With a week to go before the Sept. 13 primary, the two Democratic candidates for met Tuesday night for a debate that featured a lot of talk about money, as well as some sniping comments made by both men directed at one another.
With Sheriff James Kralik retiring, a new sheriff will be elected this November, but first Louis Falco, chief of the sheriff's patrol, will face Tim O'Neill, retired Clarkstown Police Department Detective Sergeant, in a primary to determine who will go up against the Republican nominee, Matt Brennan, a retired member of the New York City Police Department.
On Tuesday, the two met for a debate at Suffern Village Hall, sponsored by the Ramapo Times.
“I heard they were having some difficulty getting together for a debate, so I talked to both to try and set something up,” said Richard Gandon, owner of the Ramapo Times. “It came together in about a day or so.”
The two debated for a little more than hour, with the central focus of many answers of various questions in regards to the Sheriff’s Department coming back to money. But what seemed to get the biggest response from the fairly crowded Village Hall were comments each candidate made about his primary opponent sitting no more than three feet away.
O’Neill brought up comments made by Rockland County Legislator Ed Day at a meeting on June 30 in which Day referred to straightening out a budget at that time a “pipe dream.” O’Neill said Day was talking about a specific division within the Sheriff’s Department, and Falco flat out said O’Neill was a “liar,” adding that he talked to Day, who said he was talking about the budget on the whole. When Falco called O’Neill a liar, there was a loud gasp in the crowd and then some booed. O’Neill followed that up by saying that only someone “thin-skinned” would act that way, which some in the crowd didn’t like either.
Another chirpy time between the two came during a question about how to improve the relationship between the department and county jail. Falco said if elected he’ll have an office at the jail so he could have more regular correspondence with officers there, and added that he has the office picked out. In his rebuttal, O’Neill said Falco hasn’t won the election and said, “don’t decorate that office yet.” Falco shot back with, “I’m not there. I will be there,” which drew some loud applause from his supporters in attendance.
And while many answers, even if they weren’t rebuttals, started with some variation of “Well, my opponent...” the main focus of the debate was the Sheriff’s Department. The two candidates are coming at the position from different areas, with Falco having worked his way through the Sheriff’s Department through the last 33 years, holding positions in each unit except for corrections, he said. O’Neill positioned himself as an outsider to the department coming in to make needed changes, but he too has 30-plus years of law enforcement experience.
The questions for the debate were determined by reader submissions to the Ramapo Times, Gandon said, adding that he took the thousands of questions submitted and asked about the most frequently submitted topics in a way that would allow for both men to answer. A lot of the questions dealt with specific divisions within the department, and figuring out what might have to be cut to help the county’s deficit.
One unit in question is the mounted unit, which neither man wants to get rid of, but O’Neill noted that it would be looked at. Falco said that over the past six years, three different police chiefs have asked the Sheriff’s Department for use of the mounted unit for various tasks, and if elected “as long as the budget will be sustained” he will keep the unit around.
“It’s a vital service and a viable service,” he said.
O’Neill agreed, telling a story about working at the Nanuet Mall back when it was much more popular destination than it currently is, and he was told by workers at the mall that a cop car could drive by 10 times and it wouldn’t have the same effect as a mounted officer patroling by once.
“It’s just a high visibility,” he said.
Other units brought up were the marine unit and K-9 unit. Falco said the boats for the marine unit are donated and the unit is 50 percent reimbursed by the state. He also said because of the county’s close proximity to New York City and the Hudson River, both potential terrorist targets, he’s in favor of keeping the marine unit. At the very least, Falco said, the boats could stay in the water.
O’Neill said “it all comes back to money” in regards to both units and whether or not they should be cut at all.
“We’d love to have all these bells and whistles,” he said, adding that now there’s not enough money for everything.
Still, O’Neill did seem more reluctant to get rid of the K-9 unit, especially the arson dog. He and Falco both talked about the important of having bomb sniffing dogs to go around schools, which they do before the year starts, around test time and any should they get a bomb threat.
Another unit talked about was the prisoner transport unit, which is currently run by 50 part-time officers, many retired New York City cops, who don’t receive benefits. Falco said to replace them would require 27 full-time officers, which would take them out of the field as well.
O’Neill mentioned that he wants to bring in the New York state Sheriffs' Association to do an audit on the department to help find areas that can be cut, whereas Falco said the department has already started making cuts through various ways, such as consolidation, taking away cell phones and pagers and cutting down on overtime.
While money, cuts and taxes were clearly huge topics of discussion on the night, there was one other issue of even greater importance that both men talked a bit about.
“The most important facet is public safety,” Falco said. “You can’t put a price on public safety.”