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New York State Assembly

Cast your ballot for the April 24 special election from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at regular polling locations

Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli, and Democrat Party candidate Steve Stern. File photos

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Huntington political newcomer and a former Suffolk County legislator are vying for votes to become the area’s new state Assembly representative next Tuesday.

Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) are both hoping to be elected to fill the assembly seat vacated by Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) to represent the 10th Assembly District in the April 24 special election.

“It’s a very important election for the 10th Assembly District,” Lupinacci said. “It’s very critical to remind your family, your neighbors and your friends to vote on that day as every vote is going to count in this special election.”

Janet Smitelli

Smitelli has lived in Huntington for more than 30 years but is relatively new to politics, referring to herself as an outsider. She has not held an elected position before claiming recent events have inspired her to throw her hat in the ring.

Janet Smitelli. Photo from Smitelli’s campaign

“I’ve become politically involved because I’m getting pretty sick of what’s going on, and I know I can use my talents and experience to make some type of difference, to help and be part of the fight,” she said in an interview with TBR News Media.

The longtime Huntington native is a mother of three and has strong community ties. Smitelli served as an assistant Scoutmaster for local Boy Scout troops and taught Sunday school. For more than 30 years, she has fought to protect residents as a civil litigator. This April, she hopes to add New York State assemblywoman to that list.

“I’m someone who has been very busy these past few months, getting the word out, and getting my name out,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get to as many people as I can to let them know how sincere and passionate I am about this.”

As a lawyer, she has represented those filing lawsuits and those on the receiving end of them, motor vehicle collisions, slip-and-falls and, predominantly over the last 10 years, construction accidents. She spends her free time actively volunteering in the Huntington community.

“As an attorney, you learn to represent your client with zeal; you learn to represent your client passionately, and I will be doing that for the people who live in my district.”

— Janet Smitelli

If elected, Smitelli said she wants to tackle what she believes are the major challenges facing Huntington. This includes pledging to eliminate excessive taxation, receive funds to preserve and protect waterways and our drinking water, increase funding for K-12 extracurricular programs and veer young people away from gangs and opioids by keeping them involved in community programs.

She also said she wants to strengthen the transparency between government and residents by making it easier to access information and calling for reform.

“As an attorney, you learn to represent your client with zeal; you learn to represent your client passionately,” she said. “And I will be doing that for the people who live in my district.”

Read more about Smitelli in TBR News Media’s candidate profile here. 

Steve Stern

Stern is a familiar face to many members of the Huntington community, having served as their longtime Suffolk County legislator. He left the position Dec. 31 due to being term limited after 12 years but now hopes to bring his knowledge and experience to Albany.

Steve Stern. Photo from Stern’s office

“I’m running on the key issue of great concern to the residents of the 10th Assembly District which is taxes,” he said. “Particularly given the changes at the federal level which will have a dramatic impact on middle-class families in our area.”

While in the Legislature, Stern sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee. He wrote the law that created the state’s first Silver Alert system — which helps locate seniors with Alzheimer’s or cognitive diseases who have gone missing — and initiated the first ban in the nation on the use of the BPA chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. Stern said he launched the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, as part of a long-term effort to bring an end to veteran homelessness in Suffolk.

Recently, the Democratic candidate spoke out against the proposed Villadom Corp.development to build a 486,380-square-foot mall with mixed retail and office space on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood citing traffic and quality-of-life issues.

If elected, Stern said he wants to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it comes to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island. That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly.”

— Steve Stern

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island,” Stern said. “That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly. I know who I represent very well. I was elected and re-elected by my neighbors because they know Stern was dependable and a proven leader who delivered for his constituents.”

Read more about Stern in TBR News Media’s candidate profile here. 

Go vote

The polls will be open April 24 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters should go to their normal polling locations used in the November general elections.

The candidate who is elected to represent the 10th District will serve approximately 130,000 residents, according to 2010 Census data, which includes all or part of Cold Spring Harbor, East Northport, Greenlawn, Lloyd Harbor, Lloyd Neck, Melville, Huntington and Huntington Station.

Former Suffolk County legislator running as Democratic candidate for 10th state Assembly district seat

Steve Stern (D). Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

At 19, Steve Stern knocked on doors in the outskirts of Louisiana, urging folks not to let a former Ku Klux Klan leader become a state representative.

It was 1989. David Duke had entered the race for a Louisiana House of Representatives seat on the Republican ticket, despite party members’ denouncement of his candidacy and racist, anti-Semitic past. Stern, a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans at the time, took to the streets for the first time as a political advocate for Duke’s opponent.

“Talk about being in the deep end without a paddle,” Stern said, during an interview with TBR News Media at a Dix Hills diner Feb. 19. “I just tried to persuade the area residents to do what was right and stand up against hate and intolerance. It showed me the importance of meeting people on their doorstep, talking to them face-to-face.”

Duke won. But it didn’t dissuade Stern from later seeking political office himself.

Stern (D) has honed the art of canvassing in his 12 consecutive years as Suffolk County Legislator of the 16th District beginning in 2005, after building a career as a lawyer.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand.”
— Steve Stern

In the Legislature, Stern sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee. He wrote the law that created the state’s first Silver Alert system — which helps locate seniors with Alzheimer’s or cognitive diseases who have gone missing — and initiated the first ban in the nation on the use of the BPA chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. Stern said he launched the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, as part of a long-term effort to bring an end to veteran homelessness in
Suffolk. Now, he’s running for state office.

Touting this record and a self-proclaimed natural ability to connect with community members, no matter their party affiliations, the 49-year-old family man will run in the April 24 special election to fill Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) vacant seat in the 10th District of the New York State Assembly. He recently won the Democratic nomination and will campaigni against Republican Party candidate and longtime Huntington resident Janet Smitelli.

“I think he’s an excellent candidate,” said Mary Collins, chairwoman of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee. “He was very attentive to constituents and he worked on many issues that were important to his district.”

Stern said he hopes to bring a “very strong, local voice” to Albany.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand,” he said. “Look at our school districts. Community leaders on our school boards have very little they can do because there are too many state mandates preventing them from making real progress.”

“[Stern] has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change.”
— Karen Miller 

If elected, Stern said he wants to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it came to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

“Because at the end of the day, I can tell you, people don’t care what the letter is after your name,” he said. “They want to know that you’re putting points up on the board for them and that you’re doing it in a way that’s going to make them proud.

Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, said Stern made her proud when she presented her group’s concerns about the dangers of the BPA chemical, a meeting that ultimately led him to his 2009 ban.

“Steve was an extremely good listener, he took time with me and wrote notes on his yellow pad,” she said. “He has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change. What a coup that would be for New Yorkers to have somebody like that up in Albany.”

Read TBR News Media to learn more about Republican party candidate Janet Smitelli soon.

New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci is looking to become the town’s first Republican supervisor in two decades. Photo by Kevin Redding.

New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station), chosen May 30 as the Huntington Republican Committee’s candidate for town supervisor, had just 24 hours to decide if he wanted to commit to a bid for the coveted position, most recently held for two decades by Frank Petrone (D).

Lupinacci, 38, was approached by committee Chairwoman Toni Tepe to fill the party’s vacant candidate seat after Town Councilman Gene Cook (I), who announced his bid for the position May 21 and was on track to secure both Republican and Conservative support, suddenly dropped out.

But for the lifelong Huntington resident, business law and political science professor at Farmingdale State College and Hofstra University, respectively, and state lawmaker, currently serving his third term for the 10th district, it was an easy choice.

“When you’re in a position for a period of time you sometimes lose sight of what’s going on and what’s in tune with the people,” Lupinacci said, referring to Petrone’s 24 years as supervisor and the town’s need for new direction. “You become part of the system rather than actually being able to shake things up… I think I’ll be able to look at the job from a different vantage point, as someone with a different skill set and legislative accomplishments that we can bring home to Huntington.”

As an assemblyman, elected in 2012, Lupinacci serves as the ranking Republican member on the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, and sits on the Judiciary, Election Law, Transportation and Park and Tourism committees. For nine years, starting in 2004, he was a trustee on the South Huntington school board.

“He’s a stand up guy,” Andre Sorrentino, chief of the Huntington Fire Department and Lupinacci’s friend for more than 20 years, said. “He’s just one of those guys you can trust, he’s a great leader, and he understands that our first responders and police department mean a lot. He’s a very good man.”

The assemblyman will be facing off against Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) who announced her campaign last month. Sorrentino said he supports both candidates for the position.

Lupinacci said his experiences make him a stronger leader despite Edwards currently being more directly involved in the town’s government.

“I think I’ll be able to look at the job from a different vantage point, as someone with a different skill set and legislative accomplishments that we can bring home to Huntington.”

—Chad Lupinacci

“Tracey and I both are dedicated public servants, we both have that local level, being on the school board — she was on the Elwood school board, I was on South Huntington school board,” he said. “But I think the state experience gives me a different [array] of policy expertise, what kind of resources are out there we can bring home towards Huntington.”

Building off his initiatives in Albany, Lupinacci said his chief priorities as supervisor of Huntington would be to reverse a decline in quality of life and spend the town’s budget more wisely to avoid piercing the tax cap. “I wouldn’t have pierced the tax cap as the 2016 budget did,” he said.

Lupinacci said he wants to root out crime, especially MS-13-related incidents, through partnerships with local police and the federal government, and provide more treatment and aftercare programs for those addicted to heroin and prescription drugs. As assemblyman, he’s supported heroin legislation and was involved in the opening of a state-supported aftercare site in Hauppauge that aims to prevent relapses.

He said he also wants to create a robust agenda dealing with ethics reform and more transparency in government, adding there should be more flexibility with the board’s strict three-minute speaking cap during the public sessions. “If we’re representing 210,000 people, we want to give them the ability to voice concerns,” Lupinacci said.

Moving forward, he wants to bring in new jobs and make progress on revitalization efforts started in Huntington Station, which, he said, will help keep young people in the area.

“We want to make sure we create that safe environment because then people are going to want to stay here and raise families and that’s something that we want them to do,” he said. “When they graduate from school, or return home from college, we want to make sure that along the 110 corridor, we continue to bring the high-tech, high-paying jobs so people can afford to live [here]. We want to make sure there’s entertainment, restaurants, supermarkets, and that everything they need is within the township.”

When it comes to environmental initiatives, Lupinacci has supported water quality legislation and is adamant about preserving open space and maintaining the integrity of public parks, among other sections of Huntington. “We also have a huge fishing and boating community in the area, and we want to make sure we work with them to keep our pristine waters, so people always feel they always have great access to the waterscape we have here,” he said.

Born in Huntington Hospital and raised on 11th Avenue by a banker and a food industry worker, his father and mother respectively, Lupinacci graduated from Walt Whitman High School in the South Huntington School District and Hofstra University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science.

He would go on to get his Juris Doctor at Hofstra University School of Law and Master of Business Administration at the Zarb School of Business at Hofstra University, but not before interning for the late Assemblyman James D. Conte (R), whom Lupinacci referred to as his mentor, and Hillary Clinton at the White House from 2000 to 2001, when she was First Lady.

When Conte was diagnosed with brain cancer and left his seat in 2012, Tepe called on Lupinacci, then in the middle of his third term on the school board, to be his replacement.

“I think he’s going to do quite well as supervisor,” Tepe, who was supervisor herself from 1988 to 1989, said. “Chad is a people-person and is interested in serving the public, working the taxpayer, and providing the programs and initiatives necessary to keep our town a vibrant suburban community. He’s also the type who isn’t afraid to tackle a problem.”

Lupinacci said he loves Huntington’s “welcoming perspective, no matter where you grew up, what your ethnicity is, or what religious background you are…this is a great community that has a lot of culture, a great nightlife, is rich in the arts, excellent school districts, beaches and waterfronts…you don’t have to leave this township because it has everything to offer.”

State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Truth be told, this was the most difficult endorsement decision we had to come to during this election cycle.

New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) is looking for his fourth term in office, and challenger Ed Perez (D) is a formidable opponent. In the end, we stand by Lupinacci. He has supported water quality legislation, heroin legislation and worked to increase financial aid opportunities for SUNY students. He is also still acutely aware of the local problems facing his area, like the rash of violent incidents Huntington Station has seen in the past few years. We believe Lupinacci will continue to have a positive impact on his district and will both draft and support bills that will improve the quality of life for his constituents.

We were almost swayed by Perez. He is exactly what a voter should want of a candidate: a resident who has lived in the area for many years, is deeply involved in local organizations and has a record of working to improve his community. Perez was also up to date on the issues facing the 10th district. We believe he has a very strong chance of winning another race — if he chooses to run again. In fact, we hope he does.

Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, left, and Ed Perez, right, speak on the many issues facing Huntington Station and other areas of the 10th Assembly District. Photos by Donna Newman

Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) was first elected to represent New York’s 10th Assembly District in 2012, and Nov. 8 he’ll try for a third term against Democrat Ed Perez, a Huntington resident and a current member of the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

The two were interviewed at the TBR News Media main office ahead of Election Day to discuss the state of the 10th district, which covers in large part Huntington Town.

In addition to his duties with the board of elections, Perez is also the president of Diversity Resource Network, a marketing consulting organization. He identifies himself as a “social entrepreneur” because of his 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector.

Lupinacci served on the school board of the South Huntington School district for eight years prior to his election in 2012. He’s a real estate attorney and an adjunct professor at Farmingdale State College, Hofstra University and St. Joseph’s College.

In his four years in the Assembly, Lupinacci has fought to cut taxes, make college more affordable and address the growing problem of addiction in the district. Perez has lived in the Huntington community for 23 years, and he said that has played a role in his desire to run.

“I care deeply about New York State and I care deeply about the Huntington community,” Perez said. He described some of the efforts he’d like to see to stimulate the district’s economy by upgrading the infrastructure in the community.

“We have a problem from Pulaski Road to Jericho Turnpike,” he said. “We have a strip there that has no sewers so that impedes development from investors to come in.”

Perez serves on the town’s zoning board of appeals.

“If we get the infrastructure of sewers going in, and it can be done in phases, we could get other types of businesses coming in,” he said. “Investors are not going to come in and invest in your community unless you have the sewers there.”

Lupinacci’s approach to stimulating the local economy focuses on higher education.

“A few years back we instituted a program that if you graduate in the top 20 percent of your high school class majoring in a STEM program, you can go to a SUNY or CUNY school for free as long as you’re staying five years in New York state afterwards,” the incumbent said. He said he’d like to see something similar done to funnel students toward community colleges. “We wanted to make sure that we would allow better tax credits for the students who are graduating and staying in New York afterwards because we want to give them an incentive to stay here.”

A central component of Lupinacci’s platform is to root out political corruption in the Assembly and across New York’s government. He helped to pass legislation to stop politicians found guilty of corruption from receiving taxpayer-funded pensions and said he plans to keep fighting in that direction.

“We need to make the Assembly more transparent in the coming years, and also limit outside income in terms of what legislators make,” Lupinacci said. He added he’d like to see Assembly committee meetings televised and term limits for all members.

The common ground in election oversight, and the claims of a “rigged” election made by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump were addressed by both candidates.

“It is not a rigged system,” Perez said. “Nobody wants to go to jail because they’re not doing the appropriate thing at the board of elections.”

Lupinacci wouldn’t support his party’s nominee’s claims of an unfair system.

“I think our board of elections workers are great people and they’re very good on Long Island, but there are problems some times when the elections are very close,” he said. “We do have recounts and such [when elections are close]. Do I think the election is rigged? No.”

Violence has become an issue at the forefront of daily life in the district. The incumbent discussed some of what he’s done to combat the issue and some of his future plans.

“We’ve been working along with [New York State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosett)] and people in the community to increase cameras in the area, so not only in terms of actual police officers but more surveillance in the area to see what’s going on,” Lupinacci said. He added that community outreach programs and a stimulated economy could also help.

Perez commended Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) for increasing patrols by park rangers in town parks as a means to improve security in the community. He added that economic development and improvement of infrastructure could also help to reduce crime in the area.

“It’s about economic development and socioeconomic issues which makes kids sell drugs and get involved with gangs,” he said. “I think that looking at infrastructure is very important.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), right, faces Steve Weissbard in the race for New York’s 4th Assembly District seat. Photos by Desirée Keegan

There were areas of agreement and points of sharp contrast between incumbent Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and challenger Steve Weissbard (R) when they sat down together at the TBR News Media main office to discuss their qualifications and plans for New York’s 4th Assembly District.

Route 347 and its ongoing reconstruction was high on the challenger’s list of important issues. The traffic and congestion are intolerable and detract from quality of life for area residents, and the redesign has been flawed, Weissbard said.

“New York is known as the least free state, the most regulated state, the highest tax rate state. We’re bleeding industry.”

— Steve Weissbard

“We need to get rid of the lights and add a third lane,” Weissbard said. “There should have been more overpasses.”

The incumbent said he is pleased with the changes to Route 347. Englebright noted the history of the road, which was originally supposed to be leg two of the Northern State Parkway extending all the way out to Orient.

“It never happened and we have a roadway that was confused by historical events,” he said. “The first proposals put forth by the [Department of Transportation] — going back more than a decade — would have recreated the Cross Bronx Expressway. Then Senator Jim Lack and I rejected those proposals and asked for something better. The something better is in the works.”

Weissbard has ideas for improving the state economy, which he said has been contracting for the last 40 years.

“New York is known as the least free state, the most regulated state, the highest tax rate state,” he said. “We’re bleeding industry.”

The answer, he added, quoting President Ronald Reagan, isn’t more government, but less government.

Englebright offered a different perspective.

“I can’t help but notice that the largest employer is government — and the largest entity, in fact, is in this district: the State University of New York — the largest employer in the bicounty region,” he said.

He argued that its presence has helped our community weather deep recessions that have affected other areas on Long Island much more profoundly.

On Common Core, however, they agreed completely.

“I think it undermines the fundamental relationship between teacher and student,” Weissbard said.

His Democratic counterpart was equally critical of the federal program.

“In the past, teaching was seen as an art,” Englebright said. “Now it’s trying to be seen as a quantifiable, robotic-like activity.”

“In the past, teaching was seen as an art. Now it’s trying to be seen as a quantifiable, robotic-like activity.”

— Steve Englebright

They both said they would like Common Core to be scrapped for a system that returns control to local school districts and teachers.

Englebright said he hopes voters will return him to Albany for a thirteenth term. He stands on his record of accomplishment on behalf of his constituents.

“I have made promises [in the past] and I have kept those promises,” he said.

Although his record on environmental issues gets lots of attention, he named other legislation that made him proudest.

“That the pertussis [whooping cough] legislation I sponsored with Dr. Shetal Shah has, according to his data, reduced the incidence of this killer childhood disease by at least 50 percent since the law’s passage in 2012,” he said.

Weissbard said he would like to bring a new perspective to the Assembly.

“As a county attorney, as a prosecutor, I’ve been in charge of both the juvenile drug court and, at times, the adult drug court, so I’ve seen the war on drugs on the Island at point blank range,” Weissbard said. “It’s a lot of first-hand knowledge that I would love to bring to the state level.”

Spencer Rumsey, left, and Andrew Raia, right, speak about why they would make the best choice for Assemblyman in the 12th district. Photos by Desirée Keegan

N.Y. State Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) is seeking his ninth term in office, but Northport resident and senior editor at the Long Island Press Spencer Rumsey is looking to change the Assembly’s 12th district.

In an interview at TBR News Media’s main office, Rumsey said he is running because he believes his constituents need a change in leadership.

“I’m not a career politician, but I’ve always loved politics,” Rumsey said. “As a journalist, I’ve been covering these issues for years on the outside and now I want to try and fight them on the inside, because I decided words aren’t enough.”

Rumsey has worked at Newsday, the New York Post and the Long Island Jewish World. He said he believes he can do more in the majority as a Democrat than Raia can achieve in the minority.

Raia has been serving the district for the past 16 years, and said he has focused on improving the drinking water in the area, slowing the rising heroin crisis facing the North Shore, and cleaning up corruption in Albany.

“This year we did a lot for water quality up in Albany,” Raia said. “Northport Village is one of the few local governments that’s actually getting a million dollar grant. … I was very happy to help deliver on that.” The grant will go towards water and sewer improvements.

Raia also sponsored legislation requiring schools to periodically test their water supplies for lead contamination and provide funding for remediation, which would otherwise be costly to school districts. Lead in drinking water has become a national concern since the residents in Flint, Michigan, suffered from health problems after they discovered their drinking water was contaminated with lead.

Rumsey agreed Long Island should be looking to cut back the amount of nitrogen in the water supply with more sewer use.

“On Long Island, most homeowners don’t have sewers, they have cesspools,” he said, adding he would like to see an effort to increase the amount of sewers on Long Island.

Northport Village has been no stranger to the growing heroin problem, and Raia and Rumsey both had ideas on how to curb this issue.

Rumsey said he has been writing about this issue since he was at Newsday 30 years ago.

“It’s a medical problem and a criminal problem,” he said. “I’m more focused on treatment for addiction.” He said he finds a problem with clean needle exchange programs because they rely too much on trusting addicts to make safe choices, and would rather look towards increasing the amount of treatment programs available for North Shore residents.

Raia said he thinks heroin is one of the most pressing issues in his district.

“As the ranking member on the health committee, this is an issue that I take extremely serious,” he said. Raia said he has held classes to train residents how to use Narcan and worked with other members of the Assembly to pass a package of bills to increase the number of treatment beds and services in New York, as well as to reduce the prescription time frame from 30 days to two weeks.

The candidates also talked about problems with the New York State tax cap.

Raia said he believes the tax cap has worked well, but it is not “without its problems.” He said the behavior of large tax increases in towns and villages has been curbed thanks to the cap.

“The cap kind of suppresses the creativity that schools used to have,” Rumsey said, as part of the issues he said he has with the cap.

From left, Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie pose for a photo with historical documents. Photo by Giselle Barkley

He is not only the first African-American Speaker of the New York State Assembly, but also the first speaker to visit various districts on Long Island, as far as one long-standing North Shore lawmaker can remember.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) visited Setauket on Oct. 20, and met with residents and North Shore government officials, including Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket); Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station); and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

“This happens about once every … well, it never has happened,” Englebright joked. “It’s pretty amazing.”

While touring the area was on Heastie’s agenda, his visit was also about getting better acquainted with the needs and concerns of residents in areas like Setauket, he said.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stands in front of Patriots Rock. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stands in front of Patriots Rock. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“When members get up and speak in conference, when they talk about what’s important to them or where they want us to concentrate or try to do things in the budget … [visiting the districts gives] me a better idea of what they’re speaking about,” Heastie said in an interview.

Heastie was elected Speaker of the NYS Assembly on Feb. 3. Since his election, Heastie has tackled a variety of issues including education, homelessness, financial stability for families and minimum wage, among other areas of concern.

The speaker also has ties to the greater North Shore community, as he graduated from Stony Brook University in 1990 with a degree in science. State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) was recently named the Senate majority leader, making the North Shore’s presence strong in the state Legislature.

Although Heastie had limited time to mingle, Englebright guided Heastie around various areas in Setauket, touring the community’s coveted Greenway  Trail, and introducing him to the history of the region and the role it played in the birth of the United States, starting with Patriot’s Rock in Setauket, where the famous Battle of Setauket was fought.

Officials from Stony Brook University library were on hand to deliver the speaker a copy of a famous letter George Washington signed at West Point during the Revolutionary War.

“I used to teach political science and American history,” Heastie said. “So I’m kind of a history buff. It’s just something that was a little different than other parts of the tour, so this was nice — particularly with it being so close to the college that I graduated from.”

After learning about Long Island’s link to the Culper Spy Ring, dating back to the Revolutionary War era, the speaker stopped at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, followed by a visit to Gallery North in Setauket.

Throughout the visit, Englebright and other North Shore leaders used their time with the speaker to reiterate some of the region’s most pressing issues, including preservation and environmental sustainability. Englebright also reaffirmed Heastie’s desire to tour the districts as a means of helping those he represents and serves as speaker.

“He’s very interested in visiting the various districts and learning of what his members are working on,” Englebright said. “I’m one of his senior members, and I’m very grateful he wants to come out and see what are the things I’m really focused on in the district.”

Mute swans peruse the Setauket Harbor waters. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Susan Risoli

Mute swans might soon have an easier relationship with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, if a bill recently passed through the York State Legislature is signed into law.

The legislation was written to require DEC to provide scientific documentation that mute swans are a threat to the environment. Also, before taking any action to control the state’s mute swan population, the DEC would have to hold at least two public hearings and give the public at least 45 days to comment on its plans for dealing with the birds.

The legislation package passed the state Assembly June 9 and had passed the state Senate on April 22.

Mute swans, a non-native species from Europe, are considered an invasive species, according to the state DEC. Trumpeter swans, also found in New York, are native to the region and are not included in the DEC’s management plan.

The agency’s proposed mute swan management plan, released in March, called for limiting the statewide population to 800 birds. By 2002, there were more than 2,000 mute swans downstate and 200 upstate, the report said.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said in a phone interview Tuesday that the mute swan legislation was a response to public concern “that had been raised, particularly about the lack of appropriate science to justify this eradication of a very beautiful animal” that inspires “a sense of curiosity about the environment,” particularly among children.

In April, Englebright and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn), also a member of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, sent DEC’s Bureau of Wildlife a letter saying the agency disregarded the state Legislature’s requests for “full documentation of the scientific basis for management decisions” and requests for “less reliance on lethal management measures. The DEC has failed to provide compelling scientific information as to why such an aggressive management strategy is being pursued.”

DEC spokesman Jomo Miller said in an emailed statement Tuesday that the agency is reviewing the letter from Englebright and Cymbrowitz “as part of its review of the comments received” on the draft management plan. The DEC hopes to adopt a final plan later this summer, Miller said.

“At that time, we will provide a response to the principal comments received, as we did for comments on the first draft of the plan,” he said.

In an interview, Englebright said the legislation is “not just an exercise in willfulness on our part but an exercise in democracy,” and it reflects “a very high interest” from the public about the fate of the swans.

The legislation would require DEC to “give priority to nonlethal management techniques” for controlling the mute swan population. The proposed plan said it does not advocate any specific method of controlling the population, and because many people object to the use of lethal control methods, especially killing adult birds, the DEC will use “nonlethal” methods where practical and timely to achieve the management objectives, the report said.

Research shows that mute swans “can significantly reduce the availability of submerged aquatic vegetation in wetland ecosystems” depending on the number of swans relative to the size of the area being considered, the spokesperson said.

The DEC said in the draft management plan that mute swans hurt the environment by eating and uprooting large quantities of plants that are food for fish and other wildlife. Swan feces have high levels of coliform bacteria, which can make waters unsafe for drinking, swimming and shell fishing, the document said. Their presence near airports poses “a serious threat to aviation,” the plan said. It also said that territorial swans have been known to attack people and other birds.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

Just a few hours before the New York State Legislature approved the state’s 2015-16 budget, which includes a number of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education reform initiatives, school districts across the North Shore finally got to know how much aid they’ll receive next year.

The state aid runs showed districts getting more than they expected, since many budgeted around a 1.7 percent increase. Earlier this year, Cuomo (D) announced state aid would only increase by $377 million — a 1.7 percent increase from this year — if his state education reforms didn’t pass the Legislature.

And while not all of the initiatives passed, a few did, so the aid increased by about $1.4 billion statewide.

“This is a plan that keeps spending under 2 percent, reforms New York’s education bureaucracy, implements the nation’s strongest and most comprehensive disclosure laws for public officials and makes the largest investment in the upstate economy in a generation,” Cuomo said in a statement.

But not all were convinced the education initiatives would reform public schools.

The Education Transformation Act of 2015 amends the teacher evaluation system, changes the time to gain tenure from three to four years and creates two designations for failing schools. The hot-button item, though, was the teacher evaluation system.

Under the act, the State Education Department will develop a new teacher evaluation system by June 30, which school districts will then have to locally negotiate and enact by Nov. 15 in order to receive their allotted aid. The system also includes a component based on students’ performance on the state’s common core-aligned tests. The evaluation system was last changed in 2013.

In a phone interview on Wednesday morning, Middle Country Central School District Superintendent Roberta Gerold, who is also president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said she believed the change to the system was misguided, and wished elected officials would have learned that “rushing into a system that doesn’t have details attached” — as was the case in 2013 — doesn’t work.

Some Assembly members said they shared Gerold’s concerns.

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) voted against the Education, Labor and Family Assistance State budget bill, which Cuomo issued on Tuesday with a message of necessity. When asked about the reforms, Englebright immediately interjected, “they are not reforms,” he said.

He said he voted against the measure because it was unclear as to how it would impact students.

“[It] doesn’t mean we can’t make improvements, but those improvements need to make sense,” he said.

Englebright strayed from his fellow party members by voting against the bill, which he said was a difficult decision.

“The people who sent me [to Albany] are the ones who I finally had to vote in accordance with,” he said.

Assemblyman Andy Raia (R-East Northport) said in a press release the education measure “takes away local control and is downright insulting to principals, administrators and teachers.”

While most North Shore Assembly officials voted down the education component, Mike Fitzpatrick (R- St. James) voted yes. In a phone interview Wednesday, Fitzpatrick said he stood by his decision.

He said he believed the reforms would bring more accountability to the system, which needed to be reformed. Fitzpatrick also said the amendments take away some of the New York State United Teachers union’s power. The union referred to the changes as a disgrace and the evaluation system as a sham.

“Good teachers, and they know who they are, they don’t have anything to worry about,” Fitzpatrick said.

Rohma Abbas contributed reporting.