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Jennifer Casey re-elected Suffolk Planning Commission chair

Jennifer Casey survived a challenge from developer Michael Kelly, winning a second one-year term as chairwoman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

Casey won on an 8-6 vote Wednesday night. Although Kelly was nominated, his name was not put up for a vote after Casey, a lawyer from Huntington Station, had received a majority.

The vote came at the end of a 5 ½-hour meeting after the commission had approved the $4 billion, 9,000-unit Heartland Square project in Central Islip.

Kelly supporters early in the meeting tried unsuccessfully to force a vote on the chairmanship before taking up Heartland, at a time when two Casey supporters were not present to cast votes.

But despite the wrangling over the election, Casey said, “I think the way we handled Heartland brought the sides together and made us more cohesive.”

She said her goal is to “bring everyone together so we can do a better job.”

Elected with Casey as vice chairs were Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit Concerned Citizens for the Environment, and Sammy Chu, a former aide to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

When Kelly backers sought to move up the chairmanship vote, Casey ruled the agenda called for the commission to deal first with the high-profile Heartland project.

Chu said Casey and her backers were involved in “political machinations” that were “a little bit disingenuous,” in ways that “really bend the rules” and “stretch the limit of the staff.”

Casey said her concern is that all commission members had a chance to vote.

The controversy arose in part because the commission for the first time allowed members to take part by video conferencing. Commissioner Nicholas Morehead of Shelter Island, who is ill, connected to the meeting by video shortly before 5 p.m. from his local Town Hall. A dispute over a video hookup at Kennedy Airport for commission member Nicholas Planamento, who was returning from a trip, ceased to be an issue when he arrived in person at the Riverhead meeting about 6 p.m.

County Attorney Dennis Brown last week had advised against an airport video link. But on the eve of the vote, Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, issued an opinion saying use of video at the airport was “not prohibited . . . or inconsistent” with state law.

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