The battle lines for this year’s race for Brookhaven’s first district town board seat start at Hancock Street in Port Jefferson Station.
That’s because three-term incumbent Democrat Valerie Cartright, who lives on that street, is facing a challenge in November from her neighbor, newly minted Republican Tracy Kosciuk, who lives next door.
Kosciuk, 50, a nurse and president of the 343-member bargaining unit of the New York State Nurses Association at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson, is making her first run for public office. Kosciuk, who has lived in her home for 25 years, says there is no personal animosity between herself and Cartright, saying they have a “wave hello, goodbye” type of relationship.
Cartright, 43, says she and Kosciuk have had “ongoing interactions” since she moved in 2006 and there are no “actual or perceived differences” relevant in the race. She only became aware Kosciuk would run about a month ago, but the town board’s lone Democrat said, “I plan to run the same kind of campaign I’ve done in the past, which is respectful, clean, above board and focusing on . . . town issues.”
Kosciuk says Cartright has not been proactive enough in dealing with issues in their own neighborhood, which has three properties that have become eyesores. “We have an increase in zombie homes, illegal rentals and squatters living in the neighborhood and nothing is being done to resolve it,” she said.
Cartright, a lawyer, countered, “We have worked to address zombie homes across the district and I work with police and town inspectors and investigators to address these issues,” she said, but added often “there’s not an overnight fix.”
She also said she had formed a quality of life task force including police, officials and civic leaders and either she or an aide attended every local civic meeting since she took office. “I live in the community and work hard to make sure it gets better every day,” she said.
Kosciuk, who was a Democrat until last year and worked party phone banks with her mother growing up, said she would make stronger efforts to advocate for the district. “I want to reach out, help people and make a difference . . . by getting a resolution to problems,” she said.
The first district, which takes in the town’s northwest corner, has been a Democratic stronghold since the council district system began in 2003. Voter registration favors Democrats 19,089 to 16,399 for Republicans while Conservative have 1,039 and 14,622 are unaligned to any party. Cartright, the town’s first African-American town board member, won narrowly in 2013 by 460 votes, but more easily in 2015 by 55.6 percent and in 2017 by 60.4 percent.
Jesse Garcia, Brookhaven GOP chairman, conceded Kosciuk has an uphill fight, but said she had shown civic appeal, had influence as head of a local union and would be a running mate of highly popular Town Supervisor Ed Romaine. “We’ll be the underdog until Tracy raises her hand to take office, but she’s a fighter with a proven record of grassroots advocacy,” he said
Richard Schaffer, Suffolk Democratic chairman, said Cartright would prevail because Kosciuk “isn’t a known name . . . and it seems Republicans couldn’t find anyone else. It’s not surprising because of the work Valerie does.” But, he added, “It looks like it will make for an interesting block party this summer.”