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Suffolk County Legislature

Suffolk Legislator Susan Berland was at the head of changing ban the box legislation. File photo

The Suffolk County Legislature voted overwhelmingly March 17 to pass a piece of legislation that “bans the box” and restricts employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications.

The new law aims to allow those with criminal convictions to have more employment opportunities without the stigma of past criminal history. In addition, supporters of the bill have said that it would help those individuals rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application.”

— Susan Berland

County legislators have been trying to pass ban-the-box legislation since last year, but the latest breakthrough came late last month when lawmakers announced they had reached a bipartisan agreement on a new amended piece of legislation. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) sponsored the bill, while Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) were co-sponsors. 

“This law allows applicants with criminal records to have the opportunity to get their foot in the door, have that face-to-face with an employer and get that interview,” Berland said. 

In addition, the law gives the applicant the chance to address their criminal history with a prospective employer earlier if they choose to and protects the employer’s right to investigate the backgrounds of its applicants after an initial interview.

Berland said the new amended legislation protects both sides. She believed previous versions of the bill placed too much onus on employers, requiring them to wait an extended period of time until they could inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application,” the legislator said. 

Advocates have said Suffolk County has one of the largest parole populations in the state and that one in three adults have a criminal record in the U.S. According to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but far less have actually been convicted. 

Supporters of the bill have said the ban would afford people a second chance, instead of having their applications discarded on the basis of one answer. Also, it would reduce the stigma and bias associated with individuals with a criminal background. Suffolk County will join more than 150 municipalities and 35 states in the U.S. which have implemented ban-the-box laws. 

“You can’t help but be affected by their stories,” Berland said. “These people have made mistakes, but they want to turn their lives around.”

Co-sponsor McCaffrey said in a statement that individuals deserve an opportunity to put their best foot forward in a job interview without being automatically disqualified. He said the legislation “strikes a fair balance.”

Gonzalez, the other co-sponsor, said he believes access to gainful employment will improve the quality of life for people with criminal records and the communities in which they live, ultimately reducing recidivism and increasing public safety. 

“We have been working on this legislation for quite some time — it’s a good day,” Berland said. “These are people that want to better themselves as well as families. This will get them in the door based on their application.”

Advocates say businesses asking applicants if they’re convicted felons often leaves them jobless. Stock photo

A piece of legislation that would restrict employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications could be voted on by Suffolk lawmakers in the near future.

At a county Legislature meeting earlier this month, legislators said that they had reached a bipartisan agreement on “Ban the Box” legislation and plan to present the bill at a later date. 

County Legislator Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) along with Legislators Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) plan on making amendments on the bill. 

“People makes mistakes in their lives, I’m sure each of you have made mistakes.”

— Melissa Bennett

More than 20 people came out in support of the bill at a Feb. 11 meeting. Those who spoke agreed that it would allow former convicts the ability to become better contributing members of a community while helping them rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“I would like applaud the Legislature for making progress in supporting fair hiring practices in Suffolk County — it’s about time,” said Serena Liguori, executive director of New Hour, a Long Island nonprofit organization advocacy group that supports women, mothers and children impacted by incarceration. “We have worked with more than a thousand women across the county who have convictions. Most of them need employment when they come home.” 

The executive director of the nonprofit said she hopes a potential passage of the legislation could lead to making strides around other issues. 

Besides employment, “many of the women we help talk about housing and the lack of it, [and] transportation,” Liguori said. 

Melissa Bennett, Huntington resident, said she believed individuals deserved a second chance. 

“People makes mistakes in their lives, I’m sure each of you have made mistakes,” she said. “We’re human, it happens. Without banning the box, you are essentially [putting people] in a box.”

Elizabeth Justesen, community outreach director of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, also stressed the need to eliminate the application question. 

“Last year this bill lost by one vote,” she said. “For those who came out here every month [to the Legislature] it was a blow. We sat in disbelief in the Legislature’s inability to vote on human dignity.”

The community outreach director pointed out that one in three people have a criminal record in the U.S. Other advocates of such legislation, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) have also made the claim in the past, though according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but less have actually been convicted. 

Though Justesen said with Suffolk County’s numbers of people on parole, people with convictions have it harder than it needs to be.

“In Suffolk County … with the largest parole population in the state, how can we expect them to get up on their feet and reintegrate to our communities if they cannot work,” Justesen said. “The time has come to do what is right and give people the chance to interview.” 

Supporters have contended the ban would give applicants a chance to explain their crimes, in turn increasing their chance of getting hired, reducing crime and the number of repeat offenders being sent back to jail. More than 150 municipalities and 33 states in the U.S. have implemented “Ban the Box” laws. 

Gonzalez spoke on the future of the legislation. 

“We have been fighting the fight on this bill for a very long time, and we have been continuing to come together to iron out our differences,” he said. “We all felt that we needed to get this thing put in. … I think we are headed in the right direction on this issue.” 

Local business owners are concerned about what the legislation could mean for them. The Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers encouraged members to voice their opinions on the issue. 

“It is imperative that you know what your elected officials are voting on and have a chance to share your concerns before additional regulations are forced on you which ultimately might make it harder to operate a business here in Suffolk County and New York state,” the organization said in an email. 

Last year, county legislators voted 9-8 against the measure. Lawmakers were concerned about putting too much onus on the employers. The previous version of the bill required employers to wait until after an initial interview to inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

At the time, Berland did not support some of the requirements. The legislator said she didn’t think people who have a criminal record should get more benefits than others, noting that people with no criminal records do not learn why they were passed over for a job.

Stony Brook and Smithtown residents are concerned about future traffic problems if developments like Gyrodyne's proposed plans and others are completed. File photo by Jonathan Kornreich

One county committee’s hope to analyze the impact of development along a local road has been dashed for the time being.

At its Feb. 11 general meeting, the Suffolk County Legislature tabled a resolution to study a segment of road in the vicinity of the Smithtown and Brookhaven border.

The resolution, introduced by county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), would allow the county to analyze the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook to determine the regional impacts associated with proposed and planned development projects in this area. It would also identify vacant and preserved parcels as well as existing zoning, amongst other criteria.

The county’s Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee recently passed the resolution, 5-1, with only county Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) voting against it.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist.”

— Rob Trotta

In the vicinity, the proposed development of Gyrodyne, also known as Flowerfield, which would include a hotel, assisted living, offices and sewage treatment plant, has drawn criticism from residents and elected officials in both Smithtown and Brookhaven. While the property sits in Smithtown, many have expressed concerns that additional traffic will impact Stony Brook, and the sewage treatment plant would have a repercussions on local waterways. Other properties with proposed and rumored development have also been cited as concerns.

Trotta, before the Feb. 11 general meeting, said he voted “no” in the committee because while he would like to see preservation of open spaces in the area, he said there is not much the county can do. In the case of Gyrodyne, the property is already zoned for light industrial use.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist,” he said.

Trotta, as well as opposers of the resolution who commented at the Feb. 11 meeting, said Gyrodyne will only be developing 25 acres of their 75 acres and there will be a 200-foot buffer of trees and shrubs. The property is already partially developed with rental space.

Hauppauge-based lawyer Timothy Shea criticized the resolution and said larger projects in Yaphank and Ronkonkoma have not undergone the same scrutiny from the county as the Gyrodyne project. The lawyer said when representing the developers of Stony Brook Square, which is being completed across from the train station on Route 25A, he faced similar opposition.

“The resolution here is designed to wrest control of the Gyrodyne process from the Town of Smithtown,” he said. “The catalyst is the Stony Brook community. They are a very well educated, well-organized community.”

Natalie Weinstein, president of Celebrate St. James, said the sewage plant on the property would help with the revitalization of Lake Avenue. She said there have been a number of government and private studies that have been conducted regarding the roadway, adding the proposed Route 25A analysis would be a waste of money which could be better spent on a traffic circle at Stony Brook Road or to hire experts in street light timing. 

Speaking of Gyrodyne’s plans to include a buffer, Weinstein said, “The plan is actually a beautiful use of space from a design point of view.” 

Cindy Smith, who heads up United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development, spoke in favor of the corridor study that she hopes will take a cohesive look at both sides of the road.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent.”

— Cindy Smith

She said in 2017 the county’s Planning Commission’s superficial review for the Gyrodyne proposal allowed the project to move forward without a traffic study.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent,” Smith said.

George Hoffman, 2nd vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, also spoke in favor of the bill and said there needs to be a balance between smart development and preservation.

“I think it would be helpful to planners,” he said. “It’s not to stop Gyrodyne. It’s just to get a good picture of what’s going on there, and that information will help planners in Smithtown and in Brookhaven make the right choices for the community.”

In a phone interview Feb. 12, Hahn said she was disappointed that the resolution was tabled.

She said when it comes to Gyrodyne she disagrees that the 200-foot buffer would be beneficial. She said it will not block the view of what they want to build. Hahn added that the study is not only about Gyrodyne but also proposed and rumored projects.

She added when heading east on the 25A corridor, the familiar locations around Gyrodyne and BB & GG Farm in St. James make you feel like “you’re home.”

“It’s so bucolic,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It holds a special place in my heart. Just the sense of place it establishes with those open vistas. I would just hate to lose that because it’s on both sides of 25A.”

She said she is concerned that there hasn’t been an adequate traffic study or consideration of a regional sewage plant, adding the amount of nitrogen that travels into the Long Island Sound has to be looked at carefully.

Hahn indicated she is not opposed to revitalization in St. James, but she said there needs to be a longer discussion of a sewage treatment plant and to look at a central location that would be more beneficial to other areas in Smithtown.

“I think there’s a bigger plan that should happen for that so that we’re not talking piecemeal with just one downtown getting what they want,” she said. “There could be something on a larger scale that would benefit multiple communities, multiple business districts and protect our water.”

The resolution will be on the agenda for the county Legislature’s March 3 general meeting which will be held in Riverhead.

Legislator Kara Hahn takes oath Jan. 2. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

The new year has seen some shuffling around in the Suffolk County Legislature, and now Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has been named deputy presiding officer.

Deputy presiding officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) was named presiding officer, along with Hahn’s new position, at the Legislature’s Jan. 2 meeting. This comes after previous presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), announced he would be resigning effective Jan. 15. He will be joining the Babylon Town Board.

Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) were the only two to vote “no” on the appointments.

“I have always touted this body’s ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to do the people’s business,” Calarco said at the meeting. “I am thankful to my Republican colleagues for their support today, as it shows that I am committed to working across the aisle with all of my colleagues to ensure we best serve all of the residents of Suffolk County.”

Hahn said she was grateful for the honor.

“I genuinely love my job as county legislator,” she said at the legislative meeting. She also addressed her colleagues. “We make a difference every day in people’s lives. … I look forward to working with all of you in 2020.”

The ceremony was also attended by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

Legislators are expected to vote on a special election for March 10 to replace Gregory. The outcome of that vote was not available by press time.

 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during the Jan. 2 press conference. Photo by David Luces

The opioid epidemic has hit Long Island hard over the past few years, but according to an annual county report, fatal opioid-related deaths have decreased significantly over the past year. 

The Suffolk County Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel’s 2019 Report released Jan. 2 found that opioid deaths in 2019 were projected at 283, which was an approximate 25.5 percent decrease from the 2018 total of 380.

“We are moving in the right direction,” said Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), the chair of the panel, at the Jan. 2 press conference in Hauppauge. “The opioid crisis is costing Long Island upward of $8 billion a year in medical costs … that’s $22 million a day. Not only do we have to address the addiction issue, we have to also address mental health.”

“The opioid crisis is costing Long Island upward of $8 billion a year in medical costs … that’s $22 million a day. Not only do we have to address the addiction issue, we have to also address mental health.” 

– Sarah Anker

The 127-page report compiled by the 29-member panel highlights that the decreased numbers can be attributed to the increased use of Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of overdoses. 

Other highlights from the previous year includes the panel collaborating to help open a DASH Center, a 24/7 resource center for individuals in search of treatment and resources located at 90 Adams Ave., Hauppauge. The officials also purchased a mass spectrometer, a device that detects and breaks down the chemical compounds of drugs. The device is used to help track where drugs are coming from, making it easier to identify dealers.  

Geraldine Hart, Suffolk police commissioner, said the force is focusing on addressing the drug dealer situation.  

“We have seen a decrease in opiate usage but that is not enough,” she said. “We have a strategy that is taking hold, it involves enforcement, prevention, education and treatment.”

The panel’s report also lists resources for residents, including a number of counseling programs, agencies, drug treatment courts and law enforcement initiatives like Sharing Opioid Analysis & Research (SOAR). 

The panel was created in 2017 in response to the growing opioid and substance abuse epidemic in Suffolk County and across the nation.

While deaths have decreased, the number of overdoses increased 140 percent from 71 to 170.

While members of the panel said the decrease in number of fatal overdoses is a great sign, the increasing number of overdoses not resulting in death is something that requires more investigation.

Jeffery Reynolds, president of the Family and Children’s Association, said the new data is encouraging but stressed that more needs to be done. 

“These gains can sometimes be precarious — it took a long time for opioids to brew in this region, we were slow to respond in the region and nation, and we paid the price for it,” he said. “We gave heroin a 10-year head start. The last thing we want to do is declare victory prematurely.” 

Reynolds said there is still a need for a DASH/recovery center on the east end of Long Island and that panel wouldn’t stop working until “the overdose number is at zero.”  

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), Suffolk County legislator and chair of the health committee, said it is also important to make sure the medical community is part of the solution. He mentioned there needs to be more research on genetic predisposition and environmental triggers relating to drug use.

“There’s a lot of work to be done but this is a major step [in the right direction],”Spencer said. 

Going into 2020, the panel will focus on addressing the following areas: the growing vaping epidemic, early education initiatives, childhood trauma intervention, possible marijuana legislation, the effects of recent bail reform laws, establishing a recovery high school, continuing overdose prevention discussions with the Metropolitan Transit Authority and Long Island Rail Road, increasing prescriber education, reducing the stigma of addiction and mental illness and collaborating with the Native American Advisory Board and establishing a youth committee. 

Anker said collectively the panel is trying to be as productive as possible. 

“It [the epidemic] is always changing and evolving,” she said. “The ability for law enforcement to work with the medical community, education [professionals] to work with advocates — this cross pollination is so vital in making sure this panel is successful.”

Contact the DASH Center at 631-952-3333

 

Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 Nov. 6. TBR News Media file photo

In a 16-2 bi-partisan vote, Suffolk County legislators approved a $3.2 billion budget for 2020 during a special meeting this past Wednesday, Nov. 6.  

Highlights of the budget include $640,000 for contract agencies, additional positions in the Sheriff’s Office, restoration of funding to the Legal Aid Society and $500,000 for implementation of the school bus camera program. 

The property tax level for the Southwest Sewer District has been decreased, restoring it to the 2019 level. Cash reserves were increased by $2 million for settlements to reduce the need to borrow to cover liability expenses, reduced reduced sales tax revenue in the general fund by $1.7 million over two years and included repayment of funds borrowed from the Assessment Stabilization Reserve fund. 

The additions were offset by an anticipated $2.5 million in fine revenue from the school bus camera program, reducing repayment of the Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund from $12 million in the recommended 2020 budget by $2.6 million, and reducing the uncollected property tax contingency line by $1.6 million. 

 

People go to vote at the Albert G. Prodell Middle School in Shoreham. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Executive:

(WINNER) Steve Bellone (D) – 55.42% – 148,043 votes

John M. Kennedy Jr. (R) – 43.38% – 115,867 votes 

Gregory Fisher (L) – 1.18% – 3,147 votes 

 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor: 

(WINNER) Ed Romaine (R) – 61.52% – 51,155 votes 

Will Ferraro (D) – 37.42% – 31.113 votes 

Junie Legister (L) – 1.04% – 865 votes 

 

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent: 

(WINNER) Dan Losquadro (R) – 58.47% – 48, 624 votes 

Anthony Portesy (D) – 41.51% – 34,514 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 1st District: 

(WINNER) Valerie Catright (D) – 57.36% – 8,647 votes 

Tracy Kosciuk (R) – 42.59% – 6,421 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 2nd District: 

(WINNER) Jane Bonner (C) – 61.97% – 10,028 votes 

Sarah Deonarine (D) – 37.99% – 6,147 votes 

 

Brookhaven town council member, 3rd District:

(WINNER) Kevin LaValle (R) – 65.12% – 8,228 votes 

Talat Hamandi (D) – 34.85% – 4,404 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 6th District: 

(WINNER) Sarah Anker (D) – 54.32% – 9,715 votes 

Gary Pollakusky (R) – 41.05% – 7,342 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 5th District: 

(WINNER) Kara Hahn (D) – 63.1% – 9,763 votes 

John McCormack (R) – 36.88% – 5,706 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 4th District: 

(WINNER) Thomas Muratore (R) – 58.97% – 7,275 votes 

David T. Bligh (D) – 39.23% – 4,839 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 16th District

(WINNER) Susan Berland (D) – 53.89% – 6,501 votes 

Hector Gavilla (R) – 46.08% – 5,559 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 13th District: 

(WINNER) Rob Trotta (R) – 61.99% – 10,385 votes 

Janet Singer (D) – 38.01% – 6,367 votes

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 18th District:

(WINNER) William “Doc” Spencer (D) – 61.47% – 11,998 votes 

Garrett Chelius (R) – 33.81% – 6,599 votes 

Daniel West (C) – 4.71% – 919 votes 

 

Suffolk County Legislator, 15th District:

(WINNER) DuWayne Gregory (D) – 72.15% – 7,037 votes

Chrisopher G. Connors (R) – 27.68% – 2,700 votes 

 

Huntington town council member – two seats:

(WINNER) Joan Cergol (D) – 26% – 20,882 votes 

(WINNER) Eugene Cook (R) – 24.81%- 19,931 votes 

Andre Sorrentino Jr. (R) – 24.07% – 19,336 votes 

Kathleen Clearly (D) – 23.38% – 18,777 votes 

 

Huntington Town Clerk: 

(WINNER) Andrew Raia (R) – 57.71% – 23,804 votes 

Simon Saks (D) – 42.28% – 17,441 votes 

 

Smithtown town council member – two seats: 

(WINNER) Thomas Lohmann (R) – 32.35% – 14,076 votes

(WINNER) Lisa Inzerillo (R) – 32% – 13,925 votes 

Richard S Macellaro (D) – 17.36% – 7,556 votes

Richard Guttman (D) – 17.32% – 7,535 votes 

 

 

 

Steve Bellone (D) and fellow Democrats celebrate keeping the county executive position. Photo by David Luces

In the most profiled race of the year for Suffolk County Executive, Democrat Steve Bellone won handily over his challenger, County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) with 55 percent to Kennedy’s 43 percent. Libertarian candidate Greg Fischer gained just 1 percent of the overall vote.

John Kennedy Jr. (R) the night of Nov. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

Bellone was greeted by enthusiastic cheers at IBEW.

“It turns out that the voters have decided that there is more work for us to do here,” he said. “This will be my third and final term as County Executive, I don’t know what the future holds but it entirely possible that this could be my final race for public office… If that is the case I must give one final thank you to the person who has been with me for every race that I have won.”

He also thanked his opponents John Kennedy and Greg Fischer.

“I look forward to working together to build a better future for Suffolk County.”

Kennedy blamed the incumbent’s near $2 million war chest for the loss, along with negative campaign ads he said targeted not only him, but his wife and children.

He promised he would continue to be a financial watchdog for the county, saying he thinks the county will entire a financial death spiral it may not be able to pull out of.

“The good news is, I get to keep doing the job I love, being comptroller,” he said. “There’s no lack of fraud waste and abuse in Suffolk County, which we demonstrated the past five years.”

After a heated campaign season, and while the vote seemed to be close as they were tallied, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) defeated her Republican opponent Gary Pollakusky 54 to 41 percent. Libertarian candidate James Kevin, who was not available for comment, gained nearly 5 percent of the vote.

When brought up on stage, Schaffer called her “landslide Anker.”

The 5th time legislator said it was her strong base and work of her campaign that helped pull her through. She added there are numerous projects she hopes to work on in the coming years.

“We have so many projects in the works … We have the Rails to Trails, the park in Middle Island, continue working with the opioid advisory panel,” she said. “There is so much work to do.

I really want to focus on mental health/addiction treatment, tackle the financial issues with the county, be proactive with supporting local business and those mom and pop shops.”

Pollakusky remained gracious after his loss, saying, “I hope Sarah serves her constituents well for our legislative district.” He added he will continue to be active in the community by leading the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce and serving on the board of the Rocky Point Civic Association.

Susan Berland takes a photo with staff and supporters Nov. 5. Photo by Rita. J. Egan

In the Port Jefferson-Setauket area Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) won overwhelmingly against her Republican opponent John McCormack 63 to 37 percent.

Kara Hahn said she is looking forward to continuing working on several projects including protection of the environment, public safety and the opioid epidemic.

“Those numbers have to come down to zero,” she said. “We cannot accept more opioid deaths. The numbers have fallen a little bit, but we have to continue to work on that. We cannot be losing our children. It’s senseless. It’s preventable. We have to be sure we do what we can on that.”

McCormack was not available to comment.

Thomas Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) easily won over Democratic challenger David Bligh in the fight for the 4th district with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He thanked his wife and staff and said they would move on “stronger.”

While Bligh lost to Muratore for Suffolk County Legislator in the 4th district, he said he plans to stay in the political arena and to run again.

“Tom’s term limited after this year so there’s going to be an open seat in two years,” he said.

Bligh, an environmental engineer, said he has a long list of quality of life issues that he wants to address, including affordability and water quality issues.

Garcia announced Rob Trotta’s (R-Fort Salonga) 62 percent victory against Democrat Janet Singer, by mentioning Trotta’s propensity to stir the pot. Ever the firebrand, the Fort Salonga resident did not disappoint, getting to the mike and calling the Conservative party “corrupt,” adding “this is about honesty and integrity, and that party is clearly lacking.”

When asked to expand on that, Trotta said, “The entire Conservative party is corrupt, period.”

Singer said she was disappointed as she felt she would be a great legislator but enjoyed campaigning where she learned a lot.

She said before this election cycle she felt Rob Trotta didn’t pay attention to water quality issues. She feels it’s a non-issue for him and that suddenly it’s a “hot topic.” She was surprised water quality was included at the bottom of his campaign ad.

“I don’t really care what party you’re in, water needs protection, and it’s going to need money,” she said. “And he doesn’t want to vote for any expenditures, and we can’t do that.”

Rob Trotta the night of Nov. 5. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though her husband did not win over the majority of county voters, Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) still beat her opponent, Democrat Margot Rosenthal, 65 to 35 percent. She said, “We could not have done it without every single one of you,” adding, “while we didn’t get everything we wanted this time, we’ll get it next time.”

For the 16th District, Susan Berland (D-Commack) won out against several-time Republican challenger Hector Gavilla. The race became extremely heated towards the end, with allegations that Gavilla intimidated Berland at a local meet the candidates. Gavilla, on his part, claims Berland’s husband nearly assaulted him.

Schaffer spoke on the incident.

“If you wanted to see probably one of the most despicable races in Suffolk County, was the race that took place in the 16 LD,” Schaffer said. “Let me tell you something, it’s a shame when you happen to have a candidate, a legislator who has been in office for almost 20 years, tell you she’s frightened by her opponent.”

Susan Berland thanked her supporters, staff and volunteers.

“I’m grateful to the residents of the 16th district who have confidence in me to represent them for the next two years.”

William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) easily conquered the vote against Republican challenger Garrett Chelius with 11,998 votes to Chelius’ 6,599.

Chelius was brought up on stage for consolation, and Garcia lauded them for their work in campaigning.

Spencer spoke of his ideas and projects going forward.

“I’m looking towards the future — I want to still focus on our environment, our kids, the vaping/opioid epidemic,” he said. “I think there is a lot of work to be done there. Also, I want to finish some infrastructure projects like the sewers in Huntington Station.”

The lone upset of the night, Republican challenger Anthony Piccirillo won with barely a 1 percent margin against William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). The Democrats have asked for a recount, but if Piccirillo succeeds it would mean the Democrats 11-7 hold on the legislature would become a 10-8, just as partisan divide between officials seems at a near peak. Last year, Republicans and Democrats butted heads over lump bonding issues, with Republicans using their slim minority to block bonds they called were being pushed through by Democrats.

David Luces, Rita J. Egan, Leah Chiappino and Donna Deedy all contributed reporting.

Trotta and Singer review the Ccounty's issues during a recent debate.

The Times of Smithtown circulation area includes two Suffolk County legislative districts: 12 and 13. The 12th District encompasses Nesconset and Lake Grove and extends west through portions of St. James into Commack. The 13th District extends from Fort Salonga east to St. James. 

Currently, two Republicans represent the areas, Leslie Kennedy and Robert Trotta, respectively. Overall, the Democrats with an 11-7 ratio, have a majority rule in the county, as it has for the last 13 years. Republicans held the majority for 33 years prior to that. 

Many analysts say that this year’s election could potentially see a shift in power or perhaps tie the representation. So a lot is at stake.

District 13: Parts of Smithtown and St. James, Fort Salonga, San Remo, Kings Park, Nissequogue, Head of the Harbor, Commack and East Northport 

By Leah Chiappino

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R) is running for reelection. He has represented Suffolk’s 13th District since 2013. Jan Singer (D), a retired matrimonial lawyer, is challenging him for the seat in this year’s election. 

Trotta, a former Suffolk County police officer for 25 years and FBI agent for 10 years, said his priorities include addressing high taxes, wasteful spending and weeding out county corruption. 

Serving under a corrupt police chief, he said, prompted him to run for office six years ago. “I knew how corrupt the county was and I knew if I didn’t leave, I would get arrested, get in trouble, or die,” he said. “Of the three of us that were on the FBI task force, one is dead, one got arrested and I became a legislator.”

Personally, Trotta said that he has refused any campaign contributions from any person or organization that does business with the county. He supports legislation that would prevent lawmakers from voting on union contracts, if the union has contributed to a legislator’s campaign. Overall, these practices, he expects, would save money and prevent conflicts of interest. 

“Everything comes from wasteful spending and corrupt politicians taking too much money,” he said.

 Singer said her leadership experience will help to make needed changes for Suffolk. She operated a private law practice for over 30 years before retiring in 2012.  She’s organized phone banks for Perry Gershon (D) and Hillary Clinton (D), served as president of her homeowner association, and sat on the board of the Suffolk County Girl Scouts and the Smithtown Democratic Committee. If elected, Singer’s priorities include addressing Suffolk County’s water quality issues. 

 “If we don’t have quality water, free of nitrogen, 1-4-dioxane, and chemical pollution, we can’t have anything,” she said. “We can’t have the economic development which is so necessary to making Suffolk County thrive, because businesses will not open and people will not buy homes.”

To address water quality, Trotta supports reallocating the county’s one-quarter percent (0.25) sales tax income for its Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program, so more general fund money is dedicated to protecting the county’s water. 

Singer’s position to address climate change includes support for renewable energy initiatives such as wind turbines and solar energy and an increase in public transportation.

A major concern for both candidates is the county’s budget problems. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (D) monitors fiscal stress for the state’s municipalities.  Suffolk County, according to the latest report, tops the list as the worst fiscal condition out of all counties. 

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing the debt we are putting on our children,” Trotta said.

He blames the county budget troubles on overspending. Government contracting, he said, should be more deeply scrutinized. Personnel costs and expenses, such as police overtime, large pensions and pay increases need to be reined in. As a former police officer, he says he understands the vital work the police do. 

“I’m not saying they don’t deserve their money, but they don’t deserve to bankrupt the country and make it unaffordable for people to live here,” he said. 

Singer takes a different stance.

“The police are the ones that run into danger when I run away,” she said. “They are the ones dealing with the opioid crisis and MS-13. If you go to doors, I have not heard people screaming about overtime and excess pay for the police. They want them there.”

To address the issue, Trotta prefers raising revenue through taxes, instead of hitting people with expenses such as mortgage filing fees, which recently jumped from $65 to $600. The fee is paid not only when people buy a home but also when they refinance their mortgage.

Singer is not for eliminating these fees.

“I’m not debating whether or not some of the fees such as the mortgage recording fees are too high, but I don’t disagree with the principle of having it because the alternative is to either discontinue the service, run the service at a reduced level, or raise taxes,” she said. 

Both candidates see the opioid crisis as a critical issue. Singer proposes expanding education prevention services and supports an effort to expand medically assisted therapy and rehab programs in prisons. Any settlement funds that the county receives from its lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, Singer said, should be used for treatment and education. 

Trotta says the county “cannot arrest its way out” of the problem, noting that many people addicted to opioids also suffer from mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. He supports “treatment and a variety of different methods” to curb the issue.  

With regard to the red-light camera ticketing program, Trotta calls it a money grab that causes more accidents than it prevents. He thinks it should be eliminated. 

A study conducted by Brookhaven-based L.K. McLean Associates and released earlier this year, stated that accidents were up 60 percent since the program’s implementation, though accidents involving injuries went down by 11 percent.

“If someone runs a red light and it’s dangerous, they should get a ticket period,” Trotta said. “Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here.”

Singer supports continuing the program.

“It is about safety,” she said. “The vehicle and traffic law says you can’t run that red light.

Singer and Trotta both support the revitalization of Kings Park, and both agree that the community should retain its small-town feel. 

Kara Hahn in 2017 Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fifth two-year term Nov. 5. Her Republican challenger, John McCormack, of Port Jefferson, is not actively campaigning and was not available for a debate with Hahn at the TBR News Media offices. Therefore, the legislator answered a few questions during a phone interview.

County finances

After receiving the county’s Office of Budget Review’s recent report, she said that even though there are still stresses on the budget, Suffolk is in a better place than it has been in past years.

The legislator said the proposed 2020 operating budget has no new fees and there is no pension amortization for the second straight year. The budget came in $4.8 million under the property tax cap.

“Of course, we’re overly reliant on the sales tax revenue and that was so low for so long, and we’re coming out of that,” she said. “When you are reliant on taxpayer dollars, you always feel pressured to be as tight as you can be, and you want to cut costs at every corner and, of course, we’re doing that.”

Hahn said she is aware that due to the county being reliant on sales tax, from which Suffolk receives approximately $1.6 billion, if a recession hits the county is not properly prepared.

She said a slight increase of the 3 percent hotel/motel tax, which is one of the lowest in the country, would help the budget and at the same time not deter anyone from visiting the area.

When it comes to stimulating the economy, she said it’s important to stay vigilant in the collection of sales tax. It was also helpful that the state allowed Suffolk to collect internet sales tax in 2019, she said, which generated about $10 million additional sales revenue this year and is expected to be $20 million in 2020. She said Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, which oversees Jake’s 58 casino in Islandia, paid off its debt, and its revenue will contribute $25 million to the county budget in 2020.

“We’ve been getting some good revenue sources that have helped to take the pressure off and that’s important,” Hahn said.

Low-nitrogen septic systems

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, has supported the rollout of new low-nitrogen septic systems in the county. The wastewater nitrogen content has a mandated maximum of 19 milligrams per liter.

“This is a long-term, multidecade effort as 360,000 residences are unsewered,” she said. “These homes have to either become sewered or get a new innovative on-site alternate wastewater system. That cannot happen in one year. That cannot happen in 10 years.”

She said to help with the rollout the county has created priority zones, including the Town of Brookhaven’s initiative where new construction within 500 feet of a waterway is required to install the systems. Grants, on both the county and state levels, have been made available for homeowners who choose to replace their cesspools with the new system.

She said it took years for the county’s health department to work on establishing the program to ensure the new systems would work as promised, adding the process for the program also included working with health and science experts along with those who work in the industry. She said she is proud of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for sticking with the implementation despite the amount of time spent on the issue.

“He stepped up, and it’s happening,” she said. “It might be slow for people who are used to instant gratification but I’m shocked that we’re here where systems are being installed and people are beginning to recognize it, and we’re going to be seeing improvements in water quality because of it.”

Environment

When it comes to the 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, Hahn said the program has been successful, with a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. She also sponsored a bill to create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that will take effect in January.

In addition to continuing work on the county’s Blueway Trail, which will create a water path for recreational boating opportunities along Suffolk rivers, lakes, canals and coastlines, she hopes to establish Blue Flag beaches in the county, which will be the first in the United States. The standard was created in Europe, where a beach that flies the Blue Flag has a higher standard when it comes to water quality.

Opioids

Hahn in 2012 sponsored legislation to provide Narcan in police cars. The last two years she has worked with Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence and Stony Brook University to create training for athletic coaches in county middle, junior and high schools to teach them about the signs and symptoms of all forms of addiction. Hahn said she hopes to expand the program to athletic leagues outside of schools and even make it available to dance instructors, music teachers and Scout leaders.

“So that they’re trained to know how to deal with things when they hear it or see it, and know how to help fight and how to prevent — really the key is to prevent addiction,” she said.