” Romaine said. “And that is homelessness.”

According to residents, they have seen homeless people set up tents near the vacant and decrepit Lawrence Aviation buildings located adjacent to the Greenway on the Port Jefferson Station section. 

Kornreich added that those who are homeless aren’t necessarily in that plight because of a financial issue — oftentimes it revolves around mental health problems or drug abuse. 

“I think that what we need to try to do is to find a way, a compassionate way, to get these people the services that they need, that maybe they’re reluctant to take,” he said, adding it might require a greater investment in services from county agencies. 

Englebright, who spearheaded the creation of the trail years ago, said the Lawrence Aviation project has been an issue for years and requires coordination from all levels of government. 

“We’re in a moment of turmoil, not only locally but nationally,” he said. “We’re coming off of one of the worst years in the last 100 years because of the COVID infection that has ravaged our communities, and everybody is on edge — that includes disadvantaged individuals, and those who have ill intent. So, we have our work cut out for us.”

During the community forum, questions of hiking trails being linked to crime came up.

“The simple answer is no, there is no correlation, no cause and effect,” Englebright said. “Trails such as this are open space, and so they become targets to the opportunists.”

On the town level, Kornreich assured that meetings like this — between residents and local government — are what allows things to change. 

“We’re all here because we have to renew our commitment to work together at all levels of government to face challenges like the ones we have in Port Jefferson Station,” he said. 

The 6th Precinct commanding officer, Inspector Patrick Reilly, gave an update on crime statistics. In wake of the stabbing, new cameras were placed at the entrances and along the Greenway Trail. Reilly said more patrol officers have been out during the daytime and evening, as well as overnight. Plainclothes officers and the SCPD gang unit are on-site, as well. 

The stabbing that happened last month was the only one in 2021 and 2020, Reilly said. Robberies are down this year, as well as a 100% decrease in aggravated assault. 

“Overall, total violent crime is down 11.1%, total property crime is down 4.8%,” he said. “So, obviously, there are problems that still need to be addressed, and we will continue to do that.”

The next normally scheduled civic meeting will be held on Tuesday, July 20, at 7 p.m. at the Comsewogue Public Library. 

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo spoke to TBR News Media about his first month in Albany, and what his plans are for the rest of the year. Photo from Palumbo

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) has been in his new role for a little over a month now, and has made it clear that before anything gets done on his laundry list of things to do, COVID-19 recovery is the first battle. 

When the former state assemblyman and legislator announced he would be running for former state Sen. Ken LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson) seat, he had some big shoes to fill. 

“This is not necessarily my first rodeo,” Palumbo said, adding that his new role is nearly two-and-a-half sizes larger than his previous district. 

Palumbo’s former Assembly 2nd District — now led by Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) — runs across the North Shore from Fishers Island all the way to Mount Sinai. He was first elected in 2013 with a 57% vote. His new District 1 spans across the whole East End, beginning near Port Jefferson all the way out to Montauk. 

And since he took office in January, he’s been busy, he said. This past week, he helped secure about 650 vaccines at Peconic Landing in Greenport — one of the hardest hit nursing homes on Long Island at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Palumbo said that in less than three hours, 300 residents were given their first shot in hopes to combat the virus. 

“The immediate goal is COVID,” he said. “It’s getting us back to business and safely opening back up.”

Palumbo said in order to get there, the biggest solution is obtaining and distributing vaccines, which New York State has been ridiculed for. 

“Micromanaging the distribution of the vaccines has been a disaster,” he said. “And unfortunately, this is how it began. The governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] had strict guidelines, and that was really the hiccup.”

Palumbo said he has been “highly critical of the government” especially after being able to distribute the vaccines to the seniors in Greenport, with the help of Stony Brook University Hospital. 

“A prime example is what [we did at Peconic Landing],” he said. “Then, the hospital said they can quadruple their vaccines if they have the opportunity.”

And Palumbo wants to look to ask the federal government for help. 

“We have the capability to do this,” he said. “Unfortunately, we were slower than most states because of the executive orders control in the government. It needs to loosen up more.”

The vaccine wins at Peconic Landing last week brought him back to reality, he said. 

“This affects people’s lives,” he said, “And as elected officials, this is what we’re supposed to be doing — facilitating.”

Passionate about rolling out the vaccine to everyone who wants it, Palumbo said it has been frustrating. 

“We knew the vaccine was coming for months,” he said. “We had time to prepare.”

He criticized Cuomo’s plan. Palumbo said that since other states, like Florida, have been open, they are doing OK in terms of COVID-positive numbers and deaths.

“What are we doing?” he said. “We really need to get back to work.”

Palumbo added that not only was the distribution an issue in terms of acquiring vaccines, but obtaining them has been a nightmare for his constituents, too. 

“We don’t have a website that works when we knew early on people were going to frantically go to it,” he said.

And once the vaccine rollout is complete, Palumbo said things can go back to ways they were. 

“Big-box stores haven’t been closed for a day throughout the pandemic,” he said. “But [around] 95% of other businesses can’t open.”

He mentioned that one of those industries is hospitality on Long Island. 

“Hospitality is the number one revenue for the city and state,” he said. “With them being closed, it’s killing us. We’re losing billions in revenue.”

But while conquering COVID is the primary goal, Palumbo has other plans that he wants to accomplish within his new role as state senator. 

“We have a lot of issues that are continuing,” he said. “They’re not on the backburner — they’re a close second.”

Palumbo noted that his district “has more coastline than any other district.” As a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee, he said he knows the importance of clean drinking water and runoff in his district — especially out on the East End — and plans to keep working toward them. 

A former prosecutor, he said he will continue monitoring issues within law enforcement throughout his term, and also wants to make sure young people stay on the Island. 

“People are fleeing the state in droves,” he said. “And we’re probably going to lose two congressional seats because of it.”

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

Republican elected officials gathered at a press conference in Hauppauge Thursday, Jan. 14, calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on the state’s failed vaccine rollout.

Elected officials in Hauppauge. Photo by Kimberly Brown

State senators, including Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), demanded that Cuomo implement a plan to fix issues that have arisen since the vaccine was authorized to be distributed.

Senior citizen and West Babylon resident, Anna Foley, shared her experience of how difficult it has been to obtain the vaccine, which she has still not received.

“I’m 83 years old, fighting two types of cancer and other underlying medical problems,” she said. “I can’t seem to get anyone to help. I have looked at the New York State website, called pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, and I even tried my union to see if I can get any information, to no avail.”

Foley mentioned the difficulties senior citizens are facing while trying to make an appointment for the vaccine, saying that most people ages 80 and over are not computer savvy, and the locations where the vaccine is administered are too far to drive to.

Mattera pointed out how the federal government still has not released the new vaccine to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, giving residents fewer options of locations where they can receive the vaccine.

State Senator Mario Mattera at the podium. Photo by Kimberly Brown

In his plea to the governor, Mattera said, “Get the vaccine here and get more locations. Right now, there are four locations, and do you know what they say? They say, ‘We don’t know what to do, we can’t help you.’ It’s unacceptable.”

The partial and full closings of businesses, mandated by Cuomo, were intended to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Palumbo said even though businesses are partially closed, the cases are still increasing.

“The Legislature needs to get involved, we need to get control back,” he said. “We need to get those vaccinations out, and as quickly as possible — not throw them in the garbage.”

Many of the politicians also discussed the bill Cuomo signed into law June 17, which would allow every pharmacist in New York state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) demanded to know why the bill has not been put into full force.

“Now we’re in January, governor, where is your plan?” Smith said. “Why is every single pharmacy in the state of New York not able to administer this vaccine?”

 

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 building in 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. 

State Senator 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.”