Town Board Preview: Cergol vs. Leonick

Democrat Joan Cergol, the incumbent, will face off against Republican challenger James Leonick in Tuesday’s election.

Joan Cergol

Lifelong Huntington resident and Councilwoman Joan Cergol has spent 18 years of public service and private sector management promoting economic progression through businesses and individuals in town. As a graduate of Long Island University with a Bachelor’s degree in public relations and a minor in journalism, has served as an adjunct professor of public relations at St. Joseph’s College and LIU as well as a guest columnist for The Long Islander Newspaper.

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

A: I do think it’s a government responsibility, and we have made great strides in protecting our water quality but we need to do more. We need to reduce the nitrogen load into our waters and there are easy ways we can do that, and there are engineering solutions that can help us do that. We need to move into a sewer infrastructure culture and get away from these antiquated septic systems.

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

A: I have been very involved with the Tri Community Youth Agency, one of the town’s youth organizations in bringing funding, in bringing food, bringing clothing and bringing programs to help enrich our young people in the town. I also run a youth council in my government job that brings together our youth leaders in the town throughout all of our districts, and they meet regularly to discuss issues of concern to youth. They raise money for charity and they create forums that allow for discussion and exchange of information to better the youth experience.

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 what we need to do with any type of funding we get for preventing gang activity and membership in gangs is we have to get to families whose youth are vulnerable to joining a gang and usually a family that has one member perhaps that is already in a gang, they’re the number one priority because the likelihood of another sibling following in the footsteps of his or her sibling is higher than if not. So we really need to educate our young people about the dangers of gang involvement, and we can do that through our youth organizations that usually make use of this money through trained social workers that know how to reach out to youth and know how to engage them and have these types of discussions. And also through our schools. Schools can play a large role in gang prevention and of course we need to support our law enforcement efforts to also participate in a conversation that prevents the involvement and participation in gangs before they can begin.

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

A: I believe we need to keep the property tax cap in place. It does force government to think and operate like a business and yet there are challenges to meet that tax cap. We have expenses that are rising so we really need to do much more with less to stay underneath the tax cap.

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

A: I have been working in local government now for over 16 years. And when I joined town government in 2002 as a economic development specialist, I knew immediately that working in government was for me. Not just government, but Huntington government because it’s my hometown. I’m a lifelong resident and graduate of Huntington High School. I live near Town Hall. I’m very much aware of a lot of the issues. I’m in touch with those issues that affect our community. I’ve raised, with my husband, two daughters here. Everything important in my life happened in this town and it means everything to me to help guide this town as we move forward, to address new and emerging issues that are coming up as an evolving suburbia and to be part of bringing the voices together to help solve those problems. You can’t do that alone. You need to do that with residents and that’s really my goal to harness the resources and the input of residents so that we can shape a plan for our future.

James F. Leonick

James Leonick, a Republican, is also running on the Conservative and Reform lines. He earned his associate’s degree in liberal arts at Suffolk County Community College, his bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Albany and his law degree at Touro Law College. He is an attorney who runs his own business and focuses on estate planning, personal injury and real estate law. He lives in East Northport with his wife and three sons. Leonick also ran for town board last year.

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

Protecting our air, water and land should be the goal for all different levels of government, Leonick said. “I think the current system does succeed, but only when the public is vigilant and participates in the process.” Long Islanders should focus on water quality, development projects and government spending and how it’s being allocated, he said. “We need to focus more on septic systems, expanding the use of sewers along waterfront communities and expanding sewer capacity.”

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

“I’ve been a Boy Scout leader for 16 years, teaching young boys life skills and an appreciation for being a good citizen,” Leonick said. He’s also involved with scouting on a district level. His Rotary Club, where he is a past president, also supports youth through programs such as Boy Scout’s Eagle Award and Girl Scout’s Gold Award; has donated dictionaries to third- and fourth-grade classes at an elementary school; and supports Rotary’s Interact Club, a middle-school based leadership training program.

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?

“I’ve spoken to people in all different parts of the town and I believe the best use of the money initially would be to make it available to help transport at-risk youth to after-school programs to keep them on the right path and keep them away from gangs and drugs,” Leonick said. A lot of times, he explained, both parents are working and there are programs the kids can’t get to, or can only get a ride one way. “We could do some sort of shuttle service and make use of the extensive existing systems we have in place, and use the grant money to help pay for fuel and labor costs.”

Q: Regarding the Trump tax plan, what is your position on a property tax cap?

He supports making the 2 percent state tax cap permanent, Leonick said. The Trump tax plan reduces the federal tax deduction to up to $10,000 for state and local property and income taxes (SALT), and it adversely affects New York state residents since New York is a high-tax state. “A permanent cap will help keep our taxes down in general,” he said.

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

Leonick said he’s been involved in many community service efforts over the years, but knew he wanted to serve when he attended a meeting and listened to a resident’s speech during the public participation segment. “On environmental issues or development issues, the Town Board didn’t seem to be listening to residents and was acting in the opposite direction.” Leonick said he will use his problem-solving skills and ability to work with people “to reach solutions everyone can live with.”

Find your polling place

League of Women Voters information

[abs-weather]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.