Times of Huntington-Northport

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini is read the oath of office by Sen. Chuck Schumer during Sini's inauguration Jan. 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

Though calendars and thermometers will provide unmistakable evidence that spring is still several months away, new hope sprung eternal in Suffolk County Jan. 2.

Tim Sini (D) was officially sworn in by U.S. Sen. Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), the Senate minority leader, to begin his tenure as Suffolk County’s District Attorney, a position Sini captured with a 26-point landslide Election Day victory over his Republican opponent Ray Perini. Sini officially assumed the vacated position Tuesday, left open by his retired and federally indicted predecessor Tom Spota (D), during an inauguration ceremony at the Brentwood campus of Suffolk County Community College in front of town and county elected officials and friends and family of the new DA.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini shakes hands with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone after he was sworn in Jan. 2. by Sen. Chuck Schumer, center. Photo by Alex Petroski

Sini campaigned on restoring public faith to a position and office now synonymous with controversy and accusations. Speakers including County Executive Steve Bellone (D), former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York David Kelley and co-chairman of Sini’s campaign and transition team, and the newly inaugurated DA himself each referred to his responsibility in restoring that faith as a primary objective during his time on the job.

“The prosecutor’s mission at its core is not to seek convictions, but to seek justice,” Bellone said. “It is like many things that this person of deep faith believes to his core. Unfortunately in Suffolk County for too many years and in too many instances this truth has been overshadowed by self-dealing and chicanery. I can tell you with certainty, with as much certainty as one individual can hold, that this chain is broken today — that a new era of integrity in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office has begun.”

Though their time in the Eastern District of New York didn’t overlap, Kelley served at the head of the U.S. Attorney’s office, where Sini was an assistant U.S. Attorney before returning to Suffolk, where Bellone would eventually appoint him Police Commissioner. During his remarks, Kelley cited a quote from a 1935 Supreme Court decision in which members of the court took a prosecutor to task for his conduct, indicating the quote was particularly relevant for Suffolk County and should remind Sini of his duties ahead.

Suffolk County District Attorney speaks about moving the office forward into the future during his inauguration ceremony Jan. 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The prosecutor is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution, is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done,” Kelley recited from the court’s findings. “As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the two-fold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor — indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones.”

The theme of Sini’s message during the ceremony was to look forward.

“Today marks the beginning — marks the moment that together, we usher in a new era of criminal justice in Suffolk County, one that ensures public safety, champions the law and promotes faith and trust in our law enforcement agencies,” he said. “Each and every day the public will know that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is doing the right thing.”

Huntington resident Marie Destil is the owner of owner of Gingerbites Restaurant & Catering in Huntington Station. Photo from Marie Destil.

By Jill Webb

A Huntington resident with a passion for cooking opened her doors to help the people of her native Haiti, and in reaching out that helping hand, has made the world a bit smaller and better.

At 14 years old, Marie Michele Destil moved from her native island of Haiti to the United States. Now, 35 years later, Destil is the owner of Gingerbites Restaurant & Catering in Huntington Station.

At Gingerbites, along with serving authentic Haitian cuisine, Destil has used her business as a platform to help Haitian relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.

Destil said she has always had a love for cooking and showed signs of being the entrepreneur she would become at a young age.

“I remember when I was maybe 10 or 11 my mother would have friends come over and I’d go make coffee and then serve it with bread and sell it to them,” she said. “If you don’t buy it, I’ll cry.”

After her 18-year-old twin girls and 22-year-old son went off to college, Destil wanted to focus on something more grounded and local. Destil decided to use her experience in catering to open up Gingerbites in late 2015. The restaurant aims at bringing the culture and cuisine of Haiti to Huntington Station.

“We’re from an island, so we’re very simple people with very distinct taste and a very distinct way of life,” Destil said.

Then when Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, more than 1,000 of Haiti’s citizens were killed according to Reuters. Destil said upon hearing the shocking news the first thing she thought about was the people.

“You have to remember not that long ago we came from the earthquake in Haiti, so that was the most devastating thing that ever happened to us there,” she said. “But when Matthew happened, you’re like ‘Oh, my God.’ But my thought is that no matter what happened, Haitian people are resilient people. They’ll survive. It’s hard, it’s difficult, but they’re not quitters.”

Destil had and continues to have a strong faith in her homeland, despite all it’s been through.

“That island [has] gone through a lot but with the help of God it’s still standing,” she said.

The restaurant owner recognized the importance of supporting her homeland and the residents struggling in Hurricane Matthew’s aftermath.

Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) recalled when Haitian groups were starting to partner with the Town of Huntington’s relief efforts, Destil jumped at the chance to help.

“She’s a very bubbly and hardworking person,” Cuthbertson said.

Destil partnered with the town in November 2016 to raise donations for the charity, Meds & Food for Kids. The nonprofit organization focuses on the malnourished children of Haiti, providing them with ready-to-use therapeutic food. Their food is made in Haiti by Haitian workers, and they aim to use Haitian raw materials as much as possible.

One of the many reasons that charity was so important to Destil was her love for children.

“I love all kids, I’m a sucker for that,” Destil said.

Also important in narrowing down the search was to find a charity where most of the proceeds go directly to people in need. Finding out that the Meds & Food charity gives the majority of its proceeds to the children made it an easy choice.

“The children [are] our future, so invest in them,” she said.

Destil was honored Oct. 26 at the town’s 16th annual Women’s Networking Day luncheon for her charitable efforts.

As her business continues to grow, Destil hopes in the future to partner with more charities to help the Haitian community as much as she possibly can.

JIm Powers, president of the Townwide Fund oF Huntington, at their annual gala. Photo from Facebook

By Kyle Barr

There’s a Huntington man who keeps himself awake at night, driven to make sure he does his best to raise funds for charity — benefiting not one, but nearly 40 organizations.

Jim Powers, the president of The Townwide Fund of Huntington, thinks of his time with a business-like aim toward efficiency. He wants to get the biggest bang for his time.

As president of the fund, an organization created by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce to raise funds for local charities, Powers funnels his time and energy toward aiding 39 nonprofit organizations. In 2017, the fund gave out more than $200,000 to charities in and around the Town of Huntington.

Jimmy Powers has been credited by some for saving the Townwide Fund of Huntington. Photo from Townwide Fund of Huntington

“It’s almost one size fits all,” he said. “You’re putting all your time into one organization [where] you can affect 39 different charities touching tens of thousands of different people in the town. Our tagline is, ‘The money raised in Huntington stays in Huntington.’”

Powers dedicates hours each week to the fund, whether it is looking for donations, supporting charity events, hosting their own fundraising events and more. At full board meetings, he’s known to bring coffee and bagels, knowing that all but one board member is a volunteer. Powers wants to show that their time is appreciated.

Powers is also a volunteer for the fund.

“He’s the heart and soul of this organization,” said Gloria Palacios, executive director of The Townwide Fund. “Our fundraising events are the most important thing that we do and Jim gets behind each one because he’s so driven to make sure that we get all the sponsorships and ticket sales and what not.”

Palacios said she marvels at the amount of time Powers puts into the organization, knowing he works many hours a week teaching at New York Institute of Technology and is also the director of business development for Bohler Engineering. She often teases him, Palacios said, knowing in the two or three days before The Townwide Fund events he doesn’t sleep, anxiously making sure every last detail works out perfectly.

“I keep telling him, ‘That it’s not your event, it’s a team event,’ but he says, ‘I know, but this needs to work for the town,’”
Palacios said.

Nine years ago, The Townwide Fund was nearly closed. Many people on the board point to Powers as the person who saved the fund from collapse. He drew up a business plan, replaced much of the board with what he called a “young, vibrant board” including not just business leaders but bankers, architects, attorneys, teachers and stay-at-home moms.

“He’s probably raised more money and given away more money than any other president in the fund’s history,” said Dave Gustin, vice president of the board and president of Melville Chamber of Commerce.

He’s the heart and soul of this organization.
— Gloria Palacios 

Others say Powers is the first person to make phone calls or jump in when something needs to be fixed. Carl Adler, third vice president of The Townwide Fund, recalled one day when they drove by one of the organization’s fundraiser signs together and realized it had been hit by a truck.

“We decided to get out — we had a shovel in the car — and fix it up together,” Adler said. “It’s very typical of Jim when something comes up, he’s going to fix it or he’s going to get people involved.”

Bob Bontempi, founding board member of Long Island Business Council and former chairman of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, said Powers supports not only The Townwide Fund but is visually active in several other organizations.

“I don’t know how he has the energy to do all the things he does,” Bontempi said. “He’s just one of those people that you go to because he’s a visible leader, and it’s the totality of selfless effort and time over the years that finally needs to be recognized.

File photo

Suffolk County Police Homicide Squad detectives are investigating an incident in which a woman was found dead in a parking lot in Hauppauge Dec. 23.

Paula Chavez-Quintanilla was found in the rear parking lot of 150 Motor Parkway at approximately 9:10 a.m. Chavez-Quintanilla, 65, of Brentwood, appeared to be a victim of violence and was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

Homicide Squad detectives ask anyone with information regarding this incident to call detectives at 631-852-6392, or anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-8477 (TIPS). All calls will remain confidential.

Former Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards won the Democratic town supervisor primary. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Town of Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) learned a lot about herself in 2017. For one, she’s not a politician.

The 56-year-old Huntington native, who lost to state Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) in the November race for town supervisor, will not be returning to the town board Jan. 1. But she is proud of the campaign she led and the community-oriented issues it centered on.

Edwards ran for Huntington’s top seat instead of taking the admittedly safer route of running as an incumbent for re-election to the town board. When asked why, she repeatedly said, “This is not about me. This is about what I believe is best for Huntington.”

She has always seen herself as a community advocate and public servant, first and foremost, a trait noticed and respected by those she has served.

Tracey Edward (D) was first elected to Huntington Town Board in 2012.

“At the end of the day, I’m a community advocate,” Edwards said. “The nastiness and personal attacks in elections were never things I was ever interested in. I want to help people and our town. True public servants don’t stop doing that just because they lose an election.”

In junior high school, she got her official start in community service as a candy striper at Huntington Hospital. She was encouraged to give back to the community by her father — a narcotics detective on the town’s former police force — and mother, Dolores Thompson, a Huntington activist still going strong today.

Edwards has served on the board of directors of the Long Island Association in Melville and is the Long Island regional director of the NAACP — a post she said she looks forward to returning to.

As councilwoman and supervisor candidate, she focused on making Huntington a more inclusive place for everybody, regardless of age, race, gender or economic bracket.

“We have a very robust, diverse and unique town that is filled with wonderful neighborhoods and great communities,” Edwards said. “There’s no place else I would rather live. While I wish Chad Lupinacci the best, I’ll be keeping my eye on him to make sure this town continues to move in the right direction for all.”


True public servants don’t stop doing that just because they lose an election.

— Tracey Edwards

During her four years in office, Edwards has worked alongside Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) to expand affordable housing legislation for millennials and first-time home buyers and has been hands-on with youth-based programs that focus on character building, recreation and tackling the drug problem. She created a special annual luncheon, dubbed Memories of Huntington, to honor seniors age 75 or older, who have lived in town for more than 50 years, for their contributions to Huntington’s history.

“Tracey is not a politician’s politician … she’s for the people,” said Jo Ann Veit, a member of the Senior Reunion committee. “People love her because she’s there for them and she gives you that feeling that she’s there for you, thinking about you and the town, and what would be best for the seniors in the town. When people leave that reunion, they’re all so pleased with Tracey and how genuine she is. She has been a wonderful councilwoman.”

Bob Santo, commander of Greenlawn American Legion Post 1244, has gotten the same sense of sincerity from Edwards in the years they’ve known each other.

“The first time I met Tracey was during a parade in Huntington Station and she was on the back of a motorcycle being ridden by one of our American Legion motorcycle [members] — she was having a grand old time,” Santo said, laughing. “With Tracey, what you see is what you get, and what she says is what she means. She’s never trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes.”

Councilwomen Susan Berland and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards spotted at the parade on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015 . Photo by Stephen Jimenez

Santo praised the councilwoman for spearheading the Huntington Opportunity Resource Center, a program that offers assistance with résumé preparation, job searches, career options and job training access for unemployed and low-income residents, many of whom are veterans.

Edwards said her proudest accomplishment has been her ability to turn difficult times in her life into something beneficial to those around her. Upon being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016, she was determined not to miss a single board meeting and scheduled her chemotherapy, radiation and surgery sessions around them.

When she finally became cancer-free, Edwards, who said she goes for breast cancer screenings once a year, realized there were probably so many women out there who may not be aware of the importance of screenings or have access to health care.

She partnered with Huntington Hospital-Northwell Health to host an education program on preventative screening exams, risk assessment, nutrition and information for free breast cancer screenings at Huntington Town Hall.

She also helped to rewrite the town’s ethics code to make town hall a more transparent place for residents.

NAACP New York State Conference president, Hazel Dukes, commended Edwards for fighting for the rights of all people, regardless of race, creed or color.


She didn’t want to go back as a councilwoman and why would she? You don’t go backward, you keep going forward.

— Dolores Thompson

“I know that Tracey Edwards is a committed and dedicated public servant,” Dukes said. “She truly brings conviction to the cause of equality and justice for all people. She’s embodied that in her professional life, as a worker in the NAACP and her political life.”

Edward’s work ethic comes as no surprise to her mother, Dolores Thompson.

“This year she’s had the initiative and aggressiveness and guts, in plain old English, to run for supervisor in this special community,” Thompson said. “She’s a trooper, a very strong woman who speaks her mind, and I’m very sure she will do something even better for this community as she progresses. She didn’t want to go back as a councilwoman and why would she? You don’t go backward, you keep going forward.”

Edwards, who lives in Dix Hills with her husband, was recognized by outgoing
Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) during a town board meeting Dec. 13.

“Four years ago, we were blessed with a person that I have never, ever encountered someone with more energy and the ability to move in and create change,” Petrone said. “A woman who has given so much in the short, short four years to the Town of Huntington and its residents … Tracey Edwards, we the members of the Huntington Town Board on behalf of the residents of Huntington wish to extend our sincere thanks to you for service to our community.”

Edwards thanked members of the community and assured all in the room her journey isn’t over.

“You haven’t heard the last of me,” she said. “You have not.”

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone is honored by the Suffolk County Legislature for retiring after 40 years as a public official. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said his farewells as the prominent leader of the Town of Huntington, but not without — as he said it best and “straight” — a crypt and an alleyway.

Petrone led his final town board meeting Dec. 13 as he was honored and recognized by his fellow council members and residents for his 24 years of service as town supervisor. Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia presented the town’s chain of office, a 1-pound, 11-ounce chain featuring several medallions including some made of wampum, for Petrone to wear on the momentous occasion.

Supervisor gives one final farewell address to residents

Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) offered a public farewell speech to residents at the Dec. 13 town board meeting, upon receiving accolades for his accomplishments after 24 years of service. Below is an extended excerpt of his remarks:

Thank you all. It’s been a real experience, a real trip — if I can call it that — a highlight in my life. Actually 24 years is a career in itself, and it’s been made possible because of you.

I give it to you straight. Some people never liked it, didn’t like it,  but it’s always been given to you straight on how I felt and what I thought was best for the entire community or residents at large. Sometimes, maybe, I was not all right, and I made sure it changed and we changed that. You guided me and you gave me that opportunity. I am a rich man, as a result of this, a very rich man full of heart and love you have given me. I share you inside, all of you. I shared a board with 20-somewhat council people. I could share some stories, but I won’t.

But, I think I want to thank this board for really capping this career for me. We’ve really reached new heights during these past several years. I’ve thanked each and every one of them. I’ve given them awards tonight and everything that was said is true — all those pieces add up. Mark [Cuthbertson] has been a partner for 20 years, someone who suffered with me through tough financial times right there plugging along and making the hard decisions that I will forever be grateful for.

It’s not by myself, it was done with other people. I mentioned my board members who are leaving and their accomplishments. I want to thank Gene Cook for all he’s done and everything that he means. I’ve learned some good lessons from Gene. You are going to go forward now. You have a new team to work with, and I think you are excited for that. I think we are all excited there’s a team coming in that’s going to bring Huntington to other heights, which is so very, very important. We’re thankful for that, that’s what service is all about. We should be thankful.

“It’s been a real experience, a real trip — if I can call it that — a highlight in my life, actually, 24 years is a career in itself, and it’s been made possible because of you,” Petrone said. “I am a rich man, as a result of this, a very rich man full of heart and love that you have given me.”

The outgoing supervisor joked he feared Raia was going to present him with an urn or burial plot. Petrone explained when he expanded the town clerk’s archival vault he had promised to do so on one condition: a future spot set aside for his urn.

“We will still have that available, but you have many long years ahead of you,” Raia said.

Petrone was praised by Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), who has served alongside him for 20 years, for taking the town, which was on the brink of bankruptcy when he took office in 1994, to fiscal stability.

“He is a consistent builder, a mentor; he is someone who put his heart into the job and gave of himself,” Cuthbertson said. “I believe in my heart of hearts this town is so much better for his service.”

The town board members gave a proclamation to the outgoing supervisor that they will rename Irwin Place, the alleyway adjacent to town hall, Frank P. Petrone Way, in honor of Petrone’s accomplishments.

“Such a record of accomplishments warrants a special recognition to cement Supervisor Petrone’s legacy and inform future generations of how much of a debt we owe Supervisor Petrone,” Cuthbertson said. “Such a recognition would traditionally take the form of naming a street after the deserving person. However, a clear policy was set by Petrone to reserve street naming for the deceased, which he fortunately is not.”

Renaming Irwin Place was chosen as Petrone was well known for his habit of parking his car on alleyway, carefully pulling it up onto the sidewalk alongside the building.

“Seeing Supervisor Petrone’s personal car parked in his special spot was a visual signal to all who visit town hall that their government was open for business,” Cuthbertson said.

Petrone thanked each member of the town council for serving with him, including Raia, and noted that even his wife Pat, was in the audience attending her very first town board meeting. He received a standing ovation in recognition of his more than two decades in office.

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) was joined by Legislators Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) and Lou D’Amaro (D-Huntington Station) to give Petrone a proclamation at the Dec. 19 county legislative meeting for his 24 years as town supervisor and more than 40 years of public service as an elected official.

Petrone wears Huntington’s chain of office. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I can say without hesitation that in just about every conversation I’ve had over the last 12 years with residents in my community and in the greater Huntington community, they say ‘Things might be tough out there but in this town, things are pretty good,’” Stern said. “Some part of that is due to the leadership and steady hand of Supervisor Petrone for so many years.”

Petrone was lauded by the legislators for his sound fiscal management, innovative and affordable housing projects, preservation of open space and launching a revitalization of Huntington Station.

“Supervisor Petrone is a role model for all of us,” D’Amaro said. “I will always remember if you went to him and you needed something, and you needed to work together he was always cooperative, always willing to help no matter what the issue was … Mr. Supervisor, I wish you the best of luck in the future.”

Petrone said his first plans upon retirement are spending the next few months at his Florida home with his wife, and enjoying time with his first grandchild.

Suffolk residents are suing the county, overseen by Executive Steve Bellone, for what they deem to be illegal fees. File photo

By Kevin Redding

An upstate New York legal group that helps residents stand up against improper actions by their government recently set its sights on Suffolk County, whose hike in illegal fees in the past two years is the focus of a class-action lawsuit.

On Oct. 24, the Government Justice Center, an Albany-based nonprofit that offers pro bono representation to New York residents seeking to “fight city hall,” filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court on behalf of five Suffolk County residents against the county, saying its abundance of assessment fees are “unauthorized taxes.”

The plaintiffs — homeowners living in Melville, Kings Park, Commack, Calverton and Shirley — face increasingly expensive fees for filing real estate documents, namely tax map verifications, which raked in $66 million this year, that far surpass the county’s operating budget of $1.2 million to perform the transactions through its Real Property Tax Service Agency, the suit alleges.

Between 2015 and 2017, mortgage recording fees and tax map verification fees imposed by the county jumped from $60 to $200 per land parcel, with an additional $300 slapped on for every mortgage recording instrument used. The revenue from the fees contributes to the county’s general fund.

According to the complaint, the county passed legislation to enforce these “backdoor taxes” on a certain subset of residents — in this case, homeowners — to bear the county’s burden as it was “unwilling to rein in its spending or face the political consequences of raising taxes to pay for general fund expenses.”

But, under state law, local fees are not allowed to exceed the cost of service or be used
to offset the revenue of government functions.

The homeowners are now calling on the county to stop imposing the illegal fees or at least reduce them to more closely match the $1.2 million service cost, and to refund them a portion of the real estate document fees. The county is currently being subpoenaed.

“It’s important that residents get the opportunity to have their voices heard,” said Cameron MacDonald, the executive director of the GJC. “The county is not supposed to be raising revenue through unauthorized taxes in the form of excessive fees. They need to either pass a tax that affects everyone or cut its spending.”

Ahead of the Suffolk County Legislature’s budget vote for 2018, which passed Nov. 8, MacDonald said he and his group called on legislators, to no avail, to eliminate a total $102 million in fees that generate revenue above the cost of the departments that collect them.

Mike Armstrong, the director of field operations for Reclaim New York Initiative, a nonpartisan group with representation on the GJC’s board which launched the Fight the Fees campaign to end illegal fees across the state, has been active in gaining public support of the lawsuit.

Armstrong compared the gradual increase of fees on taxpayers to “the difference between getting small cuts on your arm to having it chopped off entirely.

“The county talks about wanting to keep people here while they’re pushing them out the door with fees and taxes,” Armstrong said, adding that while tax increases are never popular, it’s at least honest compared to these fees. “I feel bad for young couples who want to buy a house that are now paying that mortgage fee. I feel bad for senior citizens who are closing out their mortgages and then are faced with an  exorbitant fee. It’s an issue that’s impacting people in a really dramatic way.”

During a vote last December to adopt the 2017 county budget,  Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) defended the fee increases, saying residents will not leave Suffolk County because of a few additional hundreds of dollars.

“I don’t think anyone is going to move to Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona or anywhere else because of $300,” Gregory said regarding the verification fee. “I think it’s going to cost more to relocate than the
increase in this fee.”

Among few voices of opposition on the Legislature is Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who, during the meeting to adopt the 2017 county budget, called it “death by a thousand knives.” He warned of an inevitable deficit in the county’s budget.

“The mismanagement of Suffolk County is heading us down the path of bankruptcy,” Trotta said. “They’re going to lose the lawsuits and they’re going to have to refund the fees and stop spending money. There’s going to be a huge hole in the budget no matter what.”

Jason Elan, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone (D), addressed the lawsuit in an emailed statement.

“This is a politically motivated lawsuit filed by Albany insiders who lack any understanding on how government costs are apportioned, yet have no problem saddling taxpayers with the cost of fighting this completely frivolous complaint,” Elan’s statement read.

The state supreme court has since ruled similar fees in Nassau unconstitutional.

“This is a major victory for taxpayers, homeowners, businesses and any New Yorker who has been forced to pay an illegal fee,” Reclaim New York said in an email. “Every government around the state should get the message loud and clear. Nassau and Suffolk legislators have knowingly been stealing from residents with illegal fees ­— it’s theft. It is time to end illegal fees across New York.”

Huntington councilwoman Susan Berland, second from right, attended at her last board meeting as an elected town official Dec. 13. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland’s (D) 11th-hour resignation caused the outgoing Democratic board to make a last-minute appointment to fill her seat as its final group action.

Joan Cergol, a registered Democrat and town employee, was appointed to replace Berland, who resigned from her position effective immediately at 10:43 p.m. at the Dec. 13 town board meeting.

A lifelong Huntington resident, Cergol has served as the town’s director of the Huntington Community Development Agency, executive director of the Economic Development Corp., and executive director of the Local Development Corp.

“The voters who placed me on this town board in five successive elections deserve to have someone whose qualifications, focus and accomplishments are coordinated with mine, who is dedicated to serving public interest over any political or individual pressures, and who will continue to represent them on this board,” Berland said in presenting Cergol.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) called for Cergol’s immediate appointment, despite the objections of Councilman Eugene Cook, the lone Republican on the board.

“I absolutely think this is the wrong thing to do,” Cook said. “The voters of the Town of Huntington went out and voted for a new direction coming in. You are taking that away from them. This should be going out to a new board.”

As Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) is retiring, the political majority of the board will flip come Jan. 1, 2018 from longtime Democratic control over to the hands of the Republicans. Supervisor-elect Chad Lupinacci (R) and Republican Ed Smyth will take over the seats held by Petrone and Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) respectively. Edwards will leave the board in January after running an unsuccessful campaign for town supervisor against Lupinacci.

“I believe Councilwoman Berland was elected as a Democrat,” Cuthbertson said in defense of Cergol’s appointment. “This board has every right to choose her replacement based on her resignation, whether registered Democrat or not, and we’re entitled to fill that vacancy. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

Cuthbertson was supported by his outgoing political party members Petrone and Edwards.

“Joan has worked with all members of the board and she’s noted for being someone who is nonpartisan when it comes to her activities in town hall and her actions as a professional,” Petrone said. “I echo, as outgoing supervisor, I would have been delighted to serve with Joan Cergol.”

Cergol will serve in Berland’s place through November 2018. Then Cergol will have to run for election to serve the remaining year of Berland’s term through December 2019, in accordance with state law.

Berland, who was elected in November to represent the 16th District in the Suffolk County Legislature, will begin her two-year term Jan. 1, 2018. She has served for 16 years on the Huntington town board.

“I have always strived to do the best job possible and made decisions not political, but in the best interests of the people,” she said in a farewell address. “Please know I am always just a phone call away and my heart will always be with the people of Huntington.”

Suffolk County sheriff-elect, Errol Toulon Jr. and his wife Tina. Photo from Toulon

By Kevin Redding

On the Saturday before Easter in 2003, Suffolk County sheriff-elect, Errol Toulon Jr. (D) sat in the den of his Lake Grove home and said to God, “If you give me a chance, I’m going to do something great.”

Toulon, who had dropped from 240 pounds to about 140 and could barely walk, was recovering from a Whipple procedure to remove a cancerous tumor on his pancreas. It had been his second battle with cancer in less than 10 years — in 1996, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — an ordeal that was followed by MRSA, a type of staph infection, and pneumonia. Doctors and family members expected the worst.

A year later, in the spring of 2004, the Rikers Island corrections officer-turned-captain enrolled at Suffolk County Community College. He went on to receive his master’s degree in business administration from Dowling College and an advanced certificate in Homeland Security management from Long Island University.

Toulon, left, as a bat boy at Yankee Stadium, pictured with Yankees legend Reggie Jackson. Photo from Toulon

In the midst of his appointment as deputy commissioner of operations for the New York City Correction Department in 2014, Toulon pursued and completed his doctorate in educational administration and took leadership courses at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

On Dec. 4, after a last-minute campaign to be Suffolk County sheriff against opponent Larry Zacarese (R), Toulon, 55, became the first African-American elected official in a nonjudicial countywide position in Long Island’s history.

“I still don’t think I’m finished to be honest with you,” Toulon said, laughing. “I am very fortunate and I don’t take any day for granted.”

He said he didn’t even know the landmark aspect of his victory until the counting of absentee ballots was close to being completed. The race was too close to call after Election Day Nov. 7, leaving the tightly contested election hanging for nearly a month.

“I think that can help to show that any individual, no matter what ethnicity or gender, can achieve anything they want,” Toulon said. “But I don’t think, necessarily, the color of my skin will matter at all. I think my work experience and work ethic will show that those who voted for me made the right choice, and I think those that didn’t vote for me will feel I can do the job and have the best interests of the people.”

Those closest to him said despite the odds stacked against him, Toulon’s win makes perfect sense.

“He’s a rare breed of person — you couldn’t ask for a better man for the position,” said Ralph Grasso, a retired New York Police Department officer and friend of Toulon’s for 26 years. “Anything he puts his mind to, he achieves.”

Grasso was far from the only colleague to heap praise on the sheriff-elect.

“Errol’s always shown through his actions how great a leader he is,” said Keith Taylor, who worked with him in the department of corrections for two years. “When it came to officers who were victims of inmate violence, he always made sure to visit them in the hospital, and always without any fanfare. He’s dealt with a lot of adversities and always handles them with dignity, grace and strength.”

Meg Malangone, a registered Republican in Lake Grove who works in the business office at TBR News Media, said Toulon is the first Democrat she’s voted for in 40 years.

“Not only is he one of the most incredible individuals I know, I honestly felt he was the best man for the job,” said Malangone, whose son was friends with Toulon’s sons growing up. “Errol is a wonderful human being. He is a strong, kind, smart and gentle man. He is not afraid to make tough decisions and is thoughtful in his approach to problems and solutions. He is going to be a fantastic sheriff for Suffolk County.”

When he officially starts his new job in January, Toulon said he’s determined to manage the sheriff’s office effectively and utilize skills from his career in corrections to tackle what he considers “the big three”: gangs, the opioid crisis and working with the community to develop a strong re-entry program for those incarcerated to help with housing and jobs when they leave the jail. He said outgoing Sheriff Vincent DeMarco (C) has given him a tour of the facilities, he’s met with staff and he looks forward to working collaboratively with district attorney-elect, Tim Sini (D).

“There is nobody with the type of integrity he has,” said Keith Davies, Toulon’s campaign manager, who was admittedly nervous to start a full-fledged race two months before the election with a candidate he didn’t know. “But then I got to know Errol and I knew I was working for someone that is the right person to be in the position. He kept us motivated and working hard. He’s a good man.”

“There is nobody with the type of integrity [Toulon] has.”

— Keith Davies

Despite his lifelong career in law enforcement, Toulon said the reason he thinks he was elected, and had such large support from community members on both sides of the aisle, can be traced to his second life as a coach of various sports in the last 20 years.

An avid hockey fan who even created a program around the sport within the corrections facility, Toulon coaches ice hockey at the Long Island Gulls Amateur Hockey Association in Jericho and served as a roller hockey coach at The Sports Arena in St. James. He has also coached baseball for the Sachem Youth Advisory Group; soccer for Middle Country Children’s Soccer League; and basketball for Middle Country.

“I’ve tried to make sure it wasn’t about winning or losing with the kids,” Toulon said. “I thought that even the kid who probably wasn’t the best person on the team should’ve gotten an opportunity to play. We won or lost together. A lot of parents asked me to be their child’s coach each season and I felt very honored by that.”

But Toulon’s overall achievements can be traced further back to the 1960s and ’70s in the South Bronx, where he grew up with his younger brother, Anthony, and parents, Errol Sr. and Alma, and attended Cardinal Hayes High School.

“He was always a go-getter,” recalled Errol Toulon Sr., 78, a retired deputy warden of the New York City Department of Correction. “He always volunteered within the community, played baseball and just always gave it his all. We couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Toulon’s mother, 74, who worked in education, remembered her sons being extremely protective of her, not even letting her walk to the local tennis court by herself.

“They were like my guardian angels,” Alma Toulon said. “I’m so proud of Errol Jr. He always does anything anyone asks him to do. He is a wonderful kid … I still call him a kid, he’s 55.”

Toulon pointed to his parents, who both went back to school later in life to get their bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as his two biggest heroes, though he also credited another: Willie Randolph, the former New York Yankees second baseman and New York Mets manager. Toulon came to know Randolph well working as a bat boy for the Yankees in 1979 and 1980.

“I was a diehard Yankees fan, didn’t live too far from the stadium at the time and went for an interview in January 1979,” said Toulon, who fondly remembered being around players like Randolph, Catfish Hunter and Thurman Munson. “They all treated me like I was a valuable part of the team. And that really carried over to my own managerial style that every member of the organization — no matter where you are in the chain — is important to making the team as successful as possible.”

Toulon’s son, Justin, 28, who works in the film and television field in Georgia, called his father the hardest working and most driven person he knows and said Toulon instilled in him the importance of respect.

“I don’t think I’ve ever brought somebody to meet my father that hasn’t said afterward, ‘That’s a great guy,’” Justin Toulon said. “My dad always leaves that impression. You just respect him and he has this charming ability about him. People gravitate toward him.”

Speaking from experience on that front is Toulon’s second wife, Tina, who he met in 2014, and married a year and a half ago. His first wife, Susan, passed away 29 years into their marriage.

“I’m his No. 1 fan,” Tina Toulon said. “He just has this wonderful aura about him: that great smile and those great eyes, full of life. He has an incredible loyalty about him and I love how he connects with people. He wants to always leave things better than how he found them … so I know he can do this job well.”

Stock photo

Suffolk County shoppers, get your nickels ready.

In an effort to encourage residents to shop with reusable bags instead of plastic and paper “carryout” bags that harm the environment, the Suffolk County Legislature is rolling out a 5 cent fee on all disposable bags at a variety of retail establishments, from supermarkets to department stores beginning Jan. 1.

The new law, which was officially passed by the Legislature in September 2016, applies only to the single-use plastic or paper bags provided by cashiers at the end of a sale and used to carry goods from the store. There won’t be a fee, however, on bags found in produce sections for fruits and vegetables, frozen foods or on bags by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, according to the law.

Cashiers are required to add the total fees to a customer’s receipt based on how many bags are used. Residents can avoid the fee by either buying a reusable bag — ones made of cloth or canvas, which are available in many retail stores — or shopping with a bag from home.

“Hopefully people will say ‘I’m not paying 5 cents’ and go with the other options,” said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who wrote the legislation to reduce the influx of plastic bag waste that gets trapped in trees, blocks storm drains and causes significant damage to water supplies and wildlife. “We’re hoping to change behaviors. While we won’t change everyone’s, this will change a lot of people’s and that can make a big difference. I think once people start to not use the plastic bags, they’re not going to really miss them.”

Spencer’s bill began in March 2016 as a ban on all single-use plastic bags, piggybacking off an initiative adopted by the Town of Southampton, but it didn’t receive enough support. This revised bill was co-sponsored and pushed by five legislators, including Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), and 140 out of 150 residents who weighed in on the initiative during a public hearing testimony.

As of Jan. 1, shoppers will be paying for paper and plastic bags at most retail stores, encouraging others to use reusable bags. Stock photo

The legislators also worked alongside a Suffolk County plastic bag working group, which consists of local scientists, educators, environmentalists, business people and government employees.

“We have to curtail the use of plastic bags,” Krupski said. “They’re everywhere. I would encourage people not to pay the fee. It’s all just a matter of changing your habits and keeping a shopping bag in your vehicle to have it at the ready. It’ll take time for people to get used to that, but like anything else, people will get used to it.”

A 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags was adopted in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and the accumulated nickels have contributed a total $10 million to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, as of 2015.

As mandated by New York State, however, the fees collected in this bill will be retained by the stores. Not being able to apply the collection to an environmental cause convinced a Democratic legislator not to support the law.

“That 5 cent charge should go back into the environment,” said Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who voted “No.” “Instead, the fees are going back into the pockets of the stores. The legislation needed work.”

Anker also said she received outcry from constituents over the concept of fees.

“A lot of the community, especially the senior population, did not want to pay extra for the plastic bags,” she said. “But I will say, plastic is a really harsh environmental pollutant.”

Spencer said he plans to revisit the legislation after a year to evaluate the financial impact it’s having and ask the state to allow funds to be used for environmental purposes.

“It would be great to do that, but only the state has that ability,” Spencer said. “The state may make that decision.”

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations at Food Industry Alliance, which represents 800 state supermarket chains, convenience stores and wholesalers, including Stop & Shop and King Kullen, which will be charging the fees, said it’s a current law where everybody wins.

“It will help the environment and it will help the stores,” he said. “It’s a thoughtful, productive law and is the only way to both reduce plastic bag distribution while incentivizing people to increase their use of reusable bags.”

He added that the fees may be used to help pay for higher minimum wages expected to be put in place in the coming year, but store owners are still weighing the options.


Survey: Shoppers still prefer plastic
By Desirée Keegan

A local survey conducted shows that just 5 percent of shoppers bring reusable bags.

The finding, coming ahead of a 2018 Suffolk County law banning the free use of plastic and paper bags at a vast majority of retail stores, was concluded after students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip and North Babylon, with member of St. Joseph’s College, surveyed 11,395 shoppers in November and December, in front of grocery stores, convenience stores and a pharmacies.

New Suffolk County environmental law prohibits plastic and paper bags in favor of eco-friendly reusable ones. Stock photo

The polling, organized by a county-created task force to help educate the public about the bill, found 71 percent of individuals use plastic bags, while the balance use paper, a combination, or no bag.

The survey will be repeated next year to analyze the effect of the law on consumer behavior, according to
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said she hopes between 60 and 70 percent of residents are bringing reusable bags by next year.

“Reducing litter, marine pollution and saving our oceans are worth changing our habits,” Esposito said.

While plastic bags drew the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers, the law also requires stores to charge for paper bags, as well as thicker “reusable” plastic bags, to prevent stores from circumventing the law, Spencer said.

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s primary sponsor, said county residents should contact his office at 631-854-4500 for a reusable bag, especially if you cannot afford one.

“If you need a reusable bag, come see me,” Spencer said, adding he bought 1,000 reusable bags to give away.

Social

4,850FansLike
5Subscribers+1
1,011FollowersFollow
19SubscribersSubscribe