A former Democratic Suffolk legislator will face off in a special election for the vacant 10th Assembly District seat Tuesday against a Republican political newcomer.
Former Legis. Steve Stern, 49, of Dix Hills, cites his record on holding down taxes in the county’s general fund, creating housing for homeless veterans and diverting pharmaceuticals from the water supply.
Republican Janet Smitelli, 56, a Huntington attorney, says her outsider status gives her fresh perspective on the problems facing Long Island, and that her decades of legal practice have shown her how New York’s laws could be improved.
The seat has been vacant since Jan. 1, when Republican Chad Lupinacci became Huntington Town supervisor.
Stern and Smitelli have been campaigning door-to-door in the district, where Democrats have a voter registration edge but which Republicans have controlled for decades.
“I’m a very motivated voter — these days in particular,” Joseph Stansky, 67, told Stern as the candidate canvassed on Stansky’s block in Huntington Station.
“I’m outraged by the conduct of this Republican Congress and this president,” said Stansky, 67. “We’re hoping that this race sets an important tone in the fall,” Stern remarked after visiting Stansky.
Asked about the prospect of a “blue wave” for Democrats as she knocked on doors elsewhere in Huntington Station, Smitelli said she hoped residents will vote for the candidate, not their party.
She introduced herself to resident Tom Healy and handed him a packet of forget-me-not flower seeds with the date of the special election printed on the back. “Good luck!” said Healy, 54. “I hope you win.”
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 5,800 in the district, which includes Huntington, Huntington Station, Cold Spring Harbor, Melville and parts of Dix Hills and East Farmingdale. Lupinacci was first elected to the seat in 2012 and won reelection decisively in 2014 and 2016. His predecessor, James Conte, a Republican, first was elected to the seat in 1988.
Smitelli, who also has the Conservative Party line, has practiced civil litigation for more than 30 years, as both a defense and a plaintiff’s attorney. In the past decade she has specialized in labor law, she said. She ran unsuccessfully for Suffolk legislature in 2015.
Stern, an attorney specializing in elder law and estate planning, first was elected to the county legislature in 2006, and was term-limited last year. Stern lost to Thomas Suozzi in the Democratic primary in the 3rd Congressional District in 2016. Stern also has the Working Families, Women’s Equality, Independence and Reform party lines.
Both candidates cited environmental issues as primary policy concerns.
Smitelli said she would advocate for stiffer water quality regulations.
“There’s so much that’s being put into our waters, and I don’t think enough is being done,” she said. “I don’t think we’re being good enough watchdogs.”
Stern said he would seek additional state funding for expanding sewer infrastructure in Suffolk County, where about 70 percent of homes aren’t on sewers.
“That’s just simply not sustainable for now, or for future generations,” said Stern.
Public safety, particularly gang violence, is another concern for both.
Stern said he would seek additional funding for after-school programs to keep young people away from gangs such as MS-13.
Smitelli called for greater coordination and information sharing between local and state law enforcement agencies, and for faster lines of communication between local police departments and schools facing emergencies such as shootings.
Stern has raised $94,739 and spent $76,940 in the race, leaving him with $17,799 on hand, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Smitelli has raised $38,955, spent $11,528 and has $27,427.
Education/career: Bachelor’s degree in environmental science and Latin American studies, SUNY Plattsburgh; law degree, St. John’s University. Attorney, Siler & Ingber
Family: Married, three children
Home: Dix Hills
Education/career: Bachelor’s degree in political science, Tulane University; law degree, Western Michigan University. Attorney, Davidow, Davidow, Siegel & Stern. Former Suffolk County legislator.
Family: Married, two children