It's a bit difficult to figure out exactly why anyone would want to serve as a Suffolk County legislator these days. The incumbents are banging their heads against a wall, trying to come up with a budget that's really balanced -- as opposed to the one that County Executive Steve Levy sent them, which they say is about $135 million out of whack.
Many of the same lawmakers will be back next year, contending with the budget that comes out of the difficult process of passage, veto and override in November. There will be new faces as well. Two incumbents could not run again, because of term limits. A third decided not to seek re-election. That guarantees at least three new members. And a few races are close enough for a challenger to unseat an incumbent.
Whether Democrats retain control or Republicans take over, the bipartisan problem will be the same: steering the county through yet another tough budget year. The legislators will also have to forge a smoother relationship with a new county executive than the one with Levy, which has too often made it more difficult to do the people's business.
The new legislature will also have to grapple with such issues as the ongoing saga of the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility in Yaphank and confirming a new police commissioner and other appointees of the new executive.
As Suffolk faces the reality of cutting some services to make up for loss of revenue and increased costs, this will be a painful couple of years. Voters should keep that in mind, and candidates shouldn't fool themselves. Legislating won't be much fun in 2012 or 2013.
NEWSDAY EDITORIAL BOARD ENDORSEMENTS FOR SUFFOLK LEGISLATURE
Editorial: Romaine in Suffolk 1st District
Without Ed Romaine, 64, of Center Moriches, the county legislature would be less fun. He can be wily and partisan, but he knows how to be bipartisan, too, which makes him effective. He's smart on the issues and entertainingly persuasive in debating them. He has deep institutional knowledge, gained during 26 years as an elected official in Suffolk: an earlier term as a legislator, service as county clerk, plus campaigns for county executive and Congress.
Though he's in the minority, he has managed to get a lot done. His exemplary record on open space preservation, for example, has won him the endorsement of environmental groups. And he persuaded the legislature to create an oversight committee to make recommendations about the future of the Long Island Power Authority, a public entity that the state's Public Service Commission does not regulate. The committee's report is due soon.
His Democratic opponent, Tricia Chiaramonte, 40, of Manorville, did not appear for an endorsement interview. Newsday endorses Romaine.
Editorial: Schneiderman in Suffolk 2nd Dist.
His independent streak makes Legis. Jay Schneiderman a bit of a man without a political home, but it doesn't seem to have hurt his ability to get something meaningful done for his constituents.
Schneiderman, 49, a member of the Independence Party from Montauk, saw a need for Sunday bus service in his East End district, to serve people who work for a living and have no other way to get back and forth, and he got a pilot program going. This summer, it served almost 600 people per Sunday on two lines. Riders on those lines paid an extra 50 cents to help defray the cost.
His Republican opponent, Cornelius Kelly, 39, of East Quogue, runs a title insurance abstracting company. The issue that got him interested in running this race was the county's housing homeless sex offenders a few miles from his home. He says Schneiderman's independence from either major party caucus impairs his effectiveness on that issue, and deprives him of leverage. But that view is off the mark. Kelly is energetic and appealing, but Schneiderman is indeed effective. Newsday endorses Schneiderman.
Editorial: Browning in Suffolk 3rd District
Newsday endorsed incumbent Kate Browning two years ago, calling her a valuable voice in the legislature for this working class district. She still is.
Browning, 52, a member of the Working Families Party from Shirley, has made ensuring the district doesn't become a dumping ground for sex offenders her signature issue. She's been a force for deploying electronic shot spotters where needed to allow police to pinpoint gunfire. She won legislation directing social service officials to develop standards for sober homes used by recovering addicts. And she's working with housing groups to rehabilitate foreclosed homes and sell them to first-time buyers.
Republican Susan Sineo, 49, of Manorville, is an insurance broker and civic activist. The issue that animates her is compost facilities and her conviction that they're harming residents' health. Her knowledge of the issue is exhaustive, and she's a forceful advocate. But that's not reason enough to turn out an incumbent so attuned to her district. Newsday endorses Browning.
Editorial: Muratore in Suffolk 4th Dist.
Republican Thomas Muratore won this seat in 2009 after a second run against Democrat Brian Beedenbender. This election appears easier for Muratore, 66, of Ronkonkoma. Democratic opponent Joseph Turdik, 58, of Selden, is not actively campaigning.
A legislative highlight for Muratore was passage of his law to cap county sales taxes when gasoline exceeds $3 per gallon. In a new term, he wants to freeze county property taxes, streamline permit processes for businesses, keep homeless sex offenders housed in Riverhead and Westhampton, allow more red-light cameras for safety, expand sewer service as part of rebuilding the Ronkonkoma hub, and beef up police ranks but ask police unions to help solve the county budget crisis. Muratore's also fighting to preserve 50 acres at the community college in Selden.
His 35 years with the Suffolk Police Department give him street-level credibility and a make him a good judge of reality. Newsday endorses Muratore.
Editorial: Hahn in Suffolk 5th District
Suffolk County's 5th Legislative District is up for grabs because term limits will end the tenure of the incumbent, Vivian Viloria-Fisher.
The Republican candidate is Anthony Moncayo, 57, a lawyer and retired Army officer who's been a Suffolk resident for 53 years. The Democrat is Kara Hahn, 40, a Port Jefferson native and aide to the legislature's presiding officer, William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). Both candidates live in East Setauket, but the similarities end there.
Moncayo isn't convinced the county should operate a nursing home, but Hahn wants to keep the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility open. Moncayo opposes a Shinnecock casino; Hahn doesn't. Moncayo opposes selling any part of the county's large tract in Yaphank. Hahn would preserve only the environmentally sensitive portion.
Hahn is sensible, articulate and knows the issues. Her challenge will be making the transition from aide to legislator. Newsday endorses Hahn.
Editorial: Wilutis in Suffolk 6th District
Sarah Anker, 47, is a community activist and Mount Sinai resident who won a special election in March to represent Suffolk's 6th District in the county legislature. A Democrat, she's now running for re-election in her heavily Republican district against attorney Karen M. Wilutis, 53, a Republican from Miller Place.
Anker's heart is in the right place. She emphasizes communication, cares about health and environmental issues, and stresses the importance of creating jobs. Unfortunately, she lacks focus and inclines toward anodyne generalities on the issues.
Wilutis' intelligence and legal background make her the preferred candidate. She has extensive experience as town attorney and as a planning board member for the Town of Brookhaven. She's been an assistant district attorney and a small claims arbitrator. She's also done legislative work for state Sen. John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport).
Newsday endorses Wilutis.
Editorial: Calarco in Suffolk 7th District
Many of the critical issues Suffolk County faces have burned hottest in this legislative district. It's where four innocents were massacred in a drugstore, riveting attention on the county's prescription drug problem. It's where Ecuadorean Marcelo Lucero was murdered in a burst of anti-immigrant violence. And it's where Patchogue Village has set the standard for the sort of smart growth the county needs.
Come January it will be represented by a political novice. Democrat Robert Calarco, 32, of Patchogue, and Republican John Giannott, 40, of East Patchogue are vying for the job vacated by Jack Eddington, who decided not to seek re-election.
The two don't differ on many things. Both support expanded use of red-light cameras, for instance, a public-private partnership to run the Foley nursing home, and housing homeless sex offenders in mini-shelters scattered around the county. Each would bring an inclusive perspective to the immigration debate. And they both want the county to hire more police -- which is unrealistic, given the economic climate and what police are paid.
The difference is Calarco -- who has a master's degree in public administration and has been Eddington's chief of staff for six years -- has a better grasp of the complexities of the issues and what it takes to get things done. For instance, he has a proposal to create a county traffic enforcement bureau to capture some of the revenue from tickets that now goes to Albany. That could help fund programs such as more community policing and returning specialized police units, such as drug enforcement, to local precincts.
Giannott, who owns Porters on the Lane and Carla Marla's Ice Cream Parlor in Bellport, understands, firsthand, the need for the county to make life easier for business. He's pragmatic and passionate about expediting health department and other permit processes for start-up companies like the second ice cream store he lost because of the long wait for permits.
But Calarco has the edge in political savvy and experience with the range of issues affecting this diverse district. Newsday endorses Calarco.
Editorial: Lindsay in Suffolk 8th District
Anthony Musumeci, 34, is the kind of young person who is needed in public life. He grew up in Sayville, married his Hofstra University sweetheart, and had a couple of kids. Living now in Bohemia, Musumeci works in his family's business. He's curious about the world and frank about what he hasn't learned yet. But Musumeci, a Republican, is running for the 8th Legislative District seat against a formidable incumbent, William Lindsay, 65, who's been elected the legislature's presiding officer six times in a row.
It's no wonder. The Holbrook Democrat has long experience -- term limits will make his next two years in office his last -- and his low-key style has made him a welcome counterpoint to Steve Levy, the brash county executive. He is blunt about the county's budget woes, offering no pat solutions. He was an early advocate of cameras at stoplights, which have saved lives and generated revenue. He sensibly favors small, distributed shelters -- rather than the current trailers in Riverhead and Westhampton -- for the county's homeless former sex offenders. Newsday endorses Lindsay.
Suffolk 9th District: Candidate unopposed
Editorial: Cilmi in Suffolk 10th District
Jim Heath, a 63-year-old Democrat from Ronkonkoma, works for the Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency and is passionate about the needs of those who serve the nation. He is convinced the county needs to take care of its most challenged citizens, and support its police officers. Heath is also refreshingly honest in admitting there are county issues he doesn't know much about, like how to deal with the challenges of the Health Services Department and the Foley nursing home. He's wise to be honest about his lack of knowledge, but understanding these issues is important.
Incumbent Republican Thomas Cilmi, 47, of Bay Shore, is seeking his second term. One of his priorities is getting some transparency into the county budget process, so that the public knows what is happening and can comment on the spending plan before it is finalized. He also wants the Health Services Department's permit processes streamlined, the nursing home privatized and more cops on the streets, and says the county cannot raise taxes right now. Cilmi is still learning the ropes, but he's also spearheading some important issues. Newsday endorses Cilmi.
Editorial: Barraga in Suffolk 11th Dist.
Republican Thomas Barraga, 68, of West Islip, is seeking a fourth term in the county legislature -- after leaving behind his Assembly seat. In his previous three legislature races, he won with about 62 percent of the vote each time. His Democratic opponent, Frank Dolan, 58, also of West Islip, declined to appear for an endorsement interview.
Barraga is a conservative with an independent streak and a commonsense grasp of budget issues. He focuses much more heavily on shaping budgets and on constituent service than on passing legislation. And he's passionate about the need for big projects like the replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge and a new bridge or tunnel from Long Island to Westchester, to bring jobs to the region.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Barraga says the county does not need more police. And he feels Suffolk should work hard to answer the issues raised by a Department of Justice investigation of its handling of hate crimes.
Overall, he lends a useful, experienced voice of reason to the legislature. Newsday endorses Barraga.
Editorial: Kennedy in Suffolk 12th District
Republican incumbent John Kennedy, 55, of Nesconset, came to the legislature in a special election in 2004 and established himself as a fiscal conservative with a soft spot for the environment. His Democratic opponent, Martin Aponte, 50, lives in Hauppauge, where he's a Democratic zone leader. Aponte chose not to interview for Newsday's endorsement.
Kennedy, an attorney, became minority leader this year, and he has a clear-eyed view of the county's problems. He considers the county executive's 2012 budget the worst he's seen. While he says he's never supported a general-fund tax increase, he can't rule out the possibility. Some of the current financial gimmicks -- selling the Foley nursing home to private interests, for example -- not only won't work, they cut into what he sees as county government's core responsibility for the health, safety and well-being of its citizens. Kennedy favors expanding the county's red-light camera program, though he wants the vendor contract reopened. He's the kind of pragmatic, independent thinker Suffolk needs. Newsday endorses Kennedy.
Suffolk 13th District: Candidate unopposed
Lynn Nowick, 64, a Republican from St. James, is seeking her sixth term. She is unopposed for re-election.
Editorial: Horsley in Suffolk 14th District
Suffolk County's 14th Legislative District, on the South Shore, is represented by Babylon Village resident Wayne Horsley, 60, a Democrat with a strong background in public finance and long experience in state and local government.
His challenger is Republican Edward Blankenhorn, 70, a retired Northrop Grumman engineer who specialized in cost analysis. A Lindenhurst resident, the civic-minded Blankenhorn has been active on school boards and in his church.
The candidates do not differ much on the issues. Both like the red-light cameras that save lives and produce income for the county. Both are unfortunately content with the current system of housing homeless sex offenders in trailers in Riverhead and Westhampton. Both want more sewers and both want the county to continue to operate the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility.
Blankenhorn is a thoughtful guy with skills that could be useful in public life. But Horsley is a particularly intelligent and articulate legislator with a sure grasp of the issues.
Newsday endorses Horsley.
Suffolk 15th District: Candidate unopposed
DuWayne Gregory, 42, of Amityville, won the seat in 2008 in a special election, and then won a full term in 2009. This time, the Democratic incumbent has no opponent.
Editorial: Poulos in Suffolk 16th District
He is proud of creating a "silver alert" program for the cognitively impaired elderly who wander off and go missing. Overall, he has been steady, but not distinguished.
Poulos, a divorce lawyer, thinks her ability to get feuding couples to negotiate is a skill that will help in the legislature. She may be right. This page has endorsed Stern in the past, but Poulos offers a sensible, fresh approach that's worth trying. Newsday endorses Poulos.
Editorial: Garetano in Suffolk 17th District
This race pits polished three-term Democratic incumbent Louis D'Amaro, 50, a lawyer from North Babylon, against pet-show promoter and former South Huntington school board member Dennis Garetano, 59, a Huntington Station Republican who lost to D'Amaro in 2005.
Both want to bring sewers to homes in Deer Park and North Babylon, and restore 2012 funds for the Dolan medical clinic. But the contest has been overshadowed by gangs and crime in Huntington Station, which led to the closure of a middle school. D'Amaro says he increased police presence. Garetano wants to go further, advocating an anti-gang unit and the restoration of a police substation.
D'Amaro faults Garetano for fights and State Liquor Authority violations at a West Hills bar he ran until the mid-2000s, and for spotty attendance in his last year on the South Huntington school board, after excellent attendance in six prior years.
The incumbent was stripped of a key committee chairmanship this year after a failed coup to take over as presiding officer. His vote against hiring a special counsel for the legislature’s 2010 inquiry into the county ethics commission was disappointing because D’Amaro’s wife, county attorney Christine Malafi, was a counsel to the commission. D’Amaro says he did not recuse himself because the county ethics board advised that generally no conflict exists. But in this matter, good judgment required recusal.
A fresh start is needed. Garetano promises to bring an intense focus to a troubled area of Huntington. Newsday endorses Garetano.
This is a corrected version of the 17th District endorsement. An earlier version misstated the consequence of the legislature’s vote on the hiring of a special counsel.
Editorial: Spencer in Suffolk's 18th Dist.
The race to fill the seat of term-limited Jon Cooper features two strong contenders: Republican Elizabeth Black, 58, of Huntington village, a retired secondary English teacher who's on the Huntington School District board of trustees, and Democrat William Spencer, 44, of Centerport, an otolaryngologist who has served as chairman of the Town of Huntington Housing Authority's board.
Black's campaign is emphasizing job creation, but her experience with the Jack Abrams School, which she voted to close, is one of the reasons she's running for this office. She'd love to see students back at the school some day, but says the area hasn't changed enough yet. She thinks more cops on the street are essential to getting crime under control and favors a new police class.
Spencer takes a more holistic view of crime, pointing to cultural factors that lead to gang activity. He suggests that businesses with county contracts offer internship programs to local youth. It's typical of his expansive view of many of the county's challenges. He has creative ideas -- from using rainy-day funds to pay off maturing debt, thus raising the county's bond rating, to working with local colleges to create a green degree, so alternative-energy companies will have a talent pool here.
Black has great credentials and passion, but she didn't display the breadth we see in her opponent. Spencer would enter the legislature with an array of proposals that don't feel like they're out of the same-old, same-old playbook. Newsday endorses Spencer.