Politics

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone delivers his State of the County address May 24 at Newfield High School in Selden. Photo by Alex Petroski

In his annual State of the County address, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) touted recent initiatives while also keeping an eye on both the near and distant future. The executive spoke for more than an hour from the auditorium stage at Newfield High School in Selden in front of a crowd of county, town and village lawmakers, students and others.

“I can tell you that the state of Suffolk County — this amazing place that we all call home — is strong,” Bellone said. “I remain committed to making Suffolk County a model for effective and efficient government, a government that is as good as the people it is there to represent.  We can build a stronger economic future, we can protect our water quality, we can transform this government, and we can do big things in Suffolk County and on Long Island if we do them together.”

Though he admitted the state of the county government, “remains a work in progress,” Bellone called on both political parties to look past the issues that divide them and remember the things that unite Americans. He honored the four Suffolk County native airmen of the 106th Rescue Wing, based out of Westhampton, who died as a result of a helicopter crash while carrying out a mission in Iraq in March, including Commack resident Master Sgt. Christopher Raguso and Port Jefferson Station resident Staff Sgt. Dashan Briggs.

“These are the individuals that make our country great,” Bellone said.

The executive spent a large chunk of his speech on public safety and the work of the Suffolk County Police Department, specifically a decreasing rate of opioid related overdoses and violent crime and reported that last year 222 arrests were made in connection with the violent gang MS-13.

While discussing public safety, Bellone detailed the recently implemented SHARE initiative. The program — Sharing to Help Access Remote Entry — allows participating school districts to connect closed circuit security camera systems directly to SCPD, who can access surveillance footage in real time in the event of active shooter situations on school campuses.

He gave a nod to the students locally and across the country organizing marches and walkouts to protest for stricter gun control laws in the wake of more high-casualty school shooting incidents around the U.S.

“It has been inspiring to see young people speak out on issues, organize rallies, run for school board and demand more of their elected officials,” he said. “Your voices will be heard.”

The county executive made numerous references to the state of government and politics in Washington D.C., specifically in making a pledge that he and his colleagues “will not rest” until the State and Local Tax deduction, which was repealed as part of the federal tax overhaul bill passed in 2017, were restored. The elimination of the deduction stands to cost residents in high-property tax areas — like Suffolk County — thousands of dollars more than previous years.

Bellone stressed the importance of economic development through downtown revitalization projects — like upper Port Jefferson’s “Uptown Funk” plan — and streamlining public transportation around these hubs as a means to foster an environment in which young people can afford to live in Suffolk County going forward through the creation of quality jobs.

“We spend a lot of money educating our kids here,” the county executive said. “Too many of them have left for other parts of the country, where they are helping to power their regional economies. We have to stop that.”

Bellone called water quality a critical issue for all Suffolk County residents. The county has made funding available for septic system improvements for homeowners, which would help reduce the amount of nitrogen polluting Long Island’s waterways. He also recently implemented a recycling program for six county school districts.

Steve Stern. Photo from Stern's office

Former Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) said he knew his neighbors best and his confidence was backed up when the ballots were counted Tuesday night.


Special Election Results
Steve Stern (D)          5,748
Janet Smitelli (R)       3,949

Stern became the first Democrat elected to represent the 10th Assembly District in New York State Assembly in more than 30 years by defeating Republican candidate Janet Smitelli, 5,748 to 3,969 votes, in the April 24 special election.

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island,” he said “That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly.”

Stern received approximately 59 percent of the ballots cast, according to the unofficial results posted by Suffolk County Board of Elections. He ran on the Democrat, Working Families, Independence, Women’s Equality and Reform lines.

The newly elected assemblyman called it a “historic win” indicative of the larger political dialogue happening across the country.

“So many people in our community believe that the federal government is going in a dangerous direction,” Stern said. “If Washington is not going to address the issues and what’s going on, we have a responsibility to do it up in Albany.”

“If Washington is not going to address the issues and what’s going on, we have a responsibility to do it up in Albany.”
– Steve Stern

Stern will be sworn in April 30 to take over the seat vacated by Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R). The new state assemblyman thanked his campaign volunteers and said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) had called to offer his congratulations.

The state’s 10th Assembly District has been represented by Republicans since the early 1980s. The longest-serving assemblyman was Huntington Station resident Jim Conte (R) who held the office from 1988 until his death in October 2012. Lupinacci, who worked for Conte, then won the seat in a 2012 special election.

“I’d like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to my opponent Steve Stern upon his victory,” Smitelli posted April 24 on Facebook. “During this campaign we discussed the issues and got the community engaged. I wish him the best of luck.”

She could not be reached immediately for further comment.

Stern previously said if elected he intended 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 comes 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.

His first action upon being elected, in keeping with a personal tradition started during his days in county Legislature, Stern said, was driving around town starting to pull up his campaign signs.

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) signs copies of his new novel "Big Guns" at Book Revue. Photo by Karen Forman

By Karen Forman

A Huntington politician turned author is hoping his newest novel hits its mark with area residents.

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D) celebrated the release of his latest work of fiction “Big Guns” at Huntington’s Book Revue April 19 to a standing-room only crowd.

The 320-page novel, released April 17 by publisher Simon & Schuster, is a political satire on national gun control issues that almost seems ripped from recent headlines.

Huntington resident Avalon Fenster, 16, speaks at Israel’s book release as the founder of March for Our Lives Long Island. Photo by Karen Forman

“After Sandy Hook, I saw the president crying about all the first graders who were murdered and I thought that now things are going to be different,” Israel said. “But nothing changed.”

The former politician said he was inspired after reading that the small town of Nelson, Georgia, passed an ordinance in 2013 that every single resident had to own and carry a gun — or pay a fine.

“That triggered the idea for the book,” he said.

“Big Guns” is the second novel written by Israel, following “The Global War on Morris” which hit book stores in December 2014. Both novels are fictional political satires that make illusions and references to Long Island towns.

“I believe that satire is the most successful way of making a point,” he said. “I wanted to make my point without slapping people in the face, and satire is more believable when you use local references.”

Readers may be surprised to find Israel’s novel is also filled with local characters who are based on people he served with when he was a Huntington town councilman, from 1993 to 2001, and others he met while in Congress.

While serving in the U.S. Congress, the former politician said he and other Democratic congressmen have attempted to pass several bills on gun reform: universal background checks; “no fly, no buy” laws; laws that would outlaw bullets that can pierce a cop’s body armor. All were defeated.

Fourth-grader Spencer James with his mom, Fran James, and twin brother, Matthew, at the book launch. Photo by Karen Forman

Israel said one day in the “members-only elevator” in Congress, a colleague told him that he couldn’t believe he had just voted against all these gun reform amendments. But otherwise, he couldn’t go back to his district and face all his NRA supporters.

“That shows the intensity of gun voters,” Israel said. “They vote on guns and that’s all. They don’t vote on other issues. And they will not forgive politicians who vote against guns.”

The former politician has been actively involved with the March for Our Lives Long Island movement, founded by 16-year-old Huntington resident Avalon Fenster. While she is still too young to vote, Fenster said she agrees that “young people are the change.” Several students attended the event after having heard Israel speak at the March for Our Lives rally March 24, including Spencer James, a fourth-grader from Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School in Huntington.

“I want my future to be safe and happy,” James said.

Israel said he  feels there is hope now for real change in federal gun control policies.

“Our government has failed us on this issue, the adults have allowed this to happen,” he said. “But these young people today are not giving up. They will not forget. And so there will be change.”

Cast your ballot for the April 24 special election from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at regular polling locations

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

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Huntington political newcomer and a former Suffolk County legislator are vying for votes to become the area’s new state Assembly representative next Tuesday.

Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli and Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) are both hoping to be elected to fill the assembly seat vacated by Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) to represent the 10th Assembly District in the April 24 special election.

“It’s a very important election for the 10th Assembly District,” Lupinacci said. “It’s very critical to remind your family, your neighbors and your friends to vote on that day as every vote is going to count in this special election.”

Janet Smitelli

Smitelli has lived in Huntington for more than 30 years but is relatively new to politics, referring to herself as an outsider. She has not held an elected position before claiming recent events have inspired her to throw her hat in the ring.

Janet Smitelli. Photo from Smitelli’s campaign

“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 in an interview with TBR News Media.

The longtime Huntington native is a mother of three and has strong community ties. Smitelli served as an assistant Scoutmaster for local Boy Scout troops and taught Sunday school. For more than 30 years, she has fought to protect residents as a civil litigator. This April, she hopes to add New York State assemblywoman to that list.

“I’m someone who has been very busy these past few months, getting the word out, and getting my name out,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get to as many people as I can to let them know how sincere and passionate I am about this.”

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.

“As an attorney, you learn to represent your client with zeal; you learn to represent your client passionately, and I will be doing that for the people who live in my district.”

— Janet Smitelli

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.

“As an attorney, you learn to represent your client with zeal; you learn to represent your client passionately,” she said. “And I will be doing that for the people who live in my district.”

Read more about Smitelli in TBR News Media’s candidate profile here. 

Steve Stern

Stern is a familiar face to many members of the Huntington community, having served as their longtime Suffolk County legislator. He left the position Dec. 31 due to being term limited after 12 years but now hopes to bring his knowledge and experience to Albany.

Steve Stern. Photo from Stern’s office

“I’m running on the key issue of great concern to the residents of the 10th Assembly District which is taxes,” he said. “Particularly given the changes at the federal level which will have a dramatic impact on middle-class families in our area.”

While 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.

Recently, the Democratic candidate spoke out against the proposed Villadom Corp.development to build a 486,380-square-foot mall with mixed retail and office space on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood citing traffic and quality-of-life issues.

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 comes 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.

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island. That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly.”

— Steve Stern

“I look forward to being a strong voice for Long Island,” Stern said. “That’s exactly what’s needed in New York State Assembly. I know who I represent very well. I was elected and re-elected by my neighbors because they know Stern was dependable and a proven leader who delivered for his constituents.”

Read more about Stern in TBR News Media’s candidate profile here. 

Go vote

The polls will be open April 24 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Voters should go to their normal polling locations used in the November general elections.

The candidate who is elected 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.

Shoreham-Wading River High School students gathered in front of the road leading to the school to protest gun violence and gun-control legislation during #NationalHighSchoolWalkout day April 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though it has been close to 20 years since the Columbine High School shooting, for Shoreham-Wading River High School students who participated in a school walkout on the anniversary April 20, the threat of gun violence is still all too real.

Shoreham-Wading River High School junior Kelly Beagen, on right, voices her opinions during the walkout. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We don’t want to be numbers of slain students in a newspaper,” junior Reese Manghan said to the group of students standing in front of the road leading up to the school. The close to 20 students who participated organized on social media and braved the cold winds of early spring to protest gun violence and current gun-control laws.

“If we’re apathetic to this issue, then were simply ignoring and consenting to the thousands of deaths that have been caused by gun violence in America,” junior Mahdi Rashidzada said.

Rallys and walkouts were hosted all across the country for the 19-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, a school shooting where 15 students were killed and 24 were seriously injured. Though Columbine shocked the nation and brought more attention to violence in schools, the Washington Post reported that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence since Columbine.

“I was horrified of coming out because all I get to see on the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be straight.”

— Jordan Carroll

“Even though Shoreham-Wading River is such a small school, we have all been personally connected to these shootings, wherever it is,” junior Kayla Napolitano said. “I have three younger siblings, and I know a lot of us don’t show appreciation to our siblings, but when that time comes I don’t want to see them be shot or hurt in any way.”

“The world is such a violent place,” junior Jordan Carroll said, opening up about his feelings following the Orlando gay nightclub shooting where 49 people were killed and 53 others wounded. “I was horrified of coming out because all I see in the media is gay people getting shot, gay people getting killed. If people didn’t fight for change, I probably would still be [identifying as] straight. I don’t want violence whatsoever.”

Students argued that there should be restrictions on gun sales in America. Some students pointed to places like Australia, which banned the sale of assault rifles and had a massive gun buyback program in 1996.

“I think that it’s important to think about other parts of the world — and I feel like for some people, there’s this culture in our country that we have to be different from other parts of the world, like simply being different makes us better than them,” junior Kelly Beagen said. “But there is evidence that different countries that have different gun laws don’t having mass shootings, at least not at the rate that we have them.”

Shoreham-Wading River students protested on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students stood behind a barricade that was guarded by both school security and Suffolk County police.

“With what we want it shouldn’t be harder for a responsible gun owner to get a gun,” Manghan said. “What’s going to be harder, hopefully impossible, is for somebody who’s mentally ill or mentally incapable from getting a gun and shooting people.”

Students said that the walkout was much more organized than the one hosted March 14, and that that the school administration supported the students to a much better degree.

“I felt more confident than last time — last time it was just a bunch of people walking in solidarity, but that became a conflict with the school,” Rashidzada said. “Today, definitely, the school is in support of us as long as we follow the general rules — we feel pretty good about that.”

“At the very least they respect what we’re doing,” Manghan said.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

The race for the right to challenge New York’s 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in November will be a five-way battle.

The candidates got enough signatures from voters to qualify to be placed on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary ahead of the April 12 deadline. June’s winner will face the two-time incumbent congressman and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump (R) in the general election Nov. 6. New York’s primaries are only open to registered members of the applicable political party.

Kate Browning

Kate Browning. Photo from SCDC

Browning is the former 3rd District Suffolk County legislator, a position she held beginning in 2005 before
being term limited out of office. She was born and raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland, before moving to Germany at 19 years old and eventually landing in Shirley with her husband Steve in 1989. The mother of three was a bus driver in the William Floyd School District prior to taking office.

“Our district deserves a representative that is going to fight for working families in Suffolk County,” Browning says in a section of her website entitled “Why I’m running,” while also touting her ability to work across the
political aisle. “I’ve focused on quality of life issues, rehabilitating foreclosed zombie homes and selling them to first-time home buyers, keeping them away from speculators and absentee landlords. And I’ve secured funding for clean water infrastructure to protect our drinking water and our shorelines.”

Elaine DiMasi

Elaine DiMasi. Photo from SCDC

DiMasi, a political newcomer, was a federal contractor for more than 20 years in addition to more than two decades of experience as a project manager and physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. She describes herself as a lifelong environmentalist with firsthand knowledge about the potential to jump-start the local economy while safeguarding the environment through the establishment of clean energy jobs.

“I dare to believe in a government that cares for all its people equally, is responsive to them and their concerns,” she says on her campaign website. “An American future that values equality for its people that opens doors of opportunity for all. An America that leads by example through its laws and practices to ensure the dignity, well-being, and freedom of all people.”

Perry Gershon

Perry Gershon. Photo from SCDC

Gershon wastes no time in his personal bio on his campaign website declaring he is a businessman, and not a career politician, having spent more than 25 years in commercial real estate finance. The first-time runner for office says his decision to leave the private sector and seek political office is a byproduct of outrage at the state of politics in Washington, D.C. He points to his entrepreneurial spirit and ability to build consensus among diverse parties as evidence of his qualifications to represent NY1.

“I’m fed up,” he says on his campaign website as to why he’s running. “It’s time Long Island had a strong voice to fight for high-paying jobs, affordable health care, high-quality education and clean air and water. Rather than stand by as Donald Trump and Washington politicians try to divide us, we can rebuild the middle class.”

Gershon and his wife Lisa have two sons and live on the South Fork.

David Pechefsky

David Pechefsky. Photo from SCDC

Pechefsky has extensive experience in government despite never holding elected office. The 1986 valedictorian at Patchogue-Medford High School has held various positions in government and politics during the last 20 years, including as a longtime staffer for the New York City Council, as well as a consultant for the National Democratic Institute from 2010-13. There, he worked to establish a legislative budget office to serve the Congress of Liberia. He also managed a U.S. government-funded program to strengthen the parliament of Somalia. He’s on leave from his current job as a senior adviser with Generation Citizen, a national nonprofit with the goal of fostering civic engagement.

“I am running for Congress because we need to put in place policies that make our economy work for everyone, not just the wealthy,” he says on his website. “I’ve spent my career working in government here in America and as an adviser to governments around the world and know how government can and should work to make things better for all us.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher

Vivian Viloria Fisher. Photo from SCDC

Viloria-Fisher was also a Suffolk County legislator, serving the 5th District 13 years beginning in 1999. She was born in the Dominican Republic before moving to New York with her family as a child. She also worked as a Spanish teacher in Three Village school district for 12 years.

“As your representative, I will: fight for a national living wage; support job growth in sustainable energy and medical research industries; reinstate tax deductions for workers and students,” she says on her website, among other legislative priorities.

She touts her work on expanding public transportation services, creating a Welfare-to-Work commission in the county and her support for marriage equality prior to its legalization in New York among her proudest accomplishments.

Check TBR News Media in print and online for coverage of both the primary and general election in the coming weeks and months. All information about the candidates is from the Suffolk County Democratic Committee website or the candidates’ campaign sites.

Former Northport Mayor George Doll with newly re-elected Deputy Mayor Tom Kehoe. Photo from Tom Kehoe

Spring brings the winds of change to the village of Northport as the longtime Mayor George Doll and his deputy have stepped down, giving over the reins to  familiar faces.

As of April 3, Doll and Deputy Mayor Henry Tobin have officially retired. Former trustee Damon McMullen has taken up the mantle of village mayor, while Tom Kehoe is now the deputy mayor. The question on many residents’ minds is, why did they retire?

“It’s been 12 years,” Tobin said. “I never meant it to be a career. I loved being a trustee and the deputy mayor, but it’s time to do other things.”

Tobin hopes to travel more. Doll said he is ready to roll up his sleeves and spend more time at his other career, as a commercial fisherman. The former mayor also wants to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren.

“I will miss George and Henry both miserably,” said Village Clerk Donna Koch. “It was a pleasure working with them for the past 12 years.”

McMullen served as a Northport trustee for 10 years before running unopposed for mayor last month.

I never meant it to be a career. I loved being a trustee and the deputy mayor, but it’s time to do other things.

— Henry Tobin

“If George had wanted to run again, I would have stepped aside,” McMullen said. “I learned so much from George, mainly to relax and be level headed. He said there’s always a solution to whatever problem was at hand that day.”

McMullen added that he admired Doll’s ability to work well with everyone around him. As a trustee, he felt the two had a good relationship working together.

Kehoe agreed with McMullen on the longtime mayor’s approach to running Northport.

“George had an even-handed approach to managing the village; he never attacked people.” Kehoe said, explaining a prior mayor had been contentious. “There was so much rancor and bitterness before George became mayor. Once George took over, no one was ridiculed. He was approachable. He was never disrespectful.”

Kehoe lauded Doll for transforming the village hall into a community forum where residents felt their concerns and issues could be heard. He said the new board will endeavor to do the same.

As the outgoing deputy mayor, Tobin stressed it is important that the new trustees keep sight of working together.

If George had wanted to run again, I would have stepped aside.”

— Damon McMullen

“‘All of us on the board knew that the public wanted a well-unified, well-functioning village government and so we all worked through all the issues until we had a consensus, trusting George and each other,” he said.

Fellow board members said a great deal was accomplished by Doll during his tenure as mayor. Kehoe said they started outdoor dining in Northport, which turned the village into a destination like Huntington or Port Jefferson.

“We have zero vacancies now on Main Street, except for Gunther’s, which is closed because of the fire,” the new deputy mayor said. “We’ve brought people into the village.” 

Tobin said the former leadership also fostered many community activities such as the farmers’ market and Northport Harbor Family Nights, which occur in August. Among Doll’s successes, he said, was rallying community support to save the post office from being closed.

Northport is a unique place with all types of people here. We have 7,000 residents and we want to balance everyone’s needs.”

— Tom Kehoe

The former board, including McMullen and Tobin, managed to obtain significant grants to cover the cost of upgrading the sewer treatment system and installing sewer mains in Steers Pit. The project cost a total of $13 million, but due to the board’s hard work and financial savvy the village taxpayers only had to pay $1.2 million out of pocket. 

Now with McMullen at the helm, he will be setting new goals for the board and already has a list of projects he wants to tackle.

“I want to see the bay area even cleaner,” McMullen said. “And if the weather ever breaks, we will start a lot of road work, including curbs and sidewalks on Woodbine Avenue and work on Laurel Avenue by the library.”

The new mayor said he plans to have the board review the village’s code book to update some of the existing laws.

“Some of the code is 40 years old and it worked in its day, but it just isn’t practical anymore,” he said.

Both McMullen and Kehoe know they will face a few challenges, but both feel they are up for the job.

“We will keep Northport vibrant,” Kehoe said. “Northport is a unique place with all types of people here. We have 7,000 residents and we want to balance everyone’s needs.

Voters have the opportunity to ask questions of candidates Janet Smitelli and Steve Stern at April 11 event

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

Huntington residents are invited to come meet the candidates competing for Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s former state assembly seat.

The League of Women Voters of Huntington has scheduled a Meet the Candidates Night for April 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the South Huntington Public Library. Democrat Steve Stern, who previously represented the 16th District in the Suffolk County Legislature, will be running against Republican Party candidate Janet Smitelli in the April 24 special election.

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.

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.

Any attendee who wants to ask a question of the candidates may submit it in writing on cards that will be supplied at the event. For more information, contact Colette Knuth at cstewardknuth@gmail.com.

Prior to the Meet the Candidates Night, the League of Women Voters will hold its first Take Action Workshop starting at 5 p.m. The workshop will offer a hands-on experience and expert advice in assisting citizens to register to vote and answering any questions regarding voting. Seating is limited, but registration is open to anyone who is interested.

Those interested can register by visiting the South Huntington Public Library’s website at www.shpl.info under the “Programs” tab or by calling 631-549-4411.

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Students at Stony Brook University organized a March for Our Lives protest. Photo from Amanda DeJesus

While March for Our Lives rallies were scheduled in various towns on Long Island, members of the Stony Brook University community felt it was important that the campus get involved in the movement, too.

Amanda DeJesus, an undergraduate student at the Stony Brook School of Social Welfare, was one of the organizers of a March for Our Lives rally at SBU. The event started at 11 a.m. March 24 and many of the approximately 300 people who attended the university rally went to Port Jefferson Station afterward to take part in that protest.

Local residents joined SBU students and faculty at a March for Our Lives rally March 24. Photo from Evelyn Costello

“As a social welfare student, promoting social justice is the cornerstone of our profession,” DeJesus said. “I believe that demanding common-sense gun laws is a first step in creating a safer society for everyone, so that is why I wanted Stony Brook University to become a part in this very important conversation.”

Alli Ross, from Port Jefferson Station, attended the SBU rally with her fiancé. She said it was the first march she ever attended, and she was amazed every time she looked back and saw more people joining in. While she doesn’t have children yet, she said she has younger sisters and cousins, and ensuring children’s safety is important to her.

“This is just something that really hits hard for me … as it does with a lot of others,” Ross said. “Just being a part of something like that, and everyone coming together and showing that this is something that needs to be done, something that needs to be changed, it makes me feel a little bit better. It makes me feel like there is hope because there are so many like-minded people who care so strongly about it.”

Courtney Kidd, an adjunct professor at the university, spoke at the event and said she was honored when the student-organizers invited her. She said she first thought of declining and suggesting a speaker who would be an expert on gun violence, but then she remembered when she was a student hearing the saying: “One voice can make a difference; I am one voice.”

“I realized that this march is about more than rehearing the statistics that you already know, and instead about making change,” Kidd said at the rally. “It’s not about their voice — it’s about yours. So, if I can help you realize that you don’t always need the years and the title, that we need your voice, then I may be able to say I made a difference.”

DeJesus said she hopes the young people will continue voicing their concerns.

“I believe that we will be able to see change if we continue speaking about it,” DeJesus said. “We must keep the conversation going, never forget all the lives lost due to gun violence, continue walking out and don’t let anyone silence us.”

She said it’s vital to get out and vote.

“The midterm elections are so important and not enough people, especially young people, are registered,” DeJesus said. “The best way to make your voices heard is to vote. You never know if your vote will be the one that makes a difference.”

Taking the lead of demonstrations started by people barely old enough to drive during the days of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, North Shore students marched Saturday. Their messages were clear in their rhetoric delivered over a sound system from the bed of a pickup truck and on homemade signs: lives lost to gun violence are no longer acceptable, especially in schools, and politicians who do not agree are going to have organized and audible opposition.

A local incarnation of the March for Our Lives, a movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, took place at the intersection of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station March 24. While thousands stomped through Washington, D.C., and countless other areas across the globe, several hundred gathered locally, thanks to the organizing efforts of students from Miller Place, Port Jefferson, Ward Melville and other area high schools, to call on politicians to take action to prevent gun violence in schools and communities. Activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Building Bridges in Brookhaven assisted the high schoolers in setting up the demonstration.

Calls for legislative action in speeches and on signs ranged from all-encompassing bans of “assault style” weapons seen abroad, like in Australia; to the more incremental policy changes being discussed in state houses and on the federal level, such as raising the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21; to bans on modifiers that make semi-automatic weapons function like automatic weapons; stronger background checks; and longer waiting periods for purchases.

“We are infused with a passion for change — change that we hope will drain the stagnant pool of corruption in our nation,” Miller Place High School student Jake Angelo said to the crowd. “We are the hope for our country’s future — the generation of awareness, the generation of calling ‘B.S.’ and the generation of change.”

Nearly all of the student speakers directed their remarks at U.S. 1st Congressional District Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the National Rifle Association, the powerful lobbying arm whose political contributions are often criticized as the deterrent to advancing gun legislation by those who lean to the political left. Zeldin received nearly $10,000 in campaign contributions from the NRA during his reelection campaign in 2016, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets.org.

“Change does not happen when the leaders deem it so,” Ward Melville High School student Scott Egnor said. “Change happens when every day folks say that enough is enough. Change happens when every day folks draw the line. Change happens when we vote Lee Zeldin out. We will take this movement, by Americans, for Americans, and we will bring it to the doors of the capital. We will not stop until Congress is more afraid of our voice than the NRA checkbooks.”

A spokeswoman for Zeldin Katie Vincentz said in an email the Congressman has and will continue to meet with those on both sides of the gun control debate, when asked if he planned to meet with any of the NY-1 students behind the Port Jeff Station march. She said Zeldin supports banning bump stocks, fixing the National Criminal Instant Background Check System and “ensuring lunatics manifesting violent criminal intentions to murder with firearms have access to none,” among other changes widely regarded as incremental gun control steps. She did not say whether or not he would support a ban on assault-style weapons when asked.

“The more people of all ages participating the better,” Vincentz said when asked how Zeldin viewed the activism of students in his district and beyond.

A speaker who identified herself as Ariana, a sophomore at Longwood High School, also invoked Zeldin during her remarks.

“Why should 15 year olds have to discuss the possibility of dying at the hands of a mass shooter?” she said. “Why should we be discussing dying in school, a place where we’re supposed to be safe and protected? And what can we expect from politicians like Lee Zeldin? Apparently only prayers and condolences. Congress is not taking the necessary steps to keep students like me and my friends safe — or the 5 year olds in kindergarten, or the 11 year olds in middle school. That’s why we are here. We cannot wait for the adults in Congress to continue to let the NRA call the shots when it comes to our safety. These politicians are not listening to us because we are supposedly too young to know what’s good for us, but apparently their silence is what’s best. Or perhaps the issue here is special interests and the money they receive is more important to them than our lives.”

Many of the parents of student speakers and participants in attendance expressed how proud of their children they were.

“It’s honestly the most proud that I’ve ever been of them,” said Kathy Podair, whose daughter Emma and frienf Alyssa Anderson, Smithtown High School West students, were among the marchers. “I’ve raised them to be strong women and to speak out against things that are wrong and that need to change. To see them take that initiative and stand up, I feel like I did a good job. I’m very proud of them today.”

She called sending a student off to high school in today’s world “terrifying.”

“They had a lockdown drill last week,” she said. “We got an email from the superintendent in the morning letting us know that there will be an unannounced lockdown drill today, and they came home from school and told me they were in the choir room when it happened, in a room that doesn’t have a lock on the [glass] door, and they said ‘we were sitting ducks if this was real.’ There were 150 kids in this room and they said ‘there’s nowhere safe for us to hide.’”

Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman and Matt Pifko, who helped organize an indoor assembly that took place March 14 on the day a national walkout was scheduled, along with classmate Gavin Barret, also spoke during the event. The trio said they were inspired by the solidarity they felt from seeing so many of their peers in attendance. The students helped establish a station in the high school that will remain open at which their peers can get assistance in writing letters to elected representatives.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) were also among the attendees.

“It is amazing to see the passion, the dedication, the commitment of these students — no fear,” Hahn said. “It is wonderful. They are focused, they are determined, they are smart and they’re getting things done already. And we need to follow their lead.”

A smaller group of counter protestors stood across the street on Route 347 holding signs in support of the Second Amendment, with several Suffolk County Police Department officers and their cars positioned on the median to separate the two groups, though no violence and minimal interaction occurred.

A package of gun control bills passed the New York State Assembly in March and will require passage by the Republican-majority state senate before becoming law. All of the students asked said they intend to vote in the next election, or the first one after their 18th birthday. Organizers from the various activist groups had a table set up during the march to help register attendees to vote.

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