Five-term County Legislator Howard Kopel is being opposed by Dr. Karen Blitz of Rockville Centre in the Nassau County 7th legislative district. The district includes Oceanside, Rockville Centre, East Rockaway, Cedarhurst, Woodmere and parts of Hewlett, Lawrence, Baldwin, Valley Stream and Lynbrook.
The Herald asked the candidates four questions to give voters an opportunity to understand their views on issues that impact the constituents.
Herald: How would you help attack what is considered an opioid epidemic in Nassau County?
Howard Kopel: I would like to institute a mandatory 48-hour “hold” any time a person is treated for any opioid-related overdose or other opioid issue. This can help avoid the “merry go round” phenomenon of the same people repeatedly overdosing. The hold can help professionals get a handle on the individual’s issue, consult with family and arrange for help.
We also must coordinate better with state and federal authorities, as this is a national problem, and can never be fully dealt with on a local level.
Karen Blitz: I think we can learn from effective programs related to tobacco and HIV education in our schools. In both of these cases, young people were targeted with succinct and aggressive education programs, where they learned the truth about the illness or addiction.
The tactics employed had tremendous impact, and significantly decreased tobacco use and HIV risk. I think if the same programs were employed in schools now, we would impact the behavior of future generations. Education is the first step to prevention.
The second would be holding insurance companies accountable for the role they have played in this epidemic. They have made it too easy for physicians to prescribe and patients to receive opioids. In the present system, insurance companies make it more difficult to prescribe alternatives to opiates because they may have higher co-pays, or need prior authorization.
Insurance companies behaviors have to be changed to help prevent addiction. The third is to assist those who are currently addicted. More resources need to go into rehab programs and substance abuse programs that have shown to be effective. We should also fight to end the stigma around addiction that prevents addicts from seeking help.
H: What would you do to help push along the Sandy-related community reconstruction projects?
Kopel: We must help people who have still, after so long, not fully recovered. But, at the same time, we must do what we can now, while we can without a crisis, to ensure that the next flood does not have the same terrible result. Electric facilities are being hardened, but we can do more, such as installation of stronger utility poles.
Flood mitigation measures are critical in many parts of the dstrict, including East Rockaway, Oceanside and many parts of the Five Towns. A long-standing, shamefully neglected issue is the failure by the state to complete the Nassau Expressway. This is the only realistic emergency evacuation route for tens of thousands of people, but it is hopelessly inadequate for the task, as is.
Continued pressure on this potentially life and death issue is critical. I have been a long-standing outspoken advocate for the completion of this (and other) vital infrastructure. I will continue to speak out in the future.
Blitz: I believe that programs currently in place, such as New York Rising and Living with the Bay, are great in principle but have struggled in practice due to a myriad of issues. These programs were enacted as a reactive measure when they should have been in place before disaster struck the county—it was as if they were trying to build an airplane after the plane already took off.
It appears case managers are overwhelmed and have a high turnover rate, thus cannot provide due diligence to each family they need to work with, resulting in a stalled process. Beyond that, the issue spans from the local to the federal government, as some families have been tied up in lawsuits with FEMA that have slowed their relief process.
One of the most important things we can do to ensure that relief projects are seen to completion is to remember that families are still trying to rebuild five years later. Too often victims are forgotten with the storm years in the past, which leads to apathy and reconstruction projects failing.
I would also work to strengthen the infrastructure in areas that were affected the most to help prevent flooding in the future. With more oversight and more diligent and enthusiastic managers, we will see these projects through and see these families finally rebuild stronger than before the storm.
H: What would you do to help ensure that the possible redevelopment of the Woodmere Club is done to maintain or possibly improve your constituents’ quality of life?
Kopel: I am on record as opposing the significant development proposed for this site. I have been working for months with residents and the relevant governmental bodies (primarily the Town of Hempstead and the Village of Woodsburgh) to ensure that the quality of life of residents is not unreasonably impacted.
The local infrastructure is old and was never designed for the numbers of cars and people that already live in the area. Traffic is snarled on many days now, and [an] addition of hundreds of more cars at peak times could bring the entire area to a halt every day. In addition, covering large areas of open land with homes and streets in this location could severely increase flooding problems for all area residents.
Any development must take into account not only the property rights of the developer, but also the legitimate concerns of the thousands of people who could be adversely impacted by development that is not carefully planned, limited and controlled.
Blitz: Redeveloping the Woodmere Club into residential housing would be an environmental and logistical disaster, and citizens have been voicing their concerns since the idea of selling the club first went public.
I will defend the interests of the residents of the areas surrounding the club, and most are opposed to a residential development here. It would further congest an overcrowded area, destroy green, environmental land in favor of housing complexes and diminish the property value of the homes already in the area, among many other issues.
Moreover it would further change the fabric of the surrounding community. The land cannot sustain a residential structure and the residents do not want it, so I would work with the Town of Hempstead zoning board to ensure that the land can remain a green haven in the center of the Five Towns. Although residential housing is an important idea, it should not be done here.
H: What qualifies you to be re-elected?
Kopel: After serving four terms in the Nassau County Legislature, I have worked hard to learn the issues that are important to the constituents and have tried my best to enact legislation which will help not only the constituents of my district, but all residents of Nassau County.
I am gratified that my colleagues of the Nassau County Legislature have elected me the Alternate Deputy Presiding Officer and Majority Whip and I can promise you that with all humility I take the responsibilities of this position extremely seriously.
I have tried to utilize my decades of private sector business experience and knowledge to help craft legislation that impacts county residents in a positive way.
In 2014, I was the lead proponent and drafted legislation which dramatically improved finances, by bringing to an end the practice of borrowing money to pay real estate tax refunds. This landmark county legislation has been termed as one of the most significant financial reform in the history of Nassau County. In addition I recently took the lead in halting a misguided initiate to "lease" the county sewer system to a private entity, which could have resulted in significant increases in resident's sewer tax.
Finally, I am proud of working with local villages and civic groups to deal with the day-to-day needs of my constituent. My office has been often and, justly, praised for responsiveness to constituent needs.
H: What qualifies you to be elected?
Blitz: As a lifelong resident of Long Island and a mother of three children who grew up and attended public schools here, I am fiercely passionate about protecting the health of the residents and the environment on Long Island.
As a trained physician, I am well-suited to become a legislator, because I have been trained to assess problems and find solutions. My academic background makes me capable of balancing a budget.
As a 14-year breast cancer survivor, I have a vested interest in the high breast cancer rate on Long Island. My medical background has given me the tools to combat the rampant opioid epidemic.
As a scientist, the pollution of our water through pesticides and other contaminants greatly concerns me. As an environmentalist, I believe we should be using our natural resources, such as wind and solar power, to improve our environment.
All these issues are priorities for me that can be further explored and measures should be taken to address these critical issues. I think my experience, training and passion make me the perfect candidate to do this.