Linda Kabot: Running To Unseat A Powerful Suffolk County Law Maker

County Legislator Candidate Linda Kabot pictured in the Legislature Meeting Room, March 27, 2019 following testimony at the County’s Spending Task Force Public Hearing. Photo Credit: Kabot Campaign Anthony Piccirillo

LONG ISLAND, NY – Most of Long Island’s political media have reported primarily on the battle in this year’s November 5th election for Suffolk County Executive waging between Republican challenger, County Comptroller John M. Kennedy (whom I interviewed for a column that appeared on these pages 2 weeks ago), and Democrat incumbent Steve Bellone (with whose campaign staff I have been at the time of this writing unsuccessfully attempting to schedule an interview for a column).

This media attention reflects the importance to the county’s 1.5 million residents of the position of Suffolk County Executive, whose authority as the county’s highest elected official includes proposing, seeking legislative approval and enacting the annual budget, managing the county’s dozens of departments and agencies and representing Suffolk’s interests in its financial and legal dealings with the federal and state governments. 

County Legislator Candidate Linda Kabot pictured with County Executive Candidate John Kennedy, June 14, 2019 – Photo Credit: Kennedy Campaign Dean Murray.

So far less covered by the media, but collectively of equal importance to the County Executive race, are this fall’s contests between Democrats and Republicans for the 18 seats of the Suffolk County Legislature. Co-equal to the County Executive, the Suffolk County Legislature is responsible for approving or disapproving the county head’s proposed budget, serving as the official governmental watchdog to prevent wasteful spending, levying taxes and setting county policies, most notably those affecting public health and public safety.

For the 24 elections held since the Suffolk County Legislator was first established in January 1970 (for 200 years prior a “Board of Supervisors” served as the county’s statutory body), political contests for the 2- year term seats on this legislative branch have been known to be fiercely fought. However, this year’s contest, the 25th in the county’s history, has been said by several political insiders with whom I have been in contact to be the most harshly fought of any in recent memory.

According to several of these same sources,  the most intensely fought of all 18 seats (11 currently held by Democrats and 7 by the GOP) has been the battle between the Republican challenger Linda Kabot and 2 term Democrat incumbent Bridget Fleming in Suffolk County Legislative District (LD) 2, the county’s 2nd largest geographical district, which spans the entire South Fork of Suffolk, comprising the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, Shelter Island, East Moriches, and portions of the Town of Brookhaven.   

Suffolk County Legislative District (LD) 2, the county’s 2nd largest geographical district, which spans the entire South Fork of Suffolk, comprising the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, Shelter Island, East Moriches, and portions of the Town of Brookhaven. Board of Elections Suffolk County New York.

However, when I interviewed Kabot in Suffolk County last week, I thought, at first, that my usually reliable sources had misled me. To my surprise, rather than beginning the interview with a strong rebuke of Fleming, Kabot told me that she and her opponent share the same views on several important local environmental issues. Citing their agreement on proposals to upgrade septic systems, create sewer districts in downtown village areas and develop storm abatement systems in low lying areas of East Suffolk, Kabot stated,

“Both Ms. Fleming and I agree that these programs are vital to protecting the environment and safeguarding our communities from potential natural disasters.”

However, Kabot, 52, who has in the past served a combined 14 years in the executive and legislative branches of the Southampton municipality, including 6 years as a councilwoman and 2 years as town supervisor, just moments later made it clear to me that beyond their areas of agreement on these environmental programs, she and Fleming hold polar opposite positions on all other key issues.

“Other than our shared support of several environmental programs, I have extremely strong disagreements with Ms. Fleming concerning every major issue affecting the people of Suffolk”, stated Kabot, the married mother of 3 young adult sons.  

The main area of their disagreement pointed to by Kabot relates to the county’s $2 billion accumulated debt, and its interconnected almost $900 million operating deficit. To pay off the interests on that debt and to fund government operational services, Kabot stated, the county under Bellone’s stewardship and with the approval of Democratic legislators, including Fleming for the past 4 years, has raised property taxes by 22% while increasing by $100 million the fees that residents pay to the county for such matters as recording their mortgages, purchasing burglar alarms, registering their vehicles, and for camping, fishing and holding group events at public parks.

“Mr. Bellone’s across the board tax increases, which were rubber stamped into law by Ms. Fleming and her Democrat colleagues in the legislature, have hit our middle-class residents the hardest… This just proves Mr. Bellone’s and Ms. Fleming’s claim to be ‘protecting the taxpayer’ is an outright lie”, stated Kabot.

“Ms. Fleming and her fellow Democrats in the legislature”, Kabot continued, “have also voted in favor of Bellone’s budget deficits which have led to Suffolk County Bond ratings being downgraded seven times, now standing at a dismal Baa 2 rating, just one level above junk bond status.”

True to what I had originally expected, Kabot’s criticism of Fleming became more acerbic.  Noting a recent report issued by New York State Comptroller, which, comparing Suffolk to the other 61 counties in NYS, described it as the state’s financially “most stressed county”, Kabot added, “this is just further proof that Mr. Bellone and legislators like Ms. Fleming have brought the county to the financial breaking point.”

County Legislator Candidate Linda Kabot pictured in the Legislature Meeting Room, March 27, 2019 following testimony at the County’s Spending Task Force Public Hearing. Photo Credit: Kabot Campaign Anthony Piccirillo.

Kabot, who has worked closely with Kennedy throughout the campaign, told me that if he and she are both elected, they, along with other Republican and some moderate Democratic lawmakers, will introduce policies and establish guidelines to restore the county’s financial viability. 

The first item on their agenda, she stated, will be to repeal a law, supported by Bellone and Fleming, which currently requires the county to use funds acquired from its casinos to be directed to pay for the public financing of political campaigns.

 “Taxpayers should not be forced to help finance any candidate’s political campaign. Casino revenues should be directed into the general fund and be used to help pay off our huge debt”, said Kabot.

The next item on Kennedy’s and her agenda, Kabot said, will be to conduct a formal review of the dozens of the county’s executive departments and agencies, which, she contended, have increased significantly in number under Bellone, adding to the county’s debt without providing any tangible benefit to the public.

“This overblown bureaucracy created by Bellone and his rubber stamp legislators, such as Ms. Fleming, provides no benefits to our overtaxed citizens”, Kabot charged. “To reduce spending, the entire budget will be carefully reviewed {if she and Kennedy are elected} department by department. We will be focused on such reforms as combining agencies that perform redundant jobs and reducing the number of departments in the county’s executive branch.”

The final financial item we discussed, while budget related, touched upon an issue connected to a bitter national debate concerning the rights of illegal immigrants. Kabot noted that Fleming favors wide-ranging entitlements for the thousands of illegal immigrants living in Suffolk. Referring to Fleming’s support for the county’s paying for their health care services, college tuition and legal aid, Kabot stated, “As a child of parents who came here as legal immigrants, I am committed to assisting people who came to America through legal means. However, I view the status of legal and illegal immigrants to be totally different…. We have funneled millions of dollars from our $700 million public assistance programs to pay for services for illegals. That money must be redirected to help pay off our enormous deficit.”

County Legislator Candidate Linda Kabot pictured with Carly Kreymborg at the North Sea Fire Dept Pancake Breakfast, April 14, 2019 – Photo Credit: Kabot Campaign, Deborah Martel.

Our discussion of her and Fleming’s opposing views on illegal immigrants did not end there. Kabot attacked her opponent for her highly controversial vote against a resolution presented to the Legislature on February 7th, 2019.  The resolution (which was passed with the vote of every legislator other than Fleming) called for the county to accept $ 65,000 in federal funding related to the Suffolk County’s Police Department’s (SCPD) participation in the “ICE EL DORADO TASK FORCE” (IEDTF) program.

County Legislator Candidate Linda Kabot pictured greeting guests at the VFW Post 5350 in Westhampton Beach, August 11, 2019 – Photo Credit: Kabot Campaign, Deborah Martel.

Comprised, among other law enforcement agencies, of Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents and SCPD detectives, IEDTF was primarily formed, Kabot noted, to target criminal gangs made- up of illegal immigrants, including the notorious MS-13.

“Fleming’s vote against receiving federal money directed to aid law enforcement – which she tellingly defends by saying she was opposed to ICE’s participation in the task force- proves that she is indifferent to the safety concerns of every person living or even visiting Suffolk County”, stated Kabot.

Come the late evening of November 5th, we will learn whether or not the voters of Suffolk County share that depiction of Ms. Fleming.

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