Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) is running for her fourth term as Brookhaven Town councilwoman in District 1. Her challenger is one of her neighbors, Tracy Kosciuk.
Cartright sat down with the TBR News Media editorial staff Oct. 25 to talk about her accomplishments and initiatives, while Kosciuk, a registered nurse at St. Charles Hospital, answered questions via email due to being on a trip to Albany. The nurse is a local union president who travels to the state capital to lobby for improved working conditions.
“There are several projects that have been in the planning stages for years — stagnated by red tape.
— Tracy Kosciuk
Kosciuk said if elected to the Town Council she plans to continue working as a nurse and promises she would give town issues the same 24/7 attention she gives to her nurses, as she recognizes the council position is a full-time job.
“I am a multitasker, ask any of my nurses, friends or family — I work with commitment to the task and get the job done,” Kosciuk said.
She said the primary reason she is running this year is the frustration people feel when one doesn’t fulfill the obligations of their job. The nurse and union leader said she is also a wife and a mother, who cares for a sick parent. A firm believer in time management, she said she will make the necessary adjustments to her life “to guarantee to my constituents a much better degree of responsiveness and dedication to my office than what they are currently receiving.”
Cartright said being a councilwoman is a full-time job, and because of that while she maintains her license to practice law, she only handles two or three cases annually. She said she spends the majority of her time in Town Hall meeting with various departments, dealing with constituents’ issues and meeting with residents at her mobile offices or in people’s homes. She said there are also community events to attend and meetings with civic groups and chambers of commerce.
“I’m very much a hands-on person,” she said. “I’m visual. I need to see what it is that the constituents are talking about.”
Cartright said she and her staff handle an average of 3,000 to 3,500 calls on a yearly basis and receive more requests via email. The issues can vary from a pothole in front of someone’s house to drainage problems to a resident asking for help with National Grid to get their lights turned back on. She encourages people to call her in addition to the department or entity responsible as she said she considers herself an advocate for her constituents.
Both candidates are focused on local issues, including revitalization in the district.
Kosciuk said she believes one of the largest issues facing the town is “the prevalence of illegal housing and also buildings that are referred to as ‘zombie homes.’” While she believes Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and other town councilpersons have been addressing the issue, she said in Council District 1, based on her walking through the communities and talking to residents, that it hasn’t been sufficiently addressed.
“As I have said many times, these illegal housing conditions are a magnet for crime, drugs and an undesirable element that our communities and neighborhoods can do without,” the nurse said.
Cartright, who bought a zombie home when she moved to Port Jeff Station from Queens 14 years ago, said she encourages residents to alert her office about homes they believe may be abandoned or if there are drug issues.
For the past few years, Cartright has been working on revitalization projects for the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area and to create a walkable downtown hub in Port Jefferson Station between the train tracks and Route 347.
“I look forward to tackling the remaining quality of life issues,” she said.
“We did that because a community member felt comfortable enough and was willing to say, ‘Valerie, can you help?’”
— Valerie Cartright
Regarding the PJS plan, she has met with the two major landowners to discuss recommended density and site plans. She is also working with Suffolk County to create a sewer district in the area. With the Three Village 25A corridor plan, she said the work is more about historical architectural continuity, something that residents showed a concern for during visioning meetings she spearheaded.
Kosciuk, on her website, stated she would continue with current revitalization projects and help small business owners succeed, calling them the cornerstone of the community.
“There are several projects that have been in the planning stages for years — stagnated by red tape,” she said.
“It is to our benefit that these projects are completed in order to revive our community and provide a much-needed ‘face-lift’ for our district,” Kosciuk said.
The incumbent said the process can be long at times due to the need for land-use plans before work truly begins.
When it comes to quality of life issues, Cartright is currently working to allow town vehicles to provide transportation for those who are looking to enter temporary housing or clinics. The initiative was inspired by a couple who the councilwoman said she waited three hours with after they agreed to go into temporary housing. The cab was a third party hired by the county, but there was miscommunication that left her and the couple stranded. She is currently working with a task force to deal with homeless issues that includes the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association and Port Jeff village officials. She said the group has spent six months gathering information.
“There are a lot of misconceptions, in my opinion, as to where the root of all of this is coming from,” she said.
Both candidates hope to tackle the drug crisis in the area.
Kosciuk, who has been a nurse for more than 30 years, called it a problem of epic proportions
“It is essential to work with area hospitals and treatment centers to establish a more comprehensive discharge plan for patients suffering from this disease,” she said, adding the importance of providing resources to educate residents on the dangers of illicit drugs.
Cartright helped to form a community-based drug prevention coalition that holds education events, which will also include vaping cessation workshops for teenagers. The councilwoman said she hopes the workshops will be an alternative to students being suspended from school. The coalition was formed after Sal Pitti, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, approached her saying he identified money from the federal government.
“We did that because a community member felt comfortable enough and was willing to say, ‘Valerie, can you help?’ and I believe government is supposed to help people and not hinder initiatives,” she said.