Kevin Thomas, a Democrat from Levittown, is up against Dennis Dunne Sr., a Republican from Levittown, and Jonathan Gunther, a Libertarian from Levittown, in the race to see who will represent the constituents of the New York State Senate’s Sixth District. Thomas first won the seat in 2018, when he unseated 15-year incumbent Kemp Hannon.
The Herald asked the candidates a series of questions on the issues facing the residents of District 6, editing their responses for style and clarity.
Herald: The coronavirus pandemic has devastated our local economy, shutting down businesses and causing steep losses in revenue. What can you do to help the economy recover and get the funding to the people who need it the most?
Thomas: From the start of the crisis, I have been working with state, county and local officials to make sure our healthcare and essential workers and senior living facilities got as much PPE as possible. I worked with state and private groups on getting as many testing sites to the district as possible. I secured funds and resources for several food and PPE distributions throughout the district. My staff has been working tirelessly helping constituents and small businesses with any and all issues ranging from unemployment, mortgage relief and grant applications to every aspect of reopening. I’ve been doing virtual town halls, webinars on personal and small business finances, mortgage relief, domestic abuse workshops and even several story times with second graders. We are now working on getting everyone back to work and school as safely and quickly as possible. I’ve been working with our school districts to make sure they have the guidance and resources they need to protect our children and faculty. I’ve been working with our chambers of commerce and business community on planning to reopen safely and providing them with sanitizer and PPE for their businesses. I have lobbied for increased federal relief to my partners in congress and I made sure our education funding will remain at the same record levels I secured for our schools in 2019.
Dunne: Helping business owners, as well as the economy, recover from the devastating impacts of the Coronavirus is a major challenge. I have some experience on this matter in my role as a Town of Hempstead Councilman. In fact, I worked with Supervisor Don Clavin in developing the township’s Covid-19 response. Among the important measures that we implemented were zoning provisions and “express building permits” for outdoor restaurant dining. Indeed, Hempstead Town was the first town on Long Island to provide for restaurant dining in parking areas and public sidewalks to help food establishments recover. What’s more, we are working collaboratively with Nassau County to distribute PPE kits to businesses throughout the area. This has mitigated costs for business owners and has eased access to supplies that they need to continue operating during this difficult time. Furthermore, Hempstead Town is poised to embark on a major advertising campaign that will encourage residents and visitors to return to local business districts for safe and socially distanced shopping and dining. At the state level, I think that our representatives need to advocate aggressively for more federal funds and allocate state resources directly to our local communities and our region’s businesses. What’s more, our state officials must push the governor for more consistent policies as they relate to local business re-openings. For instance, restaurants and other eateries have to restrict the number of customers to a percentage of their ordinary capacity while catering houses have been capped at 50 people, irrespective of the capacity of their facilities. Finally, New York State needs to partner with local governments, just as the Town of Hempstead has partnered with Nassau County, to benefit area businesses. Otherwise, recovery efforts may lack maximum coordination and effectiveness.
Gunther: I don’t believe funding is going to solve the problem of the economy. We need to end regulations on businesses. Not only new ones that have been put in place by Governor orders but even before covid there are regulations that restrict businesses from prospering. All governor orders have to come to an end. Businesses need to be able to be back fully in business fully. We also need to end the state income tax and lower taxes like the property tax so we can have real relief. Funding just means more debt and it is not a good economical plan.
Herald: Housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues for residents, particularly millennials and seniors. What can you do to help bring economic relief to those struggling to afford to live on Long Island?
Thomas: The lack of affordable housing and skyrocketing costs are driving out seniors who have lived here their wholes lives and preventing young people from moving in and starting their families here. In my first term, I permanently capped property taxes at two percent and continued the middle-class tax cuts. I have voted against tax hikes over forty times, while delivering Nassau its fair share of state resources. I believe in smart affordable transit based housing development and secured $225,000 for a housing study for the Town of Hempstead. I have also worked to provide infrastructure improvements necessary to attract new affordable housing development.
Dunne: Housing affordability has been a serious issue in all of the suburbs that surround New York City. It is a matter that I take seriously. Hempstead Town is the first town on Long Island to create an affordable component in its building zone ordinance. I am an advocate of requiring all multi-family residential developments to have a set aside for next generation or workforce homes. I have also supported the development of transit-oriented housing in our township. Transit-oriented development is a building zone provision that allows greater building density for developments that are in close proximity to mass transit, such as train stations. Of course, these projects encourage the use of mass transit, but they also attract younger workers who want the convenience of being located near transportation to New York City. At the same time, the greater density facilitates greater affordability. The Town of Hempstead has also provided for senior citizen accessory apartments. This allows senior citizens who own single-family homes to construct accessory apartments. This provision helps seniors who are on a fixed income and it increases the affordable housing stock for young people. Finally, I would like to see New York State incentivize affordable set asides in the development of multi-family developments in our region.
Herald: If elected, what are some of the issues you hope to address in the upcoming term?
Thomas: In my first term, I secured record school aid for Nassau County, and over $500 million to clean up the Grumman Plume while making the property tax cap permanent, which will save taxpayers $189.9 billion over the next decade. All of this, in addition to new funding for our infrastructure, groundbreaking protections for our environment, relief for our student loan borrowers and common sense gun violence prevention made it one of the most productive sessions in New York state history. I will continue to fight to protect our taxpayers, bring the school and infrastructure funding our district deserves. We have a plan for a real clean up the Grumman Plume and the state funds to start the decades long process, I will ensure we have safe, affordable drinking water for our children and grandchildren. I worked hard to make sure Route 109 in Farmingdale will be repaved next year, and fought for repairs and safety improvements along Route 24, where much more needs to be done. Saving Nassau University Medical Center is also a top priority for my next term. It is an essential medical facility in the heart of Nassau and I will not let it fail.
Dunne: My major priorities in the State Senate include community safety, as well as controlling taxes and spending. Violent mobs are destroying our cities, looting stores, vandalizing private property and assaulting law-abiding citizens and the police. The reckless actions of the majority political parties in the legislature have had a corrosive effect on the harmony of our society. At the same time, the out-of-control spending of our state government placed the Empire State in fiscal chaos long before the Covid-19 pandemic hit our country. These are dangerous times, and I stand with the police to keep our neighborhoods safe. Extreme bail reform has resulted in 90 percent of inmates being set free from jails to wreak havoc again. Judges are powerless to detain dangerous gang members and drug dealers while they await trial. My opponent supported the bail reform law, which has dumped thousands of criminals back onto our streets. And, his “discovery reform” law has forced prosecutors to turn over the names, addresses and phone numbers of victims and witnesses to accused criminals. This legislation has terrorized victims and is having a chilling effect on people who are witnesses to crimes. What’s more, I stand with good neighbors and law enforcement in fighting all efforts to defund the police. I will fight to repeal my opponent’s bail reform and discovery reform laws in a quest to make our neighborhoods and our state safe again. New York State has fallen prey to fiscal mismanagement and gluttonous spending.
Some politicians blame the Covid-19 pandemic for the state’s projected $30 billion deficit. However, every governmental finance expert will tell you that New York faced a $10 billion budget hole before the pandemic hit. Budget transparency and openness are lacking in the state’s budget process. The Governor’s spending plan priorities are conducted behind closed doors. As a result, we see regressive tax policies, such as the new $1 billion commuter tax that was supported by my opponent. The tax, which will slam every driver who enters Manhattan, affects everyone, regardless of income or ability to pay. And, it is a prime example of how Long Island Senators like my opponent attempt to balance the budget of a debt-riddled New York City mass transit system on the backs of Long Islanders.