While federal elections are in the spotlight this fall, New York State Senate and Assembly candidates are also up for election this year.

On the South Fork, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and has been in office since 1995, is facing off against Republican candidate Patrick O’Connor, a first-time candidate and member of the Southampton Town Republican Committee who has a history in information technology.

State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, a Republican who has been in office for nearly 42 years, is being challenged by Democrat Gregory Fischer of Calverton, who has run unsuccessful campaigns for several elected offices over the past few years, including running against Mr. LaValle two years ago. Mr. Fischer is a consultant in computer systems and accounting, who devotes much of his energy to mentoring would-be entrepreneurs through SCORE.

On the North Fork, incumbent Republican State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who has been in office since 2013, faces a Democratic challenge from Greenport resident Rona Smith, a longtime affordable housing advocate with a history in the real estate industry.

The Hampton Bays Civic Association hosted candidates for the South Fork races at a debate Monday, Oct. 22 at the Hampton Bays Senior Center on Ponquogue Avenue, where the bulk of the questions came from members of the audience.

The League of Women Voters of the Hamptons will also hold debates between Mr. O’Connor and Mr. Thiele and between Mr. LaValle and Mr. Fischer on Thursday, Oct. 25 from 7 to 9 p.m. The debates will also be held at the Hampton Bay Senior Center at 25 Ponquogue Avenue.

Gregory Fischer and Kenneth LaValle

State Senate

The State Senate candidates answered questions on many major issues, ranging from Medicare for All to legalization of recreational marijuana to offshore oil drilling to gun control.

On the New York Health Plan, also known as Medicare for All, a single-payer health care plan for New York that has already passed the State Assembly, Mr. LaValle said “I’m not sure we can afford that. It sounds good,” adding that his first health care priority is to build a new Stony Brook Southampton Hospital at the Stony Brook Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills.

Mr. Fischer said he would like to see the paradigm for health care be shifted in the state.

“We have sick care, not health care,” he said, adding that there is a bed shortage in local hospitals.

Neither candidate supports legalizing recreational marijuana.

Mr. LaValle said that, in areas where marijuana is legal, there have been “major accidents, with people killed.” He added that he believes the state should be helping young people become productive members of society.

“Young people are having a terrible time today in society. They’re undergoing a whole variety of mental health issues and problems,” said Mr. LaValle, adding that he helped secure state funding for more mental health services at schools on both the North and South forks.

Mr. Fischer said he believes there’s some validity to the theory of marijuana as a gateway to harder drugs, but said he believes marijuana shouldn’t be listed by the Drug Enforcement Agency as a Schedule 1 drug, and that he’s also concerned about the over-prescription of opioids, especially to young people.

Neither candidate supports offshore oil drilling.

“No. Period. End of story,” said Mr. LaValle.

“Absolutely not,” said Mr. Fischer.

“The state is remiss in green energy for not continuing credits on distributed energy,” he added. “We need to lose our addiction to the grid.”

On gun control, Mr. Fischer said he’s strongly opposed to a federal concealed carry reciprocity bill allowing people with concealed carry licenses from other states to bring their guns to New York.

“That just scares the hell out of me,” he said, but added that “I’m not an anti-gun person….but I have two words of persuasion for anyone who thinks that reciprocity bill is good: Colin Ferguson, and it’s over. [Ferguson killed six people on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993] Even the most staunch gun person sees our point.”

Mr. LaValle said that he believes domestic violence and guns don’t mix.


State Assembly Races

On the South Fork

Patrick O'Connor and Fred Thiele
Patrick O’Connor and Fred Thiele

Assemblyman Thiele, who cruised to victory in 2014 and 2016 with more than 60 percent of the vote, said he doesn’t go to Albany to win debating points, but to get things done for the residents of his district. He added, as he does every election year, that he makes a point of asking residents for their vote, after quoting former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, whose friend and next door neighbor said she didn’t vote for him because he didn’t ask her to.

Mr. O’Connor, however, said that voters he’s spoken to feel disconnected from Albany.

“People feel ignored and thrown under the bus,” he said, citing in particular fishermen in Montauk and people on fixed incomes in Riverside, who “feel nothing has been done on the opioid crisis and crime.”

The Assembly candidates were asked about their views on ethics reform in Albany, what can be done to help seniors on fixed incomes stay in their homes, what they’d done for Hampton Bays in the past 10 months, what can be done for the fishing industry and on their views on the wind farm project underway off the coast of Montauk.

Mr. Thiele said that he supports restrictions on outside income for members of the State Legislature, and he also supports a constitutional amendment that would create an independent ethics review board for the state’s elected officials in both the legislative and executive branches.

When asked if he supported outside income restrictions, Mr. O’Connor said “I’ve never had that problem.”

On keeping seniors in their homes, Mr. O’Connor said people in Riverside were “promised things they were never given.”

Mr. Thiele said he would like to see Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent local tax levy cap made permanent, and said he wants to see efforts to further enhance the STAR property tax relief program for seniors.

“When you reach the age of 75, you shouldn’t be paying school taxes anymore,” he said. “It would be reimbursed by the state, just as is done under the STAR program. By the time people are 75, they’ve paid their fair share.”

When asked what they’d done in the last 10 months for Hampton Bays, Mr. Thiele ran through his two minute time limit before finishing his list, which included a 6 percent increase in state aid for the Hampton Bays School District, the acquisition and development of Good Ground Park, the repaving of Main Street and the rebuilding of the Ponquogue fishing pier.

Mr. O’Connor made clear that he hasn’t ever held public office, and couldn’t list any legislative accomplishments, but said that the “cost of living out here is artificially high, through skewed tax schemes,” and added that he supports fishermen.

Mr. Thiele, on rebuttal, said the state is working on two major issues facing fishermen: federal quotas on fish species and “arcane fishing license procedures.”

“I’ve pressured the governor to direct state government to sue the federal government” over the quotas, said Mr. Thiele. “The DEC has petitioned the federal government, which will ultimately lead to litigation for New York State to get its fair share.”

He added that the DEC has created a task force to revamp licensing procedures to help young fishermen get access to licenses.

Mr. O’Connor countered that fishermen in Montauk “don’t feel you’ve been involved in their life” on their concern about Deepwater Wind’s proposed South Fork Wind Farm to be built off the coast of Montauk.

“The wind farm seeks to destroy the livelihood of quite a few people out here,” he said.

Three audience questions focused on whether the candidates supported the wind farm.

“I support renewable and alternative energy. Climate change is real. My opponent doesn’t think it’s real,” said Mr. Thiele. “We need to have alternative energy. It’s a big ocean out there. I think they can co-exist.”

Mr. Thiele added that the South Fork Wind Farm project is just beginning to undergo environmental review, and he is also concerned that Deepwater Wind was recently purchased by the Danish firm Ørsted.

“I want to see the environmental analysis on that first,” said Mr. Thiele. “That’s where we are now.”

“I am for smart clean energy, and the windmill project out there hasn’t gotten rid of all the problems,” said Mr. O’Connor. “It was supposed to be an American company.”

Mr. O’Connor added that he didn’t know where Mr. Thiele got the idea he didn’t believe in climate change, after which Mr. Thiele quoted one of Mr. O’Connor’s Facebook posts in which his opponent said “Earth Day: The 24-Hour Vacation from Real Science.”

“That didn’t sound like someone who supported climate change…if you think that Earth Day is some kind of bogus thing,” he said.

On the North Fork

Anthony Palumbo
Anthony Palumbo

The North Fork race for the Second Assembly District has been a quiet one.

Mr. Palumbo, who took up the unexpired term of former Assemblyman Dan Losquadro when Mr. Losquadro became Brookhaven Highway Superintendent in 2013, is a New Suffolk attorney and former Suffolk County assistant district attorney, who currently practices law with offices in Mattituck.

Early in his term, Mr. Palumbo sponsored a bill that eliminated the Community Preservation Fund 2 percent real estate transfer tax for first-time homebuyers, and he has long worked to reform the Common Core public school curriculum. He has also touted his work bringing school aid to the North Fork and sponsoring legislation to strip pensions from corrupt politicians.

Palumbo earned his degree in government and law from Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania and graduated from St. John’s Law School in Jamaica, New York.

He also served as vice president of the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Library Board of Trustees prior to being elected.

Rona Smith
Rona Smith

Ms. Smith, his Democratic opponent, currently serves as Chair of Southold Town’s Housing Advisory Commission and Economic Development Committee, and is Vice-Chair of the Southold Local Development Corporation.

She was the longtime head of an investment development group specializing in multi-family housing, and has worked to help bring a new proposed workforce housing development, Vineyard View, to fruition off of Route 48 in Greenport.

Ms. Smith, who lost her son, David, to cancer in 2012, is a proponent of expanded access to health care.

Without the Affordable Care Act’s provision for pre-existing conditions, she says, he would not have been able to receive the aggressive treatment he needed. Ms. Smith is also focusing on access to mental health and combatting the opioid epidemic.

Ms. Smith earned her college degree at Queens College, CUNY. She went on to earn an MA and a PhD from New York University, and an MBA from Columbia University.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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