Susan Berland, the Suffolk County Legislature majority leader, is seeking re-election for the 16 th legislative district.
She said she has the right mix of compassion and fiscal responsibility to lead the district through the recovery from the pandemic and other challenges impacting the region.
“I’m a Democrat through and through,” Berland told Huntington Now. “I’m a liberal Democrat when it comes to social issues. I’m a conservative Democrat when it comes to fiscal issues.”
And when there are challenges, Berland likes to bring all stakeholders to the table, so people work together.
It’s that kind of approach Berland would continue to bring in addressing such issues as vacant storefronts, ailing business, the need for housing, sewer connections, open space, the environment and more in steering the district out of the pandemic. She also shared insights on bail reform, resources to combat drug addiction and hate speech.
“COVID’s really hit businesses incredibly hard,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of businesses.”
Berland said she is looking “to partner with the businesses in my district to get them the funds that they need, to start back up again, maybe get them to pivot a look at online capacities in the interim. No one wants to have vacant storefronts, so it’s important that we bring businesses in.”
Still, there’s a need to balance open space and commercial space.
“You need to save whatever open space you can that’s pristine space that has environmental benefits,” she said.
That can include transferring or purchasing development rights to keep land for farming. It can also include retrofitting empty buildings to steer new commercial businesses into current empty spaces, changing the space as needed to meet their criteria. Berland said she works with leadership in the three towns she represents – Huntington, Islip and Babylon – to help constituents access resources as they look to bring these kinds of projects forward.
Berland pointed to a dozen or so recent resolutions that were passed, providing millions of dollars to create new sewer districts and expand existing ones. She said the 16 th district needs more funding to further expand the program for constituents.
“Nothing is more important that our water,” said Berland, who as a member of the county’s Marine Industry Revitalization Advisory Council, advocates for economic development of the marine industry and protecting the region’s resources.
In the interim, she continues to spread the message that people can get grants of up to $10,000 to help install sewers in homes if a system doesn’t yet reach their residence.
“It’s very important,” she said, noting health and subsequent economic concerns. “If the water around us is polluted, it takes away our tourism. It takes away our marine industries.”
Berland said it’s important that businesses in the 16 th district – and she noted the need along the commercial Route 110 in Huntington Station – also get access to sewer hook-ups. Businesses then would be “more willing to expand, and be more willing to have more employees and have more people walking
in the doors if they have facilities for them to use.”
As the region continues to navigate the pandemic, Berland said outreach remains important. When COVID first hit, Berland said she and her staff reached out to thousands of residents to see how to help, whether people were struggling with food insecurity, or in need of medical care or other resources.
“We need more of that,” she said, adding that people still need information about vaccines, and have questions about how to get booster shots, personal protective equipment and other resources.
Addiction continues to be a hurdle in the district, and Berland said she supports programs “to get people in the door to help the ones who are addicted, and their families.” Berland noted that a loss surrounding addiction “touched me personally,” and prevention programs in schools is key. “There are millions of dollars earmarked specifically for this,” she said, pointing to the historic opioid settlements won by Suffolk County, led by Rob Calarco, presiding officer of the legislature.
She credited the Suffolk County Police, saying that it does “an incredible job.”
“We all feel comfortable in our homes and our parks and playgrounds and community” she said. “While we don’t need a police state, it’s always comforting seeing a Suffolk County Police car going through your neighborhood.”
As for New York State’s bail reform, “I’m not a fan” in the “current shape that it was passed by the state” Berland said, adding that it is “far too overreaching.”
She said that “Taking the total decision out of the hands of the judge isn’t appropriate,” she said.
“I don’t think one size fits all,” she said adding that “they need to give discretion back to judges. Regarding the number of racist messaging and graffiti in recent months in the district, Berland, who is Jewish, said “antisemitism is alive and well.”
Education, she said, is key. And there is a united front from the various houses of worship of all denominations and races that believe “hate is hate.”
But moving forward, the biggest issue for Suffolk County is “getting through COVID,” she said. There’s a need to get people back to work, who lost family members or a suddenly raising families on their own, and businesses that need to navigate a new economy, all because of the pandemic.
She is running against Republican Manuel Esteban.
Election Day is Nov. 2, with early voting beginning Saturday.District 16-2014