The conviction for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and other counts of ex-Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and his former anti-corruption unit chief, Christopher McPartland, was the biggest event in governmental affairs in Suffolk County in 2019.
They were charged with covering up a beating delivered by James Burke, then chief of the Suffolk County Police Department, the highest uniformed officer and previously head of the investigative unit in Mr. Spota’s DA’s office. In a police station in Hauppauge, Mr. Burke assaulted a handcuffed heroin addict who had broken into his police vehicle and stolen a duffel bag. The contents included a gun belt, ammunition and sex toys.
Mr. Spota was long a figure in the Suffolk DA’s office — a workhorse assistant DA in the 1970s and early 1980s trying numerous cases. Running for DA on the Democratic line in 2001, he defeated Republican incumbent James M. Catterson Jr. He was re-elected DA in 2005, 2009 and 2013 without any major party opposition.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Justina Geraci told the jurors that Messrs. Spota and McParland orchestrated a cover-up, breaking the law, “to protect” Mr. Burke. Lawyers for the two said Mr. Burke never told them he was involved in the beating before he pleaded guilty to it in federal court, so there was no cover-up, an argument not accepted by the jury. Mr. Burke was sentenced for the beating to 46 months in prison. Now Messrs. Spota and McPartland face up to 20 years.
The leading political race in Suffolk in 2019 resulted in the re-election of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. He ran against County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr., a Suffolk legislator for 10 years and earlier, starting in 1986, held positions in the offices of county executive and county clerk. Mr. Bellone, before becoming county executive in 2012, was Babylon Town supervisor.
Mr. Kennedy was elected comptroller, the county government’s fiscal watchdog, in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. Mr. Bellone’s handling of county finances was the overriding issue in the race, with Mr. Kennedy charging Mr. Bellone “has been a fiscal disaster for Suffolk County.” Mr. Bellone defended his financial management.
There was a financial imbalance involving the campaign itself, with Mr. Bellone spending nearly $3.5 million and Mr. Kennedy $720,000. Mr. Kennedy said he “took great pride in the $30 and $50 checks I got,” while Mr. Bellone had big donors.
Because of term limits, this will be the last of three four-year terms for Mr. Bellone as county executive.
Another major 2019 Suffolk governmental development: This month the person holding what is considered the Number 2 job in county government, DuWayne Gregory, announced he was stepping down from being presiding officer of the Suffolk Legislature. Term limits made his decision since this has been his sixth — and final— two-year term as a legislator.
Mr. Gregory of Copiague will take a seat on the Babylon Town Board held by Jackie Gordon, also a Democrat. She is resigning to run for the Congressional seat held by Republican Peter King, who is retiring. The change will mean quite a salary reduction for Mr. Gregory — a cut from $123,270 to $58,443.
Mr. Gregory, an African-American in one of the highest positions held by a black in Suffolk history, said that with no state or countywide positions possibly open for more than two years, he was “looking for a spot to land … This was an opportunity, and if this door closes I’m not sure when the next opportunity will be.”
In environmental happenings in 2019, the crash of the scallop fishery, has cast a pall over what has been a major marine resource on Suffolk’s East End. The scallop fishery has been under pressure since 1985 when brown tide hit the Peconic Bay system.
That was followed by major efforts by the state and county and Cornell Cooperative Extension to restore the fishery. Although it was far from as bountiful as it was for many decades — with Peconic Bay scallops a prized national delicacy — a partial rebound was happening. In 2017 and 2018, bay scallop landings from the Peconic and adjoining bays exceeded 108,000 pounds.
But with what now has been determined to be a loss of more than 90 percent of adult bay scallops, a major setback has occurred. Why it has happened is unclear. At a symposium this month organized by the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, explanations included high water temperature caused by climate change and predation from cownose rays, a species newly found in Long Island waters.
If the scallop fishery is permanently crippled, it would follow the earlier loss in western Suffolk of the hard clam fishery. For decades, half of the hard shell clams consumed in the United States came from the Great South Bay in western Suffolk. That collapse has been blamed on overfishing and also brown tide.