Steve Bellone (Democratic, Independence, Working Families, Women’s Equality): Incumbent
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is seeking a second term in office, where he said he’s been working hard to fulfill his campaign promises from four years ago. And although he acknowledges his many accomplishments during that time, he said there’s still a lot more work left to do, and he remains confident that he is the person to do it.
His introduction to county government wasn’t easy, though. He said inheriting a huge deficit on the tail end of the Great Recession, only to be faced with another catastrophe—Superstorm Sandy—wasn’t an ideal welcome. But, he got through it and believes the county is now on the right track.
“That’s why I am running again,” he said. “We’ve already built a solid foundation in order to move this region forward.”
Before entering the county arena, Bellone, who is an attorney, served several terms as Babylon Town Supervisor, where he introduced a number of innovative, award-winning environmental programs as well as the revitalization project Wyandanch Rising. He said the redevelopment of downtowns and the addition of new downtown communities are important ideas that need to be implemented in order to address one of the most challenging issues facing the county: keeping the young on Long Island.
“Making our region competitive again for young people is key,” Bellone said, adding that sustainable growth would also help to lessen the tax burden.
He said those plans for a more promising future are already in place and would encourage more high-tech businesses with higher paying jobs to begin moving into the area.
“The good news is we now have a Master Plan for the county, and we intend to implement that plan fully,” he said.
Bellone said that the plan involves building vibrant downtowns that are connected to transportation hubs, similar to the Ronkonkoma Hub development that’s planned around the Ronkonkoma Train Station with connections to Long Island MacArthur Airport. He added that the intention is to develop in a way that would not overburden our roadways. “We need to take cars off the road,” Bellone said. “The missing element is the need to place jobs inside these downtown areas. And we have the resources to do that,” he added, noting those resources include Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University as important partners in that mission.
Bellone said the Heartland project slated for Brentwood represents the vital, downtown development that is needed for the region, but it needs to be built in smaller phases. “We’re talking about a long-term build-out,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. If the market isn’t there [for that type of development] then it won’t happen. But, I’m confident that it will.”
Hand in hand with the development for the island are plans for sewering. Bellone said the county has been working on bringing sewers to the Ronkonkoma Hub in a way that would allow additional state and local partners to include sewers in other areas as well.
Since the beginning of his term, Bellone has made water quality a major issue in his administration. “To me, if we are not addressing the water quality… we’re mortgaging our future. Now we’re taking a comprehensive approach,” he said, noting that there is $400 million secured for water quality programs that will work to reduce the amount of nitrogen in our water.
Bellone said he is also very proud of his fiscal record that has produced four balanced budgets that stayed within the state cap every year and with no tax increases. Bellone accomplished this soon after taking office by working to reduce the size of government and eliminating 1,100 positions, mostly through attrition. He said that move saved the county millions of dollars annually. He then moved to merge the offices of Suffolk County Comptroller and Treasurer, which the voters approved last year—a change that saves the county a million dollars annually.
“I was met with a lot of resistance and had to push through those changes. There was a strong desire to protect the status quo, but that’s not working for the taxpayers,” he said. “We kept our promise to [our constituents].”
In addition to all of the changes in the county, Bellone has undergone a few personal changes as well. He said that due to the stress of dealing with the demands of the job and the pressing issues that were related to Sandy, he managed to gain quite a bit of weight. He tackled that situation by beginning a new regimen that included healthy eating and running daily, an activity that eventually led to shedding 65 pounds and implementing the first annual Suffolk County Marathon that began this past September. The proceeds from that race—$160,000 this year—will go to veterans services in the county. “It doesn’t get better than that,” said Bellone, who is an Army veteran.
The county executive said he is gratified by his achievements of the past and even more excited about what’s ahead.
“This is a great county, great people. I feel good and I’m ready for [another term].”
Bellone and his wife, Traci, reside in West Babylon, where they are raising their three young children.
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