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Suffolk Closeup: Political update

There will be new faces on the Suffolk County Legislature next year and, if he is elected in November, a familiar face, Steven Englebright of Setauket, who was a leading environmental champion on the county’s governing panel from 1983 until his election to the State Assembly in 1992.

However, Democrat Englebright, after 30 years in the Assembly, where he continued as an environmental leader, including as chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, lost his Assembly seat in an upset last year to Republican Ed Flood, a lawyer from Port Jefferson.

Still, at 76, Englebright has decided to seek to return to the Suffolk Legislature. Long a professor at Stony Brook University, he will be facing Republican Anthony Figliola of East Setauket, a former deputy supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven.

His election is not assured. Republican candidates did very well in contests for the Suffolk County Legislature in the last election in 2021, for positions on the county’s 18-member governing panel. It now has a Republican majority after years of Democratic majorities. 

Will that GOP muscle continue this year in the bi-annual election to the panel?

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s term limit for members of 12 years is resulting in two major Democratic figures on the panel having to leave: Kara Hahn of Setauket and Sarah Anker of Mount Sinai.

Hahn served as the panel’s Democratic majority leader from 2016 through 2019 and was chosen its deputy presiding officer for 2020 and 2021. The candidates for what will be Anker’s open seat are Mount Sinai Democrat Dorothy Cavalier, Anker’s chief of staff, and Rocky Point Republican Chad Lennon, an attorney who has been an aide to U.S. Representative Nick LaLota, a Republican from Amityville.

LaLota was boosted in his win last year in the lst Congressional District by the coattails of Republican Lee Zeldin of Shirley in Brookhaven Town, who was running for governor. And likewise, the Englebright upset has been tied, in part, to the coattails of the vote in Brookhaven Town for Zeldin.

The most prominent race this year in Suffolk will be for county executive with the incumbent, Democrat Steve Bellone of North Babylon, needing to leave after 12 years also because of term limits.

The Republican candidate to replace Bellone is Ed Romaine, the supervisor of Brookhaven Town and previously a Suffolk County legislator and county clerk. Will a strong showing for Center Moriches resident Romaine in Brookhaven Town impact negatively on the votes for Englebright and Cavalier? Still, Romaine’s Democratic opponent, Dave Calone, a former chairman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, is from East Setauket, also in Brookhaven Town. Might this affect Romaine’s Brookhaven showing?

There are many questions this year in Suffolk politics where geography has long been a big factor, with voters so often balloting for candidates from the towns where they reside.

In the meantime, on the East End, in surprise moves, two Democratic legislative incumbents have decided not to run for re-election.

Legislator Bridget Fleming, a Noyac Democrat and former member of the Southampton Town Board and an assistant Manhattan district attorney, is departing for what she describes as other opportunities. She told me last week that this will include legal activities. And Al Krupski, a Cutchogue Democrat, has decided to leave the legislature to run for Southold Town supervisor.

Krupski has provided a unique perspective to the Legislature as a fourth-generation North Fork farmer. Suffolk is still among the top agricultural counties in New York State.

Running for what will be Fleming’s open seat is North Sea Democrat Ann Welker, a member of the Southampton Town Trustees. She is the first woman elected as a member of that body, which has major jurisdiction over town waterways and wetlands since it was created in 1686, and an ardent environmentalist.

Welker is facing Springs Republican Manny Vilar, chairman of the East Hampton Town Republican Committee and a retired New York State Park Police officer.

The candidates for what will be Krupski’s open seat are Baiting Hollow Democrat Catherine Kent, a former Riverhead Town Board member, and Riverhead Republican Catherine Stark, an aide to Krupski and previously an aide to County Executive Robert Gaffney and also to Jay Schneiderman when he was a county legislator. Her father was the late Riverhead Town Supervisor Jim Stark.

With redistricting, this is the district that now includes Shelter Island.