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Fred Thiele to leave Assembly at year’s end, capping 45 years of public service

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (D-Sag Harbor) announced Monday he will not seek re-election, stepping down at the end of this year after 45 years representing constituents on the East End, with nearly 30 years in the State Assembly.

“I now look forward to other opportunities to serve the community that has been home to my family for almost 200 years,” said Mr. Thiele, who has represented the East End longer than any other legislator. “Government service was my dream from my days as a student in elementary school in Sag Harbor when I heard the call of President John F. Kennedy to ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’”

Among his achievements is authoring the Peconic Bay Regional Community Preservation Fund legislation that has provided money from a real estate transfer tax paid by purchasers of land in each of the five East End towns to save acres of land from development. Since its inception in 1999, the Community Preservation Fund has generated $1.81 billion for the towns to purchase open space sites providing passive recreation for the public.

Mr. Thiele followed that with the Water Quality Improvements Fund legislation, which has provided grants to residents to upgrade their septic systems, along with other, larger municipal water quality projects.

He then sponsored legislation to create a similar source of money to help create affordable housing. The Community Housing Fund followed the same formula as the other two funds with money coming from the real estate transfer tax. All five towns participated in the first two funds, but Riverhead voters opted out of participating in the Community Housing Fund.

Mr. Thiele said that political discussions around his family’s dinner table, with a mother determined that her children would have a better life, informed his approach to public service. And family remains a key to his service. “My wife Nancy Lynn, my children, grandchildren and my sister continue to be my source of strength,” he said.

The assemblyman also credited “many mentors along the way who sparked my passion and gave me the confidence to take the next step. They include teachers like Coach Bob Vishno and Steve Petras at Pierson High School, and professors like Don Baker at Southampton College who provided guidance along the way.”

He noted he was  “indebted” to his predecessor in the Assembly, the late John Behan, calling him “a true American hero. John’s life was an example to all on what it means to be a leader.”

Mr. Thiele said he had worked closely with former State Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) for 25 years before Mr. LaValle opted not to seek re-election. He described Mr. LaValle as “the definition of a statesman.” 

He expressed his thanks for his staff, saying, “I have been blessed by great staff throughout my career. I thank them all, but especially Denise McRedmond here in the district and Lisa Lombardo in Albany who have been the MVPs of Team Thiele for so many years. My thanks also to Joann Scalia with whom I worked in collaboration with Senators LaValle and his successor, Anthony Palumbo.

The relationships he built through the years with people, he said, enriched his life, and has been “the greatest reward.” He singled out Kevin McDonald from The Nature Conservancy with whom he worked at the start of his professional career. “There has seldom been a day in my life that has not included a conversation with Kevin,” he said.

Mr. Thiele said that, above all, it was his constituents who motivated and inspired him.

“Being chosen by my neighbors to be their representative has truly been the greatest honor of my professional life,” Mr. Thiele said. “Endings and beginnings are bittersweet. I’m guided by the advice of Dr. Seuss: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’”