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Trump debuts in LI’s special election

A mailer in support of Steve Stern in

A mailer in support of Steve Stern in the April special election. Credit: New York State Democratic Committee Mailer

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Daily Point

Trump, NRA tactic in Suffolk seat

Suffolk County Democrats are so eager to flip the 10th Assembly District, a long-held Republican seat, in this month’s special election that they’re tying their little-known opponent to divisive national symbols: President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association.

The latest mailer from former county Legis. Steve Stern suggests that his election will lead to common-sense gun laws in Washington. “As long as the NRA owns Trump, Washington will never pass common-sense gun laws,” it reads.

Clearly, the battle for the 10th AD is turning into a messaging test case, since the outcome will not tip the majority in the Assembly, where Democrats hold a large majority. Stern, who was termed-limited out of the county legislature in 2017, sees his candidacy as an opportunity for anti-Trump voters to ride the blue wave. “Because this seat has been held by a Republican for the past 35 years, it’s an important local story but also a national story,” Stern told The Point.

Suffolk Democratic leader Rich Schaffer told The Point that a recent telephone canvas in the 10th AD revealed dissatisfaction with Trump and the NRA.

“Polling showed that this issue of Trump, guns and the NRA polled very well, not only among Dems but persuadable blanks,” he said, referring to voters who are not registered with a party. Suffolk Democrats have pledged to spend $120,000 on Stern’s race.

State Democrats are watching closely. The 10th AD is wholly within Carl Marcellino’s 5th Senate District, and this GOP incumbent is one of their top targets in November, when the State Senate majority is at stake. If Stern wins, expect to see a lot of flyers tying Marcellino to Trump.

And there are two down-ballot local Huntington races this fall, receiver of taxes and a council seat, that could be determined by Trump’s popularity in November, Schaffer said.

Stern’s opponent, Janet Smitelli, a Huntington lawyer, isn’t pulling any punches, either. Two out of three recent Smitelli mailers are abrasive attacks.

One claims that Stern “hiked our property taxes 28%” in his 12 years in the legislature. It features a photo of Stern looking caught off-guard, and the caption, “Stern Warning: Proven Tax Hiker & Dodger.”

It also says Stern was delinquent on his property taxes in 2011, and lists several new and higher county fees that were approved during his time in the legislature as evidence of higher costs.

Stern said he settled the overdue property tax payment as soon as he became aware of it. Also, this issue has come up in past campaigns, he told The Point, and “I’ve since been re-elected by my community three times.”

Anne Michaud and Rita Ciolli

Talking Point

What’s on the SUNY Chancellor’s mind

SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson visited the editorial board Thursday, her first since she took office in September. Here’s the topline.

She’s largely satisfied with the results of her first state budget battle, but was coy on some of the financial details until the state finishes negotiations with faculty on a new contract.

Johnson — an electrical engineer and entrepreneur-inventor who also has a wealth of experience in government and academia — said she likes the idea of SUNY offering matching grants to universities that attract research dollars, but said a priority is to grow the system’s endowment and attract partnerships to make that possible.

Asked about the importance of a public university system having a flagship school — Stony Brook University, for example — Johnson displayed her political savvy. Noting that she has visited nearly 40 of the system’s 64 campuses, she said many “are the flagships of their communities, that’s mirrored throughout the state.”

Each campus, she said, is special, each is distinctive and each needs to be treated differently. Shortly after starting in September, she said, she bought 64 copies of the book “The Starfish and the Spider” and sent one with a note to each of the 64 campus presidents.

The book uses biology to talk about the difference between centralized and decentralized organizations. Namely, if you cut off the head of a spider, it dies, but if you cut off a leg of a starfish it grows a new one. Johnson envisions SUNY as a starfish organization, and those organizations are changing business and the world in general, according to the book.

Johnson said, “I appreciate the pride” people have in flagship schools in other states, which often revolves around the institutions’ sports teams. And she has been rooting for Stony Brook’s No. 1-ranked women’s lacrosse team, an interest that stems not only from being the SUNY chancellor but also from her experience playing lacrosse at Stanford University.

Stony Brook’s team is a particular Long Island success story, with 28 of its 33 players from the region. Head coach Joe Spallina also is a Long Island native, as are associate head coach Kim Hillier and assistant Kara Mupo.

While conceding there is a lot on her plate and a lot more she has to learn, Johnson said she has seen and learned enough to know one thing about the strengths of the 440,000-student system she now leads.

Said Johnson: “SUNY needs to tell its story better.”

Michael Dobie

Pencil Point

Tax season

More cartoons of the week

Pointing Out

No vacancy for Airbnb in Albany

Despite dangling the prospect of new tax revenue in front of strapped state and county governments, Airbnb failed to get its preferential legislation included in the state budget.

The home-sharing service wants greater freedom in the coveted New York City home-sharing market. What’s next for Airbnb’s legislative strategy? The Point asked this week, but the question went unanswered.

Airbnb had thought it would get some traction by offering to collect a room-occupancy and sales tax on its home-shares and delivering the revenue to county and state coffers. In return, the company wants to make short-term rentals of fewer than 30 days legal in New York City, the market of all markets.

Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco told The Point that at least 19 counties in New York had signed with Airbnb to have the company collect taxes on the short-term rentals. Each county is setting its own terms. For example, Monroe County surrounding Rochester will receive 6 percent of the listing price, while Franklin County bordering Canada has set a 5 percent fee.

Suffolk and Nassau counties did not negotiate terms with the room-sharing platform. Airbnb’s proposed legislation would not override local ordinances.

Airbnb estimates a $100 million annual windfall for taxing entities, but even that honeypot couldn’t overcome the entrenched opposition of the powerful New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council.

When actor Danny Glover spoke in favor of the bill in Albany last month, he was disrupted by hecklers from the union who had infiltrated the crowd and accused him of selling out labor unions, igniting a loud argument. Glover left without giving his scheduled remarks.

And it won’t get any easier for the company to find a foothold. At Tuesday’s big Democratic Party summit that resulted in the reunion of the mainline State Senate Democrats with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Rep. Joseph Crowley presided. With them was Peter Ward, the head of the hotels and motels union.

Airbnb might see a no-vacancy sign in Albany for a long time.

Anne Michaud

Columns