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Candidates Screen For Suffolk Legislative Races

Suffolk LegislatureSlates for Suffolk County Legislative Districts are beginning to take shape ahead of the November 7, 2017 elections. GOP leaders screened persons of interest for the county’s legislative seats which are geographically within Brookhaven Town boundaries in Republicans’ hopes of unseating long-time Democrat incumbents and possibly taking control of the Democrat dominated Suffolk Legislature.

In a birds-eye view of the Third District Legislative District, incumbent Kate Browning (WFP) will be term limited after serving six terms, leaving the seat wide open without the advantage of incumbency. Browning vacated her job as a bus driver 12 years ago to make her entrance into the political arena and has won election every consecutive two year term. Josh Slaughter, 33, is Browning’s chief of staff and has been tapped as the Democrat candidate for the seat.

On the Republican side of the aisle, GOP leaders screened legislative hopefuls with frontrunners Bob Vecchio, Rudy Sunderman and Timothy Rothang being considered to run for the 3rd LD against Slaughter.

Vecchio, 49, is no newcomer to elective office. Elected to the William Floyd School Board in 2003, Vecchio has been serving as president of the board since 2006. He is controller for the Seafield Center where his professional responsibilities encompass health care accounting and management. Vecchio is married with two children.

Sunderman, 47, is a lifelong Mastic resident.  He is married with four children and touts a long record of public service. He is chief of Mastic Fire Department and is also District Manager for Centereach Fire District.

Rothang, 32, is a lifelong resident of the Tri-Hamlet Community and now owns a home in Shirley. He is married with one child. Rothang is  Citizen’s Advocate for the Town of Brookhaven and Assistant to Supervisor Ed Romaine.

The GOP hopefuls, as well as Slaughter, were interviewed about their intentions to serve on the Suffolk County Legislature, where each voiced definitive reasons why they would be the best person to fill the vacancy that Browning is leaving.

Topping the list of criticisms on the GOP side and even by Democrat candidate Slaughter, is the state of the county’s finances and the budget gap that exists. “First and foremost,” Slaughter said, “I don’t agree with raising fees, and Kate also voted against raising fees.” Slaughter said the county should “be more aggressive in going after things that take money out of people’s pockets like sales tax enforcement from cash businesses such as ‘construction’ and ‘cash restaurants’ which he says “are not accountable.”  Slaughter said the county “would not be able to go after businesses unless the state gives us the authority to enforce this.” Citing Browning’s record of constituent service, Slaughter said a vote for him would be a vote for more of the same of Browning’s work. Citing $200 million that has been secured for the Mastic and Shirley sewer district, Slaughter asserts: “There is still work to be done and I’m confident I’m the best person to get it done.”

Under his tenure as fire commissioner of Mastic Fire District, Sunderman said the department’s taxes were reduced by 20 percent. “I’m a lifelong resident, I care about this community, and I am the best person for the job,” Sunderman said. Sunderman, whose resume includes eight years as district manager of CVS Pharmacy, points to his business experience and fiscal responsibility to serve on the legislature. “He adds: I’m a public servant in this community with a proven record of reducing taxes while not cutting services, so what I would do in the county is take a look at inter-municipal agreements and shared services to cut costs. The county is in a deficit and they’re borrowing money to operate yearly. We have to look at the deficit and how money is being spent,” Sunderman added, “because they’re raising fees in parks for camping and parking, and they’re not putting money back into caring for the parks, and with Smith Point Park being the number one park in Suffolk, this is very concerning to me.” Sunderman cites his emergency services experiences as a unique perspective he would bring to the county legislature if he is the nominee and wins the election: “As fire chief, I’m always responding to emergencies, so if Suffolk County has an emergency, I’m ready.”

Vecchio cites 26 years of “extensive” fiscal experience which he said would be beneficial to the county’s finances. “I bring a unique public and private sector mentality to the table,” Vecchio explained, citing his volunteer expertise as school board president and his experience in his job at Seafield Center. “William Floyd School District’s budgets are always approved,” Vecchio said. “We have revenue-driven budget language in our contracts where raises are tied to new revenues. So when the district lost millions in state aid,” Vecchio explained, “we made tough cuts and went through short term pain for long term sustainability. These,” Vecchio pointed out, “are things Suffolk County refused to do.” Vecchio defines Suffolk County as “smoke and mirrors with its projected revenues, where you just can’t keep blaming it all on the state for unfunded mandates when you have a $180 million shortfall. Suffolk County,” Vecchio continued, “is not living within its means.” If he is ultimately tapped as the GOP nominee for the 3rd LD and is elected, Vecchio said on Day 1 he would conduct a “complete review of the budget from top to bottom.”

Calling the county’s Red Light camera initiative a “money grab,” Vecchio supports enforcement at traffic stops which he asserts would more likely result in arrests of such crimes as felons carrying weapons and drugs. “So while Josh wants to address the revenue side of the budget, I want to address the expense side.” Critical of the county’s low bond rating and the need to “improve” finances, Vecchio stated: “You can’t do the same thing the same way, and expect to get different results,” Vecchio said referencing a run against the Democrat candidate. “They’ve been kicking the can down the road for so long, and now there’s no road left.” In response, Slaughter stated: “I’m absolutely proud of the record Kate compiled over 12 years, and a vote for me is certainly a vote to continue the service she’s provided for this community.”

Rothang, a registered Independent, is hoping to receive the nominations of the Independence and Republican Party lines and if elected, says he will work to more diligently address quality of life issues. “One of the main issues is quality of life including absentee landlords, gang violence and sex offenders,” Rothang said. Rothang said it is New York State’s abolition of the county’s Quarter Mile Law that prohibited sex offenders from residing within a designated distance of schools, day care centers and parks that he says he will work to reinstitute on a state-wide level. “The state claims this is unconstitutional and a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Laws, and I will work with current state elected officials to institute this as a state law,” Rothang said. From a fiscal standpoint, Rothang stated: “The county has a huge $180 million deficit and they keep borrowing to pay operational expenses which I am against, because borrowing has to be paid back with interest,” he said. “The Suffolk County Legislature has not had a balanced budget in about five years, then half way through the year they scramble to fill holes so if elected, I’d introduce a resolution that would require the county comptroller to certify a budget as balanced before it can be voted upon,” Rothang explained. A proponent for the environment, Rothang said state and federal grants must be sought to help subsidize sewer district hookups. “I support the Mastic-Shirley Sewer District but we must find federal and state grants because if it goes to referendum and people are asked for money to flush their toilets, the referendum is going down. So while I support the sewer district, I’m realistic in that we must get funding to back the referendum.”

GOP hopefuls and Slaughter all found common ground on one issue: The need for more police and law enforcement. All concur that more feet on the ground would lend to helping put a lid on crime and quality of life issues, and all cited the heroin overdose and substance abuse issue and every day quality of life issues as overarching problems to bigger issues that emerge as a result.

Asked about endorsements of unions, the candidates reported at press time that they had not been screened. “At this point I can’t say,” Slaughter reported, “but I expect I’ll have strong support from unions. We’ve been very supportive and we will fight to ensure we hire local people which will in turn help the local economy. I will be a strong voice for Suffolk County workers and am confident unions understand I will stand by their workers.”

Reached for comment on their respective candidates, Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer and Suffolk County GOP Chairman John Jay LaValle each expressed optimism their candidate will win in November. “Josh has a fairly good shot (at winning the 3rd LD),” Chairman Schaffer said. “He’s been Kate’s chief of staff for 10 years and he’s been attending third party club functions. He knows the Independence Party Leader,” Schaffer said, underscoring “and we think he’s got a fairly good shot. A vote for him would be a continuation of the work ethic, knowledge and constituent service that Kate Browning delivered to her district,” Shaffer stated, adding, “Josh is familiar with the area, he’s been involved with the people in this district; the people here love Kate so they will be getting more of the same with Josh.”

But GOP Chairman LaValle’s opinion of who will take the 3rd LD is in sharp contrast to Schaffer’s. “To say Josh shadowed Kate is of no benefit to the constituents but it was a nice try,” LaValle said, “because our residents are smarter. Josh will not win,” LaValle stated, “but if he did, he’d be another one of them driving the budget right into junk status because the Democrats have spent our hard-earned money on their beliefs. We have three very good candidates – each of the three bring something a little different but all of them are very solid, so it is going to be a difficult decision for this committee to choose,” LaValle said.

Brookhaven Town GOP Leader Jesse Garcia said of the slate of legislative hopefuls who have been screened to date: “Based on the level of candidates we have, their level of energy, combined with the kinds of accomplishments we’ve seen on the Republican majority on the Brookhaven Town Board, people are seeing how things are done the Brookhaven way.” Garcia cited the need for “new fiscal management” in the county contrasting the county’s diminishing bond rating compared to Brookhaven Town’s AAA bond rating as assigned by Moody’s Investor Services. LaValle stated: “The prevailing issues of the day are about the budget and ethics, and financially speaking, we need to have Republican control of things to provide checks and balances to the Democrat Party that has just spent this county’s way into virtual bankruptcy.”  But Schaffer, on the other hand, vehemently defends the state of the county’s finances: “Suffolk County had been facing a $500 million deficit, and because of the work Democrats have done, that deficit has been reduced to $160 million,” Schaffer reported.

In other legislative races within the Town of Brookhaven, Democrat incumbents are all seeking re-election where Schaffer remains confident his candidates will retain their seats. Seventh District Legislator and Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco won election in 2011, and was re-elected each consecutive term. Calarco is seeking a fourth term. Challenging Calarco this time around is Christine Rignola, who presently serves on the Patchogue-Medford School Board. Sixth District Legislator Sarah Anker won a special election in 2010 and was re-elected during each subsequent term. Like Calarco, Anker is also seeking her fourth term. Garcia said Brookhaven Town Second District Councilwoman Jane Bonner is “being recruited by community members to seek the nomination to run for the legislative seat.” Garcia said if Bonner decides to run for the county seat, she would have to give up her town board seat because town board elections coincide with legislative races on the November 2017 ballot. Also running for re-election is 5th District Legislator Kara Hahn. Seeking the nomination and the right to challenge Hahn is Ed Flood, an attorney and chief of staff to New York State Assemblyman Dean Murray. Garcia explained that because the 5th LD encompasses two of Brookhaven Town’s council districts, “committee people of the two wards will coalesce behind Flood” should he be the GOP nominee.

Coverage of county races will continue as candidates for respective legislative districts are confirmed.

 

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