Yearly Archives: 2015

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Ray Calabrese and Mayor Margot Garant smile with Thomas Jefferson. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Thomas Jefferson will watch over Village Hall visitors in the future, thanks to a donation from the Calabrese family.

“Much to my surprise, there’s nothing for the public viewing of anything of Thomas Jefferson — no statue, no bust, no painting,” Ray Calabrese said at the Port Jefferson Village Board of Trustees meeting Monday night. “So I decided to do something about it.”

To applause from the audience, he presented Mayor Margot Garant and the board with a painting of Jefferson, the original of which he said was done by Rembrandt Peale in 1805, halfway through the president’s tenure.

Garant said the portrait would hang above the stairs so that as people go between the first and second floors, “they’ll see Thomas.”

Friends, family and town officials gather to remember Maggie Rosales, Danny Carbajal and Sarah Strobel in Huntington Station on Thursday. Three trees were planted in their honor. Photo by Mary Beth Steenson Kraese

Huntington residents are calling on their elected officials to change the way their Public Safety Department operates.

At a Dec. 8 town board meeting, residents said former Suffolk County Chief of Detectives Dominick Varrone, who is a consultant for the town department, is not necessary as the town’s connection to the 2nd Police Precinct to increase safety and control crime.

The Huntington Town Board hired Varrone as the town liaison to the police department in 2014 and gave a $50,000 budget to his company, Varron Solutions LLC, to provide consulting services and act as the town’s contact with the police, community leaders and social services agencies. The business was also required to assist in restructuring Public Safety to better protect and control crime in the Huntington Station community — the main reason the town hired Varrone.

But residents are saying Varrone isn’t essential to reducing crime.

According to Huntington Matters member Robert Rockelein, Varrone hasn’t been very active in his role to increase safety in the town.

“The Huntington Matters and the Huntington Matters Neighborhood Watch have not seen or heard of any policy, procedure or project initiated or influenced by Dominick Varrone over the last year,” Rockelein said during the meeting, speaking for the two civic groups.

He added that his organization attends meetings regarding safety in Huntington, but he has seen Varrone at only a handful of those meetings.

Other residents said the town doesn’t need Varrone at all.

“I think $50,000 a year for Dominick … we could spend $50,000 somewhere else,” Jim McGoldrick, a Huntington Station resident, said during the meeting. “We could spend it on our children, on a drug program or something like that.”

He also said 2nd Precinct Commanding Officer Christopher Hatton is doing a good enough job on his own when it comes to the town’s safety.

The town hired Varrone in November 2014, after a series of murders in Huntington Station and subsequent demands and fears from residents regarding security. Maggie Rosales, one of the victims, was stabbed to death in Huntington Station that October, a few blocks from her home.

Huntington Matters was also born out of that series of incidents, with the goal of facilitating better communication between the government, the community and the police.

Despite resident comments on Dec. 8, Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said Varrone works closely with police and other agencies to address safety concerns and crime in the area.

Councilman Eugene Cook (I) was the only board member to vote against extending Varrone’s contract into 2016. He said Varrone’s sparse appearances as the town’s liaison swayed his decision.

“I think Dominick is doing a good job, but he needs the presence,” Cook said in a phone interview. He added that safety within the town is important to him, and he planned to meet with Varrone to discuss improving his presence in the community.

Varrone did not return messages seeking comment.

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Suffolk County Republicans assembled at the Legislature building last week to call for a federal monitor to oversee our county police department. They argued that a recent indictment of former Police Chief James Burke was a tipping point, proving that county government could not be trusted to operate independently without supervision. They also cited County Executive Steve Bellone’s appointment of Tim Sini to replace Burke as key evidence supporting their pleas, accusing him of not having enough experience to do the job at the level the county needs.

We don’t disagree with the Suffolk County GOP in saying that the federal government should consider monitoring the county’s police department to make sure it is adequately protecting us and that the taxpayer dollars funding it are being well spent. There should be a monitor — but not solely for the reasons our Republican lawmakers have outlined. There are plenty of other issues concerning the Suffolk County Police Department that a federal monitor could help alleviate.

For starters, we have editorialized in the past about the department’s ongoing relationship woes with the greater Hispanic community, which has had a public spotlight for the last several years. The department has taken some steps to address this issue, but a lot more can be done.

A federal monitor could also make sure our department utilizes its resources appropriately at a time when many elected officials argue that patrols are being stretched too thin and officers are overworked. Better management of resources could also mean better enforcement of the county’s gang population and fight against drug abuse.

As much as we might cringe at the idea of “more government” — especially on the federal level — it would be better than nothing.

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By Emma Kobolakis

Winter dinners are inherently cozy. The air is colder, so the food is heartier. Some of us close our eyes and imagine a beautifully browned bird with bountiful sides of stuffing and sauce, a la Thanksgiving dinner. Others salivate at the thought of glazed ham or roast vegetables. That’s the grand thing: Our preferences are unique to each of us, and those preferences are built on shared experiences. The nostalgia felt when revisiting those experiences builds our anticipation to indulge, year after year, with friends and family.

That’s the grand thing: Our preferences are unique to each of us, and those preferences are built on shared experiences.

What’s your fondest holiday memory? Perhaps it was the time that you snuck handfuls of marshmallows and ate them in front of the TV while mom was making sweet potato casserole. Or the time that you and your friends decided to buck tradition and host a potluck, where you had a bite of everything and collapsed, moaning, on the couch. Or that one year when you decided you were the second coming of Martha Stewart and resolved to cook the entire feast, yourself — only to be saved from certain disaster when guests arrived to help. Or perhaps you carried it all off with a flourish.

If you’re a nervous home cook, it isn’t easy to devise a winter-worthy side or main course, which is why many of us do tend to play it safe and stick with the tried and true. However, there’s much to be said about taking something basic and adding some new flavor to it. The idea is to cook seasonally, with an eye on what’s readily available, as that usually has the best flavor. And it’s just as important to highlight those flavors in a harmonious way. Try to think outside the box of root veg and roasted meat; you might be pleasantly surprised.

In order to riff successfully on a classic, start with the basics and change one or two elements. Stuffing is fine and dandy, but what about stuffing a squash with a heady mixture of pork, sage and bread crumbs? And it wouldn’t be right to disregard those of us who don’t eat meat at all. Try a steak — a cauliflower steak, caramelized and served with a hearty relish. Or if you’re tired of the typical protein-heavy main courses, how about pastitsio, a Greek meat and pasta pie that will induce the same itis in your guests. They’re designed to serve at least four and are easily doubled (or tripled) to feed a crowd.

—Holiday dinner recipes—

Butternut squash stuffed with pork, sage and bread crumbs — Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes — Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

INGREDIENTS: 2 tablespoons butter; 1 teaspon olive oil; 2 stalks celery, diced; 2 shallots, sliced; 2 cloves garlic, sliced; 1 pound sweet pork sausage, casings removed; 1 small bunch sage (chiffonade); 1/2 cup bread crumbs; 2 medium-sized butternut squash, sliced in half lengthwise and seeded; 1/2 stick butter, melted; salt

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and a glug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Sauté the celery, shallots and garlic until translucent.
3. Add the sausage, breaking up with a spatula into small pieces.
4. Once browned, add sage. Salt to taste.
5. Remove from saucepan, place in bowl. Add bread crumbs until desired consistency is reached.
6. Brush butternut squash with melted butter and sprinkle with salt.
7. Mound stuffing into squash hollows and sprinkle with more bread crumbs and melted butter.
8. Roast until the squash is soft when poked with a knife, about 45 minutes.

Pastitsio  Serves 8
Active Time: 1 hour — Total Time: 2 hours

INGREDIENTS: olive oil for frying; 1 large onion, chopped; 3 cloves garlic, minced; 2 pounds ground beef; 1 teaspoon cinnamon; 1 teaspoon oregano; 1 teaspoon thyme; 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes; salt; bread crumbs, for garnish; 1 pound ziti; 1/2 stick butter, unsalted; 1/4 cup flour; 2-1/2 cups whole milk; 1 cup Parmesan (+ 1/2 cup for topping); nutmeg

In order to riff successfully on a classic, start with the basics and change one or two elements.

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Prepare meat sauce: heat olive oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Add beef and sauté until no longer pink. Add cinnamon, oregano and thyme. Add crushed tomatoes. Salt to taste, and let simmer for 45 minutes.
3. Prepare béchamel: Melt butter. Add flour and cook until golden-brown and nutty. Stream milk in slowly while whisking. Whisk every so often until béchamel is thick. Salt to taste. Grate nutmeg into it, about 1 teaspoon’s worth.
4. Prepare pasta: Boil pasta until al dente; it’ll be baked again. Combine pasta with meat sauce.
5. Pour pasta and sauce mixture in 13- by 9-inch buttered baking dish, topping with béchamel. Sprinkle with bread crumbs and extra 1/2 cup Parmesan. Bake for 1 hour, until golden brown and bubbling. Serve hot.

Curry cauliflower steak with roasted red pepper relish — Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes — Total Time: 1 hour

INGREDIENTS: 1 head cauliflower; olive oil; 2 tablespoons curry powder; 2 roasted red peppers; 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped; red wine vinegar; honey; salt; 1/4 cup chopped peanuts

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Slice cauliflower head into 1/2-inch thick “steaks.” Rub with oil and dust with curry powder.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in cast iron (or ovenproof) skillet. Fry on both sides until browned, then move to the oven for 15 minutes, or until tender.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the relish. Chop red peppers and parsley.
5. Whisk red wine vinegar, honey and salt in a bowl. Stream in olive oil until emulsified.
6. Add peanuts and salt to taste.
7. Serve steaks with relish on top.

Emma Kobolakis is a professional cook, food writer and recipe developer based in New York. Her work has appeared in Serious Eats and on the tables of diners in Brooklyn.

The Tesla Science Center laboratory site in Shoreham is blocked off while it’s under redevelopment. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Science doesn’t come cheap.

So it was a pleasant surprise for the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe when the New York State Regional Economic Development Councils announced the center will receive two grants totaling $700,000. While the center has yet to receive the grants, the NYSREDC’s 2015 awards notice for Long Island is proof the grants are forthcoming. The state agency did not reply to messages prior to publication.

The center is slated to receive $200,000 through the Market New York grant program, which tackles public relations and increasing tourism, among other responsibilities. The remaining $500,000 will go toward the center’s Wardenclyffe site. The center is currently redeveloping this property and plans to establish the Nikola Tesla Museum and Science Center. The site is the last remaining laboratory of Tesla, a prominent inventor in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

According to Tesla Science Center President Jane Alcorn, the center applied for the grants this past July. Alcorn added applying for the grants is a competitive process as there are many applicants for these grants.

“It’s very exciting to have funds to promote our project and to work on the redevelopment of Wardenclyffe,” Alcorn said in an email.

Initially, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was known as Friends of Science East Inc. While its name changed, the not-for-profit mission to develop Tesla’s only existing laboratory site into a science center and museum remained the same.

In 2009, when Brookhaven Town Superintendent of Highways Dan Losquadro was a Suffolk County legislator and former state Assemblyman Marc Alessi was still in office, the two announced plans to acquire the 16-acre property. Former town supervisor, Mark Lesko, and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) were also part of this effort to acquire and preserve the property on behalf of the state and town, according to an article on the Tesla website.

Alessi emphasized its importance as the last Tesla lab in the world. He added that the site was culturally and historically significant as a result.

“We need to ensure that it is protected so that future generations can continue to enjoy this landmark,” Alessi said in the article.

Regardless of these officials’ plans, Friends of Science East purchased the property in 2013. The organization also hoped to preserve the site and make improvements.

Tesla built his facility in Shoreham in 1901-03. It was a small brick building no bigger than a schoolhouse. Yet behind the building was a 187-foot tower that Tesla intended to be a wireless power transmission station, which Tesla claimed would produce wireless electricity.

Now years later, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe is looking forward to a brighter future for the site, and hopes to be able to do even more.

“We hope to apply for additional grants in the future [that] will assist in the continuation of progress toward the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe opening day,” Alcorn said.

Huntington's Katie Reilly maintains possession of the ball as she calls a play, as Jillian Unkenholz defends for Smithtown. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Despite the Smithtown West girls’ basketball team clawing back and taking its first lead of the game with just over five minutes left in regulation, Huntington closed the gap and edged ahead by a point, holding onto the lead in the final minute for a 44-43 League III victory Monday night.

The Bulls opened the third quarter with six unanswered points and trimmed their deficit to four to open the final quarter trailing 31-27.

Anna Gulizio scores for Huntington over the head of Smithtown's Sarah Harrington. Photo by Bill Landon
Anna Gulizio scores for Huntington over the head of Smithtown’s Sarah Harrington. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown West head coach Katie Combs said her team missed many opportunities early in the game.

“Predominantly layups and our free throws killed us today,’ she said. “Had we not done that, we should’ve won that game by 10. We’re a much better team than that, and in the second half, we had to step up and show it.”

With 5:45 remaining in the game, Smithtown West drew within one point when Rebecca Meyers went to the line shooting for two points. The senior forward missed the front end, but nailed the back to tie the game at 33-33. On their next offensive possession, the Bulls took their first lead of the game when junior forward Gabby Horman, on a rebound, banked two points to put her team out in front, 35-33.

“We started getting our steals with our press, which carried over on offense,” said Horman, who led her team in scoring with 12 points. “Coach told us at the halftime that we need to dominate in the second half and get the ball down low.”

Huntington edged ahead by a field goal and a free-throw appearance, but Horman retied the game when she went to the line shooting two and split the opportunity.

Both teams were plagued by penalties in the final two minutes of the game, and both teams traded points at the foul line. Leading by one, the Bulls found the rim to edge ahead 43-40 with 1:33 left in regulation.

“Our girls just worked really hard in that second half,” said Smithtown West freshman Jillian Unkenholz, who scored 10 points on the evening.

Huntington went to the free-throw line next, but came away empty as the score stalled with 55 seconds left on the clock.

Huntington sophomore Alex Heuwetter let a three-point attempt fly with 35 seconds left, and her shot hit its mark to tie the game again, this time, at 43-43.

Huntington's Taylor Moreno tries to force a turnover from Smithtown's Jillian Unkenholz. Photo by Bill Landon
Huntington’s Taylor Moreno tries to force a turnover from Smithtown’s Jillian Unkenholz. Photo by Bill Landon

“We sat back on them a little bit — we got comfortable with where we were at and they took advantage of that,” Huntington senior Taylor Moreno said. “The second wave of our bench came in and that completely changed the whole demeanor of the game, which gave us confidence to make that last push and we were able to come out with the win.”

With less than six seconds remaining in regulation, Huntington senior guard Katie Reilly drove the lane and was fouled, sending her to the charity stripe. She scored on the first, but missed the second opportunity to put her team out front 44-43. Reilly and Heuwetter both topped the Huntington scoreboard with 14 points apiece.

Despite her strong performance in the final quarter, Reilly said the coach wasn’t pleased at the halftime break.

“Well, the subs went in to start the second half — all five of us came out because we were slacking a little bit,” Reilly said. “So coach sent in five new people and they carried us, so it was a real team effort.”

With 4.2 seconds left on the scoreboard, Smithtown West had one final possession, inbounded the ball and passed to the baseline only to have it picked off by the Blue Devils as the buzzer sounded.

“We let them hang around and I think that was our biggest problem — we were content where we were instead of separating ourselves,” Huntington head coach Michael Kaplan said. “The girls who came off the bench really stepped up and contributed to the win, because whoever’s playing the hardest is going to play, and our subs came in and gave us a spark and energy that rejuvenated the rest of the team.”

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Whatever else we may be feeling right now, it is safe to generalize that we are not bored. Aside from the usual holiday frenzy, as we get our homes, our pets, our refrigerators and pantries, ourselves and our shopping lists ready, we are overwhelmed by more issues at this year’s end than I can ever remember. Maybe it has to do with our instantaneous news feeds that make us aware of what’s going on. But I think that we are living in a frenetic age.

Where to start?

Certainly, terrorism has occupied center stage in the minds of Americans. Worse — and more frightening than attacks from outside — is the demonstrable possibility of random homicide from within, from Americans or those who have settled among us and been “radicalized,” a polite word for psychopath. For how else can one characterize those who would commit mass murder to make a statement?

Continuing on, in no particular order, there is the fierce debate about guns and their easy availability in our country. Probably the most extraordinary line I have heard on the subject: “If Jews in Europe had had guns, there never would have been a Holocaust.”

The presidential race, started way before the actual election, has become an excellent source of entertainment as spectator sport for the public and high ratings for the TV stations. Top banana is surely Donald Trump, who is clearly having the time of his life mocking his GOP colleagues and those of the opposition party, especially Hillary Clinton. Just think: If this were a movie, people would never believe it could happen, this New Yorker leading the pack by insulting everyone in sight. He may even be the catalyst for a new detente with Russia. Putin really likes him and vice versa. Maybe he gives Putin something more interesting to watch on his own TV at home at night than the censored news the Russian people are served up. How probable that a candidate in Russia would be able to say the one-liners Trump offers each day, starting with his opinion of his president?

Then there is the grave matter of police brutality, which is framed in large part by the issue of racism in America. No sooner is there a police shooting in one state than there is another in another state, equally distributed between North and South, East and West. The only redeeming feature is the outrage and immediate investigations such events engender. But how helpful those reactions are remains to be seen. We must keep the spotlight
on them.

Immigration has become a major flash point, having moved from Mexican youngsters crossing over in large enough numbers to overwhelm the border patrol to Syrians and others from the Middle East desperately seeking asylum from the bombings and atrocities currently perpetrated on civilian populations. We are living in a time with the greatest migration of peoples since World War II displaced millions. And how are we to judge the authenticity of each person coming into America? By the same token, do we discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or religion? Have we learned nothing from the past century?

Immigration is an even more acute issue across the Atlantic since Europe is a geographically closer destination than the United States. Thousands have abandoned their homelands, taking little more than their children and the clothes on their backs to try and make a better life in the northern countries. Some have perished along the way. Fences have gone up to prevent their entrance, threatening the basic tenets of the European Union amid the countries’ inability to cope. Partly underlying resistance to the newcomers is the fear of admitting further terrorists.

Meanwhile we continue bombing Syria. So does Russia. So does France. So does a reported Middle Eastern coalition led by Saudi Arabia. No wonder mistakes are being made as people are killed who are not the intended targets. There must be almost as many different nationalities of planes in the air as people on the ground, trying to escape. What a mess.

For the moment, we here can do little more than pull our families closely around us and remember how lucky we are as we reach out to help others. No, we are not bored, just overwhelmed. May we see peace in our time.

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There we are at the Baseball Hall of Fame. And, look, remember that time mom ran into Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard on the street and got a selfie with him. Speaking of selfies, how about that one of our nephew who ran into Celtics’ basketball player David Lee in Boston?

Yes, every year, we produce countless photographic memories, capturing the moment. Those pictures may be worth a thousand words — and more.

I’m talking about our other senses. We have this incredible evolutionary gift that enables us to experience our lives, to appreciate and understand what’s happening now beyond just seeing a video, or flipping or clicking through a photo album.

At some point we’ve all lost someone we love. We can look at pictures, visit their graves and listen to their favorite songs. But the experience, at least for me, of remembering how they spoke or what they said breathes life into that memory.

Despite growing up in Manhattan, my Aunt Maxine developed a Jimmy Durante way of speaking. “Hey, you!” she’d shout at me from across the room. “Did yah remembuh? It’s my boithday soon and ya gotta get me a cake and a watch.”

Shorter than most adults, Aunt Maxine, who died several years ago, was so much more than her small frame. Yes, she flooded the airwaves at times with a deep voice that could seem like a jackhammer. And yet she could charm a Mona Lisa-type smile out of the most hesitant of audiences. My first thought is not of her stature, but the gift of her humor and of the back scratches she shared with her small, soft hands.

As we prepare to close the book on 2015, it’s worth going beyond the pictures of experiences, victories, defeats and challenging moments to celebrate our senses.

I recently attended a holiday party where a couple described in savory details the taste of a seven-fish stew they eat every year at Christmas. A relative who died long ago used to make it for their family. Not only do they appreciate the flavor, but they also use the taste to reconnect with their ancestors who left Italy long ago.

When we look at that picture of ourselves at a baseball game, we can and should remember the sun that peaked through the clouds, warming the backs of our necks. Even if we don’t eat the hot dogs, we can bask in the connection between that smell and those times we sat high in the seats at a baseball stadium, waiting for the hot dog vendor to place those warm meals wrapped in napkins in our mitts, which we refused to remove in case a foul ball came our way.

When we see that picture of our daughter in the dress she bought for a party, let’s allow the squeal she let out when she found the perfect outfit to echo in our minds. If you’re lucky and your daughter shares an excited sound, does a triumphant dance or expresses a joy that resonates throughout her body, you know how those movements or sounds make you feel. It’s probably something akin to how mother penguins, who have left their young for days on end to hunt for fish, react when they return to the familiar call of their young.

Or, maybe, we’ll take a moment to relive the way we bent over double, laughing with our wives and kids, about something ridiculous we said just before we got out of the car. Wonderful as the pictures of each year are, they’re the tip of the sensory iceberg of the experiences we shared in 2015.

Film review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By Michael Tessler

THE EXPERIENCE
To many, “Star Wars” is so much more than a film franchise. It’s an expansive sandbox filled to the brim with plastic action figures, toy lightsabers, X-Wing Lego sets, friendships and the imaginations of children everywhere. For me, it’s a return to a simpler time, one without bills, college, work or relationships. A time when my biggest concern was getting off the bus and running across the street to reenact epic lightsaber duels with my childhood best friend, Matthew.

This past Thursday, Matthew (now a soldier in the United States Army) and I reunited for one of the premiere showings of “The Force Awakens.” It had been over a decade since we attended a “Star Wars” film together. Mark Hamill could describe the experience best — “Everything has changed and nothing has changed.” We’ve both grown up. And yet you can’t help but feel six years old when the opening crawl appears and the John Williams score begins playing.

“We’re 32 years worth of excited,” one longtime fan said. “I’ve been to every ‘Star Wars’ premiere since the original film in 1977.” Standing next to him was his grandson. This was his first “Star Wars” premiere. For him, taking his grandson to the movie was the only thing more exciting than seeing the movie itself.

Some three decades ago a young boy by the name of Jeffrey Jacobs got to see “Star Wars” for the first time. Like many children, he was instantly hooked. Today he is the director and co-writer of “The Force Awakens” and the spiritual successor to George Lucas. He was given the impossible task: Make a sequel to the most popular film franchise ever made.

J.J. Abrams was our new hope. And he did not disappoint.

The crowd lines up at the AMC Loews in Stony Brook at the premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ last Friday night. Photo by Michael Tessler
The crowd lines up at the AMC Loews in Stony Brook at the premiere of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ last Friday night. Photo by Michael Tessler

THE REVIEW — (SOME MINOR SPOILERS BELOW)
Part of what made the original “Star Wars” so special was the tangibility of it all. Tatooine felt real because it was real. Filmed in the desert sandscapes of Tunisia, you just knew as a child that somewhere that place existed. This sensation was replicated in “The Force Awakens” during our journey to Jakku, a scavenger’s paradise littered with wreckage from the Galactic Civil War. Seeing the massive hull of a Star Destroyer consumed by the sandstorms of Abu Dhabi was both powerful and an excellent metaphor. While the Empire may be long gone, its shadow remains a looming threat over the galaxy at large.

Our story picks up 30 years after “Return of the Jedi.” Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing, and an evil faction known as The First Order has filled the vacuum the Empire left behind. In opposition is the Republic, a pacifist government, maintaining an uneasy peace with its inevitable enemy. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads a small band of resistance fighters hoping to stop The First Order before it strikes.

Harrison Ford, the clear star of the film, reprises his role as the infamous smuggler Han Solo. He’s old, he’s grumpy and absolutely perfect in his portrayal of the scruffy-looking nerf herder. His banter with renegade storm trooper Finn (John Boyega) is one of the film’s highlights. Co-writer and “Star Wars” veteran Lawrence Kasdan masterfully creates fluid dialogue reminiscent of “Empire Strikes Back” and”Return of the Jedi,” finding the perfect blend between story, wit and comedy.

We also meet newcomer Rey (Daisy Ridley), an orphaned scavenger living in a hollowed out AT-AT on Jakku. She’s full of surprises and is the perfect successor to everyone’s favorite Alderaanian princess. Alongside her is Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), an ace pilot who leads a secret mission at the request of General Leia Organa. He’s accompanied by his trusty astromech BB-8, who’s a true marvel of engineering and a worthy addition to the droid duo of C-3PO and R2-D2.

Perhaps my favorite new cast member is Adam Driver (from “Girls”) who plays the unstable yet wildly entertaining Sith-in-training Kylo Ren. Compared to the refined Darth Vader, he makes for an absolutely terrifying villain. We’re also introduced to Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), an entirely CGI supervillain whose background largely remains a mystery.

THE VERDICT
‘The Force Awakens” is an emotional cinematic experience unmatched in its ability to make you feel. Though at times the story feels rushed, it is a story worth telling. Plot lines may have been overused and recycled to the point of cliche (SPOILER ALERT: i.e., Death Star = Starkiller Base, intergalactic daddy issues, etc.), yet J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan compensate with a masterful screenplay and perfect casting.

From start to finish you’re on the edge of your seat. There’s no shortage of action and the cinematography is unrivaled. You’re so captivated by the story, effects, music and characters that you’ll overlook the film’s various (but forgivable) plot holes.

All in all this is the film fans have been waiting for. It is a worthy sequel to the most beloved franchise of all time and a perfect reminder of what “Star Wars” is all about. It’s about people, it’s about the underdogs, struggling to find a place in a galaxy of massive proportions. Because hey, if a simple farm boy from Tatooine can take on the whole Empire … then why can’t I?

Michael Tessler is a resident of Mount Sinai, a wannabe X-Wing pilot and an account executive at Times Beacon RecordNews Media.

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta, second from right, calls for a federal monitor to oversee the county police department in the wake of recent scandals. Photo from Suffolk County Republicans

North Shore lawmakers are calling on the federal government to keep a closer watch on the county police department.

At a press conference last week, Suffolk County Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) stood beside Republican minority leader Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) at the William Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to call for heightened oversight of the Suffolk County Police Department via a federal monitor. Their pleas came in light of a recent investigation and indictment of former county Police Chief James Burke, who was accused of beating a handcuffed suspect and attempting to cover up the crime.

During the press conference, numerous members of the Republican Caucus made it clear that both Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Tim Sini needed to speak up about what they know — if anything — regarding the alleged malfeasance of the department, given that their positions were so intimately tied to its internal mechanisms.

Trotta said that as more facts related to Burke roll out, it has become more apparent that the problem needs to be addressed by a federal monitor. He and his colleagues argued that federal involvement would allot the best resources available to the investigation and also instill an element of objectivity.

“I want the monitor to come in to make sure that everything in the internal affairs department is running correctly,” Trotta said at the press conference. “I want the monitor to come in and say that the person appointed to be police commissioner is qualified.”

Bellone ensured that a monitor will be established as soon as possible.

Bellone tapped Tim Sini to become Suffolk County police commissioner after serving as Bellone’s chief criminal justice advisor since August 2014.

Before his tenure as Suffolk’s assistant deputy county executive for public safety, Sini served as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2010 to 2014, specializing in violent crimes, gang prosecutions and large-scale narcotics cases.

“When looking for a police commissioner, I am seeking someone with character, experience and vision, and Tim Sini has all three,” Bellone said. “Tim is a man of real integrity with a strong sense of justice. Tim Sini has a unique blend of law enforcement experience as a federal prosecutor combined with a keen understanding of Suffolk County’s law enforcement community by serving as my top law enforcement advisor.”

But McCaffrey argued at the press conference that there was no time for “on-the-job training” when one is elevated to the level of commissioner of the county police department. McCaffrey argued that Sini is inexperienced, making it that much more essential that federal investigators seek out accountability.

“This is not a political issue, it is one of public safety and the integrity of our government,” McCaffrey said. “The State of New York, and now Suffolk County, is just roiling with corruption and mismanagement. The people of Suffolk County deserve much better than this, and anything less than full federal involvement will not be acceptable.”

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