39° Good Morning
39° Good Morning

Election 2015 puts focus squarely on local issues

Bob Goodale, from Mattituck, casts his vote for

Bob Goodale, from Mattituck, casts his vote for party primaries at Mattituck-Cutchogue Jr. Sr High School on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Credit: Randee Daddona

Vote for Joe, vote for Mary. Supervisor! Legislator! Clerk! Judge!

The plague of signs sprouting endlessly on lawns and roadsides is spreading. Mailboxes are stuffed with glossy election fliers, along with the holiday catalogs. And at the train station, shopping mall and soccer game, there is a smiling face eager to shake your hand.

Take heart. The campaign season is nearly over. Election Day is Tuesday.

But hopefully, you've paid attention to some of the hundreds of candidates vying for your vote for dozens of offices across Long Island.

We have. The Newsday editorial board spent five weeks talking to almost every contender for nine town supervisor seats, 37 seats up for grabs in the legislatures of both counties, and offices such as Suffolk County executive, and in Nassau, the district attorney and surrogate. We've endorsed those best positioned to lead a changing and challenged Long Island.

The lack of national or statewide races that usually take the spotlight is actually a good thing this time around. It puts the focus squarely on local issues, the matters that often hit home hardest.

What did we hear?

Overwhelmingly, people are worried about the growing heroin crisis. The anxiety cuts across fault lines of geography, race, age and economic class. Opioid overdoses are at record numbers. Everyone knows someone caught in heroin's maw. Both incumbents and challengers realize that fighting the scourge is not just a matter of policing. It also requires spending on education, prevention and treatment.

We heard lots of concern about distressed county budgets -- though too many Democrats in Suffolk and too many Republicans in Nassau are too satisfied with how their party has dealt with them. Too few candidates have fresh ideas for raising revenue or where exactly to cut spending, but everyone agrees that no one wants more taxes.

Though some candidates are aware that rising Internet sales and other forces could forever keep sales taxes from returning to pre-recession levels, we've seen no real creative proposals to replace this income stream.

And candidates of all stripes largely tap-dance around the truth that neither county can afford its police contracts -- not just salaries, which are lower for new hires, but also manning requirements and benefits. Confronting that means losing votes. So no one goes there. But sooner or later, what we pay for policing -- as important a function as that is -- must be addressed. Anyone who thinks or says otherwise is being dishonest.

Given Nassau's inability to address its intense budget woes, listening to incumbent county legislators was like hearing an ad for term limits. Suffolk has them -- 12 years and you're done. Its more dynamic legislature includes six lawmakers in their first terms. Another rookie joins in 2016 and four more legislators are seeking final terms this year.

Change is good.

We heard about that, too. Change is on everyone's mind. It's already happening -- demographics are shifting, big new developments are providing rental housing for young and old, an effort to retool our economy around research and innovation is picking up steam.

Many candidates understand the urgency of the change-or-die mantra and are pushing progress. Others, alas, fear this future, and are trying to hold it off. Still others pay it lip service; they say they embrace change but do nothing to help make it happen.

We saw lots of fresh faces in this process. At a time of growing national disgust and cynicism about politics-as-usual, it was gratifying to meet a new group of citizens rejecting the pessimism and looking to get involved.

Come Tuesday, don't fill out the line of one political party by habit. Find out what your local candidates think about the things that matter most to you, then choose.


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