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Kevin LaValle

By Aramis Khosronejad

At the historic Bethel Hobbs Community Farm, the last standing farm in Centereach, the 9th annual 4-mile Run the Farm event was held Saturday, Aug. 12. 

The run, initially created to help support the farm and its mission of supplying organic food to food pantries, has become an eclectic event for the local area, featuring participants who are competitive runners to casual strollers. 

Ann Pellegrino, president of the community farm, took pride in the success of the farm and the run. “The more hands we have, the more mouths we can feed,” she said. “It’s a community effort. Every year we’re just growing and growing.”

The run was originally an idea introduced by Brookhaven Town Clerk Kevin LaValle (R), who represented the area in District 3 on the Town Board from 2013 to 2023. Amid some financial struggles nine years ago, LaValle proposed organizing a run to raise money and introduced it to Pellegrino.

The farm “isn’t just something to remember our history by, but also something the community can rally behind and the mission of Hobbs Farm,” LaValle said. 

As a native of the hamlet, LaValle referred to Hobbs Farm as “the centerpiece of Centereach.” The run has been growing in popularity with each passing year. Now, it’s become a local staple.

“The run brings more awareness,” Pellegrino said. “It helps spread the word of what we’re doing, and people get interested.”

Town Councilman Neil Manzella (R-Selden) added to this sentiment. He attended the family-friendly event with his two children, who participated in the fun-run race. “For me, it’s about showing my kids what a community should be,” he said.

The event was replete with food stands and other activities. Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy (R) and his wife, county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), also joined the fun.

“We’ve attended many of the runs and also been here for some of the other events they host,” John Kennedy said, noting how much he and his family appreciate community events such as the run. He added that Hobbs Farm represents a “hidden jewel here in Centereach.”

Since 2008, Peter Castorano has been a member of Hobbs Farm as a volunteer, caretaker and tenant. Pellegrino considers him part of the farm family. 

“To work with Ann is great,” Castorano said. “She’s a superwoman, always doing something.” 

While reminiscing over how Hobbs Farm started, they began talking of the Rev. Gregory Leonard. While trying to persuade the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which owns the property, to let her use the land for farming, Pellegrino got help from Leonard. 

“We all just became family,” Pellegrino remembered. She said she became very close with him and his late wife, Sandra Leonard. 

The Rev. Leonard retired in 2021 from the Bethel AME Church in Setauket. He remarked on what Hobbs Farm symbolizes for him. “It’s the church and the community working together to create something,” he said.

Bethel Hobbs Farm holds a rich history. The previous owner was Alfred Hobbs, and the farm had been passed down through his family for generations. According to Leonard, who knew Hobbs passingly, he was “a man involved with his community.” 

Castorano spoke of Hobbs’ passion for his family land and how defiant he was against the farm being sold. As a result, the farmland lay dormant and unused for a few years until Pellegrino began her mission. 

“Years ago, I was a single mom with three kids,” Pellegrino explained, reflecting upon her incentives for beginning this project. “I was working two jobs. … There were times when I had to go to food pantries to feed my kids.” 

Now, Hobbs Farm itself supports and supplies over 15 food pantries with nutritious and organic produce, feeding local families in need.

Alyson Bass, left, candidate for the Town of Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District, and Brookhaven Councilman-elect Neil Manzella. Left from Bass’ LinkedIn page; right courtesy Manzella

In the race to fill Brookhaven Town Clerk Kevin LaValle’s (R) seat on the Town Board, Neil Manzella (R-Selden) handily secured victory on Tuesday, April 25.

LaValle took over as town clerk in February, vacating the 3rd District and triggering a special election to complete his term, which ends in December. An unofficial tally from the Suffolk County Board of Elections indicates Manzella comfortably defeated his Democratic opponent, Alyson Bass, of Centereach, holding a 57-43% margin of victory.

The councilman-elect explained that there was little time to celebrate. The true test will be this November when he and Bass will be back on the ballot to compete again for a four-year term.

In exclusive post-election interviews with Manzella and Bass, the two CD3 candidates set the table for round two. Following resident feedback heard throughout the special election cycle, repaving the district’s roadways will be a primary focus.

“One of the biggest topics that I heard from the district [residents] themselves is the condition of the roads,” Manzella said. “One of my plans is to go and sit down with the Highway Department — the Superintendent of Highways [Dan Losquadro (R)] — and try to see if we get that taken care of during the summer months.”

Bass, too, heard from district residents about the disrepair of the roadways. To mitigate those concerns, she proposed enacting measures to promote transparency within the road prioritization process.

“You hear of roads being paved multiple times while other roads haven’t been paved in six or seven years,” she said. “How does that happen? There are definitely areas in our district that are neglected, and there are other districts that are not neglected at all.”

The two candidates also narrowed in on the other major overhanging issue for the area, commercial redevelopment. CD3 contains two prominent commercial corridors along Middle Country and Portion roads. The candidates departed in their approach to building up the many undeveloped parcels.

Bass approached the redevelopment issue with caution, noting the need to protect open spaces and restrain sprawl. 

“We’re looking at every piece of green land being sold with no inhibition,” the Democrat said. “You have shopping centers with less than 50 percent capacity, parking lots that are barely used, yet all of our green spaces are being sold.”

Manzella offered a different perspective on redevelopment, viewing the undeveloped lots as a potential tax base for the town while building upon the aesthetic character of the area.

“I see our district trying to thrive in the commercial region,” the councilman-elect said. “I want to push redevelopment of areas along our Middle Country and Portion roads. I want to push redevelopment that can help fill vacancies, empty lots, to make it a more aesthetic and more business-friendly [area].”

Ahead of this November, the closure of the Brookhaven Town landfill looms as one of the most pressing issues facing residents townwide, with regional implications as well. 

Manzella said his campaign has yet to focus on the landfill closure but expressed optimism toward working with his colleagues to remediate the issue.

“The plans for what happens when the landfill closes is not something that I would have even been a part of before now,” he said. “But now that I am in a role where I can contribute to it, I can’t wait to have that conversation.”

Bass said the Town Board staying proactive in the landfill closure would serve the best interest of the residents townwide. “I think pushing to have a plan in place so that we aren’t so affected by the closure of the town dump is huge,” she said in an earlier interview.

Residents of the 3rd Council District will decide upon these two candidates again in just over six months. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Illustration by Kyle Horne: @kylehorneart • kylehorneart.com

Last week’s special election for the Town of Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District has both major political parties finding silver linings.

Former Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) vacated his seat in February following a January special election for town clerk. To fill the vacancy and complete LaValle’s unexpired term ending in December, Republican Neil Manzella — also of Selden — defeated Democrat Alyson Bass from Centereach on Tuesday, April 25, by a 57-43% margin, according to an unofficial tally by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

Manzella’s win reinforces his party’s stronghold on the town government. Republicans again hold a 6-1 majority on the Town Board and occupy nine of the 10 elected offices townwide. Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (Stony Brook) is the lone Democrat.

“While I wish that there were more people that did vote,” Manzella said, “I am very happy with the decent size turnout for a special election,” which was just over 2,800 ballots cast. “I think both sides did a great job of getting that vote out.”

To Bass, he added, “I think that she should be very proud. They held an incredibly respectable campaign.”

Since the establishment of councilmanic districts in 2002, a Democrat has never held the 3rd District. Despite their historical struggles, there are some positive takeaways for the losing side. 

LaValle won CD3 in 2019 by more than 30 points. Bass cut that margin by more than half.

“Given the fact that my campaign was more of a grassroots campaign, I feel very proud for the level of fundraising that we did and with the outcome,” Bass told TBR News Media. “We were way outspent, we were outmanned. And I think that our numbers were very strong.”

Two-part election

Manzella’s victory celebration will be short-lived as both CD3 candidates are already back on the campaign trail for the general election.

“While I did win now, I will be the acting councilman but only through [December],” Manzella said. “This doesn’t stop. This campaigning continues straight through November.”

Bass also had this understanding, indicating that when she accepted the nomination for the special election, she committed to running in November regardless of its outcome.

“The four-year term was always the goal,” she said, adding that her campaign will continue through November.

Heads of the ticket

The CD3 race provides an early measure of public moods ahead of the townwide elections later this year. As the focus shifts away from the 3rd District, all eyes are on the top of the ticket, where there is an open contest.

Incumbent Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) will not headline the ticket for the first time in over a decade, instead pursuing the county’s top office in the race to succeed Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who is term-limited. Romaine’s opponent will be Democratic nominee, Dave Calone.

Brookhaven Deputy Supervisor Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant, a Democrat, have each secured their party’s nod for town supervisor.

In separate interviews, both candidates reflected upon the outcome in Middle Country and its implications for their respective quests to succeed Romaine.

“I think Ms. Bass should be extremely proud of herself,” Garant said, referring to the 14% margin of victory. “That’s a pretty significant gain, especially in a special election where you only had about 3 percent voter turnout overall in that district.”

Despite her favored candidate coming up short, Garant said she and her party are “encouraged by that result, and we’re going to continue to work on the messaging and the issues as they exist and continue to make sure we’re knocking on doors, making people aware of what the existing conditions are.”

Panico sang a slightly different tune than his opponent, though also optimistic for November. The deputy supervisor referred to the outcome as “a very strong message for our team” as the party pivots to the general election.

Manzella’s win, Panico said, reflected the strength of the Republican committee’s efforts and the resonance of its platform with Brookhaven voters. He further regarded the outcome as a vote of confidence for the current Town Board.

“When you’re doing the right thing by the residents — and the residents are very aware — they take notice,” Panico said. “The members of the Town Board on my team, I expect, will be reelected as well” in November.

Six months out of the general election, Panico said he has already begun campaigning townwide, expressing confidence that his campaign is registering with Brookhaven residents and forecasting a favorable outcome.

“I expect to be victorious in November and plan on running a vigorous campaign on the issues that matter to the residents of Brookhaven Town,” he said.

Based on recent electoral history, Garant’s campaign faces certain obstacles this election cycle. Her party has not held the supervisor’s chair since 2012 when Mark Lesko resigned mid-term, to be replaced by Romaine. 

The Port Jeff mayor nonetheless remained hopeful about her prospects, viewing her platform as appealing to the centrist wing of the town — a faction she believes will determine the victor.

“We think that we have a good platform,” she said. “We’re going to do our best to make sure that it resonates with the people not on the extremes, but with the majority of people who live here, which are the more moderate voters.”

Assessing political strategies

Anthony Portesy is chair of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Committee. Like Garant and Bass, he regarded the election result in CD3 as promising for the Democratic slate come November. The Brookhaven Town Republican Committee did not respond to requests for comment.

“I’m very, very encouraged” by last week’s outcome, Portesy said. “When you take out the conservative line, their margin of victory was a mere 73 votes. That is incredible for that district, and it shows the quality of the candidate that we put up in Alyson Bass.”

Panico viewed Manzella’s elevation to the Town Board as favorable for Republicans. Citing his party’s sizable majority in town government, he added why he believes Republicans are registering with the electorate.

“There’s no secret recipe,” the Republican supervisor candidate said. “There’s not one thing that I would point to with regard to the electoral edge. With regard to the political composition of the town representatives, it’s simply that the people who are elected do the job they were elected to do.”

He criticized the opposition party’s messaging, stating its recent electoral track record reflects an unpopular platform with voters.

“I think the state of the local Democratic Party is part and parcel of their platform,” he said. “As they embrace a platform that has been rejected by the vast majority of residents — regardless of political affiliation — in the Town of Brookhaven, I think that is going to continue to be a problem for their party, and it shows in their elections.”

Garant rejected this notion entirely, pointing to Bass’ narrowing of the gap in CD3 as a testament to her party’s upward trajectory. The mayor suggested that the current board has not adequately addressed Brookhaven’s multiplying quality-of-life concerns, which may begin cutting into its majority.

“I think there are a lot of people who are very concerned with the declining lifestyle and the declining quality of life and the conditions in their neighborhoods,” she said.

Portesy centered his focus around the town landfill, which constitutes a significant chunk of the town’s overall public revenue and is set to close in the coming years. 

The party leader contended that the current board is ill-prepared for the looming budgetary shortfall precipitating from the facility’s eventual closure.

“The town dropped the ball on replacing the revenue for the landfill,” the Democratic committee chair said. “They love to tell you about the AAA bond rating, but the AAA bond rating doesn’t go into discussing the fact that that’s based on their present finances, not after the landfill closes and we’re losing millions and millions of dollars.”

Still, Portesy committed to recalibrating his party’s messaging over the coming weeks, working on expanding the Democratic get-out-the-vote initiative through additional door-knocking volunteers and other measures to generate voter interest and boost turnout.

“We’re going to be retooling our message over the next couple of months, making sure that we’re hitting the doors that we have to hit and making sure we’re convincing voters that our path is the path forward for Brookhaven Town,” he said.

Though beaten in round one, Bass kept an upbeat attitude for round two. “There are enough Democrats in this district and in this town to make us victorious,” she said. “We need to come across with messaging that resonates, and I think there are some strategic things we need to work on as far as unity and approach.”

She added that the small sample size last week was unreflective of the public will overall, suggesting a larger turnout in November could work in her favor.

Manzella, a former member of the town Republican committee, attributes much of his success to the party operation.

“Getting out there and spreading the word about an election, and then spreading the word of the candidate, is the most crucial part of any campaign,” the councilman-elect said. “Our committee has a lot of volunteers, a lot of people who are passionate about this. It’s that strength, as a unified whole, that is able to get this message out to the voters.”

Portesy viewed Romaine’s run for county executive as a unique opening for town Democrats. Given the scope of the town supervisor’s powers, the party chair maintained that filling that seat with a Democrat would be the committee’s primary objective.

“The vision for the town always comes from the executive,” he said. “Making sure that we get Margot Garant elected in November is going to go a long way,” adding, “Our number one goal is to take back the town supervisor.”

Both parties have just over six months before voters hit the polls on Nov. 7.

Illustration by Kyle Horne


Alyson Bass, left, and Neil Manzella are the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, for the Town of Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District. Left from Bass’ LinkedIn page; right courtesy Manzella

The eyes of Brookhaven are upon Middle Country, where a special election later this month will help gauge the pulse of the people.

Former Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) took over as town clerk in February, vacating his seat on the Town Board and triggering a special election Tuesday, April 25, to complete his unexpired term ending in December.

The 3rd Council District spans Centereach, Selden and Lake Grove, with parts of Lake Ronkonkoma, Farmingville, Port Jefferson Station and Holtsville. Republicans currently occupy eight of the town’s 10 elected offices and hold a 5-1 majority on the Town Board. 

Less than three weeks until Election Day, citizens townwide will be watching CD3, with implications for general elections this November.

Attorney Alyson Bass and civil servant Neil Manzella have received the town Democratic and Republican committee nods, respectively. 

Bass, of Centereach, worked in private practice before entering the Suffolk County Attorney’s Office, where she currently deals with procurements, contracts and legislative drafting while coordinating with law enforcement agencies.

She is also involved in various community activities, serving as vice president of the Greater Gordon Heights Chamber of Commerce and president-elect of the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association.

“My whole entire career was built on helping people, resolving problems and communicating,” she said in an interview. “To some extent, I’ve always felt that I was in public service to some degree because of the nature of my work,” adding that pursuing elective office “feels like a natural progression for me.”

Manzella, of Selden, has held various civil service posts throughout his professional career, working in the information technology department at the William Floyd and Longwood school districts before transferring to the Suffolk County Board of Elections. He currently works in the Town of Brookhaven Assessor’s Office, where he has been for five years.

“Ever since I got involved in government, I’ve loved being able to serve the community,” he told TBR News Media. “I was offered this opportunity to run for an office that can really focus my attention on my home community, and I jumped at the opportunity.”


Bass indicated that the 3rd District is simultaneously grappling with several quality-of-life concerns as the Town Board works to overcome the financial and logistical pitfalls associated with closing the Brookhaven landfill. This facility constitutes roughly half of the town’s public revenue.

“I think pushing to have a plan in place so that we aren’t so affected by the closure of the town dump is huge,” she said.

Given the 3rd District’s dense commercial and residential areas, Manzella highlighted the need for continual and close coordination with the town Highway Department in repaving local roadways.

“Kevin [LaValle] did a fantastic job on helping our roads, and I want to see that continued,” the Republican said.

This month’s special election comes amid calls from Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) to increase statewide housing stock by 3% over three years, a plan recently ridiculed by town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). [See this week’s story, “Brookhaven officials speak out against governor’s proposed housing plan.”]

Despite gubernatorial pressures, both candidates for CD3 preferred local municipal oversight over development projects in Middle Country. Bass, a former Queens resident, was apprehensive about applying a New York City standard to Brookhaven.

“I came back here for a reason, and I am interested in preserving the suburban lifestyle,” she said, noting that expanding affordable housing options for district residents remains “hugely important.”

Manzella centered his development aims around CD3’s commercial sector, which includes the bustling corridors of Middle Country and Portion roads. The candidate suggested the numerous undeveloped lots as a potentially lucrative tax base for the town.

“If somebody’s going to be coming in and building a shop, we don’t want to drag our feet with it,” he said. “We want to help them get through any red tape that they might hit governmentally and get them on the tax roll.”

Encouraging district residents to remain on Long Island by hosting frequent community events and activities are necessary, Manzella added. For Bass, reducing the town’s carbon footprint, promoting renewables and expanding teen programs are all on the agenda.

Prior to the special election April 25, early voting will occur at 700 Yaphank Ave., Yaphank, beginning Saturday, April 15, and running through Sunday, April 23. For more information, click here.

Brookhaven Deputy Town Clerk Lauren Thoden (left) swore Town Clerk Kevin LaValle into office on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Photo courtesy the Town of Brookhaven’s Public Information Office

Brookhaven Town Clerk Kevin LaValle (R) formally took office during a swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, Feb. 1. He is the 44th occupant of the clerk’s office in the town’s 368-year history. 

Deputy Town Clerk Lauren Thoden officiated the swearing-in. LaValle was elected after a Jan. 17 special election triggered when former Town Clerk Donna Lent (I) retired after nine years in the position.

LaValle previously served as a Brookhaven town councilman for the 3rd Council District, which includes Lake Grove, Centereach, Selden and parts of Lake Ronkonkoma, Farmingville, Port Jeff Station and Holbrook. He was first elected to the Town Board in 2013. 

Before entering elected office, LaValle served for three years as chief of staff for then-Suffolk County Legislator and incumbent Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R). 

From 2007 to 2011, he was president and part-owner of Pinnacle Title Agency. He also served as a legislative aide to former Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma).

LaValle was educated in the Middle Country Central School District, graduating from Centereach High School in 1995. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Salisbury University, where he graduated in 2000. He currently resides in Selden.

The Middle Country Public Library recently held a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the grand opening of the Centereach Reading Room. 

The newly renovated 7,500 square foot area includes an innovation maker space and podcast recording studio that will allow the community to explore new technologies. 

Patrons will have the opportunity to participate in the creative process and collaborate with one another in a quiet study room and two small group study rooms along with a redesigned public computer area. 

The functional and transformational design was created in collaboration with architectural firm Bermello Ajamil and Partners and includes the information desk and a glass curtain wall leading to the Reading Garden, and a café that is scheduled to open in the early part of 2023. 

The library thanks the community for their support throughout this project and the many distinguished guests who attended the ceremony, including Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) and Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden).

Kevin LaValle, above. File photo by Raymond Janis

In a special election held Tuesday, Jan. 17, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) was elected as Brookhaven town clerk.

Former Town Clerk Donna Lent (I) retired in November, prompting a special election to complete her unexpired term ending in 2025. An unofficial tally from the Suffolk County Board of Elections indicates LaValle secured victory handily, defeating the Democratic candidate, Lisa Di Santo of East Patchogue. So far, he has received 6,396 votes to Di Santo’s 4,940.

In an exclusive phone interview, LaValle reacted to the election outcome. 

“I’m really excited that the residents of the Town of Brookhaven put their faith in me to run a very critical department,” he said. “I’m excited about the opportunity ahead of me. Once I get sworn in, I look forward to taking on that challenge.” To his opponent, he added, “It was a great race. I wish her the best.”

Upon assuming this townwide position, LaValle will oversee a more than 25-person staff. In the meantime, he said he intends to speak with staff members, get an idea of the day-to-day operations and “start to see the office as a whole and see what we can improve.”

“I think that that’s going to be a little bit of a process to get that all together, but I’m excited to sit down with everybody,” the town clerk-elect said, adding, “It’s going to be a bit of a challenge, but I’m excited for it.”

New state election laws require at least a week for the election results to be certified. LaValle will vacate his seat on the Town Board when he is sworn in as clerk, triggering another special election — this time for his Brookhaven 3rd Council District.

The outgoing councilman pledged to remain active in the eventual transition process. “I think there are some people out there,” he said, referring to prospective candidates. “The leadership of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, they’re going to have to make the decisions on that.”

He added, “The 3rd District has been my home my whole life. It’s been a great honor to be able to represent it over the last nine years, so I’m certainly going to take a keen interest in who’s going to take over after me and certainly be a helping hand in that transition.”

LaValle could be sworn into office as Brookhaven town clerk as early as Wednesday, Jan. 25. Under town code, the board must set a special election between 60 and 90 days from the opening of the vacancy.

A special election for Brookhaven Town Clerk will take place Tuesday, Jan. 17. Above, Kevin LaValle (left) and Lisa Di Santo, respective nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties. Photos by Raymond Janis

Early voting is underway for the next Brookhaven town clerk, and the two major party candidates are making their pitch to the voters.

Former Town Clerk Donna Lent (I) retired in November, triggering a special election for her unexpired term ending in 2025. Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) and community advocate Lisa Di Santo, the Democratic Party nominee, will square off at the polls Tuesday, Jan. 17.

During a joint meeting of the Selden and Centereach civic associations Thursday, Jan. 5, the two candidates were questioned on a range of topics related to the operations of the Town Clerk’s Office. Civic members generated some of the questions with others fielded from the audience.


Di Santo is a former social studies teacher who taught students about participation in government. She also served as a trustee of the South Country school board in East Patchogue, where she lives. 

“I have always participated in government, and I feel that I can be an independent voice of reason in the Town Clerk’s Office,” she said. “We have many of the same people filling many of the same positions over and over again. … That leads to a bit of stagnation, and I think it’s time for a fresh set of ideas, a fresh set of eyes, on what’s happening in the Town Clerk’s Office.”

Before entering government, LaValle owned a title agency. He then received a loan mortgage originator’s license and has worked in mortgage banking ever since. The councilman worked on the staff of former Suffolk County Legislators Dan Losquadro (R) and Tom Muratore (R). He was elected to serve Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District in 2013 in an area which includes Lake Grove, Centereach, Selden and parts of Lake Ronkonkoma, Farmingville, Port Jeff Station and a piece of Holbrook. 

 “I think I’ve accomplished a great deal as councilman, but I come before you now, again, to say that as town clerk, I am going to bring a new energy,” he said. “I am going to bring a new work ethic to the Town Clerk’s Office that has not been seen before.”

Duties of town clerk

Both candidates were asked about the function of the town clerk. For Di Santo, the clerk must ensure the accurate recording of Town Board meetings and the efficient filing of legal records, among other tasks. She emphasized the significance of the Freedom of Information Law request process.

“One of the most important things has to do with [being] the appeals officer for FOIL requests that come to the town,” she said. “People who live here and pay taxes should be able to access that information.”

The Democratic candidate also said the incoming clerk must assess and modernize the existing technology in the office. “I have spoken with some people who work in the Town Clerk’s Office and told me that their technology is at least 10 years out of date,” she said. “That is something that is certainly personally scary to me.”

LaValle viewed the clerk’s role as threefold, that is to “secure, maintain and distribute vital records of the residents of the Town of Brookhaven.” He referred to the office as a “vital hub,” servicing residents in the best and worst times.

“I believe the efficiency could be improved in the Town Clerk’s Office,” he said. “Cybersecurity, I think that’s something we can take to another level.”

He viewed the clerk as a service provider rather than a policymaker or revenue generator, noting that empowering and providing the staff with the necessary resources will be critical. “As the clerk, the focus will be about making sure the staff has the tools to be able to do their job,” he said.


Addressing the September ransomware attack against the Suffolk County government, LaValle assessed shortcomings within the county’s IT network. He described the need for coordination between departments, recommending the town continues its transition to cloud technologies to avert a similar scenario.

“The cloud is probably the best security that you can have, but we have to stay vigilant and make sure we’re looking at new technologies as we move along to make sure our information stays secure,” the councilman said.

Di Santo concurred that replacing outdated technology will be a priority. She stressed the need to properly oversee the transition to new platforms and work out any technical or logistic challenges that may arise.

“When you have new technology, one of the things that is crucial is to make certain that the staff is comfortable with that technology, that they’re fully trained so that they are able to use that to the best of their ability,” she said.


After conversations with staff members, Di Santo painted a bleak picture of the current situation within the Town Clerk’s Office. “The office is actually understaffed,” she said. “Morale is really not very good in the office. You have a lot of turnover, so it’s very difficult to have the best customer service when you have staff changing and needing to be retrained.”

She reiterated that “a fresh set of eyes” from somebody outside government will help identify areas for improvement and generate potential solutions.

LaValle said he would prefer close collaboration with the Town Board, analyzing any barriers to efficient staff operations. He then stated a desire to fund personnel better.

“I want to be able to go in, take a real good look at what is going on in the office,” he said. “Do we need more employees? Should we pay our employees more?”

He also advanced the need to offer a vision the staff can get behind. “We have to work with the employees and build a team concept,” he said. “I want to make this the best clerk’s office in New York state. Without our employees buying into my leadership and what I want to do, that’s not going to happen.”

Resident access

Both candidates addressed the need to decentralize the office, to move services out of Town Hall and into the various hamlets and villages throughout the township. LaValle introduced a multipronged approach, including attending community meetings and building a more prominent multimedia presence.

“I want to be a town clerk going out to various functions,” he said. “A lot of people here see me in a lot of different events. That’s something I’m going to continue to do because I think the outreach of going out to the public and showing them what the clerk’s office does … is fundamentally important.”

He added, “I want to be able to go out and bring back some transparency — new social media platforms, doing videos on Channel 18 talking about what we can do to help residents.”

Di Santo said she has heard from multiple residents that resident access to public records can be slow. She again centered on requests for public information.

“The town clerk is the final appeals officer for the FOIL law,” she said. “In some cases, those requests get bounced from one department to another and the clock seems to run out.”

She added, “People who are residents, our taxpayers, are asking for information from their town, and in many cases it seems that it is being stonewalled. The town clerk has a responsibility to provide that information.”

Open government

Candidates were asked what the term “open government” means and how they would bring town government closer to the people.

“Open government means giving everyone the opportunity to participate at their fullest,” Di Santo said. “I would, as town clerk, try to appeal to the Town Board members to make many of the meetings much more accessible to the many people in the town who work.”

She also proposed bringing the operations of the Town Clerk’s Office to local libraries and other community forums. “The town clerk [could] go into each and every one of those council districts several times a year, appear at the senior centers and the local libraries to have discussions with people,” she said.

Like Di Santo, LaValle stressed he would maintain an active community presence if elected. “I want to go out, I want to be at senior centers, I want to be at civic meetings, I want to be in chambers of commerce, talking about what the clerk’s office does,” he said. “You have to get out there. You have to be a part of the community.”

Brookhaven residents will decide on these two candidates this Tuesday, Jan. 17. Polls open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., and residents can report to their regular polling place on Election Day.

Members of the EJ’s PJs pajama drive, a Centereach-based nonprofit, during a Saturday, Dec. 10, event. Photo courtesy Kevin LaValle

The EJ’s PJs pajama drive is an enduring holiday tradition for the Middle Country community. On Saturday, Dec. 10, the program marked its 12th iteration at the New Village Recreation Center in Centereach.

Patricia Poggi is a lifelong resident of the area who formed EJ’s PJs with her three sons. The name was inspired by the boys, Edward, Jeremy and Patrick, who have each been instrumental in preserving and growing the drive.

In an interview with Poggi, she outlined how the pajama drive first came into existence. “We created our pajama drive because we always wore pajamas [around Christmas], and it was kind of a thing that helped us to keep warm, fun and family oriented,” she said.

Poggi described the program as a family endeavor that has taken on a life of its own. The organization’s first year saw the collection and donation of 33 sets of pajamas. Over a decade later, that figure has grown exponentially. 

Three years ago, EJ’s PJs began a partnership with the Town of Brookhaven, working closely with the area’s representative on the Town Board, Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden).

“Now we’re in 85 businesses, and we’re expanding tremendously,” Poggi said. “Every year, we’ve doubled.”

A significant portion of the pajamas donated support the town’s INTERFACE program, which offers goods and services to those in need and addresses social issues throughout the township. Now, as a 501(c)(3) pending nonprofit, EJ’s PJs plans to move the operation into local shelters and hospitals.

For her impressive charitable work, TBR News Media is pleased to name Poggi as a 2022 Person of the Year.

During this year’s event, LaValle discussed how the partnership between the pajama drive and the town first came about and has strengthened over time. He and Poggi were classmates in high school, and after reconnecting some years ago they began exploring ways to grow the initiative.

“I saw her vision of what she wanted to do and said, ‘We have a toy drive, so why don’t we try to put that together with EJ’s PJs,’” LaValle said. He explained his involvement to date, “We identify at the town level, through the toy drive, the needy children that we’re going to give toys to. We match up a pair of pajamas, so the kids go to bed with a nice pair of pajamas, and then they get toys in the morning.”

‘These are all sorts of organizations from the Middle County community coming together for a great cause.’

­— Kevin LaValle

Amid the rising heat, fuel and food costs, LaValle regarded EJ’s PJs as serving a critical public service function during this time of year. While broader economic pressures may be placing a strain on local families, he commented that many — such as the Poggis — are eager to make a positive impact.

“You see, with the rising prices, a lot of people are hurting right now,” the town councilman said. “But there are so many people coming out giving toys, giving pajamas.”

He added, “That’s an amazing thing. There is a need, but there are a lot of people — even in some tough times — willing to give.”

Helping the pajama drive to run smoothly and efficiently are a dedicated team of volunteers. Jennifer Dickson is a committee member with EJ’s PJs who first got involved with the organization last year. She described the influence of the volunteers.

“We’re a big committee,” Dickson said. “We all help each other out and do certain things — the social media, creating the event, wrapping the boxes, the setup and cleanup.” She added, “It takes months because we want to get as many pajamas as possible.”

Lettice Washington is a friend of Poggi’s and a committee member. Within the organization, she is renowned for her folding technique, helping to arrange the thousands of pairs of pajamas that have crossed their door. “I came back to fold all the ones we get this year,” she said.

While the program has grown considerably over its 12-year history, Washington foresees the drive building upon its recent momentum and expanding even further.

“I tell you, it gets better every year,” she said. “We’ve had a great response, and I see it growing. The more we get the word out, the more people know about it, I think the bigger and bigger it will get.”

One of the major draws of this event is its originality. Washington said she was motivated to be a part of something unique and outside the box in deciding to join the organization.

“It is something different,” Washington said. “It being a unique kind of idea is what drew me to it. … You don’t really hear about pajama drives and donating nice, warm pajamas for kids during Christmas.”

Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) also attended the Dec. 10 event. He reflected upon the value of giving back to the community amid these trying times, emphasizing how programs such as EJ’s PJs enrich and enliven the greater Middle Country area.

“It has just grown immensely, and the participation by our community is just heartwarming,” he said. “Around the holidays is the perfect time. It allows everyone to get the joy of giving into their lives,” adding, “I’m honored to be a part of it, to contribute to it and enjoy it here in a location where we know we’re helping others.”

Washington offered her expectations for next year’s event. Witnessing this year’s enthusiasm for the organization, she forecasts even more pajamas in 2023.

EJ’s PJs gets “bigger and better every year,” she said. “I feel that this is going to grow exponentially. Next year, when we talk about the number of pajamas, I think it will be an exponent of this year.”

LaValle sees Middle Country uniting around a common purpose through this annual tradition. He expressed similar enthusiasm for the future as the community continues to come together to donate pajamas.

“Our fire department is here, our youth civic is here, our regular civic members are here,” he said. “These are all sorts of organizations from the Middle County community coming together for a great cause.”

He added, “This is a great event. It’s bringing everybody together. You’re seeing a lot of smiles here, all around giving to those less fortunate in our community and throughout our township.”

Summarizing the purpose for holding this event every year, Poggi explained the collective anxieties felt by parents to provide their children with a happy Christmas morning. For her, donating pajamas is a gesture that can go a long way in supporting those parents and their children.

“As a parent, I know how hard it is to pull off the beautiful Santa magic, and it’s not always very easy, especially when you don’t have the funds,” she said. “Something like a pair of pajamas alongside a gift can make it even that much more elegant. To have a child feel warm and cozy and protected, that’s always our number one mission.”

Pictured above, Lisa Di Santo and Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden). Left from Di Santo’s Facebook page; right from the town website

In a race to fill former Brookhaven Town Clerk Donna Lent’s (I) seat, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) will square off against community advocate Lisa Di Santo, of East Patchogue.

Lent announced her retirement last month, vacating her seat and triggering a special election for her expired term ending in 2025. [See story, “Brookhaven’s town clerk retires from public service.“] 

Both candidates were chosen unanimously by their respective parties during separate nominating conferences last week. In phone interviews with TBR News Media, the candidates discussed their professional backgrounds, reasons for pursuing the office of clerk and plans for the future.

Before entering elected office, LaValle, a lifelong Brookhaven resident, owned a title agency, assisting prospective homebuyers with vital records, such as liens, deeds and similar documents. He then transitioned into the mortgage business, where he still works today. 

In 2013, LaValle campaigned successfully to represent Brookhaven’s 3rd Council District, an office he has held ever since.

“Why I’m making this run for town clerk, I think it’s [because] we see in the paper every day with what just happened with Suffolk County, the hack that happened,” he said. “You can see very clearly that that’s something we don’t want to happen in Brookhaven. Managing people’s personal records is critical to our county and our township.”

Di Santo is a 50-year resident of Brookhaven whose background is in community advocacy. Before running for office, she was a social studies teacher, served as vice president of the Bellport Area Community Action Committee, and for over a decade was a trustee on the South Country Central School District Board of Education.

In her interview, she emphasized the need for citizens to have a stake in their local government and connect to the democratic process.

“When looking at the way the town functions, the town clerk plays a very important role in the accessibility of good government, accountability of good government and the security that’s necessary in good government,” she said. “In all of those three areas, I currently see that the town fails miserably.” 

The Democratic candidate added, “I’m running because I do believe wholeheartedly that the town clerk, especially now, needs to be an independent person and an independent voice to be certain that there is truly open government in Brookhaven Town.”

For LaValle, the protection of residents’ sensitive information is paramount. Like Di Santo’s proposal, he said he intends to promote efficiency and expand resident access to their records and to the office of clerk.

“We have to make sure records are secure, but we want to increase access,” the town councilman said. “We want to be able to have people with disabilities not have to come up to Town Hall to get handicap parking passes, and what have you.” 

He added, “We have to increase our internet capabilities to be able to service residents’ needs without making them have to come to Town Hall. And certainly, we have to work to increase the transparency within the government.”

LaValle contends that town clerk is a technically demanding position to learn and to hold. However, he maintains that his professional training within the public and private sector have prepared him in unique ways for the demands of the office.

“I believe that I have the ability and the experience to be able to do this job effectively, managing an over-30-person staff, and making sure residents are taken care of as we move forward,” he said.

On the whole, Di Santo viewed Brookhaven as failing in its obligations to promote open government. She cited the Freedom of Information Law request process as needing reform.

“You’d be hard to find an individual who has taken the time to participate in Brookhaven Town government who would tell you that the FOIL process is one of accessibility and accountability, and there’s a serious problem there,” she said. “If a citizen, a taxpayer, can’t access information, then how can the government represent those people?”

Di Santo said her campaign rests on the notion that quality governance requires informed and engaged citizenship. Given her advocacy background, she considered herself uniquely suited to this task. 

If elected, Di Santo said she intends to begin by reforming the scheduling of open meetings to bolster public participation. 

“When government continues to schedule meetings that are inaccessible to people, they’re sending a message that they do not want to have a democracy,” she said. “You can’t have a democracy without the participation of the people.”

Brookhaven residents will get the final word on these two candidates during a townwide special election on Tuesday, Jan. 17.