By Sophia A. Niarchos
OYSTER BAY, N.Y. – How do you restore public confidence in government? According to John Iliou, voting for him in the November 4 election for Suffolk County legislator is one way. Dealing with corruption is one of the most important issues on the “to-do” list of the 34-year-old attorney, a lifelong member of St. Nicholas Shrine in West Babylon, and a candidate to represent the people of the 14th Legislative District.
“The county has had two public officials indicted, one pleaded guilty; and there has been a scandalous county land purchase here, with millions of dollars unaccounted for as a result, in recent years,” Iliou said.
He is making his second attempt for a seat on the county legislature. Two years ago, he narrowly lost the election to Democrat David Bishop, who was helped by the Independence Party when it included him on their ballot line. Things have changed in two years.
Two years ago, the Independence Party chairman in Suffolk County, a Bishop supporter, claimed “party raiding” and had launched an unusual legal action to remove 40 new voters who had enrolled in the party. The voters were members of Iliou’s own church, “people who have known me all my life.” The party chairman maintained that those voters couldn’t be enrolled through Iliou’s method, handing out registration forms as he conducted his door-to-door campaign.
“There was absolutely no basis for the lawsuit,” Iliou says, “and the judge threw it out.”
While Bishop beat Iliou when he received Independence Party support, he won that election by only a few hundred votes.
This year, the tables are turned somewhat as Iliou now has the Independence Party advantage. He won their line in a rare, write-in primary.
Added to Iliou’s fuel for the election fire is the fact that Bishop was the chairperson of the committee overseeing land deals, including the one that resulted in the scandal.
Iliou believes, “[Bishop] needs to be held accountable.” He proposes the establishment of an independent inspector general’s post to oversee our county and expose corruption or investigate scandals.
But corruption isn’t the only problem Iliou wants to address. High taxes, insufficient affordable housing for the young and the elderly, environmental issues, and the preservation of open space are all on his agenda for improvement.
Although he thinks the county executive has done a good job at controlling spending, Iliou questions the rejection of 10% in spending cuts by the majority party in the legislature and the subsequent approval of a 30% tax increase in the Babylon general fund. He says there must be a tightening of the belt in terms of controlling spending, but he doesn’t believe it is appropriate to be specific about where spending should be curtailed.
“I don’t think it’s right for candidates who haven’t been in [the legislature] to say, ‘vote for me and I’ll cut taxes.’ I tell the people in my district that my only promise is to work my hardest to control spending so as to control taxes.”
How does he tell them? By knocking on the more than 5,000 doors in his district.
“It’s amazing how the people I meet in my community enjoy speaking with me, and it is incredible they find that a change is needed,” Iliou noted, adding that in his current campaign, he has more volunteers, more money and more face-to-face time with voters.
In terms of helping to make housing more affordable, Iliou believes providing tax incentives and being creative with zoning will greatly improve the situation.
“Whereas today, we allow 20 houses to be built on an acre of land, we can work to modify zoning regulations so that developers are allowed to build 25 per acre, with the stipulation that 5 must be used for affordable housing. We can also change the minimum requirement for property needed to build a home from 10,000 square feet to 7,500 square feet as long as it is sold as affordable housing. These are the kinds of things I’d like to explore,” Iliou said.
He thinks the county can benefit from state grants and the Brownfields program, which are not sufficiently tapped, as well as the establishment of safeguards to stop the county from overpaying for property when sellers are politically connected to the government.
Iliou is a former county prosecutor and attributes his understanding of the law and of government to his years in that position. He also spent several years working on his local school board where he learned about budgeting practices, the negotiating process with bargaining units, and working with others to form a consensus
Iliou was a trustee of the St. Nicholas’ Shrine for six years. He is married to Athena; and the couple has two children, Anastasia, 8, and Thomas (Anastasios), 4.