Candidate: Legislator Jim Mazzarella
Office: Suffolk County Legislature District Three
Committees: Economic Development, Planning, and Housing (Chair); Education and Labor (Chair); Public Safety (Vice Chair); Government Operations,
Personnel, IT, and Diversity
First Elected: May 2021 Special Election, elected to full term November 2021
Party Endorsements: Republican, Conservative
Notable Endorsements (including, but not limited to): All law enforcement unions, the Association of Municipal Employees (AME), Long Island Federation of Labor, Communication Workers of America (CWA).
Legislator Jim Mazzarella is running for a second full term this November after his special election in May 2021, in which he defeated long-storied incumbent Kate Browning (D) who was eyeing a comeback to this seat.
Candidate: Thad O’Neil
Residence: Brookhaven hamlet
Office Sought: Suffolk County Legislature District Three
Prior Elected Experience: None
Party Endorsements: Democratic
Notable Endorsements: Endorsements still pending due late candidacy.
Thad O’Neil, a political novice, is challenging incumbent Legislator Jim Mazzarella (R-Moriches) in the Third District for Suffolk Legislature.
Legislator Jim Mazzarella and Thad O’Neil sat down with The Messenger for one-on-one interviews for the purpose of this spotlight.
Q: What is your professional background and how does it equip you for the County Legislature?
Legislator Mazzarella: When I first bought a home in Moriches, I immediately got involved with the local civics association and quickly became a leader in the group. I became a member of the Shirley-Mastic Rotary Club as well as the Knights of Columbus. In addition to being a member of the Zoning Board for two years, I was also a member of the local library board for ten years, the last five of which I served as president.
O’Neil: I’m a community organizer and an educator. I teach people, especially kids, how to identify and solve problems. I currently teach design at the New School (which is located in New York City). Teaching problem-skills is fairly adaptable to politics. I’m also a non-profit leader of the Fire Place Initiative and the Blue Order Vagabond Surf Festival. We just got our 501(c)(3) license. We look to enhance community-organized conservation and address access, or lack thereof, to the natural environment.
I grew up surfing the outer beach; we have amazing federal land, such as Fire Island, at our fingertips. The sad reality is that large swaths of the community don’t utilize it in the ways that they should. We’re going to work with the Boys and Girls Club of Bellport to create swimming lessons for kids, which will eventually be followed by surfing lessons. We need to teach water safety in the ocean and help teach the many kids who don’t know how to swim. I also work with the Junior Farmer Program at the Hamlet Organic Garden, which is community-supported agriculture (CSA) in Brookhaven hamlet. We teach kids how to get their hands in the dirt and how to grow plants and crops. It’s a tremendous asset to the community.
First and foremost, I am an environmentalist. I balance that with a lens of fiscal responsibility and creating a thriving economy. The two can absolutely thrive and support each other and not be mutually exclusive. We need both.
I originally wanted to be a photographer, but I became more interested in designing and creating, which led to fashion design. I got my masters in philosophy at Stony Brook University, with geology and philosophy focuses during my undergraduate studies. With philosophy, I was looking to go to graduate school to become an academic, mainly teaching and publishing.
Q: What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
Legislator Mazzarella: The proudest accomplishment of the Legislature in which I was involved is certainly the implementation of the Forge River Watershed Sewer District. This project broke ground last year and it is set to connect sewers to nearly 2,000 homes and 200 businesses in the Mastic-Shirley area. This will have the largest impact on the community, the local economy, and of course the environment. There’s a whole new set of rules on how business is run because of these sewers. With no cesspools, this is a huge driver of water quality improvements for our aquifer.
I’m also proud of our efforts to enhance public safety. In 2023, I supported the hiring of 225 new Suffolk Police officers, and we initiated the first-ever foot patrol on Neighborhood Road in Mastic, one of the roughest parts of the area. We also implemented ShotSpotter technology, which helps respond to crime and even detect random gunshots.
In the Mastic area, we’ve also welcomed a new library branch, new restaurants, and a new ambulance company. We’re proud of the revitalization efforts that have gone on here.
O’Neil: As a small-business owner, I get to look at things from a few perspectives. I was in the apparel business and had an independent boutique apparel brand. We were nominated for prizes such as the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), Vogue Fashion Fund, and International Woolmark Prize. I was in that business for about ten years, starting in 2012.
Q: What do you think is the most important political issue facing Suffolk County today?
Legislator Mazzarella: Absolutely public safety. While we believe that we are able to deal with criminal matters on the local level, unfortunately, perpetrators end up back on the street within twenty-four hours. It’s frustrating for law enforcement and elected officials alike. The other problem we see is that even though some offenses might be relatively petty, we find that repeat offenders may go on to commit more serious and even violent acts. As an elected official, you constantly think “what do people want?” You can give people so much but none of it matters if they don’t feel safe. They don’t have anything if they don’t feel safe.
O’Neil: The most important is, hands-down, our water quality. The Legislature had the opportunity to put it on the ballot to let the people decide whether or not they wanted clean water, and along partisan lines it was voted down. My opponent didn’t even show up for the vote that day. You need to show up for your constituents. We have $4.2 billion in state funding alone, and even more in federal dollars, and we walked away from that. It’s unconscionable. It was not dealt with responsibly.
Q: What are your thoughts on the sewer bills?
Legislator Mazzarella: The actual “sewer” aspect of the bill was deficient. Being an elected official in a coastal county, sewers are the fastest way to protect our sole-source aquifer and our waterways, especially in our downtown areas. It’s the only way we can revitalize our communities. The problem with the bill is that the funding was split 75%-25%, with 25% for sewers and 75% for the installations of Innovative-Alternative wastewater management (I/A) systems for residents. I/A Systems are good but they take a long time to install for each individual home. The lion’s share of the money needs to go to actual sewers.
I have never worked or voted against environmental measures, so these bills need work. This bill had been worked on for a while, and none of the Republican legislators were asked for input. It was brought to a new majority with freshman legislators; we were out of the loop on its development and just asked to vote on it.
O’Neil: The reasons for the Legislature’s voting down of the bill was nothing more than semantic political gamesmanship. This was not a final bill by any means. This was just to allow people to vote on it. What they [Republicans] really didn’t want was voter turnout, because if you put a bill that’s purely nonpartisan, that’s going to bring out a lot of environmental voters. A lot of us on the South Shore sit on the water table, and we can’t install sewers, especially here in Brookhaven hamlet. We need the Innovative/Alternative Wastewater (I/A) Systems. We need sewers in Shirley-Mastic, on the other hand, where the ground can accommodate them.
Q: What is your top priority if you win this election?
Legislator Mazzarella: We have some great projects going on in the Third District. A priority of mine will be to expand the sewer district to the Mastic Beach Business District and the residents. We’re also looking forward to the beautification and revitalization of the Shirley-Mastic Beach stretch of Montauk Highway.
We’re also ready to oversee the Smith Point Bridge replacement. The drawbridge is being replaced with a center span bridge. It will be much higher than the current drawbridge. Construction will start about a year from now, hopefully as soon as spring 2024. It will be constructed to the west of the current bridge, which will be demolished when the new bridge is finished. The project will cost about $100 million. The old bridge was built in the 1950s and it’s far superseded its typical life; it’s on borrowed time. We need a new bridge, as Smith Point County Park is the most-visited park in the Suffolk County parks system. The Department of Public Works said the design is 100% complete and it will be bid on this winter. The project will probably take about three years to complete.
O’Neil: The first conversation I’m having is that of the water bill and getting it on the ballot as soon as possible. Republicans are dragging their feet and are discussing a special election in December at the expense of millions to taxpayers. Water quality is going to be my top priority. To me, that’s a top public safety priority. That’s ground-zero for public safety.
My biggest objective will be to follow through on campaign promises; my opponent has not done so. He has not shown up for the community. As a Legislator, your absence is a dereliction of public safety.
Another priority is transportation and fiscal responsibility. We’re in desperate need of rethinking public transportation. We have a Suffolk Transit on Demand pilot program that Legislator Bridget Fleming put into place. I’d love to roll something like that out across the county. Relying solely on cars doesn’t work in the long run and some people can’t rely on them, nor should we. The traffic is getting worse and the roads are a major issue. I was out in Shirley talking to a childcare professional in the neighborhood, and I asked her what’s affecting quality of life. Her top concern is speeding down her road. She’s called in over ten accidents on her small street off William Floyd Pkwy. I want to work in concert with Michael Kaplan when he’s elected Highway Superintendent.
Closing the landfill is another solution needed; that will take some work and creative thinking.
Q: What’s your favorite quote, motto, or work ethic?
Legislator Mazzarella: I always live by “treat everyone with dignity,” and treat everyone how you would like to be treated. It’s always easier to work together when you employ that mindset.
O’Neil: Since I was a little kid, my dad always said JFK’s words to me: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” That’s been in my heart forever, and I want to do the same for Suffolk County.
Q: How do you like to connect with and enjoy your community?
Legislator Mazzarella: I live in Moriches and I grew up in the area. When I was a kid, I grew up by the airport and would ride my bike to Smith Point. I love the beach and being out on the water, especially while boating. If I had my choice to be anywhere, it’s out on Moriches Bay.
O’Neil: I was born and raised in Brookhaven hamlet and I’ve been up and down Smith Point Beach since I was a baby. My father was a surfer, clammer, and Longwood Public School teacher. My mother did ten years on the local library board. The most sacred place to me is the ocean and I love to enjoy our great beaches with my wife of twenty years and our two children.
The Messenger thanks Legislator Mazzarella and Thad O’Neil for taking time to sit down with us for this candidate spotlight.
The Messenger’s forecast for Suffolk County Legislature’s Third District: Safe Republican
Note that race ratings are not endorsements of either candidate. It is just a handicap of which direction in which we think the race leans.