Authors Posts by Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding

Kevin Redding
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Burton Gilliam, center, in a scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’
Burton Gilliam set to host special screening of 1974 classic 

By Kevin Redding

Harrumph harrumph harrumph. On Saturday, April 28, the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington invites one and all back to Rock Ridge circa 1874 for a screening of the groundbreaking, controversial and hysterical “Blazing Saddles” more than 44 years after its original release, featuring a very special appearance from one of its stars.  

It was February 1973 when Burton Gilliam, a Dallas, Texas, firefighter of 14 years and a Golden Gloves champion boxer during his time in the Coast Guard, got a phone call from a fast-talking “little ball of energy” from Hollywood he’d never heard of named Mel Brooks. 

Brooks, best known at the time as a staff writer on the Sid Caesar-led variety program “Your Show of Shows,” the co-creator of “Get Smart” and the writer-director of the 1968 film “The Producers,” was offering Gilliam the role of a cowboy in his upcoming film, a then-untitled Western-themed comedy. Gilliam laughed and thanked “Mr. Brooks” before hanging up. 

Just one of his buddies at the fire station putting him on, he thought. “‘Cuz that’s what firemen do to each other,” Gilliam, 79, recalled, laughing.

Months prior, Gilliam, who was 35 at the time, had responded on a whim to an ad in the Dallas newspaper about a local casting call for extras in director Peter Bogdanovich’s film “Paper Moon,” starring Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. 

Despite having no acting experience, Gilliam showed up with his big old grin and even bigger Texan exuberance. Over the course of a few weeks, he beat out hundreds of people in the audition process and impressed Bogdanovich enough to be given a small speaking part as a desk clerk named Floyd. After filming in St. Joseph, Missouri, wrapped, he returned to Dallas and his job at the fire department, looking forward to the June release of the film and thankful for his brush with movie stardom. 

But that phone rang again 10 minutes after he hung up and it was Brooks once more, explaining that he had seen a rough cut of “Paper Moon” and wanted Gilliam to meet with him to play this part. Gilliam was hesitant to abandon his job and $12,000 a year salary to go to Los Angeles and commit to the film. He wound up meeting with Brooks and producers three times before finally agreeing to come aboard.

“I remember that first time I met [Mel] — this little guy jumped over a desk and ran over to me and jumped into my arms, pushing me against the wall,” Gilliam said. “He was like a koala bear. I had no other thought but to like him. He was so open and funny.”

Between Gilliam’s first and third trip to Hollywood, Brooks and his team expanded his once-tiny role as Lyle, a dim-witted and callous antagonist to the film’s hero Sheriff Bart (played by Cleavon Little), into a much heftier one that sets the stage for the entire film (“What about ‘De Camptown Ladies’?”). 

He received a call of persuasion from Richard Pryor, one of “Blazing Saddles’” many writers, and Brooks promised to pay him his yearly salary at the fire department in the three weeks he’d be filming for, plus overtime.

Burton Gilliam and Slim Pickens

“About four weeks later, I quit the fire department,” said Gilliam, one of 10 members of his family to serve as a fireman. “I was the only one that ever quit. And after I did, everyone came out of the woodwork to tell me how crazy I was. But I went to Hollywood and stayed for 23 years! And what a great 23 years it was.”

Since appearing in Brooks’ 1974 classic, Gilliam has acted in more than 50 films and television shows, including “Fletch” starring Chevy Chase, “Back to the Future Part III,” “Honeymoon in Vegas” with Nicolas Cage, and episodes of “Mama’s Family,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Knight Rider” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.” He has also appeared in countless commercials and has even lent his instantly recognizable voice to video games. 

“To me, the most rewarding part has been meeting the people working behind the scenes — the makeup people, the wardrobe, lighting, sound departments,” Gilliam said. “They were all so good to me.”

When he isn’t in front of the camera, Gilliam has become a staple at various charities across the country. 

Through it all, the actor said he never gets tired of answering questions about, and quoting lines from, the movie that made him famous. Although, he admits he never would’ve guessed “Blazing Saddles” would remain so popular and beloved nearly 50 years later, especially one that very clearly could never be made today.

“It’s really a mystery almost that something like this can last this long, and it’s going to last a lot longer,” Gilliam said. “And Mel Brooks is as surprised as anybody that it’s lasted this long. I don’t know what to make of the whole thing. When we did the picture, Mel always said the people at Warner Brothers gave him $3 million and told him to go have a good time. And that’s it right there … it’s something that had never been done before, saying those words and doing those things we did and getting away with it.”

Burton Gilliam as Lyle, right, in a scene from ‘Blazing Saddles’ with Slim Pickens as Taggart

The film, of course, about the arrival of a black sheriff in an over-the-top racist town, is a raunchy (it’s the first film to feature a flatulence scene!), chaotic, uproarious, surreal, wholly politically incorrect and brilliant satire of the western film genre and a no-holds-barred takedown of racism and prejudices. 

In the opening of the film, Gilliam’s character Lyle, joined by his gang of thuggish cowboys, orders a group of black members of a railroad crew, led by Little, to sing a song while they work, saying “When you was slaves, you sang like birds.” Lyle expounds a series of racist comments here, including the N-word, which he recalls made him uncomfortable while filming the scene on set. 

“It was the second week I was there and I had to say those words to about 25 black guys, saying these things that had never been spoken before in movies and that was a bit hard,” Gilliam said. “So after we were on the scene for probably 25 minutes, they were switching cameras for somebody’s close-up, and Cleavon said, ‘Hey let’s take a walk.’ He told me, ‘Listen, I know you’re having a little bit of trouble saying these things but this is a movie and we’re having fun. Be comfortable and call me anything you want to … it’s okay, this is all fun…”

But, Gilliam said, Little warned him, “After they say ‘Cut!,’ if you call me that, we’re gonna go to fist city.’”

Cinema Arts Centre co-director Dylan Skolnick said he considers “Blazing Saddles” one of the funniest movies ever made, and remembers seeing it in theaters when it came out. While it’s been shown at the theater several times, he said he’s excited to have Gilliam emcee the screening.

“Burton’s one of those guys — his name’s not necessarily famous, but when you see him, since he’s been in a lot of movies and things as a character actor, it’s like, ‘Oh! That guy! I love that guy!’” Skolnick said. “It was great to be able to build an event around somebody like him, where he can be the star for the evening … It’s such an iconic movie and he has a crucial scene in one of the most famous moments.”

Gilliam said he’s looking forward to meeting and talking with the fans, and reminiscing about the making of the movie. “I enjoy those things because I get to talk a lot,” Gilliam said, laughing. “And I always get new questions; I have to be on my toes a little bit and I like that.”

As part of its Cult Cafe series, The Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will present a special screening of “Blazing Saddles” on April 28 at 9:45 p.m. with a Q&A with Burton “Lyle” Gilliam. Tickets are $15 per person, $12 members. To order, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

Photos courtesy of Bobby Bank 

Rare species that live in the Shoreham woods could be without a home if the land is cleared for a solar farm. File photo by Kevin Redding

To preserve it, they plan to purchase it.

For years, Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and his colleagues have fought tooth and nail to make the scenic stretch of woodland surrounding an abandoned Shoreham nuclear power plant off-limits to
developers. In January, he co-sponsored legislation to prevent the site from being dismantled for solar farm installation. 

And as of this month, under legislative approval in the state’s recently passed budget, not only has more than 800 acres of the site been added to the publicly protected Central Pine Barrens preservation area, as well as portions of Mastic Woods, elected officials have pushed for the state to buy the parcel of land altogether.

“[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting.”

— Steve Englebright

Englebright announced Apr. 4 that, as per an agreement passed by state officials the previous week, roughly 840 acres of the property — made up of rolling hills, cliffs and various species of wildlife — is set to be
purchased from its current owner, National Grid, in increments over the course of a few years, beginning in 2019. He said he and his fellow officials will urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to fund the acquisition, projecting that it could cost between $20-$50 million. But a final price won’t be known until the land is appraised, he said. At this point, he said there is roughly $36 million in the state budget this year for land acquisition, from which funds can be pulled to begin the process. 

He said National Grid has signed an agreement for the sale of the property and, since the acreage lies within the Shoreham-Wading River school district, taxes will be paid by the state on behalf of the school.

By turning the Shoreham land into state property, Englebright, as well as state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), longtime ralliers against ecosystem disturbance, hope to be able to better utilize its “unique natural characteristics” and improve its ground and surface water quality and coastal resiliency, as well as support tourism.

“We’ve recovered the Shoreham property and we’re stepping off into the direction of doing positive things, so stay tuned,” Englebright said. In his announcement at the beginning of the month, he said, “[That] property is one of New York’s largest remaining original coastal forest tracts as its rugged terrain historically precluded farming activities and clear cutting. Preservation of this museum-piece landscape as well as ensuring public access is a triumph for the protection of Long Island’s natural history heritage.”

“I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

— Richard Amper

Last year, Englebright proposed building a state park on the site as an alternative to National Grid’s plan to bulldoze its forest to build a solar farm in its footprint.

Together with the help of LaValle at the beginning of the year, Englebright drafted a bill calling for the expansion of the Central Pine Barrens to protect the Shoreham site and Mastic Woods — a 100-acre parcel also in danger of being deforested for a solar farm.The elected officials argued against “pitting greens against greens,” saying that while solar panels provide an important renewable energy source, they should not be installed “on pristine ecosystems.” Cuomo ended up vetoing that bill, but passed the Shoreham portion of it less than a month later.

The Mastic acreage is still slated for a solar farm installation to Englebright’s dismay, but he said he’s not giving up on saving it.

“My hope is that we can still see some leadership at the state level to provide alternative sites for solar development,” he said, suggesting the state office building in Hauppauge, which includes a large section of parking lots. “We should encourage solar installation, but work to move the project to a more worthy, and less destructive, site.”

Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, commended the purchase of the property.

“This is one of the most important [proposed state] acquisitions in the history of the Pine Barrens and other woodland preservations over the years,” Amper said. “I think that it’s terrific that we are still protecting our woodlands. I think Long Island has made up its mind … and is in the process of putting a provision into their solar codes that say, ‘Thou shall not cut down trees for solar.’”

Jan Staller, ‘Water Purification Plant,’ Hempstead, Long Island, 1991, Heckscher Museum of Art

By Kevin Redding

Heavy metal is coming to Huntington’s Heckscher Museum of Art this month. Not in the form of head-banging music but the photography of Jan Staller — a Long Island native whose large-scale shots of industrial landscapes, urban infrastructure, neglected buildings and construction materials have been subjects of beauty and acclaim for almost 40 years. 

From April 21 through July 29, nearly two decades of Staller’s career will be on display at Heckscher’s Heavy Metal: Photographs by Jan Staller exhibition, which will feature more than a dozen of his “monumental photographs,” a three-channel video of his work and an in-depth discussion with the artist himself on May 10 at 7 p.m. 

Jan Staller, ‘Pile of Rebar,’ Flushing, Queens, 2007, on loan by the artist

Staller, who moved to Manhattan in 1976 after gathering up degrees at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in Massachusetts and Maryland Institute, rejected the trend among photographers at the time to journey across the country in search of subjects and instead began capturing his immediate surroundings. A deteriorated highway along the Hudson River. Buildings in ruin. Unfamiliar architecture. All with a focus on pattern, geometry, line color and light — both natural and artificial. 

Staller has said of his unique work that he “looks for the sculptural, formal and lyrical qualities of objects that are not always thought to warrant contemplation.”

This ability to zero in on the unseen and passed-by in the urban setting, and capture the gradual development of Manhattan over time, has brought Staller’s work to the pages of Time and Life Magazine, Forbes and The New York Times and inside the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan and the Art Institute of Chicago. 

Since the 1970s, he has taken his camera across the country and world and was chosen to photograph on the sets of such films as “12 Monkeys” and “Fargo.” The latter’s snowbound setting was a natural fit for Staller, whose snapshots of blizzards in empty New York City in the ’70s and ’80s are among his most famous. He has also had two monographs of his photographs published — “Frontier New York” and “On Planet Earth.”

“Jan’s photographs show us our ordinary, everyday surroundings in a way that many of us do not perceive them,” said Lisa Chalif, the museum’s curator, who first met Staller during an exhibition in 2009 titled Long Island Moderns, highlighting local artists from painters to photographers to architects. “He makes me stop and see things differently. You see the beauty there and most of us are not able to look and isolate the formal structures necessarily in those sights. You can see all the color in the rusted steel. I didn’t always see that but he helps me see that.”

She continued, “Staller perceives in existing manufactured forms, seen in random industrial settings, a serene beauty that he isolates with his camera, discerning order in chaos, beauty in decay and a sense of mystery within the ordinary.”

In a recent interview, Staller, who grew up primarily in Sag Harbor, said he became infatuated with photography at an early age as his father pursued the art as a hobby, dark room in the house and all. By the time he was 13, he had his own 35mm camera and was snapping pictures of the garden and nature. A couple of years later, at 15, he started developing his own prints with the aid of a dark room he built at school. 

Looking back at his long career, Staller said the common thread in all his work is an “ephemeral” subject matter.

“Things in transition are, for at least in the moment that I’m there, of particular interest,” he said. “I think that’s something I’ve always been captivated by. But if you look at my work over the years, you can see there’s a gradual [inclination] to get closer in on the subject matter, a lessening of the contextual details and a greater emphasis on the thing itself. Until the thing itself is the only issue being explored, such as these photographs made of construction materials … ” 

The photographer, who still resides in Manhattan, said he was looking forward to the exhibition and gauging the public’s response to his work. “I think that being an artist, we’re exploring some ideas and are hoping to impart those to others,” he said. “So when people understand that in a very clear way, that’s probably the most gratifying thing.” 

Staller continued, “I often quip that we artists are all wannabe cult leaders, in the sense that we think that we have this vision of the world and art is something that is affirmed by a consensus or not. So it all depends on who or how many people are affirming the work. A show at The Heckscher Museum is an affirmation and one that I’m very satisfied with.”

The Heckscher Museum of Art, 2 Prime Ave., Huntington will present Heavy Metal: Photographs of Jan Staller from April 21 to July 29. The community is invited to a Gallery Talk on Thursday, May 10 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. $5 per person, members free. For more information, call 631-351-3250 or visit www.Heckscher.org.

Photos courtesy of The Heckscher Museum

Rocky Point eighth-grader Quentin Palifka shaves his head to raise money for childhood cancer during his school’s St. Baldrick’s event, at which he’s raised $10,437 in the last two years. Photo from Alicia Palifka

By Kevin Redding

Less than 3 years old, Quentin Palifka stopped in his tracks, looked up at his grandma and asked a question that “floored” her.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” the young boy said, according to family members.

Quentin Palifka with middle school Principal Scott O’Brien as he’s handed his 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Certificate of Excellence award. Photo from Alicia Palifka

But it didn’t take Quentin long before he figured it out. Less than two years later, at 4, he approached his mother and told her that he was going to become president of the United States.

“It was a bit shocking at the time,” his mother Alicia Palifka said, laughing. “But that’s just who he is. He’s always been an extremely compassionate, thoughtful, responsible child with integrity.”

And nine years later, the Rocky Point middle schooler has held onto those traits, and that dream. In fact, Quentin has his future clearly mapped out.

“I have a list of things,” Quentin, 13, said of his future aspirations. “So, after high school, I want to join either the Marines or the Army. Then after that, I want to go to law school to become a lawyer. After I’m a lawyer, I want to run for Congress in New York’s 1st Congressional District. And after that, I would love to run
for president.”

The eighth-grader is certainly on track for public office by upholding a reputation as a go-getter in and out of the classroom — in the third grade, he joined the student council, where he got his first real taste of student government and community service, continuing his involvement in the club throughout elementary and middle school. For the past two years, he has served as president of the Community Service Club; he goes out of his way to greet and thank every veteran he meets; is a fifth-level junior black belt in Kempo jiu-jitsu and currently training to become a sensei at United Studios Progressive Martial Arts; has once a month volunteered his time with those at Bellhaven Center for Rehabilitation & Nursing Care in Brookhaven; and, in the last two years, has raised a total $10,437 for his school’s St. Baldrick’s event that raises money for childhood cancer research — $4,270 last year and $6,167 this year.

“There are a lot of other kids like me that do wonderful and exceptional things.”

— Quentin Palifka

He received a special medal for donating the most money during the fundraiser events, and just last month, earned the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Certificate of Excellence honor. The national program honors youth volunteers for outstanding volunteer service, and the certificate is recommendation-based, being presented to the top 10 percent of all applicants from the state.

“It was just a huge honor to be chosen,” Quentin said. “I’m truly humbled and, you know, there are a lot of other kids like me that do wonderful and exceptional things — I’m happy to say that I’m one of them.”

Despite their pride, those who know him well said they aren’t the least bit surprised by the recent recognition.

“Quentin is just such a genuine, sweet and very well-mannered kid with a really good set of morals,” said Michelle Anzaldi, whose son Frankie, a special needs student at Rocky Point, has looked up to Quentin since he initiated a friendship with Frankie in fifth grade. “My son was put into an inclusion class then, and he didn’t have any friends in that class, but on the first day of school, Quentin went over to him, introduced himself, and [since then has] really watched out for him,” Anzaldi said. “He accepted Frankie for who he is, and their friendship is amazing.”

Quentin’s elderly neighbor John Taranto said that, for the past two years, Quentin has taken it upon himself to shovel out his driveway when it snows and helps to mow his lawn in the summer.

Quentin Pilafka with his grandfather Todd Freund. Photo from Alicia Palifka

“He’ll do anything for neighbors,” Taranto said. “He loves to do it, and he will not take anything in return. He tells me, ‘That’s what neighbors are for.’ You don’t find many kids like that. I always say that he was born in the wrong time.”

Perhaps nobody has been as impacted by Quentin’s generosity as much as his own grandfather, Todd Freund, a Korean War veteran and former self-employed salesman. Freund said he spent more than 35 years on the road — traveling across the country — and believes he missed a large chunk of his children’s upbringing.

“Now I have Quentin, and it’s been a blessing to me,” Freund said. “We’re extremely close and definite kindred spirits. I consider myself so fortunate because he taught me patience — something I’ve never really had. He and I will talk for two hours when I come over to visit, about everything. I know I sound like I’m talking about somebody who’s 60 years old, but Quentin has always lived a self-directed life and has always had
integrity and honesty. I believe it’s nurtured by his mother. She’s quite some girl.”

As much as Alicia Palifka said she’d love to take the credit, her son’s altruism is all him, she said.

“The reason he wanted to be so involved with St. Baldrick’s is because our neighbor had a child before Quentin was born who passed away from cancer,” she said. “He’s been raising money in honor of this boy he never met. This is just who he is — he always wants to do the right thing by people.”

The new team room at Rocky Point High School is meant to give student-athletes a sense of collaboration and camaraderie. Photo from Dan Spallina

By Kevin Redding

For years, Rocky Point High School physical education teacher Dan Spallina had a blank canvas in the form of an old weight room-turned-football storage space. But this past February, with the help of volunteers and supporters — including parents, students and faculty members — he completed and unveiled a state-of-the-art sports team room in the space’s footprint to be used for video breakdowns of players’ performances, halftime meetings, team gatherings and other school events.

Parents and students help Rocky Point coach Dan Spallina, on right, turn high school storage space into a sports team room. Photo from Rocky Point school district

As head coach of the girls lacrosse program, Spallina, a Rocky Point graduate, recalled visiting the room to pick up his players’ uniforms in 2015 and envisioned something better for the school’s athletes in the cramped and underutilized area. As the student-athletes were often relegated to unused classrooms, the hallways or the athletic field for meetings and team-building exercises, Spallina thought a more suitable space could be built in the spot — a plac for “collaboration and camaraderie.”

“I just thought, what if?” Spallina said.

So, in fall 2016, after receiving approval from the board of education, he rounded up a small, determined band of parent volunteers, with the help of the district’s athletic director Charles Delargy, to help configure, spackle and paint the space. Spallina said the volunteers regularly pitched in at night, after their full-time jobs and daughters’ lacrosse games, to help bring the roughly $4,700 project to light. Even a couple of players helped with painting.

What is now the Rocky Point team room used to be storage space after it was an old weight room. Photo from Dan Spallina

“When I say dedication, I mean dedication,” Spallina said. “The volunteers just wanted to help out and be a part in it. In my eyes, it was simply amazing.”

Together, they transformed a room previously used by teams to watch gameplay videos on a small television or an old projector against a white wall into a clean, open facility equipped with a full HD 4K projector, video screen, stadium seating and strip lights on step-down levels. The new complex has also been decorated with 3-D wood objects, framed inspirational quotes and artwork of the Eagles emblem and American flag.

“To have an idea, then see it being brought to life is incredible,” said Spallina, who presented the new room during a special celebration event in late February alongside Delargy. “My hope is that every athlete that steps into the room feels the sense of pride that it took to build. This is a truly special community and togive the student-athletes a room like this can only be positive.”

The construction phase of the Rocky Point team room was made possible the the help of parents and students. Photo from Dan Spallina

Delargy said when he came to the district a year and a half ago, he and Spallina quickly saw eye to eye about the room’s potential.

“One of the first things I did was stress with the teams and coaches about how helpful video is to prepare for games and for general improvement — and the storage area was the perfect place to do something like that,” Delargy said. “It turned out to be such a nice community project and the coaches and students are all extremely happy, because now they have a place to go. And with the 4K projector — it’s night and day.”

John Bellissimo, the parent of senior lacrosse player Christina Bellissimo and one of the lead volunteers who helped design the room, also noted the importance of the new facility, stating he feels every school district should have a dedicated space like the one at Rocky Point for its student-athletes.

“Of course, our job as parents is to provide our kids with every opportunity to be the best they can be, and help bring the goodness out of them,” Bellissimo said. “So, by having this team room, it’s going to foster the team spirit, togetherness and confidence, and really push these kids to understand what it means to work as a team. The feedback from the kids is that they love it. Because it’s new, nobody else has had it — it’s theirs. This is the room they needed.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River’s third preliminary budget presentation for the 2018-19 school year March 20 included an added proposal to bring a pre-kindergarten program to Miller Avenue School for a total $270,000 in contingency funds. Some residents were on board for the idea, while others wondered if there were better options in how spend the district’s extra dollars.

Superintendent Gerard Poole said the board of education received a request last month to consider the inclusion of the popular program that offers deeper learning and more structured skill-building to young children as a way to better prepare them for success in future education. According to the presentation, the robust program features play-based math curriculum, English language arts, development of fine motor and gross motor skills and a strong emphasis on social-emotional learning.

“This is a really great gift to give to our children. It’ll help them socially, cognitively and emotionally, and also help our district’s enrollment. Families that are young and new are looking for programs like these.”

— Courtney Von Bargen

 

“Pre-K programming, according to our research, offers benefits to students’ social-emotional learning and academics, and eases the transition to kindergarten,” Poole said. “About half of Long Island districts do offer a pre-K program.”

Administrators estimated that $250,000 would be spent annually to cover the costs of staffing. An additional $20,000 was also set side as a one-time start-up cost for this year. The program requires a total of two teachers with pre-kindergarten certification and two teacher aides.

These funds, they stressed, do not in any way change previously-presented budget numbers — which includes a slight increase of just .95 percent, or $701,500, from the current year’s budget at a total $74,776,072. There’s a projected tax levy decrease in the budget draft of .5034 percent, or $268,775 from the 2017-18 budget.

Pre-kindergarten would occupy two classrooms with a capacity of 72 students and be broken down into two half-day time slots — 9:15-11:30 a.m. for one group and 12:15-2:30 p.m. for the other. Implementation of the program would also potentially boost the district’s declining enrollment.

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent voiced his feeling of opposition not as an elected official, but as the father of a student in the district.

“I’m here to urge members of the board to not adopt the pre-K program,” he said. “Fundamentally, this program would reduce options for district parents because the money can be applied elsewhere. It has been proven time and again that when you introduce public funding into a preschool, you reduce the options, and put outward pressure on private providers. Half-day programs will also take students away from other activities.”

“Fundamentally, this program would reduce options for district parents because the money can be applied elsewhere.”

— Dan Losqudro

He read a quote from Lindsey Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy, a national independent advocate for public education and more effective public schools. “Subsidies for early childhood education would produce negative effects … policy makers should recognize it’s unnecessary and provides no new benefit to low-income parents, and will create a new subsidy for middle and upper-income families while adding to the tax burden,” he said.

Wading River mother Robin Heavey also voiced opposition to the proposal, concerned about security issues that may arise from the program. Because the district would not be supplying transportation for pre-K, Heavey wondered how the school will handle the extra parents and children coming in and out of the building.

“What would be the drop-off and pick-up procedure?” Heavey asked. “If we went through the main vestibules at Miller Avenue, 36 families walking through at the same time would cause disruption and difficulty. And also, what about security guards? Will we have to hire an additional guard for drop offs and pickups?”

Alisa McMorris said she would like to see the extra funds go toward enriching and enhancing the district’s existing programs instead.

“We really need to take a good look at how this will affect the entire district, and how it can be utilized somewhere else,” she said.

But Courtney Von Bargen, a former teacher in the Connetquot school district, stood up in support.

Shoreham-Wading River Budget highlights:

  • 2018-19 proposed budget 0.95 percent higher than current year — $74,776,072 compared to $74,074,572
  • All instructional programs will be maintained, with several additions including Project Adventure and Student Council at Miller Avenue; Science Olympiad and Coding clubs at Wading River School; Christian Club and a cheer team at the middle school; and a yoga club at the high school
  • Tax levy decrease of .5034 percent, below the allowable tax levy limit cap over the last six years
  • Employee salaries and benefits make up 70.9 percent of the budget’s total expenditures with $33,811,370 projected for salaries and $19,205,941 for benefits
  • Superintendent Gerard Poole said: “Our budget is developed to maintain and strengthen our student programs and outcomes and developed to protect the future fiscal health of our residents.”

“Research shows that 3- and 4 year olds that attend high-quality preschools are more successful in kindergarten and beyond,” Von Bargen said. “It really starts with a strong foundation, and if they’re provided with that they will be successful throughout their careers. This is a really great gift to give to our children. It’ll help them socially, cognitively and emotionally, and also help our district’s enrollment. Families that are young and new are looking for programs like these.”

After the meeting, a few more residents weighed in on the issue on a Shoreham-Wading River community page on Facebook.

“So many districts have pre-K programs,” Wading River resident Justine Eve said. “It helps the little ones get acclimated to their building and prepares them well.”

But Stacey Tingo believes the district should have other priorities.

“Let’s meet the needs of all the current students in the district before we bring on new clientele,” Tingo said. “Bring in a full-time elementary librarian, secondary grade psychologist, add another unit to the high school math and science classes … then we can talk about pre-K.”

Board of education member Michael Yannucci addressed many of the concerns of residents.

“We as a nation invest more in academic intervention and not enough in early intervention, where the vast majority of research shows we get more value from,” he said. “Any thought that adding a few pre-K classes would add to security threat is misplaced … we also put many dollars toward enrichment and mental health and current services are regularly evaluated for efficiency. Miller Avenue is the most logical place for [this program]. It’s our early childhood school, has the space and will be the school these children attend for three additional years.”

The next budget meeting will take place Tuesday, March 27, and will focus on: Curriculum & Staff Development, Athletics, Community Programs, Health Services and Personnel — which makes up 1.19 percent of the budget. The public will be able to vote on the budget in May.

Residents at the Town of Huntington's vigil for Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Scott Beigel was a beloved teacher, coach and son, and on Feb. 14, he became a hometown hero.

The Florida school shooting hit close to home for Huntington residents, who joined together inside Town Hall March 14 for a candlelight vigil in honor of the Dix Hills native. Beigel died protecting students from danger as a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Beigel, 35, who graduated from Half Hollow Hills East, was one of 17 killed during the tragedy. He was shot while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Beigel had only been teaching at Parkland for six months, but also served as the high school’s cross-country coach.

“[Scott] was a hero not just on the day he died but every day of his life, to his students and the people whose lives he often helped,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We have unfortunately seen these incidents happen far too many times … but I do truly believe that Scott’s death and what happened in Parkland is something that will change this country. His heroism will change our country and save many, many lives. That will be his legacy.”

Michael Schulman and Linda Beigel Schulman. Photo by Kevin Redding

During the ceremony, Beigel was remembered for his “goofball” sense of humor, selflessness and a true love for his job and the students he taught.

Prior to working in Florida, he was a camp counselor and division leader at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania and a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children in South Africa.

Half Hollow Hills Superintendent Patrick Harrigan said in honor of Beigel, students at the local high schools have implemented a 17 acts of kindness initiative to improve the culture of their environment and make an effort to prevent another senseless tragedy from occurring.

“Scott was a new teacher, only six months into his tenure, and already making a difference every day for his students,” Harrigan said. “As an educator, it is my hope that Mr. Beigel’s lasting legacy is as a child advocate, a teacher, a coach and an inspiration to other teachers to always improve the lives of their students and the children in their communities.”

Looking up at a large photo of her son, Beigel’s mother Linda Beigel Schulman held back tears and said, “I love you Scott … you will forever be my inspiration and hero.”

She called to action the need for gun control legislation including universal background checks before purchasing a firearm; a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; and an increase in the minimum gun-buying age from 18 to 21. She also commended students who participated in the National School Walkout.

“We need action now and we will continue to be heard,” Beigel Schulman said. “When Scott was a child and came home from school, I worried about what kind of a day he would have; I did not worry about if he was going to come home from school.”

Beigel Schulman then turned to look upon a photograph of her son again.

“You may have died senselessly, but as I stand here today, I can honestly say not in vain,” she said. “It has been one month and I promise I will not stop until no child ever has to fear going to school, being with their friends at school and learning from their teachers [at school].”

A street sign that will rename Hart Place in honor of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel. Photo by Kevin Redding

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) unveiled the new street sign renaming Hart Place, where Beigel grew up and where his parents still reside, to become Scott J. Beigel Way.

Tragedies such as Parkland, Lupinacci said, “especially touch home when you have someone that grew up here, went to the high school, went to many of the same stores we go to … We thought it very fitting for where he grew up and spent his formative years to be renamed in his honor.”

The supervisor said a proper ceremony for the street renaming will take place in the upcoming weeks.

“We just want Scott’s voice and legacy to live on — we don’t want him to ever be forgotten,” said Melissa Zech, Beigel’s sister. “I think he would be so proud and I know we’re so proud of him. ― He was so smart, quick-witted, caring and loving. These are things I wish I would’ve told him when he was here.”

Michael Schulman, Beigel’s father, also spoke of the honor.

“This took us all by surprise,” he said. “It’s a great acknowledgement of what this town meant to him, and what he meant to the town. Right now, the street sign is something that’s bittersweet, but, in the years to come, it’ll just be sweet. I just wish we didn’t have to have it.”

Huntington Town Board is expected to formally vote on renaming Hart Place in Beigel’s memory at its March 20 meeting. Lupinacci also said the new street sign would be put on public display for area residents to see.

Northport Village Hall. File photo

Votes are in for the March 20 Northport Village Board trustee election, and results show that an incumbent and a former trustee have captured the two open seats in the three-candidate race.

Ian Milligan, a trustee since 2014, has come out on top with 1,078 votes, while Thomas Kehoe, who served as a trustee for two terms from 2006-14, came in second with 788. Each candidate secured titles for the next four years.

Ian Milligan. Photo from Ian Milligan

Trailing Kehoe by just 16 votes was Joseph Sabia — a former Northport police officer, Northport-East Northport school board member and a mayoral candidate in 2014 — who received 772 votes, all according to the office of the village clerk at Northport Village Hall as of March 21. The trustee-elects will begin their terms April 6.

“I’m glad to be back on the board,” Kehoe said. “I was here for eight years, so people know me — they know my work ethic, know that I get things done and that’s what they want. They want someone who’s going to work hard for them and be ethical and transparent, so, I think that’s why they voted for me.”

Kehoe, the owner and operator of East Northport-based K & B Seafood for more than 30 years, ran on an agenda to push the village into the 21st century by updating its infrastructure and antiquated codes, maintaining its public safety by securing the future of the village police department and helping solve problems of the local business community.

When he was trustee, Kehoe served as the commissioner of commerce, police and sanitation, and created the Northport Business & Economic Development Committee — a group he said he plans to re-implement. He said the committee’s first mission will be to tackle parking in the village.

“I’m very thankful that, hopefully, Northport can now return to some stability,” he said. “We have a lot of different opinions and lifestyles in the village and we make it work and, so, I’m happy to get back to it.”

Milligan, a Northport native and the owner of Electric Harbor Inc. on Willis Street, has focused his bid for re-election on maintaining Northport’s quality of life for residents, keeping taxes low, continuing to better the Northport Village Dock and getting a rain garden into the village to absorb rainwater runoff to keep the waterfront clean.

Thomas Kehoe. Photo from Thomas Kehoe

He could not be reached for comment following the election results, but in a previous interview with TBR News Media, Milligan said of re-election: “I have enjoyed this work and there is more work to be done.”

Sabia, also a local businessman as the owner of Sabia’s Car Care on Fort Salonga Road since 1977, ran for trustee promising to keep taxes low, restore the village’s crumbling roads and sidewalks, update village codes and push to bring a full-time paramedic to the vilalge’s firehouse.

Despite his disappointment in the overall results, the challenger said he’s proud of how he ran his campaign.

“I think [my opponents] spent a ton more money than I did, and they had more manpower, and I think I did pretty good,” Sabia said. “I think the people of the village spoke based on the tight race. Fifty percent of the people in this village aren’t happy. God bless everybody and God bless all the people that voted for me.”

Asked if he plans on running for the position in the future, Sabia said he wouldn’t rule it out.

“You never know what’s going to happen in life — I leave all my avenues open,” he said. “I’m not a quitter.”

The results also saw the election of new mayor Damon McMullen, a longtime trustee and the unopposed mayoral candidate in the race who secured a total of 1,078 votes. Paul Senzer was elected village justice with 966 votes.

Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”

Mose Allison
Evening will honor the music of longtime Smithtown resident

By Kevin Redding

Mose Allison. Photo by Michael Wilson

A reporter once asked the late jazz and blues pianist and singer Mose Allison — regarded among musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Pete Townshend and Van Morrison as “one of the finest songwriters in 20th century blues” — why he wasn’t more famous.

“Mose, you were a social critic before Bob Dylan, satirical long before Randy Newman and rude before Mick Jagger,” the reporter said. “How come you’re not a big star?” Allison, who was born in Mississippi and moved from New York City to Smithtown in the mid-1960s to raise a family and spent much of his time walking in the local woods and swimming in the Long Island Sound, responded: “Just lucky, I guess.”

On Saturday, March 24, The Long Island Museum, in partnership with WUSB-FM’s Sunday Street Concert Series and the Greater Port Jefferson-Northern Brookhaven Arts Council, will give the 2006 Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee his proper due with The Word From Mose: A Celebration of the Music of Mose Allison, a tribute concert in the Carriage Museum’s Gillespie Room at 7 p.m.

Jack Licitra

The concert, following the tradition of other Sunday Street Series shows organized by Charlie Backfish, Stony Brook University history lecturer and host of the university’s weekly radio program “Sunday Street,” will feature local and outside musicians, who will strum and sing through decades of Allison’s breakthrough material, including his more well-known tracks “Your Mind Is on Vacation,” “Everybody’s Crying Mercy” and “I Don’t Worry About a Thing.”

Allison, who died Nov. 15, 2016, just four days before turning 89, was a four-time Grammy nominee and frequent collaborator with jazz greats Zoot Sims and Stan Getz whose songs spanned more than 30 albums — The Rolling Stones, Diana Krall, The Who, The Pixies and Elvis Costello are among those who have recorded Allison’s songs.

Pete Kennedy

The lineup includes “Sunday Street” regular and New York-based singer-songwriter Pete Kennedy; Pat Wictor, electric and slide guitarist of the group Brother Sun; Jack Licitra, a Sayville-based keyboardist and guitarist as well as the founder of the music-teaching studio South Bay Arts in Bayport; and Abbie Gardner, an acclaimed Dobro player who has toured for many years as part of the trio Red Molly. Some members of Allison’s family, including his daughter and singer-songwriter Amy Allison, will also be in attendance.

The evening will also include a screening of a short BBC documentary on Allison called “Ever Since the World Ended,” featuring interviews with Costello, Morrison, Raitt and Loudon Wainwright III and footage of Allison performing.

“Not only is he such an important artist, Mose Allison was someone who lived in this area for many decades and we thought it was time to do something like this for him,” Backfish said of the decision to honor the musician. “When he wasn’t on tour, which was quite often, he would be back in the area and playing shows at the Staller Center at Stony Brook University or jazz clubs in Port Jefferson.”

Pat Wictor. Photo by John Mazlish

Backfish said he also had the opportunity to interview Allison on his radio program many years ago. “He had such an incredibly rich catalog in so many ways and these artists are going to get together and play both well-known songs of his and the deep tracks,” he said. “I would hope that if people aren’t aware of Mose, they’ll suddenly find someone they will check out and listen to, and for those who know him, this will be a great way to celebrate his music and listen to artists reinterpret his songs.”

Wictor, a longtime Allison fan who, with his band, recorded a version of “Everybody’s Crying Mercy,” said Backfish approached him to participate in the concert for his “affinity” for the man’s work. “I love Mose partly because he cannot be categorized easily,” Wictor said. “He sort of mixed jazz and blues, and social commentary, in a way that nobody else did. And I like his sense of humor in his lyrics, which were always a little sardonic and mischievous. He comes across as a person that doesn’t suffer fools gladly and that’s always enjoyable to me. The songs themselves are very musically interesting, too — blues-based but they always have a unique musical and lyrical quality unlike anything else.”

Abbie Gardner

Kennedy said Allison was unusual among jazz musicians in his time because he wrote a lot of songs with lyrics, while others primarily stuck to instrumental compositions. “Allison actually wrote songs that he sang and that’s what we’re focusing on during the concert,” said Kennedy, who noted that he’s had a lot of fun examining Allison’s songs more closely and learning them in anticipation of the show. “His songs sound totally modern to me now, even the old ones from the 1950s and ’60s. The writing is really clever, really humorous and had a little bit of social commentary to it, but not in a negative way.”

Licitra, too, expressed his excitement over his involvement, calling Allison’s music “the thinking man’s blues.” “I’m really looking forward to giving people a taste of his style of intellectualism and humor,” he said. “And for me, this is all about the group of performers on the bill. I’m a big fan of all of them and so I’m excited about playing with them and seeing how they each interpret Mose’s [work].”

The jazz legend’s son John Allison, who grew up in Smithtown, said while his father was a true “musician’s musician” and beloved in many artist’s circles, he was as low profile as could be at home. “There he was, living in Smithtown, so unassuming that even our neighbors, for 15 years, didn’t know what he did until they saw him on TV with Bonnie Raitt for a PBS concert at Wolf Trap,” John Allison said, laughing. “He just wanted to do his thing. He read books and played music. I’d come home from high school and he’d be listening to some weird Chinese, classical music and just laughing and loving it … [and] sometimes he did tai chi in the living room.”

The Long Island Museum is located at 1200 Route 25A, Stony Brook. Advance tickets to the tribute show are $25 through Friday, March 23 at www.sundaystreet.org with tickets at the door for $30 (cash only). Beer, wine and cider will be available for purchase. For more information, please call 631-751-0066.

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