Legislator DeRiggi-Whitton, rival Stalzer debate in District 11 forum

Legislator DeRiggi-Whitton, rival Stalzer debate in District 11 forum
District 11 candidates John Stalzer and Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton debate at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters Port Washington-Manhasset. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

Nassau County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D–Glen Cove) and District 11 candidate John Stalzer answered community questions about housing, fiscal responsibility and redistricting as both candidates vied for the district’s seat in the November election.

DeRiggi-Whitton is a 12-year Nassau County legislator for District 11, serving Port Washington, Roslyn, Roslyn Harbor, Sea Cliff, Glenwood Landing, and Glen Cove. She is seeking her seventh term.

“I love my job,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve been lucky because I represent a great district, and I look forward to continuing.”

She is being challenged by Stalzer, an environmental scientist for PSEG who grew up in Manhasset and resides in Sea Cliff.

Stalzer said his government experience has centered around village governments, including more than 10 years as Sea Cliff’s chair of the environmental commission. He said while he served in this position and other ones in the Village of Sea Cliff, none of the positions were elected offices.

Stalzer said he is vying for this seat with no agenda, but rather to provide more common sense to chaos in the county’s Legislature and localizing developments to preserve community character.

The two candidates debated at a forum held by The League of Women Voters Port Washington–Manhasset Thursday night. The debate can be watched on the league’s YouTube channel.

DeRiggi-Whitton said one of the most pressing problems she plans to address if re-elected is mitigating environmental impacts.

Stalzer agreed that environmental impacts are also a pressing problem for him, but that his environmental focus concerns preserving the unique character of communities. He also said he would want to advance sewer districts and stormwater drainage.

DeRiggi-Whitton and Stalzer, when asked about their opinions on housing, generally agreed that it should be an issue addressed by local governments and not superseded by higher-up government entities.

DeRiggi-Whitton, who opposed Gov. Kathy Hochul’s housing plan due to its proposal to override local zoning laws, said that she would like to see more affordable housing but that it needs to be done through the local governments.

DeRiggi-Whitton, the lone legislator who voted against the casino, said she would have liked to see that property, at least partially, developed for transit-centered housing.

“I know the need and I would love to see and I’d love to keep our young people here, but it has to be done in a very incremental, well-thought-out way,” DeRiggi-Whitton said.

Stalzer agreed, saying that new housing developments should be executed through local municipalities. He said this would cater to the desires and capabilities of each community, citing high density in certain villages and communities.

“Each community is different in its own right,” Stalzer said. “Each has sort of its own unique character. Those particular areas I think should be governed by their own desire to see what they want to see.”

Stalzer said the county’s procurement process is something that needs to be addressed and that fiscal responsibility is a focus of his campaign and potential legislative representation.

DeRiggi-Whitton, the daughter of a former Glen Cove mayor, said she was raised with fiscal responsibility toward the taxpayers’ money. She said she takes this responsibility as a legislator seriously.

But with historical corruption in the county, she said mitigating the effects of it is like a “hidden tax” that costs not only the county to address but also the taxpayer.

She said that during her time as a legislator, she has aided in combatting corruption in the county government.

“Too many people got in trouble, honestly, in Nassau County,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “I didn’t want to see that. It was a waste of money, it ruined people’s lives, it was not the way government should run.”

She said this was achieved by implementing governmental backups through disclosure forms and creating the Office of the Inspector General, which assesses contracts.

DeRiggi-Whitton said that while the county has nearly $1 billion in reserves, which helps its financial ratings, some of that money includes the federal COVID-19 relief funds and pharmaceutical settlements, which are being spent slowly by the county.

The legislator advocated for this money to be appied toward the necessary and appropriate avenues that need it.

“I’m very concerned about it,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It’s helping their Moody’s rating, but it’s money that really needs to go out to the public.”

Stalzer, when asked about the redistricting process, said that the districts are “incredibly complicated” and they should not be. He advocated districting that is based on existing municipalities and districts that do not split up already existing communities.

He said he could not comment on the current lawsuit challenging the county’s approved redistricting as he did not have enough knowledge about the subject.

DeRiggi-Whitton said that there are 100,000 more registered Democrat voters than Republicans yet the county Legislature is a seat away from a  Republican supermajority. She said this would mean Republicans don’t have to work across the aisle to make decisions, something that would also be concerning to her if Democrats were to become a supermajority.

“I’m a big believer in checks and balances,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It’s Jeffersonian – they don’t trust government – I’m that.”

DeRiggi-Whitton said the county’s districts are an example of gerrymandering.

At the conclusion of the debate, both candidates shared their closing statements.

Staler related a story about a representative asking his neighbor if she had voted for him, to which she replied “No” as he hadn’t asked. He took the opportunity to ask attendees to vote for him.

DeRiggi-Whitton said that institutional knowledge is a beneficial factor for the position, which takes a long time to establish and is an asset to her work as a legislator.

“I feel very blessed I’ve had the opportunity to serve this district and I hope to continue for the future I can see,” DeRiggi-Whitton said.

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