As the Nov. 5 election nears, the three candidates who are competing to serve the 15th District in the Nassau County Legislature are debating why people should vote for them.
In this interview with all three candidates, incumbent (R) John R. Ferretti Jr., (D) Frances A. Avnet and (L) Jon Gunther sit down with the Tribune to make their case, discussing specific issues about Levittown and its surrounding communities.
Q: What makes you the right choice for legislator for the 15th District?
Ferretti: First and foremost, my experience. I feel like I’ve done a strong job so far. I want to keep our community a place we can afford to live, but a place where we feel safe enough to live. That’s been my goal throughout my first term. I haven’t voted for any tax increases. I eliminated the county executive’s little league tax. I opposed what I find to be is an unfair reassessment. At the same time, I fought to re-open the Eighth Precinct, even though the county executive opposed it.
Avnet: I’ve been doing union representation work for 10 years, and you deal with all kinds of issues. I find that I enjoy helping people solve their problems. I enjoy fighting for the common man. Being a union rep is a lot like being a legislator because you have two parties—managers and workers—always far apart on the issues. You’re the liaison between them, and you try to get them to an equitable compromise.
Gunther: I’m the right choice because my main goal is to keep government out of your life, socially or economically. Kids are leaving the county, district and state because taxes are so high. My ultimate goal would be to eventually get rid of property taxes, but the first thing would be cutting taxes as much as I can and cutting the assessment program that we have.
Q: What do you want people to know about you they might not know?
Ferretti: I’m here for them. I work for the tax-payers and my constituents. I am responsive and open on social media. Aside from 14 town hall meetings [on reassessments], I’ve held six other town halls. I held one-on-one mobile office meetings, where I set up at one of the libraries. I’ve held Facebook live town hall meetings. Accessibility is one of my goals, because to be an effective legislator, I need to know what the community is feeling. When rodents came in, whether it was on people’s property or in the movie theater, I say, “Let’s hear from the community.” Government should be hearing from your residents, then setting up a forum for them to hear from each other and taking action. That’s what I’m all about and what I want to continue to do.
Avnet: They should know I’m a life-long resident. I tend to take a long view of situations, meaning that it’s not about solving a present problem, but also looking towards the future to see what’s happening now that we can work on so it’s not a problem tomorrow.
Gunther: I want them to know I’m a good person and I care about everyone. I care about their living situations. I want them to be left alone and not bothered by the government, so they can pursue their own happiness. The government is an obstacle in people’s lives that keeps them from pursuing happiness. I stick by high morals and I’m a good person.
Q: What is the biggest problem facing Levittown right now?
Ferretti: There are two huge problems that are equally troubling for Levittown residents. Number one is the unfair implementation of the assessment. I’m doing everything I can through my Assessment Bill of Rights to give residents fairness, transparency and accuracy. The Nassau County Democrats in the New York State Senate in April passed bail reform. This is very troubling. It takes our criminal justice system and turns it upside down. In January, according to a testimony by the Nassau County Police Commissioner [Patrick Ryder], more than 300 inmates currently in jail will be released. Additionally, Nassau County arrests on average about 50 people per day. Of those 50, 40 that would otherwise be behind bars will be back on the street, like selling weapons in a school zone, dealing drugs, burglary and more. These are violent crimes. In my district, the jail is right there. The district attorney, who’s a Democrat, gave testimony about this and she’s adamantly opposed to it.
Avnet: In Levittown, we’re not moving towards developing a viable downtown. In Levittown’s case, it can be economically-deadly for the reason that we have a hub project on one side of us, Farmingdale has a vibrant downtown and Hicksville is bringing in exciting experiences. If you drive up and down Hempstead Turnpike, there’s a fair share of empty buildings. We need to clean up the area. We need to work with the NICE bus system and different community groups. People in Levittown have ambition.
Q: What can be improved in and around Levittown?
Ferretti: Levittown is a great community and I’ve lived here my whole life. I bought a house two doors down from where I grew up. We’re always trying to improve our community, but we have to do it while keeping costs down. We’re a community built by veterans for veterans, so whatever we can do for our veterans is important. Additionally, I’m always looking for projects within our community. I’m trying to secure funding to revitalize the park on Polaris Drive and put artificial turf on the baseball field. I want to make it nicer. I would love to maintain it better. We have road work projects that we’re getting funding for. I made it a priority to get our roads fixed and it takes time, but we’re seeing them fixed. The dog park in Eisenhower Park is a mess, so we’re going to put turf there and evergreen trees around it. We need to do more with less.
Gunther: I went to the parks around Levittown and cleaned it up myself. There were pieces of glass everywhere. We can get the community together to clean up these parks instead of waiting on the town or county to clean up every once in a while. There’s also plenty of pot holes here, so we want to make sure they’re fixed as fast as possible.
Q: What makes Levittown unique in your mind?
Ferretti: It’s ironic in a way that Levittown’s uniqueness as America’s first suburb is that the houses are not unique. Other than a cape and a ranch, all of the houses look the same. We’re growing into a more diverse community.
Avnet: Maybe we need to make Levittown even more unique. We pride ourselves on being the first suburban development. But maybe we need to look beyond that and say, “Hey. We’re a community of the 21st Century.”
Q: What made you want to get involved in politics?
Ferretti: Prior to being a legislator, I worked in government for the most of the last 20 years. I’ve learned that good government is good politics. If you do the right thing by residents and do what’s fiscally responsible, people will appreciate it. I’ve had great role models as an elected official. I have a desire to do good things for the community, and I want to make sure that Levittown remains a suburban area. What I see from the Democrats is an attempt to turn our nice suburban life into the sixth borough.
Avnet: I like helping solve people’s problems. When I became an executive board member of my union, what it did was gave me a broader national view of what’s going on. If I want to help people and continue to help people, one of the best ways to do that is be there and craft the laws. We can be the people’s voice, not a corporation’s voice.
Q: Who do you look up to in the political realm?
Ferretti: Dennis Dunne was a great legislator and is currently a great councilman. Gary Hughes, a former councilman, his constituent services were second to none. Don Clavin taught me that I can be a conservative-minded person and that renewable energy can be a conservative idea. It’s our environment and if we transform to an electric environment, it saves money. He taught me about embracing technology.
Avnet: I really admire women who become president of their country. I admire Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland. She became a spokesperson of what it means to be Irish and, more importantly, modern Irish beyond the stereotypes.
Q: What do you look forward to doing if elected?
Ferretti: I look forward to continuing to develop relationships with my constituents. The best thing is making the residents feel they’re stakeholders in the process. I want to continue working on the county roads. We’ve gotten five of the 11 done, and I want them all complete. I want to continue fighting every single day. It’s an imminent danger we’re facing. We have a very unique jail given that it’s smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
Gunther: I would try to reverse a lot of laws, including the criminalization of marijuana. All 19 legislators voted to opt-out of the state’s decision to decriminalize marijuana. It would be hard to do anything because there are 18 others, but at least there would be a voice there to talk about the issue. We also need to work on the reassessment ordeal. I know John Ferretti approves laws like helmets for kids that someone under a certain age need to wear a helmet or else their parents will be fined. I want the parents to parent their children. We want to put parenting back into the parent’s hands.
Q: What issues have you learned while campaigning that you didn’t think of until now?
Ferretti: You always learn new things. I feel like I’ve been in touch with the community over the last 20 months, so I know the issues. A key to that is social media. I learned about the bike ride-out issue through social media. My system is that, when I hear about an issue, I have a town hall issue and see people eye-to-eye. You always hear about new things when you go around campaigning. The main thing I hear is taxes.
Avnet: I was talking to a teacher and one of the things she told me is that teenagers are bored. I have to admit, that kind of floored me. I was under the impression that high schools offer plenty of programs. I went to the high school websites and they have an impressive array of after-school programs, so now I’ve been thinking about that a lot. We need to keep them actively engaged or else they’re going to get into trouble, whether it’s video games or opioids.