Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is seeking his 15th term in the New York State Assembly on the Democratic ticket. His opponent, Michael Ross, a local lawyer and former Suffolk County assistant district attorney, is running on the Republican party line.
Both candidates live in Setauket. Englebright has been in the Assembly for 28 years, but Ross believes he can bring a fresh perspective with his background in law. Englebright, 74, and a scientist, is the chair of the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, while Ross, 41, worked as an assistant district attorney at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office for seven years. He now operates his private practice in Smithtown.
This week, TBR News Media spoke to both candidates by phone to discuss what they will do regarding COVID-19, bail reform and the environment, as well as other issues.
Throughout his term, Englebright has been a huge voice favoring the environment. Last year, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was signed into law, which he helped create and advised on.
“For all practical purposes, Vice President [Joe] Biden’s position is our bill, so I’m pretty proud of that,” he said.
During his tenure, Englebright touted his bringing solar and wind power to Long Island while being a senior member of the Energy Committee. Outspoken on the Climate Act, he said he is adamantly against the continuation of diesel trains and wants the LIRR to bring electrification to its transportation. He added that renewable energy initiatives will not only reduce fossil fuels, but the energy sectors he supports will bring jobs back to Long Island.
Ross said he can agree with many of Englebright’s policies that he has brought to the table, but he wants to strive for better.
“I have always been an advocate of the environment,” he said. “Just because there is an ‘R’ in front of my title doesn’t mean I don’t care about the environment and I don’t want to protect it. It’s not a political issue. It’s a human-being issue.”
His questions revolve around finances, especially: “Do we have the money to do it, and do we have the time to do it?”
He said he is concerned about the deficit the state is experiencing due to COVID-19 but is open to any suggestions and collaborative problem solving.
Both candidates talked about the Gyrodyne project in St. James and how it will impact their jurisdiction. Englebright said the development will cause damage to Stony Brook Harbor with a plan to hook parts of Smithtown into its sewer. Ross said that while the Three Village area has received enormous amounts of job revenue because of local study facilities, it will be hard to accommodate the amount of traffic that will be coming in and out of the development.
“With the roads that we have, they’re now looking for growth,” the Republican said. “And it would be a shame for the people in that area who will be adversely affected without upgrading infrastructure.”
Bail Reform and Police Transparency
Englebright said the system in New York often favors those who have money and was “essentially prejudicial based on economic background, so you could buy your way out of incarceration.”
He argued that one is not supposed to be punished until convicted. So, while he was in favor of the bail reform, he would have preferred it to be a standalone bill.
“I think we should have given judges more discretion,” the Democrat said. “There are circumstances where you can’t write the law in anticipation of all circumstances, and you do need to have the role of a judge using, no pun intended, judgment. We did not, in my opinion, see that.”
Ross said he decided to run for the Assembly because of bail reform and his concern around it.
“My issue with the bill reform was that it wasn’t discussed,” he said. “This is something that the Democrats were pushing for years and years, and there was always a Republican majority saying, ‘Stop, we’re not doing that.’”
Ross added that from the standpoint as a prosecutor, it could have been improved.
When asked about police transparency, Englebright said he believes our local police are doing a good job overall and always try to maintain a positive presence in the community.
He added that he has not seen any direct racism within his district, but “Long Island as a whole is the question.”
Regarding more minority traffic stops from officers on duty, “it seems to be disproportional,” he said. “I think there’s always room for improvement.”
Ross brought his experience as a defense attorney to the table regarding the transparency of police. He said that for defense, it could be helpful to their case. But for a citizen to look into an officer’s file, it could be harmful.
“If an officer has a credibility issue, that’s revealed by an honest, thorough prosecutor,” he said. “Then I think that you’ve achieved what you need to with regard to transparency.”
People Leaving Long Island
Both candidates agreed that keeping young people on Long Island is crucial, and by keeping them here is to create more jobs.
Englebright noted his excitement for the Ørsted/Eversource offshore wind farm project, which is setting up Port Jefferson to be a hub docking area for service vessels operating the wind farm off Montauk. Such a project, he said, will help create jobs. He added that also improving the Island’s mass transportation will help.
“If we can solve some of our transportation problems, we can generate jobs,” he said. “You won’t have to have all the jobs in the immediate neighborhood.”
Ross said Long Island needs to attract businesses that will pay a higher rate for people to continue living here.
“I think we need to focus on stabilizing our taxes and work on getting our SALT rebate back,” he said. “My goal would be to make our area much more business friendly, perhaps by lifting regulations or giving tax advantages.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit both candidates hard over the last several months. Englebright said he will continue to work with Legislature to involve the public with deliberations as the virus continues on.
“One thing is for sure, this is New York, we believe in science,” he said.
Ross agreed, adding that every doctor and expert he has spoken to are telling us how severe the virus is and that everyone needs to continue adhering to the guidelines. However, he disagreed with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) stance on many incentives during his executive order.
“I think that the separation of the branches of government is too important,” he said. “I don’t favor an executive order.”
This version of the article amends Ross’ past history with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.