Incumbent Democrat Steve Englebright and Republican challenger Deborah McKee were at Comsewogue Library on Tuesday for the Port Jefferson/Terryville Civic Association’s “Meet the Candidates” night to introduce themselves to the community and field questions submitted to the organization. Both are running for New York State Assembly’s 4th district seat.
In his opening statement, Englebright asked people to look at his record saying that it speaks to his values and those of the community. He also said that jobs are going to be a priority this year, pointing out that he spent several years pushing the SUNY 2020 plan and is “happy it paid off.”
“You go to your strength in a time of crisis,” he said, referring to the university and hospital in Stony Brook.
The plan resulted in a new cancer research and imaging center being built with a $35 million state grant out of the general fund, which then attracted $150 million from a private grant.
Englebright said this will create 4,700 temporary construction jobs and 750 to 1,000 permanent positions to staff the new facility.
“It’s the largest job creator that any assembly member can point to from Long Island,” he said.
He also outlined legislation for a state tax credit for commercial solar energy panel installations and efforts to protect present and future victims of breast cancer by studying the potential connection in the use of pesticides and other herbicides in our environment to the disease.
“I can go on but I will get the hook,” he said. “I am very busy working on your behalf.”
McKee introduced herself as a 30-year resident of Mt. Sinai who has raised children in the hamlet, a member of the Comsewogue library where the event was taking place and someone who had run a small business.
“I don’t believe we are getting the representation we deserve,” she said.
McKee currently works as a 911 emergency dispatcher and says she hears firsthand the calls that highlight the economic and social needs in the community.
“We need tax relief,” McKee said, using the struggles of area school districts with unfunded mandates as one example.
“We have no more to give on Long Island,” she said. She insisted that if Albany saddles districts with mandates it needs to send money to fund them.
She said that with home costs rising, young people bearing the burden of big student loans that prevents them from getting mortgages and residents having to get creative to make ends meet, things need to change.
She said that people need tax relief, initiatives for small businesses and lower electricity costs.
“We need relief here on Long Island,” McKee said. “I will continue to stay out in the community because I believe that’s the kind of representation you deserve.”
After the short introductions the candidates fielded five questions from the civic association.
On assistance for veterans returning from the wars overseas falling through the cracks and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The question also asked how candidates proposed to use existing facilities like Stony Brook University to develop communication centers to help.
“This is a very important issue,” Englebright said. “I would use existing centers rather than try to create from scratch something new what would potentially take years.”
He mentioned working with Executive Director Fred Sganga to use the Veterans Nursing Home in Stony Brook because it’s already “a center of caring and care for veterans.”
He also said he’d like to see some of the existing cottages at West Meadow Beach be converted and made available for veterans to have access to the beaches.
“I have a whole variety of ideas to find the money to do that,” he said.
“I would be honored to support such a facility and a network of support,” said McKee.
She mentioned that the Town of Brookhaven had a part-time position for a veterans councilor in its budget but it was eliminated.
“Unfortunately Mark Lesko wrote it out of the budget,” she said.
She also mentioned using the Veterans Nursing Home in Stony Brook.
McKee lamented that she sees more and more homeless in the community.
“It’s a real issue with vets and they shouldn’t be treated this way,” she said.
On seeing the Route 347 “Hub Study” come to fruition.
McKee said that there is a problem with homeless congregating in the area pointing out that people who live in residential areas won’t go walking or running because of people dealing drugs right in their neighborhoods.
“It’s not a way to live,” she said. “The best way to address them is to be right in the community.”
“What we are talking about is a planning study,” Englebright said.
The plan has potential, according to Englebright.
“Presently we have a hodgepodge of non-planning left over from prior years,” he said. “That’s beginning to change.”
He pointed out Heritage Park in Mt. Sinai as a model to use in Port Jefferson Station. He also brought up a plan being developed by local architects in Port Jefferson for the Upper Port Jefferson area near the Long Island Railroad Station.
On crime and illegal housing in the hamlet. Would candidates support a solution where police park and walk in the community? What other ideas can be implemented?
“Police of course is a function of the County, however I am endorsed by all the police unions,” Englebright said saying his endorsements mean he has access and a good working relationship with Suffolk police.
“We should reach out to superior officers of Suffolk County Police Department and ask for them to consider getting behind this idea,” he said.
“It comes down to money and manpower,” said McKee. “Everywhere you look it comes down to money and there is none.”
She mentioned her own endorsement by the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, which she said “chose to break ranks with the other unions.”
“We need to identify funding streams,” McKee said about getting more police presence in the area. She suggested going to the Federal government for funds as a possibility.
As a 911 operator she said she knows that police will go to an area based on crime statistics and that the Port Jefferson Station area has the need. She cited an example where she knocked on a door while canvassing and witnessed a drug deal going on next door.
“We will find a way,” she insisted.
On getting Comsewogue School District its fair share of funds from the state.
McKee said that the way unfunded mandates from New York State are applied should be changed. Her ideas included letting the local school districts chose which mandates it can fulfill based need. One idea she proposed was a cost sharing structure between districts to save money where mandates can be streamlined yet fulfill the requirements.
If one district had children with special service needs then that school can run the program and open it up to other districts.
“The point is to get the kids the service they need,” she said.
She also said that there are many mandates the school district can show Albany it doesn’t need.
Englebright said that he was very successful over the years in bringing back state education funding but the last few years New York has experienced the same economic slump as the rest of the country limiting revenue.
He voted for the tax cap because he felt it would allow residents to have a future in New York and not be taxed out of their home sending a signal that there is a limit on how high taxes can go.
“Know this: I am an educator,” said Englebright, who teaches at Stony Brook University. “I’m committed to education but there has to be a balancing act.”
He said he is committed to “fight for our fair share.”
Englebright hopes that the state economy is going to turn a corner.
“I am optimistic,” he said. “I am bullish for New York.”
On Stony Brook University Expansion.
A plan to expand enrollment and dorms at the University along with a new vision for the area around the Stony Brook train station on Route 25A will revitalize the area and keep students safe, according to Englebright. He wants to keep more students on campus with better living accommodations and highlighted the new recreation center as one success.
Connecting the two communities, Englebright said, is the Greenway Trail that is currently being completed to run from Port Jefferson Station on Route 112 to East Setauket.
“That’s a natural connection,” he said. “It brings all parts of our community together physically.”
“I too am committed to Stony Brook University,” McKee said. “We all understand what a treasure it is in our own backyard.”
Her daughter, she said, is getting a Master's degree from the school.
She said that if she is elected she wants people to get involved and she wants to bring businesses and income to the area.
“The expansion offers us an opportunity in the community,” McKee said. “We need to be involved in it from ground up. Need to be part of the process every step of the way.”
She did not want to see students at the school "jammed two to three in a dorm room."
Before leaving, McKee summarized her positions and said that she will work to find the funding to achieve her goals for the community.
"We need to find the money to maintain the quality of live that we all grew up with," she said.
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