Times of Huntington-Northport

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Northport-East Northport school officials gave residents their first look at the district’s $166.2 million 2018-19 budget draft.

Superintendent Robert Banzer and assistant superintendents presented a $166,165,381 first draft of its budget for next year at the March 1 board of education meeting. It represents a 1.75 percent increase over the current year’s $163.3 million budget, or a $2,858,541 increase.

“We are presenting a budget that supports the mission, vision, core beliefs and priorities of the district,” Banzer said. “While continuing a historically low tax levy increase.”

At the March 1 trustees meeting, the board conducted a line-by-line review of the district’s approximately $11.8 million draft budget for buildings, grounds and transportation.

Some of the budgetary highlights from buildings, grounds and transportation
section include $120,000 for the purchase of a new 66-passenger bus; $69,500 budget for new snow removal equipment; and $50,000 for the purchase of a four-wheel drive vehicle.

A significant portion of the proposed buildings and grounds budget, more than $340,000, has been set aside for new security equipment and services. Leonard Devlin, the district’s
supervisor of security, has proposed installing approximately 30 additional interior cameras and 20 exterior cameras districtwide along with purchasing nine license plate readers, one for each building.

“It allows the principal and myself to identify a vehicle coming on the school property,” Devlin said. “It would give me a clear video of the license plate to prevent vandalism and identify those vehicles that come onto our property at 2, 3, 4 a.m.”

In addition, Devlin has requested the district set aside $28,000 to purchase a new security vehicle to replace an aging vehicle that while having 90,000 miles is spending more time in repair shops than on school grounds, he said.

David Stein, vice president of the board of education, questioned if the district should consider increasing all security lines in the budget by as much as 20 percent.

“There is a lot of work for us to do in this new environment,” he said at the March 1 meeting. “One thing I am certain I heard tonight is there needs to be an increase in substance and value.”

Stein was backed by his fellow trustees in asking Devlin to come up with a wish list of security equipment and personnel for the district in the upcoming weeks. The district will revisit the budgeted lines for security at a future budget presentation, as well as weighing whether the budget allows for additional security personnel.

The next presentation on the proposed budget for instruction, technology, BOCES and special education is March 8 at 7 p.m. at William J. Brosnan School. A preliminary budget hearing for district taxpayers is set for March 22.

Huntington High School. File Photo

Following the Parkland school shooting in Florida Feb. 14, there is no denying there’s been a raging national debate over gun control measures and school safety. As the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have spoken up, their actions have rippled outward creating a call for activism by students nationwide to have their voices and opinions on gun control heard. It has reached Long Island.

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.

“Our goal in responding to a planned student walkout is to keep our focus on teaching and learning, while at the same time providing students and staff with support in order to ensure the safety of all.”

— Brenden Cusack

Town of Huntington school districts and officials are weighing how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.

Huntington High School Principal Brenden Cusack sent out a letter to parents March 2 that clearly outlines the district’s stand on the upcoming walkout.

“While a school may not endorse a student walkout, Huntington High School respects our students’ constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Cusack said. “Our goal in responding to a planned student walkout is to keep our focus on teaching and learning, while at the same time providing students and staff with support in order to ensure the safety of all.”

The principal also stated that students who choose to participate in the March 14 event will not be given an excused absence and will not be permitted to make up any class assignments they miss. Walkout participants will be monitored by the high school’s security staff, according to Cusack, and given specific instructions regarding how to egress from the building and provided with a staging area. Students are expected to remain in compliance with the district’s code of conduct and are not permitted to leave campus.

“In these times of heightened emotion, I ask that you please speak with your children about their feelings on this topic and any plans they may have for expressing their viewpoints,” Cusack said.

Prior to the protest, the Huntington school district will be hosting a forum titled “How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities?” on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Huntington High School. This student moderated forum is open to high school students, parents, family and community members “designed to engage in productive, respectful and meaningful dialogue.” Any students in attendance will be provided with community service credits, according to Cusack.

“In these times of heightened emotion, I ask that you please speak with your children about their feelings on this topic.”

— Brenden Cusack

School administrators in Elwood, Harborfields and Northport districts declined to comment on their plans for the walkout.

A second unconnected protest is being planned for April 20 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 their opinions. The organizers of the walkout envision a day-long event.

“We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that,” the website for the event reads. “The 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.”

While the federal government deals with the political gridlock long associated with gun control, New York State 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.

With additional reporting by Alex Petroski

Ben Model at the historic Wonder Morton Theatre Pipe Organ at The Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in 2014. Photo by Steve Friedman

By Kevin Redding

As a film production major at New York University in 1982, Ben Model sat in a film history class and watched a series of silent movies with his peers. The early 16mm prints had no sound tracks backing them and Model felt the disinterest of his classmates.

“It really bothered me that these movies were bombing in front of film students every week,” said Model, 55, who grew up enchanted by three things: silent movies, the art of filmmaking and music, having started piano lessons when he was 5. “So I figured, I don’t really know what I’m doing, but it’s got to be better than nothing.”

Photo by Larry Smith
Ben Model at the Library of Congress Packard Preservation Campus Theater. Photo by Larry Smith

So he approached his professor and offered to play piano during the screenings to liven the experience for the audience — an idea the professor loved. From then on, until he graduated two years later, Model (pronounced Moe-del) served as the maestro for two to three film screenings per week in the basic cinema history class as well as a film historian’s class — providing the music for many of the earliest movies ever made, from Auguste and Louis Lumière’s 50-second-long actuality films depicting military events and everyday scenes to Thomas Edison’s studio films to the works of pioneer filmmakers D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Through his new gig, he met and befriended renowned silent film accompanist Lee Erwin, who was an organist in theaters during the 1920s and was, at the time, playing the giant Wurlitzer organ at Carnegie Hall Cinema in Manhattan, one of the few repertory theaters back then. Erwin served as Model’s mentor, someone whose brain the young college student often picked, learning what works, what doesn’t, what to do, what not to do.

While Model only started doing this to engage his peers in early films, he wound up turning it into a career spanning more than 30 years. He currently serves as one of the leading silent film accompanists and most well-respected silent film historians, traveling around the world in a wide variety of venues presenting silent films and providing unforgettable live scores for hundreds of them.

Ben Model at the Egyptian Theatre, Boise Idaho. Photo by Paul Collins

Model has been a resident silent film accompanist at the Museum of Modern Art since 1984; the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus Theatre since 2009; the Silent Film Days in Tromsø portion of the Tromsø International Film Festival in Norway, home to Verdensteatret, Norway’s oldest cinema in use, dating back to 1916, for 12 years; the historic Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Idaho, where he performs scores with a full orchestra; recently played in theaters in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio and frequently performs at museums and schools; will be playing at the Turner Classic Movies film festival next month; and, since 2006, can be seen locally at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington once a month during the theater’s Anything But Silent program.

Model is also a lecturer, film programmer and visiting professor of film studies at Wesleyan  University in Connecticut, as well as the creator of New York City’s Silent Clowns Film Series, launched in 1997 as the premiere, regularly scheduled showcase for silent film comedy, from Buster Keaton to Laurel & Hardy. 

“There’s something so immersive about the experience of silent films, especially when you see it with live music,” Model said. “It’s ironic that because of what’s missing from the film, you’re actually much more involved and engaged, because the imagination is filling in everything: the sound, the colors, pieces of the story, the gags. You’re assembling them in your head, in a group setting. You can get lost in it; you feel like you’re almost part of what’s going on — it’s like a trance.”

A trance, he said, he’s long been in. “When I started doing this, I realized that throughout my life, anything surrounding silent film kind of just worked out for me,” he said.

It all started with Charlie Chaplin. While some little kids were obsessed with dinosaurs and others with trains and trucks, young Model gravitated toward The Tramp, consuming all his films he could find and reading biographies and film books on his craft. That paved the way for Chaplin’s contemporaries like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

When he was 12, Model, who grew up in Larchmont in Westchester County, received a book called “The Silent Clowns” written by Walter Kerr, a New York Times theater critic in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and silent film fanatic himself, which became something of a sacred text to the young boy. Because Kerr lived close by, and had amassed a huge collection of these movies he wrote about, Model’s parents encouraged him to reach out to the author.

“So I wrote him a letter telling him I was interested in seeing more silent films,” Model said, explaining that, in the mid-70s, he had to wait for them to show up on television and there was a lot of movies he read about that he just couldn’t find. “Walter Kerr called me four days later. Over the next 15 to 20 years, a few times a year, I’d go over and he’d say, ‘So, what do you want to see?’ So I grew up going to the guy who literally wrote the book on silent film comedy.”

Model said in terms of his performances, he’s primarily an improviser — relying on his background as a silent film devourer and improv comedian in college to let things come to him naturally, he said, like musicians do in jazz. But if he hasn’t seen the film before, he’ll watch it in advance to take note of different story and action beats in order to stay ahead of the movie and provide certain underscores when needed.

“Ben is creating a virtual time machine of the original movie-going experience and transporting our audiences to another era,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions for Cinema Arts Centre, adding that audiences during Anything But Silent nights are always fully engrossed: laughing, shrieking and hooting and hollering. “There’s an undeniable respect for Ben’s choice of film, his vast historical knowledge, and the commitment to giving the best performance to each film. He’s a rock star in his own right.”

Model said he loves performing at Cinema Arts Centre because of its monthly embrace of these old films.“You’d be hard-pressed to find a suburban art cinema that thinks silent movies are worth showing,” Model said. “At Cinema Arts Centre, they recognize that sound is only part of the film landscape.”

He encourages people of all ages to come and experience a silent film. He recalled the impact a screening of Keaton’s 1928 film “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” from 10 years ago had on an 8-year-old girl, whose father later told Model that the film, its presentation and her experience that night was the subject of her college essay.

“Everyone involved with these films is dead, but even one from 100 years ago is just as entertaining as it was when it was first released,” Model said. “Silents are able to make the trip across several decades sometimes better than sound movies. It’s just so rewarding to be able to help these films live again, and build the next audience for them.”

Town of Huntington snow plows. Photo by Victoria Espinoza.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) assured residents that town employees are ready on standby to react to whatever Mother Nature has in store.

Huntington’s Highway Department has 16,000 cubic yards of salt and sand set aside in its yards to be spread on its more than 800 miles of roadway, according to the supervisor. The town has are 129 pieces of snow removal equipment and has called in approximately 150 additional contractors who will start lining up Tuesday night.

“They are on call and will usually come in about an hour and a half prior to when the storm is anticipated to to get equipment ready, plows ready and load the trucks,” Lupinacci said.

The National Weather Service is predicting snow is likely to begin after 4 a.m. March 7 totaling approximately one inch, according to its website. There’s a possibility drivers could see a sloppy commute as snow mixes with sleet and rain, with total of 2 to 4 inches on the ground before turning back to snow after 10 p.m. Wednesday.

The supervisor said town officials are keeping a close eye on potential flooding in the North Shore villages. Weather forecasters are calling for the 2:50 a.m. high tide to be 1 to 2 feet above normal, according to Lupinacci, with wind gusts of more than 40 miles per hour.

“We will be in touch with our village mayors along the northern coastal areas, particularly Lloyd Harbor and Asharoken, to make sure there is no flooding,” he said.

Residents are strongly encouraged to move their cars off the streets to aid in snow removal. In addition, the superintendent asked those who shovel to throw snow into their yards where possible, rather than the street to allow cleanup to progress as quickly as possible.

Huntington officials will be posting updates throughout the storm on town website at www.huntingtonny.gov. Residents with emergencies or cleanup complaints can call 631-499-0444.

PSEG Long Island is also taking steps to prepare for the nor’easter.

“PSEG Long Island personnel worked tirelessly to restore power to all customers’ affected by the severe storm last weekend and are ready to respond again for the impending nor’easter,” said John O’Connell, vice president of Transmission and Distribution at PSEG Long Island. “Our workforce is performing system checks and logistics checks to ensure the availability of critical materials, fuel and other supplies.”

To report an electrical outage and receive status updates Text OUT to PSEGLI (773454) or to report an outage online visit www.psegliny.com.

Teams up with twin brother Elijah, Dan O'Connor and Thomas Fodor to take first in 4x800 relay

Isaiah Claiborne crosses the 1,000-meter run finish line at the state championships March 3. Photo from MileSplit

Isaiah Claiborne could see his Fairport foe hot on his trail. Like last year, the 1,000-meter run came down to a final lap sprint, but midway through it, Claiborne kicked it into high gear and never looked back. The Northport senior crossed the finish line in a state-championship winning 2 minutes, 26.95 seconds at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island March 3.

“A week ago my arm was too locked up and I knew I needed to work on that,” Claiborne said. “Today, I got out and I just wanted to be fast, especially since I was on the outside. I didn’t want to be slow to get stuck behind. I left it all on the track.”

Elijah Claiborne comes in a photo-finish second place in the 1,600-meter run. Photo from MileSplit

After leading early in the race, Claiborne fell into third place, but worked his way back into prime position. With 150 meters left, and the field looking like it might leave him behind, he made the move that made all the difference. His time was a new school record and second-best in New York State. It also set a new meet record, breaking Liam Purdy of North Rockland’s 2014 mark of 2:27.63.

“It’s awesome to come out here and win among big competition,” Claiborne said. “I tried to stay relaxed, make it my own race and not get too nervous. My coach says stay composed, stay relaxed, and that’s what I did.”

Of three sets of twins in contention to sweep events at states, Claiborne’s twin brother Elijah was closest to making it happen. Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed got in the way though, maintaining his lead to the end line to come through with a photo-finish win. The two runners completed the 1,600 in 2:15.543 and 2:15.548 in a race where no one person stayed in first for long.

Northport’s 4×800 relay team of twin brothers Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were crowned public school state champs. Photo from NYSPHSAA

“After just missing placing at states last year, I used that emotion to propel me toward the finish line.” Ahmed said. “I knew the race was going to be tight — anybody had a chance to win. I stayed with the pack and kicked fast at the end.”

Babylon’s Vlad Cullinane, who has been the top high jumper in the state all season, made it official by clearing six feet, seven inches. Shoreham-Wading River’s Richard Casazza was second, clearing 6-6.

“I was battling with [Casazza] all season and we were inches away from each other,” Cullinane said. “Every time I saw him miss, it felt pretty good. I was working on my form, and it feels great to beat him again.”

Northport’s 4×800 relay quartet of Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were also public school state champions, completing the event in 7:56.52. The same team minus Fodor, finished first in the outdoor state championship last year.

“I don’t like going head-to-head,” Isaiah Claiborne joked. “My guys always give me a gap so I don’t have to worry about it.”

He and the rest of his relay team will compete at New Balance Indoor Nationals March 9-11 at the Armory Track in New York City.

“I won’t think about it too much,” Claiborne said heading into this weekend. “I’m definitely confident, and I’m going to take it all in.”

New machine fills a depression in 60 to 90 seconds; can repair more than 100 per day

Pothole Killer repairs a depression on Laurel Road in East Northport March 5. Photo By Sara-Megan Walsh.

Huntington Town officials are excited to be taking the Pothole Killer out for a test run on the local roadways. Hopefully, it will mean a smoother ride for all.

Kevin Orelli (D), Huntington’s Superintendent of Highways, unveiled that the town has struck an agreement with Patch Management, Inc. to try out a one-man spray-injection machine to repair potholes and cracks in Huntington’s roads during the next several months.

Huntington Superintendent of Highways Kevin Orelli and Supervisor Chad Lupinacci in front of the Pothole Killer. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

“We’ve been repairing potholes for than 50 years in the same method,” ORelli said. “We want to bring the Town of Huntington into the 21st century and use a new, more efficient method to do that work.”

Currently, Orelli said he sends out a crew of highway department workers with a hotbox containing hot asphalt to lay down a patch over the pothole. He estimated that a crew can fill approximately 40 potholes a day using this method.

Scott Kleiger, the inventor of the Pothole Killer with Patch Management said his machine can fill the average pothole in 60 to 90 seconds, with a skilled operator repairing more than 100 per day.

The Pothole Killer is run by a trained operator who remains inside the cab of the truck at all times, according to Kleiger, avoiding the roadway hazard of oncoming traffic.

“One of the key elements of this is safety,” he said as a former public works employee. “The job they do out there for the common good of the people is very dangerous and very tedious.”

Using a joystick, the machine’s operator positions an external arm over the crack or pothole which blows pressurized air into it, removing all loose debris. The machine is used to spray an asphalt emulsion, or “tack coat,” that provides an adhesive base for the filler material to bond to. Next, the machine coats aggregate filler in the asphalt emulsion to fill the hole or crack to surface level. Last, dry material is sprayed over the top of the repair.

Pothole Killer drops aggregate filler coated with asphalt into a depression. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

“The roadway is open immediately, as it doesn’t stick to their tires,” said Brian Rutledge, a field sales agent for Patch Management.

Rutledge said the Pothole Killer is currently used in 10 states, including by Rhode Island and New Jersey Department of Transportation. Resident may be able to see the machine in action as New York State Department of Transportation uses it to fill holes and cracks along the Long Island Expressway.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said that given this winter’s extreme cold weather, he anticipates it will be particularly bad year for potholes. The town has received more than 500 phone calls, according to Orelli, and already repaired more than 2,000 potholes this year.

“We expect the situation to get worse over the next several weeks, especially as we enter the spring season,” Lupinacci said.

Drivers can report developing cracks and potholes by visiting the town’s website at www.huntingtonny.gov, and going to Highway Department page, or by calling the Highway Operations Center directly at 631-499-0444.

Northport-East Northport school district. File photo

Northport-East Northport school district parents packed the cafeteria of William J. Brosnan School to standing-room only Thursday night to make sure their desire for increased security presence in the wake of the Florida shootings was heard loud and clear.

“The elephant in the room is armed security,” said Anthony Raganella, a 23-year veteran of New York Police Department from East Northport. “I 100 percent, no, I 1,000 percent applaud Miller Place Superintendent Dr. Marianne Cartisano and the Miller Place school board for hiring four armed retired police officers for their security.”

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons.”

— Joseph Sabia

While Miller Place parents were divided and conflicted about their district’s decision to place retired NYPD officers armed with pistols outside their school buildings as of Feb. 26, Northport-East Northport parents gave the concept a standing round of applause. Many urged the board of education trustees to urgently take similar actions on March 1.

“Our children’s lives are worth more than anything, spend the money and get the security guards and give them the weapons,” said Joseph Sabia, a former board trustee. “Arm them and get them out in the field.”

Sabia pointed out that the district’s security consultant, Leonard Devlin, a retired NYPD detective, said that 26 of the district’s 31 security personnel are former law enforcement officers with backgrounds with the NYPD and FBI. As such, many of Northport’s school guards are already trained to use firearms.

“If you go back 20 years ago on the eve of Columbine … in some ways, we’ve come a long ways,” said Superintendent Robert Banzer. “We also know there is significant work to be done.”

The superintendent and Devlin gave a presentation on the upcoming measures the district is taking to improve its nine buildings’ security and student safety.

Devlin, who was hired by the district about a year ago, said the number of security cameras districtwide has increased from 351 to nearly 400 in the last year, along with the installation of a new burglary system. He admitted his security staff would still like to see more installed.

Michele Pettignano Coggins voices her feelings on armed security guards. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A fast pass visitor management system has been put in place at both East Northport and Northport middle schools, according to Devlin, in which guests entering the building must show his or her driver’s’ license. The license is scanned and run through a background check to ensure they are not sexual predators, according to the consultant, and has been successful twice. Upon questions from parents, Devlin admitted that the district does not currently pay to check visitors against a criminal record database even though the system can do so. The fast pass system is expected to be put into place at the high school within the next week, and at all six elementary schools within the next three months.

There is approximately $10,000 in the administration’s draft 2018-19 budget to purchase new uniforms for the district’s security guards to make them more visible by incorporating a bright, reflective gold color.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible,” Devlin said. “It’s a deterrent.”

The superintendent said the district is ready to begin construction of security vestibules at each of its buildings, a measure that was approved by voters in February 2017. The first building will be Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and plans for two other buildings are currently in Albany awaiting state approval. Banzer said the goal is to have all complete by 2019.

Inside the buildings, the superintendent said the district is 95 percent complete replacing all door locks so they can be locked from inside the classroom by a staff member with a key.

“It’s good for the staff to know where there is help, have someone on premises who is visible.”

— Leonard Devlin

“These are two of the major initiatives that are underway in our district right now,” Banzer said.

Parents came forward armed with suggestions on how they would like to see security improved for students, staff and the buildings. Kathy Affrunti, of Northport, asked if there was serious discussion of installing metal detectors while Northport resident Michele Gloeckner asked why the district’s proposed plans for the security vestibules didn’t include bulletproof glass.

“When we conceived of this idea there is thicker glass, we didn’t necessarily think of bulletproof glass,” he said. “It is it something we can go back and reconsider.”

Other residents spoke of replacing ground-level windows with ballistic-proof glass, improved training for teachers and staff members, implementation of better mental health programs and creation of a task force to address school safety concerns.

“There should be a master wish list of what a guy like you would like to see in a perfect place, what we should do, where we are and what we need to get,” said David Stein, vice president of the board, to a security consultant. “We can’t execute on everything in a year, but we should prioritize it.”

Northport board trustees have asked Delvin to provide a full list of ideal security items and personnel in the upcoming weeks and have agreed to revisit the issue during the upcoming March budget presentations.

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.

Politicians, coaches, veterans, police officers, firefighters and volunteers reflect on Black History Month

Former Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Kevin Redding

African-American figures, leaders and movers and shakers across Suffolk County reflected on their lives and accomplishments to commemorate Black History Month.

David Lewis, Smithtown volunteer firefighter/retired NYPD officer

When David Lewis and his family moved to Smithtown from Hollis, Queens, in 1977, he said they were one of just two black families in the community. He was 7 years old and said he immediately saw the effect their skin color had on residents in his new hometown. Their property was often damaged, there was name calling, and he said his parents received lots of phone calls from neighbors warning not to send their children to the school district.

“The N-word was a big part of our childhoods, we were told we didn’t belong,” Lewis said. “But I
remember my dad saying, ‘You belong here. I don’t care what they say, I’m sending you to school.’”

David Lewis

Lewis said his father’s ability to hold his ground lit a fire in him.

“In the back of my mind, I remember thinking that I’ve got to prove to everyone in Smithtown that I belong here,” he said.

Lewis, who grew up in and around the kitchen as the son of a professional chef, started a chocolate and candy business out of his house as a ninth-grader, encouraged greatly by his high school cooking teacher as well as business instructor, who loaned him $100 to buy a mini-refrigerator. He hired local kids to help out and his budding entrepreneurship made headlines in the newspapers. Around that time, Lewis also began a private mentoring program for struggling kids in the neighborhood, many of whom came from broken or single-parent homes.

After graduating from Smithtown High School West, he attended the Culinary Institute of America, became a certified chef and spent a few years working in the industry until he decided to switch gears to pursue a full-time career helping people. Already a volunteer with the Smithtown Fire Department, Lewis joined the New York Police Department, determined to bridge the gap between youth and police. During his 25-year career on the force, Lewis regularly watched over neighborhood youth, encouraging students to do their homework and steering them away from trouble while offering mentorship to youths in Smithtown, Queens and Brooklyn. He received the Commendation Medal from the NYPD in 2000 and eventually retired out of the 104th Precinct.

Outside of the police uniform, he has served as an emergency medical technician; a fire prevention instructor in local communities; a fifth-degree black belt instructor, lending his expertise at Suffolk County PAL Martial Arts; an assistant Scout Master for Cub Scout Pack 340; a volunteer at the Smithtown Guide Dog Foundation; was employed part time as a security official in the Smithtown school district; co-founder of KiDS Need MoRe foundation; and remains an active captain in the fire department. 

Through it all, Lewis said the accomplishment that’s meant the most to him was when he received an award for Greatest Person of Smithtown in 2012.

“That was just tremendous to me,” Lewis said. “I thought back to being 7 years old and being told I didn’t belong in Smithtown. That’s one of the things that’s always motivated me here, and [that honor] proved that I do belong.”

Eric Brown, head baseball coach at Suffolk County Community College

For 30 years, Eric Brown has been a coach, mentor and friend to more than 1,000 student-athletes at Suffolk County Community College, where the Coram native also served as campus coordinator and warehouse and mailroom supervisor. He retired as head coach of the men’s varsity baseball team in 2017. During his leadership tenure, he guided his teams to seven National Junior College Athletic Association World Series; won 685 games; was named Region XV Coach of the Year in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2006; led Suffolk to be named a nine-time winner of the NJCAA Region Umpires Association’s annual sportsmanship award; and was elected into the JUCO Hall of Fame in 2014.

A petition was even created recently calling for the baseball field at Suffolk County Community College Selden campus to be renamed the Coach Eric Brown Field.

Eric Brown

But despite being grateful for all the recognition, Brown, a graduate of the college himself, couldn’t help but laugh about how his career played out. Throughout his years as an athlete at Longwood High School, Brown’s true passions were basketball and soccer — he even went to LIU Post on a soccer scholarship — and baseball was very much an afterthought.

“Baseball was just something I did because everybody else in the neighborhood played it,” Brown said.

He said when he returned to Suffolk, hired as a material control clerk, he was approached by his mentor at the time, who was in charge of the basketball and baseball programs, who brought Brown in as an assistant basketball coach. Through his mentor, Brown learned everything he knew about baseball and soon began coaching the sport himself.

Throughout his career, Brown has been acknowledged for his role as a “player’s coach,” and someone who makes sure the athletes on his team are well-taken care of and successful on and off the field.

“I really care about these kids,” Brown said. “The long and short of it is that they’re more important than the program itself. They are the program.”

Tracey Edwards and Doc Spencer, Huntington elected officials

Former Town of Huntington board member Tracey Edwards, who has served for many years as the Long Island regional director of the NAACP, said while she considers her hometown a great place to live, she
admitted Huntington, and all of Suffolk County, still has a lot to work on when it comes to race relations.

“I would say, as a young person, I had a wonderful experience growing up in the Town of Huntington,” Edwards said. “But as I got older, as I reached adulthood, that’s when bad experiences started to happen. We’re being naive to think there is not still gender, racial and cultural bias where we live, and where everybody else lives.”

Edwards has built a career on trying to make a difference on that front. Since elected by the town in 2014, she has strived to be an exemplary community advocate and public servant — and was especially focused on making Huntington a more inclusive place, regardless of age, race, gender or economics. She has worked to
expand affordable housing legislation for millennials and first-time homebuyers; spearheaded the creation of the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with résumé preparation and job searches, exploration of career options and access to job training for unemployed and underemployed
residents; and led a strong campaign for Huntington supervisor in 2017, a race she lost to now Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

William “Doc” Spencer

“Being a black woman, it was very difficult for her to run for that position as it was portrayed in the results,” her mother, Dolores Thompson, a lifelong civil activist, said in December. “And yet, her experience and background is far better than most, black or white.”

Edwards pointed to her parents and the way they raised her as her main source of strength and inspiration.

“I was raised to believe and to understand that everyone is equal and to treat everyone with respect,” she said.

Just the third African-American elected legislator in Suffolk County history, William “Doc” Spencer (D Centerport), who is also a beloved physician and ordained minister in his community, agreed with Edwards that the region has plenty to overcome, but also sees every day how far it’s come.

“Long Island has certainly had its struggles with division and difficult race relations but I’m optimistic, just evidenced by the fact that I’ve been chosen to lead by an overwhelmingly white population,” Spencer said. “I don’t believe people look at me as a black man, but, hopefully, as a good doctor, representative and humanitarian. As the only black official in the Town of Huntington, I’m a voice of unity, a voice of harmony and I believe it’s incredibly important that we have acceptance.”

Spencer himself grew up in West Virginia in an area still heavily segregated.

“Most blacks lived on one side of town with substantial divides throughout the area,” he said, reflecting on his upbringing. “I would be stopped by police if I was driving in a particular section. I’ve been chased and called names. I experienced all of that in the 1970s and ’80s. We have made great strides.”

Michael Jordan, president of the Visually Impaired Persons of Suffolk

In 2014, Southampton native Michael Jordan’s life became permanently dark. The U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former Southampton Golf Club employee began losing his eyesight a few years prior in 2011,
so when he went completely blind, he was ready for it, determined to stay active, independent and productive. That same year, he joined the Visually Impaired Persons of Suffolk, a social group designed to empower and self-advocate the blind community with ties to Deer Park and Port Jefferson. As a member, he noticed that the extent of the “social” aspect of the group was sitting together for a cup of coffee and a donut.

Michael Jordan

“I said, ‘We’ve got to start being active here,’ if you want to sit around and drink coffee, I can do that home,” Jordan said.

He took the reins as an orchestrator of outings and activities, from fishing and park trips to dinner functions, bowling nights and fundraisers. Members donated funds to five underprivileged families last year.

Jordan, who pays for a majority of the event’s raffles himself, quickly rose to a vice president position and, in 2017, he was elected president of the group.

“All I want to offer is giving, love and joy,” Jordan said. “I like to help people for a day to help them forget about their problems, and that way, they can see someone in an unfortunate situation spreading joy in life.”

Jordan said it’s important to him that his colleagues in the group recognize their importance in life, despite their disabilities.

“I want to show people of Suffolk County that we are people,” he said. “When you look at us, you should just see a resident. You don’t see that I’m blind, you don’t see that I’m in a wheelchair, you don’t see that I’ve got hearing aids, don’t see that I’m in a walker, or what have you.”

District administrators to review security plans March 13; have plans to install more cameras

Huntington High School. File photo.

With Florida’s school shooting still in recent memory, Huntington school officials are taking the tragedy as a reminder to review their own security plans.

Parents were given a thorough rundown of Huntington Union Free School District’s plans to keep its nearly 4,600 students safe and planned security upgrades at the Feb. 26 board of education meeting.

“Any district that would say they are well prepared to deal with any and all contingencies that could occur would be stating something that is not true,” Superintendent James Polansky said. “I believe in this district we are as actively thinking what can and may happen as any other district out there. You have to be as many steps ahead as any district can be.”

Any district that would say they are well prepared to deal with any and all contingencies that could occur would be stating something that is not true.”
—James Polansky

Kathleen Acker, Huntington’s assistant superintendent for finances and management services, walked parents through the district’s general safety plans, which can be found online, in addition to informing them that a districtwide plan and highly-detailed building specific plans exist and are filed with state and local law enforcement.

“The plans are very dynamic and always change in response,” Acker said. “We will be doing a review on March 13 to see how comprehensive it is, but there’s always room to add a bit more.”

School officials have used part of the district’s $1.4 million Smart Schools Bond Act funds from the state to upgrade existing security cameras at the high school and install additional ones districtwide this year, according to Acker. She said the district has also recently partnered with Intralogic Solutions, a security technology provider, to pilot a new safety system. The Alert Domain Awareness System focuses security cameras on fire alarms to provide a view of who pulled the trigger, a method which was employed by the Parkland shooting suspect, to determine if it’s a credible alarm.

The assistant superintendent said the district will spend approximately $100,000 to replace old doors at two elementary schools with doors that can be locked from the inside. It’s a process referred to as door hardening, according to Polansky, and it’s recommended classroom doors are locked at all times.

“Just a locked door serves as a deterrent,” he said. “If there’s a threat, they’ll keep moving.”

Huntington school district has hired one additional security guard, currently in training, and plans to review its deployment of guards throughout the district. The state has approved the district’s plans to construct a security vestibule at Jefferson Elementary School this summer, according to Acker. School officials are also waiting for state approval to build similar booths at Nathaniel Woodhull School and Southdown Primary School.

“If we can’t keep students and staff safe, nothing else matters.” 
— James Polansky

Last year, each building had video monitors installed at every greeter station so staff members could see visitors looking to gain entrance. Visitors are required to show photo identification.

The superintendent said he believes a key piece of ensuring student safety is preventative measures which have included anti-bullying programs and adding support staff — a social worker, a psychologist and more guidance counselors.

“They are not teaching kids in the classroom, but the services are indispensable,” Polansky said.

The Huntington superintendent said he had a meeting scheduled with 10 other school administrators across Huntington and Smithtown townships Feb. 27 to discuss the best ways to communicate and share security strategies in light of the recent shooting.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” Polansky said. “If we can’t keep students and staff safe, nothing else matters.”