Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has served her community for decades. In an exclusive interview, she discussed her journey in local politics, her approach to commercial redevelopment, efforts to protect the environment and the upcoming redistricting process.
What is your professional background and how did you get to the town hall?
I moved to Rocky Point 34 years ago. I became very active locally in the Rocky Point Civic Association, Rocky Point School Board, St. Anthony’s [Catholic Youth Organization]. I was very involved in the community, volunteering and generally trying to make things better. I was a kind of person who didn’t ask others to do things for me – if I wanted it done, I rolled up my sleeves.
When [town] Superintendent of Roads Dan Losquadro [R] was running for the Suffolk County Legislature, he reached out and asked if I would volunteer for his campaign. I knew him, loved him and believed in what he stood for and got involved in his campaign. He liked my work on his campaign and he hired me to be a legislative assistant. I was quite shocked by the offer. Then I worked in his office for four years, always remaining actively involved.
Former Councilman Kevin McCarrick [R-Rocky Point], who served as District 2’s first council representative, ran for two terms but was busy with his private business – the McCarrick’s Dairy family. He was busy at the dairy and he decided he had to devote his time to the family business and no longer wanted to run for office. The Republican Party, the Conservative Party and the Independence Party asked me to run for this position, and others were also selected. And they chose me.
What initially attracted you to the Rocky Point community?
My first husband and I were looking to buy a house we could afford. I grew up in Northport; he grew up in Forest Hills but was living in Centerport when I met him. We got married, had kids… and had my daughter. We were renting a house in Centerport. This was when the market had really, really peaked. I had friends who had a house here. My first husband spent the summer at Wading River. And 34 years later, I’m in the same house.
What is it about this area that makes it unique?
There is a very strong sense of community, friendliness and good neighborliness, mutual aid. I am always in awe of the large number of volunteers in every hamlet I represent.
I have a very healthy respect for people who volunteer. We now live in chaotic times where people are being pulled in many different directions – and people have to work harder because their dollar is worth less. I love my job because I meet wonderful people and the volunteers I meet at civic meetings, at Great Brookhaven Cleanups, at scouting.
Where I live in Rocky Point, specifically, there’s still a touch of what it used to be. I live in the old section, the beach section of the north shore, so most of the bungalows have been renovated, but they are not cookie cutter, not a development. Every house is a little different. It is a charming community.
What is your approach, your guiding philosophy, towards commercial development and downtown beautification?
Various levels of government have worked very hard to redevelop Sound Beach — the playgrounds and the veterans monument. We brought money to downtown Rocky Point, 25A and Broadway in particular – sidewalks, streetlights, street trees, the veterans plaza we developed, working with business owners to enter any hamlet that I represent.
Business development – not large scale business development, not a big box store, none of that – is about working hard with our local stores to help them succeed, whether it’s with permits or meeting them for help navigate the process with the city, county or state. We kind of see the office as a clearinghouse. Even if it is not my responsibility, we help you. We kind of roll up our sleeves and guide them through the process and stay in touch through the process.
What does your office do to protect the environment?
We rebuilt two new piers last year — the east and west piers at Cedar Beach. The entrance had filled up and it was a hazard to navigation. At the back of the port, the water was not flowing well and there were water quality issues there. Ancient [state] Sen. [Ken] The valley [R-Port Jefferson] started us with a $3 million grant from the state, and then we paid $5 million. Now the back of the port is so clear and clean. The fish are coming back like crazy.
We have made a lot of investments in stormwater drainage and infrastructure along the North Shore. During Hurricane Sandy, much of our stormwater management infrastructure was destroyed. So the Superintendent of Highways, our Department of Finance, and our Department of Environmental Protection have worked hand-in-hand with FEMA to raise several million dollars so we can bring our water infrastructure back to a higher standard. storms.
Can you summarize the upcoming redistricting process for the city council?
We do it every 10 years. Residents are absolutely required to attend meetings. Years ago when I first came forward I was more of Port Jeff Station and more of Coram. When we redistributed 10 years ago, I lost parts of Port Jefferson Station to try to keep it contiguous with the Comsewogue School District. I lost parts of Coram to keep it contiguous with other constituencies it touched.
I invite residents to participate in the process. We have a council that we have chosen — there is a requirement for specific political parties, so there are equal seats at the table for each party. And they make the decisions about how the maps are going to play out and how the boundaries are going to change. We [the Town Council] vote on redistricting plans that the appointed council makes.