Catherine Kent (D), left, and Catherine Stark (R) face off in the First Legislative District in this year's election. Courtesy photos.

The Suffolk County Legislature is responsible for setting county policies and enacting all county legislation. It adopts the capital, operating and community college budgets. It is responsible for authorizing the issuance of county debt and setting fee schedules for certain county services.

There are 18 legislative districts in Suffolk County and one legislator representing each district.

The First Legislative District encompasses all of the towns of Shelter Island, Southold and Riverhead, areas in western Southampton, including Flanders, Riverside and Northampton parts of Remsenberg and Speonk, as well as a small portion of southeastern Brookhaven, including areas in Manorville and Eastport.

The district has been represented for the past decade by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) who stepped aside to seek election to the position of Southold Town supervisor this year.

County Legislator

Term: Two Years

Salary: $107,051

Catherine Kent (D)

Catherine Kent of Baiting Hollow is a lifelong resident of the North Fork. Retired as an elementary school teacher in the Riverhead Central School District, Kent served one term as Riverhead Town council member, from 2018-2021. In 2021, she waged an unsuccessful campaign to unseat incumbent Supervisor Yvette Aguiar.

Kent says her combined experience as a teacher and a town official gives her “a solid understanding of families in our area and the struggles they face” as well as an understanding of regional issues.

Qualification for office is not “just about where you stand on issues. It’s how you work,” Kent said. “I’ve been in the public eye, and people have seen how I work. And I’ve been there to make the tough decisions.”

Kent lists as important issues facing the county are affordability, clean water, land preservation and public transportation.

“I’ve been to every corner of my district, it’s a large area, and no matter where I am, affordability and affordable housing comes up.” Kent said. “We are pricing out the young families, the seniors and the local workers.” Kent said she sees that with her own adult children. “They can’t buy a house out here. And if we want to keep our community, — we’re rural, close knit communities out here — if we want to keep our community the way it is, we have to work on keeping it affordable,” Kent said.

She said she supports the proposed county wastewater district, which aims to provide access to sewer and septic systems countywide.

A state law enacted earlier this year allows the county to establish the district and implement a 1/8 cent sales tax to help fund sewer system expansions and the installation of innovative advanced septic systems. The Republican majority in the county legislature did not support moving forward with the district and a ballot referendum on the question of the additional 1/8-cent sales tax.

“we have a crisis right now with 400,000 antiquated septic systems, putting nitrogen into our waterways,” Kent said. “What could be more important than water? We live on an island, and our drinking water is below our feet. It was very disappointing that the majority at the legislature made the decision to shelve this rather than move it forward, because then we lose some of the funding sources,” Kent said.

“I know how to collaborate and move things forward,” she said, pointing to her experience working as one of two Democrats on a Republican-controlled Town Board in Riverhead.

“I actually was able to get a lot done in Riverhead. when I look back, I’m really proud of the work that I was able to do in Riverhead. My focus has always been on collaboration and making sure everyone’s at the table and working together, and treating one another in a respectful manner,” Kent said.

“Right now, there’s a toxic atmosphere at the legislature, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of division in our country right now. And the only way we move beyond that is to elect leaders who are active listeners and know how to work with one another. I know how to work with one with others and get things done,” she said.

“There are 18 legislators, there are only two on the entire East End, and we’re the largest geographic area,” Kent said. The people of the East End “need strong advocates for the East End” in those positions, Kent said. “Our issues are different. And I don’t know that everyone (on the legislature) understands the issues of the East End.”

The East End’s incumbent county legislators Al Krupski and Bridget Fleming, both Democrats who are both not seeking re-election this year, have been strong advocates for the region, Kent said. She believes she is the candidate best suited to continue in that role in the First Legislative District.

Public transportation is another key issue for Kent. Traffic clogging local roads is more than an inconvenience, she said, pointing to the impacts on air quality in a region where air quality is often below acceptable standards due to emissions.

“I will work with the MTA and all levels of government to get more trains out here to alleviate some of the traffic,” Kent said.

Catherine Stark (R)

Catherine Stark was born and raised in Riverhead and has lived most of her life in Riverhead. She is the daughter of former Riverhead Town Supervisor James Stark.

Stark has worked in county government for more than 20 years. Her employment in the county dates back to 1996, when she got a job in the office of the Clerk of the Legislature, She then went to work for the director of Real Property Tax Services, Penny Wells LaValle, followed by work in the administration of former County Executive Bob Gaffney.

Stark has been chief of staff to First District Legislator Al Krupski, a Democrat, since his election to that position 10 years ago. Prior to that, she was chief of staff to Jay Schneiderman when he represented the Second Legislative District.

Tapped by the Suffolk County Republican Committee as its nominee to succeed Krupski, who stepped aside to seek election as Southold Town supervisor this year, Stark had to beat back a challenge by Cutchogue businessman Gregory Williams. After losing a challenge to Williams’ petitions in an appeals court, Stark defeated Williams 62% to 37% in the Republican Party primary election in June.

Stark pledges to be an independent thinker and a strong advocate for the First Legislative District. “I will conduct my business as a legislator, to the greatest extent possible, for what is in the best interests of the constituents of the First Legislative District,” Stark said.

Stark said both Democrat Krupski and his predecessor in the post, Republican Ed Romaine — the Brookhaven Town supervisor now running for county executive, who served as First District Legislator from 2006 to 2012 — did their job in the legislature the same way.

“Both of those legislators focused strictly on the needs of the First Legislative District, like preservation and clean water, and other things like drainage — keeping surface runoff out of our bays and our Sound, reducing pesticides. That’s what’s good for the North Fork,” Stark said.

“And you know, we always say when the legislators from the west end come out and say, ‘This is so beautiful,’ we tell them ‘That’s for a reason. This didn’t happen in a magic box. We worked very, very hard,’” she said.

Stark said she is committed to continuing to work with property owners to preserve open space and farmland. She knows the process inside and out because she’s been doing that work for years in the First Legislative District, she said.

“The people of the district want development slowed down, they want public safety supported, they want clean water,” Stark said.

Stark did not offer a firm opinion on the wastewater district and sales tax increase to fund sewage treatment projects that failed to gain her party’s support in the county legislature. She said proponents of those initiatives should be more transparent with the public about what’s involved and how the money would be spent.

Asking voters if they support clean water leaves a lot undisclosed, Stark said, pointing to the statewide referendum on the clean water bond act as an example.

“Voters will say, yes I want clean water, but they don’t really know what’s in a referendum. They don’t read the fine print. What’s it going to cost and what are they going to do? I like to be more transparent. I like for it to all be on the table,” she said. “If you’re going to vote for something that’s going to come out of your pocket because it comes from taxes… then we should know what we’re buying.”

The legislators’ differences over how the new sales tax revenue should be allocated — sewer systems versus innovative alternative septic systems — have to be resolved, and it may well take an amendment to the state law enacted this year to be able to implement a compromise. The state law spells out a 75%-25% split, with the larger portion going toward installation of IA septic systems. Stark noted that there are thousands of homes in the western towns of Suffolk that require new individual septic systems because they cannot readily access a sewer system. Legislators have to ensure the allocation of funding is equitable, she said.

Stark said she is running on a record that includes knowing how the legislature works, knowing how to do the job, and knowing the needs of the people of the district and the issues that are important to them.

She is confident in her ability to do the job and deliver for the First Legislative District, Stark said.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.