Town Council: Keith Barrett
Five candidates are running for two open town council seats that each carry four-year terms.
Incumbent Susan Berland (D, WF, I, WE) is going for a fifth term. If elected again, she will have served on the board for 18 years. And, unlike her opponents, she doesn’t believe in term limits, sticking with the mantra that “elections are the best term limits.”
Berland has pros, such as her forceful support of issues close to her, her straight-forward nature and institutional knowledge. But she is also a politically divisive figure who is at times overly concerned about negative comments made about her.
The other incumbent, Eugene Cook (R, C, I, Reform), has pledged that this would be his last term as a town board member, but he wouldn’t rule out a future run for town supervisor, a race he narrowly lost to Supervisor Frank Petrone two years ago.
During his term, Cook has advocated for greater transparency at Town Hall and can take credit for prompting the state comptroller to audit the town’s books. But he has largely stayed on the legislative sidelines with the reasoning that since he is in the minority, he doesn’t have a second to his proposals, so why try?
Jennifer Thompson (R, Reform) has served on the Northport-East Northport school board since 2010 and believes in a strict two-term limit on the town board. She is articulate and intelligent. However, the excessive taxing by the school board as outlined in a state comptroller’s report leaves a huge question mark about her financial leadership skills.
We reached out to Michael Helfer (C), but didn’t have the opportunity to meet with him. And since he is running on one line, it doesn’t look like he’ll be a major vote-getter.
The final candidate is Keith Barrett (D, WF, WE), a Melville resident who helped start the Huntington Station Business Improvement District more than a decade ago and has been its president ever since. Barrett owns an auto repair shop in Huntington Station and is also currently the deputy director of the town’s general services department, where he’s help to cut costs by instituting common-sense business principles, from bringing auto body work in house, to having the department do its own state inspections. He believes limiting a person’s tour on the town board -- including as supervisor -- to eight years, and is not in favor of a three-story or larger public-private parking garage in Huntington village.
We need more cooperation between board members to get things done and address the issues that pretty much all the candidates we interviewed agreed on, with public safety, economic development and housing being chief among them. What’s the best way to keep our residents from fleeing to less expensive locales while keeping Huntington from straying too far from its suburban roots?
All candidates have good qualities, but the Editorial Board is compelled to endorse only one candidate, even though there are two open slots. Based on his business savvy, independent thinking and the fresh, positive atmosphere we feel he would bring to the table, Long Islander News endorses Keith Barrett.
Receiver of Taxes: Ester Bivona
Huntington’s receiver of taxes since 1992, Ester Bivona projects the town will for the first time break the $1 billion mark in tax collections this year. Among her biggest priorities, she said, is assuring that those who come to pay their taxes in person don’t have to spend their time standing in line.
One could argue that as the person who is personally liable for that $1 billion, she could have higher priorities. But Bivona – who first joined the department as deputy tax receiver in 1982 – said her most important priority is always the taxpayers. She aims to make the process efficient and as painless as possible for them. She has worked to save money by automating mailings and using limited staff efficiently.
Bivona has run unopposed in past elections. This year she is being challenged by Monique Pardes, a former paralegal currently working as a teacher’s aid. Pardes said her main issue is that no one should be in the job too long. She brought few ideas on how she would do it better.
Bivona deserves re-election.
Town Clerk: Jo-Ann Raia
Jo-Ann Raia is unopposed in her bid for an eighth term. That didn’t stop her from earnestly and enthusiastically sitting with the Editorial Board to make a case for why she deserves to be re-elected. Any opportunity to enlighten and explain the myriad duties and responsibilities of her office is welcome.
Those duties include serving as secretary to the town board, issuing various licenses and permits, and keeping of the town’s vital statistics. Additionally, her office is responsible for maintaining the town’s records center and archives.
Raia’s office in Town Hall receives the most traffic from residents seeking licenses, records and certificates, or information on town board activities. In that way, Raia is the face of the town. She aims to deliver the services her office is responsible for efficiently.
After recently losing staff members who took retirement incentives, she has worked to ensure that her staff can cover their duties without skipping a beat.
As the town’s records officer, Raia put in place a records management program before it became law and has obtained grants to help maintain its archives.
She deserves another term.