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State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) won't seek reelection

New York State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

New York State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) will announce Friday that he will not run for reelection this year, ending a 44-year career in the Senate marked by significant accomplishments in land preservation, education and health care.

LaValle’s office said the senator, 80 — the longest serving member of the Senate — “feels like it’s time to pass the torch.”

LaValle will serve out the remainder of his term, leaving office in December 2020.

LaValle, a former fifth-grade teacher and principal in the Middle Country school district, first was elected to the Senate in 1976.

He was a co-sponsor with then-Democratic Assemb. Thomas DiNapoli of the Pine Barrens Preservation Act, which created new protections for 100,000 acres in Suffolk County. 

"There were a lot of moneyed interests pushing to carve up the Pine Barrens until there was nothing left, but he didn't let that happen," said Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

Englebright frequently worked with LaValle across the aisle, including on the Pine Barrens legislation and a recent effort to preserve more than 850 additional acres in Shoreham Woods.

"At the Senate level he was indispensable," Englebright said.

LaValle's long-standing interest in advancing higher education and improving health care were welcomed at Stony Brook University.

LaValle fought for funding that brought the school a Southampton campus, a burn unit at the University Medical Center and a High Technology Incubator. 

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), who met LaValle as a college intern in 1975, described LaValle as "a mentor then and a mentor ever since." 

Among initiatives Thiele worked on with LaValle was the Community Preservation Act, which created a transfer tax to preserve land in Suffolk's five East End towns. Thiele said the legislation led to preservation of more than 10,000 acres. 

"It changed the future of the East End and it was copied across the state and across the country," said Thiele, who as a former Southampton Town supervisor also worked with LaValle on the Pine Barrens act.

"The work he did is generational stuff," Thiele said. "It will improve peoples' lives for generations. Whether on open space, health care or higher education the initiatives he put forward are ones you ascribe the term statesmen to. He focused not just next election but next generation." 

LaValle was also an architect of the STAR property-tax relief measure approved by the legislature. 

Joanne Scalia, LaValle's chief of staff for over 30 years, said the senator "made promises and commitments and wouldn't step down until he achieved all he wanted to." 

Said Englebright: "He's been very positive and meaningful in maintaining and improving the quality of life for all of us, and I'm very respectful of his legacy. He has been a great legislator." 

Among previously announced Democratic contenders for LaValle’s seat are: Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member, Parents for Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn and Skyler Johnson, a 19-year old political science student at Suffolk County Community College.

Suffolk County Republican chairman Jesse Garcia said the shortlist of GOP contenders for LaValle's seat include Assemb. Anthony Palumbo (R- New Suffolk), Brookhaven Town councilmembers Dan Panico and Jane Bonner, and Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jody Giglio.

Garcia said LaValle's legacy "is going to live long," and called the senator's departure "bittersweet for me because we’re losing an icon in the state and the state needs icons."

But Garcia said, "We have a strong stable of candidates that will work very hard to pick up the mantle of leadership that Ken LaValle has put forward. It’s about the future of this district." 

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