Over 175 locals turned out to Martha Clara Vineyard on Monday night, as Sean Walter and Al Krupski, candidates for the Suffolk County Legislature, debated just a week before next week's Jan. 15 special election.
Both aiming to fill a seat left vacant with Ed Romaine's election to Brookhaven's supervisor post, Walter spoke much of the danger of a super-majority and the need for balance in the Suffolk County Legislature – despite saying the public would be better off if the body did not exist at all – while Krupski mentioned on more than one occasion his 28 years in public office, and his experience working with people across the aisle over that time.
The two agreed on the first question asked by moderator Grant Parpan of the Times/Review Newsgroup – that quality of life is the biggest issue facing the First Legislative District – however the two diverged on several following issues, in some cases rather sharply. Here are some of their answers (abbreviated) from Monday night's questions:
With the future of farming at stake, what should be done to ensure future generations can be profitable on their land? What role do you see agro-tourism having, specifically?
- Sean Walter: If the agro-tourism and farming industries are not profitable, you get houses. Riverhead doesn't really regulate to any great extent the farming industry. Whenever I have a question with a farmer, I send them to Ag & Markets (NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets)...but in order to maintain farming, you need to have a critical mass of farms. And the only way ensure that forever is to buy farmland. I'm a huge, huge, huge proponent of preserving open space...I know some people have got upset with some of the vineyards, but my go-to guy is Joe Gergela. When there is any problem I sit down with him and we figure try and it out.
- Al Krupski: Suffolk County is the largest agricultural producing economy in New York State. But it's an economy not a lot of people see because it doesn't have one big plant, one big factory. There are a lot of independent farms dedicating their life to tilling the soil and raising something. There are also a lot of big agricultural producers out there that do a very good job, and we are in one of them tonight...But they are all very important because they are part of one economy, part of one community...so I think we should do as little as possible. Because the last thing a farmer wants is to have more government in agriculture. We want to have less. Less paperwork and less interference.
Aside from agro-tourism, how would you create jobs in this region as a county legislator?
- Al Krupski: There's a lot of parcels in Suffolk County called brownfields. The county owns them, the county has to pay taxes on them. They're unproductive parcels. Steve Bellone's approach is to take them and put them back into use. They've been environmentally damaged and heavily used. Most of them are on main thoroughfares. The idea it to redevelop them. Let's have them go back into the private sector, people can buy them at an affordable rate since they're damaged and use them, start business there and create jobs.
- Sean Walter: The largest single – and it's stunning to me that people don't realize this – the largest single economic engine in Suffolk County is EPCAL. Conservatively speaking you could put 50 percent of the Hauppauge Industrial Park in Grumman. The Town of Riverhead is not interested in doing that, County of Suffolk is not interested in doing that. But the point is if you are going to create jobs - good, high-paying manufacturing jobs - that's the location. Every time any one of 18 legislators gets asked that question, the only answer they should be giving is EPCAL. It makes everything Steve Bellone's trying to do seem tiny.
Should you be elected, would give Dems a veto-proof majority. Is that really in the best interest of the people?
- Al Krupski: When I first ran for office I didn't know the diff between a Republican and a Democrat. Throughout my term, working as trustee and later on the town board level, I've had the benefit of working with so many good people, who have really had the town's best interest as heart. Some were Democrats, some were Republicans, some were Conservatives. Because once you're elected, you work for the people. If you get elected and walk down the party line, we're going to be just like Washington and have a fiscal cliff every time, and we're never going to get anywhere...you're never going to get anywhere in government if you tow the party line.
- Sean Walter: It pains me to say this - because I'd love to believe that's true, but it's not...When Rich Schaffer (Babylon Supervisor and Chairman of the Suffolk County Democrats) wrote Mr. Krupski a $50,000 check on Nov. 30 and gave it to his campaign fund, strings are attached to that. That's a problem... the point is, when you have one party in control, you're going to wind up with things like the MTA Payroll Tax, like the sex offender trailer ... while I want to say that I'm always independent, I can tell you a couple times I've had certain people call me to talk about party pols, you know, as an elected official, you have to listen. Because that party put you in for a nomination and presumably to some extent, the people who elect you belong to certain parties and expect you to carry out planks in the party platform. So to me a supermajority means the death knell to the farmland preservation program on the East End of Long Island.
Mr. Walter, you told one of our editors recently you support abolishing the legislature...why would you run for this office then?
- Sean Walter: Well it's probably easier to do it from the inside...most of New York State is run by a weighted Board of Supervisors...I agree with Mr. Krupski about reducing the size and layers of government, but until we start getting serious with ourselves, nothing is going to get accomplished. You're not going to save any money. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to put a resolution up for taxpayers to say, "We don't need the legislature. We can go back to the weighted BOS"? It comes down to making tough choices … I'm not really all that familiar with Connecticut but I know something about it. They don't even have the county system of government. They have the names, but life goes on in Connecticut. If the legislature was abolished, you know what? Life would go on, on Long Island.
- Al Krupski: It goes back to efficiency of government: what do you expect government to do, what kind of services do you expect government to provide and who's going to pay for it? We all remember the move toward Peconic County and all the studies that were done to try and see if the East End could separate from the West End. It always comes back to money and who's going to fund all these things. If Suffolk County government itself was run more efficiently, maybe wouldn't be such a problem. I'm willing to look at anything, but again what kinds of services do people expect? Whether it's roads, social services, land preservation - the county does an awful lot, but the county government shrunk quite a bit last year. So what does government do, what are people's roles in it and how vital is it to residents?
With the longstanding battle of shipping homeless sex offenders to the East End, what will you do to solve this problem?
- Al Krupski: I did have this conversation on Saturday with Steve Bellone, and in Suffolk County there is over 1,000 registered sex offenders. We are a county of 1.5 million people. New York State mandate says that Suffolk County has to house homeless sex offenders, of which are a little over 40…So what do you do with these people? Past administrations have put them in trailers. It’s easy to say, ‘Put them somewhere else,’ but you know concentrating them somewhere else, people will say ‘Not in my backyard.’ I don’t blame the residents of Riverhead for being unhappy, when you have them walking down Main Street everyday. I don’t blame them one bit. Mr. Bellone assured me he is working on a plan to distribute them more fairly – the homeless ones – throughout rest of county. Unfortunately it’s a human problem. Nobody wants these people in their communities. It’s a human problem that there are over 1,000 out there anyway.
- Sean Walter: I have a very, very simple fix. It’s called the voucher program. They use it in Nassau, Westchester, upstate. Know why we don’t have it? The county legislature wouldn’t allow it. Know why the county legislature wouldn’t allow it? It’s much nicer for the Babylon democrats to send their sex offenders to Riverhead and Southampton. Do you think they’re going to vote for the voucher program? No. So that’s what they did. They came up with a plan to shove them in trailer and put them in Riverhead. When Riverhead wasn’t big enough, they shoved them in another trailer in Southampton. I will stand on people's desks if have to, to get that trailer shut. The voucher program is only thing that works. It's only thing that's been used in other counties…Steve Bellone can talk all nice about what he is going to do. He hasn’t done anything. You cannot expect people up west will do anything else…so here’s for the simple solution, at least for the Riverhead one. I believe the sheriff, with the right legal opinion, from the county attorney's office, will be able to shut the trailer in Riverhead. You see, my belief is that the sheriff has commanding control over that property under the constitution. It is not necessarily the county legislature that controls that property…that will be the very first thing that I do.