A heated contest
For the latest example of deep partisanship in the era of President Donald Trump, look no further than Tuesday’s fire district elections in Sayville and Setauket.
The contests for leadership in Long Island volunteer fire departments are typically low-turnout, internecine affairs, with a focus on internal departmental matters and rivalries more than affairs of state.
That isn’t necessarily the case in 2020. The Setauket contest between Sue Meyers and Jim Griffin has drew the attention of a grassroots group, Suffolk for Biden, as well as a pro-Trump group, Setauket Patriots.
Griffin is a member of the Patriots, a biographical detail which attracted the interest of Suffolk for Biden; co-chair Vincent Vertuccio says he was alerted to the fire district race by a fellow member after a recent call session for Georgia U.S. Senate hopeful Jon Ossoff.
In a Monday email, the pro-Biden organization put out an alarm about the fire commissioner race, saying the Setauket Patriots "aim to gain power by winning small local offices, and that can not be allowed to happen."
The email urged eligible residents to vote to help stop "the rise of local Trumpism."
For the Patriots’ part, group founder James Robitsek said Griffin asked for help with his campaign, and the Setauket Patriots page included a post this week encouraging members to "support a fellow Setauket Patriot" by voting for Griffin: "We are making a difference in the Community."
Another post took aim at perceived Democratic involvement.
"NY State Assemblyman Steve Englebrights [sic] Girlfriend, Sue Meyers ran for Setauket Fire Commissioner against Setauket Resident Jimmy Griffin," the Tuesday post said. "Those scumbags played dirty, by putting out mass messaging emails and texts using the Democratic party’s mailing lists slamming Jimmy calling him a racist and being a Setauket Patriot as if that’s a bad thing."
Asked about the post, Assemb. Steve Englebright told The Point Meyers has been "my significant other" for a number of years.
"That’s not a secret. But it’s also not relevant," the Setauket Democrat said, adding that his campaign did not sponsor Meyers’ run. Suffolk Democratic chairman Rich Schaffer also said the party didn’t get involved.
Meyers ultimately won the race, 557 votes to 183, according to the fire district manager.
But the Patriots’ Tuesday post was focused on another ultimately lost race: the GOP effort against Englebright.
"We did campaign against Steve Englebright and we’re [sic] successful in unseating him election night until the absentee ballots magically appeared," the post said. In fact, Englebright won his race by over 10%, according to final figures from the Suffolk BOE.
"They live in an alternate reality," Englebright said of the Patriots.
In other fire district news, candidate Christopher Bailey in Sayville also drew the ire of Suffolk for Biden and was included in its recent email as well. As news of a planned Black Lives Matter protest circulated this summer, Bailey merited a mention in Newsday after he "posted an online message showing a gun and saying ‘Bring It,’ followed by an expletive." (Bailey said at the time that he was misinterpreted and his message had been aimed at possible rioters.)
The results from that race are now in, too. Bailey lost to Marc Henig, 475 to 301.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Clavin CARES … For Sanitation
After months of back and forth over how the Town of Hempstead is going to spend the $133 million boon in CARES funding it received, Supervisor Donald Clavin just dedicated close to $50 million of it to parts of his town budget on which Nassau County officials argue it isn’t allowed to be spent.
Hempstead, a town of more than 500,000, was allotted federal dollars this spring in the CARES Act, money that otherwise would have gone directly to Nassau County. Instead, the county got just $103 million. Suffolk, which did not have to split its grant with any towns, got $257 million.
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has asked Clavin for almost $50 million for months to help the county pay police costs that, according to a letter she sent him this summer, were generated "aiding residents" in Hempstead during the pandemic. He never said "no" outright, but hemmed and hawed, and said he would see whether the town needed it by the Dec. 30 spending deadline before giving such a big chunk to the county.
But at its Tuesday’s meeting, the town board instead agreed to put $43 million in the sanitation operating fund, $8 million in the water operating fund and $1 million in the parks operating fund.
Clavin acknowledged to The Point those funds have not actually seen increased expenses due to the pandemic, and in some cases costs have even declined. He says the town has lost about $40 million in revenue but acknowledged the Washington funds are not currently approved to fill revenue holes.
His argument is that the town has been transparent by making decisions via public town board votes. And that the town has been charitable, funding the needs of food banks, testing, local colleges, the county IDA and even the county itself, for PPE.
"This is permissible," Clavin told The Point Wednesday. "It’s allowable because, for instance, sanitation workers are essential workers and if they don’t do their job, it creates a health risk."
"The federal government needs to do more for everyone, including Nassau County, but I have a fiduciary responsibility to the people of Hempstead."
Curran, though, says Clavin is misreading the law, and in an email to The Point argued that those are not the "essential workers" this money is meant for and that he risks having Washington claw it back.
"There was a presumption, and rightly so, that all police and first responders were on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic," Curran wrote. "This money is at risk to be lost forever from Nassau, instead of helping those who put their lives on the line across our county."
And the Treasury guidance? It says: "The Fund is designed to provide ready funding to address unforeseen financial needs and risks created by the COVID-19 public health emergency ... a State, territorial, local or tribal government may presume the payroll costs for public health and public safety employees are payments for services substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency."
So in the end it may just depend on whose definition of "public health and public safety employees" wins out … or who in Washington gets to decide what gets clawed back.
—Lane Filler @lanefiller
1943 vs. 2020
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Gallagher’s big move
Long Island will have a direct presence in the upper echelons of the state Department of Environmental Conservation with the promotion of Carrie Meek Gallagher to the agency’s No.2 position.
Gallagher, who has been the agency’s Long Island regional director for more than five years, will serve as acting executive deputy commissioner with the "acting" part dropping off when the transition process is complete. And Long Island’s issues will remain priorities for her, she said, because they are priorities everywhere.
"New York State is a big state, but if you’re thinking about the big picture, the issues, they’re pretty similar in terms of the focus," she told The Point.
Gallagher identified four "buckets" as major concerns – climate change, clean drinking water and safe recreational water, emerging contaminants, and the disposal of waste, including commercial, household and industrial waste and recycling. Gallagher has been involved heavily in discussions about how Long Island should adapt when the Brookhaven landfill closes in 2024.
That seems likely to continue given her new portfolio of responsibilities. In addition to supervising a range of personnel and budget issues and strategic initiatives, she’ll oversee all nine regional offices, including Long Island, a part of the job she described as "very hands-on."
"I’m really excited for it, it’s an honor," Gallagher said, "to take my expertise that I’ve grown on the Island and utilize it statewide."
Before joining the DEC, Gallagher was chief sustainability officer for the Suffolk County Water Authority and, before that, the county’s commissioner of environment and energy and deputy planning director. She understands deeply the importance of the environment to Long Islanders. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos praised her "wealth of knowledge and management experience" as being "invaluable to advancing DEC’s mission statewide."
Gallagher will be replaced in an acting capacity by Region 1 environmental engineer Merlange Genece, who oversees solid waste management.
"I’m leaving the region in good hands," Gallagher said. "We have a great team in the central office and they know the importance of Long Island, and every region has its own special and unique interests."
Not that Gallagher is actually leaving Long Island. She will be a presence at DEC headquarters in Albany, but she’ll be splitting her time between the state capital and her home on Suffolk’s North Shore, where her 5-minute walk to the beach will literally keep her in touch with Long Island’s environment.
—Michael Dobie @mwdobie