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Dom Spada

Incumbent Suffolk Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) will face Republican challenger Dom Spada to represent the county’s 18th District. File photo, right; photo on right from Dom Spada

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Suffolk County’s current fiscal crisis is the motivation for a Huntington Bay resident to campaign against the incumbent for a seat in the Suffolk legislature.

Dom Spada, deputy mayor of the Village of Huntington Bay and second assistant chief of the Halesite Fire Department, is running as the Republican candidate against incumbent Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) to represent the county’s 18th legislative district.

Spada said it’s his concern over the county’s “dire” financial situation that has inspired him to run for political office.

“We have a huge spending problem here in Suffolk County,” he said. “We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

The county has a budgetary shortfall of more than $150 million for 2017, according to County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) September budget proposal for 2018, and is roughly $2 billion in debt.

“We have the worst gang and opioid problem we’ve had in decades with a huge deficit and debt. I think it’s time for a change.”

— Dom Spada

Spada said he believes elected officials need to stop “spending so much money on nonsense” and cut wasteful spending, citing examples like $150,000 for a study on a guard rail in Rocky Point and $350,000 approved to design two miles of sidewalks. If elected, he said he will request reviews of all county contracts with outside vendors to see if better rates can be negotiated.

Spencer, a physician with his own Huntington practice and an ordained minister, was first elected to the Legislature in 2012 and is seeking re-election for his fourth term. Since taking office, Spencer said he’s been conscious of the county’s “abysmal” finances and has worked to improve it.

“I have a building, I have a home and a mortgage; there’s good debt and bad debt,” he said. “It’s the same thing in government. I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

Spencer pointed to various cost-saving measures he’s approved including reducing the county’s workforce by 10 percent; consolidating the offices of the comptroller and treasurer; and getting out of an unfunded mandate to build a new prison which he estimated saved the county approximately $100 million. He also noted he voted to freeze legislative officials’ salaries and agreed to contribute to his own health insurance.

If re-elected, the incumbent said he will continue to look to improve efficiencies, reduce waste and seek additional funds.

“I believe we send more to Albany and the federal government than we get back,” Spencer said. “I believe we should get our fair share.”

“I believe when we invest in our public safety, our environment and our infrastructure, it’s good debt.”

— Doc Spencer

His Republican challenger said the increasing number of fees — the mortgage fee, red-light camera fees, false home alarm fee, cremation fees — to make up the county’s budgetary shortfall is unfair to taxpayers. Spada said he’d repeal all “illegal” fees if elected as he doesn’t believe the fees’ cost is commensurate with the services being provided.

Spencer said he’s weighed and questioned each individual fee as they’ve come up for a vote. He supported the cremation fee, but said he agreed he’d like to review the red-light camera system and modify the home alarm fee so that a homeowner’s first false alarm requires them to register with the county but no monetary penalty.

The Legislature hopefuls also discussed opioid and heroin addiction, one of the most widespread issues plaguing the county as a whole.

The Republican candidate said he would like to see more officers on the street and requirements that anyone saved from an overdose through Narcan be required to immediately be transported to a treatment facility for a 72-hour stay, similar to treatment for mentally disturbed patients.

Spencer said the county’s resources are limited in combating opioid/heroin addition and gang violence. If re-elected, he said he would continue looking for state funding to increase the number of treatment beds for addicts and get qualified physicians more involved in the county’s 24-hour hotline and emergency resources.

Dom Spada speaks to kids at the fire house in Halesite. Photo from Dom Spada

By Victoria Espinoza

After responding to calls for drug overdose after drug overdose, one Halesite Fire Department firefighter said enough is enough.

Second Assistant Fire Chief Dom Spada said he got sick of going on overdose calls and wanted to do more —  so he created a drug prevention and education program called Be Smart, Don’t Start: A Drug and Alcohol Free Lifestyle.

Spada, who is also deputy mayor and police commissioner of Huntington Bay, said one drug overdose call in particular was the catalyst for the program.

“I went on a call on Thanksgiving morning, and there was a 19-year-old girl dead,” he said in a phone interview. “Something compelled me to go to the wake. So I did and I chatted with her mom, who told me this had been a long road for the family, since the girl had started using in sixth grade. That blew me away.”

Spada said it hit him especially hard because he has two young children. He created Be Smart, Don’t Start, where he speaks to sixth-, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders about the dangers of using drugs, and how they can stay safe.

“I describe the calls I go on, and it can get pretty graphic,” he said. “We also talk about the reasons why kids turn to drugs; peer pressure, bullying, problems at home. I’ve heard it all.”

Spada said he utilizes role-playing scenarios with the kids.

“The presentation is very direct and speaks to specific experiences that certain families and agencies have had with addiction. What it makes very clear is that the issue crosses demographics and neighborhoods.”
— Jim Polansky

“I give them a script and examples on how kids can get out of situations like if someone is pressuring them to try drugs,” he said. Spada is also a lacrosse coach, and some of his coaching experience spills into the course as well.

“I tell the kids, look at athletes; they hate to talk to the media, and whenever they’re asked questions they pretend to take a phone call,” he said. “I tell the kids they can do the same thing as a way to take themselves out of a situation they don’t want to be in.”

The firefighter said he also talks with parents about creating lines to use with their children if they need to be picked up from a party or place where they no longer feel comfortable. “You got to have a plan, just like going into a fire,” he said.

Aside from Spada’s presentation, he said he also brings a member of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence to speak with the kids, as well as a parent who has lost a child to a drug overdose, and Chris Jack, Huntington Bay police chief, to talk to the kids about the legal ramifications of drug use.

“This was kind of put together on a whim, but we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” Jack said in a phone interview.

Jack said Spada approached him to get involved. “This is important, you see the headlines everyday,” Jack said. “As a cop, you get desensitized to a lot of things, but when you see 12- and 13-year-olds hooked on heroin, you never get desensitized to that.”

The police chief said he can see the look of shock in kid’s eyes when he explains to them all the effects drunk driving and drug abuse can have on their life, including how it effects their record, getting a job, applying for college and more. Spada said the cost of installing a Breathalyzer in a car and court fees helps scare the kids straight.

Huntington school district Superintendent Jim Polansky has attended the program and said he sees it as a valuable resource for students and parents alike, and appreciates all the work Spada and the fire department does.

“Community partnerships are important, particularly when it comes to such critical issues as drug awareness and prevention,” he said in an email. “The presentation is very direct and speaks to specific experiences that certain families and agencies have had with addiction. What it makes very clear is that the issue crosses demographics and neighborhoods; it can appear anywhere and often in situations where it is least expected. This can be eye-opening for some, but a very important message to convey.”

Polasnky also said he appreciates the course being offered on a continuous basis. “The messages cannot be shared enough,” he said.

Currently the program is held at the Halesite Fire Department, but Spada said community groups and schools have reached out to see if he could bring the program to them. The next two programs dates are set for Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Halesite Fire Department at 7 p.m. and Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Huntington Manor Fire Department.