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Gary Pollakusky

The Rocky Point community celebrated Independence Day Tuesday, July 4, with a reading of the Declaration of Independence and public recognition of local veterans. Photos by Raymond Janis

Patriotism filled the morning air in Rocky Point on Tuesday, July 4, during a communitywide celebration of American independence.

Public officials, business leaders, Scouts and community members gathered outside Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 — at times braving gusts of rain — for a ceremony in honor of the 247th anniversary of American independence. The festivities combined a traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence with public recognition of the area’s veterans.

Above, Joe Cognitore, commander Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249, left, and Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce

“Freedom is a gift given by all of those who fought for us,” said Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, which helped organize the event. “As we celebrate with our friends and family, we must express our thanks for feeling free to the men and women who made that possible.”

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, performed the commemorative reading of the list of hometown heroes. Following this service, the post commander reinforced the value of reading the Declaration annually.

“Today, we celebrate 247 years of freedom and independence,” he said. “Let us remember that the true power of our nation lies in the unity and resilience of our people.”

“The VFW stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of our veterans and their dedication to our country,” he added. “Together, let us renew our commitment to supporting our veterans and bridging the gap between military service and civilian life.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) reflected upon the uniqueness of this annual tradition, noting the sizable and proud veteran population of northeastern Brookhaven.

From left: New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio; Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner; and Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico.

“I’m proud to represent this community because, trust me, the Declaration of Independence is probably not being read anywhere else today in Suffolk County or Nassau County,” she said. “So props to the people who made it happen.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said the Declaration stands as a “reminder to everyone of how important it is that we have our freedoms and our liberties,” she said.

Bonner’s colleague on the Town Board, Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville), used the occasion to reflect upon the historical significance of the American Revolution and the audacity of those who signed the document nearly two and half centuries ago, tying their contributions to those of American service members today.

“We offered law and logic to the rest of the world as to why we should be free,” the deputy supervisor said. “It’s our veterans — from the American Revolution through today — that have been there to ensure that this country … ensues and keeps on going forward.”

Sound Beach Civic Association President Bea Ruberto, left, and Dorothy Cavalier, Democratic candidate for Suffolk County’s 6th Legislative District, celebrate during the hamlet’s 2nd annual Spring Festival. Photo by Raymond Janis

Along New York Avenue in Sound Beach, before rows of storefronts and restaurant spaces — some filled, others not — thousands gathered on Saturday, April 22, for the 2nd annual Sound Beach Spring Festival and Street Fair.

The event featured dozens of local businesses and merchants tabling outside, along with food stands, face painting, music and other festivities.

The annual festival is hosted by the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, an organization founded in 2018 to draw businesses and economic development into the neighboring hamlets.

Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of RPSBCC, said there was a two-year gap in the first and second festivals due to COVID-19. With public health concerns abating, the chamber picked up where it had left off before the pandemic.

“We had, I’d say, over 65 vendors, and we had thousands of people come through, all seeing for the first time some of the new businesses in Sound Beach,” he said.

Bea Ruberto is president of the Sound Beach Civic Association, the leading advocacy group representing the hamlet’s roughly 7,000 residents. She has been a leader in raising awareness for this private beach community.

“One of the things that we as a civic have tried to do for years is make people aware that we exist, make our representatives aware that we exist,” she said. 

To do that, Ruberto has been forceful in distinguishing Sound Beach for its unique history and local identity. She authored “Sound Beach: Our Town, Our Story,” which was recently adapted into the documentary film, “The History Upon Our Shores: Sound Beach, NY.” 

Gary Pollakusky, above, president and executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Raymond Janis

The historical uniqueness of Sound Beach established, Ruberto has her sights on the future. She said the annual spring festival represents a vital organ in drawing attention to the area. 

“I love it because it brings people outside of Sound Beach into Sound Beach,” she said. “We want people to get to know about our community.”

Though several restaurants and merchants are in business, the commercial strip is a ways away from a fully formed, traditional main street. That, Pollakusky said, will require additional advocacy work to keep occupants of the storefronts commercially viable.

“Seeing businesses come and go is heartbreaking sometimes because those are families that are local and that are losing their livelihoods,” he said. “To see a business that did everything that it could to survive and then fail, it’s heartbreaking.”

Pollakusky indicated that countering these trends will take time and effort from local organizations and government. He outlined his aspirations for the hamlet.

“I’d like to see that our storefronts are filled,” he said. “I’d like to see that people want to come to Sound Beach to live and to patronize our businesses.” The chamber president added, “I’d like to see that we have a robust business community that is self-sustaining.”

Putting this vision into action is not so cut and dry. Consistently, Sound Beach has competed for and lost out on limited grant funding against established downtown districts also debilitated by the pandemic. 

The commercial district’s small size is another limiting factor, cutting the hamlet off from certain types of grants.

“Sound Beach does not have a downtown,” Ruberto said. “We have two commercial nodes. Therefore, a lot of the downtown revitalization grant funding we can’t have.” The civic president added, “That has to be fixed.”

The Sound Beach commercial district is currently zoned J-2, a general business zoning classification typical for retail spaces. For Sound Beach to qualify for downtown revitalization funding, the Town of Brookhaven would have to rezone the hamlet to J-6, a Main Street Business classification.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) represents Sound Beach on the Town Board. Reached by phone, she commented on the difficulties of Sound Beach making use of those granting opportunities, stressing that Suffolk County should consider easing the criteria for qualification.

“Those funds are hard to come by,” she said. “I think the onus is on the county in being a little more flexible” in dispersing downtown revitalization funds.

 

Map of the Sound Beach commercial district, which is currently zoned J-2, a general business classification. Graphic from the Town of Brookhaven website

Currently, Sound Beach has much of the look and feel of a traditional downtown despite lacking the zoning classification of one. Bonner nonetheless remained open to the proposal to rezone the commercial district to J-6, potentially giving the hamlet a proper downtown and opening it to grants. 

“If any business owner wanted to come in to become J-6, it’s certainly something that we would obviously entertain,” the councilwoman said.

The U.S. Census Bureau indicates that Sound Beach’s population shrunk by more than 2.5% between 2010 and 2020. This population decline is comparable to those of neighboring hamlets in the area, including Rocky Point, Miller Place and Mount Sinai.

Dorothy Cavalier, legislative aide to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), is running to fill the seat of her boss this November as Anker is term limited. 

The candidate remarked upon the need for a larger governmental initiative to return small businesses to the area and keep residents from leaving the county for the Sun Belt. 

“We’re losing a lot of people to Down South and other places, and we really need to figure out how to get them to stay here,” Cavalier said. “We need to get the small businesses back here because once we get the businesses to come back, the people will follow. They’ll stay.”

In the meantime, Bonner emphasized that the businesses in Sound Beach are still recovering from the aftermath of the pandemic. To support those businesses, she encouraged the community to continue patronizing local mom-and-pops in their hour of need.

“The pandemic really brought a lot of people to their knees financially, and our small businesses are the ones that suffered the most,” she said. “That’s why we have to invest with our dollars, to shop locally and support them.”

Photo by Raymond Janis

Hundreds of community members gathered on Saturday, Dec. 3, at the intersection of Broadway and Prince Road in Rocky Point for the hamlet’s 38th annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony.

The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce held the event in honor of the late Linda Albo, the originator of this local annual tradition who passed away in the spring. Gary Pollakusky, president and executive director of RPSBCC, summarized Albo’s example of community advancement.

“She was an avid community advocate and cared deeply about the community in a way that made a difference,” he said. Albo’s impact would be felt once again through the success of this year’s tree lighting.

The program commenced with a presentation of the colors by Boy Scout Troop 244. Girl Scout Troop 604 then led a singalong, performing “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” 

After a 10-second countdown, the Christmas tree was lit as attendees rejoiced in a collective cheer.

Musicians from Rocky Point High School’s brass choir and jazz band delivered wind performances. Soloist Katie Romano, also from RPHS, sang a moving rendition of “Silent Night.”

At the commencement of these performances, the audience was greeted with one final surprise. 

Excited children lined sidewalks and parking lot entrances in feverish anticipation of their hero, Santa Claus. 

Like a shining knight upon horseback, Saint Nick entered atop a fire rescue vehicle from the Rocky Point Fire Department, the sirens blaring and lights flashing. On the main stage, he greeted the many children in attendance, asking them what they would like for Christmas. Their smiling faces and innocent laughter would fill the evening air with joy and cheer.

Public officials also joined the festivities. New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) expressed her gratitude for those involved in coordinating the event and for the gradual return to normal after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Kids are seeing Santa for the first time in their lives because of COVID when Santa wasn’t really around,” she said. “It’s so nice to see all of the smiles on their faces and families coming together.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) called it an honor to be part of such an event and witness the community coming together again.

“You see people from every age, every religion, every walk of life come here and celebrate,” she said. “Rocky Point is one of the most involved communities in my district and the most populated, so when you have so many great community events, it’s wonderful.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) also took part in the fun. She said events like this remind her of what a joy it is to live in this proud hamlet.

“I have been involved in this tree lighting for as long as I’ve lived in Rocky Point,” she said. “Now 38 years later, it’s just great to do it in memory and honor of Linda Albo. We do it every single year, and we hope that she’s proud of the work we all did.”

— Photos by Raymond Janis

NV Beauty Boutique grand opening. Photo from Councilwoman Jane Bonner's office

On December 4, Councilwoman Jane Bonner joined Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce president Gary Pollakusky to celebrate the grand opening of the new NV Beauty Boutique in Rocky Point. 

Located at 14 Broadway Avenue in Rocky Point, the boutique offers a variety services, specializes in skincare, facials, microdermabrasion, peels, waxing, brows and lashes. 

Pictured from left are Councilwoman Jane Bonner; staff members Jamie Longman, Kyra Brandstadter, owner Nicole Villorente; staff members Susan McCartney and Alicia Reilly; and Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce President, Gary Pollakusky.

“I’m very happy to welcome the NV Beauty Boutique and I wish the owners the best of luck. I encourage everyone to stop in and say hello to Nicole and the staff. They are a great addition to the Rocky Point Business District and our community,” said Councilwoman Bonner.

Hours are by appointment. For more information, call 631-403-6562 or visit www.nvbeautyboutiqueli.com.

The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the grand opening of Long Island Lending a Helping Hand, Inc. at 341 Route 25A in Rocky Point on August 2.

Guests who attended included Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, Chamber President Gary Pollakusky and the RPSB Chamber board, the Girl Scouts, volunteers, local media and residents.

Long Island Lending a Helping Hand is a food pantry and resource center that helps provide assistance for families in need. They offer families and individuals school supplies, food, diapers, formula, clothing, furniture as well as other resources and support around the holidays.

Founder, Dawn Lang, said “In 2014, I realized that there was a real need in my local community. Many people “in need” have jobs, sometimes more than one, and are still struggling to get by sometimes having to make a difficult decision of whether to pay a bill or buy food / diapers. Some have family and friends to lean on but many others do not. That’s why I created…Long Island Lending a Helping Hand…we do our best to fill in the gap and help people who are in need.”

“We are so appreciative of founder Dawn Lang and Donna McCauley’s commitment to our community. It is with great pride that the chamber formally welcomes this brick & mortar Food Pantry and Resource Center to the community,” added Gary Pollakusky.

Operating hours are Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., closed Monday and Tuesday. For more information regarding Long Island Lending a Helping Hand, please visit www.lilahh.com.

Pictured from left, RPSB Chamber of Commerce member Charles Todaro, restaurant owner Barbara Stephenson, RPSB Chamber of Commerce President Gary Pollakusky, RPSB Chamber of Commerce member Larry Hall, restaurant owner Robert Mastanduno (with scissors), Councilwoman Bonner, Leg. Anker, and RPSB Chamber Events Director Jeanine Pollakusky. Photo from RPSB Chamber of Commerce

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker joined members of the Rocky Point Sound Beach (RPSB) Chamber of Commerce, Angela Noncarrow from Rep. Anthony Palumbo’s office and the local community in celebrating the ribbon cutting and one year anniversary of Robert Anthony’s “Domenica alle Due” Italian Bistro Pizzeria & Cocktail Bar in Sound Beach on Oct. 29.

From left, Councilwoman Jane Bonner, chamber president Gary Pollakusky, chamber members Nichaldeep Parhar and Larry Hall, owners Robert Mastanduno and Barbara Stephenson, chamber members Charles Todaro and Cyndi Zaweski, Leg. Sarah Anker and
Angela Noncarrow from Rep. Anthony Palumbo’s office
Jeanine Pollakusky

Located at 257 Echo Avenue, the newly renovated restaurant owned by Barbara Stephenson and Robert Mastanduno (formerly CaraMia Restaurant and Pizzeria) features a large selection of popular Italian dishes, as well a variety of pizza, salads and more.

“I welcome ‘Domenica alle Due’ to Sound Beach. Brookhaven Town is open for business and it’s important that we support the people who invest in the community and create jobs for our residents, especially during this pandemic,” said Councilwoman Bonner. “I wish Robert, Barbara and the entire staff the best of luck and encourage everyone to stop. The food is ‘spettacalore!’”

“Thank you to owners Robert and Barbara for the delicious pizza and for welcoming us into your beautiful restaurant! Be sure to go visit them soon for some tasty food,” added Leg. Anker.

Restaurant operating hours are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. For more information, please call 631-849-4809.

Above, from left, RPSB Chamber Secretary Larry Hall; Christine Ludwig; staff member Jamie Longman; salon owner Nicole Villorente Esposito; Carmine Esposito; RPSB Chamber President Gary Pollakusky; and RPSB Membership Director Nichaldeep Parhar. Photo by Siobhan Becker

The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon cutting and grand opening celebration of NV Beauty Boutique, as well as the launching of a new NV Beauty product line, on Aug. 13.

From left, RPSB Chamber President Gary Pollakusky; Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr; and salon owner Nicole Villorente Esposito. Photo by Jeanine Pollakusky

The event was attended by members of the chamber, family, friends and customers as well as Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr. and representatives from Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo and Councilwoman Jane Bonner’s office who presented Certificates of Congratulations to owner Nicole Villorente Esposito and her staff.

Located at 14 Broadway, in the heart of Rocky Point’s downtown business district, NV Beauty Boutique specializes in balayage, highlights, and bridal styling. The salon opened its doors in late February of this year, but due to the COVID-19 mandated shutdown, they were not able celebrate their grand opening until now. The salon continued to cater to customers with curbside pickup of customized hair coloring kits and more. They reopened their doors on June 10.

From left, RPSB Treasurer Charles Todaro; RPSB Chamber Secretary Larry Hall; staff member Jamie Longman; salon owner Nicole Villorente Esposito; RPSB Chamber President Gary Pollakusky; RPSB Events Director Jeanine Pollakusky and RPSB Membership Director Nichaldeep Parhar. Photo from RPSB Chamber of Commerce

“The Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce is pleased to assist members like NV Beauty Boutique with ribbon cutting celebrations to recognize new businesses, relocations, expansions and other milestones. In a time where businesses need to get back on their feet, our chamber and ceremonies like these are a great way to garner recognition for our businesses,” said Gary Pollakusky, President and Executive Director of the RPSB Chamber of Commerce.

“Thank you to the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce for our beautiful grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony. We are truly overwhelmed by all of the love Rocky Point has shown us these last few months. We love being a part of this beautiful town and look forward to many successful years ahead,” said Villorente Esposito.

“NV Beauty Boutique is a shining example of resilience in this current business climate. We look forward to NV Beauty Boutique’s success and the future patrons the business will bring that will frequent our downtown Rocky Point business district,” added Pollakusky.

For more information on NV Beauty Boutique, call 631-403-6562,  or find them at www.facebook.com/nvbeautyboutiqueinc and their website: https://www.bestprosintown.com/ny/rocky-point/nv-beauty-boutique-/

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More than a hundred local residents attended a Fourth of July event sponsored by the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and Rocky Point/Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Kyle Barr

Well over 100 people crowded in the empty lot in front of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 building and behind Broadway Market July 4 to celebrate Fourth of July and honor those passed veteran family members from the community.

Last month, the Rocky Point/Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce announced an initiative to honor passed veterans with banners hung all along Broadway and King Road. For the Fourth of July, the local groups hung 33 pictures of veterans from the Rocky Point area. The chamber raised $3,300 from the community in order to raise the banners.

Those on the banners included people who had fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the many families in attendance, was the McCarrick family, who had three passed members of the clan up on those banners. This included the elder McCarrick’s brother Hugh and Kevin’s father William, mother Phyllis and uncle Thomas, all of whom participated in the Navy during WWII. Family and friends of Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa, of the U.S. Air Force who was a bronze star and purple heart recipient, were also there to remember his life.

As families sat in the small lot with groups of chairs distanced from each other, chamber and VFW leaders led the crowd in thanking vets for their sacrifices. Included in the event was the usual singing of the national anthem and the reading of the Declaration of Independence by multiple local residents.
“As you celebrate with your family and close friends, I ask you to honor all American patriots,” VFW Commander Joe Cognitore said to the assembled crowd. “They are the ones who allowed us the freedom to celebrate today.”

When Cognitore said he joined with the VFW in the 70s, nearly everyone there was a veteran of WWII. Now, he said, they are down to just two living members who participated in that long-ago war.
Chamber President Gary Pollakusky said though the area has been hit hard because of the coronavirus, “We are strong, we are fighters, and we will all get through this.”

He referenced people he called “keyboard warriors” who “stoke fires rather than build bridges.” As compared to the “doers,” which he said included the veterans and people who helped put on the ceremony.

The names of all those hung on the banners were read out and a bell tolled in their honor, with those men’s and women’s families standing when each was called in turn.

The banners will be kept up throughout July. The chamber is looking for people to submit names for next year’s ceremony, which could include deceased veterans, living vets and active duty service members or any other military heroes the community wishes to recognize. They are also asking for additional donations for next year.

Crisis Forces Owners to Get Creative

Stony Brook Trauma Center staff member Colby Rowe and Wang Center Building Manager Scott LaMarsh accept donations for the COVID-19 Donation Center. Photo from SBU

Local businesses throughout Long Island have been hit hard because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but it also has brought them closer together. These uncertain times have bred creative and unique ideas in an effort to keep these storefronts afloat. 

Renee Goldfarb of Origin of Era in Port Jefferson hosts daily livestreams demonstrating an item in her stock during the ongoing crisis. Image from Facebook

For Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, it meant finding ways to further connect with clients and new customers despite them not being able to come into the store. 

“There’s not the heavy foot traffic we are used to seeing, so instead of just sitting in an empty store why not continue to interact with customers online?” she said. 

Goldfarb started what she calls a “virtual shopping experience” where she showcases and models different pieces of clothing from a number of indie and female designers. In these half-hour livestreams, she said it allows customers to get that familiar experience of seeing products in real time and decide what they like.

“I’m very hands on; I want them to see how these pieces look on a normal human being, not just a store mannequin,” the boutique owner said. “The viewers also leave comments and it gives me the chance to talk to them and answer their questions.”

Goldfarb currently produces weekly videos on Instagram Live and Facebook. She said she has already sold a few items from her store and is getting good feedback from customers on the videos. 

 “The business community in Port Jeff is really trying to support one another,” she said.

Though times have been trying, it has not stopped local shops from supporting those who arguably need it the most.

Similarly, the Port Jefferson Business Improvement District is conducting a restaurant delivery program that will send meals to St. Charles and Mather hospitals for the medical staff, to thank them for their service during the ongoing pandemic. The Greater Port Jeff Chamber of Commerce is also assisting in the effort. 

Theresa Skogen, liaison for the Port Jeff BID and the chamber, said they already started to drop off meals at the hospitals earlier last week.  

“We started last Saturday — it’s been a good way to revitalize some of the businesses that had to shut down and it keeps them busy during their slower days,” she said.

James Luciano, owner of the Port Jeff Lobster House and BID secretary, said the BID is donating up to 40 meals at a time to the hospitals on a rotating basis. 

“Any restaurant that is in the Greater Port Jeff area can participate,” he said. “The BID will pay them a flat fee of $500 for 40 meals. We pick up the meals and deliver them to the hospitals for free.”

Luciano said they hope to continue delivering meals every day to the local hospitals. 

In addition, the Port Jeff chamber has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds to help Port Jeff restaurants feed hospital workers at St. Charles and John T. Mather hospitals. GreaterPortJeff.com is sponsoring fundraising efforts for the restaurants involved and the campaign will also help local restaurants. As of today, close to $4,000 has been raised. 

“We wanted to make sure we could provide that service, and be able to employ local personnel.”

-James Luciano

In an effort to further help Port Jeff businesses, the Village of Port Jefferson has created a website page titled Open Today. The page contains a list of over 30 restaurants and other businesses. The BID is also sponsoring a free delivery service  from 12 to 8 p.m. daily.  

Luciano said they wanted to have a centralized delivery system in the village during this time and at the same time have this option available to customers. 

“We wanted to make sure we could provide that service, and be able to employ local personnel,” he said.  

For some entrepreneurs, making sure customers know that they are still present is just as important, despite seeing a dip in business. 

Gabriela Schwender, of Long Island Crafty Ones, a mobile and traveling workshop based in Rocky Point, said a lot of business plans have had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Her craft workshops cater to face-to-face interactions with her clients. 

In the meantime, she has been livestreaming craft workshops on the business’ Facebook page. While she can’t provide art materials like she usually does, Schwender said she has turned to finding common household objects that can make for fun craft projects. 

“Usually when I do these workshops, I’m right there to help them or guide them,” she said. “Right now, I’m answering questions through text.”

Schwender said a number of viewers have already reached out to her saying that they would like to hire her once the pandemic/shutdown is over. 

Gary Pollakusky, executive director of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce, said small businesses are going through a difficult time right now, adding the chamber has reached out to all its members in an effort to assist them in any way they can, including giving each other ideas and advice. 

The organization has come up with its own page titled Shop Locally, Distance Socially, which can be found on its website (www.rpsbchamber.org) where it lists a number of restaurants, retail stores and other businesses that are still open and taking online orders. The chamber is also encouraging residents to order a gift card for now, to shop with once life returns to normal.

“These small businesses and mom-and-pop shops need the support of the public more than ever before,” he said. 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker is running against Republican Gary Pollakusky to represent the 6th District. Photos by Alex Petroski

Five-term Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is once again facing Republican challenger Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point business owner and head of the recently remodeled Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce. The candidates challenged each other in 2017, but while many issues remain the same, such as county finances, coastal water issues and opioids, the campaign season has been even more contentious than two years before.

Many of the Republicans running for county Legislature this year have made county finances a major part of their campaigns, and Pollakusky made it a point when he ran two years ago. 

“The $4 billion plan is unrealistic — it will come down to taxpayers, people who are leaving the Island, to take on this burden.”

— Gary Pollakusky

In a recent in-house debate at TBR News Media offices, the Republican challenger pointed to the recent report from the New York State comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli (D), which called Suffolk one of the most fiscally stressed counties in the state, Pollakusky adding the county now has junk bond status. He said small businesses have a hard time opening in Suffolk County, that it takes two to three years when it should, at most, two to three months. He said the county should have done more to bring in retail giant Amazon. 

Though the largest percentage of residents’ tax bills are due to school districts, the challenger said Suffolk should look to work with both the state and local school districts to reduce the number of administrators, even creating a “chancellor of education” to oversee that cause.

Anker, who first came to the Legislature in 2011 during a special election, argued that the county is not in as much fiscal stress as Republicans have said. She argued that the county’s Baa2 bond rating by Moody’s shows a different picture of the county’s financial shape. She said finances have improved significantly since when she was first elected.

The incumbent argued that instead of looking to bring in Amazon, the North Shore should look to become an “ecotourism hub,” with amenities like the new North Shore Rail Trail and Tesla Science Center.

“Instead of making a right to go pumpkin picking and wine tasting, take a left to downtown Rocky Point, so we can revitalize it,” she said. “So many stores have gone out recently.”

The Republican challenger criticized Anker for removing Rocky Point from the county sewer list and called Suffolk’s prototype septic system program a “toilet tax.” Though residents can get grants from New York State that pay most or all of the installation, Pollakusky argued there are fees attributed to landscaping or regular maintenance. 

“As far as runoff, the $4 billion plan is unrealistic — it will come down to taxpayers, people who are leaving the Island, to take on this burden,” he said.

Anker called Suffolk the “most proactive agencies in government that addresses this issue,” adding she supports the prototype septic systems as well as the county water authority’s multibillion dollar plans to reduce 1,4-dioxane in wells throughout the county. 

She added the reason she removed Rocky Point from the sewer list came from a request by the Rocky Point Civic Association whose members said they did not want to pay an additional sewer tax.

Anker currently chairs the Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, which was created in 2017. She said the panel has already borne fruit with one recent example being Suffolk County police’s new mass spectrometer, which can identify previously undetectable substances. She said the device came from a suggestion on the 24-member panel. She added the county’s lawsuit of pharmaceutical company Purdue and the Sackler family may bring in millions of dollars of revenue to the county.

“Instead of making a right to go pumpkin picking and wine tasting, take a left to downtown Rocky Point, so we can revitalize it.”

— Sarah Anker

Pollakusky argued that while some county statistics say the opioid epidemic has plateaued, he hasn’t seen an example of that in the district, claiming there is a glut of “drug dealing homes” all across the North Shore. Like in 2017, he criticized his opponent for voting to close the Foley Center in Yaphank, saying it could have been used for bed space and as a treatment center.

Anker came back saying the county should look toward public-private partnerships in creating new treatment space.

Though the candidates talked about the ongoing issues, they were also asked how they felt about their opponents campaign tactics during this contentious season. The challenger’s voice rose during the debate as he criticized Anker for mailings published by political advocacy group People for Political Responsibility, depicting him in photoshopped, unflattering images. He claimed Anker had been disbursing campaign material at functions like the Downtown Rocky Point Summer Concert Series and advocating for herself over radio. 

Anker fired back that she had nothing to do with the mailings and had not handed out campaign material at these functions, instead handing out informational pamphlets for services provided by the county. She said her radio show was not sponsored at all by her campaign and only talked of work being done in the Legislature. 

Both have continuously blamed the other for politicizing an incident several months ago at the final summer concert series event, when chamber members were barred from entering the concert. Chamber members said they had permission from the local Veterans of Foreign War post, which participates in putting on the concerts, but Anker said she had only received word that they wanted to attend the day before, and that they did not have space for them. The chamber was allowed a single table at the concert, she added. Pollakusky said it was unfair she was able to attend and “campaign” at the concert while disallowing others.

This post has been amended from how it appeared in the Village Beacon Record to clarify Anker’s position on informational material for services provided by the county.