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Steve Englebright

Left file photo by TBR News Media; center from the Brookhaven town website; right file photo by Heidi Sutton

Local legislative elections are shaping up, with candidates across levels of government gearing up for county, town and village races.

Suffolk’s 5th District

Steve Englebright, left, and Anthony Figliola are the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, for Suffolk County’s 5th District. Left from Englebright’s Facebook; right file photo

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), whose 5th District encompasses Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station/Terryville and Three Village, is termed out due to 12-year term limits for county legislators. To fill the open seat, former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and former congressional candidate Anthony Figliola have stepped up.

Before receiving his party’s nomination, Englebright had previously occupied the seat from 1984 to 1992, after which he entered the state Assembly. He described this year’s bid as “coming home.”

“It’s been some 30 years in Albany, but my heart is always here in the community,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

The core issues facing the 5th District, Englebright contended, are those related to the environment and public health. He stated his core priorities are protecting Long Island’s sole-source aquifer and its coastal waters.

“Science has advanced, and the connection between our drinking water and our tidal waters is more explicitly understood now,” the former assemblyman said. “The challenges are awaiting a legislative response to the science, so I’d like to be a part of that. I think I can make a meaningful contribution.”

He said he hoped to continue working toward preserving open space if elected and also emphasized protecting the Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors from contamination. He viewed restoring the county’s information technology systems, promoting affordable housing and limiting sprawl as central.

Figliola was the third-place finisher in 2022 during the GOP primary for New York’s 1st Congressional District. Among his professional credentials, he has served as deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven and is currently executive vice president of a government relations and economic development business. A resident of East Setauket, he will represent the Republican Party in this year’s 5th District contest.

“With Kara leaving, we need someone who has a plan for the future of our district to make sure that we represent everybody,” he told TBR News Media. “I’ve done a tremendous amount of work with small business, with the environment and volunteerism in this community.”

He added, “I just jumped at the opportunity to be able to represent the people that I live and work with.”

Like Englebright, Figliola stressed the importance of water quality in the Setauket and Port Jeff harbors. He said he would also explore opportunities for more sewers, addressing electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road as an area of concern.

“I want to continue the work that I’ve been doing on a volunteer basis for almost seven years, which is to help bring the electrification of the Port Jefferson rail line here,” he said.

He added that supporting small business districts, preserving and developing parks, and encouraging community-based planning will be in focus.

Brookhaven’s 1st Council District

Jonathan Kornreich, left, and Gary Bodenburg are the Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively, for the Town of Brookhaven’s 1st Council District. Left from the Brookhaven town website; right courtesy Bodenburg

Incumbent Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), the sole elected Democrat in the town, is up for reelection this year. He entered the Town Board after a special election in March 2021 to replace former Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who had won a seat on the state Supreme Court.

“Serving this community is something I’ve been doing for almost two decades through service on the [Three Village] school board, the [Three Village] Civic Association and other nonprofits like the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “Community service is really my life’s passion.”

Kornreich stated that land use would remain a top-level interest if reelected, expressing concerns with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) housing proposal for Long Island.

“One of the big looming policy issues that we’re facing is this potential threat from the governor’s office about seizing zoning control and handing it over to bureaucrats in Albany who don’t understand our communities,” he said.

The incumbent added, “We do have an affordable housing crisis — it’s just very difficult for people to find affordable places to live, and we have to address that. But we have to address it in a thoughtful way that’s sensitive to the makeup of these communities and the built environment where they currently exist.”

He also touched upon the quality of life issues that affect his constituents, such as overdevelopment and sprawl. He pledged to focus on building viable downtowns and parks while protecting the environment.

Carrying the Republican Party’s nomination in the race for CD1 is Gary Bodenburg, a special education teacher who ran for the Comsewogue Board of Education last year.

“I believe good government is needed at all levels, so I plan on continuing the mission and vision of [Brookhaven Town Supervisor] Ed Romaine [R] in maintaining fiscal responsibility by controlling taxes and spending, addressing environmental concerns and also keeping a close eye over the overdevelopment of our suburbs,” Bodenburg said.

The Republican candidate addressed other policy concerns, such as streamlining services within the town government to “provide better value for our tax dollars.”

“Specifically, I think it’s important that we address a 25A corridor study,” he said, adding, “I also look to finalize plans with Lawrence Aviation, as well as better enforcement of housing codes for problems with off-campus student housing.”

Bodenburg said that reducing the impact of traffic and improving town parks and marinas would also be on his agenda.

Port Jefferson’s Board of Trustees

Stan Loucks, left, and Bob Juliano are both declared candidates for the Port Jefferson Board of Trustees. Left from the Port Jefferson village website; right courtesy Juliano

So far, only two candidates have emerged in the villagewide race for the Port Jefferson Board of Trustees election on June 20. Two seats are up for grabs — one uncontested, as Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden is running for mayor.

Trustee Stan Loucks will seek his fifth election, having joined the board in 2015. During his tenure, he has served as trustee liaison to the parks department and Port Jefferson Country Club, coordinating with the administration on stabilization plans for the East Beach bluff.

“I love working for the village, specifically the areas that I’m assigned to,” Loucks said. “I just want to keep going. That’s the bottom line.”

Asked what policies he would seek to implement in the coming term, Loucks said reinvigoration of PJCC would be a continued area of emphasis. “I’d like to see more social activities and more community get-togethers focusing around what I think is the gem of the village, and that’s the country club,” he said.

Between new racket sports facilities, recreational programs and the finalization of coastal engineering projects along the bluff, he expressed optimism for such a revival of PJCC. “I want to see it come back,” he said.

Former village clerk Bob Juliano is also in the running. He has had considerable professional experience in municipal government, holding various administrative posts throughout his career in Port Jeff, Westbury and Lindenhurst villages.

“I have the knowledge and experience of being a clerk and a treasurer for the past 30 years for three different municipalities,” Juliano said. “I figured I could use that expertise and my knowledge and my know-how and put it to good use for the community that I live in.”

If elected, Juliano said he would like to “slow down what’s going on uptown.” Like Kornreich, he expressed apprehensions over Hochul’s housing priorities. And similar to Loucks, he proposed exploring a better use for PJCC.

“I’m very concerned about the country club,” he said. “I know they’re progressing with the wall and everything, which is a fantastic thing, but I’d like to see the country club be more viable as well as more welcoming.”

 

To read about the races for Suffolk County executive, Brookhaven town supervisor and Port Jeff Village mayor, see story, “Suffolk County exec race prompts turnover across local government,” at tbrnewsmedia.com.

Pixabay photo

Community choice aggregation, a revolution in energy procurement, is making a splash throughout Long Island.

Starting in May, the Town of Brookhaven will launch a CCA program, contracting with Manhattan-based Good Energy LLC for a fixed rate for natural gas consumers over the next two years.

In an interview, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) explained how the program would operate. Under the longstanding method of natural gas delivery in the town, National Grid — based in the U.K. and northeastern U.S. — purchases the supply and delivers the gas. CCA alters this dynamic.

“CCA is just a method of purchasing a commodity on a communitywide basis,” he said. Under the program, “all of the customers of National Grid in a certain area are getting together to say, ‘We’re going to jointly purchase fuel cooperatively from a different source.’”

That source, Good Energy, has agreed to supply gas at a fixed price of 69.5 cents per therm. “That locks in the price for all customers” for two years, the councilmember said. 

National Grid, which still operates the delivery systems, will continue to bill customers for those services. The only section of the bill affected by the changes will be for energy supply.

An August report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration states that the natural gas market saw record volatility last year due to demand changes, storms and geopolitical unrest. 

Given the many variables that contribute to fluctuations in gas prices, Kornreich suggested Brookhaven homeowners and businesses would be less beholden to the volatility of the market under CCA. “We’re going to pay just one price for the next two years,” he said. 

The town is also hedging that the market price of natural gas will rise over the next two years. If that happens, CCA will deliver discounted gas to Brookhaven ratepayers throughout the contracted period.

“The expectation that I have, as given to me by the corporate representatives with whom I met, is that there’s going to be a savings to the customers,” Kornreich said. “My hope is that this price is competitive over a two-year period.” 

He added, “Based on the models that they’ve shown me, this price will — over the long term — on average be lower than what they would have paid if they had just rode that market price.”

CCA: An energy revolution

‘A CCA can play a role in helping the residents to have more negotiation power.’ ­

— Gang He

Community choice aggregation first came about in the 1990s as a model of procuring energy whereby a municipality can pool the buying power of its residents to negotiate favorable energy contracts.

Gang He is an assistant professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, whose research focuses on energy and climate policy. 

The assistant professor regarded the traditional relationship between energy consumers and suppliers as heavily skewed in favor of suppliers, referring to consumer protections under CCA as correcting the power imbalance.

“When utilities deal with residents, residents have no power,” Gang He said. “It’s a monopoly, and it’s heavily regulated by regulators. A CCA can play a role in helping the residents to have more negotiation power.”

Paul Fenn, founder and president of the Massachusetts-based CCA firm Local Power, drafted some of the original enabling legislation for CCA in Massachusetts, California and throughout the U.S. In an interview, he traced the history of CCA.

Fenn said vertically integrated investor-owned utilities have historically operated as monopolies and cartels, given their guaranteed rates of return by state regulators and energy market deregulation. CCA, he said, seeks to rectify this.

“The basic definition is that CCA is a model of energy supply that is neither a monopoly nor a cartel,” he said.

He likened the energy model to Costco. “The reason that large users achieve cheaper services is like going to Costco,” he said. “If you’re buying 200 rolls of toilet paper instead of 20, you pay a lower price.”

CCA applies this framework to the energy supply, giving the small consumer the perks of a bulk purchaser by pooling the buying power of entire communities. 

“It’s a way for small users … to gain the economic buying power enjoyed by the largest corporations,” he said, adding, “The aggregations are designed to deliver the benefits to the user and not to the supplier.”

Two factors, according to Fenn, have contributed to the rise of CCA nationwide. On the one hand, the economic model has been tailored and perfected to benefit individual users over large suppliers. On the other hand, renewable technologies have progressed to the point where they are now competitive with fossil fuels. 

Fenn characterized CCA as a revolution for capitalizing on the convergence of cheap renewable energy and consumer protections for utility power.

‘Community choice aggregation programs can be a great tool for getting community solar built, paid for and delivered to people.’ ­

— Anne Reynolds

Promoting renewables

Anne Reynolds is executive director of Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a group of private companies and nonprofits partnering to expand green energy opportunities throughout New York state. Reynolds indicated that CCA could be interpreted in two ways — as an economic model or as a way to promote green energy.

CCA “can be purely an economics choice,” she said. “You can think of it as a collective buying co-op,” but “most of the examples in New York state are when the community also wants to get a renewable energy product.”

Reynolds stated that CCA is not the main objective of ACE NY as CCA “hasn’t been the primary way that renewable energy products are getting built in New York, which is what we focus on,” she said.

Her organization instead emphasizes the construction of large-scale, grid-connected renewable energy projects through long-term contracts with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state must procure 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2050. When asked whether CCAs offer a pathway toward a greener future in New York, Reynolds responded that there must be a mix of large-scale and small-scale projects.

“To get there, we’re going to need an unprecedented construction of renewable energy projects — offshore wind, wind, solar, batteries,” she said. “To get that done, these projects need to have a guaranteed market for their power, what they refer to as offtake agreements.”

She added, “Having those offtake agreements with the State of New York is one way to do it. Having the offtake agreements with communities in New York is another.”

One way CCA can promote new development in renewables, Reynolds said, is through community distributed generation, often referred to as community solar. 

“Community choice aggregation programs can be a great tool for getting community solar built, paid for and delivered to people,” she said. “For the state to meet its goals, and for Long Island especially, it’s going to require a little bit of everything.”

The Southampton model

Brookhaven is not the only municipality in Suffolk County implementing CCA. In the neighboring Town of Southampton, local officials are exploring a different posture, with an energy plan geared toward electricity instead of natural gas.

Lynn Arthur is the energy chair of Southampton’s volunteer sustainability committee and the founder of the nonprofit Peak Power Long Island, a consultancy group that services municipalities and their constituents on renewable energy technologies.

Arthur said there are currently two CCA administrators operating on Long Island, Good Energy and Bedford Hills-based Joule Community Power, Southampton’s CCA administrator. She notes that the difference in administrators has placed the two municipalities on separate trajectories.

In Southampton, the Town Board is working toward obtaining electricity from 100% renewable energy sources by 2025. Arthur said that goal is coming into focus.

“It’s only natural that we would try to get a power supply contract for 100% renewables for electricity,” she said.

To meet this task, Arthur suggested CCA would play a pivotal role. She is now advocating for the Southampton Town Board to submit a request for proposal to supply electricity from 100% renewable sources.

Brookhaven vs. Southampton

Weighing Brookhaven’s CCA against Southampton’s, former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) suggested that Southampton has the upper hand.

“I think Southampton’s model is the better one,” he said. “Electricity is the future. We should be moving away from natural gas.”

But, he added, “to the extent that the Town of Brookhaven can get started with [CCA] is promising. I think the inevitable success of what Southampton is doing will compel their next-door neighbor, Brookhaven,” to follow suit.

Despite Brookhaven’s gas-exclusive CCA, Fenn did not say that gas aggregation was inherently brown and electricity aggregation green. Rather, he said promoting renewables through CCA is a matter of how a program is implemented.

He objected, however, to the limited scope of Brookhaven’s CCA initiative. “This program is defined narrowly as a discount-only program, and I think that’s not a particularly good idea,” he said. “It’s hard to argue against stabilizing people’s rates, but it won’t help the environment if that’s all they’re doing, and it may hurt it.”

Creating competition

‘I like the idea of moving away from monolithic energy sourcing.’ ­

— Steve Englebright

Fenn regarded municipalities as sometimes prone to short-term thinking. While gas aggregation is a step toward unshackling ratepayers from the market’s volatility, he said it is incomplete.

Instead, he advised Brookhaven leaders to explore fuel switching, that is, transitioning residents from natural gas to electricity. The heat pump, for example, constitutes one way in which a home’s heating can be fulfilled by electric power instead of gas.

“Apart from the climate crisis, which says stop burning this stuff, there are so many reasons” to transition off fossil fuels, Fenn said. By fuel switching, “you’re adding electrical load when you do that, but you’re deleting gas demand.”

By creating a separate program for electrical aggregation, Fenn said Brookhaven could correct course, providing gas customers with greener options for heating. 

Asked whether the Brookhaven Town Board could add a second CCA administrator for electricity, he responded affirmatively. “Just deliver both, and you can,” he said.

Arthur emphasized that municipalities can have separate CCA administrators for gas and electricity. She suggested Brookhaven add a second administrator for electricity to further competition.

“Fundamentally, if competition is good, and if you want everybody to go to electricity and get away from gas, then you should have [CCA administrators] compete with each other,” she said.

Local vs. centralized intervention

Fenn noted the decline of municipal power since the Civil War, which he said had rendered local governments impotent compared to their state and federal counterparts. He criticized the tendency of local officials to outsource services to third-party vendors.

“Part of the problem is the dependence on third parties cripples the governments by making them intellectually captive to those service providers,” he said. “We believe municipalities should have skin in the game and should use the power that they have.”

Fenn attributed the climate and garbage crises in the United States to the decline of municipal powers and the failures of centralized government. He encouraged local policymakers to embrace programs like CCA to counteract these downward movements.

“There has to be knowledge, responsibility and therefore control” vested in municipal government, he said. “CCA uses contractors to provide services, but they’re firmly under the control of the municipality.”

While CCA proposes a local solution to a global climate phenomenon, questions remain about the best forms of intervention. 

For Reynolds, tackling the climate crisis requires a centralized intervention from the higher levels of government, with local governments doing their part as well. “We absolutely need both,” the ACE NY executive director said. 

For the state to reach its aggressive emission mandates, “you’re going to need larger power projects, too, like offshore,” she said. “But it shouldn’t be an either or question.”

‘It’s so clear that this is such a great opportunity to move the needle on renewables and, at the same time, lower costs for their constituents.’ ­

— Lynn Arthur

A sustainable future

Gang He viewed the growth in renewable energy, evidenced by over $1 trillion in worldwide investment last year, as a turning point in energy history. 

“Renewables have gained momentum,” the SBU assistant professor said. “The challenge is how do we maintain the momentum to deliver the outcome that we desire?”

Arthur recommends CCA to local officials as a way to do so. “It’s so clear that this is such a great opportunity to move the needle on renewables and, at the same time, lower costs for their constituents,” she said.

Asked whether Brookhaven’s CCA could spur interest in a similar program for electricity, Kornreich expressed optimism that the town’s program would foster better energy stewardship.

“I hope that it does open people’s eyes to the possibility and to get people more comfortable with the concept of being a more conscious consumer of utility power,” he said. “Whether it’s gas or electric, people can understand they can choose and that their choices will have an impact on the environment.”

Though acknowledging some of the drawbacks to the Brookhaven program, Englebright expressed encouragement about moving away from the preexisting procurement structure.

“Great journeys are made a step at a time,” the former assemblyman said. “I like the idea of moving away from monolithic energy sourcing.” He added, “A more distributed power system is to our advantage, ultimately — more competitive, less monolithic and more responsive to the public.”

For more details on the Town of Brookhaven’s Community Choice Aggregation Program, visit the website brookhavencommunityenergy.com. 

According to the website, “Eligible customers will soon receive additional information in the mail regarding product features, including information about the renewable energy option.”

Correction: In the print version of this article published on March 9, the town’s community choice aggregation administrator, Good Energy LLC, was misidentified as a London-based firm. In fact, Good Energy is headquartered in Manhattan. We apologize for the error.

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (third from right) with members of the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees on Monday, Feb. 6. Photo by Raymond Janis

The Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees met Monday, Feb. 6, with public commendations, updates on East Beach Bluff construction, coastal resilience strategies and parting words.

Recognitions

The village board recognized three code enforcement officers who responded on Dec. 28 to an active shooter incident in Upper Port. Mayor Margot Garant acknowledged code officers Scott Borrero, Emmanuel Kouroupakis and Kevin Toner for their services during a recognition speech.

“I want to thank you in your team efforts for closing off the scene to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, rendering lifesaving first aid to the victim and keeping all safe until Suffolk County police arrived,” she said.

The board also acknowledged former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for his decades of service representing the Port Jefferson community. While she had intended to present Englebright with a plaque, Garant said the village parks department was “so efficient they already secured it on the building” at the Drowned Meadow Cottage Museum.

Instead, she presented the former assemblyman with a picture off the bathroom wall at Village Hall. Accepting this honor, Englebright delivered a brief address, sharing the history of the William Tooker House on Sheep Pasture Road, for which his office worked to secure over $800,000 for historic preservation.

“We have a chance to preserve the legacy that our forebears have brought to us,” he said. “That adventure is just beginning. That house has many more insights to give us as we restore it to useful service.”

He added, “I again say thank you so very, very much to the board. You’re all my heroes, and it’s a great honor to receive the picture off the wall.”

Reports

Mayor Margot Garant offered an update on the ongoing construction at East Beach as part of phase I of the village’s bluff stabilization initiative. 

“They’ll be starting some of the upland work, restoring some of the material that we lost at the top of the bluff,” she said. “Then they’re poised to revegetate the entire slope for the spring.”

The mayor added, “It’s an exciting project. I believe in the project, and I’m looking forward to its completion.”

Entering the budget season, Garant said she is also working with each of the departments with the goal of “not trying to spend a lot of money.”

Trustee Stan Loucks updated the public on engineering plans to replace racket facilities at Port Jefferson Country Club. “These plans call for the building of six pickleball courts and three tennis courts,” he said. “This new facility is going to be constructed with a hard surface to allow play for a much longer season.”

He added, “The facility is going to be available to all village residents, as well as some sort of membership. The timetable for construction is totally dependent upon present construction that is going on up there right now.”

Trustee Rebecca Kassay announced an upcoming meeting between the village and officials from U.S. Geological Survey. Coordinated with the assistance of Elizabeth Hornstein, a New York State Sea Grant sustainable and resilient communities specialist for Suffolk County, the meeting will cover the coastal resiliency needs of the village.

“The mayor and I will display how clearly interested we are in climate resilience and in being proactive about these issues,” Kassay said.

Trustee Lauren Sheprow reported on a recent meeting of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Council, stating that one of the priorities that came from the discussions was updating the East Beach and West Beach restroom facilities.

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden reacted to the success of the 4th annual Port Jefferson Ice Festival. [See story, “Thrills and chills in Port Jeff during annual ice fest,” The Port Times Record, Feb. 2, also TBR News Media website.]

“It was toasty warm that day, but it was a fun event, very well attended,” she said. “The ice sculptures were beautiful as always, and fun was had by all.”

Mayor’s upcoming retirement

‘Your guidance, your instruction and your dedication have gone unmatched and will continue to go unmatched.’

— Kathianne Snaden, to Margot Garant

Near the end of the meeting, Garant announced her retirement as mayor, with her 14-year tenure to end in June. During the public comments period, some residents took the opportunity to thank the outgoing village mayor.

“As a resident, mayor, thank you,” said Alison LaPointe. “As your friend, I’m so proud of you. Congratulations.”

Kathleen Riley discussed the breadth of Garant’s impact over her seven terms in office. “I don’t think many of the residents know to what extent you have done for this village,” she said.

Loucks said he has “learned an awful lot working with Margot,” adding, “I think the world of her and wish her all the best.”

Snaden recognized Garant’s level of commitment during her time presiding over the Board of Trustees. “Your guidance, your instruction and your dedication have gone unmatched and will continue to go unmatched,” the deputy mayor said. “I appreciate you as our mayor, as the leader of this community for so many years, as my friend.”

Graphic from CSD website

The New York State Education Department is cracking down on Native American mascots in schools, and Comsewogue School District is now in its sights.

In a Nov. 17 letter sent out to districts across the state, NYSED senior deputy commissioner James Baldwin alerted school administrators that using Native American mascots, team names or imagery is prohibited “without current approval from a recognized tribe.” 

Districts failing to meet these standards, Baldwin wrote, “may be in willful violation of the Dignity [for All Students] Act.” The penalty for violators could “include the removal of school officers and the withdrawal of state aid.”

Facing the threat of losing state aid, CSD officials will have to work against the clock. NYSED is placing a deadline on school districts, ordering them to retire these mascots before the end of the 2022-23 school year.

The Education Department is developing new regulations to clarify its policy, with a release date anticipated sometime in April. Until then, New York school districts remain in limbo.

Jennifer Quinn, superintendent of schools at Comsewogue School District, said the district would not make any policy determinations until NYSED releases its detailed guidelines. 

“There are so many question marks,” she said. “Until we see the actual regulations, we’re kind of playing a guessing game.”

While school districts statewide undergo significant changes in the coming months, certain characteristics may set Comsewogue apart from the pack.

Emblazoned at the center of the high school’s turf field is a district logo containing Native American imagery. Photo from Google Maps

Historical background

Before Europeans had ever stepped foot on Long Island, from present day St. James to Wading River and as far south as Gordon Heights, the Setalcott Nation once inhabited the lands. Within that territory lies Port Jefferson Station/Terryville, an area known to the Setalcotts as Comsewogue, meaning “place where paths come together.” 

The Terryville-Comsewogue School District was formed in 1874, and the senior high school opened nearly a century later in 1971. The school district has prominently showcased its precolonial heritage along with its name. 

One district emblem contains the initials “CSD” with a feather draped over its side. Another logo displays a visually striking profile depicting a Setalcott. This logo is etched ubiquitously throughout the district’s website, school walls and at the center of the high school’s turf athletic field. Sports teams are called “the Warriors.”

Setalcott reaction

Helen Sells is president of the Setalcott Native American Council. In an interview, she said she is personally not offended by the use of Setalcott images and references in Comsewogue schools. Sells referred to the term “warrior” as a distinction among her ancestors. 

“It was an honor for our men, and some of the women, to serve for our country and for the freedoms of all,” she said. “The men were considered warriors because they had to go out and hunt for food and hold the community together.”

Asked whether Comsewogue School District should continue using Setalcott mascots, team names and imagery, Sells responded affirmatively. “To me, it’s important as a family to try to keep that history going,” she said.

Whether this response constitutes “current approval from a recognized tribe” is still to be determined. NYSED declined to comment for this story.

Debating mascots, logos and team names

‘The state takes the approach that one size fits all. They’re not looking into every local district.’ ­

— Ed Flood

New York State Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson), whose 4th Assembly District encompasses CSD, said the state has more pressing educational concerns than deciding mascots and team names.

“There’s so much wrong in education right now,” he said. “I think our kids — I see it in my own children being out of the classroom for so long — are kind of behind,” adding, “We have bigger problems to fix.”

A Comsewogue alum, Flood held that the logos and team name were not intended to deride Native Americans. “It’s not used in any way to be offensive,” he said. “Comsewogue is a pretty diverse district with people of all races and ethnicities. We were all proud to put on that jersey, and we understood what it represented.”

Flood’s predecessor in the state Assembly, Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), offered that ethical dilemmas often require moderation and restraint by decision-makers. He cited the example of the U.S. Army renaming bases that had honored former Confederates.

“I believe the model for what should be done is probably the way that the U.S. Army has approached the question of renaming military bases,” Englebright said. “The approach was to set up — two, I believe — study commissions and to give thoughtful consideration if there is a controversy.” He added, “I’m not sure there is a controversy here.”

State aid conundrum

Debates surrounding state contributions to public education have been ongoing for over a century and a half, said Campbell Scribner, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland College of Education in College Park. 

In an interview, he traced the historical trends of public education in the United States, highlighting the complexities surrounding state aid.

“One of the ambiguities or tensions in American education is that, constitutionally, there has never been a federal right to education, but there is a state right,” he said. “Since at least the Civil War, all state constitutions make provisions for public education.” 

However, until the early to mid-20th century, state funding lagged behind local contributions. “Although states have a constitutional obligation to provide education, they didn’t fund it very well,” Scribner said.

Without organized state bureaucracies or state income tax, school districts generated revenue primarily through local property taxes. This model offered considerable local autonomy in setting curricula and other districtwide standards.

‘States have taken a much more robust posture. They’ve taken more interest in what’s happening locally.’ ­

— Campbell Scribner

Invoking social reforms

The dynamic between states and school boards changed as state aid began to comprise a heftier chunk of school districts’ overall budgets. With the injection of state funds, Scribner suggests power has shifted away from local school officials and into the hands of state bureaucrats. 

“States have taken a much more robust posture,” Scribner said, adding, “They’ve taken more interest in what’s happening locally.”

With more say over budgeting, states have found leverage in setting curricula and social standards within school districts. Moreover, the threat of revoking state aid can be an effective instrument.

Despite the state’s newfound power, this approach has limits: “The state certainly does not want to come across as coercive,” Scribner said. “I don’t think it’s going to help state legislators to look like they’re bullying local school boards or denying children education.”

“But on the other hand,” he added, “I don’t think, legally, the school boards have the sort of rights they might assume they do or the same prerogative against the states.”

Native American imagery

‘There’s a long history of European settlers appropriating Native American imagery.’ ­

— Andrew Newman

Within the scope of national and statewide politics, CSD is caught in a much broader web over the role of Native American imagery.

Andrew Newman is a professor and chair in the English Department at Stony Brook University whose research focuses on the intersection of early American, indigenous and media studies. 

Newman shared that Native American imagery within popular culture is a centuries-old practice dating back to the 18th century.

“There’s a long history of European settlers appropriating Native American imagery,” he said. “There was an idea of Native Americans as being sort of tied to the land, athletic, representing this kind of uncivilized masculinity that was very attractive to the mainstream white culture.”

He added, “This phenomenon was referred to by the scholar Philip Deloria, in a book [of the same title] from 1998, as ‘Playing Indian.’”

Newman maintained that these portrayals often negatively affect self-perceptions within Native American communities, adding that such caricatures can minimize historical injustices.

The movement away from Native American mascots and team names has gradually developed within public education and professional sports. After years of resistance, the former Washington Redskins football and Cleveland Indians baseball franchises have finally changed their team names to more neutral identifiers, respectively the Commanders and Guardians.

Newman said mascots, team names and imagery can be hard to do away with because of the strong emotional ties these symbols can produce. This effect is especially prevalent within schools. 

“The students and families and communities that are associated with these schools are kind of attached to the school’s traditions,” the SBU professor said. “They’re hard to give up.”

Veneration vs. denigration

The debate over the use of Native American mascots surrounds two main arguments, according to Newman. On the one hand, proponents say these images glorify indigenous heritage and tradition. On the other, detractors view them as derogatory and offensive to Native Americans. 

Reflecting upon the function of public education, Newman noted the apparent contradiction between the mission to educate about local history while potentially alienating a segment of the local population.

“Especially in educational institutions, where presumably part of the mission is to educate the students about the local history, I don’t think that educational mission is compatible with the use of a Native American-themed mascot,” the SBU professor said.

‘When we do make our plan, we are very mindful of including every stakeholder.’ ­

— Jennifer Quinn

An opportunity for dialogue

Assessing NYSED’s approach, Flood suggested Albany is applying a blanket policy to a multifaceted issue. He contended the state government is neither informed of Comsewogue’s historical circumstances nor sensitive to the variations between tribes across Long Island.

“The state takes the approach that one size fits all,” the assemblyman said. “They’re not looking into every local district.”

While pressure comes down from Albany, Scribner said schools are uniquely suited to answer these moral questions through their abundant channels for local input.

“School politics remain one of the strongest and most accessible democratic spaces we have in this country,” the UM professor said. “They are, of course, hemmed in certain ways by state regulations. But again, I still think that if local voters really want something, they do have levers to pull.”

Quinn affirmed CSD’s commitment to working as a community through this sensitive local matter. “Nobody wants to do anything to make a child feel uncomfortable,” she said. “Ultimately, we have to see what [NYSED is] going to tell us we have to do, and then we can make a plan.”

The district superintendent concluded, “When we do make our plan, we are very mindful of including every stakeholder. Our community is going to be very involved.”

Englebright noted that CSD likely did not intend to disparage Native Americans when it created its logo and team name. 

Nonetheless, the former assemblyman reiterated that study commissions and community forums could be fruitful in working out competing ethical considerations. 

“History is complicated,” Englebright said. “That’s why I think this deserves some introspection.”

At podium, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announces $450,000 in federal funds to rid the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site of its remaining buildings. Photo by Raymond Janis

Public officials of all levels of government, business and civic leaders, and community members gathered Monday, Jan. 9, before a derelict building at the Lawrence Aviation Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station.

Once a dumping ground for toxic waste, policymakers are now plotting a course of action for this 126-acre property. After taking decades to rid the site of harmful contaminants, officials and community groups are working toward an ambitious proposal to convert the site into a multipurpose community hub, accommodating a solar farm, a railyard and open space for local residents.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called the press conference to announce the injection of $450,000 in federal funds secured through the recent omnibus budget. This money will be used to help demolish the remaining buildings at the property. 

“We’re here today to showcase one of the final puzzle pieces needed to demo 14 dangerous buildings here,” Schumer said. “I am here today to say that the train that is on this journey is ready to leave the station.” 

The Senate majority leader added that these funds would advance three community goals. “One, a railroad-use project to help the LIRR with logistics; industrial redevelopment of a 5-megawatt solar farm,” and lastly, add 50 construction jobs to the local economy.

At podium, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Photo by Raymond Janis

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) described the considerable intergovernmental coordination and logistical obstacles to get to this stage.

“This project, as reflected by all of the people that have come together and all the levels of government, is critically important to the community,” he said.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) discussed the long and arduous road to revitalizing the site and the decades that have passed as this community blight lay barren. 

“These buildings have been condemned for over 25 years,” he said. “This has been a Superfund site for almost 25 years. Finally, we will see these buildings come down.”

Former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also attended the press event. During his time in Albany, he championed the site’s conversion for environmental and community purposes.

“We have a plan that will enhance our community and create new jobs,” he said. “This property stood out as a place in peril of a potentially bad decision,” adding, “Instead, we have a very thoughtful plan.”

Englebright, a geologist by trade, also touched upon the environmental impacts that redevelopment will offer through these plans. He said local harbors, groundwater and surface waters would benefit as this dark episode in local history concludes.

At podium, Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). Photo by Raymond Janis

“The harbor, which is the beginning of our town, has been poisoned by the solvents that were poured into the ground here,” the former assemblyman said. “That is a thing of the past because of the federal involvement with the Superfund cleanup.”

He added, “All the levels of government are working together here, which is a beautiful thing. It’s a model for what government should be able to do all the time.”

Jen Dzvonar, president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, also offered her perspective. She said public improvements such as these indirectly support and promote local businesses.

“Any improvement in Port Jefferson Station is major,” she said. “By getting the blight away from the area, we will increase businesses. A solar farm is coming. They’re creating 50 construction jobs. It just heightens Port Jefferson Station and the desire to come here.”

Representing the Village of Port Jefferson were Mayor Margot Garant and Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden. Both stressed the importance of this undertaking, conveying their support for neighboring Port Jefferson Station in its community aspirations.

Garant viewed the plans as an opportunity to improve the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road. “We’re really in support of this because of the MTA portion of it,” she said. “To clean up this site, to put it back to public use, to not have the county paying taxes on it, is good for everybody.”

For Snaden, the project will bolster the village’s neighbors, representing a vital regional investment. “I think it’s great,” she said. “It’s a cleanup of the site. It’s knocking down these falling buildings, adding to the betterment of the entire community and the region at large.”

Schumer said the next step would be to ensure that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development expedites these funds, ensuring the prompt demolition of the buildings and swift redevelopment of the site.



Graphic from the Port Jefferson Village website

The Village of Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees met on Monday, Dec. 12, to review several important matters.

Mayor Margot Garant provided some key updates on the status of the stabilization projects at the East Beach bluff. At the toe of the bluff, the lower sea wall has already been installed along with its concrete cap. Construction will continue for several more months.

“That work will continue through the spring,” Garant said. “At some point, they will stop working during the severe winter, and in the springtime they will start to stabilize the bluff and plant and revegetate everything.”

At the upland, the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club’s clubhouse facility hangs dangerously close to the bluff’s edge. In an exchange during the public comments, Garant stated the board is still exploring its upland options.

“We still don’t have enough information to decide to build [an upper wall], to put it out to the public [for referendum] or to decide to abandon [the clubhouse] and retreat,” she said. “We have decided to wait and let the phase I project be completed. … Right now, we are at a standstill with any major expenditures or advancements on phase II.”

Garant also gave an update on the status of the Port Jefferson Village Clean Solid Waste Landfill, a small kettle hole the village uses for branch and leaf pickup services. Though the village’s permit with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation was set to expire on Dec. 11, the mayor said the agency would temporarily allow the village to continue its current use of the site.

“It looks like our paperwork was submitted in a timely manner to allow us to continue operations until we either have a renewed permit or we are redefined as a transfer station and not a landfill,” she said. For more on this intergovernmental permit dispute, see story, “Garbage grief: PJ Village and DEC clash over landfill permit.

Garant thanked New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for his decades of representing the Port Jefferson community. Englebright will leave office at the end of the month after narrowly losing last month to Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson) during the midterm election.

The mayor recognized Englebright’s lasting impact, noting “the many, many things that he’s accomplished for this community, locally and also regionally, and the stewardship he has taken in terms of environmental preservation and saving a lot of our history.”

Deputy Mayor Kathianne Snaden reported on some of the ongoing work within the Port Jefferson Planning Board regarding a proposed development by Conifer Realty located at the intersection of Main and Perry streets. This project, colloquially known as “Conifer II,” comes as Conifer’s Port Jefferson Crossing Apartments nears its grand opening.

Conifer II “is going to take the rest of the blighted block up there and turn it into a beautiful new building,” Snaden said. “We’ve been working very, very hard to make sure that the aesthetic of that building is in compliance with the whole plan, the master plan up there, with the current building that’s there, and everything works together and looks nice.”

The deputy mayor also announced an innovation concerning parking enforcement. An automatic license plate reader, or ALPR, attached to a code enforcement vehicle will soon replace parking enforcement operations. Snaden said the ALPR would assist the code department in generating overtime parking tickets on Main, with plans to move this technology into the metered parking lots.

“How that will affect you guys, the residents, is that there will be no parking stickers next year,” Snaden said. “You will go online and register the exact same way that you do. The only difference is that you will not be mailed an actual sticker. You will just be registered in the system by your license plate.”

Trustee Stan Loucks began his report by thanking the parks department staff, attributing much of the success of the village’s 26th annual Charles Dickens Festival to their efforts.

“The Dickens Festival turned out to be super successful, and I think a lot of it is due to the parks department and the hard work that they put in,” he said.

Trustee Lauren Sheprow, the village’s communications commissioner, reported on the recent formation of a communications team following an internal communications audit she conducted earlier this year. Kevin Wood heads the team, along with his duties as the village’s director of economic development and parking administrator. 

Sheprow referred to this as “a historic occasion” for the village government. “There are some hurdles and challenges there, no doubt, but I think that this group is up to the task to come together as a team,” she said.

The village board will reconvene Tuesday, Jan. 3, at 5 p.m.

Dozens of community members, performers, business leaders and public officials gathered at the Train Car Park in Port Jefferson Station Dec. 8, continuing a lasting holiday custom.

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce has hosted this event for decades, perennially reuniting the various facets of the community amid festive cheer. Guests were greeted with hot chocolate under a tent, with some chamber members tabling inside.

The stars of the event, Santa and Mrs. Claus, arrived in a stylish fire rescue vehicle supplied by the Terryville Fire Department. Along with them was chamber president Jen Dzvonar, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook).

Santa and Mrs. Claus spent quality time with the children, sitting for photographs and taking requests for Christmas. Vocalists from the School of Rock performed Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs. Dancers from the Port Jefferson Station-based Backstage Studio of Dance jived to the musical beats of several tunes.

“We try to rally the entire community for a great community event,” Dzvonar said. She responded to the sizable turnout and talented performers by saying, “I think it’s so heartwarming. It’s like a true holiday festival, celebratory and inviting.”

The laughter and fun of the evening were just another positive development in a string of forward momentum for the community this year. Kornreich described the spectacle as exemplifying the area’s distinctiveness and charm.

“By my reckoning, I think this is reason number 74 for why Port Jeff Station is one of the best places to live in Suffolk County,” he said. “This town is changing so quickly, and there are just so many fun things going on here all the time,” adding, “I’m just really happy to be here with everyone from the community on yet another happy occasion in our new park.”

Englebright outlined some of the historical contexts behind this event. The assemblyman regarded the gradual development of the area and the Train Car Park as the product of decades of joint efforts between community groups, governmental entities and engaged residents.

“To see all of the young people here, and Santa and Mrs. Claus … it is showing us all the direction that this holiday is meant to be in,” the assemblyman said. “It’s very heartening to see the very talented kids, the dancers and the fire department. The whole community is here, and it’s just amazing.”

Gwenn Capodieci is the executive director of the Backstage dance studio. She said her dance groups have performed during this event for the past three years and frequently coordinate with PJSTCC. For her, the evening is a unique opportunity for the dancers to perform before their peers and community members.

“After all, this is a performing art,” she said. “Performing is a big part of it, so to get an opportunity to show that is really great.” 

Nicole Terlizzo, artistic director and teacher at the dance studio, said the performances were the product of two months of preparation, with the rehearsals ranging from jazz techniques to hip-hop, tap, ballet and others.

“The girls practiced really hard and really came together,” Terlizzo said. “They have a lot of fun doing it, and it’s a fun way to get them out of the studio and in front of the community.”

Paul Perrone, vice president of PJSTCC, summed up why the chamber continues this tradition annually: “It gives people an opportunity to get out of their house and enjoy the community park,” he said. “It helps people feel that Comsewogue — Port Jefferson Station/Terryville — has something to offer everybody.”

Joan Nickeson, the chamber’s community liaison, offered her take as well, citing the tree lighting event as an annual tradition that highlights the area’s continued growth and support.

“It’s an annual Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce tradition, and we’re so fortunate to have a great Santa, support from our electeds, residents and the business community,” she said.

File photo by Elana Glowatz

In a public referendum held Monday, Dec. 12, Port Jefferson School District residents voted down two ballot measures totaling $25 million in school infrastructure improvements.

With nearly 1,000 district residents turning out in wintry weather, just 24 votes would separate the yeas and nays on Proposition 1, a $23.1 million infrastructure package that targeted various facilities throughout the school district. The measure failed by a narrow margin of 498-474. Proposition 2, a $1.9 million proposed artificial turf field at the high school, was defeated 734-239, a roughly 3-1 ratio against the measure.

In an email statement, district superintendent of schools, Jessica Schmettan, offered her commentary on the outcome.

“While the district is disappointed in the results of the Dec. 12 bond vote, we thank all who participated,” she said. “The small margin of defeat of Proposition 1 was particularly upsetting, as the challenges that exist with our aging building infrastructure remain a top concern for the district and, as such, will require further discussion for how best to proceed.”

‘I think it’s very shortsighted by this community.’

— Margot Garant

Mayor Margot Garant, a PJSD alum, publicly supported both measures leading up to the referendum. In an interview, she also expressed disappointment at Monday’s results.

“I don’t think that’s the Port Jeff way to let things get so deteriorated,” she said. “I think [the Board of Education] came up with a doable plan, and it was the time to do it because the community is still being subsidized by the LIPA power plant.”

The mayor added, “The schools are so important to this community. It’s what people look for when they come to live in Port Jeff. It’s one of the pillars that makes this place so special. … Just because you don’t have a child in the district doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be investing in this community.”

Leading up to the election, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), whose district encompasses Port Jefferson, supported the infrastructure upgrades within Proposition 1. In a phone interview, he referred to Monday’s school election outcome as part of a regional electoral trend and a “reflection of the post-pandemic moment.”

“The escalating cost of food and fuel have put a lot of people on edge,” he said. “I would guess that what we’re seeing is a reflection of the general anxieties about inflation.”

Though Englebright was sorry to learn that the voters defeated the facilities improvements, he was less amenable to the artificial turf proposal. He regarded the potential risks associated with synthetic turf as an unsettled science, with crumb rubber possibly having “some contamination issues,” along with added costs for maintenance and replacement. “It’s a very expensive proposition for those reasons,” he said.

Englebright was not alone in his reservations about the turf proposal. Paul Ryan, a former BOE candidate, was a vocal opponent of Proposition 2 in the months leading up to the vote. In an email statement, Ryan said Proposition 2 likely impacted the outcome of Proposition 1.

“I was disappointed but not surprised to learn that Prop 1 failed to garner enough community support,” he said. “I believe it failed because of the inclusion of Prop 2,” adding, “I suspected that enough of the residents would be upset by the turf that they [would] vote down the whole bond.”

Monday’s negative vote has prompted questions about the long-term prospects of the school district. For Garant, residents have an active stake in maintaining school facilities, which she said closely correspond to property values.

“Your home values are in direct correlation and are so connected to the value of the schools,” she said, adding, “I think it’s very shortsighted by this community. I’m disappointed, and I want to encourage the school board to continue their efforts, go back to the grind and maybe come back again.”

Some have advocated for PJSD to merge with a neighboring district due to its declining student enrollment in recent years. Garant regarded this idea as misguided, maintaining that support for the school district is in the village’s long-term interest.

“The miscommunication that’s going out there is that we can just merge with another district,” she said. “If we did that, our taxes would double immediately. I think that’s what people don’t really understand.”

Englebright noted the important place public schools occupy within the greater community. However, he suggested residents may need to take time for the broader economic trends to settle before taking on additional expenses.

“That school district has a long and distinguished history of service,” the assemblyman said. “People in Port Jefferson are rightly proud of their schools,” but adding, “I think that we have to give it a little time.”

Ryan again took on a different tone, insisting that future referenda within the district will require closer coordination with those supporting these projects financially.

“The administration and BOE need to demonstrate that they are able to hear the residents’ concerns, prioritize only essential infrastructure and take a fiscally responsible approach to spending,” he said. “If they do not, they may find annual budget votes contentious.”

Pictured above, Rich Schaffer (left) and Jesse Garcia (right). Left photo from Babylon Town website; right file photo from Suffolk GOP

In a year of narrow margins of victory and slim majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, Republicans made steady gains in Suffolk County. Following this outcome, TBR News Media spoke independently with Rich Schaffer and Jesse Garcia, respective chairmen of the Suffolk Democratic and Republican committees, for their views on the local outcome.

What is your initial reaction to this year’s midterm election results?

Schaffer: 

In Suffolk County, I think voters were clear in demonstrating that they had great concerns about some of the issues out of Albany, issues revolving around public safety, law enforcement and affordability. I think [Republican gubernatorial nominee U.S. Rep.] Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] spoke to that, and that’s why you had the results you had where I think he gathered about 59% of the [Suffolk] vote.

We, the Democratic Party, need to do a better job on messaging. The governor [Kathy Hochul (D)] delivered record amounts of state aid for education, and nobody even knew about it. The governor delivered record amounts of infrastructure monies that fixed the LIE and various roads throughout the county, and nobody knew about it. The governor held up the state budget to have tweaks made to the bail reform and criminal justice issues that were passed by the Legislature earlier this year, and nobody knew about it.

I think we failed at our messaging, and the Republicans did a better job on that.

Garcia:

I’m very proud of the reaction of the voters of Suffolk County and of the hard work of the Suffolk County Republican Committee members involved here. This is a process that began in the cold, wintery nights of February. It culminated with the night we call our Super Bowl, with a successful election night.

Our goal was to deliver 60% of the vote for Lee Zeldin. We did, we gave him a plurality of 100,000 votes. I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts we put in in Suffolk County, Long Island and throughout the state. Because of our efforts, we knocked off a 40-year Democratic incumbent lawmaker [state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, previously a Suffolk County legislator (Setauket)] and we came very close in two other seats, AD-11 and the 4th Senatorial District. 

All in all, it was a very successful night. More importantly, it was a successful night for the voters of Suffolk County.

Did your party meet expectations?

Schaffer:

I can’t speak to the county numbers because I don’t have all of them, but I’ve been looking at the Babylon numbers because I’m an elected official in Babylon. 

We underperformed in terms of turnout. Republicans had their normal turnout in Babylon. Blanks [i.e., those not registered with any party] and Democrats had about 10% to 15% less turnout than we would normally have in a gubernatorial election year. That alone speaks to my answer to the first question, messaging. And two, in terms of turning out people who would normally turn out for us, we didn’t do a good job doing that. We have to find out why they didn’t turn out.

Garcia:

We always set very lofty goals for ourselves. In my time as chairman of the Republican Party here in Suffolk County, in every election cycle we have flipped a blue seat. I have great confidence in this committee. When we set our minds to a goal, we meet them. On Nov. 9 and 10, we were in our headquarters plotting out the next election cycle and setting goals there for our town and our county. 

Based on these results, how is voting behavior in Suffolk County changing?

Schaffer:

I don’t know if it’s changing, but I would say that it’s always going to be a moderate to conservative place. The enrollment numbers are pretty much even, Democrat to Republican, and then there’s another third who are independent, blanks. 

You are seeing ticket splitting because Democrats are getting elected in various places. If there’s an answer to your question about changing, I would say that Suffolk County voters are voting in a more moderate to conservative way, whether they be a registered Democrat, Republican or not registered with any party. And maybe that’s to say that registration doesn’t determine how someone’s going to vote.

I think they’re going to come out and they’re going to vote based on how they feel about the particular issues of the day, and if you haven’t done your job on messaging then you’re not going to win that battle.

Garcia:

I think that it’s changing in a way that we are utilizing Republican governance as the proper way to govern at the town level, the county level, or the state and federal levels. I use our supervisors throughout the town, our Republican supervisors with Republican majorities, to show the voters that there’s a different way to govern, and I think that way is now being responded to.

Even deep blue seats in the strongholds of the Democratic Party — whether it be Babylon Town or in the 1st [Council] District of Brookhaven — we have had historic victories this year. While we’ve had successes at the townwide level, this year we finally broke through that ceiling and were successful at the [state] level by defeating Assemblyman Englebright.

I believe that the voter trends that we’re seeing are the results of the political infrastructure, on one hand. On the other hand, residents are recognizing the difference between Republican and Democratic governance.

Has your party altered its political strategy with respect to voting by mail? Do you foresee mail-in ballots playing a greater role in the future?

Schaffer:

Absolutely. I think any time you make voting more accessible, you’re going to get a better response from people. We were always champions of communicating with people who are on permanent absentee [ballot status], those who are in nursing homes or who are not able to get out and vote physically. 

Keep in mind, if someone requests a ballot early, or with early voting as much as 10 days out, you have to kind of move up your communications schedule so that you don’t lose the opportunity to communicate with those people and have an impact. If there’s a change in strategy, it’s probably moving up the communication schedule and doing it earlier.

Garcia:

I made a commitment to our leaders, to our candidates, our elected officials, our committee people and to the voters of Suffolk County that I will adapt. 

I will make sure that this party has the wherewithal to adapt to any and all shenanigans on the electoral side set forth by the Democratic majority in Albany.

We continue to do that on an annual basis, and this year — unlike in previous years — the absentee ballots were not as disastrous. 

As I said, I adapt each and every year our tactics, our approach and our strategies to any electoral shenanigans that the Democrats in Albany put into place.

What does your party have to do to win over more voters?

Schaffer:

More direct communication. I’ve told our party members that we have to get back to doing door-to-door. Obviously, COVID really knocked the you-know-what out of that. People have just given up on talking to people in an office, relying on text messages and emails. Mailings have kind of even dropped down now. It’s become who can get their message out on TikTok and Instagram.

I think people have become immune to that because they’re just pounded all day long with social media and technology, so I think we have to get back to more direct, one-on-one social interaction. The local election year next year, 2023, is a great year to do that because turnout does drop in ‘23 with a smaller group of people to communicate with. 

I think it’s important to do that and to get the party people to do that, because that’s the best way to have an impact on getting your people out and getting people to buy into your message.

Garcia:

We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing. We’re going to expand and grow our coalitions. We’re going to learn from the successes we had in 2022. Those areas that we think we can improve upon, we will. 

My goal right now is to reelect the incumbents in Brookhaven Town, in my capacity as Brookhaven Town [Republican Committee] chairman. 

And then to set my sights on the county executive’s seat, filling it with a Republican for the first time in 20 years, and to expand and maintain the Republican majority elected last year [in the county Legislature].

Above, Assemblyman-elect Edward Flood (R-Port Jefferson). File photo by Rita J. Egan

In a major upset, Republican Party challenger Edward Flood, of Port Jefferson, has defeated incumbent state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Englebright, who chairs the state Assembly’s Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation, has held the seat since 1992.

Flood maintains a 700-vote lead over Englebright, with a current vote count of 24,189-23,489, according to a Suffolk County Board of Elections official. While those tallies are still uncertified, the source suggested the race is safe to call in Flood’s favor.

In a phone interview on Friday afternoon, Flood said he learned of his victory shortly after noon that day. While this result stunned many within the community, it was no surprise to his team. “On Election Day, we expected to win, and we expected to win narrowly,” he said.

While the results are still uncertified, Englebright offered his thoughts on the race during a phone interview on Sunday morning. He remarked on the several factors that contributed to his defeat, notably the effect of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) gubernatorial campaign on races down the ballot.

“It appears that I have not prevailed in this election, so I am, of course, disappointed,” the assemblyman said. “The turnout was low, and the results were, in part, also because there was in this region of the state more focus on the Republican head of the ticket than there was on the Democratic one.”

Throughout the campaign, Flood focused on the issues of crime and the economy. While the assemblyman-elect attributes his win, in part, to declining trust in Albany, he credited those involved in his campaign.

“I think it was a combination of the general attitudes towards politics right now — what’s going on both statewide and nationwide, the issues that we were hitting on — and then our ground game,” he said. “We had a lot of volunteers. … Once we did some polling and realized our message was resonating, it just needed to get out.”

For Englebright, the result reflected a regional trend in this election cycle away from the Democrats. “We lost four [state] Senate seats — two of which were incumbents in Nassau County — and … it looks like we lost five [Democratic] assembly seats if you include the two in Brooklyn,” he said. “It was a disappointing evening for all Democrats, really.”

Despite his differences from the incumbent, Flood remarked on the qualities he admired in Englebright. “Assemblyman Englebright, at the end of the day, is a gentleman,” Flood said. “He was in this position for 30 years, a [county] legislator for nine. For someone to go through 39 years and never have an ethical thing come up, never have a scandal, it goes to the quality of the human being.” He added, “[Englebright] has been a champion of the environment, and that’s something I want to continue.”

Unlike his predecessor, Flood will be a minority member of the Assembly and a freshman legislator. Given these factors, Englebright encouraged Flood to find ways to be effective.

“I hope he is able to be relevant,” Englebright said. “The reality is he will be serving in the minority, and he will have a real challenge in just being able to accomplish rudimentary things.”

He added, “I hope that he’s able to be productive for the best interests of the people of the district, but all things are relative, and it’s a seniority-based system. As a freshman and minority member, it will be a challenge.”

In his interview, Flood reiterated a previous message about his intended role in Albany. While he brings some ideas and policy preferences to the office, he insists that his service requires collaboration with the communities he represents.

“I’m there to serve the people and their needs,” he said. “For a lot of people throughout the district, there are very similar needs and priorities that we want. We want good schools, safe neighborhoods, economic opportunities. We want the prices of things to come down, and we want to be able to manage to stay on Long Island.”

He concluded, “My door is always open to see what the needs of the community are and act appropriately. At the end of the day, I was elected to [advance] the needs and the work of the community, not necessarily my own needs.”

After serving in public office for nearly four decades, Englebright will soon return to life as a private citizen. However, the outgoing assemblyman pledged to stay involved in the community and remains committed to the principles and policies guiding his time in office.

“I’m in every way looking forward to continuing to make contributions to the community,” he said. “Ultimately, we are one community, and we have a need to respect our common heritage and continue to do everything possible to protect our quality of life by investing in young people and joining together to protect things that matter, such as the water quality of our harbors and drinking water,” adding, “These are things we should continue to work together on.”