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Suffolk County Legislature

County legislator discusses major initiatives coming out of her office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is working on several projects, from bike trails to erosion education programs and more. Photo courtesy Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is at the forefront of several initiatives at the county level. In an exclusive interview with Anker, she opened up about her positions on public campaign finance, the North Shore Rail Trail, coastal erosion and more.

For those who do not know you, can you describe your background?

My background is that I’m a mother of three children and have been a Mount Sinai resident for 25 years. I’ve lived in Middle Island and in Coram, and I’m very familiar with this area and my legislative district. I worked at different ad agencies, did some independent contracting work and at some of the local shops in Patchogue. Then I took off for a handful of years to raise my kids. 

When my youngest was born, the New York State Health Department put out a cancer map showing that our area had a high frequency of cancer, particularly breast cancer, and my grandmother had just passed away from breast cancer. I decided to start a non-for-profit, the Community Health and Environment Coalition, around 2003. And this was basically to advocate to the state to come and do an investigation, tell us what we need to know, why we had these numbers and where these numbers were coming from. 

Eventually, they came back to the community and did testing, but unfortunately, they left more questions than answers. We continue to investigate and try to understand the causes of cancer.

I got a job working as the chief of staff for [Councilwoman] Connie Kepert [D-Middle Island] at the Town of Brookhaven. She pulled me in and then they got a $4.5 million grant for solar programs. Working with Connie, we started the programs and then I was promoted to be in charge of creating an energy department at the Town of Brookhaven. I left that position to run for this position.

I ran for office and have been elected seven times. I’m term limited, so I can’t run anymore. I’m a Democrat but fairly conservative — moderate and in the middle. I find the common denominator and I focus on that. I don’t go too far left or too far right, and I’m here to represent my constituents and to kind of settle the storm when there are issues out there. My top priority is public safety and the safety of my residents. I did that for my kids and my family. I do that now for my constituents.

How did your most recent project, the North Shore Rail Trail, come to fruition?

That one was very challenging. I had to overcome some major obstacles and challenges along the way. 

The three main challenges were getting the county exec on board. The former one was not supportive; the current one, Steve Bellone [D], supported it. I also had to get the energy folks from LIPA on board. I had worked a lot with them while running the energy program at the Town of Brookhaven and we had a good professional relationship. 

That worked because they were open to the idea of LIPA having this as a wonderful public relations project. The third one was getting the community on board. The ability to see this through stemmed from the fact that there had been fatalities related to people attempting to ride their bikes, jog or run along our local highways. Because all of those concerns and challenges were in place, it was time to move forward.

Hopefully, and I stress this, people need to use common sense and they need to take responsibility for their safety when they cross the intersections. But this provides a safe place for people to be able to recreate. 

Can you discuss the work you are doing related to coastal erosion?

Erosion is a huge issue. I was meeting constituents and I was on Culross Drive in Rocky Point and as I walked up to a house, I noticed that their neighbor’s house had fallen off the cliff — literally, it was down the cliff. This was 10 or 11 years ago.

I found that a lot of constituents in my area are part of beach associations. Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point — these are private beach communities, so they don’t qualify for federal funding. I’m using the resources we do have to educate them on certain seagrasses, different brick structures, just give them ideas to try to address it. 

Unfortunately, if one addresses it and this person doesn’t and this person doesn’t, then it creates issues for the people that do. So I’m trying to see if we can get everyone on board to address the erosion issue. We’ll do what we can.

Public campaign finance has been an ongoing dispute between the county executive and the Legislature. Can you elaborate on your stance regarding the public campaign finance program that was repealed last week?

I support funding campaign finance reform. I support it. It’s a program that was started last year. We put money into it and it’s a shame that we couldn’t try it out. We do pilot programs all the time and I would have hoped that they could have at least done that. 

It was a project that the former presiding officer, Rob Calarco [D-Patchogue], had advocated for. He worked for a long time on it. I respect him and the amount of effort that he put into that. I would have preferred to at least give it a shot and see where it was going.

If it wasn’t doing well or there were some issues or problems with it, we could have always changed it. I voted to have another way to finance campaigns. Any large organization that has a lot of money can create very, very challenging campaigns for any individual — and I’ve been there personally. 

What is it about the communities that you represent that makes them so distinctive and unique?

I think that we have a lot of folks who understand how important it is to take an active role in their community. We have a lot of folks that participate in projects and events and activities that continue to inspire the people around them. Like the butterfly effect or a ripple in a stream, it just keeps going and I see that in my community.

Right now, in this complicated political climate, we need to understand that we all have something in common and we can all be part of addressing issues and accomplishing our goals by working together collaboratively. I’ve seen that and I do that, and I think that — whether it’s unique to us or not — it’s something that’s important that is happening in our district. 

We get what we put into our community. And right now, the people that have contributed to and who have improved our community, I’m really honored and privileged to work with those folks. 

Whether it’s Bobby Woods with the North Shore Youth Council or Bea Ruberto from the Sound Beach Civic Association, you really see who the true heroes are within your community when you work with them. And I feel very honored to have the ability to be part of what they are trying to create, which is a place that we can call home.

Photo from Steve Bellone's Flickr page

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) held a press conference in Hauppauge on Friday, June 17, in support of public campaign finance for county offices. 

Under a 2017 statute, a public campaign finance fund was created to use revenues generated by Jake’s 58 casino. The program, which is set to begin during the 2023 election cycle, is now meeting stiff opposition from the Republican majority in the county Legislature, which favors using those funds for public safety initiatives. 

Under pressure to repeal the law, Bellone explained the intent of this experimental program, saying its basis is to maintain “the people’s faith and trust in government.”

‘For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences.’

— Steve Bellone

Bellone defended the public campaign finance law, claiming that it achieves two goals: Empowering ordinary citizens to run for public office and weakening the power of special interests and party leaders. He suggests the law preserves the integrity of the electoral process and strengthens democracy.

“For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences,” he said. “It has consequences for taxpayers because you get a less efficient government, a government that is not necessarily focused on solving problems for the citizens it represents but focused more on those other stakeholders, those special interests.”

The county executive emphasized that the campaign finance program is not financed through tax dollars. Rather, it is supported through revenues collected from Jake’s 58 casino, which Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting purchased last year for $120 million. “I can’t think of a better way that we can utilize those dollars,” he said.

Compared to the multibillion dollar annual county budget, Bellone added that this fund is negligible. For this reason, he advocates using this small portion of public revenue to invest in the political process.

“We spend public monies every day with the intent of benefiting the public, whether it’s on housing or on water quality or a host of other issues,” he said. “We’re talking about a little relative to the county’s $3.5 billion budget — it’s virtually nothing. Let’s spend that small portion on our democracy.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, joined Bellone in defending the program. Richberg primarily objected to the repeal efforts on the grounds that the program has not even been tested, arguing Republicans in the Legislature should give it a chance before tearing it down.

“Time and time again, we hear in the Legislature that we’re putting good money after bad,’” he said. “There’s funding. We have a plan. Run it and let’s critique it after it runs.” He continued, “Let’s let it go through and if you don’t want to join, then don’t join.”

Mercy Smith, executive director of the Suffolk County Campaign Finance Board, reiterated these points. She highlighted the program’s voluntary nature, saying that individuals can opt out if they do not want to partake in it. She also said the program encourages grassroots campaigning, a departure from the current practice of soliciting large contributions from special interest groups.

“The program is really designed to optimize the potential of all Suffolk County residents who have the desire and the gumption and the ability to persevere and want to run for office,” she said.

Smith said that the program holds participants to a high standard, promoting transparency in the public disclosure of their campaign finances. Participants are asked to be fully fiscally responsible, to adhere to conservation and expenditure limits, to comply with the board’s oversight and audit procedures, and to commit to the program’s spending limits.

Additionally, the program does not discriminate on the basis of party, incumbency status or any other criteria. “This program is for teachers, it’s for first responders, police officers, it’s for business owners,” she said. “This program is for anyone who wants to participate and become a public servant and make our government in Suffolk County better.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the purpose of public campaign finance both in Suffolk and around the country is to place voters at the core of the political process.

“The whole purpose of the campaign finance program, a matching fund program, is to center the voters in our government process,” she said. “Not special interests, not people who can write outsized checks, but the everyday residents of Suffolk County.” She added, “This system is set up to do exactly that, using specially designated funds, not taxpayer money, to encourage candidates to invite the voters into the system.”

A vote to repeal the program is scheduled for Wednesday. Republicans control the county Legislature with an 11-7 majority. A two-thirds majority of the Legislature, or 12 votes, would be required to override a veto from the county Executive.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), at podium, with Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), left, and Bellone, right. Photo by Raymond Janis

In what is typically a quiet spot in the woods of Shoreham, elected county officials and community leaders gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 10.

The North Shore rails-to-trails project was first introduced some five decades ago when a young woman at the time wrote a letter to the editor advocating for the conversion of an old rail line into a bike path. After decades of planning, the path, which links Mount Sinai to Wading River and everything in between, is finally complete.

Bikers celebrate the opening of the North Shore Rail Trail.
Photo by Raymond Janis

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) headlined the event. He spoke of the immense willpower on the part of the parties involved in making this dream a reality.

“You know any time a project is on the drawing boards for 50 years and you’re actually at the ribbon cutting, that’s a great day,” he said. 

In March 2020, the county completed its updated master plan for hiking and biking, which called for 1,200 miles of new bike infrastructure, according to Bellone. At full build-out, the plan would put 84% of county residents within a half-mile radius of a biking facility. The opening of the North Shore Rail Trail, he suggested, is an important first step to executing the master plan.

“This opening today really goes a long way toward kicking off that next effort — and we don’t want all of that to take another 50 years,” the county executive said. “That’s the kind of transformative investment we need to be making to keep our region prosperous and growing and attracting and retaining young people.” 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spearheaded much of this project through the various levels of government and into completion. During that process, Anker said her office overcame a number of obstacles before getting to the finish line. 

“We understood as a community we needed this,” she said. “My number one priority in making sure this happened was, and still continues to be, public safety — making sure our residents, especially our kids, have a safe place to ride their bikes.” 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), prepares to cut the ribbon, surrounded by county Legislators, state and local officials, and leaders from throughout the community. Photo by Raymond Janis

For Anker, the trail offers a number of benefits to local residents, providing bikers with an open space to pursue their hobby while mitigating safety concerns about bikers sharing public roads with drivers. Additionally, the trail will encourage more residents to use their bikes to get around, limiting traffic congestion and air pollution from cars.

“I know someone that lives in Rocky Point,” Anker said. “He takes his bike on the trail now to get to his job in Mount Sinai … that’s what this trail is all about.”

Joining Anker was her colleague in the county Legislature, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). Hahn said trails like these can help to band neighboring communities together, establishing a sense of cohesion throughout the area.

“Between this one and the Port Jeff Station-East Setauket Greenway Trail, we can get from 25A in Setauket all the way to Shoreham-Wading River safely,” she said. “Suffolk County’s roads have consistently fallen on a national list of the most dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians. This is the kind of vision we need to turn that around.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) delivering her remarks during the events. Photo by Raymond Janis

State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) suggested that at a time when tax dollars are leaving Long Island communities, the opening of this bike path is also a symbolic victory for the community members and their representatives.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend taxpayer money than to invest it in something that is a free, recreational and healthy activity for not only the residents of Suffolk County, but for all of New York,” she said.

Town of Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) detailed the many logistical hurdles that the Highway Department had to overcome to make this project possible. 

“There are over 30 road crossings and all of them are town roads,” he said. “We had to work very closely on making sure that the design of that provided for safe passage for our bikers and walkers.” He added, “I live about a third of a mile away and rode my bike here [today]. I ride here with my kids all the time and it is a fantastic addition to our community.”

Anker ended with one final reflection before the official ribbon cutting, placing the trail in historical context. “The original idea came about 50 years ago at a Sound Beach Civic [Association] meeting and also a young girl in 1974, who wrote a letter to the editor,” the county legislator said. “It did take a while, but we did it.”

Pixabay photo

With the cost of food spiraling out of control, public officials are scrambling for answers. 

A May report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates food prices have climbed 10.8% since April 2021, the highest 12-month increase in over four decades. The surge in food prices nationwide is being driven by a number of factors occurring both domestically and abroad.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major international exporters of grain, including corn, wheat and soy, among other staples. The price of these products has surged exponentially due to the war, affecting markets globally. 

“Food prices in the United States are going up because the oil to deliver the food, the cost of fertilizer, and the cost of planting and harvesting are all going up,” Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, said in a phone interview. “All of that has to do with inflation, it has to do with oil and gas, and it has to do with the war in Ukraine.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) addressed growing concerns over food prices. He said that the state Legislature has recently passed legislation that eliminates the fuel tax. This, coupled with actions at the county level, may help offset increases in food prices. 

“The main thing that we’ve been able to do in this recently passed state budget is to remove — at least temporarily for the rest of this year — the 16-cent state tax on fuel,” he said. “When you live around here, for most people, you need a car to get your food, so these escalating costs are related.” He added, “We’ve also authorized in the state budget the commissioner of agriculture to sharpen his pencils to see what he can do to bring more food to market.”

The Suffolk County Legislature has also suspended its tax on fuel, effective June 1. State and county measures combined, Englebright said residents are now seeing a 26-cent reduction per gallon of gasoline. 

‘It’s very important that we focus now on funneling the money that we have in the state budget into these communities, not only to help the business owners, but to help the residents survive through this process and through this inflation.’ — Jodi Giglio

Despite the elimination of these fuel taxes, prices nationwide continue to swell. State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said local residents are being hit particularly hard due to the already high cost of living on Long Island. 

“We pay the highest taxes and the highest utility rates here on Long Island,” she said. “It’s very important that we focus now on funneling the money that we have in the state budget into these communities, not only to help the business owners, but to help the residents survive through this process and through this inflation.”

The recently enacted state budget will offer residents some relief in the form of direct cash payments through the New York School Tax Relief Program (STAR). Giglio said she and her colleagues in Albany appropriated an additional $2.2 billion in the state budget and expedited the delivery of these checks to help residents deal with inflation and rising costs. 

“The $2.2 billion is for homeowner tax rebate checks,” she said, adding. “It’s a one-time check for STAR-eligible homeowners, and it’s for individuals and for families. New Yorkers are going to start getting these checks right away and they should be hitting within the next couple of weeks.”

This is tough. We’re in a really tough place with food prices, and families at the poverty level are suffering the most. — Kara Hahn

Elevated food costs will detrimentally impact food pantries as well. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) expressed concerns that rising food costs will only compound the existing problem of food insecurity, making it even harder to feed those in need.

“Food insecurity has been a growing problem on Long Island,” she said. “We support a number of food pantries across Suffolk County. I’ve been part of supporting Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, trying to make sure that there is not food waste.” She added, “This is tough. We’re in a really tough place with food prices, and families at the poverty level are suffering the most.”

‘People will inevitably try to make their anguish heard and understood, and one way to do that is at the ballot box.’ — Steve Englebright

Midterm elections loom large as Long Islanders consider ways to get food on the table. At the current rate, food expenses will be at the top of the priority list for a sizable voting bloc. Englebright acknowledges that if food prices are not alleviated soon, there may be significant electoral consequences at all levels of government this November. 

“People will inevitably try to make their anguish heard and understood, and one way to do that is at the ballot box,” he said. “That is a possibility but I hope that the sense of urgency does not require that people use that as the only way to have a sense of empowerment, and optimism in the hope that we’re able to use the instruments of government, limited as they may be, to help offset some of these costs and give people a chance to put food on the table.”

Cantor reiterated these sentiments. He suggests voters are much more likely to vote for the opposition during times of great tribulation. “The reality is that when people are angry, hungry and can’t work, they usually vote the incumbents out,” he said. “When everything you touch costs more than you make, that gets you very angry and very upset. The poor and the middle class are going to get hurt the most.”

Republican legislators at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge, above. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis

County legislators met on the floor of the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge May 12 to announce legislation that would solidify term limits for elected officials in Suffolk County.

If passed, the proposed legislation would limit the offices of county executive, comptroller and legislators to a total of 12 years. Proponents argue the measure will remove a loophole in the law that allows individuals to exceed the 12-year threshold. 

Term limits were first instituted in Suffolk County in 1993 by voter referendum. However, the statute was ambiguous, according to Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport). 

“In 1993 Suffolk County voters went to the polls and approved term limits that dictate an elected official in the Legislature, the comptroller or the county executive could not serve in the same office [beyond] 12 consecutive years,” Bontempi said. “However, that still leaves the possibility for a candidate to run for that office again after a break in the 12 years.”

Bontempi’s proposed legislation would close this loophole. If enacted, the law would mandate that no person could serve more than 12 cumulative years in office. 

Last year, former county Legislator Kate Browning (D-Shirley) campaigned in a special election for the 3rd Legislative District. Despite previously serving in the Legislature for 12 years, Browning received the Democratic nomination following an appellate court panel ruling. She was defeated in that race by current Legislator Jim Mazzarella (R-Moriches) by a 55-45% margin and again in November’s election by 63-37%.

Mazzarella said this legislation will prevent a similar scenario from unfolding in the future, cementing 12-year term limits in Suffolk for good.

“A year ago when I first ran for office, a former legislator who had already served 12 years tried to game the system and run again,” Mazzarella said. “I could tell by being out there with the voters that the electorate at the time felt duped. Ultimately, the voters did make their feelings known at the ballot box and I was elected as legislator.” He added, “This law needs to be put in place to guarantee that voters are properly represented.”

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) is sponsoring legislation to solidify term limits for county officeholders. Photo by Raymond Janis

Bontempi said the purpose of the legislation is to bring fresh blood into the political process and to add more opportunities for newcomers in county government. “The goal here is for the majority to provide Suffolk County voters new candidates who can bring new ideas and new perspectives to their offices,” she said, adding, “Our communities are ever changing, and leadership should reflect those changes.”

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said voters approved term limits in 1993 with an understanding that it would prevent elected officers from serving more than 12 years. He considers this new legislation a way to reinstate the law’s original intent. 

“In 1993 the voters overwhelmingly approved and passed term-limit laws,” McCaffrey said. “Their intent, as was our intent, was to make it a 12-year term.” The presiding officer added, “We want to make sure that we codify it. We’re going to put it up as a referendum for the voters after this resolution is passed, and we expect them to overwhelmingly support this referendum.”

While this legislation will impose definitive term limits on several offices, there are some notable exemptions. The offices of county sheriff, county clerk and district attorney are each mandated by the state constitution and thereby cannot be regulated by county law, according to McCaffrey. 

“Those are state-mandated offices and we do not have the ability to control them,” the presiding officer said. 

A vote on Bontempi’s legislation is expected in early June. If the resolution is passed by the Legislature, voters will have final say on the matter in a referendum this November.

This week, TBR News Media sat down with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for an exclusive interview to discuss the life and legacy of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), a former police officer who served in the Legislature from 2009 until he died at age 75 in 2020.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photo from Englebright’s Facebook page

Reflecting upon his memory of Muratore, Englebright said, “I found him to be very straightforward and honorable, a person whose door was always open, who was willing to listen. We had a warm and cordial professional relationship that was based upon our respect for public service. I came to regard him very highly and he is much missed. He was a very positive part of the world of local governance.”

Addressing Muratore’s personable style of governing, Englebright believes Suffolk residents have benefited from the example left behind by Muratore. “He came across as sincere,” the assemblyman said, adding, “He made people feel they were being listened to, and he had a personal interest in what they had to say. I think it was all authentic, I think he was an authentically good person. For someone with that profile to be in public office was a double benefit for the community because they had someone who they could trust.”

Englebright additionally acknowledged the moral foundation which guided Muratore. The assemblyman believes residents can learn from this example. “I think that he is remembered for being a part of a vibrant community and that leadership takes its form sometimes in subtle ways,” Englebright said, adding, “He was not a flamboyant man, but he left an indelible impression because he was a genuinely good man. I think that’s the lesson: That goodness in the way you react to and interact with others can translate into an awful lot of good for the community if you care really about it, and he obviously did.”

For our full coverage of the park renaming event, click here.

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.”

Nick Caracappa during a debate at the TBR News Media offices. Photo by Julianne Mosher

On March 4, acting State Supreme Court Justice John Iliou accepted a motion to dismiss criminal charges against Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) in a domestic violence case.

Caracappa, who took over as majority leader of the county Legislature this year and is the son of the late county Legislator Rose Caracappa, remains under an order of protection for an additional 12 months, after which all charges will be dropped if he obeys the order and stays out of legal trouble.

After newly elected county District Attorney Ray Tierney (R) recused himself from the case, Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly’s office became special prosecutor in January.    

The verdict outraged a vocal group of dissenters, who held a demonstration at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge on March 8, International Women’s Day, calling for Caracappa’s resignation and for greater transparency into the matter.

“The idea that a legislator, who is supposed to create laws to make life better for everyone here, can have such crimes accused of him, and not only keep his job but get promoted, is sickening,” said Leanne Barde, one of the speakers at the event. “Even now, despite whatever deal he has in court, he has not been vindicated.”

Interview with Caracappa

TBR News Media interviewed Caracappa for this story. His ex-wife, whose name is kept anonymous in various reports, is not identified and therefore could not be reached for an interview. TBR News Media would welcome such an interview. Caracappa said he agreed to be interviewed because there are numerous false reports circulating around his private life and asked for his side to be heard.

According to Caracappa, some of his detractors are “professional agitators” who sling mud and stir up controversy for partisan ends. Social media posts obtained by TBR News Media from Caracappa indicate that a coordinated online campaign was launched against him before his reelection bid in 2021. In one such post, Caracappa was referred to as a “convicted criminal abuser who thinks strangling women and possibly buying their silence with a job at the taxpayer expense is justice.”

Caracappa said that the individuals targeting him both online and in the press do not live in his district, do not know him personally and are not familiar with the details of his case. According to him, a careful examination of the timeline of events, spanning from October to December of 2020, would indicate that he was falsely accused.

Caracappa said that his first campaign fundraiser was held on Oct. 14, 2020. Two days later, he received a phone call that his then-wife was having an affair. He confronted her, repeating several times that there was “no violence” during this confrontation. From this incident there precipitated a divorce between the two which was finalized last year.

Caracappa claimed that he and his ex-wife had lived together for two decades without a single accusation of domestic violence made against him. He said the first time police intervened was in November 2020, after he had reported to the police a physical and verbal altercation involving his ex-wife and one of their children.

“I’m with her for 20 years in that house, married 15, and there was never one call to the police on a domestic incident — never once until I made the first call,” Caracappa said. “Now if I had anything to hide, if I was an abuser, would I call the police to my house? Would anybody in their right mind do that?”

According to Caracappa, he served his ex-wife with an order of protection due to the initial incident. He said that approximately three weeks later, his ex-wife retaliated by serving him with her own order of protection on false pretenses.

Caracappa said an alleged assault against his ex-wife would have been nonsensical as he knew he was already under a restraining order.

“Even if I was an abuser, would I abuse someone when I have an order of protection against me?” he said.

Caracappa said he was shocked when police arrested him in December of that year. He contended that his accuser weaponized false allegations against him in an attempt to win more favorable terms in their divorce.

“The timelines don’t add up,” he said. “The statement that was made to the police, being repeated over and over, that I grabbed her throat and that I said this guy [the ex-wife’s alleged partner] is a scumbag and ‘you’re not gonna get half my stuff’ — this is December.” Caracappa added, “I had already been to the [divorce] attorneys, I knew exactly what she was getting and I wasn’t arguing with what she was getting.”

He said that the divorce proceedings were already several weeks underway before any accusation of assault was ever reported to the police. He also suggested that he would not have been granted custody of his daughters if he were abusive toward women.

“I found out [about the alleged affair] on Oct. 16,” he said. “Look at the timeline of events from the order of protections and who did it first. Then I get elected to office and already know what the [divorce] settlements are going to be. Then on Dec. 8 I randomly just do an act of violence on her after 20 years of nothing? She was afraid of losing my daughters, which she did.”

Investigation welcomed

Caracappa said that from the beginning he has welcomed investigators to review the facts. He expressed frustration at the repeated delays and adjournments to his case begun by former Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), as Caracappa believed the case could have been settled immediately by a grand jury.

“I wanted the legal process to resolve this issue,” he said. “That is why we demanded a grand jury at the beginning, adjourned over seven times by the past district attorney. If it was so bad, why didn’t they indict me? That is the most simple question you could ask.”

According to Caracappa, the justice system is in place to determine an individual’s guilt or innocence. He believes his detractors have doubled down in their opposition.

“They’re asking for my resignation,” he said. “Why? Because they didn’t get the answer that they wanted, because justice prevailed.”

Caracappa is asking his critics to make a distinction between victims of domestic violence and victims of false accusations. He said this phenomenon has become commonplace among law enforcement.

“It happens to police officers and law enforcement more often than you could ever imagine,” Caracappa said. “They take their guns, they take their badges and they put them on leave because of a divorce. I’ve gotten so many emails, letters and phone calls — from men and women — who are going through the same thing as I am, falsely accused because of a nasty divorce.”

In recent weeks, Caracappa’s detractors have raised questions surrounding the promotion of his ex-wife to a position at Suffolk Off-Track Betting in return for the dismissal of his charges.

“Recent revelations have been reported that the legislator’s alleged victim, in a flabbergasting coincidence, just happened to receive a taxpayer-funded job, paying almost $50,000 per year, with full benefits and a pension, to work for Suffolk OTB,” said Patty Stoddard of Smithtown, one of the activists present at the demonstration, adding that Suffolk OTB is “a known patronage mill.”

Responding to this accusation, Caracappa said his detractors are searching for underlying motives to support their beliefs.

“It’s not true,” he said. “She’s a Republican, she’s a committeeperson, she’s in the system just like anybody else. She has her own friends in the party.” He added, “But I had to get her that job because it sounds good in their story.”

He criticized his dissenters for belittling the independence of his ex-wife, something he considers self-defeating.

“How do they portray [themselves as] standing up for women, but say she’s incapable of getting her own job, that I must have gotten this job for her?” Caracappa said. “Everything is based on their opinion, assumptions, presumptions. Nothing is factually based.”

Caracappa believes his detractors are disruptive to both his private life and to a functional political discourse. When asked how it feels to have his private life brought into public view, he asked that his critics consider the impact that they have on his family.

“It’s incredibly invasive, it’s hurtful,” he said. “You don’t see anything coming from my family. It’s more hurtful to me to have my kids go through this, to have this stuff printed in the paper and have kids bring it into school and show it to my daughter. My daughter knows the truth.”

Caracappa believes the individuals against him either refuse to confront reality or willingly spread misinformation for partisan gain. He said that these individuals do a disservice to the credible work of civic groups that protect victims of domestic violence.

“I feel bad for those groups that have integrity, that actually fight for women and have a history of protecting real victims,” he said. “Not one of those groups came out because they rely on facts. They’re reputable.”

Stock photo

To end 2021, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to approve Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) plan to increase access to fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce overdose deaths. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, Suffolk County experienced 337 opioid overdose deaths in 2020. The data for 2021 is unavailable.

Signed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) Dec. 28, the bill came just days following a warning from the national Drug Enforcement Administration that, during 2021 alone, it had seized enough fentanyl to give a lethal dose to every American.

In response, the Legislature approved a plan to make fentanyl detection strips more readily available to residents, thus helping to prevent overdoses. 

Through the legislation, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will soon be required to include fentanyl test strips with naloxone kits distributed during department trainings on how to use the opioid antidote. Increasing access to fentanyl detection strips will enable recipients to test drug doses for the presence of this deadly synthetic substance prior to using the drugs tested.

“Opioids kill, that is why I pushed for the county to become certified to provide naloxone trainings that put this life-saving antidote in more hands; fentanyl kills, that is why I am pushing for increased access to test strips, which will give this life-saving tool greater reach,” Hahn said.  “Allowing users the ability to know if they are about to put a drug in their body that also contains fentanyl will save lives and begin to reduce the increasing overdose deaths devastating our community.”

In a statement, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence commended Hahn and the county government for addressing the realities of the dual pandemic of the opioid crisis, fueled by fear and anxieties of COVID-19.

“The distribution of fentanyl test strips and continued widespread distribution of naloxone (Narcan) meets this public health challenge head on with the sole and primary objective of saving lives in Suffolk County,” said Steve Chassman, LICADD executive director. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures to aid so many individuals and families struggling with opioid use disorder.”

Deaths attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that according to the Nation Institutes of Health is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, have been steadily rising since 2013. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013,” the last year for which complete data is available. The agency goes on to report “provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The link between fentanyl and increasing overdose deaths also concerned the DEA, which in September issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years to warn the public about the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fake prescription pills in the United States that often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. 

In its advisory, the DEA reported it had “determined that four out of 10 DEA-tested fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl — an amount that is considered to be a lethal dose.”

“What we are offering through this new policy is a harm reduction strategy,” Hahn added.  “Addiction is a disease that must not be allowed to become a death sentence, which, as more and more fentanyl has been released into our communities, it has become for many who might otherwise have recovered if given a chance.”

On Nov. 17, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021.

This is an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before. NCHS also reported that 64% of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, an almost 50% jump from the prior year. 

Local municipalities are already starting to utilize the new testing strips and have been in contact with the county to retrieve them. 

According to Fred Leute, chief of Port Jefferson’s code enforcement, the village has ordered the new fentanyl testing strips through the county “but it takes a bit of time to get,” he said, noting that they are in possession of the basic kit that was provided previously through the DOHS.

“All of our personnel are fully trained,” he added. “They glove up with the plastic gloves so they don’t touch anything on scene.”

Sarah Anker. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) will be back in her role next year as Suffolk County legislator for the 6th District. 

This comes nearly a month after election night Nov. 2 where Republican candidate Brendan Sweeney was in the lead by nearly 1,200 votes, but absentee ballots were not accounted for at the time. 

After a lengthy recount of ballots and a court review of the count, Sweeney called Anker to concede and congratulate her on reelection by 63 votes.

“If anyone ever says that their vote doesn’t count, I urge you refer to this race to show that even one simple vote can make a difference,” Sweeney said, thanking his supporters specifically in Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Rocky Point, Ridge, Terryville and Shoreham-Wading River.

“I’m thankful to my friends, family and supporters in those communities,” he said. 

Sweeney added he knew from the beginning that the race would be tough going against a 10-year incumbent. 

“We put up a good fight,” he said. 

Sweeney, who is currently an employee with the Town of Brookhaven, will be leaving his position this month to work in the office of the expected incoming county presiding officer, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst).

“I’ll be in this business no matter what,” he said.

Anker said she is “very happy” with the results and relieved that the counts have been finalized.

“Now I can continue to work on the projects I’ve been facilitating,” she said.

Anker said that the anticipation of the results was stressful, but what kept her going was knowing her sister survived breast cancer.

“Right after the election after I lost, I learned she was doing much better,” she said. “It wasn’t until last week that I learned she’s now cancer free.”

She said that knowing her sister survived her battle was more important than thinking she might not win her campaign.

“It was a good diversion in understanding the priorities in life,” she said. “I’m very grateful.”