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Updated: Oct 28, 2019

Commentary by Ross Perlow-Hansen

It was a rainy night on October 16th for the League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates Night at Five Towns College. The following candidates attended the debate:

Suffolk County 13th Legislative District:

Janet C Singer- Democratic, Working Families, Independence

Robert Trotta- Republican, Conservative, Libertarian

Suffolk County 16th Legislative District:

Susan A Berland- Democratic, Working Families, Independence

Hector P Gavilla- Republican, Conservative, Libertarian

Suffolk County 17th Legislative District:

Thomas P Donnelly- Democratic, Conservative, Working Families, Independence

Michael S Mc Dermott- Libertarian

Suffolk County 18th Legislative District:

William R Spencer- Democratic, Working Families, Independence

Garrett A Chelius- Republican, Libertarian


Though the candidates tended to focus on local Huntington and Suffolk County issues, such as the budget, which was not so palatable for an audience consisting of many college students, they did address certain topics that captured our attention. Here are my thoughts on the current candidates' relevance to the college audience and their take on young adults' issues.


Susan Berland had a good grasp on the topic of affordable housing, and I feel she really did a good job of relating the issue to the audience. On the other hand, I don’t feel every candidate addressed this issue as gracefully. Michael S. McDermott had moments when he made the room fall silent, like when he pointed out that workforce housing and Section 8 housing are not good, particularly because Section 8 housing is associated with drug use and illegal activity with no one paying to live there. This did not sit well with the audience and was probably the most polarizing answer on this issue.

Given the history of my time living on Long Island, I do not believe that it will become more affordable to live here. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues is location, with Long Island being right next to New York City. And if you ask any real estate agent, they will say this drives up prices. I moved far out east after living in the old-money town of Dix Hills, and my rent is still around two grand a month. Think about that – it is extremely difficult to rent an affordable apartment unless you’re on Section 8 or workforce housing, which needs to be expanded and improved, not cut.


Candidates like Janet Singer, Susan Berland, Thomas Donnelly, William Spencer, and Garrett Chelius all addressed the issue by talking about bringing better and more interesting jobs to Long Island. Some of them touched on the fact that towns that have grown due to transportation, such as Patchogue, are helpful, but Long Island needs more of them. Garrett Chelius had an interesting point when he said that he believes Pilgrim State Psych Center, which is old and rundown, should be turned into a tourist location to generate revenue and create new jobs. I think that this is bold because that is a big piece of property, so if you put a professional sports team there you would have plenty of space for facilities, parking, and a buzz location that would help build community on the island.


Alongside housing and jobs comes taxation - businesses do not have to pay their taxes because of the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, where the tax code sees them as a person instead of a business, which means businesses have been getting out of paying their taxes, including small mom and pop stores. This is what is hurting Long Island, because Suffolk County is in debt and there isn’t enough money going to initiatives like affordable housing. Simply put, one of the issues the candidates did not touch on enough was to enforce taxes on businesses, including mom and pop shops.


The candidates were mostly respectful, though there were times when they would interrupt one another. Also, there were a fair number of candidates who challenged each other’s viewpoints during this debate.


The night was moderately-paced and the audience got to hear from all sides of the political spectrum. Republicans and Libertarians want to cut spending and programming, while Democrats want to increase taxes and initiatives. The night had a lot of discussion as any debate would, but few hard facts or statistics were given, and some candidates did not give explanations for solving some of the issues addresses. If it wasn’t for the weather, the debate would have gone on longer, and hopefully there would have been more topics discussed such as gas prices and other issues relevant to college students.

All in all, I think the League of Women Voters Meet the Candidates Night educated the student body on how politics work and how it can be contested even at the local level.

Photos by: Rashika Williams

Click to watch the entire Meet the Candidates Night event on the Five Towns College YouTube page.


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