County executive candidates each promised minority community leaders they would rebuild trust with police and sustain needed social services Thursday night during their final faceoff before Tuesday's election.
Democrat Steve Bellone and Republican Angie Carpenter appeared Thursday night before nearly 300 people at Central Islip Senior High School. The forum, titled Growing a Diverse Long Island, was sponsored by the Spanish-language newspaper Noticia and the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a collection of advocacy organizations.
Despite the tighter focus on issues of importance to Suffolk's low-income neighborhoods, the candidates often found a way to return to their respective platforms, mentioned at previous debates. Still, Bellone, the Babylon supervisor, and Carpenter, the county treasurer, offered several concrete reforms to the Suffolk Police Department.
The U.S. Department of Justice in September criticized the department for its handling of hate crimes, and suggested improving relations between officers and minority communities.
Carpenter said she'd decentralize the police's gang unit and return team members to each precinct. She said that she would install a "respected" police commissioner who would better balance enforcement with community policing. Current Commissioner Richard Doomer has faced criticism over the policing of immigrant communities.
"We want aggressive enforcement of the law, but we don't ever want it to appear like people are being" mistreated, she said. "There has to be a heart in everything that's done."
Bellone also said community policing will be improved but added that a data-driven deployment of resources would be emphasized, and if results aren't met, precinct commanders would be held accountable. "We need data instantaneously," he said, "so resources are being deployed in the places and the communities where the crimes are actually happening."
When it came to social programs, the candidates said the county would need to be creative in this economy, seeking grants and partnering with more nonprofits that provide job training and after-school programs. Bellone touted a resource center that Babylon Town opened in Wyandanch to prepare residents for jobs on a planned hamlet redevelopment. Carpenter said she worked as a legislator to provide Bay Shore more resources.
The candidates took fewer direct shots at each other than in past debates, though Carpenter said that one can't "buy" county experience, a reference to Bellone's heavy fundraising advantage. Bellone again brought up Carpenter's criticism of how long the Wyandanch redevelopment has taken.
The loudest cheers of the night for each candidate came after the simplest statements, such as their emphasis that hate crimes would be accurately reported, or that they'd support access to translators in many county departments.
"I think the nature of the forum eally pushed the elected officials to address the concerns of the community," said Daniel Altschuler, Civic Engagement Table coordinator.