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Suffolk Closeup: Election Day was a big win for the environment

The election last week of Republican Ed Romaine, the Brookhaven Town supervisor, for Suffolk County executive, and of Democrat Steve Englebright back to the Suffolk County Legislature, mark some very good news for government in the county.

In a list I would put together of the 10 finest public officials I’ve covered in my 60 years of writing about Suffolk government, Romaine and Englebright would be on it.

Other good news out of the 2023 election includes the win of Ann Welker to the Suffolk Legislature. A solid environmentalist, she has been the first female member of the Southampton Town Trustees, the panel that oversees the town’s marine resources, since it was established in 1686.

Regarding women and this year’s election, in 1973 Judith Hope became the first woman elected as a town supervisor in Suffolk. What a difference a half-century makes!

This year, among women elected to town supervisor spots in Suffolk’s 10 towns were, in Southampton, Democrat Maria Moore, the Westhampton Beach mayor, along with Democrat Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, a member of the East Hampton Town Board, as the new supervisor of East Hampton.

In Islip Town, Republican Angie Carpenter, a former county legislator and county clerk, was re-elected town supervisor, and on Shelter Island (according to initial results) Republican Amber Brach-Williams, a Town Board member, was elected town supervisor.

This shouldn’t go unnoticed in a county which, until the Suffolk Legislature was created in 1970, the county’s governing body, the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors, established in 1683 — for all those centuries — consisted only of men.

Regarding Romaine, as a member of the Suffolk Legislature for two series of years — between which he was county clerk — he was highly independent, creative in his approach to government, sensitive to the needs of constituents and highly competent. His district during his two stints on the Legislature included Shelter Island.

These were years when the Long Island Lighting Company was pushing hard on a scheme to construct seven to eleven nuclear power plants in Suffolk County. Romaine stood strong. The plan was stopped and the one plant built, at Shoreham, closed after problem-riddled “low power” testing.

On a wide range of environmental issues, Romaine, as a legislator and town supervisor, has stood strong, which is why he has been repeatedly endorsed by environmental organizations as a candidate for the Legislature and supervisor, and lately as a nominee for county executive.

Before getting involved in government, he was a history teacher at Hauppauge High School. In his nearly four decades in government he has endeavored to make a reality of the ideals he taught.

As for Englebright, as a member of the Suffolk Legislature and then, for 30 years, a member of the State Assembly, he was a leading environmental figure in the county and then the state. He was long chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee. On the county and state levels, he was the prime sponsor of numerous measures on the environment. 

He suffered a narrow loss of his Assembly seat last year. But he decided to run again for the Suffolk Legislature saying: “There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done.”

Englebright was central to the preservation of the Long Island Pine Barrens. He founded the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences at Stony Brook University and its first exhibit was on the Pine Barrens. A geologist, he understood the purity of the water beneath them, how their sandy porous soil allows rainwater to migrate cleanly down to the aquifers on which Long Islanders depend as their sole source of potable water.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, hardly anyone else in this area understood this. The Pine Barrens were considered scrub and wasteland, not important like land along the shoreline, or farmland. That first exhibit focused on where the Hauppauge Industrial Park had been built — right on top of Pine Barrens. Englebright decided it “was basically unethical to simply document the passing of the ecosystem.”

So he decided to get into politics, running for the Suffolk Legislature, and pushing the government for environmental action.

He taught me and many others about the huge significance of the Pine Barrens. He would take people, one at a time, up Danger Hill in Manorville. From the top of it, one could see Long Island Sound to the north, bays and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and to the west and east great stretches of green Pine Barrens.

We were looking, said Englebright, at “Long Island’s reservoir.” He went on to be a critical figure in the passage of the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993 which saved more than 100,000 acres of Pine Barrens.

A loss for the Suffolk Legislature, but a great gain for the Town of Southold in the election, was fourth-generation Suffolk farmer Al Krupski of Cutchogue, an extraordinary county legislator, running for, and in a landslide winning, the supervisor’s spot in Southold.

Krupski’s chief of staff, Republican Catherine Stark, who describes environmental issues as a top priority, won the election to replace him on the Legislature. The district will include Shelter Island.

In his victory comments election night, Democrat Krupski spoke of interchanges with residents during the campaign and their message of how the East End is “really nice, and you can see how quickly it can be ruined. People see the value in what we have here.”           

Considering Romaine, Englebright, Welker, Krupski, Moore, Burke-Gonzalez and Stark, among other winners last week, in that regard Suffolk County is in very capable hands.