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State Sen. Ken LaValle

SD1 Democratic candidate Tommy John Schiavoni has recently made efforts to court voters on the North Shore in Brookhaven end of the district. Photo from campaign

By Leah Chiappino

A third-generation Sag Harbor resident and Democrat, Tommy John Schiavoni spent his career as an educator and school board member before being elected to the Southampton town board in 2017. Looking to expand his impact, he is now running to secure the Democratic nomination for New York State Senate District 1, a seat vacated when 44-year Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced in January he would not be seeking reelection. 

Last month, the candidate officially established a campaign office in Port Jefferson. 

Schiavoni applauded LaValle’s long tenure in public service and pledged to continue his legacy if elected. 

“We need to have a critical mass of Long Island senators in the majority so Long Islanders can have more of a say in state government.”

— Tommy John Schiavoni

“His legacy, particularly when it comes to the environment, is going to be felt in the 1st Senate district for years to come,’ he said. “I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he served his community. He was a friend and a supporter of education and I certainly would work with Senator LaValle in the future transition.” 

Schiavoni comes from a large family that has owned a plumbing business for three generations. He began working alongside them during summers at age 12, an experience he said taught him strong work ethic, respect for community service and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, he decided the plumbing business was not for him and was fueled by his passion for history and government to go into teaching. 

“I was the kid that would sit and watch the conventions in the summertime and route for particular candidates,” he said.

Schiavoni worked his way through college, earning a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Cortland, before securing a position as a social studies teacher at Center Moriches High School, which he held until his retirement in 2018. While teaching, Schiavoni went on to earn his master’s degree at Stony Brook University. He served on Sag Harbor school board from 2014 to 2017, and a legislative liaison to the board as Southampton town board member. These positions sent him to Albany to lobby for funding to East End schools. 

 “This background for me in school governance is an important part of my commitment to education and why I believe I am now ready to serve as senator,” he said. I went to public schools and I taught in public schools. I believe in public education as the great equalizer of our society.”

The Southampton Town Board member began his political career in 2008, serving on various land-use broads and as a Village of North Haven trustee, an experience that he believes he can take with him in dealing with the politics of Albany. 

Aside from local education, Schiavoni said he feels as though environmental issues, specifically regulating tick-borne illnesses, are of great importance. 

 “New York State really needs to be putting resources into researching why they are happening and the human effects of tick-borne illnesses,” he said. “It affects everyone, it’s affecting our health care, and last year the state still dropped funding to $9 million. That number needs to be a lot bigger.” 

When it comes to education at the college level, Schiavoni believes that the SUNY system is providing an “excellent education” to its students and is for expanding the income qualifications for the Excelsior program, which provides free college tuition to families making less than $125,000 a year, if students agree to work in New York for the same amount of time in which they were receiving the scholarship.  

“I like the idea of incentivizing people to stay in New York,” he said. “If you get your education in New York and your education is arguably paid for by the taxpayers of New York, staying here for five years is appropriate”

In terms of health care, Schiavoni sees the need to cut costs and supports the recent state Medicare expansion. He is eager to see what the governor has on the table from his recent task force to expand health care further. 

The candidate sees affordable housing as a multifaceted problem. In the Town of Southampton, he voted to provide low-cost housing in multiple locations and looks to expand those options. He is in favor of a 5 percent transfer tax to create shared equity programs, where people can split the cost of buying a house with a public fund and can choose to buy full ownership over time. When the house is sold, half of the profit goes to the seller and half will roll over back into the fund. 

He is also for expanding and electrifying the Long Island Rail Road, while placing affordable housing near the train stations so people can get from place to place without having to drive. He proposes placing additional siding on the tracks, so more trains can run.

Through all these policies, Schiavoni also stressed fiscal responsibility. As a liaison to the comptroller’s office in Southampton town, the candidate boasted about the AAA Bond rating the town recently earned. 

“That kind of fiscal responsibility is necessary in government,” he said. “We need to have big ideas, but we also need to pay for them in a manner that can be sustained in perpetuity.”

He is also in favor of reforming cash bail, citing that it is discriminatory to low-income people, but feels Class D and E felonies should have bail set by a judge. 

“We can get people back to court in other ways that are not cash bail,” he said. “When those who cannot afford bail are sitting in jail, the recidivism rate actually rises because they are not able to get ahead, spend time with their families, and it costs the states, county and towns, money.”

Schiavoni said that electing a Democrat from the East End of Long Island is even more vital since the party took the majority in both state Assembly and Senate. 

“As much as political parties are important in Albany, regions are important,” he said. “We need to have a critical mass of Long Island senators in the majority so Long Islanders can have more of a say in state government.”

Schiavoni’s path to the nomination is far from linear. Parents for Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student Skyler Johnson and Valerie Cartright, a Brookhaven town councilwoman are all vying for the nomination. The Suffolk County Republican Party named state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) as its front-runner.

“We have some really great qualified candidates,” Schiavoni said. “I think contested elections are good for democracy. This is a big district that spans 68 miles from Belle Terre to Montauk Point. I’m going to get out there and bring my message to the people. As an elected official in a number of different areas, I know that I have a lot to offer.”

The state and local primary elections are taking place June 23, and the winner of the Democratic primary will face Palumbo on election day, Nov. 3.

For more profiles of Democrats running for state SD1, visit TBRnewsmedia.com.

The Rocky Point Fire Department, including the Shoreham fire station, is soon expected to expand coverage for the Village of Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point Fire District will soon extend its coverage area to include the Village of Shoreham. 

Town of Brookhaven officials have already scheduled a public hearing later in the month for the resolution, which is expected to pass. In conjunction, as part of the village merging into the fire district, officials passed a resolution that authorized the tax assessor to consolidate the district’s three separate tax zones into one. 

Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said both the Town and fire district could not get it done without the other. The change in tax zones will essentially make for a more streamlined process for the district.

“After the public hearing, if it was supported by my colleagues, [the fire district] would include the Village of Shoreham,” said Bonner. “It is essentially an easier process and less paperwork for both of them.” 

The two latest decisions come after a months-long process where Shoreham officials requested home rule applications to extend the fire district boundaries to encompass the 0.5-square-mile village. In May 2019, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) that authorized the fire district extension. 

Rocky Point Fire District attorney, the Port Jefferson-based Bill Glass who represents the fire district, said the change wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the fire departments and district.

“Operationally there will be no change at all within the district,” he said. “There will not be a significant change to the amount the village already pays for emergency services.” 

Glass said the process should be seamless as the village has contracted out to the fire district for the past decade. He said he doesn’t expect the tax rates for residents to change that much and would probably be similar to the amount that they paid when Shoreham was contracting them. 

On the subject of the consolidation of the three tax zones, the lawyer said the decision was necessary as there was no point in having three separate tax districts anymore. 

“The tax zones were put in place because at one point there were three different water companies [in the area] who had their own tax rates,” Glass said. “That stopped with the Suffolk Water Authority — this helps streamline a lot of things.”

For Shoreham, being a part of the fire district could allow the village budget to decrease as they are not using funds for fire/emergency services. 

A representative from the village could not be reached for comment.

In addition, bringing the village into the fold would allow Shoreham residents to run for positions like fire commissioner. 

The Town will hold a public hearing for the fire district extension Feb. 27. 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) with Irving Roth. Photo by Peter DiLauro

Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) has been a Brookhaven Town councilwoman for the past six years, but now she is looking a little higher, the New York State Senate District 1 seat. That position is now an open battleground since 44-year Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced earlier this month he would not be seeking reelection.

Cartright said she had been asked numerous times by people in and out of the Democratic Party to run for higher office but had not considered it until LaValle made his announcement.

“He had a significant impact on the region,” she said. “For the past 44 years he has worked hard to take care of District 1.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, right. File photo by Elana Glowatz

With the change two years ago of the Democrats taking control of both the Assembly and Senate, she said the person who comes into the seat should have the ability to deliver for the district. As someone who sees herself as having worked hard on community issues at a town level, taking that mentality up to Albany will allow her a greater access to resources to help people at home.

Cartright said there are several issues that she sees as very important which she’s worked on  with the Brookhaven board to attack at the Town level, including water quality and protecting a sole-source aquifer and improving the quality of state roads. 

Another is moving away from fossil fuels, for which she said electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson line is a must.

Having been a civil rights attorney before joining the Town board in 2013, she congratulated the legislature for working on a number of items to address equity, including health care, voting rights, education and criminal justice, though there is “more work to be done.” 

She cited the need for New York to crack down on prescription drug pricing, with some drugs costing a few hundred dollars in Canada but several thousand in the U.S. She said New York needs to hold drug companies to task and to set limits.

She added she is an advocate for allowing paid gestational surrogates in New York, which is one of the few states that still bans the practice. As a survivor of breast cancer, she said she was once forced to consider a surrogate as an option, before she overcame the disease and had her first child.

In terms of housing and affordability, Long Island has suffered under sky-high housing prices and rents. Cartright said there is a need for “smart growth,” along with an increased acquisition of open space at multiple levels of government, to mitigate the impact to Long Island’s sole-source aquifer. She said there is a need for a complete restructure of property taxes and called for a study on the property tax structure.

Though the state is currently controlled by Democrats in both the Assembly and the Senate, things could always swing in the opposite direction, and like LaValle and his fellow Republicans found themselves in 2018, suddenly Democrats could become the minority. Cartright said that should the situation change, she has already proven she can work alongside Republicans being the only Democrat on the Town board.

She is not the only Democrat seeking the nomination. Other contenders for the seat include Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident Skyler Johnson and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town board member. The Suffolk County Republican Party has named state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) as its front-runner.

Though she said she has respect for all the other Democratic contenders, she feels she is in the best position to take her message to Albany, with the most legislative experience over her contemporaries.

“I know it’s a crowded race, with some formidable candidates,” she said. “But I’m putting my best foot forward … I look forward to serving my [area] and the whole of District 1 on the state level,” she said.

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By David Luces and Kyle Barr

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) announced he would be looking for a step up in Albany, as he’s now seeking the hotly contested State Senate District 1 seat. 

The seat has opened up since 44-year incumbent Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced he was not seeking reelection
in November.

“It is apparent that the one party rule up in Albany is not working for those here on Long Island,” Palumbo said as to the reason he decided to run. “They have been instituting a progressive left agenda that is contrary to the way of the life here in SD1.”

Palumbo, 49, whose Assembly 2nd District runs along the North Shore from Fishers Island all the way to Mount Sinai, was first elected in 2013 with 57 percent of the vote and has easily retained that seat in the next three elections by large margins.

Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman, Jesse Garcia, was enthused to see Palumbo moving in as the Republican front-runner. 

“For the people of Senate District 1, this is great news,” Garcia said. “Anthony’s record is second to none.”

Though the seven-year legislator is moving from what has been considered a safe seat into what could be a fiercely contested race, Garcia said he wasn’t concerned.

“He is giving up a safe seat and is answering to a higher calling,” the Republican chairman said. “He will listen to the people and has the experience to lead SD1.”

Palumbo, a former prosecutor, will have to take on whoever comes out on top of a Democratic primary that sees well-known names like Laura Ahearn, Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident, and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). Also running for the Democratic ticket is Skyler Johnson, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident, and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member.

In a prior interview with TBR News Media, Palumbo said he originally had reservations about seeking the higher office. One was the age of his children, one 12 and the other 15. The other was his current leadership position in the Assembly.

“It was a big decision for my family and I, but it is important that we hold onto Senate District 1,” the assemblyman said.

Garcia said this race is one of the big ones of the Republican Party trying to wrest back control of the State Senate from the Democrats.

Two items, he said, are at the highest importance in his run. One is bail reform, which Republicans across the island have called for the law’s removal.

“There was need for tweaking of criminal reform, but this goes beyond safe or smart,” he said. “The new discovery reform also went too far. It will cost millions of dollars in unfunded mandates.” 

Palumbo added he wants to focus on taxes and bringing in more jobs to the district. 

“The county is losing people in droves — I want to do what’s right for the district — I want my kids to be able to live here.”

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Valerie Catright have considered running for the state senate district 1 seat.

State Sen. Ken LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson) announcement he would not be seeking reelection has suddenly bolstered both party’s efforts to get a candidate into the 1st District seat.

Several Democrats have already stepped up to run, including Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident Skyler Johnson and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member.

Johnson said he thought it was good LaValle was retiring after so long in office. The young Democrat took a shine to a primary that “allows people to hear what candidates have to say, to help us flesh out our ideas.”

Ahearn thanked LaValle for his years of service, adding that now the venerable senator is no longer running, she “looks forward to continuing meeting and listening to voters of the 1st Senate District.”

Suffolk Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer did not return multiple requests for comment, but has made previous statements to other newspapers that have perked the ears on both sides of the aisle. 

Quickly upon the news of LaValle not seeking another term coming out Jan. 8, rumors quickly circulated who else was on the shortlist. While some rumors pointed to Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant wishing to seek the seat, she strongly put the idea aside, saying she did not want to step into that arena. 

The other person most rumored to be running was Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who has yet to make an official announcement but responded to inquiries by saying, “The county chair indicated that I would be running — his statement is correct.”

On the Republican side, rumors circulated that Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) would look to take up his cousin’s seat, but the town councilman said he currently resides outside the district boundaries and cannot run for the position. 

Suffolk Republican chairman, Jesse Garcia, said he already had a shortlist for Ken LaValle’s seat that included Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, and even Brookhaven council members Dan Panico (R-Manorville) and Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point).

Palumbo said while it would be a step-up, his current leadership position in the Assembly, and the young age of his two children, one 12 and the other 15, might make it a tough call. 

“It wouldn’t foreclose a future run,” he said.

When asked about the prospect of running, Bonner said, “There are a lot of people exploring their options. … I’ve been approached by numerous people to consider it and I am. It’s a conversation I’ll have to have with my family and husband. It is a decision that’s not to be made lightly.”

 

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle announced he would not be running for re-election Jan. 10. File photo by Kevin Redding

Why have you decided this term would be your last?

I don’t know, it just feels right. If I can put in place something at [Stony Brook University], then I can retire knowing we’re in a good place. 

I look forward to spending more time with my wife and family, and less time driving on the Thruway.

I would like to do something academic — it’s a way of looking at things through a different lens.

Would you look to work at Stony Brook University?

That would be my choice. I would like to do something that’s always been on my radar — some kind of think tank, look at it in an academic way. My thoughts on generations, what is the difference between one generation to another. We know the events of WWII shaped what was called the greatest generation. But then there are millennials — who are millennials? You’re a millennial [he said, talking to me, a 25-year-old.] How are your thoughts shaped by your generation?

Some have said the climate of partisanship up in Albany has factored into your decision.

My personality has been to not get involved in that kind of stuff, I try to be kind and productive — there’s no doubt things have changed in the Legislature. I think you’ll see more people say it’s not a positive place — that’s how you start to lose good people. People will say, “Who the hell needs this?”

What are your plans for your last year in office?

I want to make sure all the preservation stuff is in place. That’s the kind of thing most near and dear to me. I want to leave things with the university and Brookhaven National Lab in a good place … I’m very focused, it’s always been 1st District first.

Does the preservation you’re talking about include the hundreds of acres over by the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant?

Yes, absolutely.

What other things are you working with on preservation, what about the university are you currently engaged with?

I want to make sure that work we have started over at the Gyrodyne site keeps moving forward, it’s linked to the economic vitality of the area. I’m meeting with union representatives, talking about the sewage treatment plant, talking about the 8-acre parcel that would go on there. We got to have further discussions about that project.

Do you have any misgivings about the Gyrodyne plans?

I’ve got to have further discussions. I want to make sure I have the opportunity to talk to people at the university, I want to make sure where the sewage treatment plant is going is going to be accepted in the community.

Do you have any advice for whoever ends up taking over the district? What qualities do you feel like the new senator will require?

I will work with that person, whoever it is in November, whatever party. I will try to help them, work with them. No. 1, they’ve got to have an understanding of who they’re representing. There is a large group that thinks the environment is very important. Whoever is going to replace me will have to have that mindset or have a background in it. 

It’s a big district, and there have been very few things I have missed. Whoever comes in will have to be very much involved in local events. Just look at Fishers Island, it’s closer to Connecticut, but it’s in the Town of Southold. There are 300 people living there, but you know, those people are just as important as any other part of the 1st District. They need to have an interaction with the people of the district.

I think right now the Senate majority, the Democrats, tend to represent New York City and New York City issues. We need someone who is going to fight for suburban and rural interests.

Though you still have a year left in office, how do you feel the shape of the district is in?

My personality has always been one to get things done. The district will be left in as good of a shape as can be.

 

County Sheriff, Corrections Officers Say Judges Need Discretion

Inside the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank. File photo by Kevin Redding

Depending on who you ask, New York State’s new bail reform is either halting an institution that punished the poor, or it is allowing alleged criminals to return to and terrorize local neighborhoods. 

Back in 2018, after Democrats gained control of both state legislative houses, bail reform became a priority issue for multiple Dems in the State Legislature, with the bail reform coming in as an addendum to the state budget bill. The reform forces judges to release alleged perps without bail for multiple misdemeanors and what are considered nonviolent felony charges.

Over the last few months, on judges’ orders, jails across the state have been releasing inmates who fall under the list of bail-less crimes. In an interview Monday, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D), whose office oversees the jails in Suffolk County, said approximately 301 inmates have already been released from Suffolk custody over the past month leading up to the law’s enactment. This comes after court orders from judges across the state. He added there is another expected 10 to 15 inmates that will be released this month.

“The biggest thing with this legislation is to give judges back discretion — they can look at criminal history, if they are mentally ill or have a serious substance abuse issue.”

Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. 

Proponents of bail reform have long argued the previous system effectively taxed poor defendants for accused crimes. They argued that people and their families who could not afford bail would languish in jail until their court date, such as the case of Bronx teenager Kalief Browder, who was stuck in Rikers Island prison for three years, unable to pay the $3,000 bail price until 2013 when he was released due to lack of evidence. He later committed suicide.

Bail costs can range from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars and are determined by individual judges. People can also make use of a bail bondsman, but fees for those can still be several thousand, plus the money upfront to ensure a person meets their requisite court dates.

A report by John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the originally proposed bail reforms said that if enacted reforms were around in 2018, there would have been 20,349 more individuals in New York City released without bail, a cumulative amount worth nearly $200 million to the state. In 2018, 105,161 cases resulted in pretrial release without bail.

Leading state Democrats have said the reforms are long overdue, and specifically target nonviolent offenses. Advocates pointed out that poor people unable to make bail can easily lose jobs if they’re not available or stuck in jail, and that those who have to pay for bail on a limited income, even for minor offenses, might be forced to use funds they would have used for rent or even food.

Criminal justice reform advocates say the critics are unnecessarily stoking fears. 

In a statement, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York American Civil Liberties Union, said the new reforms are just a step on the path toward overall prison reforms.

“Thousands of New Yorkers who are presumed innocent of the misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges they face will no longer be forced to sit in jail awaiting trial,” her statement read.

However, the law enforces no cash bail for several offenses that critics have called overtly aggressive. James Quinn, Queens assistant district attorney, released a list of laws judges cannot set bail to, including aggravated vehicular manslaughter, several types of drug sale crimes and even lesser counts of arson. 

Toulon said he has disagreed with the new bail reforms, especially over the list of crimes people are made to be released. He mentioned one inmate who was just recently released on a partially secured bond of $40,000 out of a $400,000 bail order, without a bail bondsman. The individual, he said, had been accused of rape in the first degree of a child, and had a past history of sex crimes.

He said any sort of new bail legislation should give judges more jurisdiction over determining bail.

“The biggest thing with this legislation is to give judges back discretion — they can look at criminal history, if they are mentally ill or have a serious substance abuse issue,” he said.

State legislators are divided on party lines over the new bail reform. A delegation of Republican state reps from Long Island gathered Dec. 31 to voice their opposition.

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), the senate minority leader, called the new law “unconscionable,” adding the opposing party has “abandoned crime victims, law enforcement and the public in favor of criminals.”

The delegation noted two criminal cases including one where a woman allegedly assaulted three Jewish women, just one of several during a citywide spree of anti-Semitic attacks during the eight days of Hanukkah. She was arrested again the following day for another assault charge. The law allows for no cash bail on offenders who commit assault without serious injury, and the new bail laws have been enforced since late 2019.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said the new law goes against common sense.

“Judges should have discretion in weighing the potential danger of releasing someone who could have violent tendencies or constitutes a real threat to our community,” LaValle said.

Law enforcement groups have also vocalized their frustrations with the bill. 

Louis Viscusi, union president of the Suffolk County Correction Officers Association, said the law doesn’t just force cashless bail for nonviolent offenders, but for drug dealers, sex offenders and gang members.

“A lot of people commit crimes to help fuel that habit,” he said. “At [a corrections facility] they could detox and could make better decisions. This new bail reform removes those options.”

Louis Viscusi

He added he saw Suffolk County actually using the system in the way it was meant to, with the county corrections facility including 24-hour medical care and a space for drug and alcohol addiction. Within the facilities in both Yaphank and Riverhead, he said, inmates could come down from their high and make more informed decisions once or if they are released on bail. Without it, those same people might be out on the street making the same decisions that got them arrested in the first place. 

“A lot of people commit crimes to help fuel that habit,” he said. “At [a corrections facility] they could detox and could make better decisions. This new bail reform removes those options.”

For decades, New York judges were supposed to consider only risk of flight when determining bail, not public safety or safety of the individual. The new law encourages a supervised release program, where municipalities are meant to keep in touch with those accused. 

Toulon echoed Viscusi’s comments, adding his term has focused on giving inmates transferable skills such as plumbing or work with HVAC for when they return to society. He added the new law presents issues for people who may need added protection, such as women who were arrested for crimes, but were subdued in human and sex trafficking schemes. Women who are trafficked are often forcefully addicted to drugs to keep them under control. 

Proponents of the new law point to New Jersey, which has had a similar bail reform bill since 2017, and which a court report showed that while jail populations waned, people still were showing up for their assigned court dates. Unlike Jersey, New York did not have a three-year window between when the law was passed and enacted.

Though Republican officials have looked to paint the issue as a party split, some Democrats have proposed changes to the existing bail reform law. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), along with Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) introduced legislation back in June 2019 that would expand the list of qualifying offenses that judges can determine pretrial requirements, to include assault, manslaughter, sex crimes including against children, terrorism-related charges, all class-A felony drug-related crimes and bribery offenses involving public officials. The bill was introduced but could not be taken up until the State Legislature reconvened on Jan. 8.

“When an individual poses a clear danger to public safety, an unbiased judicial expert must have the discretion to choose whether or not to release them without bail,” Gaughran said in a statement back in June. 

 

Skyler Johnson, 19, is looking to run against Laura Ahearn and then Ken LaValle for state Senate. Photo from Skyler for Senate website

Just two days after the end of the 2019 elections Nov. 5, Skyler Johnson, a 19-year-old Mount Sinai resident and college student, announced he wanted to take on one of the longest-running incumbents in the New York State Senate.

Skyler Johnson, 19, is looking to run against Laura Ahearn and then Ken LaValle for state Senate. Photo from Skyler for Senate website

“Someone should not hold a seat for 43 years,” he said during a phone interview after he announced he was running. “We need
term limits.”

Johnson is a political science student at Suffolk County Community College and said he had already filed his name to run for the state Senate’s 1st District seat. As a local activist, he said he sees young people not getting a fair shake, with college students working 60-hour weeks to pay for higher education and senior citizens unable to afford much of the costs of living.

Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) has held the position since 1976 and has been cited by people like Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for bipartisan support on issues of the environment. He has shown unwavering support for Stony Brook University and is often behind many state grants the college receives.

But Johnson said there are two issues that made him especially want to run that has expecially vexed the incumbent in recent years. One is the number of young people leaving Long Island and the lack of real affordable housing, the other is what he called a history of denying rights to the LGBT community. He cited the senator’s opposition to New York’s same-sex marriage bill in 2009 and his voting against a bill banning gay conversion therapy earlier this year. 

“It’s time to take our future into our own hands,” he said. “I believe I can bring much needed change.”

Johnson was the campaign manager for Sarah Deonarine, a Democrat who ran against another longtime incumbent, Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) for the Brookhaven District 2 council seat. He said that campaign gave him the experience of what it was like to be on the campaign trail. He said he plans to spend next year canvassing the district.

It won’t be an easy road for the first-time contender. He will have to first primary for the Democratic nod against Laura Ahearn, a well-known voice in advocating for crime victims and founder of organizations such as Parents for Megan’s Law and Crime Victims Center. 

Bruce Blower, a spokesperson for LaValle, confirmed that the state senator planned to run again in the 2020 election.

The young man agreed he was part of a larger wave of young liberally minded people looking to get involved since the 2016 election of Donald Trump (R). Johnson is going to be running in a presidential election year, which are notoriously the most hotly contested races to campaign.

“I expect people are ready for change,” he said.

State legislators recently voted on legislation to reform voting in New York.

Assembly members had voting on their minds.

Both houses passed a package of bills Jan. 14 which are currently awaiting the signatures of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Legislators said the goal of the bills is to reform the state’s current electoral process to make voting easier and to reduce the influence of special interest in elections, according to a press release from the office of state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

“Our vote to eliminate barriers will make voting more accessible to all state residents.”

— Steve Englebright

“It’s a good day for democracy in New York,” Englebright said in the release. “Our vote to eliminate barriers will make voting more accessible to all state residents.”

One piece of legislation will establish a nine-day early voting period starting in the 2019 general election. The period will include two weekends to allow voters to cast their votes in person, also before any primary or special election. This is what 35 other states and Washington, D.C., already do.

“New York is no longer behind the rest of the country,” said state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).

Gaughran said many residents have told him that there have been times they have been unable to vote due to being stuck in the city with work or with inclement weather delaying trains. He added early voting would benefit all parties and races.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said in a statement if the bills become law there will not only be more time to cast votes but more clarity on primary day as well as more transparency.

“In today’s society, with so many people working long hours, combined with active lifestyles, the system needs to change to make it easier for individuals to participate in elections,” LaValle said in a release.

Another bill will change absentee voting no earlier than November 2021. Currently, a voter can cast an absentee ballot if they know they will be unable to do so Election Day due to physical illness or disability. An amendment to the New York State Constitution would allow for “no excuse” absentee voting.

“In today’s society, with so many people working long hours, combined with active lifestyles, the system needs to change to make it easier for individuals to participate in elections.”

— Ken LaValle

State legislators also passed bills to combine the state primary with the federal non-presidential primary. If Cuomo signs it into law, these primaries will take place in June. Gaughran said the move would save taxpayer dollars, and it ensures the NYS election laws comply with the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which helps in the efficiency of military members serving overseas and citizens who live abroad voting in U.S. elections. Gaughran said he thinks combining primaries will help those who are currently overseas vote as easily for local offices as well as federal.

Another piece of legislation will allow voter registration to be allowed up to Election Day instead of 10 days or before. New York State voters will need to vote on the act as a constitutional amendment. Another bill would automatically transfer a voter’s registration when they move within New York state instead of residents needing to update when they move from one county to another.

The state legislators approved a bill that will require voter registration forms to include a space for preregistering for those 16 and 17 years of age. LaValle said, as a former teacher and principal, the bill was a meaningful one for him for young people to stay involved in the political process.

“It is my hope that when the measures become law, more people will take advantage of the opportunity to vote, allow more of voices to be heard, and thereby strengthen our government in the process,” LaValle said.

Both houses passed legislation to restrict the LLC loophole, which allows LLCs to make campaign contributions as individuals, and enables one person or corporation that owns multiple LLCs to funnel donations to a single candidate or committee. If Cuomo signs the bill, LLC campaign contributions will be limited to a $5,000 aggregate — the same limit that exists for corporations — and would require the disclosure of all owners of the LLC, whether direct or indirect.

State Sen. Ken LaValle (R). By Kyle Barr

While Democrat Greg Fischer has a lot of interesting ideas and enthusiasm, state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) made a point during their debate that his challenger’s goals are philosophical. While Fischer looks to create a brand-new transportation system for New York state to create jobs, LaValle is looking right in Long Island’s backyard and has already started the procedure to study the possibility of electrification of the Long Island Rail Road from Huntington to Port Jefferson.

LaValle said he believes “1st District first” when it comes to making decisions. His recent efforts led to securing $25 million in funds along with state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) for the initial phases for developing a new engineering building on the Stony Brook University campus. The move is to attract more engineering students to Long Island with the hopes they will remain and work in the area after graduating.

We believe that since being elected as state senator in 1976, LaValle has proven time and time again he has Long Island’s best interests in mind, works across party lines and gets the job done.

For New York State 1st Senate District, our endorsement goes to state Sen. Ken LaValle.