For the first time in a long while, State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, who has been a fixture on the political scene for a generation, has a challenger with a real shot.
Southampton Councilwoman Bridget Fleming was a government neophyte when she emerged to win a Southampton Town Board seat in 2010. Her background is in law. She was a Manhattan assistant district attorney and has cited her record in prosecuting cases of fraud. As a member of the town board, she has worked on improving financial controls, an interest she said she would bring to Albany. As a resident of Noyac, she is attuned to the South Fork, pushing for more underground utility lines, supporting local agriculture, and aiding water-quality programs, among other efforts. She has a small law office in Sag Harbor, specializing in matrimonial and family matters.
Like Ms. Fleming, Mr. LaValle is a lawyer, though with 36 years in the $79,000 Senate job, it would be accurate to call him a professional politician. Before he first won election to state office in 1976, he taught high school social studies. His involvement in education did not end when he went to the capital; he has been on the Senate Higher Education Committee for many years and active in efforts to consolidate school districts.
Listening to Ms. Fleming, we have been struck by a certain uneven quality. On some of the nitty-gritty, she can stumble or say a lot without really saying anything. She is, however, fluent and strong on such issues as wasteful government spending, campaign finance, and Wall Street abuses. She also scores points by taking on the $140,000 Mr. LaValle used of taxpayer money to send out early election-year mailers, as well as the more than $500,000 he spent on his office.
At this point in his career, Mr. LaValle is more than comfortable in the role, and this shows. His apparent ease can be a negative; one might say he is at best a casual Bonacker, who only shows up in East Hampton when there is a photo-op or when he is seeking re-election. That in and of itself is not a reason to support his opponent. What tips the balance against him is his 2011 vote against New York’s historic same-sex marriage bill and his strong backing by an anti-abortion group. Though his positions on these fundamental issues of human rights may come from deep personal conviction, the times have moved beyond him.
The First Senatorial District is huge, extending from Brookhaven to Montauk Point and Fisher’s Island. Mr. LaValle’s opponent may not be a perfect candidate, but he is someone whose views are no longer in line with the people he represents. First District voters should thank him for the work he has done on their behalf over the decades, but go with Ms. Fleming, a better choice for these times.