At a meeting of Suffolk minority leaders Tuesday night who represent a wide range of interest groups, County Executive-elect Steve Bellone promised them they'd not be forgotten by his administration.
"I believe in not only celebrating our diversity but seizing upon it as the greatest asset we have," Bellone told the crowd inside the Long Island Portuguese American Center in Brentwood. "I want our county to be known as the inclusive county."
Nearly 130 people attended the meeting with Bellone to discuss a variety of issues including making Suffolk's communities safer, ongoing unemployment challenges and the lack of youth programs across the county.
Others asked Bellone to improve anti-gang efforts, intensify hate crime investigations and increase language access initiatives. Bellone spent most of the meeting listening as others voiced their concerns.
He took notes most of the time and said he would work on the issues.
Bellone will be sworn into office in January, replacing County Executive Steve Levy.
Tony Martinez, co-director of Bellone's transition team, said yesterday's meeting began what he said would be ongoing conversations with the leaders.
He said Bellone's team selected last night's venue to make a statement: "We chose Brentwood because it's one of the diverse communities in Suffolk that needs more attention."
Representatives from the Suffolk County police Third Precinct attended.
"Anything that enhances communication between government and the community is a plus," Inspector Jan Rios said.
Some attendants, like Ray Mayo, 44, executive director of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens, had specific concerns that they wanted Bellone to address.
"I hope to get a better understanding of what he's actually going to do to combat the unsolved murders in our area," he said before the meeting.
The conversation touched on other topics, such as the need to improve regulations on sober houses, protect immigrants' rights, and include gays and lesbians in diversity reforms.
Marcos Maldonado, 30, director of development for Youth Enrichment Services, said the event was a critical step in building a relationship with Bellone and community leaders.
"We have to establish that dialogue early," the Brentwood resident said. "We need someone who will be sensitive to our needs."