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Spencer should resign from Suffolk legislature

Legislator William Spencer leaves First District Court in

Legislator William Spencer leaves First District Court in Central Islip after being arraigned on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

The stunning arrest of Suffolk County Legis. William "Doc" Spencer on charges that he traded oxycodone pills for sex is a tragic chapter in the career of a lawmaker who has focused his public work on opioid abuse and other public health issues, and who was also a well-respected pediatric surgeon and minister.

Spencer was caught in a federal-local law enforcement sting operation Tuesday, after he allegedly arranged to meet a prostitute in a Commack parking lot to give her narcotics in exchange for sex.

The legislator, a pediatric otolaryngologist who used his elective office to crusade against opioid addiction, reportedly had been seeing the woman for two years, but after she died of an overdose in September, detectives used her phone to continue the relationship via text, leading to the sting operation. Spencer was charged with two felony counts. He pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday, but Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said in a news conference that Spencer "essentially confessed" after his arrest, and that Sini’s office is "in the process of executing search warrants and uncovering additional crimes committed by Doctor Spencer."

Details that emerged Wednesday are troubling, but also leave some open questions. Spencer deserves his day in court on the accusations. But if the allegations are true, his hypocrisy, both in victimizing women and pushing the very dangerous drugs he railed against as a lawmaker, is disturbing. And the facts we have now are enough to make clear he cannot continue to represent the 18th Legislative District. He should resign now.

Spencer’s case reminds us that the opioid crisis is still ravaging our society and that the complicity of some in health care continues. A federal Drug Enforcement Administration special agent involved in the larger investigation said doctors, pharmacists and others should be on notice. "We will find you," he said.

Spencer must be honest with the people he represents, and he should use this moment to get the help he might need, and, perhaps, to help others, too.

— The editorial board