An African-American Suffolk County legislator’s battle against racism in office

DuWayne Gregory's current legislative office in Amityville, Babylon.

By Nirvani William, Jasmine Ganaishlal, Vinny Asito

DuWayne Gregory’s cluttered desk at his suffolk county office in Amityville, Babylon is stacked high with official documents, four wide, three-ring multi-colored binders, and a silver, New York State Police Department mug ready to be placed in big cardboard boxes. Gregory is preparing to move to a new office in Wyandanch in order to galvanize the primarily African American and Latino population in the hamlet.

Gregory’s political career was met with striking racial backlash when he first started working for Babylon Supervisor Rich Schaffer as the Town of Babylon’s Citizens’ Advocate in 2000. “I was helping out in a campaign in the village of Lindenhurst and I remember walking out and someone driving by and just yelling the n-word at me,” Gregory said.

Yet, after his time responding to and solving problems for town residents, he won office to the Suffolk County Legislature’s 15th district in a special election in 2008. Gregory noted the killing of an Ecuadorian immigrant, Marcelo Lucero, on Long Island who pushed him to create the Hate Crimes Task Force.

We had law enforcement on it, clergy on it, and victims’ advocates,” Gregory said. “We had public hearings in the community and we met to come up with solutions on how to address the issues of hate crimes.”

Although more people started coming forward, Gregory alleged that he was under an immense amount of pressure from other local officials such as former County Executive of Suffolk County, Steve Levy, to disband the task force.

“I moved forward and we had an 18-0 vote,” Gregory said. “I thought about the people who were living in fear and that they couldn’t even go to their own police department. They thought the police were bad people and that their elected officials were bad. That’s just not what we should be about–we should be doing our best to protect people.”

In 2011, Gregory became the first person of color in history to be elected Majority Leader of the Suffolk County Legislature. He became the first person of color to be elected as Presiding Officer of the Suffolk County Legislature in 2014. However, Representative Peter King defeated Gregory when he ran for Congress in 2016.

In the summer of 2018, Gregory decided to run again in the 2nd Congressional District primary against Democratic activist, Liuba Grechen Shirley. He was pretty much working from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day and was always accessible,” campaign manager, Alexa Sheryl said.

Despite Gregory losing to Shirley by about 15 percent in the primaries, his former intern, Jonathan Cruz, shares the same respect for Gregory. “His personality was nothing less than utter kindness and sheer tenacity to fight for all Long Islanders during a critical political era,” Cruz said.  

Now, Gregory is steering his focus towards college students and got a new bill passed that outlines a pilot program allowing them to be eligible homebuyers by receiving refunds to pay down their student debt.

“I saw that the biggest impediment to millennials buying a home is student loan debt,” Gregory said. “I looked at some other studies and saw that Long Island was not on top 100 millennial friendly communities across the country. I think Buffalo and Syracuse were on the list, but they were low on the list. I said, ‘we got to do something about this.’”

Gregory’s final plan is expected to be submitted by early November.