Islip Town Council candidates
There are four people running for two seats on the Islip Town Council this year. Only one of them is an incumbent, Republican Trish Bergin Weichbrodt (R,C,I WE) and three are newcomers: Jason Fenley (D,WF), Sam Gonzalez (D,WF) and James O’Connor (R,C,I WE).
The Suffolk County News spoke with two of the candidates, Fenley and Bergin Weichbrodt, in last week’s paper. This week we spoke with Gonzalez and O’Connor.
Samuel Gonzalez Jr. (D, WF)
A longtime Islip Town resident, Sam Gonzalez is running for Islip Town Council. He is no stranger to campaigns. In 2012, he was the Democratic candidate for state Assembly in the sixth district. He is now serving as president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1430.
The candidate started his labor career as a shop steward with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, worked his way to lead organizer, and was eventually recruited by IBEW. He now leads negotiations for the union in contract talks with major corporations throughout the United States.
Gonzalez resides in Brentwood and has been an active volunteer in his community. He decided to run for the town seat because “people have lost confidence in this town board. They’re not listening to what they have to say.”
He added that most of the people he has spoken to on the campaign trail believe that even when given the opportunity to speak, the board’s decisions have already been made. He noted that this is especially true with large developments. Projects such as Heartland, which he said would put a terrible strain on infrastructure and schools; the proposed 1,300-plus unit development on the Islip Hills property in Sayville; and the proposed rezoning and development for Knoll Farm in Brentwood and Fairway Manor in Bayport, all have the potential to hurt neighborhoods.
“They changed the covenants to Fairway that allowed that developer to expand, and it was all done cloak and dagger,” he said. “The zoning goes through because they haven’t had a cohesive conversation with people in the community. They make decisions from their desks. We need a change.
“I’ve been fighting the fight for those who can’t speak,” he added.
Gonzalez said that high taxes are a major issue for people in Islip. “[The town board] raised taxes 45 percent. I want them to hold the line on taxes,” he said, noting that both youth and seniors living on a fixed income can’t make ends meet, so many of them have reluctantly had to move away.
“Who is going to be left here?” he said.
The candidate said he believes the town needs fewer taxes but more resources to help those in need. And he said more programs for youth are necessary to keep kids safe and help them to make good choices. “We have a battle going on now,” he remarked, noting the gang violence that has ripped through certain areas within the Town of Islip.
“I feel strongly about restoring community resources and I’d be a proactive voice for the kids.”
Gonzalez said he’d also work to bring large companies into the town that offer better-paying jobs. And he’d work for smaller businesses as well. “We need to create a small-business initiative and cut out a lot of the red tape. Everything is so dragged out,” he said, noting that within the town, businesses could take up to a year to open because of the bureaucracy.
As a union president, Gonzalez said he is for apprenticeship program language to be implemented in the town to insure the safety of well-trained skilled workers on the jobsite. “The town board went against it,” he said.
He said he does not approve of the Bay Shore parking meters because they hurt businesses and customers. “The [shoppers] will go somewhere else. But the people they hurt the most are the people who have to take the railroad,” he said, noting that a parking fee is in addition to the hefty fees commuters must pay.
“The revenue that comes from the meters is supposed to go back into Bay Shore and not the general fund. That’s happening because the general fund is depleted,” he said. “[The town] is just trying to get more money because of the mismanagement.
“I’ll look out for the taxpayers’ interests. This is why I am running for office. I can’t take their mismanagement anymore.
“I want communities to gain back that trust from local government.”
Gonzalez is married, the father of two grown children, and he and his wife have two grandchildren.
James O’Connor (R, C, I, WE)
Great River resident James O’Connor is adept in the political process, having served as a councilman for the Town of North Hempstead from 1997-2001. Then in 2015, he ran a race against the incumbent Suffolk County executive. He said a love of public service and a desire to give back to his community is the reason he has decided to run for office.
O’Connor, an attorney with a private practice, has been practicing law since 1989. In 2005, then-NYS Gov. George Pataki appointed him to serve as general attorney of the NYS Insurance Fund. In 2012, Gov. Pataki and NYS Insurance superintendent Greg Serio appointed him special deputy superintendent of insurance, New York Liquidation Bureau.
An Islip Town resident since 2003, O’Connor has become involved locally. The father of a child with special needs, he is active in the autism community and is now serving as a Great River Fire Department commissioner. “I always look for ways to help out,” he said. If elected, one of the ways he hopes to help is to address the serious opioid issues.
“It’s terrifying,” said O’Connor. “People are so afraid because no one has ever seen anything like this before. I want to focus on how we can do better by putting programs in place that could help to prevent these tragedies.”
The candidate said he’s prepared to face some of the other issues in Islip Town. In terms of concerns about large developments, he said developers tend to “get greedy” in their proposals for projects and that they need to be more sensitive to the needs of all residents. “I think it is getting better, though,” he said.
“But we do need to find housing for seniors, [working youth] and people with special needs.”
He said the adoption of apprenticeship language for large construction projects in the town is something he’s open to hearing more about. “I’m open to the possibility,” he said. “I look forward to hearing from unions.”
And regarding the Bay Shore parking meters, he responded, “I have an open mind.
“I understand the concerns of the community and I think the town is working on addressing that. But there is a need for parking management.
“I also understand the meters from a municipal perspective,” he added. “[The town] is stressed and the public doesn’t want to have tax increases, but costs are escalating. They have to find alternative sources of revenue.”
O’Connor said that although various situations in the town are currently “less than perfect,” he believes that the town has done an excellent job nevertheless.
“I love the [Islip] community and I’d like to be able to help preserve our quality of life,” he said. While on the campaign trail, O’Connor said he has had as good of a time this year as he did while campaigning in 2015.
“I love it,” he said. “I enjoy meeting new people and I like solving problems.”
O’Connor said he has the knowledge and experience to do the job of running local government and would be happy to have that opportunity.
“I hope to bring that dynamic to the Islip Town Board.”
O’Connor is married to Maureen, a cardiologist in West Islip, and they have three children, ages 25, 21 and 15.
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