Laura Ahearn, 57, who has been an advocate for children and crime victims in Suffolk County for more than 25 years, said her decision to leave the nonprofit sphere to run for New York State Senate was a natural progression for someone who has set goals her entire life.
Ms. Ahearn, who holds a master’s degree in social work from Stony Brook University and a law degree from Touro College, is currently the executive director of the Victims Crime Center, an agency that partners with Suffolk County to advocate for the victims of violent crime.
She is running against New York State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, a Republican who represents the North Fork, for the seat being vacated by longtime Republican Senator Kenneth P. LaValle.
“Each victim who comes through the door comes with their family and loved ones,” she said of her work at the Crime Victims Center. “And I’ve always known there are changes in policy and law that could prevent the situation in the first place.”
“There are many services that can be provided, like mental health counseling and social work services. There are many opportunities to help people survive and thrive,” she continued. “And these can be helped through the law.”
She said she already has experience helping draft legislation on the county, state and federal levels and dealing with crime victim services and would like to expand that to other issues of importance, including providing safeguards for the environment and for workers who have been forced to work in unsafe conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.
A self-described moderate Democrat, Ms. Ahearn said she is “resilient and pragmatic” with a 25-year track record of serving Suffolk County’s most vulnerable. Her goal, she said, is to be the first Democrat to win the 1st Senate District in more than a century.
Ms. Ahearn grew up in Patchogue and worked her way through college, attending Suffolk County Community College and Long Island University before earning a business degree from Dowling College. She worked for IBM for a time before changing directions and considering careers in medicine and psychology and settling on social work.
While interning for a social services agency, Ms. Ahearn was asked to write about resources for adults who had been sexually abused as children. During her research, she learned about Megan’s Law, named for Megan Kanka, a New Jersey girl who was raped and murdered by her neighbor, a convicted sex offender. The federal law made it possible to track sexual predators, but Ms. Ahearn learned the law was largely unenforced because there had never been a systematic approach to implement it.
She began working with the Suffolk County Police and other agencies to provide information about the law and lobby for its enforcement. Thus was born Parents for Megan’s Law, an organization that sought to notify parents of the presence of sexual predators and devise strategies, including educating children, for dealing with the issue.
Later, under the administration of then Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney, a Megan’s Law hotline was set up, and Ms. Ahearn’s agency joined forces with the county to offer advocacy for victims and expand its educational outreach.
Later, after Ms. Ahearn began providing advocacy services for other victims of violent crime, including the elderly and minorities, she expanded her organization and changed its name to the Victims Crime Center.
Ms. Ahearn acknowledged some of her positions are not all that popular with some Democrats. A supporter of bail reform, she feels the state measures originally passed went too far in eliminating judicial discretion. She is opposed to the idea, raised by some on the left, of defunding police, arguing that while abuses exist, they can be mitigated through better training.
In her first run for public office, Ms. Ahearn pointed out that she defeated two elected officials in Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni and Brookhaven
Councilwoman Valerie Cartright for the Democratic nomination. That told her, she said, that voters were looking for a fresh face to represent them. “I’m a very moderate Democrat,” she said. “I’m trying to reflect what is right for our community. The goal is to ensure that our values are represented in the 1st Senate District.”