Candidates Weigh In On LaValle Retirement

New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle. Tom Kochie photo

While much of the reaction to the news that State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle will not seek reelection this November came in the form of praise for the longest-serving member of that body, questions also began to emerge over what impact his decision will have on a 2020 State Senate race that was already underway.

One thing is certain: Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, a Democrat who tried to unseat Mr. LaValle in 2012 and is in the midst of a campaign to secure the Democratic Party nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin, remains focused elsewhere.

“I have absolutely no interest in running for the State Senate seat and remain committed to my race for CD 1 against Lee Zeldin,” she said on Tuesday. “I do want to note that I wish Senator LaValle well wishes on his retirement. He is a statesman who has served this region well. I congratulate him on his retirement and wish him the best.”

Similarly, Mr. LaValle’s longtime partner in most endeavors before the State Legislature, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., said that despite long being viewed as the heir apparent, he remains committed to continuing his service to the East End in the Assembly.

“I love my Assembly seat, I enjoy chairing the Local Government Committee and I have a good relationship with the leadership,” Mr. Thiele said on Tuesday.

Mr. Thiele said filling Mr. LaValle’s shoes will be a challenge for whomever is ultimately elected to the task. “You don’t replace a Ken LaValle,” he said. “You might never replace a Ken LaValle. And it is not just because of his list of accomplishments. It was his approach to being a representative and to legislating, and it is not a style in vogue right now — to work with others and reach consensus.

“We didn’t agree on every issue,” continued Mr. Thiele. “And that was never an impediment to working together. I want someone in this role who will get things done and believes in consensus and bringing people together. That is what I think is important, and it is what I hope voters accomplish in November.”

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman Jesse Garcia confirmed on Tuesday that the party has already compiled a short list of county and town officials to screen for the Republican nomination, noting that field may grow — or shrink — in the days ahead.

“We are very fortunate in that Senator LaValle has been such an incredible mentor and teacher to many of our representatives,” Mr. Garcia said. “We have benefited from his influence and guidance with many of our elected officials.”

The field, so far, includes Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, Brookhaven Town Council members Dan Panico and Jane Bonner, and Riverhead Town Council member Jodi Giglio. Mr. Garcia said his office was coordinating a consolidated screening process with potential candidates at a date yet to be decided, but likely sooner rather than later.

“We want to give whoever our nominee is as much time as possible moving forward,” Mr. Garcia said.

In the meantime, all three candidates hoping for the Democratic Party nomination to run for the 1st Senate District released statements in the wake of the announcement.
Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni’s campaign came out swinging, questioning the efficacy of Mr. LaValle’s tenure in the State Senate and the experience of his fellow candidates.

“Not only is this news long overdue — given he’s currently the record holder as the longest-serving member of the Senate — but he’s been an ineffective leader the entire time,” Mr. Schiavoni said in a campaign email blast after the announcement was made.

Mr. Schiavoni is a resident of North Haven, a former member of the Sag Harbor School Board of Education and current member of the Southampton Town Board.

“I am the only candidate running for State Senate in our district who’s actually held elected office,” he posted on the campaign’s Facebook page. “I have a proven record of lowering taxes, creating affordable housing solutions, protecting the environment, and working across the aisle to get substantive legislation passed.”

Laura Ahearn, an attorney, social worker and executive director of the Crime Victims Center/Parents for Megan’s Law, thanked Mr. LaValle, 80, for his 44 years of service. “He will be remembered for his constituent service work, advocacy for Long Island schools, and every time someone enjoys the Pine Barrens he helped to preserve and protect,” said Ms. Ahearn, of Port Jefferson, in her statement.

“Senator LaValle would have been a formidable campaign adversary, and I looked forward to a spirited campaign with him based on issues and ideas. Now, with this being an open seat, I look forward to continuing meeting and listening to voters of the 1st Senate District and showing how my years of experience fighting for Long Island families will make me an asset as a state senator in Albany.”

“Senator LaValle’s decision not to seek reelection gives us a chance to reflect,” said Skyler Johnson, a 19-year-old Mount Sinai resident who announced his candidacy in November. “The people of Long Island can take a leap forward and elect a new representative who will advocate for everyday people.

“Our campaign has never been afraid to stand up for the people and speak out as a voice that is not bought and paid for by special interest groups and dark money. True leaders do not wait until its politically convenient to tackle the toughest problems facing our state. I pledge to bring a better and brighter future to New York.”