Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone was to have visited the East End yesterday and you would have thought the president was coming from the advance fanfare. Advisories to the press from his Hauppauge office arrived on Monday afternoon, then the phone calls started, then we had Tuesday follow-ups.
According to a preliminary schedule provided by Mr. Bellone’s staff, he was to have met with representatives of the five East End towns, had an interview at WLNG radio, and visited with the Montauk Chamber of Commerce and taken a turn around the Lake Montauk docks before heading to Southampton for a farm tour. It all sounds like a nice enough way to spend a day, but when the county executive’s rare visit is pitched as big news it kind of proves that the East End is an afterthought.
Considering that the East End has what amounts to Suffolk’s only internationally known region, the Hamptons, one might think that it would have more clout than to merit very infrequent appearances by its top elected leader. However, with only a small fraction of the county’s total population, and just 2 of the Legislature’s 18 members, it has been all too easy to overlook.
For decades, Suffolk’s municipal orphans on the North and South Forks, as well as in Riverhead, have mumbled about seceding from the county and forming their own alliance. Going back to the 1960s, the sense has been that the needs and outlook of the five East End towns are different from that of the west of Suffolk, and that a new entity, tentatively called Peconic County, might be advantageous.
Taking over county functions, such as courts, jails, and health services, would no doubt be exceedingly complicated and expensive. Still a 1996 nonbinding referendum seeking support for secession was approved at the polls by a stunning 71-percent margin. It is interesting to remember that in the mid-’90s, Larry Cantwell, now East Hampton Town supervisor, was the chairman of the Peconic County Now advocacy group.
Then, as presumably today, both Suffolk and state officials were not keen on the prospect. State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has not allowed movement on the separatist undertaking, fearing, it has been speculated, a wave of similar bids statewide. Chances for a Peconic County appear limited as well by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s avowed interest in reducing, not increasing, the number of municipalities in the state.
Interest in going separate ways might be lessened if the county executive visited more often. But until that day, the idea of a Peconic County will live on.