The race to fill a vacant Brookhaven Town Board seat pits two town planning board members who agree the town needs to be more aggressive on issues such as citing absentee landlords, acquiring open space and investing in downtown districts.
Doug Dittko, a Democrat, and Dan Panico, a Republican, agree on so many issues that Dittko says the two enjoy "a cordial relationship," and Panico says the pair "get along extremely well."
But in their appeal to voters, they're trying to make it clear they would approach the job of councilman differently:
Panico says he will work harder than Dittko to cut taxes. Dittko says his greater experience in community activism would make him a better advocate for new parks and stronger code enforcement.
Panico, 31, a senior deputy Suffolk County clerk who has served on the planning board for two years, said he will push for a townwide vote on a Brookhaven property tax cap. He has also pledged to slash "patronage positions" from Town Hall and propose a local anti-nepotism law.
Dittko, 58, who publishes a magazine for horse enthusiasts and has been on the planning board since 2006, cites a "vast chasm" between Panico's volunteer history and his own. He is a founder of the Manorville-East Moriches Civic Association who has been involved in local activism for more than 15 years.
Voters in the 6th District, which includes Mastic, Moriches and Shirley, will choose a new councilman in a special election Tuesday to fill the seat vacant since the November death of Councilman Keith Romaine.
Panico, a longtime friend of Romaine, said he and the late councilman knew "firsthand how the area has been underserved" by town government. Dittko agreed with Panico that town officials need to dedicate resources to combating absentee landlords on the Mastic peninsula.
"If I'm elected, you're going to see the quality of life issues start to get better," he said.
Panico, who lives in Manorville, graduated from and earned a law degree from Touro Law Center. He grew up in the 6th District and graduated from William Floyd High School in 1996.
Before working in publishing, Dittko worked as a purchasing manager for aerospace firms.
Dittko said he considers his private-sector experience an advantage over Panico, who has worked for county government since completing law school. Panico said the race has less to do with experience than fighting for new sewers and more park space and having "a vision for the community."
Panico had raised $46,187.04 and Dittko $11,008.33 by Feb. 26, the last time the candidates were required to file disclosure reports, state records show.
Campaign finance became an issue last month when Brookhaven Republican chairman Jesse Garcia accused Dittko of missing a state-mandated disclosure deadline. Brookhaven Democratic chairman Jon Schneider then charged Panico with the same mistake. The candidates have distanced themselves from the accusations.
The outcome of the race is unlikely to have a major impact on the makeup of the town board, where supporters of Democratic Supervisor Mark Lesko have a two-vote advantage. Still, the race is key because the 6th District has been without an advocate in Town Hall since Romaine's death, Dittko and Panico agreed.
"I think everyone is aware of how important it is," Panico said.
Brookhaven Town Board candidates
- Party: Republican
- Party: Democrat