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Suffolk County Clerk

TBR conducted a phone interview with Democrat Lisa Jimenez, left, and Republican Vincent Puleo, right, stopped by the office to discuss the 2022 county clerk race. Photo of Jimenez from candidate; photo of Puleo by Raymond Janis

For Suffolk County clerk, TBR News Media endorses Vincent Puleo.

Puleo has an impressive track record regarding organizing and digitizing records in the Town of Smithtown where he currently is town clerk. He also was able to get the Smithtown town clerk’s office back and running quickly after the COVID-19 shutdowns, with residents emailing the office and setting up appointments. The office was one of the easiest places to get a marriage license at the beginning of the pandemic.

He also has a good track record in obtaining grants to supplement the municipality’s budget.

We agree with Lisa Jimenez that her career and volunteer work have provided her with a wealth of valuable experience where she can quickly learn what she needs to do. But when you have someone like Puleo who has already run a similar office, it seems his win would lead to a seamless transition when Judith Pascale’s term ends.

After the county cyberattack that led to a backup in services, we need someone who can step into the position and hit the ground running. For us, that person is Puleo.

Voters will choose between Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) for governor in the November gubernatorial election. Photos from candidates’ offices

Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) each won their party’s primary election on Tuesday, June 28, setting the stage for the gubernatorial election this November.

Hochul won her race handily, winning every county in the state. She became the first female candidate to win the Democratic nomination for governor.

“I stand on the shoulders of generations of women, generations of women who constantly had to bang up against that class ceiling,” the governor said. “To the women of New York, this one’s for you.”

Hochul bested New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Long Island native Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3). Along with his unsuccessful bid for governor, Suozzi vacated his seat in Congress, triggering a primary election to fill that seat which will be held Aug. 23.

Suozzi was not the only Long Islander in the running for governor. On the Republican side, Lee Zeldin, of Shirley, beat out three other Republican candidates, including Andrew Giuliani, carrying 43.9% of the vote statewide with over 95% reported.

In his victory speech, Zeldin said, “I commend all of the candidates in this primary for running a hard-fought race and look forward to working together to fire Kathy Hochul and save our state. This is a rescue mission to end the attacks on our safety, wallets, freedoms and kids’ education. Losing is not an option.”

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado (D) also won his race and will run alongside Hochul throughout this election cycle.

In the legislative race, two Republican candidates — Edward Flood and Thomas Wiermann — competed for their party’s nomination in the 4th Assembly District. Flood, a narrow winner unofficially by 2,491 votes to 2,375, will take on state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) this November in the general election.

At the county level, Republican Vincent Puleo, town clerk of Smithtown, defeated incumbent Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale, who has served in that position since 2006. Puleo received 60% of votes in the primary election.

Photo by Raymond Janis

On Saturday, April 23, public officials gathered to formally rename the 107-acre Farmingville Hills County Park after the late Suffolk Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma); it will be known as Thomas Muratore County Park.

The ceremony was hosted by county Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), majority leader of the Legislature. Caracappa succeeded the late legislator by special election less than two months after Muratore’s untimely death on Sept. 8, 2020. Caracappa also sponsored legislation to rename the park in Muratore’s honor. 

“Tom Muratore had a special way about him,” Caracappa said. “He knew how to touch us and mentor us and just be a good friend to us. Anyone who knew Tom knew of his passion for serving his community, his constituents and the residents of Suffolk County. Whether it was talking about politics, talking about his family or talking about the way the Yankees either won or lost, he had a passion that was unmistakable.”

The event included elected leaders from the town, county and state governments. First among these speakers was County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who emphasized Muratore’s unique ability to bring competing parties and interests together. 

“You have people from all walks of life here, people from all across the political spectrum, and I think that speaks volumes about who Tom Muratore was,” Bellone said. “He was always the utmost gentleman and would work with you. There was a way about him that I think was an example and a model for all of us to look at about how we should govern.” The county executive added, “This man was a true public servant his entire life and we need to honor public servants like that. We need more of the way that he conducted himself in public life.”

Elected officials gather at the newly named Thomas Muratore Park at Farmingville Hills on April 23. Photo by Raymond Janis

Discussing what it means to rename the county park after Muratore, Bellone said, “It’s an honor to be here today to be able to help name this park in his name so that forevermore, as we move from here, this will be a place where a man of great honor and a great public servant is remembered always in this county.”

County Legislature presiding officer, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), acknowledged Muratore’s record of public service and his example of quality leadership throughout the county. 

“I got to know Tom when I joined the Legislature in 2014,” he said. “He was truly a mentor to me. He always had my back, never afraid to tell me when I was doing something right or wrong. No matter what role he took, whether it be in government, as a police officer or serving our county … he continued to serve.” McCaffrey added, “He didn’t just serve, he served well.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, commended Muratore for the human touch that he put on his work in county government. “Tom was always invested in you,” Richberg said. “It didn’t matter when it was, he was always walking around, talking to everyone, finding out how their family was doing, what was going on in their personal lives.” The minority leader added, “He really wanted to know how you were doing. Beyond the politics, it was always about you.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) spoke of his experience serving for three years as Muratore’s chief of staff. LaValle said Muratore made little distinction between his public and private responsibilities, treating his staff as though they were family.

“You weren’t employed by Tom Muratore,” LaValle said. “You may have worked for Tom, but when you worked for Tom, you were part of his family and that’s how he always treated us.” Reflecting upon Muratore’s passing, the councilman added, “It hit us all hard because it was like losing your uncle or your dad. He always was around for us no matter what it was. It wasn’t just about government for Tom. It was about you as a person and about your family and how you were doing. It was never about Tom.”

County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) complimented Muratore’s legislative philosophy. According to her, his leadership was defined by his love of his community.

“Tom operated and governed from a base of love,” Kennedy said. “He loved the organizations, he loved the people that he was with. He was a good human being and I know right now that he is sitting in the palms of God’s hands.”

County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) spoke of Muratore’s effectiveness as a labor leader. Kennedy believed that Muratore’s style of representation included both a sense of urgency as well as a sincere conviction and passion for the work he performed.

“Always, always he was about our workforce and about the integrity of our county. He truly embraced that concept of service,” the comptroller said. 

County Clerk Judy Pascale (R) used her memorial address to recite a quote from the late American poet, Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Pascale said, adding, “Tommy, you always made us feel very special. Rest in peace, brother.”

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) suggested Muratore brought to county government a commonsense outlook and an approach guided by practical wisdom. 

“It was commonsense government, that’s what it was when you were with Tom Muratore,” Mattera said. “He cared about a decent wage, a decent health care [plan], a decent pension for all, so that we can live here on the Island.” Sharing his expectations for the park, the state senator added, “We have 107 acres here and when anybody walks these 107 acres at Tom Muratore Park, you’re always going to remember this name. This is an absolutely beautiful park and to have a name like Tom Muratore, I am just blessed to say I knew him.”

State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) emphasized Muratore’s authenticity. “Every time he would talk to you, he was never texting or doing anything like that,” Smith said. “He would be in the moment. I think more of us should live in the moment and genuinely care about each other.” The assemblyman also highlighted Muratore’s creative strategies to solve problems and get work done. “And I really appreciate that kind of relentless attitude. I just loved that about Tom and about how he always wanted to go to bat for people.”

Michael Wentz, president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presents a proclamation to Linda Muratore. Photo by Raymond Janis

Michael Wentz, founder and president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presented Muratore’s wife Linda with a proclamation that the chamber had prepared with Sachem Public Library of Holbrook. It reads: “On behalf of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, we present this proclamation in recognition of Thomas Muratore, whose never-ending support of his community and local businesses will forever live on, and be remembered for generations to come.”

The presentations were concluded with a short speech prepared by Linda Muratore, who used her time to honor Caracappa’s mother, the late county Legislator Rose Caracappa: “I don’t know if Legislator Caracappa knows, but Tom was very fond of his mom, Legislator Rose Caracappa. Every time he saw her name on a building, he said, ‘That must be the greatest honor.’” Linda Muratore added, “Today his dream has come true because of all of you. Thank you again for honoring my husband. I truly know that it was his honor to serve all of you.”

Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale says she wants to run for reelection in 2022. Photo from the Suffolk County Clerk Facebook page.

This week, TBR News Media sat down with Suffolk County Clerk Judith Pascale (R). In our interview, Pascale was candid about Women’s History Month, the controversy surrounding her upcoming bid for reelection and her legacy in the county clerk’s office. 

What is your professional background and how did you get to the county clerk’s office?

My husband has a business, and I was the chamber president for the Mastics and Shirley Chamber [of Commerce] many years ago. I was the first woman that was ever running for president of that chamber. It was kind of a contentious race of predominantly men and, to cut a long story short, I won by one vote. 

Later on, I went to work on a congressional race as a volunteer for Ed Romaine’s [R] campaign. After that, I worked on a district attorney’s race. When Ed Romaine ran for county clerk, he asked me to join him and that’s when I first went to the county clerk’s office, which I believe was 1989.

I went in as senior deputy, in charge of court actions. Ultimately, I became the chief deputy county clerk and served for him for about 16 years. He decided to leave to go back to the [county] Legislature — he was term limited — and when he left, I became the acting county clerk because in New York, you have to have a county clerk, a sheriff and a DA. It’s a state constitutional office.

I screened for the position, amongst many others. On March 10 of 2006, then-Governor George Pataki [R] appointed me after months of investigation. Luckily, as I like to say, I led a very dull life and got appointed and became the acting county clerk. Subsequently, I ran for the open seat. I got elected and was elected again in 2010, 2014 and 2018. 

March is Women’s History Month, and you are just the second woman in the history of Suffolk County to hold the office of county clerk. What does that distinction mean to you?

I think that it’s important that women are judged by their capability, and I think there are certain industries and certain professions that women have broken the glass ceiling, broken the marble ceiling. I think that’s important, and I think that’s a mantle that I’m very proud to carry.

As far as other women are concerned, I think it’s very important for people to know that no matter what you are, you have the capability. I’m very proud to be the second woman. There are a lot of county clerks that are females, there are a lot that are males, but I’m only the second woman to hold it in Suffolk County. 

How has the landscape changed since when you first started out? Do you notice any more women holding leadership roles in government now?

I think it has become more acceptable, more accepted that women have a great contribution to make. I don’t think it should matter whether you’re a man or a woman. If you have the capability and you have the drive and you have the ethical standards, then I think certainly the door is open for women.

Transitioning into this year’s race for Suffolk County clerk, we spoke with Republican nominee, Smithtown Town Clerk Vincent Puleo, last week and he was under the impression that you were going to retire after this term. We’d like to give you an opportunity to clear that up. Do you intend to retire after this term, or do you plan to run for reelection?

Any elected official that tells you that they’re never running again — first of all, if they say that, it may be in the heat of a moment. 

They are saying that I made a commitment that I would not run again. I believe that commitment was that I wanted another term. They’ll say that I absolutely said that I would not run again, and that is not something that I said. I said at the time that I wanted another term.

Listen, do I expect to stay here forever? No. I’ve given 30-plus years of my life to the county clerk’s office. I’m very, very proud of everything that we’ve done there. We moved this office light-years ahead and that’s because I have a great staff.

The issue that I have is the way it was handled. I asked at the end of the year if I could do a kickoff fundraiser. I was told I could. I planned one in the beginning of February and the Friday before my fundraiser, I was told that I had no support. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done. We’re an award-winning office throughout the state. The fact that the party that I supported — I mean, I broke bread with these people — then all of a sudden I was being thrown out like last week’s trash. 

Primaries are very difficult and running a primary is a herculean task. They have an army. Anybody that has wanted to help me has, I’m going to say, been intimidated. Basically, I’m on my own and I don’t know if I’ll be successful. If I can get enough signatures to get on the ballot for a primary, I will. 

They want me out and, to me, that’s pretty devastating. I’ve served with integrity and dignity, and they should have told me six months ago. At least let me leave with some dignity. And I will tell you this: Women have come up to me and have thanked me for doing this. I’m the only countywide elected official that’s female. It’s not easy, it’s exhausting, and no one can help me. The fact that I’ve served this party and served this committee for all these years, and now I’ve become a pariah. That’s upsetting. 

As a follow-up, you have won reelection multiple times. You do have name recognition and an electoral track record. If you do get the signatures, are you interested in running in a primary race against Vincent Puleo?

I hate it. Nobody wants to go into a primary. The purpose of getting enough signatures is that if you get enough signatures, you do a primary. Primaries get ugly and, like I said, he’s got an army and I don’t. It would be very ugly and it’s not something that I look forward to, but sometimes you do things that you have to do. 

With all of that being said, if you were to win reelection in November, what kind of vision do you foresee for your office over the next four years?

When COVID hit, it was like the perfect storm. COVID hit and everybody moved to Suffolk County, so that meant that all of those land and real estate documents had to be processed and they were initiated. We not only had a shutdown order, but also this influx of this crazy real estate market in Suffolk County. We were able to do a remote system, so there was no interruption in the real estate economy, none. No financial disturbance was caused and, as a matter of fact, it was actually enhanced.

We would like to add more things to the system: more documents, more document types. I would just like to continue along that trend, add a few more documents to the electronic recording system. 

I’d like to amend the mental hygiene law for those people that have been determined to be mentally incompetent. My concern is that these people may have considerable assets, and we want to change the law to say that only the appointed person from the court can view that file. We don’t want “Cousin Mary” to be able to say, “Oh yeah, she’s got $300,000 in the bank.” These are vulnerable people that need to be protected.

Also, one of our primary concerns is cybersecurity, which is a concern everywhere. We’re working on that now and have a couple of capital projects that we’re working on to ensure our records are maintained and secure. There are a few more things that I would like to finish up, and if that happens it would be beneficial to Suffolk County residents.

Could you summarize your legacy in the county clerk’s office over the last three decades? What do you hope to be remembered for?

I would like my legacy to be that I have brought this office into this century and beyond, that I have made this office more user-friendly while simultaneously protecting the privacy of those people whose privacy needs to be protected. My legacy should be that we have won the ‘Best of New York’ award, and we’ve gotten an award for bringing government closer to the people. 

Government is a maze for most people. People have a difficult time navigating the government. My goal was to make it more accessible, more user-friendly, and we’ve won awards for this. I’m very proud that we put together a great IT team. I’d like my legacy to be that I improved the county clerk’s office, picked up where the last county clerk left off and brought it into the next phase. 

I think you have a responsibility as an elected official to leave the office somewhat better than the way you found it. Despite some of the wonderful county clerks that we’ve had, I am pretty confident that I will leave the office better than I found it, all while serving the 1.5 million Suffolk County residents.

Click here to view our interview with Puleo, “One-on-one with Vincent Puleo, GOP and Conservative candidate for Suffolk County clerk.”