Though he was born in Brooklyn, James Coll has had ample time to get a feel for life on Long Island, having moved to Massapequa Park at a young age and having spent the past 15 years as a resident of Seaford. Coll notes that while the overall spirit of his fellow community members hasn’t changed much, their belief in the officials who represent them is weaker than ever. It’s the pressing need to restore the public’s faith in politics, Coll said, that pushed him into the race for the available seat in Nassau County’s 15th Legislative District, which covers Levittown, Salisbury, and parts of Wantagh, Seaford, Bethpage and East Meadow.
“I’ve learned that the community is very hard working—that the community is used to not putting up with nonsense,” said Coll, who is running as a Republican and is opposed by Republican John Ferretti and Democrat Mike Sheridan. “They want promises made to be promises delivered. And I think that’s certainly not something that we’ve gotten out of the government. People don’t really feel like the government represents them anymore.”
Not coincidentally, Coll named government ethics and transparency as one of his campaigns biggest platforms, something that his opponents had also identified as near or at the top of their lists of priorities. However, Coll points to his last 20 years as an NYPD officer as something that’s given him a clear sense of the importance of honesty and accountability, particularly from those in a position of public authority.
“When you have government officials under a cloud of investigation, being led away in handcuffs, and then there’s no transparency as to the process, it leads people to not just see with their own eyes that the government doesn’t represent them, but probably give them the feeling that the government is not representing their interest. [Maintaining ethics] is something I’ve done for the past 20 years on the police department.”
Coll also believes that his experience as a cop has allowed him to view the county’s heroin crisis through a different lens. According to Coll, it’s just as much a medical issue as it is a legal issue.
“I think I’m the only person running who has a kind of law enforcement perspective and can think about it in a different way than others running for the county legislature,” Coll said. “I’m aware that it’s a case of people breaking the law, but also it’s a medical issue.
The first thing that a police officer or an ambulance driver is going to see when they get there is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. The first thing that we need to do is treat that as a medical crisis. Then, simultaneously, we treat it as a crime issue as well. I think I bring that perspective because I’ve responded to these types of crises and I’ve seen them firsthand.”
Also on Coll’s agenda is addressing what he sees as a disproportionate relationship between taxes and services provided by the county, noting that, “When my father moved here, he moved here because it was a better way of life. Today, we see taxes going up, yet the services seem to be in decline. Those are things that need to be addressed and are not being addressed.”
One of the more popular talking points among the candidates has been the cost of living on Long Island, and on this front, Coll was outspoken in his belief that the cost must go down.
“Certainly there are issues over taxation in the county; the fact that my father was able to move us, when I was 9, from Brooklyn to Nassau County, we don’t see that anymore,” Coll said. “We see people unable to stay and live in the county, young people fleeing to go elsewhere, and we need to figure out how to keep people here, and that is to bring the cost of living down.”
Like his opponents, Coll has no prior experience in politics, which he considers advantageous towards his goal of distancing himself from the corrupt environment bred by some of the county’s previous officials. He also theorized that, as someone with no prior ties to political parties or special interests, he will be indebted solely to the residents of his district if he is elected, which he believes should be true of any public official.
“I can bring a fresh set of eyes to problems that are developing and problems that have been plaguing the county for years that these entrenched interests can’t seem to get a grip on,” Coll said, adding that he’s knocked on the doors of thousands of constituents. “People are tired of being told the same thing. They’re tired of people presenting themselves as a fresh face when really, behind the scenes, it’s the same blood going through these people’s veins election after election. When I get elected, I will be indebted to my community and my neighbors who helped me get on the ballot.”
Those who can’t escape the feeling that Coll’s name or face seems familiar may recognize him as the officer who helped endangered passengers during the Miracle on the Hudson rescue. However, Coll is quick to downplay his heroism, insisting that, while he’s certainly proud of his achievements, “that’s not why I decided to run.”
“Through the police department, I can see the good things that government can do when we have good people in the government,” Coll said. “When people are selfless, when people get into a job in the government to do the right things, the police department or the county legislature—or any position—really affords the opportunity for you to do really good things. Elections are about choices. I want to give the voters a choice.”