Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci's run for State Senate -- announced less than two weeks after his return from a yearlong Navy deployment overseas -- has some residents and local leaders feeling abandoned, they say, after they have waited since April for leadership to head cleanup efforts at illegal dumping sites.
Croci held a news conference at Town Hall on July 8 admonishing fellow town board members for the lack of oversight that led to the dumping of an estimated 50,000 tons of debris laced with toxins at Roberto Clemente Park. He committed himself not only to cleaning up the Brentwood park -- one of the four sites under investigation by the Suffolk County district attorney -- but also to reviewing all decisions made by the board while he was away.
Nelsena Day, a Brentwood resident and member of Suffolk County's chapter of the advocacy group New York Communities for Change, said the news of Croci's bid for higher office -- which came immediately after dozens of community members spoke out against the illegal dumping at a town board meeting Tuesday -- was a "surprise."
"He needs to straighten out Brentwood, Central Islip, and north Brentwood before he runs for anything, because right now we don't have a trust in anybody that is on the Town of Islip government," she said.
Wednesday, after hearing of Croci's bid for higher office, four constituents contacted Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) to relay their concerns about what happens next, she said.
"They feel that they're being abandoned once again," Martinez said. "Running a campaign is a lot of work, it's another job . . . How could he come back and promise all this and leave again?"
Croci said his decision to run for State Senate will not affect the remediation process and might help if he makes it to Albany. He vowed that regardless of where his office is, he will follow through on his word.
"There's no absence right now," Croci said of his leadership. "I'm here, we're doing it, it's already in motion."
He expects a remediation plan for the park to be submitted to the state Department of Environmental Conservation by late August.
Daniel Altschuler, the Long Island Coordinator for Make the Road New York, a Latino advocacy group, said the town's response so far has been "dramatically insufficient."
"Whoever holds public office with jurisdiction over the toxic dumping needs to have a laser-eyed focus on the remediation," Altschuler said.
Croci's campaign comes at a crucial time in voter perception and credibility as Islip residents watch how he handles the dumping scandal, said political observer Lawrence Levy, the executive dean at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
"The fact that he's managing the remediation of one of the greatest scandals in town history may make it harder for him to get voters to accept that he's leaving," Levy said. "If they believe him to be the guy to fix this . . . they may want him to stay around, and they may penalize him for trying to get out of Dodge in a time of crisis."