For almost 15 years, Fred W. Thiele, Jr. has served as the New York State Assemblyman for the second assembly district, before that building a career working for, and in, town governments and on the Suffolk County Legislature since 1975 – a career in public service that spans over 30 years.
During the same period, William Michael Pitcher also found himself in life dedicated to public service, as a reporter turned editor, who after 30 years found himself on the other side of the fourth estate working in press offices at the county legislature and Brookhaven Town before finding his current position as legislative aide to Suffolk County Presiding Officer William J. Lindsay.
Â And for both Thiele and Pitcher, it is their experiences, varied yet similar, that they say is the reason East End and Brookhaven residents should choose them on November 4 for a seat in the state assembly.
Thiele, the Republican candidate and incumbent and Pitcher, the Democrat challenger, will face off at a League of Women Voters sponsored debate on Thursday, October 23 at 7 p.m. at the Bridgehampton Union Free School District. The debate will also feature a statement by New York State Senator Ken LaValle, who is running unopposed for his seat, as well as a debate between Southampton Town Board candidates Dan Russo and Sally Pope. Southampton Town Justice candidates Thomas DeMayo and Andrea Schiavoni will also square off that evening.
This week both Thiele and Pitcher acknowledged whoever is elected to the assembly will have a lot to contend with in the face of a staggeringly bleak economy.
“The State of New York, we are the home of the financial industry,” said Pitcher on Tuesday. “We are going to take an enormous hit in taxes. There will be very painful cuts that have to be made, and that is not a topic for debate, that is just reality.”
“I think the financial meltdown on Wall Street has overtaken the campaigns on every level of government,” said Thiele on Wednesday. “Given our proximity to New York City and the impact Wall Street has on our economy, which is based in real estate and second homeowners, I think people are very concerned about this situation.”
On the state level, Thiele said the effects would be felt across the board.
“Issues like the environment, clean water and open space are still important, but we are at a time nationally where pocketbook issues become more important to everyone.”
Property tax reform will be Thiele’s number one goal if reelected to his seat – an issue, he noted he has been fighting on behalf of for years, most recently traveling across his district to educate residents about a proposed property tax increase cap, one of many suggestions from Governor David Paterson’s commission on the topic.
“I think, from my perspective, that has to be the first order of business,” said Thiele.
Thiele said next up will be tackling a difficult budget season, with state revenues sure to decline and the assembly forced to make some very difficult cuts.
“That being said, education, health care and the environment are all critical areas that should not be cut,” said Thiele.
Locally, Thiele said, he plans to continue to focus on issues like the rebirth of Southampton College, ensuring as the college continues to evolve and grow it has state support, similar to the funding it received for a new marine center this year.
Thiele said transportation on the East End is another issue he will continue to focus on locally, and it is his hope the completed Volpe Study – a transportation assessment of the East End – will provide some real answers for how the state, county and local governments can counter the problem.
Pitcher said he would like to see Long Island get more of its fair share of monies from the state, especially during economically hard times. He charged Long Island already takes such a hit – paying some $10 billion to the state and getting no more back than $6 million in services.
“We are nothing but a cash cow for the rest of the state,” he said. “We may be facing a fiscal crisis, but the fact of the matter is the State of New York cannot expect Long Island to bail them out.”
In addition to fighting for a fair return of tax dollars, Pitcher said he would also like to see a law passed that bans the use of inorganic pesticides within 500 feet of any wetlands.
“I want to start by requiring it for residential homes and would like to begin a similar dialogue with the farming community,” said Pitcher. “I certainly would never want to put unilateral legislation in place that would make it more difficult for farmers to make a living.”