Suffolk Closeup: Election season wins and losses

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO

Election Day is a month away — November 7 — and although it’s an off-year election in Suffolk County, there are some remarkable elements.

In the Town of East Hampton, where the post of supervisor and two council positions are up for election and thus control of the Town Board, it’s interesting that the Republican Party has again embraced an unpopular issue in East Hampton, indeed all over the East End — the fate of the East Hampton Airport.

This comes after major GOP losses in the last off-year election when three-quarters of money the Republican Party spent in the campaign came from companies backing the area’s biggest noisemaker, the town-owned field.

It’s been the base for large numbers of helicopters flying loud and low, ferrying passengers between Manhattan and East Hampton, a raucous aerial ferry service disturbing those below, including Shelter Island residents.

The East Hampton board’s Democratic majority had imposed restrictions to try to quell the noise. The aviation interests went all-out in 2015 pouring big money into the GOP campaign to unseat it, but the strategy backfired.

The 2015 candidates for supervisor and two council positions won in landslides in what Kathleen Cunningham, chair of the Quiet Skies Coalition, called “an outright rejection of the attempted corporate takeover of East Hampton’s Town Board by the aviation industry.” It “showered the challengers with nearly $400,000 hoping to unseat” its majority after, for “the first time in the town’s history” it took “real steps to protect the public from aircraft noise,” Ms. Cunningham said. “It was a shocking and unprecedented display of business interests looking to buy their way into local politics.”

Yet this year, the East Hampton GOP is focusing again on zealous airport support.
‘Save The Airport” is the heading of the main piece of advertising of the GOP ticket.

There are photos of the Republican candidates “Who,” it is emphasized below a photo of them, “Support A Safe, Viable Airport.”

Not a word about aircraft noise.

Meanwhile, no matter what happens on November 7, a man of great courage in the history of Suffolk, Frank P. Petrone, is retiring from government, and after many years won’t be on the ballot.

Mr. Petrone has chosen not to run for re-election for Huntington Town supervisor, a position he was first elected to in 1993.

Prior to being supervisor, his positions included assistant Suffolk County executive under three administrations, chief of staff of the Suffolk Legislature, an administrator at Suffolk Community College, and Region II director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That was a major post in which he was in charge of FEMA activities in all of New York State, New Jersey as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

It was in that post in 1986 that Mr. Petrone was involved in a profile in courage for which all residents of Shelter Island and  Long Island — and beyond — should thank him.

The then Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) was pushing its Shoreham nuclear power plant, the first of seven to 11 nuclear power plants LILCO wanted to build on Long Island.

A main argument by Suffolk government and the many grassroots opponents of Shoreham was that if there were a catastrophic accident, a successful evacuation of the many who live in this area would be impossible. Consider evacuation routes for Shelter Island: the South and North ferries.

The Shoreham plant stood 35 miles west of Shelter Island.

As FEMA regional director during the Reagan administration, there was enormous pressure on Mr. Petrone to say evacuation would not be problematic to help facilitate the plant being licensed to operate.

Instead, Mr. Petrone’s office issued a report, after a LILCO drill depicting evacuation, stating that “FEMA cannot give reasonable assurance under its regulations that the public health and safety can be protected.”

After refusing to alter the report, Mr. Petrone was told by the then FEMA administrator to resign or be fired. On April 15, 1986, he resigned. A week later, the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster occurred in Ukraine, following the 1979 meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Petrone in his letter of resignation said: “The responsibility given to FEMA after the accident at Three Mile Island is a responsibility I take very seriously: that is to provide an unbiased and impartial review of emergency preparedness to protect people living near nuclear power plants.

“I believe that the credibility of the agency is endangered when national office officials move to overturn critical regional decisions.”

Then New York Governor Mario Cuomo declared: “I applaud the courage and the integrity of Frank Petrone, who resigned rather that bow to pressure from Washington to change his assessment of the safety issues.”

Farewell, Frank Petrone, after a great career!

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