David Wolkoff talks about the original plans for Heartland Town...

David Wolkoff talks about the original plans for Heartland Town Square in Brentwood at Hofstra University in June 2011 in Uniondale. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Daily Point

Heartland developer David Wolkoff speaks

After The Point disclosed that developer David Wolkoff had met with Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine to talk about the future of one of the largest housing developments ever proposed for Long Island, Wolkoff reached out to The Point to talk about his plans for the development known as Heartland Town Square.

It’s been 3½ years since Wolkoff’s father, Gerald Wolkoff, died, and since then, the younger Wolkoff has been working on other projects, including completing 5 Pointz, a mixed-use development in Long Island City in Queens.

Gerald Wolkoff discusses the original Heartland Town Square plans in...

Gerald Wolkoff discusses the original Heartland Town Square plans in August 2007.  Credit: Newsday/Alan Raia

But now, David Wolkoff has moved his attention back to Heartland Town Square, the proposal to establish a new downtown community, which could include 9,000 housing units, on the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center site in Brentwood.

“I can promise you that my heart and soul is into trying to get this done in a really well-done way,” Wolkoff told The Point on Wednesday. “I am excited for it and I believe now is the time to start dialoguing and moving forward.” Wolkoff was joined on the call by his media representative, Paul Tonna, the former presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature.

One of the main issues left to work out on Heartland spotlights an ongoing need whenever housing in Suffolk County is discussed: Sewers. Wolkoff and Romaine spoke this week about the potential of building a sewage treatment plant on Suffolk Community College land in Brentwood — a move that would require significant funding help from New York State. Beyond that, however, there will likely be new challenges in how to deal with financing, and whether some of the proposal’s initial plans for office space and retail should change in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wolkoff told The Point that attitudes have shifted significantly in positive ways for housing and broader development since 2001, when his father bought the land around Pilgrim. He pointed to several examples of mixed-use and transit-oriented development, such as the Ronkonkoma Hub, that hadn’t existed when Gerald Wolkoff first started talking about smart growth and the need for a new downtown.

“I believe there’s a need for housing and I believe there’s an understanding of smart growth more than ever before on the Island,” including the potential for less traffic, more walkability and environmental benefits, Wolkoff said.

“All of these ideas that were so foreign to a Long Islander 20 years ago are now a reality here,” he added. Gerald Wolkoff first introduced Heartland Town Square in 2003.

The other piece of the puzzle that David Wolkoff, who has long been a part of developing and promoting the Heartland effort, said has fallen into place is on the political side. At the state level, Gov. Kathy Hochul has focused her attention on housing — and on clean-water infrastructure, which is significant since one of the remaining Heartland stumbling blocks surrounds the ways to connect to sewers.

And locally, Wolkoff said, the support is there, too.

“We’re at a point now where I believe we can get this done,” Wolkoff said. “We have a supervisor and a county executive in Suffolk County that both agree that this is a smart thing, a necessary thing to do on the Island, especially in Islip.”

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter has been supportive of Heartland and has already led the efforts to approve zoning for 3,500 housing units at the site. County Executive Ed Romaine, too, has voiced his support — and even initiated this week’s meeting, Wolkoff said.

“I believe he is absolutely dedicated to seeing this through,” Wolkoff added.

And David Wolkoff also recognizes that his work now is a continuation of what his father started more than two decades ago, adding that making Heartland a reality reflects on the importance of Gerald Wolkoff’s “legacy.”

“I believe when he started the concept of Heartland Town Square, that need, that vision that he had early on still exists today, if not more than ever,” Wolkoff said. “If I am a steward of that vision, I’m happy to be that and I’m excited to do that.”

— Randi F. Marshall randi.marshall@newsday.com

Pencil Point

Allies and lies

Credit: Le Temps, Switzerland/Patrick Chappatte

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Final Point

Simons 'PACs' a punch for Democrats

Renaissance Technologies founder James Simons.

Renaissance Technologies founder James Simons. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

There are plenty of big-time political contributors on Long Island. For the GOP, business figures like Ken Langone and Ronald Lauder can be often counted on. And for the Dems, there’s megadonor James Simons.

The billionaire founder of Renaissance Technologies, the East Setauket-based investment giant, once again gave a whopping $2.5 million donation on Feb. 16 to the Senate Majority PAC, the main funding arm for the Democrats in their effort to keep control of the Senate next year.

According to Federal Elections Commission records, that recent contribution — the only one made so far in 2024 by Simons — matches another $2.5 million that he gave to the SMP in September 2023.

The Democrats formed the SMP after the 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the door for large donations to political action committees. Donations to individual candidates are limited to a few thousand dollars. But both parties have relied on big-time money from donors like Simons to fund various PACS that help finance TV ads aimed at opponents and rally supporters to the polls in November.

The total $5 million to the Senate Dems is one of several donations that Simons has given out so far in this 2023-24 election cycle. In four separate donations in 2023, Simons gave a total $500,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which hopes to win back control of the House this November.

In addition, the 85-year-old Simons, reportedly worth $29 billion making him one of the richest people in the world, is a big backer of President Joe Biden’s reelection effort. In 2023, Simons donated $400,000 to Biden Action Fund, and $2.5 million to Future Forward, which is a Democratic-aligned super PAC based in California’s Silicon Valley that helped Biden defeat then-President Donald Trump in 2020.

In 2023, Simons also gave much smaller individual donations to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s reelection campaign in Washington State and Rep. Bill Foster in Illinois.

Simons, a former math chair at Stony Brook University before becoming a Wall Street whiz, gave $5,600 to former Stony Brook professor Nancy Goroff’s unsuccessful 2020 congressional campaign. It was part of a total $146,4000 raised by Goroff that year from 67 individuals who, according to records, listed their employer as Renaissance Technologies.

How much Simons will give this year remains to be seen. Overall in 2020, the last presidential cycle year, Simon and wife Marilyn reportedly donated more than $25 million to various Democratic candidates and affiliated PACs, including the winning Biden campaign.

Though Simon hasn’t given money this year to Goroff, his wife Marilyn, also a prominent philanthropist, did make an individual contribution of $3,300 to Goroff for her June 25 Democratic primary battle against former CNN commentator John Avlon for the 1st  Congressional District seat. The winner of that race will face GOP incumbent Rep. Nicholas LaLota.

— Thomas Maier thomas.maier@newsday.com

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