By Jano Tantongco
Fourteen Democratic candidates vying for a seat in one of three town offices took to the stage Tuesday night to voice their platforms at a meet the candidates night in Huntington.
Candidates for Huntington Town Supervisor, Town Board and Highway Superintendent took to the stage at American Legion Huntington Post 360 for the forum, which was hosted by the Huntington Town Democratic Committee.
Among the candidates were three Democrats seeking the committee’s support in their bids for town supervisor, current Councilwoman Tracey Edwards; former Nassau Legislator Brian Muellers; and Northport High School teacher Darryl St. George.
Edwards conveyed a message of unity and collaboration as she introduced herself to the room packed with around 100 people. She added that her work has brought her face-to-face with her constituents.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am. I was able to accomplish everything that I said I was going to do,” Edwards said.
A 37-year veteran of Verizon, Edwards said she’s managed budgets and teams larger than those of the town. She said she’s “laying it all on the line because the town is that important.”
Up next was Brian Muellers, a scientist, environmentalist and former lawmaker, who said he’s ready to bring his 30 years of experience at the Pall Corporation, a filtration and purification company, to the town board.
“My career and my experience have gotten me ready for this moment. It’s a moment that calls for a fresh start. But a fresh start with the experience of an executive leader,” said Muellers. “I’m a father who’s concerned that my generation may be the first ever to fail the test of history by leaving them world that is not as good that was granted us.”
Muellers, who served two terms in Nassau’s 18th district from 2000-2003, said he has experience winning tough elections, claiming he won “handily” in a district with twice as many Republicans as Democrats.
Finally, Darryl St. George, high school teacher, U.S. Navy veteran, president of the Greenlawn Civic Association and executive member of the committee, said the 2016 election cycle has a “silver lining,” in that it has engaged more people now than ever before.
Looking back, he said low voter turnout in the 2013 town election dismayed him.
“I said to myself: ‘How can we change that? How can we get people more involved in the political process?’”
After hosting community meetings throughout the town, St. George said, he’s noticed that a major local issue is finding ways to strike a balance between preservation and sustainable growth.
St. George added that, with Town Councilman Eugene Cook likely to enter the race for supervisor on the Republican line, he could potentially, as a veteran, pull votes from the Republican base.
Meanwhile, a crowded field of nine candidates emerged for seats on the Huntington Town Board. With Councilwoman Susan Berland planning to run for a seat in the Suffolk County Legislature, and Edwards running for supervisor, there will be two seats on the board up for grabs this election cycle.
Thomas Clear, of Northport, is a former U.S. Army captain, serving in Iraq from 2004-2005, and is also a former prosecutor in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. He’s also a member of the Fort Salonga Property Owners Association.
“I know what it takes to work on campaigns. And, I’ve shown a dedication to public service,” Clear said.
Incumbent Councilman Mark Cuthbertson has served on the board since 1998, and is a 30 year member of the committee. Cuthbertson, of Greenlawn, formerly served as a planning board member and assistant town attorney.
“The reason I’m asking for your support tonight is the same reason I asked for it so many years ago: I love this town and I want to continue to move it in the right direction,” he said.
Next was Julia Fenster, a mother of three, community activist and a town resident of 14 years. She’s a former media and technology expert and a small business owner, and now serves as vice chair for Anti-Defamation League of Long Island, and co-president of the Nassau branch of National Organization for Women.
“I will support your interests, address your concerns and be able to represent what you hold most dear in our community during this unusual time in our country,” Fenster said.
A 25-year committee member and retired officer with the Nassau Police Department, Jim Kelly, has also worked with the Office of Emergency Management to represent Nassau as a bioterrorism coordinator.
He also helped found nonprofit Children of Hope, which helped advocate for New York’s Safe Haven law. He’s currently a professor of political science at St. Joseph’s College.
“I ask for your support, I will be a full-time town councilperson. I will be in my office every day to address concerns of this town,” Kelly said.
Barry Lites, an attorney with offices in both Huntington and Manhattan, is a Huntington Chamber of Commerce and Townwide Fund board member, and a commissioner on the Huntington Housing Authority.
He studied at Harvard Law School and eventually moved to Huntington for its renowned public school education system, he said. “My experiences have developed and shaped my passions. My passions are my positions.”
Huntington Board of Education Trustee Emily Rogan has also entered the race. She’s currently serving her fourth term on the school board, and previously served four years as the board president.
She’s also a writer and communication professional who said that collaboration is the key to board governance.
“The emphasis is on service, it’s about raising people up, improving lives and making our community and society better than it is today,” Rogan said.
Another candidate is Jacob Turner, an attorney and deputy director of the town’s department of engineering services.
He said the Democratic Party represents the working people, and that he was elated when Tracey Edwards was elected, and Mark Cuthbertson and Supervisor Frank Petrone were re-elected to the board in 2013.
“We’re the progressive party. We will not settle for the status quo,” Turner said.
Among the two non-screened candidates who also spoke was Christina Tobacco-Weber, a self-employed horse trainer and riding instructor. She called herself a “non-traditional candidate,” who’s served on boards of local horsemen’s groups.
She said the 2016 election made clear for her there was another, more important job: public office.
“We each have to take responsibility for making the world a better place,” Tobacco-Weber said.
Avrum Rosen, of Centerport, is a former social worker and attorney specializing in bankruptcy law. He said he knows what businesses need from government.
First getting to know the town in 1975, he worked at a drug counseling center and was assigned to the Half Hollow Hills community.
“One thing I offer is a broader base in the community than most people,” Rosen said, having formerly lived in Cold Spring Harbor, as well as maintaining a law practice in Huntington village.
As for Huntington Highway Superintendent, two Democratic candidates emerged at Tuesday’s forum.
Both Dominick Feeney, a 30-year veteran of the Dix Hills Water District, with 10 years of experience as superintendent of the district; and Kevin Orelli, a longtime construction company owner, are seeking election.
Feeney, a 45-year member of the committee, said he believes the Highway Department can be managed better and hopes to, if elected, keep the roads clear when it snows.
“We will take care of that under my tenure by cleaning the village properly and completely,” Feeney said.
Orelli, meanwhile, said that, for years, he’s thought that “someone has got to do something about our highway department.”
He’s been the owner and president of construction company Noresco Limited since 1968, and has done at one point or another all the work the department does.
He added, “These are the things I’ve been doing my entire life.”
Incumbent Highway Superintendent Peter Gunther, who is currently battling a sexual harassment lawsuit brought against him by an employee in the department, was not present at Tuesday’s forum and has not made clear whether or not he’ll seek reelection.