Jim Gaughran has talked about his plans for the North Shore, and now that he is officially a state senator, having been sworn into office by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Jan. 6, he is ready to get to work.
Gaughran, 61, a Democrat, has lived in Northport for 18 years. But he decided to open his Senate office in Nassau County, in the hamlet of Oyster Bay, to be near his constituents. And it’s probably no coincidence that he is an ardent fan of Theodore Roosevelt.
“I can’t even tell you how many books I’ve read on Roosevelt,” he said, sitting at a desk in that new office. “History is so important. We tend to make the same mistakes, and with issues, the names change but a lot of the issues are the same.”
Asked about the personal attributes he thought would make him an effective leader, Gaughran paused, then said he saw himself as “low-key, laid back, not as outgoing as others in public office.” He said he believed it was vital to consider both sides of an issue, and that he was willing to change his mind and admit when he is wrong. “I don’t think I have all the an-swers,” he said, “and I think people who think they do shouldn’t be in public office.”
Gaughran, an attorney, was a Suffolk County legislator, a Town of Huntington trustee and the chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority for eight years. He said he believed his background would help him effectively tackle some of the issues his district faces.
“I’m hoping to meld my public- and private-sector experiences,” he said, adding that he hasn’t been in public office for 26 years. “I do realize there will be a lot to learn, but the fact that I’ve served in public office in the town and county and run one of the largest water entities in the country will help me in Albany.”
Gaughran plans to help New York American Water ratepayers on the North Shore who have been working to find a way to switch from New York American Water to a public utility. He has already met with several residents, and said he would hold a town hall meeting in February to discuss what he believes are viable options.
The first step, he said, is to create a public entity for Sea Cliff and the surrounding areas. “The State Legislature could pass a law creating it, and if residents want it, I would be happy to sponsor the law,” he said. “Then this entity could negotiate a contract with the Jericho Water District. If it is interested in creating the subdistrict, there would need to be a public referendum from both groups.”
The issue is complicated, Gaughran acknowledged, but he said he remained committed to coming up with a plan. Action needs to be taken now, he said, because “water will be more expensive this year, more than likely. That’s because the health commissioner of New York state has drafted changes on chemicals that will mandate new standards.”
It will be expensive for private water companies to treat contaminants, he explained, and if it is not economically feasible to do so, new wells may need to be dug, which would also be expensive. This will not be welcome news for residents who believe they are paying too much to NYAW right now.
“The good news is that Cuomo will be announcing that the state will provide hundreds of millions of dollars to public water entities to offset the cost,” Gaughran said. “But the government can’t do that with private companies like New York American Water.”
He said he was also committed to making sure that the school districts he represents get their fair share of state aid. “Long Island hasn’t gotten as much funding in the past as they should have,” he said. “This will help to keep the high quality of our schools and reduce property taxes.”
He will be reaching out to superintendents and board members soon to arrange for meetings to discuss their budgetary needs, he said.
Gaughran also plans to tackle problems with the Long Island Rail Road. He will focus on the Oyster Bay line, whose service, he said, is not sufficient. “If there were more trains that went there,” he said, “maybe local people would use it and this would lessen the burden on other lines. The [Metropolitan Transportation Authority] funding needs to go to the Long Island Rail Road. In 2018 the service declined rapidly, and that was due to management and funding.”
He will also seek funding to improve the quality of Long Island Sound and Oyster Bay Harbor, he said. “The mechanical dredging that is being done needs to be reviewed,” he said. “I’m concerned about its impact and I’m concerned about the local baymen. We need to give them opportunities. They have a strong commitment to protecting the environment and the shellfish.”
He met with some of the baymen before he was inaugurated. Though he doesn’t yet have a plan, he said he intends to develop one.
Whatever he works on, he said, it will be in a bipartisan fashion. And he believes that with a Democratic majority in the Senate, legislation will get passed. “The former Republican leadership was using their authority to stop legislation from getting on the floor for a vote,” he said. “We will not be doing that. We plan to bring bills to the floor that languished for years, like the Red Flag Law, the Reproductive Health Act and election reforms.”
Gaughran has been named chairman of the Senate’s Standing Committee on Local Government. “That’s important,” he said, “because all of the legislation for the villages, towns and counties will have to be approved by my committee.”