After former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) decided to end his political career this summer, leaving his seat in the 2nd District empty for a job with Northwell Health, two contenders emerged for Election Day 2020.
Former state trooper Michael Siderakis, of Nesconset, is running on the Democratic ticket and plumber union official Mario Mattera, of St. James, received the Republican nomination. Siderakis spent nearly 30 years as a New York State Police trooper and was a second vice president for the New York State Troopers Police Benevolent Association. Mattera is the business agent for Plumbers Local 200 and a board member of the Suffolk County Water Authority. He also sits on Smithtown’s advisory board for new construction projects where he has been active with the Lake Avenue Revitalization project. Both candidates are longtime residents and have raised their families in Smithtown hamlets, where their children have attended schools in the Smithtown Central School District.
In a Sept. 28 Zoom debate with TBR News Media, the two candidates discussed the state’s response to COVID-19, school budgets and more. While the two agreed on ways to resolve most issues, they differed regarding bail reform.
While Siderakis feels the 2019 bail reform bill that limited the number of crimes judges could set bail for needs to be looked at again and revised, Mattera said it should be repealed.
“Our bail system is not a fair system, where somebody who has $500 available to them for the same crime can go home, while somebody who may not have $500 in the bank for no other reason than the fact that he doesn’t have $500 has to go to jail,” Siderakis said.
‘We need to be safe and businesses need to enforce their own business.’
The Democrat added bail reform should have been put in as a stand-alone bill and not included in the state budget vote. He said he also feels that legislators shouldn’t decide on what crimes require bail, and judges should be able to decide on a case-by-case basis.
Mattera said the bail system needs to go back to the way it was, especially with cases where people have been arrested for looting, robbing, selling drugs and then released only to commit the same crime again.
“It needs to go back to the way it was,” he said. “It’s not working now. I’m very frightened. We need to give the tools back to our law enforcement.”
With talks of a projected 20 to 30 percent cut to state aid for schools, both candidates said they would fight to send money back to schools in the 2nd state Senate District.
“We have to make sure we have someone up there fighting for our education system down here on Long Island,” Siderakis said, adding it’s important to keep good teachers on Long Island.
Mattera said with 70 percent of residents’ taxes going to education, it was important to make sure local school districts receive their fair share.
“Our children are our futures for all of us,” he said. “For Long Island, we need to make sure they’re part of the workforce and stay here.”
Mattera added that many local schools need updating and the state aid is desperately needed.
Siderakis said the state also needs to stop relying on local property taxes and receive more aid from the state to ensure everyone across New York has a fair and equal education. He said several districts don’t have the same income base, and the state should step up to provide the help needed for equal education.
Mattera said if elected he would take a good look at the budget to see why cutting state aid to education is on the table.
“It shouldn’t even be part of the conversation,” he said.
Both candidates said New York’s response was appropriate at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis but agreed that business needed to be opened up sooner. They said wearing masks, social distancing and handwashing are important to keep the virus at bay and businesses alive.
Mattera said that unused beds in field hospitals such as the ones at Stony Brook University, the Javits Center and the USNS Comfort should have been considered to decide when a region was reopened. He noted the beds were barely used. Adhering to the public health guidelines are key, he said, as he pointed to the 1,300 members of the plumbers union where only one person contracted the virus. He said he feels people have been educated about the virus and businesses can enforce the public health guidelines. He added that the State Liquor Authority has done a good job where it follows up a complaint with an inspection visit to a restaurant.
“We need to open up,” Mattera said. “We need to be safe and the businesses need to enforce their own business.”
Siderakis said in addition to the state’s response he thought the federal government overall did well with providing businesses with loans through the Paycheck Protection Program, but he feels small businesses need even more help.
‘There are people here who have been here for generations who won’t be able to weather the pandemic.’
“We have to make sure local stores are treated equally, not just the big box stores,” he said. “People have felt the pain and lost their livelihoods. There are people here that have been here for generations that won’t be able to weather the pandemic.”
Mattera also said he feels it’s important for all students to return to school five days a week for in-person education.
“These kids need their educators,” he said. “They need the interaction with their fellow students.”
Siderakis said he’s familiar with the problems young people on Long Island face economically with his oldest daughter trying to make it on her own with having an apartment in Port Jefferson.
“I think our small communities have a great advantage to attract businesses here where we can offer the distancing and the safety for workers,” he said.
He added we need to look at traffic patterns to avoid congestions on the roadways.
“We’re going to have to look for alternatives, and businesses are going to have to look outside of the box,” he said.
Mattera said in addition to young people, he’s also concerned about keeping people of all ages in the area. He said the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge is something he worked on with Smithtown officials to make sure it becomes the premier pharmaceutical area not only of the state but in the country providing good jobs, health care and pensions for the future. He said he also sees the potential of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center and said its future use should be planned carefully.
“We have such great talent that can work right here in the Second District,” Mattera said.
The Republican candidate pointed to the Amazon facility project that was lost to New York City. He said it would have been ideal on the grounds of the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood due to its proximity to parkways and the Long Island Rail Road.
“It’s a shame that politics lost a project that would have had 25,000 people working there,” Mattera said. “I just can’t understand how politics lost that.”
Siderakis said he feels the governor has done a great job in attracting businesses to the state and believes the wave of the future is going to be green energy jobs.
“We have to make sure that we make Suffolk County known as the technology center, or Silicon Valley here, of New York state, and make sure we have enough incentives for companies to come here and start up small businesses and have the jobs for the future,” he said.