Anti-immigrant politician provokes crisis

SUFFOLK COUNTY, N.Y. — This populous suburban/rural county on eastern Long Island, on the outskirts of the New York City metropolitan area, has a large and increasingly politicized immigrant population. Lately, they have often found themselves at odds with the strident anti-immigrant rhetoric and actions of Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. The most recent clash has come with his attempt to block a state-funded hiring center for day laborers in the community of Farmingville.

Responding to this controversy, members of the State Assembly’s 45-member Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, at the initiative of Manhattan Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat, blocked a normally routine measure to renew a 1 percent county sales tax, set to expire Nov. 30. Espaillat has asked that the county implement a clear policy regarding the hiring center.

The tabling of the bill by his fellow Democrats is widely recognized as a sharp political rebuke of Levy’s anti-immigrant stance, the latest in a series of setbacks he has suffered on this front. Caucus Chairman Darryl Towns of Brooklyn expressed his concern over some of Levy’s positions, saying that the caucus wanted to take an opportunity to get him to take a more global outlook toward his community.

Although the Assembly adjourned June 20, there is still a chance to pass the tax authorization before the deadline. However, despite attempts by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and leading members of the caucus to work for a compromise, there has been little progress so far. If the tax renewal does not go through, county property taxes might have to be increased to cover an estimated $300 million in lost revenue.

For his part, Levy blamed Assembly member Philip Ramos, a Suffolk County member of the caucus, for the bill’s failure. Although Ramos is not in the leadership of the caucus and did not take a leading role in blocking the tax measure, Levy has nevertheless declared that the resulting revenue loss would “be on Ramos’ head.”

Ramos, in turn, has called for an end to “rhetoric and race-baiting, language that divides the community.” Ramos called for the initiation of an honest dialogue on immigration issues.

A spokesperson said Ramos was committed to finding a resolution to a difficult issue through civil discourse, and was working to get all the parties to sit down, iron out their strong differences and come to a mutually acceptable compromise. At press time, County Executive Levy continued to reject any compromise. Levy supporter Joseph Caracappa, a Republican county legislator, said, “There is no room for compromise.”

Caracappa has called Assembly caucus leader Espaillat a terrorist. Espaillat told Newsday that he was “very discouraged that that kind of rhetoric is happening in Suffolk. It doesn’t lead to healing, and it doesn’t lead to the solution of any problems.”

gbono @cpusa.org