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After 44-year career, State Sen. Ken LaValle celebrated for myriad accomplishments

New York State Senator Ken LaValle said farewell to his 44 years in office at an emotional press conference Friday.

Family, friends, county and town officials and others celebrated the career of the longest-tenured member of the State Senate at the Port Jefferson Village Center.

The Brooklyn native first announced his plans to retire in an interview with Riverheadlocal.com Wednesday.

Assemblyman John Flanagan, who said it’s a privilege to be able to call the senator his friend, introduced Mr. LaValle, 80.

“First District First,” he said, quoting the popular slogan coined by Mr. LaValle. “Your passion has never waned.”

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said when he first heard about the press conference, it prompted him to reflect on his experiences with Mr. LaValle.

“Knowing his passion and love for the State Senate, this First District and all of New York, it’s very hard to think of the state senate and the Long Island delegation without him being a part of it,” Mr. DiNapoli said.

Mr. DiNapoli said Mr. LaValle has completed all of the work he set out to finish when he began his career, and has made strides in environment, health care, education, higher education, tax payer interest, agriculture and aquaculture.

“To still have the respect and admiration and affection of colleagues and government, the people of this district, all the different folks he’s gotten to know after over four decades … it really is a singular achievement,” he said.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said he first met Mr. LaValle in 1975 as a 21-year-old college intern working under a legislator in Buffalo.

“He couldn’t have been more helpful to me as someone who had been a teacher and now had an established a career in government,” Mr. Thiele said.

In 1995, when Mr. Thiele joined the state assembly, Mr. LaValle offered him guidance in the position. He said he never saw Mr. LaValle as a competitor.

“What has been special for me, in particular, is we’re two separate elected officials but working with his office, it always felt like one office,” Mr. Thiele said.

“I am blessed to have been given your trust.’

State Sen. Ken LaValle

Mr. LaValle’s efforts with the Pine Barrens Preservation Act, which created new protections for 100,000 acres in Suffolk County, the growth of Stony Brook University, quality education on Long Island, the acquisition of Southampton College and the merging of Eastern Long Island Hospital and Stony Brook Medicine are “generational changes” which will make a longtime impact for decades.

Holding back tears, Mr. Thiele said Mr. LaValle has made history.

“Life goes on, things change, they always do — but the legacy of Ken LaValle will live on and serve generations to come,” he said. “Good luck, and thank you so much, Ken.”

Multiple assemblymen, including Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) also thanked Mr. LaValle for his mentorship.

Mr. Englebright, who worked with Mr. LaValle on the Pine Barrens legislation and a recent effort to preserve over 850 acres of woods in Shoreham, said he still looks forward to working with Mr. LaValle this year. He recognized his effort to revitalize the Village Center and preserve land throughout Long Island.

Mr. LaValle pictured with Southold and Greenport Superintendent David Gamberg and Southold School Board President Paulette Ofrias. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said the senator has been a mentor to him and others regardless of their political stance. 

“He has been, as he always will be, a teacher,” Mr. Romaine said.

Suffolk Republican chairman Jesse Garcia, a contender for Mr. LaValle’s position, said his former opponent is an “icon” in the state.

“This is a time and a place in our history where our state could use more icons like Ken LaValle,” Mr. Garcia said.

As he approached the microphone, Mr. LaValle was greeted with a standing ovation.

He began thinking about retiring from the State Senate after one summer day in July, he said, when someone at the Peconic Land Trust asked him if he was tired of driving up and down the New York State Thruway.

The “greatest part of the job” Mr. LaValle said, has been listening to people with medical or financial needs.

“What a thrill to be able to help people like that,” he said.

With a tear in his eye, Mr. LaValle looked to his sister-in-law, Cynthia LaValle, and remembered his brother, Ronald, who died in 2010 from lung cancer.

“She knows how my brother and I, how close we were. He’s always with me,” he said. “So, thank you very much for being here.”

With nearly a year left in his term, he said he hopes to remain “as active as he can.” In the future, he may write a book with his wife, Penny.

In a written statement, Mr. LaValle said it would take “a lifetime to thank all the people who have guided me along this journey.”

As he has reflected on his career, he wrote, it is the small victories — not the major coups — that are foremost in his memory.

“It was the fight to get housing for the medically fragile, developmentally disabled child who no one would house. It was getting the power turned back on for the senior citizen on a fixed income who had to choose between their prescription medication and paying their utility bill,” he wrote. “I am blessed to have been given your trust and the opportunity to serve in a job that I have loved for more than 40 years.”