Times of Smithtown

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

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Bright orange flames and heavy smoke billowing up from a shuttered Commack motel on Saturday morning alarmed motorists and nearby residents who were unaware it was part of a preplanned fire training drill.

Commack Fire Department burned down the former Courtesy Inn, located at 1126 Jericho Turnpike, Jan. 12 with the property owner’s permission as the culmination of a two-week long intensive training exercise, Commissioner Pat Fazio said. The site needed to be cleared to make way for an approved 94-apartment complex for seniors age 55 and older. The location is being developed by TDG Commack, LLC.

Residents dialed 911 and called local officials in a panic over the blaze, saying they were not
given any notification.

It was a huge fire and a huge mess.’

— Mark Stevens

“The community is incensed over it as they weren’t informed and there was a huge amount of smoke blowing over their houses,” Mark Stevens, of East Northport, said. “It was a huge fire and a huge mess.”

Stevens, who took photos of the blaze from a distance, said the distraction of the flames, along with heavy smoke, caused traffic to back up along Jericho Turnpike.

The fire department did not publish any notification to residents, according to the commissioner, because the event was well planned and controlled.

“It was a controlled burn at all times,” Fazio said. “No one was ever in danger. There was no danger to anyone’s home.”

The commissioner said fire department  officials spoke with the property owners after the motel closed in November 2018 about razing the blighted building for training purposes. The property and vacated building, which he said has been blighted by drug issues and overdoses, offered its firefighters a unique learning experience.

“Training like this is priceless,” Fazio said. “Often with fire education, we don’t get a lot of working fires.”

He said the fire department utilized each of the 50 hotel rooms to set up a wide variety of different training scenarios. Over two weeks, volunteers learned forced entry training on locked doors to get into a fire, how to safely breech walls to get to a fire or trapped individual, and observe how fires reacted in different environments.

During the week prior to the fire, Fazio said various state and federal agencies utilized the structure as well to train their personnel. Neighboring fire departments including Nesconset, Smithtown and St. James were on hand to participate in the Jan. 12 large-scale fire drill.

“This is the biggest live training we’ve ever had,” he said. “No one was at risk, we did it with no injuries. It was a total success.”

Training like this is priceless. Often with fire education, we don’t get a lot of working fires.’

— Pat Fazio

The commissioner said he was under the impression the Town of Smithtown was notifying residents through its website and computer systems. Nicole Garguilo, the town’s spokeswoman, said the town had no advanced notification but the fire department was not required to do so.

“They’ve never been asked to notify us before,” Garguilo said. “Usually their controlled burns are done in buildings further away from the community. This was a building surrounded by a residential neighborhood.”

The town’s Department of Public Safety sent an alert out via Twitter and its mobile app at 10:44 a.m., after the burn had started.

“We have reached out to their communications contact and asked if they would notify us in advanced of controlled burns in the future,” Garguilo said.

Fazio said the fire department also did not publish notification for fear of people attempting to come onto the site, resulting in a live audience that could potentially get injured.

“I apologize people are so upset,” he said. “It was invaluable training that we’re not offered that much.”

By Heidi Sutton

“Do you trust me?” It is a question Aladdin asks Jasmine several times during the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts’ current production of Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” but one that I ask you now. If you do, then grab your children and run, don’t walk, to see this show. They (and you) will love every minute of it.

Based on the popular Disney animated film with music by Alan Menken and book by Chad Beguelin, the show whisks audiences away to the fabled city of Agrabah where the evil Jafar (Alex Mahr), advisor to the Sultan (Logan O’Leary), and his parrot Iago (Max Lamberg), seek to retrieve a magic lamp hidden in the Cave of Wonders. They enlist the help of a street rat named Aladdin (Cole Napolitano), a “diamond in the rough,” who becomes trapped in the cave. When he finds the lamp and polishes it, a magical genie (Ryan Romanelli) appears and grants him three wishes.

After tricking the genie in getting him out of his predicament, Aladdin uses his first wish to become a prince in order to woo the lovely Princess Jasmine (Priscilla Russo). When “Prince Ali” arrives at the palace, Jafar recognizes Aladdin and has him thrown in the dungeon. When his friends Babkak (Michael Puglisi), Omar (Jonathan Setzer) and Kassim (Matt Peluso) try to rescue him, they end up in the dungeon also. Aladdin uses his second wish to set them free. With only one wish left, Aladdin must choose between benefiting himself or doing what is morally right.

Expertly directed by Courtney Braun, the musical features a cast of 20 uber-talented actors ranging in age from 10 to 16 who all do a fantastic job.

From the very first scene when the genie appears on stage to introduce the other characters in “Arabian Nights,” the audience is mesmorized. 

The script is clever and funny and the musical numbers are delightful. Along with the familiar —“A Friend Like Me,” “Prince Ali,” “A Whole New World”— there are fresh new songs including “Babkak, Omar, Aladdin, Kassim” and “These Palace Walls.”

The impressive set, designed by Tim Golebiewski, features panels on either side of the theater that rotate to reveal a marketplace, a cave full of jewels and a palace; and the Arabian costumes, designed by Chakira Doherty, are just beautiful. Images on the back wall of the stage constantly change to show different scenes of the city, and a video played during “A Whole New World” gives the illusion that the carpet is actually flying.

SPAC has gone all out with this production, a rarity with children’s theater, and has produced something magical. Don’t miss this one. Trust me.

Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes with intermission and booster seats are available. Costumes are encouraged. Stay after the show for a meet and greet with Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie in the lobby.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present Disney’s “Aladdin Jr.” through Feb. 24. Children’s theater continues with “The Little Mermaid Jr.” from March 16 to April 28 and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” from July 13 to Aug. 18. All seats are $18. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun

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

By David Luces

Suffolk County has been working toward reducing inmate populations through programs to give people who have been incarcerated a new lease on life.

On Jan. 2 county officials announced the completion of the Suffolk Fresh Start program which has helped assist more than 100 formerly incarcerated individuals find employment after their release.

Over the past two years, after receiving a $489,901 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the county’s Department of Labor has administered Suffolk’s Fresh Start program with the county’s Sheriff’s Office and Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Its main goal was to try and provide employable skills and vocational training to incarcerated individuals.

‘Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism.’

— Errol Toulon

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a press release the county has created a successful criminal justice model to reduce recidivism and protect taxpayers.

“This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions,” he said.

More than 350 individuals were enrolled in the Fresh Start program where they were given resources and training to address any possible barriers to employment. They were also registered with the county’s One-Stop Employment Center in Hauppauge.

The employment center supplies job-seeking individuals with the tools necessary for a self-directed or staff-assisted job search. There they can receive help with creating or editing résumés, navigate the internet for potential jobs and be interviewed by prospective employers on-site.

“The program has changed people’s lives,” said county spokesperson Derek Poppe.

Since 1999, New York State’s prison population has declined by 35 percent, according to a report from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision released Jan. 1. The report said since 2011, the state has eliminated 5,500 prison beds and closed a total of 13 correctional facilities. The number of male inmates in maximum security prisons has been reduced from 24,151 in 2009 to 20,173 in 2019.

Suffolk has two jail facilities. One is the Riverhead facility which was intended to hold 529 inmates in maximum security cells and 240 in medium security cells, according to a 2008 county report. The facilities in Yaphank included a minimum-security jail that had cell space for 504 inmates, and a DWI Alternative facility for 54 inmates.

Since 2010 the county’s jail population has decreased drastically. Newsday’s data on Long Island’s jail population shows a fall from 1,609 in 2010 to 1,157 in 2016. The decrease has been mostly in inmates at the Riverhead facility.

Poppe said Bellone was against the construction of a new jail facility, and programs like Fresh Start work to keep inmates from committing further crimes.

“Many of these individuals were able to find work in the construction, manufacture and telemarketing field,” Bellone’s spokesperson said.

Even though the grant from the Department of the Labor expired in December 2018, Poppe said there are plans in place to continue the programs through internal county funds and possibly funds from the federal government.

‘This program is giving people a second chance to become productive members of society, strengthening families and saving Suffolk taxpayers millions.’

— Steve Bellone

The number of people in Suffolk’s jails is strained by a lack of corrections officers in both Riverhead and Yaphank. County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) told TBR News Media in July 2018 the county was dealing with a large amount of corrections officer vacancies, saying at the time there were 76 positions left unfilled with 30 new officers being added as early as August that same year.

The sheriff said in a press release that Fresh Start gives county inmates opportunity and hope following incarceration.

“Having gainful employment is one of the factors that can reduce recidivism, and we are fortunate to have Department of Labor staff working with us to improve outcomes for those transitioning from jail to our communities,” Toulon said.

By repurposing existing internal funds Poppe said the county plans on having Department of Labor staffers work in conjunction with the correctional facilities in future, adding, “We want to continue to run this
successful program.”

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The Town of Smithtown's Whisper the Bull statue as decorated for the 2017 holiday season shows the Happy Hanukkah sign that was destroyed. Photo from Corey Geske

By David Luces

Smithtown’s iconic Whisper the Bull, a 5-foot-tall statue located at the intersection of Route 25 and Route 25A in Smithtown, narrowly avoided damage in a single-car accident Dec. 24.

On Christmas Eve, a driver veered off road near the intersection into the green space, colliding into the base wall. The unidentified driver was transported to the hospital with critical injuries, according to town officials. 

The retaining wall around Whisper the Bull statue was damaged, lower left, in a Dec. 24 car accident. Photo from Corey Geske

The bronze statue avoided any major damage and the base wall and the area around the monument sustained minor damage, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

“Thankfully there was no damage to the statue or its base,” Garguilo said. “The concrete around the landscape wall, a Christmas sign as well as a wooden menorah were the only things damaged.”

The iconic statue was recently ruled eligible for landmark status on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places run by New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The monument commemorates the legend of the town’s origins that claims founder Richard Smythe rode a bull to establish the town’s boundaries.

Smithtown resident Corey Geske appealed to Smithtown town officials in December to sign off on a formal application for the registry as the official owners of the monument.

Geske said she was relieved to hear the statue and the surrounding area avoided serious damage, though suggested it would good to keep an eye on it and to get experts to look at it.

“The base [of the statue] seems to have been saved,” Geske said. “The brick landscape wall surrounding the statue looks to have kept it from any damage.”

There were already plans in place to repair the base of the statue prior to the accident, according to Garguilo. These repairs included fixing a visible crack along “Smithtown” in the inscription and can be seen running from front to back of the platform as well as additional landscaping.

This is part of the legacy of the community and the town. It would be a shame if it was lost for future generations.”

— Corey Geske

Garguilo said after the incident the town will try to speed up the planned renovations to the statue’s base.

Since 2017, Geske has been working on a three-part plan for the revitalization of downtown Smithtown, which includes preservation of the statue as part of a proposed historic corridor.

One of the criteria the state park’s department will consider when evaluating the monument for placement on the state Register of Historic Places includes its “artistic value” and current condition, according to the state’s website. Repairing the crack in the statue’s base will not have any impact on Whisper’s eligibility, according to Garguilo, but any damage to the statue itself could have negatively affected its ability to qualify for landmark status.

“This is part of the legacy of the community and the town,” Geske said. “It would be a shame if it was lost for future generations.”

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Commack HIgh School. Photo from Google Maps

A teacher is suing the Commack school district stating it has fostered an atmosphere of racial harassment and discrimination against her for more than 17 years.

Andrea Bryan, of Bay Shore, filed a lawsuit Dec. 19 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York against Commack Union Free School District saying administrators “exhibited a deliberate indifference” when she reported her fellow faculty and students were racially harassing her, according to the lawsuit.

Bryan, who is described only as a “black female of Caribbean descent” in the lawsuit, has worked as English teacher at Commack High School since 2002. She alleges the racial harassment began prior to 2015, when a faculty colleague first told her a bag of peanuts was “for whites only.” The teacher said she reported a complaint with her supervisor, according to court records.

“The Commack school district takes any allegation of discrimination seriously and, as a matter of policy and practice, acts swiftly in response to any claim,” district spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch said.

Bryan alleges that the racial discrimination against her, as “the only black teacher in the entire school district,” has only escalated since then.

We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed.”

— Brenda Lentsch

In the lawsuit, she details an alleged incident where she was asked to “translate slave talk” by the same co-worker while English students were studying Arthur Miller’s play, “The Crucible,” which features a character named Tituba who is an enslaved black woman.

Bryan also claims to have received a bottle of hand sanitizer during a Secret Santa gift giving between co-workers with a $50 spending limit, that she took indicated the co-worker thought she was “dirty” due to her race.

The district’s spokesperson said that the school’s administration have been made aware of the incidents alleged by Bryan over recent years.

“We can say that all of her claims were investigated and, to the extent appropriate, promptly addressed,” Lentsch said in a statement. “Several of these allegations were first raised many years ago and were resolved at that time. Many of the allegations in the lawsuit are false.”

While unwilling to discuss specific details citing privacy requirements, the district’s spokeswoman said Bryan’s claim that she is the only black teacher in Commack school district is “incorrect.”

But the English teacher said the racially motivated insults and harassment she experienced went beyond the faculty and administration, and began to trickle down to students in her classroom. Bryan alleges a student once came to school in blackface makeup dressed as Aunt Jemima, a caricature of “a devoted and submissive plantation slave” depicted on a line of pancake syrup and breakfast foods put out by The Quaker Oats Company. For several years, the teacher claims students have called her Aunt Jemima in the school’s classrooms, hallways and cafeteria causing her to be “greatly humiliated, embarrassed and degraded.”

Commack school district’s Code of Conduct states that “intimidation or abuse based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (identity or expression), or sex” will not be tolerated, according to Lentsch.

Through the lawsuit, Bryan is seeking monetary damages from the district for the racial
discrimination, though the documents don’t specify a dollar amount. Her attorney, Peter Romero of Hauppauge, said he had no comment given the matter is currently pending litigation. A jury trial has been demanded.

A screenshot of the Town of Smithtown's website as it appeared Jan. 8.

By David Luces

Town of Smithtown officials are looking for input from the community on what they would like to see in a remodeled town website.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said in a statement that the redesign of the town’s website is long overdue.

“Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing,” Wehrheim said. “We hope this survey will give those who have suggestions or ideas the chance to share them with our web design team and later the community.”

Smithtown’s website was last updated eight years ago, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing.” 

— Ed Wehrheim

“One of the primary things I’ve wanted to see get done was the remodeling of the town’s website,” she said. “I spoke with our IT director and he agreed with the plans to update the website.”

When it came to decide how the town would update the website, Garguilo said the town board considered a few options, including WordPress and other web-design services. However, it decided to stay with CivicPlus, a web development business that specializes in building city and county e-government communication systems that currently maintains the website.

“We have worked with them for quite some time,” she said. “They offered to upgrade our current web page and we thought it would be more efficient.”

As part of the remodeling, the town has put out a survey for residents to complete by Jan. 11.

Kenneth Burke, the town’s IT director,   said the main goal of the survey is to see what residents like and don’t like in a new website.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website,” Burke said.

The community survey consists of 10 questions that ask respondents to answer how frequently they visit the town’s website, the ease of finding information, what pages they visit the most often and what features they would like to see included in the redesign. There is also a section where residents can give written answers to any special needs they have regarding webpage browsing and suggested changes.

He estimated the redesign would be approximately a six-month project and hopes to roll out the new website in June.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website.”

—Kenneth Burke

The town has also reached out to local online groups, such as Smithtown Moms, to get their opinions on a new website. Once the final results of the survey come in, town employees will start data mining and compiling content for the new website.

Garguilo said the content creation side of the new website should take about four to five months to be completed because of back-end organizing, which includes record transfers and archival data. The new interface should take less time to be completed.

“We are working on a 30-second teaser video for the Town of Smithtown,” the town spokesperson said. “It will be like an about us video right off the bat when you get on the website.”

Garguilo said that the video will include  important facts and pictures of landmarks to showcase the town.

Another plan the town has is the creation of an app that can work in conjunction with the new website.

“Lets just say a resident wanted to report something — they can go to the app and fill out a form — and that’ll be sent right to our system,” Garguilo said. “This will lead to faster results and hopefully residents are happier.”

To participate, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/SmithtownWebsiteRedesign through Jan. 11.

County Executive Steve Bellone, center, SCPD Commissioner Geraldine Hart, left, and Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, right, present common phone scams.

By David Luces

Suffolk County police and elected representatives are saying if you think the person on the other end of a phone call may be a scam, hang up as quickly as possible and call the authorities.

According to Suffolk County officials, 2018 has seen a steady increase of telephone and digital scams, especially those targeting the elderly and non-English speakers. In 2018, there were 68 incidents reported, and the largest amount of money taken was $800,000 between 2017 and 2018. Of the 68 victims, 40 were elderly. 

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery.”

— Steve Bellone

In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be scammers looking to fraudulent gain access to financial information, according to a report from telecommunications firm First Orion.

At a press conference Jan. 4, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the trend is alarming.

“Simply put, this is the 21st century definition of highway robbery,” Bellone said. “These scammers are targeting a vulnerable group of people.”

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the median loss people experienced from a phone-based scam in 2017 was $720. 

Bellone said thieves will sometimes call victims using an automated message to demand money or threaten to call the local authorities. 

“Our message to the public is to not give personal financial information when someone is calling you over the phone,” Bellone said. 

Suffolk County Police Department chief  Stuart Cameron said these scammers call threatening to stop certain utilities, claiming bills were unpaid. With tax season close by, Cameron cautioned the public to be on the lookout for scams mentioning the IRS as well.  

“They also call claiming a relative is seriously injured or in danger,” the chief said.

It is difficult to hold these scammers accountable because most are either out of state or out of the country and are using technology to mask their identity. 

Cameron said payment is usually requested through gift cards. 

“No government agencies are going to ask for gift cards,” Cameron said. “If you get a call like this, call law enforcement.”

Bellone mentioned that many of these crimes go unreported because victims feel embarrassed or simply ignore the calls. 

“We are trying to do everything we can to protect residents from these scams,” the county executive said. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself.”

— Geraldine Hart

At the press conference Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart also informed the public on five robberies — one as recent as New Year’s Eve — involving the LetGo app, a digital marketplace that allows users to buy and sells items locally on their phones. 

Four out of the five robberies involved meeting up to purchase an iPhone, according to Hart. 

“In every case we are going to tell people if they are utilizing an app like LetGo to please do it in a public place, meet in daylight hours and don’t go by yourself,” Hart said. “Make sure you can verify the seller.”

A majority of the robberies occurred in the Mastic Beach area beginning in August 2018. During that month, a victim arranged to sell a cellphone to someone outside a home in Mastic Beach at 10 p.m. The suspect took the phone and told the victim he would return. The suspect fled into the backyard and never returned with the money.

On Nov. 30, a suspect and a victim agreed to meet to sell an iPhone. The suspect showed an iPhone in a box and the victim gave him $400. The suspect told the victim he had to get a SIM card and fled through a backyard and onto an adjacent street. 

The most recent incident occurred at the Mastic-Shirley train station. The victim gave the suspect money and was pushed to the ground. When the victim attempted to follow the suspect, a second man threatened to shoot him.  

 “Thankfully no one was seriously injured,” Hart said. 

The suspects involved appear to be connected to all five robberies and got away with several thousand dollars. 

Officials said if residents have information on phone scams and the robberies to call 800-220-TIPS (8477). 

St. James resident Scott Posner gives out books at St. James Elementary School. Photo by Donna Deedy

By Donna Deedy

On a gray, mid-December day, Scott Posner wheeled four cardboard boxes into the gymnasium at St. James Elementary School, just as he has done annually for the last 13 years.

“Do you know what a hero is?” he said to the 106 third-graders sitting attentively on the gym floor.  “It’s someone who makes a difference.” 

Posner said the Rotary International’s one million members assist people in need.  Some of the world’s neediest people, he added, often ask for schools. He then handed out to each child a copy of the dictionaries stacked inside his boxes, a gift from the Rotary Club of Smithtown. Feeling fortunate and inspired, the children filed back to class after leafing through their new book.

Scott’s shown me how important it is to immerse yourself in giving back.” 

— David Dircks

Posner, of St. James, is a financial planner. For the last 20 years, he’s worked for Edward Jones in its St. James office. The company encourages its advisers to be active community members. For Posner, that altruism comes naturally.

Posner founded and currently serves as president of the Deepwells Farm Historical Society.  He’s also president of the St. James Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Rotary Club of Smithtown. Each year, he prepares and promotes events such as parades, street fairs, outdoor concerts, a haunted house, Christmas parties and a winter gala. He also raises funds for Angela’s House, a Hauppauge-based charity that provides assistance to medically fragile and terminally ill children and their families.

More than a decade ago, Deepwells Farm, a county-owned historic property on North Country Road in St. James, fell into disrepair. Posner took action.

“The place was left to rot, but Scott formed a foundation to save the structure,” said Howard Essenfeld, treasurer for Deepwells Farm Historical Society. The site serves as an important hub for community events.

For the last 11 years, acoustic musicians have performed for a live audience in the farm’s parlor. The recorded live broadcasts ultimately became the  No. 1 acoustic music podcast on iTunes.

I don’t mind fighting to get money for St. James and Deepwells, but I find myself working harder knowing that someone like Scott is keeping an eye on things”

— Rob Trotta

“Scott’s shown me how important it is to immerse yourself in giving back,” said David Dircks, the program producer. He credits Posner for getting permission from county officials to use the site as a music venue. 

“I don’t mind fighting to get money for St. James and Deepwells, but I find myself working harder knowing that someone like Scott is keeping an eye on things,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

An East Northport native, Posner moved to St. James in 1995 with his wife, Debby Fiorella Posner.  She attended the same elementary school where he now delivers dictionaries to third-graders. They have two daughters: Rebecca, a junior at SUNY Geneseo, and Julianna, a senior at Smithtown East High School.

After his wife was diagnosed and treated for cancer, Posner pedaled 532 miles from Manhattan to Niagara Falls with four comrades to raise $18,225 for the Roswell Park Cancer Center. 

“I could not be more thankful for the incredible leaps in cancer treatment that directly benefited us,” he stated in a 2018 Facebook post. “Many people’s past contributions made those breakthroughs possible. Now it’s our time to fund research for the next generation of warriors that will face the challenge of cancer.”

His wife, Posner said, may participate in the seven-day Empire State Ride next summer.

“This is what Scott does,” said Laura Endres, president of the Rotary Club of Smithtown, a sponsor for Posner’s ride. “He’s just a wonderful human being.”

Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman, second from left, and Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, third from left, at a rally together in summer in 2018. Photo from Ellyn Guttenberg

On a holiday to celebrate love in all its forms, two Suffolk County families’ worlds were forever shattered upon hearing their loved ones were killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Dix Hills resident Linda Beigel Schulman learned that her son, Scott, a geography teacher was killed while attempting to lock his classroom door after holding it open for students fleeing from the gunman. Scott Beigel, 35, had only been teaching at Parkland for six months.

Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, recalled waiting for news that his 14-year-old niece, Jaime, was safely home from school, but his hope turned to despair when he received news she was one of the victims who was fatally shot.

I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere.”

— Paul Guttenberg

“How could this have happened,” he said at a March rally. “I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

Both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg have worked hard to make the best of a tragic situation and in doing so they have been transformed in the process.

“I have the deepest respect and admiration for Linda, who while coping with unspeakable sorrow, has channeled her emotions and energy into becoming a forceful voice for reasonable gun control,” Huntington Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said.

For their efforts in turning personal tragedy into action, TBR News Media is recognizing both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg as 2018 People of the Year.

Throughout 2018, these two individuals have spoken out publicly and have met with federal, state and local officials to advocate for stricter gun control measures. Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg are familiar faces in the offices and staff members of U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) and the Huntington town board.

“[Linda] has implored legislators to ban automatic weapons and require background checks for all gun ownership and to pass the Red Flag Law in New York State,” Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “She has and will continue to make a difference.”

“[Linda] has and will continue to make a difference.”

—Mark Cuthbertson

Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg came together July 29 in Huntington Station’s Breezy Park to speak at a gun control rally before a crowd of more than 600 people. Each took a turn at the podium to call for stricter gun control measures and encourage youth voter participation in the upcoming November elections.

“People ask me, ‘What can we do to support you?’” Beigel Schulman said July 29. “My answer is so simple: Make sure you get out and vote.”

Guttenberg’s wife, Ellyn, said it has taken a lot of courage and determination for her husband to step forward into the public spotlight following Parkland.

“Paul was not a public speaker,” she said. “It was very hard for him in the beginning, but it’s something he’s very passionate about.”

The ability of both Beigel Schulman and Guttenberg to move forward and attempt to make a difference, while being level headed, is a feature many elected officials applauded them for. Others have called their actions inspirational.

“Someday we will win this fight to have common sense gun violence prevention laws passed. Linda will be one of the proud drivers of that success,” Suozzi said. “She inspires me!”

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