By Hank Russell
With Steve Bellone set to leave office at the end of next year as the result of term limits, some contenders are already stepping up to replace him. One of them is Dave Calone.
Calone spoke at the LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) meeting on December 2 about his candidacy for Suffolk County executive. He also took ideas from those in attendance on what needs to be done to make Suffolk better. Although he is running as a Democrat, Calone said, “There isn’t a left way to do that or a right way to do that. It’s what is the commonsense way to do that.”
Calone was a federal prosecutor who helped prosecute al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks and oil companies who defrauded those who served in the military. He worked under then-New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer as a state prosecutor. In his role, he handled nursing home and Medicaid fraud cases. During one of those cases, he helped negotiate the return of $80 million in taxpayer money, which is the largest return of taxpayer funds in the state’s history.
He soon left the public sector to form companies on Long Island and around the world. He created the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund to help launch companies coming out from the local scientific and educational institutions. He also chaired Patriot Boot Camp to help returning war veterans start their own businesses. His other positions include chief of the Suffolk County Planning Commission and a member of Suffolk’s Superstorm Sandy Task Force and its COVID-19 task force to help small businesses recover from the pandemic.
“There’s never been someone who’s been a federal prosecutor who’s been a county executive, there’s never been someone coming from the business community as county executive, and I’m both,” he said. “I think it brings a different vision and a different view for Suffolk County.”
When asked why he is running, Calone replied, “I saw an opportunity here in Suffolk County to make a difference for the next decade. I’ve been with the county but I’ve never been in a position of political leadership, realizing there has never been someone from the private sector, so I could bring a new perspective.”
So far, Calone has raised $1 million for his campaign. In addition, he has reached out to business groups, community and political leaders. He also said he has received endorsements from both Democrats and Republicans, including Art Laffer, who was Ronald Reagan’s economic adviser; Randy Altschuler, who ran as a U.S. Congressional candidate, Robert Curcio, former vice chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party; Steve Lauro, former finance director for Donald Trump.
“We’re building a coalition because, at the end of the day, it is about what’s best for Long Island and moving Suffolk County forward,” said Calone.
Calone said he is different from other candidates. “[The voters] are looking for someone who’s not an insider, who hasn’t been in government forever, but brings different perspectives. ,,, it’s about bringing in new ideas, innovating and problem solving.”
During his work with the Planning Commission, he helped streamline the permitting process by creating a form from the county that would be accepted by all the towns within Suffolk. This won an award from the National Association of Counties.
Calone said the focus should be on small businesses and making it easier for entrepreneurs to start a business in Suffolk County. The state has “a nine-step process” to start a business, “but we can use technology to make that vastly easier.” He also said Suffolk could be the only place in New York to start a business for free. “What a message that would send.”
He also pitched the idea of a unifying permitting portal for real estate development. He said he proposed the idea while he was with the Planning Commission, but it never went anywhere. With the portal, he said, the form would be sent to the county and the local municipalities involved, reducing time and paperwork.
“Government needs to be more transparent,: he said, “and, with technology, it can be more transparent.”
Another topic that Calone addressed was housing. He noted that Suffolk’s housing prices are driving the younger generation away “and it’s only getting worse. … The chances of [younger people] returning to Long Island are very small.” He cited a project he was involved in in Broward County, Florida, where the local community college leased the land to private developers so that they can build housing for younger residents.
Land is the most expensive part of housing, Calone said, and Suffolk government is the largest landowner in the county. Citing the Broward County model, he said Suffolk County Community College in Selden would be an ideal place to build apartments for recent college graduates. “Suffolk has a lot of single-family housing, but there’s not a lot of entry-level and starter homes. … We need that next generation to stay here and grow here.”
Suffolk has never done a land use inventory, according to Calone. “We should figure out how to do that [inventory] and what we need and what we don’t need,” he said. “Do we need all these buildings? Do we need all this space? Can we sell some of it off or use it for other things?”
To offset the cost of development. Calone suggested the creation of tax increments, in which the future tax revenues would be bonded to pay for infrastructure for upcoming projects. This is done elsewhere in the country, he said, but not in Suffolk.
Transportation was another issue that was discussed. Calone said the LIRR was mainly designed to take passengers to and from New York City and only goes east to west and more north-to-south connectivity is needed. The East End, which he calls “a transportation desert,” is in dire need of public transportation
“We need to reinvent transportation,” he said, meaning that Suffolk needs to develop a new network comprising of technology and mini-buses with on-demand transportation.
Calone said the key to Suffolk’s future is not planning out for the next year or next four years, but for the next 10 years. “The things we do now, these changes, take some time, so you have to think, ‘What is the next decade for Suffolk County and how do we get where we want to get to?’”
LIMBA Chairman Ernie Fazio said Calone made some good points at the meeting. “I think he [had] a well-rounded presentation. He covered a lot of area and a lot of it is well-thought out. … David has a great reputation that precedes him.”
When asked if he would vote for Calone, Fazio replied, “Yeah, I would. Definitely.”