Republican 2nd District State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo and Democrat Laura Ahearn, the executive director of not-for-profit the Crime Victim’s Center, will face off in the November 3 election for the right to replace veteran Republican 1st District State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who announced his retirement earlier this year.
Mr. Palumbo, 50, is a native of Patchogue who now lives in New Suffolk. He attended Lafayette College and law school at St. John’s University. After graduating in 1998, he joined the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, where he worked in the major crimes bureau before eventually becoming appointed the trial supervisor for the five East End towns.
In 2004, he went into private practice and was elected to the Assembly in a special election in 2013 when Dan Losquadro gave up the seat to run for Brookhaven Town highway superintendent. Mr. Palumbo was reelected to three more terms before throwing his hat in the ring for Mr. LaValle’s former seat.
“It’s Senate or bust,” he said of this year’s race at a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters on Tuesday, October 20, noting that he had to surrender his Assembly seat to run for Senate.
Mr. Palumbo, who called Mr. LaValle “a great friend and mentor” in a separate interview, said whoever wins would do well to “emulate” the man who held an iron grip on the seat for 44 years and was widely respected for his work in support of education, environmental protection, and tax reform.
Ms. Ahearn, 57, of Port Jefferson, is a first-time candidate for public office, although she has enjoyed a long career in the public sector, as the founder of the Victim’s Crime Center, which advocates for crime victims. Ms. Ahearn, who also grew up in Patchogue, holds a master’s degree in social work from Stony Brook University and a law degree from Touro College. She points to her many years of experience in helping formulate policy at the county, state, and federal level dealing with crime victim services, and would like to expand that to other areas including the environment, healthcare, and helping the economy recover from the COVID-19 recession.
“We need a senator in this seat who is a fighter — like me,” she said at the League debate, arguing that she could help advance causes supported by most Democratic voters, while retaining a pragmatic approach when needed, because she has “boots on the ground” experience in developing effective programs.
If elected, both candidates said helping kick-start an economy that has been laid low by the coronavirus pandemic would be a top priority. Ms. Ahearn said federal stimulus is a must to help the state get its head above water. Then, she said, the state needs to invest in green infrastructure to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and revitalize downtowns to create pedestrian-friendly housing.
Mr. Palumbo argues that the state “has a spending problem” and was already running a $6 billion deficit when the pandemic arrived. He said the state needs to focus on reopening and helping small businesses get back on their feet. He also called for linking centers such as Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory to create a high-tech job development corridor on Long Island.
Ms. Ahearn said she was very proud of the endorsements she has received from organizations such as the Sierra Club and the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum. She said more needs to be done to combat climate change and the degradation of ground and surface waters. She pledged to work to free up money for environmental initiatives that has been allocated in past state budgets but not spent yet. And she chided Mr. Palumbo for having received a D grade from the League of Conservation Voters.
But Mr. Palumbo said, like Mr. LaValle before him, he recognizes the need for land preservation, water-quality improvement projects, and other environmental initiatives on eastern Long Island and said he had supported the preservation of approximately 1,000 acres of land in his district.
Ms. Ahearn argued that a federal approach is the only way to solve the health care problem confronting Americans. The New York Health Act, which would provide universal health care for state residents, “has been lingering for years,” she said. “It’s never going to pass.”
Mr. Palumbo agreed the state law was effectively dead in the water, but said he would tackle health care by a bottom-up approach that would subsidize individuals and communities at the lower rung of the economic ladder while avoiding increasing spending on the Medicaid, which he said was bloated and laden with fraud.
Both candidates said the need for more affordable housing is critical and supported a measure to create a half-percent real estate transfer tax, similar to the Community Preservation Fund, to be earmarked for affordable housing projects.