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Sara-Megan Walsh

Sara-Megan Walsh
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Public hearing on proposed mixed-use 84 apartment building adjourned; date and venue not set

Save Huntington Village organizers Bob Suter and Dale Gifford wave signs protesting the Downtown Huntington project at the Jan. 24 hearing . Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Hundreds of residents flooded the board room, hallways and standing space in Huntington Town Hall last Thursday in a tidal wave of opposition for the proposed Downtown Huntington project.

The Town of Huntington’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to adjourn the Jan. 24 public hearing on the proposal by developer John Kean to construct a mixed-use building that would bring 84 apartments to Huntington village to seek a larger venue.

“We understand people made the trip down here and would like to listen to this,” John Posillico, chairman of the town’s ZBA, said. “However, we want to be fair to everyone collectively. We can’t do that under the current circumstance.”

A supporter of Save Huntington Village holds a sign in protest of the Downtown Huntington proposal Jan. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Roughly 300 residents waiting in hallways, unable to enter the town meeting room, could not hear the developer’s presentation after an “audio failure,” according to Posillico, but it was actually the crowd’s noise and conversation overpowering the building’s speaker system.

It is the first time in memory, according to town officials, a massive turnout forced a ZBA meeting to be adjourned.

“In a sense this hearing is a victim of our own success in getting people together around this issue — the overdevelopment of Huntington — of which this application is perhaps the most egregious example,” Bob Suter said.

Suter, a Huntington resident who helps organize Save Huntington Village, said while his group had called for a rally against the proposal, he hadn’t expected quite the turnout.

The parking lot of Town Hall was filled to capacity as drivers sought slots in the neighboring YMCA’s parking lot. Residents then stood on line for more than a half hour to pass through security and enter the hearing. Town employees pulled out folding chairs, as the meeting room was packed so dense the fire marshal took a head count, while late arrivals stood in the hallway. Before the meeting was adjourned, more than 85 individuals had signed up to speak on the project.

James Margolin, a Huntington-based attorney for Kean and property owner Alan Fromkin, recognizing the overwhelming turnout took the opportunity to explain the proposed development to the community publicly.

“The biggest issue is the misconceptions of what we are doing,” he said. “Most people thought the entire block was being knocked down. They thought we are putting a greater burden on parking when the whole idea here is that we are lessening the burden by hundreds of spaces.”

Huntington attorney John Margolin presents the Downtown Huntington proposal Jan. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The proposed Downtown Huntington project seeks to construct a roughly 180,000-square-foot structure on a 1.36-acre site made up of five different properties located along Main Street, Stewart Avenue and Gerard Street. It would be a four-story building combining restaurant and retail with 84 apartment units and a 59,000-square-foot underground parking garage. Its application must go before the Zoning Board for several variances before construction proceeds including: a C-6 General Business District zoning only permits three stories, not four; apartments are slated for street level; and a parking variance.

Margolin said in his introduction the underground parking garage would provide 127 slots, more than the 40 spaces currently offered in total on the five properties as they stand. Given this, he said the development needs a variance as it comes up approximately 130 spaces short of the number required, which he argued is less than the shortage of 218 slots based on the building’s current use. However, the traffic expert and others with Margolin who expected to present on Downtown Huntington’s proposal in greater detail did not have the opportunity to speak before the adjournment.

“We really needed to come tell the community exactly what this project was and wasn’t,” Margolin said. “We understand we have a negative recommendation from the Planning Board, but we are making our case to you this evening.”

The town’s Planning Board voted 5-1 at its Jan. 23 hearing to recommend the ZBA “strongly” deny all variances sought by the developer. Posillico said the adjournment to seek a larger venue will also allow the Zoning Board more time to read and digest the Planning Board’s suggestions.

At right, Huntington ZBA Chairman John Posillico. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Those in attendance shouted questions asking why town officials had not scheduled the hearing on Downtown Huntington for a larger venue to begin with, especially after Posillico admitted to receiving more than 300 emails on the application in advance of the hearing. The chairman explained the town could face a legal challenge if not all were fully able to participate, which would force the hearing to be held a second time.

“I respect the board’s recognition that hundreds and hundreds, 300 or 400 people in the hallway, deserve the right to hear what is being stated, the description of the project, and what people have to say,” Dale Gifford, a member of Save Huntington Village, said. “There’s 600 or 700 people who came out on this terrible night. I think it’s pretty incredible and shows how passionately people are opposed to this.”

At the heart of the issue lies the controversial amendment to C-6 General Business District zoning code that allows apartments to be built above restaurant and retail space, up to a height of three stories.

Gifford, Huntington resident Barbara Suter and other members of Save Huntington petitioned Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) to put a moratorium on development until proposed changes to the C-6 zoning are made public, debated at public hearing and set in place.

As of this publication’s press time, a new date and venue for the Downtown Huntington public hearing has not been set, according to ZBA special counsel John Bennett, but should be confirmed within two weeks. This may be further delayed if the developer chooses to scale back the size of the project. The ZBA has assured all those who signed up to speak Jan. 24 will be held in the same order originally.

Those residents interested in reviewing the developer’s proposed site plans can visit the Department of Planning and Environment, room 212 in Huntington Town Hall, located at 100 Main St. to review the file. A PDF of these documents will be posted on the town’s website once it is provided, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

Julia Witzke. Photo from Witzke family

Kings Park students are asking their community to come dine together to help raise funds to help a classmate in the fight of her life.

Kings Park High School will be hosting a pasta fundraiser Jan. 31 for junior Julia Witzke, who has been diagnosed with leukemia. The event will feature karaoke, games and raffles in addition to food with all proceeds going to the Witzke family.

“When someone in Kings Park is in need of help people come out in droves,” Judy Bishop-Hart, a retired executive assistant of the district said. “We want them to know we are with them.”

“This means everything, words can’t describe how happy we are with the love Julia is receiving.”

— Denise Witzke

Bishop-Hart said fellow classmates of Witzke came up with the idea of hosting a fundraiser. They approached Bishop-Harts’s son, Jack Bishop, who currently works as a 12th-grade history teacher and others for help.

“The students went to him to see if they could plan something for Julia,” Bishop-Hart said. “They’ve put it upon themselves to make this happen.”

Witzke’s mother, Denise, said what the students and the community are doing warms her heart.

“This means everything, words can’t describe how happy we are with the love Julia is receiving,” she said.

Her mother said Witzke is currently unable to attend classes at the high school while receiving treatment. The Kings Park junior has also been disappointed about being unable to take part in typical coming-of-age events with her classmates.

“It has been hard for Julia since the diagnosis,” Denise Witzke said. “She misses being in school. — It is her junior year and she felt bad missing out on her junior prom. She was looking forward to getting her learners permit and taking drivers education classes with her friends.

Bishop-Hart wants the Witzke family to know that they have the support of the community.

“We are with them every step of the way,” she said.

In addition to the event, students and school staff members are signing a poster with personal messages for Witzke to let her know that she is in their thoughts.

The fundraiser will be held Jan. 31 from 5 to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria of Kings Park High School, which is located at 200 Route 25A in Kings Park. The cost is $10 per person with children under age 5 free.

Volunteers are still being sought to help ensure the event runs smoothly. Anyone with questions or who is willing to offer time or services can contact Bishop-Hart at 631-896-9597.

A look inside the St. James General Store. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The St. James General Store is one of the longest continuously operating stores in the country, selling homemade goods and treats to visitors since 1857. Now, there is uncertainty and fear that its future is in danger.

Suffolk County, which operates the shop as a historic site under the Parks Department, has reduced its funding of the landmark by nearly 80 percent under the county’s adopted 2019 operating budget. St. James residents and supporters of the general store are concerned about its ability to keep its shelves stocked and continue operations.

“It’s a landmark that was the original post office of St. James. It’s such a huge part of our town that people come from all over to come to this place.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“This is something that is near and dear to all of our hearts,” said Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James. “It’s a landmark that was the original post office of St. James. It’s such a huge part of our town that people come from all over to come to this place.”

Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) only set aside $29,129 for the general store to purchase items for resale, down from a 2018 budget of $125,000. These funds are expected to stock the shelves of both the store and the Big Duck gift shop in Flanders, which is overseen by the same county staff.

“In 2018, the county had extra money left over from prior years and was able to appropriate additional funds to parks [including the stores],” Eric Naughton, the county’s budget director, said.

Despite the slashing of the stores budget, Suffolk’s lawmakers generally agree the St. James and Big Duck shops are moneymakers for the county. The stores turned over a profit of approximately $400,000 in 2018, which was returned to Suffolk’s general fund.

“As it does make money, it is in our best interest to increase its funding,” Naughton said.

As it does make money, it is in our best interest to increase its funding.”

— Eric Naughton

St. James resident Scott Posner, president of neighboring Deepwells Farm Historical Society, is familiar firsthand with the county’s fiscal issues. Roughly 14 years ago, the county walked away from running Deepwells for “budgetary reasons,” and he was part of a group there to continue to ensure the site’s operations. Posner said he’s ready to advocate for the general store.

“What we’re doing right now is making sure the county corrects its funding,” he said. “What we really need to do is lean on the county.”

Funding for the St. James General Store is taken from the proceeds of Suffolk’s hotel/motel tax, according to Naughton, which places a 3 percent occupancy tax on individuals renting rooms or lodging within the county. The budget director said once the tax is collected from businesses for last year and he’s able to reconcile the 2018 proceeds, there should be additional funding available to allocate to St. James General Store, Big Duck gift shop and the parks.

“I think we will be able to return it to the same level of funding,” Naughton said.

It is a living part of the past. It would be a shame to see it defunded.”

— Bev Tyler

Any additional funding recommended by the Suffolk executive’s office would need to go before the county Legislature for a vote and its approval before being appropriated. In the meanwhile, the county and the general store’s supporters agree the store’s limited budget will be enough to get it through the spring.

“The St. James General Store is one of the treasures of Suffolk County,” Bev Tyler, Three Village Historical Society historian said. “It is a living part of the past. It would be a shame to see it defunded.”

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose district covers St. James, said he will advocate for the store: “The oldest store in the country has survived the hurricanes, suburban sprawl, the Civil War and the Great Depression,” but not the county’s mismanagement.

Editor’s Note: The last name of Bev Tyler, Three Village Historical Society historian, was changed to its proper spelling. 

Zoning Board hearing to be held Jan. 24, 6 p.m. at Town Hall with presentation; period for public comment

A rendering of the proposed Downtown Huntington building submitted to the Town of Huntington by Kean Development Company. Image from Huntington’s Planning Department

A developer’s proposal to reconfigure five properties close to the heart of Huntington village into a singular mixed-use building will go before the Town of Huntington’s Zoning Board tonight for a second time to seek approval.

Developer John Kean of Cold Spring Harbor-based Kean Development Company will present a design to construct a four-story, mixed-use building occupying 1.36 acres including the site of Classic Galleries and the historic Huntington firehouse. It proposes to build 84 apartment units above retail stores and restaurant space along with a below-ground parking garage.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about it,”  Jim Margolin, an attorney representing the developer said. “We think it’s a good project and good for the village. Hopefully, people will listen.”

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there about it. We think it’s a good project and good for the village. Hopefully, people will listen.”

— Jim Margolin

The project, called Downtown Huntington, was first proposed to the Town of Huntington’s Planning Board in August 2015. Since then, the developer and the property owner Alan Fromkin have revised their preliminary plans four times making changes to the total number of apartments, stories, height of the building and architectural design, according to town officials. The most recent plans were submitted April 10, 2017.

“The bottom line is that this project will provide 127 parking spaces on site and there will be a significant reduction in the size of restaurant and retail use,” Margolin said.

The proposed structure would shrink the street-level retail space from nearly 40,000 down to 11,620 square feet and cut the restaurant floor space in roughly half from 6,400 to 3,853 square feet. Margolin also stressed the current parcels only provide 40 parking slots spread out among the five lots — 235 and 243 Main St., 5-7 Stewart Ave., 11 Stewart Ave. and 12 Gerard St.

Previously, Huntington’s Planning Board first reviewed the proposed development application and gave an advisory recommendation to changes. Among its requests was for the developer to conduct a traffic circulation study and profile renderings, which the town received in August 2018. With these documents in hand, the Planning Board revised its recommendations Wednesday night before the public hearing set for Thursday at 6 p.m.

“People are objecting to the sheer size of it and the extreme number of variances the developer is requesting.”

— Bob Suter

Huntington resident Bob Suter, who helps organize a residential coalition called Save Huntington Village, said he was one of many residents who remains staunchly opposed to the proposed Downtown Huntington development.

“People are objecting to the sheer size of it and the extreme number of variances the developer is requesting,” he said.

Many objectors have spoken out most loudly against variances requested to increase the maximum height of the building from three to four stories and relief for the required number of parking spaces. The parcels are currently zoned for C-6 General Business District, a zoning that Huntington residents have repeatedly called on the town board to review and change. Suter’s group arranged to make preprinted signed protest signs available to residents and business owners for pick-up Jan. 19.

“We handed out close to 200 signs on Saturday in a very short period of time,” he said. “People who were showing up are angry, they are really upset.”

Dozens have taken to social media to vent and have written emails to the town about preserving the former historic Huntington firehouse as a possible landmark in the village.

“While I cannot comment on a specific application before the ZBA, it is the priority of my administration to preserve the historic character and charm of our town while allowing business to flourish.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“While I cannot comment on a specific application before the ZBA, it is the priority of my administration to preserve the historic character and charm of our town while allowing business to flourish,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in statement. “In 2018, my first year in office, I asked the town’s Planning Department to review possible changes to C-6 zoning and provide recommendations to aid in the preservation of our town’s quaint aesthetic. The Planning Department is still working on those recommendations.”

Margolin said his clients have agreed to restore and preserve the original façade of the building, even though it “wasn’t designated historic by the town board.” Rather, its intended as a sign of goodwill.

Those wishing to voice their concerns, support or opposition regarding Downtown Huntington can participate in the public hearing scheduled for Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. at Huntington Town Hall.

Residents unable to attend Thursday night’s meeting can submit written comments via email to planning@huntingtonny.gov.

Michael Bento, of Northport village, announced plans to run for Huntington town council Jan. 3. Photo from Bento

A Northport millennial brazenly kicked off 2019 by kicking off his campaign to become a councilman in the Town of Huntington.

Michael Bento, 30, announced his intention to run for a seat on Huntington town board Jan. 3 while standing underneath the towers of the Northport power plant.

“I’m running as someone who grew up out here and now lives here with my wife and am hoping to raise a family here” Bento said. “I would like a Huntington that is not plagued by flooding, high taxes, corruption and has an infrastructure that can handle our cars.”

I would like a Huntington that is not plagued by flooding, high taxes, corruption and has an infrastructure that can handle our cars.” 

— Michael Bento

Bento said he spent his summers growing up at his grandparent’s house in Asharoken. He’s building a career working as a consultant for investment banking operations and corporate giving compliance. 

A registered Democrat, the new candidate said he’s been inspired watching the 2016 and 2018 election cycles where a larger number of young candidates ran for office. Bento said he has worked with the party on six campaigns in 2018, including canvassing for newly elected state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport).

“I’m running a people-centric campaign,” he said. “I am running to represent those people who have not been listened to by this or prior administrations.”

Bento said he plans to focus his campaign on his plan for bold, progressive infrastructural upgrades across the Town of Huntington to address widespread environmental issues. Key to this proposal includes improving the area’s coastal resiliency plans, starting with rebuilding Asharoken’s seawall, improving bulkheads, replenishing dunes and creating a system of townwide stormwater drains to deal with roadway runoff, something he said can serve as a precursor for a future sewer system.

He wants to spotlight the issue of affordable housing along with the need to be responsible in future development of Huntington.

I am running to represent those people who have not been listened to by this or prior administrations.” 

— Michael Bento

“We should not have giant, looming buildings in downtown Huntington where roads and the parking infrastructure is already strained to the maximum,” Bento said. “We need to be responsible about this. Part of the reason people want to live and grow up in Huntington is its historic architecture and charm.”

The new candidate said he genuinely appreciates the town’s history. In 2017, Bento received his master’s degree in history with a focus on public policy from Queens College. He’s suggested a shift away from apartment complexes toward tax incentives to purchasing property for low-income families.

Yet, the candidate said he recognizes there are political challenges in the months ahead. The first being gaining enough name recognition to get on the ballot, as he could potentially face a primary opponent. He’s launched a Facebook page titled Michael P. Bento for Huntington Town Council with plans to gradually role out a full social media campaign.

If elected, Bento said he will pledge to be a full-time councilman with no outside income or side jobs. He also plans to decline accepting any corporate donations.

“My job is to the people of Huntington, to the voters and that is one of the biggest things I can offer,” he said.

File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a man in Cold Spring Harbor Thursday morning.

Jason Mocte-Zuma was operating a 2013 Honda Civic sedan northbound on Harbor Road when his vehicle struck a utility pole and overturned at approximately 11 a.m. Mocte-Zuma, 21, of Huntington Station, was transported by Cold Spring Harbor Rescue to Huntington Hospital where he was pronounced dead. There were no passengers in the vehicle.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information on the crash is asked to contact the 2nd Squad at 631-854-8252.

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran announces a donation drive for furloughed government employees Jan. 10. Photo from Gaughran's office

As the federal government shutdown drags into the fourth week, Huntington area boaters and elected officials have come together to help provide relief to furloughed federal employees and their families.

The Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs, which represents more than 20 boat and watercraft organizations, announced Jan. 10 a gift card donation drive to help the U.S. Coast Guard personnel who safeguard the waters of the Long Island Sound.

“Year-round the brave and dedicated men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard stand ready to
respond to any emergency,” said Jackie Martin, executive officer of the boat council. “They continue to report to work even though they are not getting paid. They still have bills to pay and many have families to feed.”


Donations of food, personal hygiene items, household supplies, pet foods and gift cards for federal employees can be dropped off at:

• Gaughran’s District Office
   99-111South St., Suite 250
  Oyster Bay, NY

• Stop & Shop
   60 Wall St.
   Huntington, NY

• Long Island Cares
   220 Broadway
   Huntington Station, NY

• Long Island Cares
  10 Davids Drive
  Hauppauge, NY

Donations of gift cards for U.S. Coast Guard personnel can be sent to:

  The Greater Huntington Council of Yacht and Boating Clubs
    P.O. Box 2124
    Halesite, NY 11743

All checks must be made payable to “Chief Petty Officer Association” with Shut Down Fund CT-NY in the memo line.

Martin said the idea for a gift card drive came from her husband who previously served in the U.S. Navy. She said he knew the Coast Guard personnel operating out of Eatons Neck and Hartford, Connecticut, are considered part of the Department of Homeland Security during peacetime and, as a result, have not
received a paycheck since the shutdown began Dec. 22.

“He remembered how tough it was to live from paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “When you have a young family and are trying to live paycheck to paycheck it’s difficult.”

Coast Guard staff has cut back on all nonessential services but must be available to respond to emergency  situations. Some of its members travelfrom as far away as Jersey City to do four-day shifts at the base.

“There are people out there boating even in this weather,” Martin said. “There’s commercial fisherman and clammers out on our waterways.”

In addition to gift cards, the boating council will accept monetary donations to purchase gift cards to
be distributed among the Coast Guard by their respective commanders based on need.

Huntington’s boaters are not the only ones to have launched a donation drive in efforts to help out federal
employees in need. New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) made one of his first acts of
office Jan. 10 to announce a food and supplies drive alongside state Assemblyman Charles Lavine
(D-Glen Cove) at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, which has been shuttered by the government shutdown.

“Our federal workers don’t have the luxury of sacrificing their paychecks for an undetermined amount of time,” Gaughran said. “Federal workers on Long Island are now expected to choose between feeding their families or paying their mortgage.”

Gaughran and Lavine are working to set up a network of supermarket, business and offices to serve as
collection sites for donations to go to federal employees. Items being collected include food, personal care items, common household supplies, pet food and gift cards. He stressed that due to state laws the elected
officials and their offices cannot accept cash donations on behalf of federal workers.

The state senator said he started the initiative after speaking with Paule Pachter, chief executive officer of Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares food bank, who stressed that winter is often the most difficult season with the agency already helping approximately 450 families. Resources are quickly becoming stretched thin.

LI Cares will help collect and distribute food, personal hygiene items and other donations collected
to federal employees already directed to the agency through its channels, according to Gaughran.

“I hope this is a short food drive that it won’t be necessary for a long period of time,” he said.  “I hope the government in Washington, D.C., does its job and reopens soon.”

From left, Ramon Arevalo Lopez, Oscar Canales Molina, and Nobeli Montes Zuniga. Photos from SCDA.

Three men arrested for allegedly stabbing a Huntington High School student last week are known MS-13 gang members, who entered the country illegally and are Huntington High School students, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D).

Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19; Oscar Canales Molina, 17; and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, were arrested by Suffolk County police Jan. 9 shortly after a 16-year-old male was stabbed during a large fight behind Burger King, located on New York Avenue in Huntington Station. Each of the defendants is charged with one count of second-degree assault, a class D felony.

“While it is unclear what the groups were fighting about, one thing is clear: everyone arrested are confirmed members of MS-13.”

— Geraldine Hart

“While it is unclear what the groups were fighting about, one thing is clear: everyone arrested are confirmed members of MS-13,” Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County police commissioner said. “This incident is a reminder of the gang’s violent ways.”

Suffolk county police officers responded to a 911 call reporting a large fight involving approximately 15 high school-aged students in the rear parking lot of Burger King at approximately 2:30 p.m.

Sini said a group of Huntington High School students went to the fast-food restaurant after school let out and saw six Hispanic males staring at them in a ‘menacing way.’ The teens reportedly felt uncomfortable and left the store but were followed by the group of men that included the defendants. The group allegedly charged and attacked the students while wielding bats and knives, according to Sini, stabbing one teen through the back and injuring a second individual.

The 16-year-old male, whose identity was not released by police, was transported to Good Samaritan Hospital where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

Witnesses reported allegedly seeing the three defendants fleeing the scene in a black 2007 Toyota Scion with a large rear spoiler. Officers Guido, Indelicato and Rodriguez located a matching vehicle nearby shortly afterwards, according to Hart, that contained Lopez, Canales Molina and Zuniga.

The three defendants had blood on their clothing and hands, as well as the vehicle, according to police. Sini said Arevalo Lopez made an admission to the arresting officers that he stabbed the teen, while Canales Molina and Montes Zuniga both allegedly admitted to police they were involved in the fight. Canales Molina had two knives on him at the time of his arrest, including a small one covered in blood found concealed in his boot, according the district attorney. Each of the three defendants have been previously confirmed as MS-13 members by Suffolk County Police Department, according to Sini, and had records in the county’s gang database.

“Just because [Lopez]’s been ‘confirmed’ as a member in an ill-conceived Suffolk County Police Department database isn’t proof of anything. He is innocent of the charges that have been leveled against him.”

—Jason Bassett

“What we know about MS-13 is that they use violence to — in their minds — ensure that they are given respect,” he said. “Certainly, this type of incident fits within the modus operandi of MS-13, which is essentially random and seemingly senseless acts of violence.

Lopez’s attorney, Jason Bassett of Hauppauge, strongly refuted all charges and district attorney’s allegations that his client is or has been involved in gang activity.

“[Lopez] is not an MS-13 gang member,” Bassett said. “Just because he’s been ‘confirmed’ as a member in an ill-conceived Suffolk County Police Department database isn’t proof of anything. He is innocent of the charges that have been leveled against him.”

Montes Zuniga’s defense attorney, Norley Castañeda, declined to give any statement regarding the incident or his possible gang affiliation. Canales Molina’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

All three defendants were arraigned Jan. 10 in Central Islip court before Suffolk County Judge Gaetan Lozito who set bai for each at $35,000 cash or $75,000 bond. No one had posted bail as of Jan. 15.

The incident occurred two days after hundreds of concerned citizens attended Huntington school district’s board of education meeting to address concerns about a New York Times Magazine piece that chronicled the story of an immigrant teen, Alex, who was accused of being associated with MS-13 in some part based on his interactions with the school resource officer and, as a result, deported in July 2018.

Sini said all three defendants are currently enrolled as students at Huntington High School after having allegedly entered the country illegally. The district attorney said his records show Canales Molina was detained by U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement in July 2017 and released from custody by a federal judge in November 2017. Similarly, Lopez was detained by ICE in October 2017, and was released from custody by a federal judge in June 2018.

“Even though we’ve had a lot of success the last couple of years in combating MS-13, it’s important that we remain vigilant.”

— Tim Sini

Huntington Superintendent James Polansky requested additional police presence at the high school the day following the stabbing, according to the police commissioner, and additional officers and resources will be provided as necessary.

Despite this incident and recent media attention, Sini said he remains optimistic about the county’s efforts to crackdown on MS-13 is paying off.

“That’s why you see historic crime reduction in Suffolk County, that’s why you see MS-13 incidents are down significantly when compared to 2015-16,” the district attorney said. “Even though we’ve had a lot of success the last couple of years in combating MS-13, it’s important that we remain vigilant.”

The police investigation into the incident is ongoing and there is the possibility of additional charges being added, according to Sini. The case is being prosecuted by the Enhanced Prosecution Bureau’s Gang Unit.

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Commack HIgh School. Photo from Google Maps

A teacher is suing the Commack school district stating it has fostered an atmosphere of racial harassment and discrimination against her for more than 17 years.

Andrea Bryan, of Bay Shore, filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York against Commack Union Free School District saying administrators “exhibited a deliberate indifference” when she reported her fellow faculty and students were racially harassing her, according to the lawsuit.

Bryan, who is described only as a “black female of Caribbean descent” in the lawsuit, has worked as English teacher at Commack High School since 2002. She alleges the racial harassment began prior to 2015, when a faculty colleague first told her a bag of peanuts was “for whites only.” The teacher said she reported a complaint with her supervisor, according to court records.

“The Commack school district takes any allegation of discrimination seriously and, as a matter of policy and practice, acts swiftly in response to any claim,” district spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch said.

Bryan alleges that the racial discrimination against her, as “the only black teacher in the entire school district,” has only escalated since then.

We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed.”

— Brenda Lentsch

In the lawsuit, she details an alleged incident where she was asked to “translate slave talk” by the same co-worker while English students were studying Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” which features a character named Tituba who is an enslaved black woman.

Bryan also claims to have received a bottle of hand sanitizer during a Secret Santa gift giving between co-workers with a $50 spending limit, that she took indicated the co-worker thought she was “dirty” due to her race.

The district’s spokesperson said that the school’s administration have been made aware of the incidents alleged by Bryan over recent years.

“We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed,” Lentsch said in a statement. “Several of these allegations were first raised many years ago and were resolved at that time. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit are false.”

While unwilling to discuss specific details citing privacy requirements, the district’s spokeswoman said Bryan’s claim that she is the only black teacher in Commack school district is “incorrect.”

But the English teacher said the racially motivated insults and harassment she experienced went beyond the faculty and administration, and began to trickle down to students in her classroom. Bryan alleges a student once came to school in blackface makeup dressed as Aunt Jemima, a caricature of “a devoted and submissive plantation slave” depicted on a line of pancake syrup and breakfast foods put out by The Quaker Oats Company. For several years, the teacher claims students have called her Aunt Jemima in the school’s classrooms, hallways and cafeteria causing her to be “greatly humiliated, embarrassed and degraded.”

Commack school district’s Code of Conduct states that “intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (identity or expression), or sex” will not be tolerated, according to Lentsch.

Through the lawsuit, Bryan is seeking monetary damages from the district for the racial
discrimination, though the documents don’t specify a dollar amount. Her attorney, Peter Romero of Hauppauge, said he had no comment given the matter is currently pending litigation. A jury trial has been demanded.

Northport resident Jim Gaughran celebrated two milestones in his hometown this past weekend.

Gaughran was sworn in as New York State senator representing the 5th District at the John W. Engeman Theater Jan. 6, the day after his birthday. He will be one of six Democrats who travel to Albany to represent Long Island’s interest in the state Senate as it kicks off its 2019 session.

“I am humble and honored to represent our district in the state Senate,” Gaughran said. “I am excited for the opportunity to help end the dysfunction in Albany and finally pass critical legislation that New Yorkers have been demanding.”

The newly elected senator upset longtime incumbent Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) in November winning by more than 12,000 votes, according to New York State Board of Elections. While this is Gaughran’s first state office, he is no stranger to politics.

“Jim has been a leader here in this town, county and on Long Island for decades now,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “He was a pioneer in Democratic politics when he was the youngest town board member elected in Huntington in 1983.”

The attorney has previous served terms as a Huntington Town councilman and in Suffolk County Legislature. He focused on ethic reforms, campaign finance, criminal justice and public safety issues while serving Suffolk, according to Bellone, in the 1980s and early ’90s. Gaughran has been serving as the chairman of the Suffolk County Water Authority.

“Jim has got the experience, he’s got the intelligence and he’s got the disposition to be a fantastic senator,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) said.

‘You will see a state government that will deliver more for Long Island than New York City has ever delivered for Long Island.’

— Andrew Cuomo

As Gaughran takes office, he will serve as chair of the Senate Local Government Committee. As representative of the 5th District, he will have to juggle representing the interests of constituents in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, covering the North Shore from Glen Cove to Commack.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) administered the oath of office to Gaughran as he stood alongside his wife, Carol, and son, Michael.

Cuomo, who said he’s known Gaughran for more than 30 years, assured those attending the swearing-in ceremony that their new representative will stand strong and not be pushed around by his Democratic colleagues from New York City.

“You are going to have the strongest delegation you will ever have,” the governor said. “You will see a state government that will deliver more for Long Island than New York City has ever delivered for Long Island.”

As the Legislature convenes Jan. 9, Cuomo said top priorities on his agenda will including passing the Reproductive Health Act to ensure women’s health care rights, legislation to create early voting in New York, campaign finance reform, more funding for environmental protection, and increasing government transparency through the Freedom of Information Act for state government
and Legislature.

Gaughran said he supports the governor’s initiatives and hopes to focus on criminal justice reform, ensuring health care for all and improving the performance of the Long Island Rail Road.

He made a specific promise to Dix Hills residents Linda Beigel Schulman and Michael Schulman, whose son, Scott Beigel, was killed in the Parkland, Florida high school shooting.

“I want to tell Linda and Michael, in honor of Scott, if we get nothing else done, we’re going to pass the red flag law,” Gaughran said, drowned out by thunderous applause. “Never again, never again.”

The proposed red flag bill would increase gun control by permitting police or family members to petition a state court to order the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.

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