The Bohemia, Oakdale, and Sayville Civic Associations hosted their fourth, joint Meet the Candidates Night on Thursday, October 20 at the old junior high school auditorium in Sayville.
Present were incumbent Congressman Andrew Garbarino (R-2nd District), his challenger, Democratic candidate, Jackie Gordon, Senator Alexis Weik, who is currently serving as the 3rd district in the state senate, but is running now for the 8th district, and incumbent Assemblyman Jarett Gandalfo (R-7th District).
Gandalfo’s opponent, Democratic candidate Douglass Pearsall was not in attendance and is not actively campaigning.
Weik’s opponent, Democratic candidate John Alberts was not in attendance and is not actively campaigning.
Questions were compiled from community members and arranged by theme. Sayville Civic Association president, Christine Sarni, urged community members who had issues that were not addressed to write to their respective civic group and that the association would then contact the candidate(s) for a response.
Time limits varying from two- to three- minute responses were held throughout the Meet the Candidates night.
Jim Swike, who had done the bulk of the work in compiling and outlining questions had a medical emergency and was unable to moderate the event. As such, Milynn Augulis, vice president of the Bohemia Civic Association took over for him.
Both Garbarino and Gordon had other events to attend that evening, having to leave at 7 pm (the meeting started at 6:30 pm) and spoke first.
Gordon chose to stand at the front of the dais to address the crowd. In her introductory speech she noted that she was a retired member of the military, having served 29 years and a former educator with serving 32 years, with 22 being in the district she is running for. Gordon served 13 years as a councilwoman in the Town of Babylon as a single mother of two children.
“I see someone looking at me like, ‘hmmmm?’ Well, I was able to do that---you know many people say Jamaicans have a lot of jobs, I was born in Jamaica, and so maybe that’s how I was able to do all of that,” said Gordon.
Gordon segued this comment to speak about being an immigrant and the diversity of the district and Suffolk County, citing the largest population of veterans, healthcare workers, union members urging that “It’s far time Washington look like America.”
“I can see the struggle, regular working class people face,” said Gordon, “I understand how important it is to bring down the cost of healthcare and make sure medication is as low as it can be and I would like to work on making copayments free for lower income people. I know how important it is to have our communities be safe…and its so important women should have reproductive freedoms.”
Garbarino thanked the crowd for attending and for the civic’s invitation. He said he grew up in Sayville as “a third-generation” albeit now lives in Bayport.
“I was elected to replace Congressman Pete King, everyone told me I had huge shoes to fill, so the last two years I have done my best to fight and fill those shoes,” said Garbarino.
Citing one of his major campaign platforms as being responsive to constituent concerns, Garbarino said, “I think we have done a phenomenal job of that to date,” with solving over 3,000 constituent communications varying from tax issues, small business issues, veterans issues, and passport issues.
“Last year we passed a huge infrastructure—bipartisan—infrastructure bill that will bring $120 billion to New York State,” said Garbarino, illustrating that some of the money had already come into effect with the paving of Southern State Highway and the Long Island Expressway.
“I’m the lead Republican on the 9/11 Healthcare Bill…these first responders were promised and they deserve this healthcare,” said Garbarino.
Garbarino lamented that while the infrastructure bill was a good start, they needed to have more funding for sewer projects in “Bohemia, Sayville, and Oakdale.”
“I hope you’ve appreciated what I’ve done in the last two years,” concluded Garbarino in his introduction speech.
The first question regarded how candidates would alleviate “partisan gridlock” and the lack of working across the aisle.
Gordon said her 29 years of service in the military helped as she “…never looked to my left or my right and asked are you Democrat or Republican?”
“I was trained to work with whoever, even in the last 10 years of service, we worked with—even joined—forces outside the US…you don’t have a choice of who that is, you just get the job done, and so—it’s just what I do.” said Gordon.
Garbarino said, “In the last two year’s I’ve worked in a bipartisan fashion.” He mentioned that he is a part of the bipartisan Problem Solvers’ Caucus (with a roster of 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans). Garbarino is also co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus that handles environmental issues whilst factoring in industry concerns.
“It’s just the type of person I am, it’s not a Republican or Democrat thing, it’s about what’s good for the district. My job is to perform for the district,” said Garbarino.
Augulis asked about infrastructure investment and concerns of overdevelopment in the community.
Garbarino spoke again about the $120 billion from the Infrastructure bill and how money had been allocated to road maintenance, sewers, and public transportation, especially the Long Island Rail Road.
“Once this bill was passed, the MTA announced that tickets---especially monthly tickets for commuters---would not go up for a year. That is a direct result of the bill,” said Garbarino.
Citing his time as a state elected official, Garbarino said during his work in Congress, he fought for funding specifically to be sent to Long Island as directing funding to the state did not always have monies come back to Nassau and Suffolk county.
Garbarino, a former zoning attorney, said that businesses could not expand with infrastructure issues—citing The Greenery, a restaurant on Railroad Avenue in Sayville that has not been able to open because of the lack of sewers at the building.
“If we had sewers here, that business would be open and thriving,” said Garbarino.
Sewers would also alleviate the issue with nitrogen in the Great South Bay and allow for the clam and oyster population to proliferate, generating and reinstating the South Shore’s leading businesses in the shellfish industry.
“This way Blue Point oysters actually come from the Great South Bay instead of the Long Island Sound,” said Garbarino.
Gordon said, “We have to make sure that money is equally distributed so that small businesses get their fair share.”
Citing “coastal resiliency” as a top concern of hers, Gordon said storms like Superstorm Sandy were likely to bear down on Long Island.
“There is a big chunk of money coming in [for sewers], but it is not enough for sewers for all Suffolk County, so we need to bring in more money for the sewer projects here,” said Gordon.
“The transportation system here on Long Island still needs serious upgrading, which would also help economic development so that there can be movement in and around the island as bus stops are concerned,” said Gordon.
Augulis pressed the candidates to address the issue of overdevelopment and related her own experience as part of the Stop Island Hills Group, a community organization that is opposed to the development of an apartment complex in Sayville, as evidence of community resistance to more urban-like housing structures.
Garbarino said that Town laws set up zoning laws and that the infrastructure would not affect the municipality’s ability to approve or deny proposals based on the community’s wishes.
“The infrastructure doesn’t mean overdevelopment, you have to keep your local town council aware of what the community wants and make sure they are responsive to that,” said Garbarino.
Gordon said, “To add to what Mr. Garbarino said, the model we used for Town of Babylon was to have community input because one of the issues on Long Island is that we have great schools here, we educate our children, and then they leave, so we need to keep them here. And we are creating these downtowns with these activities and affordable housing near transportation so that children can stay.”
Gordon stressed that community input was vital so that the community could decide what they “envisioned the downtown to be like.”
“So between the zoning board and what the community wants, I think that would
hold down the overdevelopment,” concluded Gordon.
To make efficient use of the time, the civic had Weik and Gandalfo answer questions one after the other and reminded the audience they were not running against each other.
Weik, who served as Town of Islip Receiver of Taxes for approximately ten years prior to being elected to her current position of the past two years as a state senator, said she was honored to serve her community.
Addressing bail reform during her introductory speech, Weik made note of her husband being a retired police officer and her son being a state trooper, as she went on to say, “I knew how bail reform was going to influence our community, how it was going to affect and what was going to happen and how quickly our community was going to deterioriate. I knew that I had to run for office…I didn’t trust that someone would be able to handle that with as much enthusiasm as I would…it’s a tireless fight and I am proud to be able to represent our district.”
Running for a new senate district, albeit with similar communities in the 8th district as the third, Weik said she knew of the issues that would affect her new constituents.
Public safety was the leading issue Weik cited for her constituents, recalling a story about Massapequa and an upsurge in vehicle break-ins, calling the numbers, “through the roof.”
“Obviously the laws that have been passed over the last two years have made our communities so much less safe that people do not want to go to the city…even with cameras and lights, people are not safe in their homes…once they break into your car the next thing is they will break into your home…one of the first things I would like to do is repeal bail reform and repeal all these pro-criminal pieces of legislation that have been passed…I understand the need for what they call bail reform was really a need to streamline and make sure that the laws that pertained to criminal justice were not unfair, I have no problem with that. But in order to do that you need to sit down with every agency involved and that never happened,” said Weik.
Six sewer projects have received Weik’s endorsement, but she said she was careful to mitigate overdevelopment in her district.
“A lot of people are concerned, they think sewers will lead to overdevelopment, which we’ve heard over and over again. I’ve explained to people that as long as you maintain your local control, you will not have to worry about overdevelopment. Don’t be afraid of sewers, don’t connect the two,” said Weik, “Local control will always make sure that we maintain the suburban atmosphere we have presently.”
Concerning the Midway Crossing project, Weik said she was instrumental in bringing to the proposal to the public for review as it was not originally planned to be presented to the public.
Native planting and revitalizing wetlands were top priority measures Weik cited to combat climate change as the “least expensive way to bring up resiliency in our shore lines” calling it a “wise investment.”
Federal legislation on abortion was discussed and Weik said, “In New York State, abortion has been legal since 1970, I was born in 1972. Roe v. Wade only came in 1973. I can’t imagine not having that option.”
She eschewed only having rape and incest as exceptions calling it “arrogance” to know all situations involving the decision to abort.
“I would never take away the ability to have an abortion. I am personally pro-life, but that doesn’t mean everyone in my district has to follow my views,” said Weik.
Touting education and contraception for under-privileged areas, Weik said access to preventative measures would lower the historical reliance of certain communities on abortion.
In regards to COVID-19 vaccinations for children, Weik was adamant that she supported parent’s choice on the matter.
“The conversation should be kept between the parent and their doctor,” said Weik. She went on to say she championed healthcare workers who lost their jobs for not complying with vaccine mandates in the industry.
“It is nothing more than a flu shot,” said Weik of the COVID-19 vaccine, “Doctors said give it about two years, it’ll be nothing more than the common flu.”
Continuing her support of parent’s choice, Weik said in terms of school curricula that, “The State’s role in education is to fund public school and to make sure there is a curriculum and that curriculum is being met. We should be focusing on reading, writing, arithmetic, history, social studies—the core classes that are necessary in order to get students educated and out into life. I think values should be left at home and left to parents.”
In an example, Weik said that dyslexia, in many expressions of the condition, had major effects on the reading capabilities of students across her constituency but that it was not being addressed adequately in favor of other issues that should be decided by the school board.
“We need to focus back on our education and making sure our students are actually learning in schools and learning the things they need so that when they leave they
can become better educated and have better jobs and really, do more things for our community,” said Weik.
With rising costs of living, Weik said she proposed a bill for heating oil reimbursement (in the amount of $500 per household) and opposed measures like congestion pricing, which she said would grossly over impact Long Island.
More than 3,000 residents responded to a survey given out by Weik’s office about the .55 gallon gas tax expressing their abhorrence for the fee.
“I will do everything I can, as I have done, to fight against this legislation--all these extra taxes that are making it too expensive to live on Long Island and I will do everything I can to make sure we are bringing back rebates or cuts..inflation is killing us” said Weik.
Gandalfo, who lives in Sayville and grew up in West Islip said he was looking for a place “east of the Oakdale Merge.”
“I have a great staff around me and they really focuson constituent services, something I really want to focus on again in a second term,” said Gandalfo.
During his tenure, Gandalfo said he had championed pedestrian safety with a myriad of popular downtown areas in his district.
Gandalfo said he was proud to have supported environmental initiatives and to have fought against a zoning proposal by Governor Hochul that he believed would have, “destroyed our communities out here.”
Public safety was also cited by Gandalfo as a “huge” concern for constituents and said, “I think it [bail reform] was well intended and keeping people who just committed minor offences who couldn’t afford the bail to keep them from being locked up unnecessarily, unfortunately it was like a sledgehammer to the criminal justice system.”
Gandalfo said that while steps are going in the right direction for the Oakdale Merge, he would still push for more funding to correct the “twenty year issue.”
Universal pre-k, or the misnomer of the name, was cited by Gandalfo as needing to be more equitable and a source of one of the cost-prohibitive reasons younger Long Islanders were leaving.
Concerning overdevelopment, Gandalfo said he was very active in scaling back the Midway Crossing project and opposing the proposal to allow one-accessory dwelling unit on every residential lot.
“The community deserves a say in what that community becomes,” said Gandalfo, “There are examples of transit-oriented development that worked…but that doesn’t work in every community.”
In regards to abortion, Gandalfo said he was against a federal ban but added, “Personally, I happen to think New York’s laws go a little too far and would like them scaled back…under current New York law, abortion is permitted up until moment of birth, which I think is an extreme position and far outruns any country in Europe and most other states, so I think there’s room to scale back and reach a reasonable point. I just cannot support what we have on the books. But I do oppose a federal ban.”
Discussing COVID-19 vaccinations, Gandalfo said he had opposed vaccine mandates even prior to the availability of the inoculation.
“It should be readily available, free of charge, but not mandated of anyone,” said Gandalfo.
Asked about the role of different levels of government on school curricula, Gandalfo said, “We elect school boards to enact the will of parents.”
Common Core implementation, as well as some COVID mandates, were detrimental to students according to Gandalfo because of the state’s “heavy-handed approach.”
“A one size fits all approach doesn’t work…keep voting for your candidates at your local school board, that’ll keep Albany far, far, away,” said Gandalfo.
Gandalfo said, commending Weik for also advocating for accelerated middle class tax cuts that will be taking effect next year.
He said he wanted to expand the enhanced STAR program for seniors as cost of living on Long Island far outpaced elsewhere in New York state.
Fracking was cited by Gandalfo as a source of income and a way to offset heating costs.
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