10th Assembly District Preview: Stern vs. Williams

Democratic Assemblyman Steve Stern, who won a special election for the 10th State Assembly in April, is being challenged by Republican newcomer Jeremy Williams.

 Steve Stern

Stern is the creator of New York State’s first Silver Alert system, which, like Amber Alert, assists in the safe return of loved ones with Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders. Stern also strongly believes in the protection and support of the country’s service members.  He introduced and passed the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, which aims to end veteran homelessness. He also authored the Protect Our Fallen Heroes Act, which protects military funerals from disruptions such as protests while families grieve. Stern also sponsored the Toxin-Free Toddlers and Babies Act,  legislation to prohibit the sale of baby bottles and toddler cups containing the harmful chemical BPA. Stern graduated from Tulane University and received his law degree from Western Michigan University TMC Law School.

Q: Is protecting air, water and land a fundamental government responsibility and is the current system in use succeeding in protecting them?

A: Of course. Preserving of our precious environment including the water we drink, the air we breathe and our precious land and open space is one of the top priorities of all levels of government including New York State government. I’m very proud of my record when it comes to preserving our environment. I have sponsored and supported numerous legislative initiatives over many years that have served to protect our groundwater and our drinking water and preserved open space and taken great strides in improving our air quality. So protecting our environment now and for generations to come is one of my top priorities and because of my record of success in protecting our environment, I am proud to have consistently earned and received once again the endorsements of the Sierra Club and the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Q: What are one or two things you’ve done with and for our community’s youth?

A: Of course education is a top priority particularly at the New York State level of government. I am very proud to have been able to have an immediate impact on education for our children in just a few short weeks. Particularly in bringing back critical resources to support our children and their teachers in our local schools. In a very short period of time, I’ve been able to bring back an unprecedented amount of resources to give our children the tools they need to reach their highest potential. In addition, for our local at-risk youth throughout Huntington, I’ve also been able to bring back very important resources and funding to help support our after-school programs, which is [a] very important effort to keep at-risk youth off the streets and provide opportunity for them to participate in social and educational support programs and also protect our children from potential gang recruitment by violent organizations such as MS-13.

Q: Everyone wants safe neighborhoods for their children. Now that the state received a $500,000 grant for the Project Safe Neighborhood Initiative, what are some of your intentions for the community?

A: Protecting public safety must be a top priority of all levels of government, and I’ve always been a very strong and consistent supporter of the men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department and the anti-gang initiatives through our law enforcement and our District Attorney’s office as well. And in addition to funding that has come from other levels of government, I’ve also been able to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in just a short period of time that will be allocated towards these very strong anti-gang initiatives being conducted by the Suffolk County’s District Attorney’s office. So these funds will be crucial when it comes to coordinating efforts between our local law enforcement, Federal law enforcement, partners and the resources that they bring to the fight to keep our streets safe. And so, yes, whether it is a strong law enforcement and our continuing efforts to provide opportunity for our local at-risk youth, both of those efforts in a combined coordinated way is the best way to keep our streets safe.

Q: What is your position on a property tax cap?

A: I strongly support the property tax cap. In fact, in my 12 years serving as Suffolk County Legislature prior to my election to the New York State Assembly, there were increases in the general fund property tax and the only increases throughout that time period were specifically for law enforcement and always within the tax cap. So I’ve always been a very strong supporter of the property tax cap. The budgets that I’ve been involved with have always adhered to the tax cap and I am a strong supporter of this tax cap moving forward.

Q: When did you know you wanted to represent this community?

A: I’ve had the privilege of representing much of this district for the past 12 years as Suffolk County Legislature and with a vacancy in the New York State Assembly in the 10th Assembly District, I wanted to continue to build on a record that I’m so proud of when it comes to both legislative initiative to benefit our region and Long Island. And in the New York State Assembly I look forward to continuing the opportunity to take my passion and experience and build on a record of accomplishment that will benefit not just the residents of the 10th Assembly District but for our neighbors throughout Suffolk County and Long Island and even throughout New York State. And so I’ve had the privilege of representing much of the town of Huntington for several years, and I hope to have the support of my community to continue the opportunity to make them proud.

Jeremy Williams

A fifth generation resident of Huntington Station, Jeremy Williams studied at Stony Brook University before later attending SUNY Binghamton where he graduated early, Magna Cum Laude. After graduating, Williams worked in Manhattan representing financial technology, cryptocurrency and blockchain companies. This is when Williams realized how difficult it was to afford commuting, the cost of living and student debt. With many of his friends and family moving away from Long Island, Williams wanted take action to fight against injustices forced on recent college graduates and middle-class homeowners struggling to pay mortgages and taxes.

Q: Is protecting air, water and land a fundamental government responsibility and is the current system in use succeeding in protecting them?

A: That’s a very good question. Well, I am someone who believes in small government, however, our government’s No.1 responsibility is protecting our quality of life. That comes from infrastructure and it comes from protecting our environment. Something I’m very concerned with are the recent algal blooms in Huntington and Northport harbors. We’ve seen every single year they get worse and worse and this is directly tied to nitrogen leakage into our harbors. So, frankly, no, the government has not done a good enough job at keeping our waters, especially our harbors, clean. I think we are not looking far enough at the impact of storm drain leakage and littering into such. In the northern areas of Huntington, pretty much all of the storm drains’ catch basins drain directly into our harbors. We’re getting all sorts of litter and waste dumped into the streets. However, people are dumping. Industrial leakage, a lot of work trucks might be tossing hydraulic fluid into the storm drains, and the unfortunate reality is that it is difficult to police this. However, I believe that the best way of policing this is prevention. Increase the fines of anyone willing to dump into these drains and also our aquifer recharge zones, storm drains that are more south of the harbor that aren’t connected to an immediate drain way into such.

Q: What are one or two things you’ve done with and for our community’s youth?

A: Well, you’re looking at one of them. I’m 22 years old. Long Island is not a very friendly place for a young person to try and buy a home and start their life. The unfortunate reality is that we have a ridiculous amount of county fees that prevent first-time home ownership.  When you graduate college, you’re making $30 to 40,000 a year just trying to save up for your first 20 percent down payment on a house, it’s next to impossible on Long Island. When I graduated from SUNY Binghamton I was working in New York City. I was paying $500 a month for the LIRR. God bless you if you can find a lunch cheaper than $25 in New York City. Paying student loan debt, just trying to put gas in my car. I was living at home so I wasn’t paying rent, but still, I wasn’t saving any money. When you have a situation where it’s so expensive for young people to live on Long Island, it’s very unworkable.  And we’re saying “Why are the youth leaving?” The youth are leaving because it’s much cheaper to live in South Carolina or Florida.

It’s not happening because people don’t like New York, it’s happening because because we have these outrageous property taxes. We have outrageous county fees that are preventing first-time homeownership and we’re incentivizing young people to rent. We talk a lot about transit oriented developments where they say “Oh, the youth, they want to stay here so let’s build these big apartment buildings so we have affordable housing for them.” Well affordable housing, at least in Huntington, is a very disingenuous thing.  Less than 17 percent of affordable housing in Huntington is occupied by people under 35 years old.

So, I believe this is a two-pronged approach. We stop giving contractors incentives to build these large developments because one, they’re bad for our environment and two, there’s very few green places left in Huntington. Three, you’re leaking into the water tables. The fact of the matter is young people don’t want to live in these large towers. This is Huntington. This isn’t Queens or New York City.  On the other side of that, we need to bring more jobs back to Long Island. Something I’ve looked to do in the State Assembly, bring larger employers on Long Island to the table. Bring the SUNY system, the CUNY system and private schools on the other side of the table and think where do you need people.

Q: Everyone wants safe neighborhoods for their children. Now that the state received a $500,000 grant for the Project Safe Neighborhood Initiative, what are some of your intentions for the community?

A: I think the cooperation with the federal government in terms of attacking the gang problem here on Long Island is a must. They’ve come through in the past few years, they’ve rounded up a lot of very dangerous gang members, and they’ve gotten them off the streets of Long Island. I live in Huntington Station. It’s a major issue. And the sad reality is it’s still going on. Anecdotally, I went to Walt Whitman High School. There we had a school resource officer whose name was Officer Drew. His being there did a lot of great things because, on one hand, you have an active law enforcement officer in the building ready to address any threat of violence within seconds because he’s actually here. On the other side of that, school resource officers are identifying children that are going down the wrong path, that are going toward gangs or drug use or crime.

Q: What is your position on a property tax cap?

A: I believe we should have the tax cap permanently at two percent. The two percent tax cap that we’ve had since 2011 has been very effective at following the growth of our school districts and following the rate of inflation. Make it permanent so we don’t have to increase it in the future and they can’t increase it in the future because they’re going to if they’re able to.

Q: When did you know you wanted to represent this community?

A: Well, I’m a 5th generation resident of Huntington Station and the only home I’ve ever known. I really love it, it’s a beautiful place to live. However, when I came out of college and came back to see all my friends leaving because they could find better jobs elsewhere and live elsewhere. I’ve seen family members leave. I’ve seen businesses close up and move out of state. There’s a mass exodus of people from Long Island from Huntington because it’s too unaffordable. This is coming from regulation, from a ridiculous tax rate, from county fees. The corruption in New York State’s government is absolutely ridiculous, and it’s costing the taxpayers. When you have several people very, very close to the Governor going to jail now for corruption, for bribery, it’s a major issue. Suffolk County has a lot corruption as well. Our former police chief is in jail. Our former DA has been indicted. This is happening. We have to make sure we have fresh faces, and I’d like to see term limits. I don’t understand why people don’t like them.  Because it’s something that affects both sides of the aisle, Democrats and Republicans. When you don’t have term limits you get Dean Skelos. When you don’t have term limits you get  Sheldon Silver. I don’t understand why there’s push back on term limits. 

I love the town. I love this place. I want to make sure we’re being treated right by Albany. I want to make sure we get our fair share.

Interviews were edited for length.

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