Two former colleagues at the Suffolk County Legislature are squaring off at the polls this November — one seeking to maintain his position in charge of the county’s finances, the other seeking bring about a change in the way the office is run.
Democratic Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, also a former county legislator who represented the 2nd Legislative District for 12 years until he served the maximum number of terms in 2015, said he is looking to bring his knowledge and experience to the office of the county comptroller, a seat now held by Republican John Kennedy. Schneiderman, who has been supervisor since 2016, is also running on the Working Families, Women’s Equality lines, as well as a newly-created line, Protect the Tax Payer, though he lost the key endorsement of the Independence Party to his opponent. Schneiderman, who changed his party affiliation from Republican to Independence Party in 2008 and then to the Democrats in 2016, says he has always been progressive, supporting a woman’s right to choose, protection of the environment, economic opportunity, and social justice.
“I’ve been running on the Democratic line for 10 years,” he said.
Schneiderman said he would like to modernize the comptroller’s office and work with County Executive Steve Bellone to stabilize the county’s budget. A former math teacher, who describes himself as a conservative money manager, Schneiderman said he would like to bring his business sense and knowledge of government to the office.
“The county is in a hole now,” he said. “The county has taken about $300 million in what would be operational expenditures and borrowed money.”
He said there are also rising pension costs and a budget shortfall of about $60 million. “That is why I would want to elevate the position of county comptroller — helping to get the county standing on its fiscal feet,” he said.
Schneiderman said much of the county’s debt is being pushed into the next year, and it continues to increase. “You can’t keep kicking the can down the road, it will catch up,” he said.
Kennedy, who comes from Nesconset, is seeking his second four-year term. The comptroller’s position oversees all of the county’s finances, balances the budget, and makes recommendations throughout budget season. A former county legislator and attorney, who represented the 12th Legislative District for 10 years until 2014, Kennedy is also running on three lines — for the Republican, Conservative, and Independence parties. Kennedy said he would like to continue with his work, noting that he has increased the functions of his office by hiring an additional 14 auditors to go over the county’s books.
“I am proud of the fact that the county needed and expanded its audit service,” he said. Kennedy noted he has also worked to raise about $35 million in interest savings by increasing the number of motels and hotels on the books and paying sales tax from 310 to 1000.
His office was also instrumental in the investigation into the county’s former beach concessionaire, the Beach Hut, which had locations at Cupsogue in Westhampton and Meschutt in Hampton Bays and was not filing the proper amount of sales tax, he said. According to Kennedy, the findings of his office resulted in the recovery of a little over $1 million in sales tax from the company. Kennedy, an attorney, said his legal background has been beneficial to his post because, as in the case of the Beach Hut, the law is intertwined with finances.
“A tremendous amount of law is needed. “It’s important — my legal background — to my work every day,” he said.
Additionally, his office also worked to reduce overtime abuse in the county’s Fire, Rescue, and Emergency Services division. Since coming into office, Kennedy established a fraud hotline, which enables residents to make anonymous complaints about government waste and abuse.
Kennedy, who formerly worked as an administrator at Kings Park Psychiatric Hospital, said he believes his experience in both the private and public sectors will enable him to continue doing a good job of knowing when to rein the county coffers in. “There is an element of compromise and certainly I have to bring that to the position,” said Kennedy.