Sitting mayor and two new trustee candidates will run unopposed in their races during March 20 Old Field election

One of the concerns Old Field Mayor Michael Levine and two trustees will face in the near future is whether or not to install a cellphone pole in Kaltenborn Commons. Photo by Rita J. Egan

By Rita J. Egan

It’s been 20 years since Old Field Village Justice Ron LaVita has been challenged in an election, but when residents vote March 20 they will see two names on the ballot.

Attorney Ted Rosenberg, who has served in various positions in the village and is currently associate justice, decided to throw his hat in the ring. Recently LaVita and Rosenberg answered questions about their backgrounds, and why they feel they would be the best choice for Old Field village justice.

Ron LaVita, village justice

Ron LaVita

LaVita, an Old Field resident since 1995, has lived in the Three Village area for nearly 50 years. For 27 years, he has been a general practice attorney working from his Setauket law office and, 18 years ago, he opened an additional office in Rocky Point.

“I have 34 years’ experience handling client cases similar to the ones I have presided over for the last 20 years,” LaVita said. “I am also a former Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association attorney. My opponent is an accident lawyer.”

LaVita became associate justice in Old Field in 1997. Soon after, he became acting village justice when William Johnson moved from Old Field and was unable to complete his term. LaVita said he has been unopposed in elections, except for his first run for office in 1998.

The attorney said he has presided over hundreds of village court cases through the years and has a perfect attendance record, which means no associate judge has had to serve on a village case. He said he prides himself on being independent from the village board and has concerns that Rosenberg, a former trustee, may be influenced by the board.

“I have done a good, dedicated and faithful job for the residents of Old Field for over 20 years and therefore there is no reason for a change,” LaVita said.

In addition to serving as village justice, the attorney said he has helped improve the village. During his early days as justice, he helped to obtain a state grant which enabled the village to update the court clerk’s office including its technology.

Ted Rosenberg, justice candidate

Ted Rosenberg

Rosenberg is a 20-year resident of Old Field and has been an attorney for 35 years. He is currently a partner with Rosenberg & Gluck LLP, located in Holtsville. He is a member of the Suffolk County Bar Association select bench/bar committee, a frequent lecturer to the bar on trial practices, and a mentor to the Ward Melville High School mock trial team

“I have 35 years of courtroom experience — most lawyers don’t spend any time in the courtroom — and I spent a better part of my career as a trial attorney trying cases,” Rosenberg said. “I very much enjoy being in the courtroom, and I have a lot of experience doing that.”

Through the years, in addition to currently being associate justice, Rosenberg said he has served as a trustee, deputy mayor, commissioner of roads and harbor commissioner for Old Field. He said while he has worked well with both past and current board members, he would not be influenced by the mayor or board members. He said he has received the highest rating from his fellow lawyers for both ethics and professionalism in the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review Ratings, which rates lawyers on their legal ability and ethical standards.

Rosenberg said running for justice is something he has thought about for a few years.

“The current justice has been in office for 20 years, and I think that I could bring some new fresh thinking to the table,” Rosenberg said.

Meet the mayor, trustee candidates

Current Old Field Mayor Michael Levine is running unopposed in the March 20 village election. With two seats open, two trustee candidates, Bruce Feller and Tom Pirro, are also running unopposed as current trustees Timothy Hopkins and Robert Whitcomb  decided not to run for re-election.

Michael Levine, mayor

Michael Levine

Levine moved to Old Field in 1992 and became mayor in 2008. The attorney, a partner with Rappaport, Glass, Levine & Zullo LLP, said he has a couple of goals in mind for his next term.

“One of my major goals if re-elected will be to restore the Old Field Lighthouse/Village Hall to its original beauty, both inside and outside,” he said. “I would also like to continue to work on grants to address stormwater runoff issues in the village. Where the funds will come from for these projects is always a major issue.”

Recently, the village board has been facing the debate over whether or not to install a cellphone pole in Kaltenborn Commons, a small park located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path and surrounded by homes. At the January and February public meetings both residents and nonresidents filled village hall, some to voice concerns and others to show their support of the pole. Levine said the meetings have been helpful to him and board members. The vote on the tower has been postponed until the two new trustees take office.

“There are always difficult issues that must be dealt with and the way to deal with them is to listen to the residents and do what you feel is best for the village, while at the same time trying to accommodate the residents,” Levine said. “It’s a balancing act. I try to constantly strive to be fair and attentive.”

Tom Pirro, trustee candidate

Tom Pirro

Pirro recently moved from Bayport to Old Field with his fiancé, Shannon McCann. The certified public accountant, who has had his own business for 30 years, said he has been traveling to the Three Village community as a member of St. George’s Golf and Country Club since 2003. In June 2017, he opened a new office in Setauket. The candidate said he feels his work experience and love for the village will be an asset as trustee.

“I have spent my entire life in the business sector, and I feel those experiences will help me in carrying out my duties as a trustee,” Pirro said. “I chose to live in Old Field because of its natural beauty, and I would like to be a part of its continued preservation.”

When it comes to the issue of the cellphone pole in the village, Pirro said he is open to discussing the debate as long as needed to come to a decision. He said a lot of good questions were raised at the public meetings, including the aesthetics of the pole, which many feel may affect real estate values.

“I think it’s going to be difficult because no matter where it goes it’s going to impact someone,” Pirro said.

With a deep appreciation for his new village, he is on board with helping the mayor work to renovate the lighthouse.

“It’s part of the local heritage, so obviously it’s something you would want to address and maintain,” Pirro said. “It’s not something you want to go into disrepair, and I don’t think Old Field is a village that would let that happen.”

Bruce Feller, trustee candidate

Bruce Feller

A resident of Old Field since 1988, Feller retired as vice president from MetLife in 1998. Shortly after his retirement, he served as a village trustee after taking over the expired term of Barbara Swartz when she became mayor. During his first time as trustee, he said he established the village’s entitlement and access to funding from New York State’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program. This gave Old Field a revenue stream to improve and maintain the village’s roadways.

He and his wife, Marianne, in the past have served on a village committee to preserve the Old Field lighthouse. He currently is the vice chair of the village planning board.

Feller said when it comes to the cellphone tower, he is undecided. At press time, he was hoping to attend the March board meeting, and said he is open to hearing everyone’s opinions. He said he has heard persuasive issues on both sides at the village’s January meeting.

“There’s a lot to take into account, and I’m hoping that there is additional information that will nudge me decidedly in a direction that I can personally live with and live with as a representative of the constituents in the village,” Feller said.

He said when he was previously a trustee, a bone of contention was subdivision of properties. The candidate said listening to both sides was important, and believes his listening skills have developed even more over time. Remembering when the residents debated over deer hunting in the village and the mayor held multiple public hearings to come to a decision, he said it’s a skill he believes Levine also has.

“I give the mayor a lot of credit, he pays a lot of attention to what people think,” Feller said.

The Old Field Village elections will be held March 20, from noon until 9 p.m. at the
Keeper’s Cottage located at 207 Old Field Road.

Longtime trustee Damon McMullan running uncontested for village mayor

Northport Village Hall. File photo.

By Kevin Redding

Three candidates — an incumbent and two challengers — are vying for two open seats within the Northport Village Board of Trustees, hoping to tackle financial, safety and quality of life issues within the town. The trustee candidates who receive the most votes March 20 will each serve a four-year term.

Thomas Kehoe

Kehoe is no stranger to the village board, having served as trustee for two terms from 2006 to 2014. He was the commissioner of commerce, police and sanitation.

Thomas Kehoe. Photo from Thomas Kehoe.

While a board member, he wrote the village’s outdoor dining code, created the Northport Business Development Committee, and said he routinely helped members of the local business community, professionals and merchants with any business-related issues in the village. If elected, he hopes to
reinstate that committee and assume the police commissioner responsibilities again.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on the board,” Kehoe said. “I’ve always enjoyed public service and giving back to my community. And plus, I understand business and know how to make things happen.”

As the owner and operator of East Northport-based K&B Seafood for more than 30 years, Kehoe has traveled extensively throughout China, Japan and Russia, importing and exporting seafood and opening up markets. But he said he will focus his time and energy on the local front as trustee. He wants to make sure the Suffolk County Police Department doesn’t take over the village’s police force, preserve Northport’s status as “one of the 50 safest places to live in New York state” as ruled by the National Council for Home Safety and Security and keep the village in the 21st century.

“We want to always be evolving,” he said. “Northport Village is a very unique place. It’s a real melting pot of different ethnic, religious and political groups and there’s a great tolerance and respect here for others.”

Ian Milligan

Milligan, 48, a Northport native and the owner of Harbor Electric Inc. on Willis Street, became a trustee in 2014 after regularly attending zoning and board meetings. He often voiced ideas on how to better the Northport Village Dock.

Ian Milligan. Photo from Ian Milligan.

Upon election, the lifelong boater was appointed commissioner of docks and waterways. He proposed new fees for the dock, which successfully brought more boaters to the area during dinner hours, helped boost downtown businesses and discouraged boaters from docking all day.

He said by talking to hundreds of local boaters, shopkeepers and residents during that process, it prepared him well for his day-to-day tasks as a trustee.

“What I did there is consistent with all issues in the village,” said Milligan, who also served as the board’s commissioner of sanitation. “I always strive to talk to as many people as I can and understand all sides of an issue, then take all the information and share it with the rest of the board, so we can make a decision in the best interest of the residents.”

If re-elected, Milligan said he wants to continue making Northport a safe and healthy environment for residents, keep a line on taxes and roll out new projects — among his most anticipated is the implementation of a rain garden into the village to absorb rainwater runoff and keep the waterfront clean.

“I have enjoyed this work and there is more work to be done,” he said.

Joseph Sabia

Sabia, 62, is a former member of the Northport Police Department, Northport-East Northport school board and owner of Sabia’s Car Care on Fort Salonga Road since 1977. He  said he’s an advocate for the village and wants to work for the taxpayers within it. He believes in transparency, commitment to community, respect and courtesy, and fiscal discipline.

Joseph Sabia. File photo.

“While on the board of education for three years, I watched our tax money and never voted to raise our tax dollars,” Sabia said. “So, I’m very interested in our finances and want to see where our money is going.”

Sabia said besides keeping taxes at bay, he hopes to be able to restore the village’s crumbling roads and sidewalks, bring a full-time paramedic to the village’s firehouse, oversee the upcoming sewer plant project in Northport Bay Estates, and update the village’s antiquated zoning codes and building department.

“We have to move forward and be business-friendly,” he said. “We need people to be able to get building permits in a timely manner.”

Sabia previously ran unsuccessfully twice — against outgoing Mayor George Doll in 2014 and for a trustee seat in 2016. He points to those experiences, as well as his years as a successful business owner and school board member, as building blocks for this election.

“I have skin in the game here, I own a business here, I’m in the village 24/7 and have never left,” he said.

The Vote

The polls will be open March 20, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Northport Village Hall on 224 Main Street in Northport.

Ward Melville High School students walked out of classes March 14 as part of National Walkout Day to support gun legislation and remember the Parkland school shooting victims. Photo by Claire Miller

Ward Melville High School students were determined to make their voices heard.

Despite the Three Village school district’s official decision March 9 to not allow students to stage a walkout March 14, approximately 250 of them did so anyway. The walkout was held in conjunction with events across the nation honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14 to call for stricter gun control laws. Parents and students were told it was a joint decision by the board of education, principal and district’s lawyer to not encourage the walkout.

The students walked out of the gym entrance and headed toward Old Town Road so they could be seen by drivers passing by. Across the street two dozen parents and residents stood, some with signs, to support the teens.

A student holds up a sign during the March 14 walkout. Photo by Claire Miller

During the walkout, the students chanted “enough is enough,” and stopped for a moment of silence. Bennett Owens, a Ward Melville student and one of the walkout organizers, delivered a speech.

“We, the students of Ward Melville High School, along with hundreds of thousands of students across the nation have had enough,” Owens said. “We’ve had enough of gun violence. We’ve had enough of Congress’ inaction while nearly 1,300 kids are slaughtered each year as a result of gun violence. We’ve had enough of the [National Rifle Association] buying our representatives with their blood-soaked money. We’ve had enough of the argument that since we’re kids, we can’t change anything. We’ve had enough of adults telling us we can’t.”

Owens said asking Congress to introduce or support legislation that bans assault weapons, like the AR-15, was part of the students’ goal. Parents standing across the street from the walkout said they were proud of their children and their friends. Caren Johnson, whose daughter is in 10th grade, said she had tears in her eyes watching the students march out.

“This is really the first movement my daughter has been politically active in and I’m here to show her support,” Johnson said.

Osbert Orduña, a parent of a 11th-grader, said he believes it’s important for parents to come out to support the social activism of their children, especially when it comes to protesting assault weapons and discussions like school staff members being armed. Orduña held a sign that said he was a Republican and veteran who is against the NRA and assault weapons in the hands of everyday people.

“The kids are out here, and they are doing the right thing by voicing their opinions and voicing their displeasure with our elected officials,” Orduña said.

A parent shows her support for students during the March 14 walkout. Photo by Rita J. Egan

At the end of the school day March 9, the school district released a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board of education President William Connors explaining the district’s position on the matter. Various discussions were held with students and staff to find the best way for students to participate in what has been called the #Enough movement, according to the letter.

“As a result of these discussions and with the guidance of our legal counsel, our district will not be encouraging or condoning a walkout involving students exiting the building or leaving campus,” the letter read. “We feel that this type of demonstration would not only disrupt the educational program but would severely compromise our mission to ensure building security and student safety.”

In the letter, the district also informed parents that any student who leaves the building without authorization will be asked to return to class. Parents will be contacted if their children disregard the direction, and students who are disrespectful or disorderly will be subjected to the district’s code of conduct. The district could not be reached by deadline to confirm if any parents were called or any students were disrespectful or disorderly.

As an alternate to the March 14 walkout, the district offered voluntary activities for high school and junior high school students, according to the school district. A moment of silence was held at the high school and both junior high schools. A forum moderated by instructional staff and supervised by administrators was held in the Ward Melville auditorium for interested students to discuss issues connected to the #Enough movement. R.C. Murphy Junior High School students had the opportunity to write letters to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, and P.J. Gelinas junior high schoolers gathered in the gymnasium during fourth period to hear student government leaders read memoriam notes and listen to a brief music interlude.

The decision came a week after students interested in participating in a walkout sat with Principal Alan Baum to discuss their plans at a March 2 meeting. Both Owens and fellow organizers were optimistic after the meeting, but despite the students’ optimism, the district released a statement that read no plans were final after thatß meeting.

Students display the signs they created for National Walkout Day. Photo by Hannah Fondacaro

After the walkout, senior Hannah Fondacaro said it was energizing to participate in a peaceful protest.

“It felt amazing knowing that we are letting the MSD students know they’re not alone,” Fondacaro.

Samantha Restucci, 16, said she felt great after participating in the walkout. She said if adults refuse to fix the gun violence situation then it was up to young people to take action.

“It felt like I was a part of something — like I could do something important,” Restucci said. “It brought out a variety of emotions. I was angry for what happened but hopeful for what is to come. I hope this walkout wakes people up, and I hope that we are taken seriously.”

The morning of the walkout, parents received a message from Pedisich saying the administrative staff at the high school was notified about a social media posting that was a cause of concern. The student in question was immediately identified, removed from the school and the incident was reported to the Suffolk County Police Department, according to Pedisich’s message. It is unclear if the threat was related to the walkout.

“Please know that the district takes these matters very seriously and will investigate any suspicious act to the fullest extent possible,” Pedisich said. “I encourage you to take this opportunity to remind your child(ren) to be mindful when posting to social media. It is important that they understand a posting that they may make to be humorous can be viewed vastly different by another individual and/or misinterpreted to be dangerous.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

“Books not bullets!” “We want change!”

A group of nearly 30 students shouted these words from behind the front gates of Rocky Point High School between 10 a.m. and 10:17 a.m. March 14, demanding stricter gun legislation to help put an end to school violence one month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting left 17 students and faculty members dead.

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

The Rocky Point high schoolers were among thousands across the country who took part in the school walkout demonstration during the time frame.

The district issued a letter to parents last week that any student who chooses to participate in the movement via exiting the high school will be “subject to administrative action.” Requests for what the repercussions might be were not immediately returned.

Students waved signs that read “Our voices deserve to be heard,” “I will not be a statistic” and “School is for learning, not target practice” as passing cars honked in support.

“We want legislators to take action against all assault weapons,” said senior Jade Pinkenburg, one of the organizers of the event. “We don’t want guns in our schools and want to feel safe within our schools. That’s what we’re doing this for.”

Rocky Point High School students walk out March 14 to join in the national protest against gun violence in schools. Photo from Kevin Redding

Senior Bernard Sanchez said students should be allowed to have more of a voice.

“You can’t sacrifice the First Amendment to try to protect the Second,” Sanchez said. “Court cases have proven time and time again that we don’t give away every choice we have when we enter a school.”

Jade Pinkenburg’s father Chris said that the students involved in the protest attempted to meet with Superintendent Michael Ring at the start of the week but “nothing happened.”

“No Rocky Point student will be permitted to leave the premises as part of any of these upcoming events or otherwise, without appropriate permission, whether on March 14 or at any time during school hours throughout the school year,” Ring wrote in last week’s letter.

Chris Pinkenburg stood by and said he supports the students despite the district’s disapproval.

“I think it’s a very good thing,” his father said. “Obviously the adults don’t have any solutions, so I hope this will bring about great change. It’s time.”

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

The New York State Legislature is working to make schools safer in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school. But the Republican-held Senate and Democrat-majority Assembly are not yet on the same page in figuring out how to accomplish the goal.

The Senate passed a package of bills March 6 aimed at improving school safety through various security-related measures. After a package of gun legislation bills — which included measures to create a stronger background check process, ban bump stocks or accessories that increase a semi-automatic weapon’s rate of fire, establish extreme risk protection orders, and more — brought forward by Senate Democrats failed in late February, the Assembly also passed a package of bills March 6 designed to strengthen gun laws. Several of the bills in the Assembly package were the same as versions voted down in the Senate. It remains to be seen if either house will pass their counterparts respective packages.

Bellone announces school safety initiative

Schools in Suffolk County will now be offered a permanent eye in the sky.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the SHARE initiative March 9, a program that will allow districts the ability to connect existing camera systems directly to the Suffolk County Police Department. The system would enhance the efficiency of a police department response to an active shooter situation, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect our schools by utilizing every available tool and partnership at our disposal,” the county executive said in a statement. “The SHARE initiative will provide law enforcement the enhanced capabilities needed to respond to a security risk, and I look forward to working with our superintendents and stakeholders on how we can keep our schools safe.”

The county will hold a meeting of all school district superintendents March 15 to formally seek voluntary consent with the districts interested in the program.

“We have been preparing and training for the nightmare scenario that we hope never happens,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said in a statement. “In the police department, we enhanced our readiness for an active shooter scenario or a terrorist attack, but most importantly to take measures to prevent those incidents.”

“I have every hope that we can walk and chew gum at the same time because these are not mutually exclusive directions, and they are very complementary,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said in an interview. The Assemblyman said he hadn’t had a chance to fully study the package of bills passed in the Senate yet, but at first glance it included some initiatives he’d be comfortable supporting. “I would just appeal to my colleagues in the Senate to meet us halfway, and I would pledge to do the same for them. I think we all should keep our eye on what the objective is here, which is to save lives and ultimately there is no single measure that is going to be an omnibus solve.”

The passed Senate package includes a bill authorizing districts to receive state funding to hire a school resource officer, defined in the bill to include retired or active duty police officers, deputy sheriffs or state troopers. They would be permitted to carry firearms on school grounds if licensed to do so. Another bill increased the earnings limitations for retired police officers being employed by schools from $30,000 annually to $50,000. A bill was also included in the package that will provide state education aid to districts for acquiring safety technology and improving security.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

The Senate’s package also had components designed to improve school-based mental health services. One bill allocates districts $50,000 in state funding to put towards hiring a mental health services coordinator, while another requires the state Department of Education to investigate and report on the number of full and part-time school counselors, school social workers and school psychologists in each school; the ratio of students to the number of school counselors; the ratio of students to the number of school social workers; the ratio of students to the number of school psychologists in each school; and when such staff is working in more than one school.

As part of the package, another bill was passed defining school shootings as an act of terrorism, which now makes the New York State Intelligence Center in cooperation with the state Division of Homeland Security responsible for the collection, integration, receipt, processing, evaluation, analysis, fusing, dissemination, sharing, and maintenance of intelligence information to aid in detecting, preventing, investigating and responding to acts of terrorism, including school shootings. Now suspects who discharge a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school can be charged with committing an act of terrorism.

The bills in the Senate’s package passed with overwhelming, bipartisan support in most cases. They will now head to the Assembly before arriving, if passed, at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) desk for signing into law.

The package that passed the Assembly, if eventually passed by the Senate and signed by Cuomo, would temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing guns if a family member or law enforcement officer petitions a court and the court finds individuals are likely to engage in conduct that would harm themselves or others.

It also would establish a 10-day waiting period before a gun may be delivered to a purchaser who has not cleared a background check. Under current federal law, gun dealers must conduct a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System before selling a firearm. The NICS system responds with one of three messages — “proceed,” “denied” or “delayed.” The dealer must deny the sale if the NICS background check determines the buyer is a prohibited purchaser and responds with a “denied” message. However, if the response is “delayed,” the dealer may nonetheless complete the sale after three business days.

Also included in the package is a bill preventing convicted domestic abusers from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

Spokespersons for Flanagan and state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking if they intend to support the package of legislation passed by the Assembly.

Students across the country are planning to walk out of school March 14 as a protest calling for gun legislation. Stock photo

The gun control debate in the United States has been fully underway seemingly for decades. Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead, the debate has taken on a different tone, and thanks to the activism of survivors, many of whom are high school students, the conversation hasn’t yet retreated to the back burner even a few news cycles removed from the shooting. In fact, the MSD students have ensured their cause will be garnering attention through at least April 20.

Two nationwide student walkouts have been planned and are being promoted on social media.

On March 14, the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to walk out of schools for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 Parkland victims,
beginning at 10 a.m. The purpose of the protest, according to a website promoting it, is to shine a light on Congress’ “inaction to do more than Tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” The walkout is being promoted on social media using the hashtag #ENOUGH.

“We want students who choose to be involved to have a focus for their efforts so the day and time will be meaningful.”

— Paul Casciano

On April 20, a similar protest is being planned to coincide with the anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The organizers of this event, simply called National School Walkout, are also calling for those in school buildings to stand up and exit at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence, followed by an “open mic” session in which students will be encouraged to voice opinions. The organizers of this walkout envision a day-long event concluding at the end of the school day.

“We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that,” the website created for the event says. “This issue needs constant attention if we hope to change anything, so multiple events on multiple days is a productive way to help fight for our cause, a safer country.”

Local school districts and students are addressing if or how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.

In Port Jefferson School District, administration is taking a hands-on approach in handling a potential protest. Superintendent Paul Casciano said the district’s principals are working with students and teachers to finalize plans.

“We want students who choose to be involved to have a focus for their efforts so the day and time will be meaningful,” he said. He added that when plans are established the district will make them public to ensure parents are informed about what might take place.

Ben Zaltsman, student body president at Port Jefferson High School, shared details about plans for protest, which will take on a tone meant to honor victims rather than a political message. He said initially students expressed a desire to walk out among themselves, but that administration found out and was concerned about safety hazards associated with leaving the building. Instead of a walkout, the district and student
government got together to formulate a plan to commemorate the day and participate in the national movement.

“Something like this is not disruptive. I don’t think it’s political.”

— Ben Zaltsman

Zaltsman, who’s heading to Rice University in the fall, said he and the rest of the high school’s student government met with administration and agreed on a 17-minute ceremony in the auditorium March 14.

“The April one seems like it’s more political — this is to honor and remember Parkland victims,” Zaltsman said of the two rallies. He said he’s not sure how many students might participate in the voluntary demonstration, which will take place during fourth period, but he expects it will be many. He also said it’s possible students will decide to walkout on their own anyway, but that he hadn’t heard of anyone planning to do so.

“My mom said she knew I was already participating and I have a younger brother who is expected to participate too,” Zaltsman said when asked if he’d discussed walking out with his parents. “Something like this is not disruptive. I don’t think it’s political.”

Comsewogue School District Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said in an email students were working on organizing a demonstration, though the district did not provide specifics in time for print.

Parents in the district have strong opinions on the idea of their kids participating in a political protest
during school hours in a discussion on a Facebook page comprised of Comsewogue community members.

“Instead of walking out and protesting, walk into the cafeteria and talk to kids you normally wouldn’t,” poster Caitlin Mae, a district employee, said while expressing skepticism that a walkout would accomplish much. “Befriend those who don’t have friends. Scold those students who encourage bullying.”

Jessica Glass, the mother of a junior at the high school, said she had discussed the possibility of walking out with her daughter.

“I would be proud of my kids if they had strong views and chose to express themselves in this way.”

— Rachel Begley

“She feels very strongly about reform and is interested in all the aspects of how to bring it about,” she said. “Is gun reform the answer? Is mental health awareness the answer? Is more teacher/parent awareness of students the answer? Is a walk out the best idea? She doesn’t have the answer, but she feels that students in a movement would bring awareness to an issue on a higher level than the awareness is now. That’s what’s important to her, raising awareness in many ways for change.”

Several others said they viewed students walking out of school at a set date and time as a security concern in and of itself.

“We are all worried about security, I don’t think a walkout is such a good idea,” Edward Garboski said. “By doing so we are allowing our kids to become perfect targets. I would hope our parents see the same thing I see. My kids will not walk out of school.”

Others applauded the idea of students being politically and civically engaged.

“I would be proud of my kids if they had strong views and chose to express themselves in this way,” Rachel Begley said. “They don’t have a vote, so this is one way of making themselves seen and heard.”

While the federal government deals with the political gridlock long associated with gun control, New York is working on action to at least improve safety in the short term, though not to address gun laws.

“Every New Yorker and every American is outraged by the senseless violence that is occurring in schools throughout the country,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement Feb. 28. The state Senate approved a series of bills March 5 that include more funding for security cameras, armed police officers or security personnel for districts that want it, panic buttons, active shooter drills, better emergency response plans, hardening of school doors and more. A package of gun control measures proposed by Senate Democrats was rejected.

Republican Party candidate for 10th Assembly District talks about her experience, Huntington's issues

Above left, Janet Smitelli is the Republican candidate for the 10th state Assembly District. Photo from Janet Smitelli

Janet Smitelli says she has a reputation for getting things done. The longtime Huntington native has developed youth programs in Costa Rica; been a park ranger at the Grand Canyon; served as an assistant Scoutmaster for local Boy Scout Troops; taught Sunday school; and, for more than 30 years, fought to protect residents as a civil litigator. This April, she hopes to add to that list New York State Assemblywoman of the 10th District.

“This is kind of a leap for me, but in a way it isn’t because I’ve been progressing my whole life towards this,” Smitelli said.

She was recently chosen by the Suffolk County Republican Committee to run for the assembly seat Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) left vacant in the April 24  special election.

Janet Smitelli. File photo

“I’ve become politically involved because I’m getting pretty sick of what’s going on and I know I can use my talents and experience to make some type of difference, to help and be part of the fight,” she said.

Growing up in Oceanside, Smitelli said her parents, Bernard and Maria Heller, instilled in her the importance of serving the community, especially her mother, who was heavily involved in the chamber of commerce and local politics and was known as “Miss Oceanside.”

“From seeing that as my example from a very early age, I was involved in everything from day one,” Smitelli said.

A graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh with degrees in environmental science, late American studies and Spanish, Smitelli wound up taking her altruism to Central America for six months when she was 19. A few years later, after developing an interest in law, Smitelli went to law school at night and became a trial attorney in 1987. It was around this time that she married her husband and became a Huntington resident.

As a lawyer, she has represented those filing lawsuits and those on the receiving end of them, motor vehicle collisions, slip-and-falls and, predominantly over the last 10 years, construction accidents. She spends her free time actively volunteering in the Huntington community.

“Janet’s the kind of person you can call and say ‘I need your help’ and she’s there and ready to do what needs to be done,” Huntington resident Dennis Garetano said. “She’s there for the community, she gets things done and really cares about this neighborhood. She’s who we need to get elected.”

Patricia Wingfield, a resident whose son was a Cub Scout under Smitelli’s leadership, called her a natural leader.

“She led like a trooper — went on camping trips no other parent wanted to go on and was always such an advocate for all the kids to receive their badges,” Wingfield said. “She’s fair, she’s just, she’s effective. I aspire to be her.”

Lupinacci also voiced his support for her.

“I think she’s an excellent choice to fight for us in the state Legislature,” he said. “She’s very involved in the community and has a great background in terms of public service. She has the background, the fortitude and the skills needed to represent the 10th Assembly District.”

If elected, Smitelli said she wants to tackle what she believes are the major challenges facing Huntington. This includes pledging to eliminate excessive taxation, receive funds to preserve and protect waterways and our drinking water, increase funding for K-12 extracurricular programs and veer young people away from gangs and opioids by keeping them involved in community programs.

She also said she wants to strengthen the transparency between government and residents by making it easier to access information and calling for reform.

“If you look at my background, you’ll see I’m not doing this for any other reason than I really, really want to serve,” Smitelli said. “I think my talents, my experience and my life thus far, has been a pathway to this.

Former Suffolk County legislator running as Democratic candidate for 10th state Assembly district seat

Steve Stern (D). Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

At 19, Steve Stern knocked on doors in the outskirts of Louisiana, urging folks not to let a former Ku Klux Klan leader become a state representative.

It was 1989. David Duke had entered the race for a Louisiana House of Representatives seat on the Republican ticket, despite party members’ denouncement of his candidacy and racist, anti-Semitic past. Stern, a junior at Tulane University in New Orleans at the time, took to the streets for the first time as a political advocate for Duke’s opponent.

“Talk about being in the deep end without a paddle,” Stern said, during an interview with TBR News Media at a Dix Hills diner Feb. 19. “I just tried to persuade the area residents to do what was right and stand up against hate and intolerance. It showed me the importance of meeting people on their doorstep, talking to them face-to-face.”

Duke won. But it didn’t dissuade Stern from later seeking political office himself.

Stern (D) has honed the art of canvassing in his 12 consecutive years as Suffolk County Legislator of the 16th District beginning in 2005, after building a career as a lawyer.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand.”
— Steve Stern

In the Legislature, Stern sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee. He wrote the law that created the state’s first Silver Alert system — which helps locate seniors with Alzheimer’s or cognitive diseases who have gone missing — and initiated the first ban in the nation on the use of the BPA chemical in baby bottles, sippy cups and toys. Stern said he launched the Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, as part of a long-term effort to bring an end to veteran homelessness in
Suffolk. Now, he’s running for state office.

Touting this record and a self-proclaimed natural ability to connect with community members, no matter their party affiliations, the 49-year-old family man will run in the April 24 special election to fill Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) vacant seat in the 10th District of the New York State Assembly. He recently won the Democratic nomination and will campaigni against Republican Party candidate and longtime Huntington resident Janet Smitelli.

“I think he’s an excellent candidate,” said Mary Collins, chairwoman of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee. “He was very attentive to constituents and he worked on many issues that were important to his district.”

Stern said he hopes to bring a “very strong, local voice” to Albany.

“Our local region doesn’t get our fair share from the state level of government and I know that firsthand,” he said. “Look at our school districts. Community leaders on our school boards have very little they can do because there are too many state mandates preventing them from making real progress.”

“[Stern] has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change.”
— Karen Miller 

If elected, Stern said he wants to continue local efforts but on a much larger scale, such as combating gang activity, which he has done by helping to get county funding for automatic license plate readers that target criminals. He’s also passionate about protecting the environment and the area’s water quality, having co-sponsored legislation identifying key areas of importance when it came to developing sewer infrastructure. Stern said this legislation plays a key to downtown revitalization of Huntington Station. He said he’s a strong supporter of term limits and bipartisanship.

“Because at the end of the day, I can tell you, people don’t care what the letter is after your name,” he said. “They want to know that you’re putting points up on the board for them and that you’re doing it in a way that’s going to make them proud.

Karen Miller, founder of the Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, said Stern made her proud when she presented her group’s concerns about the dangers of the BPA chemical, a meeting that ultimately led him to his 2009 ban.

“Steve was an extremely good listener, he took time with me and wrote notes on his yellow pad,” she said. “He has the ability to turn a concern into an actionable item and achieve a successful healthy change. What a coup that would be for New Yorkers to have somebody like that up in Albany.”

Read TBR News Media to learn more about Republican party candidate Janet Smitelli soon.

In a July 2017 tweet, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin insisted he’d ‘married up’ when his wife Diana asked him to take their date to the shooting range. Photo from Twitter

By Ernestine Franco

We’ve seen a number of letters in this paper where you [U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)] expound on all the great things you’ve done for your district. However, it seems to me that you either have forgotten
about or don’t want us to know some of your votes and issues you’ve supported, especially relating
to gun control.

The horrific events at the Parkland high school in Florida happened because a 19-year-old was able to walk into the school with an AR-15-style rifle, which he legally bought, and murder 17 people. Some of the children who survived the shooting, the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, are speaking out: “How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner, a student who survived the shooting, told CNN.

Beginning with the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, life for many of our children has become about practicing active shooter drills and huddling through lockdowns. So I have to wonder about your position on gun control. I question whether you care about what many children now have to deal with when they go to school.

On Jan. 14, 2014, after the Newtown massacre, in a letter to the New York State Senate, you wrote, “This debate should be even more focused on targeting illegal guns and providing maximum assistance to New Yorkers with mental illnesses in order to most directly avoid another tragedy like Newtown. Our focus …  has to be providing people in need of mental health care more access to help. Society as a whole also needs to better understand mental illness and develop improved means of detecting potential violence long before it can become a threat to anyone else.”

So it seems you believe the solution to some of these mass shootings is that we need to better detect problems with the mentally ill rather than ensure that people with mental illness cannot buy a gun? Then please explain why you voted “yes” on the bill to nullify the Obama-era rule that prohibited people with severe mental health issues from purchasing guns?

Granted there was lots of evidence that the shooter’s behavior should have triggered alarm in those around him, but it is unclear whether recognizing and trying to deal with the signs would have changed what this young man wanted to do that day. However, it is clear that if he couldn’t buy an AR-15, he more than likely could not have been able to kill 17 people. So, I ask you, will you support a ban on assault-style weapons?

The day after the school shooting in Florida, in a Facebook post, you expressed sympathy for the victims and their parents. Taking President Donald Trump’s lead, however, you never used the word “gun,” as if the carnage were just about the person.

According to MoveOn.org, you have received $33,732 from the National Rifle Association. So, here, I have to again wonder whether your views on gun control have more to do with gun sales than with gun rights. The majority of Americans, even most gun owners, as well as the majority of Republicans, support enhanced background checks as well as a ban on assault-style weapons. Why don’t you? Is it about the money you can get from the NRA rather than what most people want? What’s more important to you: That anyone, even someone who is mentally ill, should be able to buy an AR-15 or ensuring that our children are kept safe?

On Dec. 6 you co-sponsored H.R. 38 — the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. This act authorizes someone who holds a concealed-carry permit issued in one state to carry a concealed firearm in any state that also authorizes concealed carry of firearms. This bill overrides federal law concerning the concealed carry of a firearm into a school zone or onto a federally owned property.

In case I have misrepresented any of your positions, and if you are really committed to keeping our children — and your own — safe, how about holding an in-person  town hall meeting so we can
discuss these issues?

Ernestine Franco is a Sound Beach resident and proofreader for TBR News Media. She is also a member of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

Democrat Steve Stern, former Suffolk County legislator, and Republican hopeful Janet Smitelli to campaign

Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli, and Democrat Party candidate Steve Stern. File photos.

A former Suffolk County legislator and a longtime Huntington political hopeful will face off to fill Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) former state Assembly seat.

Democrat Steve Stern, who previously represented the 16th District in the Suffolk County Legislature, will campaign against Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli in the April 24 special election to fill the
vacancy in the 10th District of the New York State Assembly.

“It’s going to be a very condensed campaign, a campaign where every second counts,” said Toni Tepe, chairwoman of the Huntington Republican Committee.

Janet Smitelli 

Smitelli was selected by the Suffolk County Republican Committee Feb. 12 after several candidates were screened, according to Tepe, and Lupinacci was part of the screening committee.

“I think she’s an excellent choice to fight for us in the state Legislature,” Lupinacci said. “She’s very involved in the community and has a great background in terms of public service. She has the background, the fortitude and the skills needed to represent the 10th Assembly District.”

I think she’s an excellent choice to fight for us in the state Legislature.”
— Chad Lupinacci

Smitelli is a civil litigator who has lived in Huntington for more than 20 years. A member of the Republican committee for more than 10 years, she is active locally with the Boy Scouts and has served as an assistant Scoutmaster.

In 2015, Smitelli ran an unsuccessful campaign against incumbent Suffolk County Legislator Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) in the hopes of representing the 17th Legislative District. If elected in April, it would be her first time holding a political office, according to Tepe.

“I believe she will run a strong campaign and she is certainly a supporter of the Republican initiatives and agenda,” the party chairwoman said. “She will be very conscientious of constituent services and saving money for the taxpayers she represents.”

Steve Stern

Rich Schaffer, chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, said Stern won his party’s nomination.

“I think he’s an excellent candidate,” said Mary Collins, chairwoman of the Huntington Town Democratic Committee, citing Stern’s record as a legislator. “He was very attentive to constituents and he worked on many issues that were important to his district.”

“[Stern] was very attentive to constituents and he worked on many issues that were important to his district.”— Mary Collins

Stern left the county Legislature Dec. 31, term limited from office after 12 years representing the 16th District. He sat on the Suffolk County Veterans and Seniors Committee and previously touted his accomplishments to include the Housing Our Homeless Heroes initiative, a package of bills that aimed to end veteran homelessness in Suffolk, and the creation of the Silver Alert system designed to locate missing senior citizens.

Stern called himself a leading proponent of sewer infrastructure development during his 2015 campaign. He co-sponsored legislation identifying what areas would be best served by sewers and choosing how to prioritize which neighborhoods get developed first, which he said was particularly crucial to Huntington.

The party whose candidate is elected April 24 to represent the 10th District will serve approximately 130,000 residents, according to 2010 census data, which includes all or part of Cold Spring Harbor, East Northport, Greenlawn, Lloyd Harbor, Lloyd Neck, Melville, Huntington and Huntington Station.

This story was last updated Feb. 16 @ 2:05 p.m.