Now in his third term in county politics, Suffolk County 17th District Legislator Tom
Donnelly, D-Deer Park, says he still has the same passion and dedication to his residents he had when he started and will continue to do so even as planned redistricting will soon change the face of the district.
“The district lines are changing but I’ll still be serving some parts of the South
Huntington community. If the folks there continue to put their faith in me, I will continue to
work hard to serve them and to now help the residents of the new areas as well,” he said.
The 17th district currently includes Cold Spring Hills, Deer Park, Dix Hills, Huntington,
Huntington Station, Melville, North Babylon, South Huntington, West Babylon and West Hills. In January, redistricting will take will take a large chunk of the Huntington area out
of Donnelly’s district.
Donnelly, who is seeking a fourth term as a Suffolk County legislator, is running against
challenger Republican Catherine Corella.
Donnelly, 56, is a former New York City police officer and retired lieutenant with the
city’s fire department, where he led search and rescue teams at Ground Zero following 9/11, in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. A former Babylon town councilman and Deer Park Fire commissioner, Donnelly lives in Deer Park with his wife, Lisa, and their three daughters.
Though Donnelly’s time representing large parts of Huntington is coming to a close, he
continues to play a role in the matters of the town, especially in the expansive Downtown
Revitalization Initiative in Huntington Station. When asked about the initiative, Donnelly wasnothing short of enthusiastic.
“The redevelopment is essentially a town effort. Where the county intersects in that is
really in the sewer hookup, public health issues, and oversight of the health department and getting them the proper health permits,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly played an integral role in the recent vote to update Huntington Station’s sewer
system, which he believes is a big piece of the housing and revitalization section of the initiative. This new sewer hookup system will allow residents to connect their homes to the sewer system instead of continuing the use of old septic tanks and cesspools.
The sewer hookups are designed to help lessen nitrate pollution in the area’s drinking
water, a current issue that goes beyond Huntington and into Suffolk County as a whole.
Democrats in the Suffolk County Legislature tried to include the Suffolk County Water Quality Protection Act on the Nov. 7 ballot. This act’s goal is to improve and modernize the county’s clean water infrastructure but the the attempt to put the initiative on the ballot failed when it was blocked by Republicans.
While Donnelly is not thrilled with the formula in the state-accompanied legislation, he
still found there were many good selling points to the act that he could not vote against it.
“I wasn’t willing to throw out all the work that went into this because I didn’t like the
formula… I lean on those policy experts. They worked really hard, very hard on this. They get an A plus from me,” Donnelly said.
Along with the issues of water quality, there are other long-standing issues in Huntington
Station that the Downtown Revitalization Initiative is aimed to tackle. One of those issues is housing, which has taken form in a debate over whether four-story apartments should be built in the town.
Donnelly believes that building four-story apartments will be unsuccessful in Huntington
Station because of a lack of community buy in and collaboration. Donnelly has experience with these types of housing projects from his time on the town and planning board for the Wyandanch Rising project. During that project the planning board used a collaborative approach to planning the project, and it resulted in maxing the building at three stories.
“The concept of four-story buildings doesn’t really fit in the suburban landscape. People
don’t want their suburbs landscape to be an extension of the City of New York,” said Donnelly.
Donnelly lists the towns of Patchogue, Westbury, Farmingdale, and Copiague as other
towns that saw successful housing developments by following this model.
Along with his strong feelings about housing in Huntington Station, Donnelly also looks
forward to the continued growth of the town’s culture under the culture and community section of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
“I think that a diverse segment is really important. And that’s the thing about the 17th
Legislative District, it’s very diverse. We focus on issues that cross the spectrum and it’s
important that we’re able to recognize them. The cultural pieces are wonderful, and they have my full support,” Donnelly said.
The loss of a large portion of the Huntington area from the 17th Legislative District is
hard for Donnelly as he feels he has done good work for those residents and really left his footprint on those towns. He says his time serving the town of Huntington was both an honor and a privilege. Donnelly intends to take the same dedication and motivation he used to help the Huntington area to the new parts in his district.
Donnelly will continue to press on what he feels are the four major issues county
government must focus on: public safety, water quality, economic development, and public health with emphasis on mental health.
Election Day is Nov. 7.
Hayley Birmingham is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.