Working across the aisle, they got good things done

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Yes, Virginia. There are examples of elected officials on both sides of the aisle who work together to craft good results for their constituents.

Suffolk County Legis. Rob Calarco, a Democrat, and Brookhaven Town councilman Neil Foley, a Republican, have collaborated on many projects over the last 10 years of Calarco’s term, eight during Foley’s. 

Calarco laughed when he remembered the first time he met Foley, a Blue Point resident.

“I knocked on Neil’s door when I was running for the state Assembly race,” Calarco recalled. “He told me, ‘Oh yeah, everyone says you’re a good guy.’ He made it clear he was engaged with his party, but he said, ‘I wish you the best of luck.’”

“After that point in time, he ran for councilman, taking Tim Mazzei’s seat (Mazzei served as Brookhaven councilman from 2003-2014 and has served as a Suffolk County Court Judge 10th District since 2015.). Neil’s always been a gentleman,” he continued. “When he was elected, I reached out to him. There’s a long history between the legislators here and the councilmen working together, and we both agreed that was the best approach.”

Calarco was a Democratic candidate for District 3 of the New York State Assembly in 2010 and was defeated by Dean Murray. He won the 7th Legislative district in November 2011 and had been successfully reelected consecutively until last November.

Calarco was asked about the project they first worked on.

“It was probably the Medford Memorial Park,” he said. “There were a lot of downtown revitalization grants then.”

He mentioned the latest joint collaboration, the Blue Point Laundry project on Park Avenue. “We’ll give the town funding, $1.4 million. They’ll build the park; it’s too small for the county to do the work, and the town has in-house staff and will run it.”

As of Tuesday, the county passed legislation for the funding; $1.4 is earmarked for 2022.

“The Blue Point Laundry project, if we didn’t come into an agreement to do a park there, I don’t think anything would have been built at all,” Foley said. “We’ll start construction in spring and we look forward to its completion.”

“There’s a lot of times we represent the same area,” Calarco added. “Some are joint projects or issues, and we work to meet the needs of the residents. We did an East Main Street Corridor study with Focus East Patchogue. And now the town approved the overlay district for Rechler.”

Rechler Equity Partners LLC plans to buy several East Main Street properties in East Patchogue, which includes demolishing the buildings and redeveloping the area with 91 high-end apartments with town approvals.

“The applications are in, and the developers are waiting for planning board comments, Foley said “We’re confident it will be approved.”

There’s also a proposal for the blighted Plaza Theatre (torn down in 2011 after a unanimous eminent domain vote by the Brookhaven Town Board in 2009).

Saving the historic Avery property in East Patchogue, with Brookhaven Town pitching in 30 percent of the purchase price with the county, was a joint example of land preservation. (The owner has agreed to the county offer; details are being finalized.)

“A big part of my job is zoning,” said Foley. “The Avery property has a long, wonderful history. The family had sat down with me and asked about development possibilities like assisted living. But what was asked wasn’t the right fit for that area. I went to Rob and we decided to see what we could purchase together; we agreed on how much, how to preserve it, and hopefully bring in a vendor. We’ve done that constantly over my eight years in office.”

Foley assessed he and Calarco have collaborated on at least 20 projects together.

Calarco commented on how they get each other’s ear.

“I always joked that a lot of work gets done at functions. If something gets my attention that I think the town will have a role in, I’ll approach Neil and say, ‘Do you have a minute?’”

Do they ever socialize outside of functions?

“We’re supposed to grab lunch soon,” Calarco said. “I consider Neil a friend.”

“I agree with Rob,” Foley said. “We are friends, and I think that’s helped us be better elected officials. If more elected officials in Albany and D.C. sat down and talked and had similar conversations, more things would get done.”

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