Kenneth LaValle announced earlier this month that he will not seek re-election in 2020, ending his 44-year tenure representing New York District 1 in the State Senate.
“I sit to write this statement with a heart full of gratitude to the residents of the First Senatorial District for their unwavering trust in me, and their commitment to the many goals we have achieved together throughout the years,” LaValle wrote in a statement at his formal announcement on Jan. 10. “But just as every journey has a beginning, it must also have an end and today it is with a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment that I am announcing that I will not seek reelection in 2020.”
LaValle first announced his decision in an exclusive interview by RiverheadLocal on Jan. 8 and then formally at an event honoring his legacy at Port Jefferson Village Center, on Jan. 10. He took office on Jan. 1, 1977 and has been the longest-serving senator in New York since 2013.
LaValle, who started his career in education at the Middle Country School District before his tenure, has served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education since 1979. He has supported Stony Brook University by securing funding for numerous projects, including $25 million for a new engineering building in 2018. He is also the namesake of the school’s football stadium and is often seen sporting a Stony Brook University baseball cap at public events.
“Stony Brook University is very appreciative of Senator LaValle; he has been a tireless champion for Stony Brook University and a staunch advocate for support for higher education,” the Stony Brook University Media Relations Office wrote in an email to The Statesman. “Stony Brook has been enhanced significantly by his leadership and deep commitment to our students, our patients, and our region.”
LaValle, who is the Chairman of the Minority Conference in the State Senate, is seen as a bipartisan candidate in issues such as the environment and health care. He was an author and supporter of the Pine Barrens Preservation Act of 1993 and has garnered funding for expansions to Stony Brook University Medical Center, such as the Burn Unit.
LaValle also has a history of voting against pro-LGBT rights legislation, such as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act that banned the practice of gay conversion therapy in New York in January of 2019. LaValle’s decision led students at Stony Brook University to petition to change the name of the stadium that was named after him in 2002.
The Suffolk County Republican Committee, in light of LaValle’s decision, has created a list of candidates to run in 2020. In an email to The Statesman, Jesse Garcia, the chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, stated that although “Senator LaValle can never be replaced or [have] his shoes filled,” a list of potential candidates for his vacated position include, but are not limited to, New York Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo; Brookhaven Town Board Members, Jane Bonner and Dan Panico; and Riverhead Councilwoman Jodi Giglio.
“There are college students earning degrees because of the resources and vision the senator provided,” Garcia wrote in the email regarding LaValle’s tenure on the Senate. “There is not a doctor or patient who has not felt his impact. There is not a small business owner or first responder who has not benefited from Sen. LaValle’s leadership and tenacious advocacy. There is not a family who is able to raise their family and have their piece of the American dream is not for Senator LaValle’s school tax relief initiative.”
Democratic nominees for LaValle’s vacated position include Southampton Councilman, Tommy John Schiavoni; Attorney for Victims of Sexual Abuse and Social Worker, Laura Ahearn; and 19-year-old Suffolk County Community College Student, Skyler Johnson.
In a press release on Jan 8., Johnson considered LaValle’s departure as an opportunity for the area to elect a new State Senator that could better represent New York’s first district.
“Senator LaValle’s decision not to seek re-election gives us a chance to reflect,” Johnson wrote. “The people of Long Island can take a leap forward and elect a new representative who will advocate for everyday people … I pledge to fight to bring a better and brighter future to New York.”
Schiavoni, in a call with The Statesman, said that although he and LaValle don’t agree on everything, LaValle’s proven leadership through the decades and his lasting impact on the community is to be commended.
“I think that Senator LaValle has served the eastern part of Suffolk County, for the most part, admirably,” Schiavoni said. “There are certainly things that we don’t agree upon, but I believe he has brought needed money to public education. In his career, he has been a champion for our environment out here on the East End. And really the work that he has done over his 43 years is gonna endure for generations.”
Democratic nominee Laura Ahearn’s campaign did not respond to requests to comment before this article was published.