Times of Smithtown

Police arrive at location of stranded mariners in their raft. Photo from SCPD
The three men rescued from off the Old Field coast in the Long Island Sound. Photo by SCPD

Suffolk police rescued three men who became stranded in a six-foot inflatable raft in the Long Island Sound May 19.

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers were notified by the U.S. Coast Guard at approximately 4:30 p.m. of an inflatable raft with three male occupants that were unable to make it back to shore. The three were fishing in the Long Island Sound, near Crane Neck Road in Old Field, when they were pulled approximately two miles off shore. Their boat did not have a motor and they were unable to paddle back due to winds blowing between 15 and 20 miles per hour.

Marine Bureau officers Robert Daniels and Peter Bogachunas responded in Marine Delta and located the men within 15 minutes of the initial call. All three occupants, Martin Villatoro, 23, Erick Villatoro, 26, and Ronald Benitez, 17, all of Bay Shore, were transported in Marine Delta, along with their raft, to Sunken Meadow State Park.

All three were wearing life vests and they were not injured.

Kings Park High School. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Three candidates vie for two open seats on the Kings Park school district board of education.

Registration will be held every Monday through Friday in the office of the district clerk, 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The last day to register to vote is May 16.

If you are a resident of the district and are registered to vote with the Suffolk County Board of Elections, then you are automatically qualified to participate in the budget vote and trustee election. 

Pam Deford (incumbent) 

Deford has lived in Kings Park for the past 24 years and has a daughter who attends the district. Currently, Deford works as a second-grade teacher in the Northport-East Northport School District and has been an educator for 25 years. She has been a Girl Scout leader for the past five years and a member of the PFA at Kings Park High School. Deford is currently seeking re-election after serving the board for the past five years and has been board president for the past four. 

“I will continue to utilize my educational knowledge in advocating for the children of our community,” she said in a statement. “Under my leadership, I am proud of the work that was accomplished in establishing a legislative committee and a policy committee. I have a vested interest in ensuring our district is the very best it can be.”

Deford said as a board member she is a voice of the community and when planning the school budget, the board has to be fiscally responsible while meeting all the needs of our students.

Dan Tew (incumbent)

 Tew has lived in the district for the past 41 years with his wife Brenna and their three daughters. Tew is seeking re-election after spending three years on the board. He said his time on the board has taught him a lot about the budget process and the year-to-year constraints to put forth a balanced budget under the NYS tax cap. 

“Since my tenure we have been successful in doing such without having to sacrifice course offerings, athletic programs and extracurricular programs,” he said in a statement. “The district is very fortunate to have an excellent business office that works seamlessly with the superintendent and board of education.”

The Kings Park resident has been an active participant in the community volunteering with the Junior Achievement of New York and a member of the St. Joseph’s Parish 

Tew said being raised in Kings Park and raising my family gives him a great sense of pride. 

“Being an active participant in the community, my children’s lives and their classmates through various activities has given me a greater sense of Kings Park pride,” he said.  

Tew hopes to be able to continue this collaboration and serve the community as a fiscally responsible trustee. He stated what’s best for the students is best for the community. 

“The investment in our students is a great investment for the community,” he said. 

 JP Andrade

Andrade has been a  Kings Park resident all his life. He graduated from Kings Park High School in 2014. This is Andrade’s third time running for a board of education trustee seat. The most pressing issue facing the district, he said, is financial stability. 

 Currently, Andrade is finishing up his master’s degree at Hofstra University and is employed at Brentwood East Middle School as an assistant teacher and also coach for the boys lacrosse team. 

Andrade’s niece attends Fort Salonga Elementary and he said he’s actively involved in her education. Andrade stresses the importance of community service with all residents, especially young ones and students. He has volunteered at the Kings Park Heritage Museum and at the Kings Park Library.

“Many times over the past years, the board and community have been at a crossroads, so I want to help continue to ‘solidify a bridge’ with our elected officials at all levels,” he said in a statement. “As well as being the most transparent district on the island for our constituents.”

Andrade said his goal as a board member is to better serve students and give them the best tools to strive for greatness in the future. 

Before he began his career in education, he was involved in the political field working on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team in New York City and for the advisory council at America First Policies.

Photo courtesy of Herb Herman

It’s official — the boating season starts on Memorial Day, May 27. Here’s some tips for you before taking your vessel crashing over
the waves.

You get the family in the car and go to the marina, but being a responsible boater, first of all you check the weather forecast and make sure that you won’t face any surprises out on the water. You get to the boat and go through the required check-off items: the fuel level, check oil, Nav-lights in order, see that the personal flotation devices are in the right place — at least one per person and easily accessible in an emergency, set up the anchor for easy deployment, flares and other emergency items in order and handheld VHF radio charged and readily available. You will have an up-to-date first aid kit on board. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list.

Assuming you are a responsible boater, the final thing to do before you cast off is to inform the passengers and crew as to where the emergency items are and where and how to don the PFDs. And if you are a diligent boater, you file a float plan with friends, so that in the eventuality you aren’t where you’re supposed to be in the coming days, they can inform the Coast Guard of a potential problem.

All of the above seems like a lot of hard work to go out for a day trip to the local anchorage, but with some experience and perhaps some nasty events you will tend to do these things automatically. Better yet, have an actual check-off list so you forget nothing. Then you’ll have a fine day to go boating.

Added to the above list should be what the Coast Guard teaches — rather preaches — to its boat crews and to the Coast Guard Auxiliary as well:

The USCG boating statistics for the U.S. in 2017 are as follows:

• Fatalities: 658 

• Drownings: 449 

• Injuries (requiring medical treatment beyond first aid): 2,629 

• Boating accidents: 4,291 

• Property damage: Approximately $46 million 

• Number of registered recreational boats in the U.S.: 11,961,568 

Situational awareness, that is, what’s going on around you. In the parlance of the local guru, it’s called mindfulness, or the state of knowing the environment in which your boat plows. These include water state, weather — both now and what’s coming — wind, other boats and buoys, and all the impediments that exist on local waters. It’s important to have a designated lookout in case someone falls overboard. 

Above all, know the rules of the road, or the elements that dictate, mainly through common sense, what to do when boats approach one another. This covers a myriad of circumstances in which both professionals and amateurs alike find themselves. These regulations, also known as COLREGS, are devised to avoid collisions at sea. The main elements should be learned either by way of courses given by various authorities, such as the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, or through a variety of books and videos. The Port Jefferson auxiliary gives a Safe Boating Course as well as a course entitled Suddenly in Command, conveying essential know-how when the second-in-command must take over the running of the boat.

You will, of course, have a nautical chart available for the waters in which you wish to sail. The chart, unlike a land road map, gives you broad swaths of safe passages and also tells you which regions to avoid due to shallow depths, rocks and a wide range of impediments. One can navigate using charts — themselves marvels of information collected over years of careful observations by mainly government vessels — your key to safety and enjoyment on the water, whether you’re out for a day or on a longer passage. 

If you’re a power boater or a sailor with an accessory motor, you should know something about the innards of the beast. Have you enough fuel for your planned voyage (boats frequently have notoriously inaccurate fuel gauges). Will you check the oil dip-stick, or do you assume that the marina personnel does that for you? Note they won’t unless you ask them to. Are all your oil, water, fuel and water filters clean and can you change-out a clogged filter? Water cooling sea cocks open? Can you troubleshoot easy problems and do you have the essential tools for such work? Most aspects of inboard and outboard motors can be handled by a layman with a little study. A quick course on troubleshooting your power plant by the marina mechanic can really payoff. Don’t forget that emergency “road side” help from Sea Tow or Boat US can save the day.

Paddle craft safety is of growing concern to the Coast Guard, with over 20 million Americans enjoying the sport. According to industry figures, some 100,000 canoes, 350,000 kayaks and an increasingly large number of stand-up paddlers are sold annually. A tragic consequence of these large numbers is that as of 2015, 29 percent of boating deaths were related to paddle craft. In response, the USCG has generated a Paddle Craft Vessel Safety Check, which is administered free by a USCG-approved vessel examiner, such as Coast Guard auxiliary personnel. Paddle crafters should wear PFDs and have a sound producing device, such as a whistle.

Herb Herman is the flotilla staff officer for public affairs, Port Jefferson Auxiliary Flotilla 14-22-06.

Watermill Catering Hall requests special exception to allow a new four-story hotel. Photo from the Town of Smithtown

The Smithtown Town Board will hear at its May 23 meeting a request for special exception to allow the construction of a 130-room hotel at the Watermill Caterers’ catering hall on the southeast corner of Route 347 and Terry Road.

The site is currently zoned for industrial and neighborhood business and will need to be granted the special permission for a hotel, according to Allyson Murray, principal planner in the town’s Planning Department.

The project’s size, height, parking and traffic are issues that board members will evaluate.

Ultimately, the board will either approve or deny the project, or ask the applicant to modify the plans. But the Planning Department expects the meeting to be a hearing, where the public speaks.

“Residents can rest assured that the Town Board has been working closely with our Planning Department on this prospective plan,” town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “We’ll be meeting with the attorneys for the project Friday, May 17, to go over the proposal that was submitted for the project.”

Watermill and the new hotel is owned by Anthony Scotto Restaurants, the same organization that runs Insignia restaurant in Smithtown and Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville, among other high-end hospitality and food service establishments. 

The proposal will allow its catering hall guests, which are often out-of-town wedding guests, the option to spend the night there.

Nicole Garguilo, the town’s press officer said that the hotel idea could potentially become a benefit to local businesses and turn into significant tax revenue for the community.

Donald King, lawyer for the proposed hotel from Kings Park, said that he is happy to meet with residents and experts in the nearby communities, if necessary, to answer their questions. 

The applicant submitted site plans in November 2018 following a Planning Board review in April 2018. The board found the application to be out of compliance with a range of standards.

“Before the plan is approved, the project would need to comply with all standards,” Murray said. “Or else the applicant could request Zoning Board Appeals approval.”

The Town Board will not be able to approve the plan on May 23, because no State Environmental Quality Review Act analysis has yet been conducted, Murray added.

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Smithtown East managed a one-run lead after the opening inning, but the North Babylon bats came alive in the top of the second, scoring three and from there the Bulls’ bats went silent. North Babylon plated two in the top of the fifth as Smithtown East scored a run in the bottom of the second, but it was too little too late as the Bull’s fell 6-3 in a home game May 14.

The bright spot for the Bulls was Sammi Swenson, who ripped a homer over the centerfield fence driving in a run. With the win North Babylon stays atop the League III leaderboard with West Islip in second place and at 11-4 the Bulls are third, two games back.

Smithtown East plays its final game of the regular season May 16 where they’ll host Newfield before they ready their bats for postseason play. Game time is set for 4 p.m.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) hands out survey cards at local rail stations and seeks commuter input. Photo by Donna Deedy

The electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson Branch is back on the table, and government officials say they’re optimistic about the prospect, since now there’s some money to fund the idea.

New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) during an informal interview May 9 at the Huntington train station, where he was personally handing out commuter surveys, said he predicts that the line will become fully electrified within the next five years. 

Morning commuters at the Huntington station where many switch trains to go both east and west. Photo by Donna Deedy

“It’s been talked about for decades,” he said. “It’s time to make it happen.”

Currently, the branch east of Huntington uses diesel or double-decker, dual-fuel trains, that are prohibited in Manhattan. Commuters between New York City and points east of Huntington on the Port Jefferson Branch must change from diesel to electric trains, or vice versa for the reverse commute, at various junctions, typically in Huntington. The process is time consuming and inconvenient for passengers, who are often subject to inclement weather on an open platform. Electric trains would eliminate the need to change trains and would create a time-saving, one-seat ride to Manhattan. 

Gaughran, who is serving his first term in the state Senate, has been a major proponent of the MTA Rail Act, an overhaul plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law last month. New York State’s 2019-20 budget funds the overhaul and includes an expected $1.5 billion in capital projects for the Long Island Rail Road. Funds will be used for a variety of needs, but new trains and increased service are top priorities, according to Gaughran’s office. 

Electrification makes sense now, Gaughran said, because it would help address both congestion at Huntington’s station, which serves 41,440 daily weekday riders, while speeding up the slow commute to New York City.

Gaughran said that he’s already taken steps to advocate for electrification. He’s also conducted mobile town halls on trains during the morning commute to solicit passenger input on all rail service issues and will present passengers comments from his surveys to railroad officials later this year. 

Details from the Long Island Rail Road 

The LIRR is currently evaluating proposals, according to its spokesperson, and will soon award contracts to begin the electrification studies for both the Port Jefferson Branch and the Central Branch, which connects Babylon to Hicksville via Bethpage. The studies will determine what is required to complete each project.

Overall, the electrification project, in addition to a new fleet, would require significant investments in infrastructure such as new substations, a third rail and a second track between Huntington and Port Jefferson, upgrades to half-dozen platforms and work on bridges, viaducts and crossings, according to LIRR’s spokesperson. Additional train storage yard(s) will also be needed. 

The railroad does not yet have funding for construction but is seeking it for the Central Branch electrification in its 2020-24 capital program. Port Jefferson electrification would require additional funding in several other future programs. 

A faster, one-seat ride 

A common complaint among passengers interviewed for this report during the May 9 morning commute aboard trains on the Port Jefferson line supported the need for more rapid service. 

“It takes two hours to get to New York City from Stony Brook,” said John Morgan, a mathematician at Stony Brook University’s Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, who uses the train twice a week. “It’s too slow.” 

Larry Penner, a former Federal Transit Administration director in the New York region, who is familiar with MTA operations, capital projects and programs, said the one-seat ride to Manhattan in general is the best bang-for-the-buck idea for improving rail service for riders. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us.”

— Margot Garant

“Electrification of Ronkonkoma was selected over Port Jefferson back in the early 1980s,” Penner said. “Perhaps this time, Port Jefferson will come out on top this go-around almost 40 years later.”

Penner noted that the electrification of the railroad’s Central Branch east of Hicksville to Babylon holds the potential of creating a new north/south service route, which will provide detours to Jamaica during major service disruptions on the main line between Hicksville and Jamaica. 

For years, local elected representatives have recognized the commercial value and the resulting tax revenue benefits of electrification. 

“That would be a regional game changer for us,” Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant said during a phone interview.

The Long Island Rail Road is the busiest commuter railroad in North America, carrying an average of 301,000 customers each weekday on 735 daily trains. It’s comprised of more than 700 miles of rails on 11 different branches. For most lines, the terminus is Penn Station in Manhattan, with some lines originating or ending in Queens and Brooklyn.

The Huntington line, in addition to serving 41,440 daily weekday riders, serves another 11,210 travelers on the Port Jefferson line. 

'Stony Brook Harbor' by Leo Mancini-Hresko

By Melissa Arnold

From as far back as the Middle Ages to the 19th century, the standard setting for art education and professional work was the atelier. At an atelier — which means “workshop” in French — a master artist would work in a studio setting alongside his students, rather than simply telling them what to do. The result was a collaborative community built on shared expertise and creativity.

In the 1940s, art classrooms built on a lecture-based dynamic became popular and the era of ateliers faded into history. But today, more artists are returning to the roots of their craft by starting and joining ateliers.

‘Silence,’ bronze with warm silver patina, by Gwen Marcus

Here on Long Island, Kevin McEvoy is the artist-director of The Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James. The space is home to an art studio, a 2,000-square-foot exhibition space titled Atelier Hall and even a developing library of fine art books.

Beginning this week and continuing throughout the summer, Atelier Hall will display its annual Masterworks collection, an exhibit showcasing the works of nine gifted artists from around the world.

“The Masterworks exhibit is the crystallization of dreams I’ve had for more than a decade to take our Long Island community, which has so much momentum, and marry it to the international art community, to put them all in the same room and celebrate the work they do,” said McEvoy in a recent interview. 

The journey to opening an atelier was a long one for the 38-year-old artist, who has traveled the world to hone his artistic talents. A first-generation American, he spent time as a boy living in Ireland, where his father was raised. After studying studio art at Stony Brook University, he headed to Santiago, Chile, and Florence, Italy, where he joined the prestigious Charles H. Cecil Studios.

The time abroad allowed McEvoy to cross paths with a diverse group of artists from around the world, nestled in a community where he continued to learn and grow.

By the time he returned to the States, McEvoy was married with young children and his career was taking off. But he found himself aching for something more — a social and professional circle like the one he left overseas. He began to teach at different places on Long Island in hopes of making new connections, and the rest is history.

“As soon as I plugged into teaching, this community was born and it was such a breath of fresh air,” McEvoy recalled. “Many of my students were very serious painters, and to share ideas and fan those latent gifts into flame meant so much to me. I knew then that I wanted to start an atelier.”

‘Quarter Rest’ by Wendy Jensen

The Atelier at Flowerfield officially opened in the spring of 2016. As his classes grew, McEvoy knew he needed help. He began to reach out to friends in different parts of the country and overseas, offering to put them up while they taught workshops at his studio.

“In the past, there were all of these artists I knew, but couldn’t work with because of a lack of infrastructure. And now they were able to come in regularly to stay,” McEvoy said.

The Atelier now boasts more than 120 artists who come to lecture, create and learn. Among them is Leo Mancini-Hresko, who regularly makes trips from his home near Boston to give workshops on oil painting and materials. 

Mancini-Hresko is a graduate and former principal instructor of The Florence Academy of Art whose paintings of New England and his travels abroad have appeared in exhibits across the globe. He and McEvoy got to know each other while living in Florence. 

“Many of us [who met in Florence] were not really art teachers. We’re professional artists with careers who happen to teach occasionally, and I think that’s part of the attraction, to learn from someone who considers themselves an artist first,” Mancini-Hresko said. 

‘Codman Barn’ by Leo Mancini-Hresko

Lana Ballot of Lake Grove continues to find a wealth of inspiration in Long Island’s natural scenery. She grew up in a small town in Russia where an art education wasn’t easily accessible. She studied foreign languages instead, and when she arrived in the U.S. in 1994, pursued a degree in studio art at Stony Brook University.

Ballot worked in web design for more than 15 years, but the desire to paint never faded. She eventually began freelance work, then full-time painting and teaching. Today, she teaches an ongoing pastel class at The Atelier. “It’s really like a family here,” she said of The Atelier. 

“Kevin says a lot that he wants to create a community, and that’s what is happening. It’s not just us coming in, teaching a class and going home. We interact, and as working artists we are connecting to one another and continuously learning.”

Masterworks 2019 will feature 31 two-dimensional works, including still lifes, landscapes, interiors, figures and portraits painted predominantly in oil, as well as charcoal and pastel. The show also boasts a collection of sculpture pieces by notable local artist Gwen Marcus, who will present several full life bronze cast figurative pieces. McEvoy will display his own bronze sculpture of his grandfather, Bill McEvoy. The inclusion of life-size sculpture in the Masterworks exhibition also highlights the introduction of The Atelier’s first sculpture program set to begin this summer.

Participating artists:

• Lana Ballot

• James Beihl

• Megan Euell

• Bill Graf 

• Wendy Jensen

• Leo Mancini-Hresko 

• Gwen Marcus

• Kevin McEvoy

• David Shevlino

The Atelier at Flowerfield, located at 2 Flowerfield, Suite 15, St. James will present Masterworks 2019 from May 16 through Aug. 30. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and admission is free. Join the artists for an opening reception on Thursday, May 16 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Enjoy live demonstrations by Atelier instructors and fellows during the event. Prosecco and hors d’oeuvres will be served. For more information, call 631-250-9009 or visit www.atelierflowerfield.org. 

All images courtesy of The Atelier at Flowerfield

By Rita J. Egan

Stand back, theatergoers, “Evita” is in town. On Saturday, May 11, the award-winning musical opened at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts.

“Evita” revolves around the controversial life of María Eva Duarte de Perón, who went from poverty to a success as an Argentine film and radio star. Her marriage to Juan Perón, a military leader who became the country’s president in 1946, thrust her further in the spotlight until her death at 33 in 1952.

When the audience first meets Evita, she is an ambitious teenager in 1934 who wants to leave the small city of Junin to travel to Buenos Aires with Agustin Magaldi, a tango singer. Soon after her arrival in the big city, she leaves Magaldi and sleeps her way to the top before meeting Col. Perón at a charity concert. While not accepted by the upper class after her marriage to Perón, Evita sees herself as the champion of the “descamisados,” the working class.

The musical, which features lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, first premiered on Broadway in 1979 with Patti LuPone as Evita and Mandy Patinkin as Che. It went on to win seven Tony Awards, including best musical in 1980. The production inspired the 1996 movie starring Madonna (Evita), Antonio Banderas (Che) and Jonathan Pryce (Perón) and was revived on Broadway in 2012 with Argentine actress Elena Roger and singer Ricky Martin as Che.

In the Smithtown production, Laura Laureano plays Evita, and the young actress possesses the poise and maturity needed to handle the role of the strong woman. Her vocals are powerful on all of the musical’s memorable favorites including “Buenos Aires,” “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” and “Rainbow High.” Her performance of “Lament” at the end of Act II is an emotional one that will have audience members reaching for their tissues.

Dylan Bivings plays a suave Che. The character serves as the musical’s narrator, and Bivings proves to be a strong lead on various numbers. He shines during “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” and his duet with Laureano, “High Flying Adored.” Dennis Creighton was perfect as Perón, delivering the role with the right amount of tenderness that helps audience members understand just how much this man loved Eva. Creighton’s tenor singing voice is ideal for his solos.

Anthony Arpino as Magaldi also shined vocally during “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” During the number “Santa Evita” on opening night, Zoe Avery played the child who approaches Evita, and Avery’s singing was delightful as she hit every note sweetly and perfectly. The actress alternates the role with Dori Ahlgrim.

Lauren Tirado, as the mistress, delivered a standout performance of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall.” The scene is a heartbreaking moment in the life of a character that the audience only meets once, and it’s essential that a vocalist digs deep when performing this song, so it can be understood that Evita will stop at nothing and will even throw another woman out on the streets. Tirado’s superb vocals proved she has the talent to deliver such an emotional number.

All of the ensemble members also deserve a round of applause for their outstanding vocals and impressive dancing. Ronald Green III has masterfully directed a cast that proves a musical lover doesn’t need to head into the city to take in a Broadway-quality show. Green has also outdone himself with the period costumes, especially with Laureano’s gown during the balcony scene when she sings “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.”

Adding to the Broadway-like magic were the talented musicians led by conductor Melissa Coyle and scenic and video designer Tim Golebiewski. The set designed by Golebiewski and constructed by TJ Construction, Russ Bakunus and Clark Services is simple yet elegant and incorporates five small screens that display pictures of Eva and Perón through the years that complement the musical perfectly without being distracting.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “Evita” through June 23. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

All photos by Courtney Braun/ Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

Smithtown Central School District has prepared a 2019-20 budget of $251.3 million, which represents a 2.66 percent budget-to-budget increase and a tax levy increase of 2.69 percent, which is within the district’s state-imposed cap.

The proposed budget, in addition to supporting the district’s financial goals, maintains the school’s comprehensive academic, athletic and extracurricular programming, as outlined on the district’s website, while increasing funding for security and student mental health services.

The school’s elementary class size stays capped at 25 students, while the math program will add teaching assistants. Two social workers will be added at the elementary and high school levels. The district will also add three guidance counselors.

The district’s three-part budget breakdown provides an overview of spending in three categories: programs, capital projects and administrative costs. For 2019-20, $187.2 million is allocated to programs, $34 million will go toward capital projects and $30.2 million will be used to pay administrative costs.

The Smithtown Central School District is divided into four voting districts and residents can vote at the designated elementary school based on location. The four elementary schools include Smithtown Elementary School, Nesconset Elementary School, St. James Elementary School and the Accompsett Elementary School. Residents can use the Voter Location Tool under the Board of Ed tab on the district’s website: www.smithtown.k12.ny.us. Polls will be open Tuesday, May 21, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Candidate rundown

Michael Catalanotto of Smithtown and Peter Tofu of  Nesconset will be running for board member Daniel Lynch’s seat, who has chosen not to run for re-election. The seat is for a three-year term beginning on July 1.

Board member Michael Saidens will be running for his seat unopposed. Saidens has served on the board since 2017, which includes a tenure as vice president. His seat would be a three-year term beginning on July 1.

Trustee Frank James will be running for re-election unopposed for his seat that will have a one-year term from May 21,2019 to June 30, 2020.

Ralph Michele of Smithtown and Jerry R. Martusciello of Nesconset will be vying for board member Glady Waldron’s seat after she decided to not seek re-election. Her seat will be for a one-year term from May 21, 2019 to June 30, 2020.

Town of Smithtown officials and St. James veterans give their respects at the rededication of the Vietnam War memorial Nov. 21, 2018. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

After a successful statewide lobbying campaign resulting in the restoration of nearly $4 million in funding for a veterans peer support program some have called vital, and given an additional $300,000 for expansion, New York State officials introduced bipartisan legislation April 22 to expand the program nationally. 

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) introduced the PFC Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Program Act (H.R.1749), which would expand the peer-to-peer support program nationally for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological and physical traumas. The Dwyer bill was co-sponsored by NYS Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-Schuylerville), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Peter King (R-Seaford) and others. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well.”

— Joe Cognitore

“Expanding nationally the Dwyer program, which is currently operating in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, eventually to all states in the U.S., will ensure that every veteran can have access to a peer-to-peer support group,” Zeldin said in a statement. “With the [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] reporting that an estimated 22 veterans a day commit suicide, this national expansion is long overdue.”

This is the second time Zeldin has introduced legislation to expand the program nationally. Two years ago, the congressman proposed a bill that would authorize the VA to support veteran support programs modeled after the Dwyer project with federal grants. 

Joe Cognitore, commander of VFW Post 6249 in Rocky Point, was in Albany with other veterans groups in March urging lawmakers to restore full funds for the Dwyer program, and he said the new bill is a great opportunity to expand these resources to other veterans throughout
the country. 

“The program has worked on a local level — it’s an amazing feeling to see that these peer-to- peer groups seems to be doing well,” he said.

The main goal of the Dwyer project, which is currently overseen by Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency and Suffolk County United Veterans, is to provide peer-to-peer support and counseling to veterans who are facing challenges transitioning back to civilian life, along with offering a safe, supportive space for veterans to interact with one another. 

The commander of the VFW Post is glad the funds were restored as part of the executive budget of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), and in April stopped by the office of state Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) to thank him for his support for the Dwyer program. The veteran group presented the senator with a framed picture of the famous photograph of Dwyer helping an ailing Iraqi child. 

“I support anyone who supports veterans, it doesn’t matter if you are a Republican or Democrat,” Cognitore said. “It is gratifying that we were able to do that, and we have officials that are doing the right thing.”

The program is named after Pfc. Joseph Dwyer, a Mount Sinai resident and U.S. Army combat medic who had served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. After returning home and struggling with PTSD, Dwyer succumbed to his condition in 2008.

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