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Vincent Puleo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pixabay photo

In an increasingly modern, information-based economy, survival requires an ability to adapt to the changing environment.

On the other hand, those who shrink in the face of change will have the hardest time navigating this new normal. This week, TBR News Media was fortunate to speak with several leaders throughout our area. Their warning was the same: Long Island is still unprepared to meet the demands of the 21st century.

Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, shared with us the history of mass transit systems on Long Island.

Sometime during the suburbanization of Long Island, regional planners failed to account for population increase and the great many cars to accompany it. Today, we pay the cost of failed planning in the form of cluttered roads and endless traffic.

 So reliant are we on our cars, some well-intentioned reformers now suggest that we transition to electric cars here on Long Island — and throughout the country. This, too, has its drawbacks.

Kevin Beyer, vice president of government affairs at the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association, said the push for electric vehicles is unrealistic and expensive. The grid simply cannot accommodate an overnight increase of millions of electric vehicles, and we shouldn’t expect it to.

The Long Island parkway system is nearly a century old, yet our commuters rely upon this infrastructure every day to get to work. Without a modernized mass transit network, Long Island commuters must choose between cramped train cars or congested highway traffic. We expect antiquated transit networks to support today’s mass of commuters.

Time and again, Long Islanders apply outdated methods to modern problems. This is like building a jet engine with stone tools.

Not all hope is lost, however. For example, look no further than Smithtown’s Office of Town Clerk, where you will find that the transition from old to new technologies is already underway. For the last 16 years, Town Clerk Vincent Puleo (C) has worked to digitize paper records for electronic filing. This has made the day-to-day operations of the office faster, simpler and more accessible to his constituents.

We need to apply Puleo’s approach elsewhere. We must update our transportation systems to account for the many more drivers on our roads today. We must invest in mass transit, such as buses and boats for commuter travel, so that we are no longer helplessly delayed.

 We must embrace the changes happening all around us, for change is the only constant in this life. And with all of that being said, we should remember and learn from the ways of the past. Let history be our guide as we move ahead into the world of the new.

TBR News Media sat down with Vincent Puleo, town clerk of Smithtown. In our interview, he discussed his professional background, addressed his recent endorsements for Suffolk County clerk, and shared his expectations for the upcoming race.

Smithtown Town Clerk Vincent Puleo, right, during Supervisor Ed Wehrheim’s swearing-in ceremony earlier this year. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Q: Before we go into the details of your upcoming race, can you provide an overview of your own professional background? How did you get to this point in your career?

I was in the private sector, in the bar and restaurant business, for 26 years. I spent most of my career in the private sector. I did some insurance business up until around 2005, when the previous town clerk was retiring. I’m also a volunteer. This month, I’ve been in the Nesconset Fire Department for 50 years. 

I had community ties. An active Conservative since ’92, before that I was a Republican. I knew [Smithtown] Supervisor [Pat] Vecchio [R] very well. I knew the chairman of the Conservative Party fairly well, and they were looking for somebody with a little bit of a profile. I started my 17th year here in January. 

I’m married. I have three step-boys, eight grandchildren, and I’ve been the president of my chamber of commerce for the last three years. I’m active in my local community of Nesconset, born and raised on the same block. That’s just what I do. It helps me here because I know a lot of people. I do like to help wherever I can. In terms of people having nowhere else to turn, they call me. 

My duty is to help my community and help my town. I’m a lifelong resident here and that’s what we do.

Last year, Councilman Tom Lohmann, Puleo and Wehrheim presented a check to Pat Westlake of the Smithtown Food Pantry. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Q: For those who may not know, what are the responsibilities of a clerk?

Here in Smithtown, I’m first and foremost the secretary to the town board and to the supervisor [Ed Wehrheim (R)]. I maintain all the records of any vote that the town board makes, so I’m the secretary to the town board meetings. I’m also the records retention officer. I’m responsible for any records that are official. We continue to keep the records up to date here in Smithtown, so that’s
one facet. 

The other facet is that I’m a registrar. The registrar records birth and death. We have a record of every single birth and death in Smithtown. Certainly, we do permits. We maintain the marina list of all of the boat slips, and we keep a list of people who are on a waiting list to get a permit for their boat. We presently have a 26-year waiting list for boat slips, so people get a little antsy. We do garbage permits, dog licenses for our animal shelter and all the things of that nature.

The most important thing for me is to keep up with the times electronically. For the past 16 years, I have probably obtained $750,000 to $800,000 worth of grants in order to take paper and put it into an electronic format. My office is pretty much an electronic format. We very rarely have to go into our records retention room to retrieve any records because over the years, that’s been something that I thought could save time and it does. We are able to pick up records and get our constituents whatever they need much quicker than we ever have before.

Q: To move into your upcoming race for Suffolk County clerk, you have received the Republican and Conservative Party’s endorsements over incumbent Judy Pascale (R). From what I have read, you seemed a bit surprised about how this race has unfolded. Why?

I was asked in 2018 if I would be interested in running for that position. At that time, that was Judy’s spot and I said that as long as she’s going to retire, I would be amicable to run for that position. She, at that point, had a conference with the Republican and Conservative parties and she decided that she wanted to stay. From what I was told — and I wasn’t in the room, so I don’t know for sure — she said she wanted just four more years and then she would retire.

In early February of this year, the chairman of the Conservative Party called me and said he would like me to run for county clerk. I said I’m flattered that he asked me again and certainly would be honored to do that. A week later, I hear that she’s very upset and that she changed her mind and now there is a possible primary. That’s what surprised me. 

I’m surprised that she decided to not retire. Now, I already have both the Republican and Conservative endorsements and we will see what happens.

Q: Are you interested in a primary? 

I’m going to wait to answer that question until after the petitions are filed. 

Q: If elected, what is your vision for the Office of the Suffolk County Clerk?

Judy has done an outstanding job in making the office as transparent as possible. I’m going to continue that. I think that regardless of being two different worlds — where town stuff is town, and the county is a little bigger and has bigger roles — the thing that I want to continue is making sure our constituents get what they need as quickly as possible.

[Whether town or county clerk] it is still the same premise. I want to continue to go out there and get as many grants as I can to facilitate electronic filing. The scope of the work is different, not the intent of what you are looking to do. I really feel that constituent services are number one and that’s what I will continue doing. 

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say to the local readers?

I just hope that everything moving forward goes smoothly. I would be happy to be in a race and compete. Hopefully, I won’t see a primary. That’s basically it.

A scene from this month’s annual Smithtown Festival Day, where residents enjoyed the sunshine and perused the various activities across Main Street, which was shut down to make room for the event. Photo by Greg Catalano

On your mark, get set — no.

Smithtown officials are taking another look at the way the town approves festivals, parades and similar events that close major roadways in different parts of the town. Before Tuesday’s special Smithtown Town Board meeting, Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) and Town Clerk Vincent Puleo discussed complaints both of their offices have received after recent events closed portions of Smithtown, citing negative effects on business and residential life.

“It discombobulates people,” Vecchio said, citing one recent grievance to his office about a town event putting a damper on business. “This is a beautiful town, but this is not the first complaint we have received. I think we need to revisit the process.”

St. James resident Scott Flugman prompted the discussion via a letter he penned to Vecchio’s office, citing traffic issues barring his ability to get around town during an outdoor race event in his town on May 31. He said it took him nearly an hour to drive his son home from a friend’s house, who lives roughly 10 minutes away.

“This is a dangerous and grave inconvenience and should not be allowed to happen again,” the letter said. “We could not pick up our children, we were late to their sports and other activities and we were put at risk for a potentially serious traffic accident. Please have more consideration for the impact on the community when planning these races in the future.”

Currently, the town lists a parade, a run or a similar event in the correspondence section of its Town Board meeting agenda. The events are read aloud at two consecutive meetings, and the public can weigh in. But Vecchio said that process only targets residents who actually tune in to each agenda item at any given meeting.

“We have two readings. But there is no time in between for anyone to say, ‘Wait a minute,’” Vecchio said.

Puleo echoed the supervisor’s sentiments on the limited avenue for residents to become aware of a given event being approved.

“If they’re not looking at the meeting, they’re not going to know there is an event,” Puleo said. “My office gets complaints all the time. If you’re the affected person, and that’s not your thing to look at what’s going on in town, you could be blindsided.”

In the last six Town Board meetings, there have been first or second readings for 12 separate events labeled as parades, runs, walks or festivals, according to agendas from those respective meetings.

Puleo said it was suggested that his office help install signs throughout town to alert business owners and residents of upcoming events, but he said it would be difficult to figure out where to put a sign and when.

A potential solution, Puleo said, could be to more frequently utilize areas of the town typically closed on the days these events often fall, like Saturdays and Sundays. The clerk recommended to the Town Board that future events be moved to spots like the Hauppauge Industrial Park, or the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

But Tony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said he disagreed with such a strategy, as various events are planned with the intent to bring more people to Smithtown’s downtown areas. He acknowledged that events in his neck of the woods, like Kings Park Day, might have a negative impact on business temporarily, but the purpose was greater than that day’s cash flow.

“I can see the point with some people that sometimes events can be disruptive. As a business owner, it really does have a big impact on sales,” Tanzi said. “But if the goal is to entice people to visit your downtown, I don’t see how [relocating] helps.”

As a possible solution, Vecchio said the town might want to consider limiting the kinds of events it approves to allow solely Smithtown-based organizations or town residents as hosts. He argued there would be a lesser impact if the events excluded non-residents.

“The squeaky wheel is getting the grease,” Puleo said at the meeting. “Whether it’s Smithtown or not, the impact on the residents is still the same.”