At its best, a county legislature is a dynamic body, acting independently of the county executive, serving as a font of ideas and a check on the executive branch. Suffolk's lawmakers have a mixed record on that score card.
When it comes to holding hearings and sponsoring and passing legislation, Suffolk's legislature is among the most active in the state, with a strong record of environmental stewardship in particular. But the Democratic-controlled body has been less bold when it comes to dealing with budget proposals from County Executive Steve Bellone. Carping, not correcting, is the order of the day.
Democrats enjoy an 11-7 edge in the 18-person chamber, but one facet of control is very much at stake. The party needs a supermajority of 12 votes to be able to approve bonding without any Republican votes. We think the county is better served by Republicans being able to wield this check.
Thanks to 12-year term limits, the composition of the legislature is constantly changing, which is refreshing. Four lawmakers are finishing their first terms, a fifth (Samuel Gonzalez in the 9th District) is less than a year into his first term, and three are seeking their sixth and final terms, including Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory, minority leader Tom Cilmi and Republican Tom Muratore.
This guide seeks to help you evaluate your choices before you vote. Consider the legislation the candidates support, their ideas for problems that remain, and the degree to which the incumbents work on behalf of you and your fellow constituents. County government is responsible for public safety, county roads, protecting the environment, including our water and waterways, and delivering services. How are they doing?
Suffolk's lawmakers face big issues in the next term, not the least of which is the county's budget. They must act responsibly to keep Suffolk's recovery on track. Lawmakers should retool the red-light camera program. While controversial, it's mostly working. But the role of the legislature is to analyze the data and work to reposition cameras where they are needed more for safety, while making sure they are not discriminating against any group of people.
Another issue looming: Come Jan. 1, the jail population will be reduced thanks to new state bail reforms. More people, many in need of mental health assistance, will be in the street. The legislature must be nimble if action is needed. And lawmakers also must help in the search for new funding streams for the county's effort to reduce nitrogen in our surface waters.
A strong legislature is vital to a vibrant county. Consider carefully, and choose wisely. They might set the pace for Suffolk's future. But they report to you.
You can view the Newsday editorial board’s endorsements for Suffolk County legislative districts 1-18 here.