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Susan Berland to represent Suffolk's 16th Legislative District

Susan Berland, Democratic incumbent candidate for Suffolk County

Susan Berland, Democratic incumbent candidate for Suffolk County Legislature District 16, poses for a portrait at the William H. Rogers Legislative Building in Smithtown on July 17, 2019. Credit: James Escher

The race for the 16th Legislative District is either a rematch or an unusually long, continuous political contest. It feels like that because Dix Hills Republican Hector Gavilla says he never stopped running after he lost the 2017 race for an open seat to Democrat Susan Berland by 10 percentage points.

It's true that Gavilla, 49, is omnipresent, on social media and in person. His passion is infectious, and his grassroots issues are attractive to voters, but too often he is on the wrong side of those issues.

A real estate professional, Gavilla is rightly critical of the political control police unions exercise over the county, and his willingness to vote against excessive contracts is welcome. But Gavilla is probably best known for his battle against the county's red-light camera program, which he wants to end. On that, he is wrong. The program, while not perfect, is saving lives and changing habits, as the annual reduction in tickets issued shows. He is bothered that the country's contract with the company that operates the lights lets the contractor decide where to put them, and it does so based on how many tickets they generate. But Gavilla can't explain why it would be better to put them at intersections where fewer people are breaking the law and fewer lives are being endangered. And his idea to outlaw all right turns on red lights would infuriate motorists.

Gavilla's argument that the best way to get the county's budget in line is a 5% to 10% cut of every department and expense is both a bad idea and, due to union contracts, an unworkable one. His push to abolish the legislature and go back to a board of supervisors wouldn't help anything. And his broad opposition to development that includes density ignores the needs of the county.

Berland, a 58-year-old from Dix Hills, has been a busy legislator in her first term. One common-sense but crucial bill she passed forces water parks and amusements parks to immediately report to police any complaints of sexual misconduct or other criminal activity, rather than just kicking out the offenders. She supports the red-light cameras, though she concedes there are problematic locations. Still, she believes they save lives and trusts AAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's support of such programs. Her idea that payment plans can be established for the tickets, and that first-time offenders could be pardoned if they take a driving class are sensible tweaks.

Also, after 15 years on the Huntington Town Board, Berland has a balanced approach to development. She concedes the need for multiunit rental housing, but stresses forcing developers to keep the less-expensive units they must provide to get projects off the ground affordable in perpetuity. That's a better stance than Gavilla's instinctive opposition.

Newsday endorses Berland.

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