Times of Smithtown

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Emma, one of the Angela’s House children, rides a pony earlier this year. Photo from Bob Policastro

By Jenni Culkin

The Town of Smithtown will host a night of saying thanks to a group known for its generosity.

The Watermill Caterers of Smithtown is set to hold a special gala on Thursday, March 19, to honor two important contributors to the nonprofit group, Angela’s House.

Hundreds of children and their families reach out to Angela’s House each year to provide them with a safe and comfortable place to go to ease the pressure of caring for a child with specific medical needs: 24-hour nursing care, case management, family counseling and other beneficial programs sustain the caring and attentive environment of the organization.

The two honorees, Ron and Rob Brigati of White Post Farms, donate their time, effort and resources toward an annual summer party for the residents of Angela’s House and their families. Their actions provide a carefree summer day to relax and take a breather from their daily responsibilities.

“The smiles and joy that they see as a result makes it very special,” Ron Brigati said.

Now it was time for Angela’s House to return the favor, the organization said. At $100 per ticket, local residents can enjoy an evening at one of the area’s most distinguished wedding halls by socializing at a cocktail hour, a reception and a formal dinner. Guests will also have the opportunity to win prizes during auctions and raffles. The money raised from the event will go toward the children that Angela’s House assist on a daily basis.

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The iconic Smithtown statue, “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the township and is a symbol of the community’s long and storied past. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Jenni Culkin

There is cause for celebration among Smithtown residents this year. The town was founded 350 years ago, and the Smithtown Historical Society is preparing to get its residents involved in festivities and immersion in the town’s proud history.

“This town has been inhabited for 350 years,” said Kiernan Lannon, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. “It’s self-evident that this is a milestone!”

Lannon said the Smithtown Historical Society’s mission is to “preserve and present the town’s history,” and in order to develop an itinerary for the 350th annual celebration, the town’s historical society developed the 350 Foundation — a group of volunteers comprised of representatives from various organizations in the town.

On March 3rd, 1665, Richard Smythe, the town’s founder, was granted the Nicholls Patent. The patent gave him the right to the territory that encompasses present-day Smithtown. Originally, it was believed that Smythe was told that he could have all of the territory that he could circumnavigate on the back of a bull.

The bull story is so important that it has become the icon that represents Smithtown. The bull statue, affectionately named “Whisper the Bull,” welcomes residents as they enter the town boundaries.

The story proved to be only a legend, but it still has a place in this year’s celebration of the town’s history.

The Bull Smythe Relay is proof that the bull story is still sentimental to the people of Smithtown. The relay is the first of the 350th anniversary events that the 350 Foundation is planning, scheduled for March 1, which will mimic the torch relays that are performed during the Olympics.

The relay will cover approximately 36 miles within the town, each mile sponsored by a different person, organization or family. The public is welcome to come and watch the Bull Smythe Relay and support the participants.

Town historian Bradley Harris helped spearhead the planning of this year’s 350th celebration after Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio penned a letter to him asking him to help plan the events.

Only two days after the relay, on March 3, there will be a special town board meeting. A time capsule opening will follow the meeting. The capsule was buried in 1965, during the town’s 300th anniversary celebration.

Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick says that she can remember attending the 300th anniversary and said the events were historically a great historical celebration for the Town of Smithtown.

“The 350 committee is doing a fabulous job,” she said.

The dedicated 350 Foundation has a tentative calendar of events stretching from late February to December of this year. Not all of these events are held by the historical society.

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center is also hosting a musical performance called “The Spirit of Smithtown,” which will be playing in late May and early June. The Smithtown Library is also formulating a schedule of events that is to be announced within the last few weeks of February. Even the public schools in Smithtown’s school districts are planning an art show and contest.

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Linda Ventura memorializes her late son Thomas by putting her face at the forefront of the ongoing battle to curb illegal drug use and its unintended consequences. Photo from Linda Ventura
Linda Ventura memorializes her late son Thomas by putting her face at the forefront of the ongoing battle to curb illegal drug use and its unintended consequences. Photo from Linda Ventura

By Chris Mellides

The legislative office building in Albany hums with activity as concerned Long Island parents and members of the addiction treatment community prepare to convene with state assemblymen and insurance company executives for a roundtable discussion.

King’s Park residents Linda Ventura and Maureen Rossi, who both endured the long drive to the state capital the previous night, break away from their group moments before the meeting and casually walk to the nearest bathroom.

Inside the brightly lit lavatory, where toilet paper lines the old tiled floor, Ventura reaches into her purse and retrieves a piece of Tupperware, like she has many times before, and together with Rossi the two of them pray.

Ventura, a mother of three, watched helplessly as her eldest son Thomas succumbed to his heroin addiction two years ago. And now his ashes, tucked neatly inside that plastic container, serve as a reminder of why she tirelessly works toward spreading opiate awareness and tirelessly lobbies for political change. For such efforts Linda Ventura has been selected as one of the People of the Year by this paper.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association, was among those concerned parents and addiction treatment advocates who joined the dozens of insurance executives at the round table meeting.

He recalls the tension choking the room and the moment a state legislator asked Ventura to make her case for why she thinks insurance companies are handling treatment coverage poorly.

“Linda opened her purse, took out a Tupperware, put it on the table and said, ‘This is my son Thomas. This is what outpatient treatment looks like.’ And the room was stunned,” said Reynolds. “You know I’ve seen it all and done it all and heard it all, and it left me and everybody else in the room speechless.”

Reynolds says that he met Ventura roughly two years ago through a mutual contact and that his work with her became much more focused when they started their legislative push.

“She has been at the forefront of our push for a number of bills in Albany. The thing about Linda is that addiction messed with the wrong mom,” Reynolds said.

Ventura, 54, was born and raised in Oceanside and moved to Kings Park in 1993, where she’s continued her work as a financial advisor.

In March 2012, her son Thomas died from a heroin overdose. He was 21. In the years leading up to his death, Ventura says that a tumultuous family life had put stress on her children.

“My mom and dad passed and my ex-husband’s mom passed. Every year we lost one of them and him and I were going through a divorce,” Ventura said. “So there was a lot of loss, tremendous loss in the family and Thomas was especially sensitive.”

At 15 years old, Thomas began smoking marijuana and drinking beer, and by his senior year of high school Ventura recognized that her son had a problem with prescription painkillers. During the fall after his graduation, Thomas went to his first rehab.

That’s when Ventura said she realized how difficult it was to get insurance coverage for her son’s treatment.

“While he was covered under his dad’s policy, the family as a whole was entitled to one stay at a rehab. So we used that the first time that he went. It was then covered under me,” Ventura said. “We heard things through the next few years and [were told] that he’s not high enough for treatment, which still boggles my mind.”

In order to receive continued coverage for treatment services, Thomas had to continually fail at outpatient services before he could be approved for more comprehensive residential treatment, according to Ventura, who claims that this rule was “insane.”

After her son’s fatal overdose, Ventura said she knew that she needed to bring awareness to the opiate problem affecting Long Islanders, and help to change how insurance providers offer coverage to families seeking help for their sons and daughters struggling with addiction.

On the one-year anniversary of her son’s death, she launched Thomas’ Hope, a nonprofit foundation that promotes drug awareness, prevention and advocacy. Through this effort, Ventura has spoken at numerous events to raise awareness and has raised money to assist families battling with substance abuse.

During a Thomas’ Hope fundraiser Ventura met Maureen Rossi, chairperson of Kings Park in the kNOw (KPITK), a grassroots nonprofit designed to help eradicate illegal drugs from the Kings
Park Community.

“From the first time I heard Linda speak, I knew she had the gift — she has an outstanding ability to reach people,” Rossi said. “I was impressed with her work and shortly after I hired her to speak at our annual Preventing Destructive Decisions event. Linda’s actions and words move mountains.”

Together, Ventura and Rossi joined parents and community leaders in what would be several legislative visits to Albany.

Late this spring, they pushed for passage of Senate Bill S4623, which would reign in the insurance companies and force them to pay for treatment when it’s warranted. That bill and a number of others passed the state Senate and will go into effect April 1, 2015.

County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) represents Suffolk’s 13th District, has followed Ventura’s work with KPITK and has recognized the impact she’s made on the local community and on New York state as a whole.

“She went up to Albany and she got 13 different pieces of legislation passed, and the most important one is that insurance companies will be paying for treatment programs,” Trotta. “She’s driven, she’s smart, capable and she knows what’s going on. She’s really led the charge.”

Ventura said she hopes to see a sober high school brought to Long Island this year that would serve as “a place kids can come back to and be treated differently when they come out of rehab.” She also said she plans to discuss prescription protocol and the need for better education among medical professionals who prescribe controlled substances when she returns to Albany.

When it comes to stomping out the heroin and opiate epidemic on Long Island Ventura said it’ll have to be done as a group effort.

“New York and Long Island is the epicenter of the epidemic, which is something we should not be proud of,” Ventura said. “We can’t legislate ourselves out of it and we can’t police our way out of it. Those things are important measures to take, but everybody’s got to step up to the plate.”

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta holds a copy of a troubling letter sent to over 200 recipients operating home furnishing businesses in Suffolk County. Left to right: Ralph Mondrone, Natalie Weinstein, Robert Trotta and Charlie Gardner. Photo by Chris Mellides

By Chris Mellides

Housed in a building that was originally a vaudeville theater built in the early 1900s, Uniquely Natalie is a St. James-based consignment store catering to shoppers looking for affordable home and office furnishing.

Its owner, Natalie Weinstein, launched this space last year as a designer-driven shop adjoining the headquarters of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates — a full-service interior design firm.

Aside from contending with the challenges of owning her own business, Weinstein was recently served with some bad news from the county.

In a letter dated Oct. 27, Weinstein and several other small business owners with storefronts operating in Suffolk County were introduced to county code Chapter 563-106-A, which among other things states it is unlawful for any person to engage in the selling of furniture or carpets without obtaining a license.

“When I received the letter my first inclination was to say, since I’m a good law-abiding citizen, we’ve got to pay this, [but] how are we going to do this now?” said Weinstein. “This is my first retail operation … I felt it would be helpful to people who really couldn’t go to the big box stores or pay for expensive furniture and still get quality things.”

The code makes no distinction between “new, used or antique furniture,” and there are no exemptions that exist for “antique furniture dealers, churches or other nonprofit organizations.”

This means that Weinstein and others specializing in the sale of home furnishings in Suffolk County are required to apply for licensing at the initial cost of $200 with $400 needed to be paid every two years for relicensing.

Frustrated and looking for outside assistance, Weinstein reached out to Legislator Rob Trotta, who admitted his outrage over the county mandate.

“This is strictly an attack on small business,” said Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). “Over 200 letters were sent out right before the Christmas season. Downtowns are struggling, small businesses are struggling and this [code] said that you need to get a license.”

Trotta said the foundation of this law had shifted from its original intent and that this mandate was just “another attempt to hurt small business and to raise revenue.”

Aligning himself with Trotta is former Commissioner of Consumer Affairs Charlie Gardner. Gardner believes that this mandate aimed at small-business owners subverts the original intent of its legislation, which was to safeguard consumers from unlawful business practices.

“This legislation was aimed at regulating those businesses that would routinely go out of business, would take consumers’ deposits for money, fail to deliver furniture, deliver damaged furniture, and many times consumers had no recourse,” said Gardner. “Since the inception of this legislation the number of complaints dramatically decreased, but it was certainly not aimed at antique stores, antique dealers [or] roadside vendors.”

Gardner, who is now chair of the Government Relations Committee for the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said if any of his town members were burdened with the mandate, he would suggest they appear before the Legislature to vent and demand that the legislation revert to its original intent.

In an attempt to resolve this issue, Trotta asked legislative counsel to draft legislation that would clarify the definition of “antique dealer” and “seller” and save Weinstein and others from additional hardship.

“I believe that the original intent of the law was to protect consumers when primarily furniture and carpet retailers failed to deliver the merchandise promised,” said Trotta. “Now it appears that the county is going after the small-business person who sells a few pieces of furniture and [the consumer] takes the merchandise with him or her.”

County Executive Steve Bellone outlines plans to kill a potential speed camera program near schools throughout Suffolk. Photo from Bellone’s office

By Chris Mellides

Suffolk County is putting the brakes on its speed camera project.

County Executive Steve Bellone announced at a press conference Monday that he would terminate the county’s school speed camera program amid strong opposition of the plan’s rollout from county legislators.

The program called for the installation of speed cameras in a number of school zones across Suffolk County, which while being in the interest of public safety, would have
admittedly generated additional revenue for the county, officials said.

Supporters of the program on Long Island sought and received approval for its implementation from New York State following the state approval for a rollout in New York City earlier this year.

In Nassau, officials said the program’s initial implementation in July was problematic and resulted in the dismissal of thousands of citations by County Executive Ed Mangano, who admitted to there being faults in
the system.

Having analyzed the negative experiences endured by Nassau County, and finding bitter disapproval from local residents over the possibility of a school speed zone camera rollout in Suffolk, Bellone admitted to there being further impediments to the program’s implementation.

“We looked at what was happening and what we saw is similar to what’s been happening in Nassau County [where] you’ve seen a lot of issues with implementation,” Bellone said. “A lot of the programs [are] having problems, in terms of accuracy, and a lot of the programs [are] actually being rolled back in certain jurisdictions.”

Bellone continued by stating that in working through the different issues associated with installing speed cameras here in Suffolk, the job has proven to be “complex,” and “not easy to do.”

Coinciding with Bellone’s announcement on Monday, five Suffolk County legislators including Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory filed for legislation that would halt the county’s move to install school speed
zone cameras.

“The more we saw the problems Nassau County has had with its school speed zone cameras it became obvious we were not going to install the cameras in Suffolk County,” Gregory said. “It is unclear if the safety improvements for our children would occur if we installed the cameras, and without clear evidence that they would improve safety we are not going to proceed.”

Of the three Suffolk lawmakers who voted against the original speed camera legislation, Legislator Robert Trotta has been firm and unflinching in his opposition.

“As I have said from the start and when I voted against this legislation, speed zone cameras are nothing more than a money grab,” Trotta said. “When the county executive gets caught trying to put his hands in the taxpayer’s pocket, there is little choice but to pull the plug.

“This is no different from the overwhelming majority of red light tickets, which is simply taxation by citation,” he continued.

Feeling confident in his decision to kill the anticipated speed camera program in Suffolk County, Bellone maintains that the entire process leading to this week’s announcement had been a bipartisan initiative from the very beginning.

“I consulted with legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle and we came to this decision jointly as what makes sense for Suffolk County,” Bellone said. “And that’s why I made the decision to, at the end of the day, terminate the speed camera program.”

Determined to keep moving forward, Bellone also said that there’s still a lot that the county can do to enhance school zone safety and is willing to explore other alternatives.

“It can be anything from additional signage, increased enforcement, education, different types of partnerships like that and that’ll be unfolding over the next several months,” he said.

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28-year-old skeleton racer will go to Sochi, Russia

John Daly competes in the World Cup in Lake Placid in December. Photo by Pat Hendrick

By Daniel Dunaief

Four years ago, he was just happy to be there. Weeks before the world turned its attention to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, Smithtown’s John Daly had no idea whether he’d be watching the games from home or representing the country in the high-speed sport of skeleton racing.

Now, Daly, 28, is preparing for his second winter games in Sochi, Russia. He finished 17th in Vancouver and is approaching the competition, which is scheduled for Feb. 14 and 15, with a different attitude.

“I’m confident, I think I could do really well,” Daly said via Skype while in St. Moritz, Switzerland for one of the pre-Olympic qualifying races. “In the last game, I was a long shot. In this one, I’m truly prepared. If ever there was a race to win, it’s this one coming up.”

Daly competes in skeleton racing, where he digs his spiked shoes into an ice track, extends his arm and dives headfirst onto the sled. He races at speeds of more than 80 miles per hour, his chin inches above the frozen track. He steers by shifting his weight slightly, as spectators hear something akin to a freight train seconds before he becomes a bullet blazing down the bluff.

Daly said the four years of training and living have helped him maintain his focus in a race where the difference between a medal and fourth place is measured in hundredths of a second.

Thoughts about the action, the crowd and “how crazy would it be if I medal” may have hurt him in Vancouver.

“That’s when you start to put yourself days and hours ahead. I’m staying in the moment. I will take it one day at a time, one curve at a time.”

Tuffy Latour, the coach of the men’s and women’s skeleton team for the United States, suggested that the focus shouldn’t be on winning medals. Instead, his team needs to have “good starts and good drives” while “believing in themselves.”

As the number of days dwindle until he takes those last deep breaths before diving down the mountain, Daly and his family are preparing for a trip that’s more than 5,200 miles from their home.

His mother, Bennarda, a nurse at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, is thinking about “all the silly little things,” including making sure her husband, James, son, James, daughter, Kristen and sister, Sabina Rezza of Kew Gardens, make their flights.

The designers of the Sochi track originally wanted to make the course among the fastest in the world. A fatal accident in Vancouver, however, caused them to redesign their course, which now includes uphill sections that cut down on a slider’s speed.

“They wanted [the racers] to go to 100 miles per hour,” Daly said. “But they slowed it down to 83 miles per hour.” It makes the track especially unforgiving of any mistakes.

“With those uphill sections, you can’t mess up, or it’ll mess up the race,” Daly said. ‘You don’t want to teach perfection, but you need to be pretty close.”

Still, Daly has a short, but encouraging, history with this track. He placed fourth last February in a test run, a mere seven hundredths of a second behind third place. He also finished ahead of Latvian Tomass Dukurs, one of the two brothers who have been the dominant force in skeleton racing.

This year, Daly said, everyone on Team USA, including his friends Matt Antoine and Kyle Tress, has beaten at least one of the powerful tandem.

“It shows they are human,” Daly said. “It’s anyone’s game.”

Latour is encouraged by the way his competitors have performed.

“The Dukurs are beatable,” he said through an emailed statement. “Our team has had some fantastic races despite some small mistakes. If we’re going to beat those guys, we have to be at our best. I think we can get there.”

Daly said the only one of his entourage who might want a medal more than he does is his father James, a retired EMS worker for the FDNY.

The elder Daly said he’s so eager to see his son succeed because “when his dreams come true, so do mine.”
In addition to safety, Bennarda Daly has another goal for her son.

“If he knows he did his best, that’s all that matters,” she said.

James Daly said the agony of standing near the track, watching his son prepare for a race, is almost unbearable.

“You almost don’t know how to act,” he said. “There’s so much I want to do. Clapping my hands is all I can do.”

Daly’s mom plans to bring a cowbell to the other side of the world. Lining the track like pieces of metal drawn to a magnet, spectators shout encouragement and clang their cowbells, amplifying their sound and warming up their arms on mountains where icy winds seem intent on defeating wool sweaters, socks and hats.

Daly’s family and friends have been instrumental in getting him to Sochi, he said. When he needed money or he had to change a plane ticket, no matter what the hour, his father would get it done. Daly said he hopes he’s as helpful to his children some day.

James Daly said he learned how to support his family from his father, the late Joe Daly, a police officer in New York City.

As for what Daly will do after the Olympics, he’s considering a career in advertising.

“That’ll be my first actual job,” he said.

The trail from frozen tracks all over the world to the white-hot lights of the Winter Olympics has included its share of financial, physical and emotional sacrifices. He said he still has unaffordable college loans from Plattsburgh State University, where he was an All-American in the decathlon in 2007.

He has also bumped into walls during competitions and finished the races with bruises or blood dripping down his ankle.

Each year, he missed important personal events, including his mother’s birthday early in January, Thanksgiving and weddings. He couldn’t attend seven weddings in recent years.

Still, the opportunity to race down a mountain and represent the country is worth the trade-off.

“I get to be a kid and ride a sleigh,” he said. “How many other 28-year-olds can say that?”

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Members of UNICO Islip/Smithtown with the Good Samaritan Hospital staff at an Easter event. Photo from Joan Alpers

By Mallika Mitra

While educating their communities on Italian culture and heritage, UNICO members participate in civic engagement to help those in need. And last month, the Islip/Smithtown chapter of UNICO celebrated its 10th anniversary.

Dr. Anthony P. Vastola, who was discriminated against in the United States because he was Italian, founded UNICO  — meaning “unique” in Italian — in 1922. The nationwide organization is focused on funding education of Italian heritage and language, research for cancer and Cooley’s anemia — a type of anemia that occurs in people of predominantly Mediterranean descent — and grants for people with mental challenges, said Pat Pelonero, the office manger of UNICO national and editor of the organization’s publication.

The group also promotes positive images and opposes negative stereotypes of Italian Americans.

According to Pelonero, the 128 chapters of UNICO hold their own events, which range from pasta dinners to gala balls, but all donate to national causes.

Members of the North Shore chapter and Islip/Smithtown chapter, which are within the same district, attend one another’s events, said Ellen Leone, president of the North Shore chapter.

The Islip/Smithtown chapter, chartered in 2003, holds fundraisers and events throughout the year for the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, the Bay Shore United Methodist Church’s soup kitchen, the Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center Pediatric Unit, among others, said Elizabeth Hansen, president of the UNICO Islip/Smithtown chapter.

The chapter also funds six scholarships for high school students of Italian descent.

According to Hansen, some of the fundraising events throughout the year include wine tasting and raffles, but their main fundraising event is an annual golf outing that takes place in July. The UNICO Islip/Smithtown chapter meets once a month at La Famiglia Italian Restaurant in Smithtown, where the members welcome Italian language lessons and speakers who discuss Italian heritage.

Hansen said her family members in Pennsylvania have been UNICO members for generations and convinced her to join her local chapter.

Pat Westlake, the executive coordinator of the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, said of UNICO, “They’re very caring people. They always ask what we need help with.”

The chapter’s members also visit the pediatric unit at Good Samaritan Hospital at Easter, when a member of the chapter dresses up as a bunny and passes out stuffed bunnies to all the children.

“It is even more stressful for children and their families when children are hospitalized [during the holidays]” said Joan Alpers, the director of the Child Life Program at the hospital, and UNICO members recognized that and wanted to help out.

It is “a group that loves to give back to the community,” Alpers said.

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John Trodden, above, with previous grand marshals Gerry Creighton, Buster Toner and Mattie O’Reilly, at the grand marshal’s ball in November. Photo by Denise Creighton

By Mallika Mitra

The annual Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade will include a tribute to John Trodden, this year’s grand marshal.

Trodden, 67, was born in Copiague and moved to Kings Park with his family when he was 1 month old.

He was educated at St. Joseph’s elementary school, St. Anthony’s High School and Kings Park school of nursing.

He met his wife, Ellen, in Kings Park and moved to Pennsylvania where he began his career as an anesthetist but moved back to Kings Park where he and Ellen raised their five children, four of whom still live in Kings Park.

“I have traveled all over the world and I will never leave Kings Park,” Trodden said.

His mother, father, aunts, uncles and cousins, live in Ireland and he is very involved in the Irish community of Kings Park.

John Trodden photo from Cathy Cotter
John Trodden photo from Cathy Cotter

“American first, Irish always and Catholic forever,” said Trodden, a deacon at St. Joseph’s Church in Kings Park. “That’s my involvement in the Irish community.”

Receiving the most number of votes from the Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee, Trodden will be the fourth grand marshal on March 1 at noon, starting at the corner of Lou Avenue and Pulaski Road and continuing down Main Street.

“John Trodden is a beautiful person,” said Kevin Denis, president of the Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade and owner of Professors Diner on Indian Head Road.

He has known Trodden for 38 years and had the deacon renew his wedding vows.

This year the deacon was chosen because “he has done a lot of good for the people of Kings Park,” said Randy Shaw, a member of the committee parade who organizes all the bands.

Trodden has served in several administrative positions at the Kings Park, Pilgrim and Central Islip psychiatric centers and St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, which at the time was St. John’s hospital.

“He is very involved in the state hospital system on Long Island,” said Councilman Bob Creighton, one of the parade organizers. “He is a progressive and enthusiastic administrator.”

Trodden was an altar boy at the councilman’s wedding 54 years ago, Creighton said. They now see each other often because Creighton is active at the church where Trodden is a deacon.

“He is a very community-oriented fellow who comes from a great family and is really a nice, decent, good man,” Creighton said.

Trodden also did administrative counseling at the Diocese of Rockville Centre after being asked by the bishop for his help, he said. He is a chaplain for the Kings Park Fire Department and the Suffolk County Police Department, where he provides pastoral counseling.

Trodden said he has also served as a deacon for Teams of Our Lady, which strengthens and provides support groups for marriage. Trodden is a member of Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal benefits organization.

“I am honored,” Trodden said about being selected as this year’s grand marshal. “It is a tribute to my mother and father, a tribute to my wife, Ellen, a tribute to my children and to my grandchildren.”

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Roller derby gets the adrenaline pumping

When asked to describe roller derby in one word, the girls of Strong Island Derby Revolution kept saying the same thing: “Awesome.”

It isn’t surprising though, as there isn’t any sport that really compares to roller derby — the derby names, the high energy, the cringe-worthy wipeouts, the makeup and uniforms — whose leagues have taken roller rinks by storm over the past few years. Strong Island Derby Revolution is no exception, as its players and fans took over the Sports Arena rink in St. James for their last bout of the season on Saturday night.

“It’s amazing just to see how many people we have,” Marie “Jett Bruise” Letourneau, said at the game, known as a bout, on Saturday, which also marked the league’s one-year anniversary. SIDR has grown from about 12 people to more than 50.

Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp

According to Jennifer “Jenny from the block” Dutton, SIDR was established by a group of local women skaters and debuted Nov. 19, 2011 with a sold-out bout. Last March, SIDR began its first full season with another sold-out bout.

“It is unusual for a team to be formed and to have their first bout only four months later,” Dutton said. “Most teams don’t sell out like we have with over 600 tickets sold in our season opener last November.”

Each bout consists of two 30-minute periods with an unlimited number of jams, where a skater known as the jammer tries to get through a pack of skaters known as blockers. The first jammer to make their way through the blockers becomes the lead jammer. Blockers work to block an opposing jammer, while also helping their jammer get through. A jammer scores points for every blocker she passes after making the first pass.

Lindsay “Vixen Bone Breaker” Estes, one of SIDR’s coaches, said she loves the strategy involved in the game and how different it is from other sports.

“It’s the only sport that plays offense and defense at the same time,” she said.
Estes also said the sport is really empowering for women, as there aren’t many full-contact sports for women.

According to Dutton, the league is owned, managed and operated by skaters and volunteers, with skaters paying monthly dues. Even so, the team still finds time to give back to the community, such as having a fundraiser for Long Island Cares and supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Stephanie “Trinity” Finochio, a jammer on the team, said the amazing thing about roller derby is you don’t have to be an athlete — everyone fits in.

“This is something that everyone can do,” she said.
Veronica “Queen Benzene” Bickmeyer, one of the team’s newer members, said she had no experience when she first joined.

“I got started and now I am obsessed,” she said.

Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp

She called the game addicting and added with a laugh that while she played soccer in high school, in roller derby you’re actually allowed to hit.

“It’s a good way to get out some aggression,” she said. “But in a friendly way.”

Even though SIDR lost Saturday’s game to Shoreline Roller Derby, a Connecticut-based team, Dutton said the team will spend the offseason practicing and working harder for next season, which will begin in late March or early April.

While each skater seemed to enjoy different things about the game, they all agree they love the new friends it has given them.

“I love playing, but I’ve made so many friends,” Letourneau said. “The camaraderie and the community; the feeling of family. I have a lot of friends now and its really good!”

Exit interview with former county executive summarizes gripes; targets respond

Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Rachel Shapiro

Former County Executive Steve Levy was under no illusions that he would make friends when he took Suffolk’s top office eight years ago.

He stood his ground in long-term battles with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and the Legislature and he says that paid off. When the PBA took out anti-Levy ads after the county executive shuffled police officers around to cut costs, he took it all in stride.

“You’ve got to have the backbone to stand up to that and not wilt,” Levy said in an interview. “Over time you’ll be proven correct, as we were with the highway patrol change and as we were with civilianization.”

PBA second vice president Noel DiGerolamo fired back in a phone interview Tuesday that “the only thing that was proven over time is that Steve Levy was not a person to be trusted or believed, as proven by his departure from the government … and his ongoing legal troubles with the [district attorney].” DiGerolamo was referring to Levy’s return of $4 million in campaign funds as part of an agreement with District Attorney Tom Spota, under which the county executive also agreed not to seek a third term.

Levy, 52, has declined on several occasions to discuss the details of the deal.

Other battles aside, Levy considers county Comptroller Joe Sawicki and Newsday’s editors and reporters to have played a part in trying to tarnish his reputation. In reflecting on his time as county executive, he painted a picture of the comptroller and the newspaper working to embarrass and discredit him.


Control battle with comptroller

One example he gave is Sawicki’s office performing an audit on the request for proposals process to sell the county-owned John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, to determine whether the county had followed procedures correctly. Levy said he was interested in selling the nursing home to save the county money. When the report was completed, Levy said, the comptroller then “conveniently drops it on the table of the Legislature the same day they’re voting” on the sale, in order to sway the legislators to kill it.

But the comptroller told a different story. In an interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers following Levy’s allegations, Sawicki said Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook) and legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) requested the audit in November 2010, and his office was rushing to complete the report by March 2, 2011, the day of the vote. And according to Christina Capobianco, Sawicki’s chief deputy comptroller, the audit staff was “stonewalled” by the county Health Department and attorney’s office, delaying the process.

‘I think he became extremely paranoid over the years.’ — Joe Sawicki

However, Levy was not convinced. “It’s too cute to just so happen to finish your audit on the same day that the Legislature is voting on this issue,” he said. “If [Sawicki] was concerned about timing he simply could have mentioned this to the Legislature. He never did. … This was an 11th hour surprise to try to kill the deal.”

The Legislature ultimately voted to sell the nursing home, but the buyer, Kenneth Rozenberg, was no longer interested.

Levy said Sawicki had an agenda against him. He pointed to the fact that at the same time the nursing home audit was being performed, Sawicki donated money to the Nursing Home Support Fund for employees who were working to save the facility from closure, and he attended a fundraiser.

According to a New York State Board of Elections financial disclosure report, Sawicki donated $500 to that group on Jan. 10, 2011.

Levy called the act a conflict of interest and said that Sawicki was considering a run for county executive and was buying the support of the nursing home employees’ union. But the comptroller said although others had suggested it to him, he had not planned to run for county executive, and that his office’s audit and his support of keeping the nursing home open were “totally separate.”

Sawicki said his wife is a geriatric nurse at a private nursing home and that the Foley facility had a place in his heart.

“In my mind, helping the employees contribute to their legal fund to fight to stay open and keep their jobs is a lot different than an audit I was doing of the RFP process,” Sawicki said. “I would do it all over again.”

‘It’s too cute to just so happen to finish your audit on the same day that the Legislature is voting on this issue.’ — Steve Levy

In addition to Levy’s claim that Sawicki was trying to cast him in a negative light because of a potential run for county executive, Levy said there was friction because he would not approve some of the comptroller’s hires in order to save money.

Sawicki said Levy would block approval of employees hired within his department’s approved budget. Ultimately, various elected county officials called for legislation that would allow them to approve their own hires if they stayed within their budgets. The legislation passed.

Although Sawicki expressed frustration with the hiring situation, he said he never did anything to give Levy a bad name. “You can’t find anything that I did that exceeded my role as the comptroller,” Sawicki said. “I pride myself on being the chief fiscal watchdog. I like that title.”

The comptroller also said that Levy didn’t like being audited and “I think he became extremely paranoid over the years.”

Levy responded, “If I didn’t want him doing audits I would have been complaining from my first year in office.” He added, “It’s absolutely his role to do audits.”


Financial disclosure

The county executive also took issue with Newsday’s coverage of various subjects, including his financial disclosure forms and wife Colleen West-Levy’s business. In a series of articles beginning in 2010, Newsday investigated Levy’s filing of the state-mandated financial disclosure form.

Throughout some of Newsday’s stories, such as “Disclosure bill would force Levy to report to county,” published June 15, 2010, the reporter stated as a matter of fact that the county form was more thorough than the state form that Levy was filing. This statement was not attributed to any source. In at least one other story, the reporter has also cited unnamed officials for this information.

In the stories, the reporter interviewed political opponents of Levy, who are quoted as saying that the county executive was in violation of county law when he filed state forms instead of county forms.

Levy argued that the reporter left out crucial information, including three expert opinions, one from Mark Davies, that cited Levy’s requirement to file the state form and his compliance with county law.

Davies, former executive director of the Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics, has served on several ethics committees, including as co-chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Bar Association’s section of state and local government law. He is also an adviser to the American Law Institute’s Project on Public Integrity and an adjunct professor of law at Fordham Law School.

‘Newsday is proud of its reporters and editors who pursued this story thoroughly and fairly while withstanding repeated criticisms and even personal attacks.’ — Statement from Newsday

He said in a written testimony to the Suffolk County Legislature in September 2010, “Indeed a comparison of the state form and the Suffolk County form reveals that, on the whole, the state form is more extensive than the county form.” He gave examples of disclosure categories the county form does not include, such as offices in political parties and organizations; the nature of a filer’s business; agreements for future employment; assignments and transfers of income and interest to others for less than fair market value; securities held by a corporation for investment when the filer or his or her spouse owns or controls 50 percent or more of the corporation; gifts and reimbursements; and any information on the assets and liabilities of the filer’s dependent children.

The county form also does not ask the filer to list unpaid positions with entities that have no current business or licenses with the county, even if they had immediate past county business or have upcoming county business.

Davies argued that because the county form lacks these categories, it does not comply with state law. He recommended that the county adopt the state form, at least on an interim basis, until the county form is brought into compliance with state law.

In the past year, legislation has been introduced to bring the local form into compliance with New York State law.

Levy said he gave the reporter the information from Davies early on in the reporting to include in the story, but it was not printed.

In Newsday’s story “Levy defends financial disclosures,” published June 9, 2010, a chart compiled by the reporter highlights specific information that is required on the county form and not the state’s — but not vice versa. The chart correctly says the county form requires the filer list bank accounts, including the type of account, the nature of ownership and the name of the bank. The state form does not require this information.

With regard to real estate interests, both forms require disclosure of location, size, general nature, acquisition date, percentage of ownership and range of value of the property. The only difference between the forms is that the county’s requires the filer to name partners and the valuation date. The chart incorrectly states that the state form does not require market value. The form specifically asks for approximate market value.

The chart also incorrectly says that the state form does not ask the filer to list credit card debt. In fact, the filer must list liabilities, but the form provides many exceptions, credit card debt not being one of them. Tim Glynn, an attorney in Setauket concentrating in business law, said a credit card balance should be reported, according to the language of the form. However, if the balance was accrued by purchasing items that were exempted, the filer could leave the debt off the list.

Newsday’s chart correctly says the state form does not require disclosure of government contracts secured through competitive bidding or requests for proposals, while the county form does.

“What [the reporter] would gloss over and not put in is that I was required by law to file a state form instead of a county form,” Levy said. “Newsday tried to make it look like I was forum shopping for a particular form to file because I wanted to hide something. It’s total nonsense.”

Levy is required by state law to file the state form as a sitting member of the Pine Barrens Commission, a state agency. This fact was confirmed by the county Ethics Commission in a 2006 ruling. For his first two years in office, Levy filed both state and county forms. Following the ruling in 2006, he began filing only the state form. Similar to wording in other stories, Newsday describes the ruling in “Levy defends financial disclosures” by saying, “The county ethics commission — whose members were appointed or recommended by Levy — has allowed him to file a state disclosure form since 2006.” Levy argues that the language used makes it appear as if the commission is giving him special treatment when, in fact, it is upholding state law.

Despite this, in 2010 Levy filed county forms from the years he had missed — from 2006 to 2009. In an interview, Levy said he filed the county form for those years because he had nothing to hide.

Times Beacon Record Newspapers sat down with Newsday’s vice president of public affairs, Paul Fleishman, and presented Levy’s claims about Newsday. The paper declined to give responses to each allegation, and instead issued the following statement:

“The facts speak for themselves. Last year, following an investigation by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy forfeited $4 million of campaign money and announced he would not run for re-election. Newsday is proud of its reporters and editors who pursued this story thoroughly and fairly while withstanding repeated criticisms and even personal attacks. Newsday has a long and respected history of straightforward and courageous investigative reporting on behalf of the people of Long Island, who depend on us to shed light on matters that are important to the public. It is a responsibility to our community that we take very seriously, approach thoughtfully and pursue with the utmost care, integrity and commitment to accuracy. We stand firmly behind our reporting and our coverage.”


Colleen West-Levy

As it probed Levy’s financial disclosure forms, Newsday also questioned the business practices of his wife, Colleen West-Levy. Specifically, Newsday listed companies that had worked with West-Levy’s firms and had also received county funds, seeking to determine if there was a connection between the two. West-Levy’s court reporting and transcription businesses, Enright and Enright Sten-Tel, had a relationship with various companies that contracted with the county, five of which were law firms that Newsday named in the July 8, 2010 article “A question of disclosure.” While the story said that three of those firms had a relationship with West-Levy’s companies before her husband took office, Levy said his wife had worked with all of them before he took office and the work was not the result of political connections.

Levy estimated that of his wife’s roughly 200 clients, only 10 to 15 of them had any connection to the county.

The article also named Stony Brook University Medical Center’s Cody Center and Good Samaritan Hospital, based in West Islip, in the investigation as to whether there could be a connection between the hospitals receiving county funds and West-Levy’s businesses working with the institutions.

A 2005 ruling from the Ethics Commission stated that West-Levy could continue her work with Stony Brook University Medical Center and with any other hospital in the county without posing a conflict of interest.

“To any objective reporter, that 2005 opinion from the county’s Ethics Commission should have ended any thought of this sensationalistic ‘gotcha’ story,” Levy said in a statement.

‘This inaccurate and irresponsible series of articles [goes] to great lengths to insinuate that Colleen built her businesses upon my becoming county executive.’ — Steve Levy

Levy takes issue with the nature of the stories about his wife. The lead of the July 8 story states, “Court reporting firms owned by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s wife, Colleen West, have regularly received work from businesses that have been paid millions of dollars in county contracts in recent years.” In the 16th paragraph, on the second page of the story, Newsday cites Levy and his wife as saying she did not work on county business for the firms.

“This inaccurate and irresponsible series of articles [goes] to great lengths to insinuate that Colleen built her businesses upon my becoming county executive, and that she and I have somehow attempted to avoid proper disclosure,” Levy said in a July 2010 statement. In an interview, Levy called it “disgraceful reporting with numerous inaccuracies.”

In the case of a July 31 article, “Babylon lawyer to head group probing ethics commission,” Levy said it contains a “gross misrepresentation” of what is required to be listed on state financial disclosure forms. The state form requires the filer to list his or her sources of income and those of a spouse. However, the form says, “Do not list the name of individual clients, customers or patients.” The county form does not require the filer to list clients either.

In the July 31 article, the reporter writes, “Newsday reported earlier this month that court reporting firms owned by Levy’s wife, Colleen West, do business with at least seven county vendors that have received millions in payments from the county. Levy said he is not required to disclose his wife’s clients, even though the county form requires disclosing all sources of income, including those of a spouse.”

Levy takes issue with the story painting the picture that disclosing his wife’s clients and disclosing his wife’s income are one and the same. He also said, “Shockingly, Newsday failed to note that the county form likewise does not require or request a listing of individual clients,” and that this omission suggests that by filing the state form, he was attempting to hide information from the public.

In addition, in “A question of disclosure,” the Newsday reporter writes that in 2008 County Attorney Christine Malafi, at Levy’s request, wrote a letter to law firms receiving county business, making it clear that Enright was not on a list of court reporters that could be chosen for county business. Newsday said this was after the PBA raised questions about Enright doing county work. However, Levy said in an interview that it was in 2005, through Malafi, that he notified all county vendors that would use court reporting services that they were only to use the firm that was awarded the county bid, which was not Enright.

Concerned by the coverage, Levy said he presented Newsday several times with memos refuting information in various stories on several topics. Newsday did print a correction following an October 2010 story alleging Levy redacted personal financial information from his disclosure forms, when the Suffolk County Ethics Commission had actually redacted the information. But Levy said his concerns were largely limited to the letters page, instead of in further news reports or corrections.

In May 2011, the Press Club of Long Island announced Newsday’s main reporter on these stories won Outstanding Long Island Journalist. In 2009 the reporter, along with another Newsday reporter, won the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for a series of articles about special government districts.


The past, present and future

Levy said he made enemies because he “made tough decisions” — reorganizing the police department to save money, selling the Foley nursing home, limiting county hires and requiring union givebacks as a way to avoid county layoffs.

A fiscal conservative, Levy prided himself on saving money where he could. He said he gave up three bodyguards, took 240 county cars out of service, which had been “doled out like political lollipops.” He said his administration developed a different mind-set for county government, requiring double sign-offs for overtime and controlling travel expenditures. The county put its health care package out to competitive bid and saved $18 million annually, Levy said.

“Despite the tough times we’re having, we’re still in better shape than [surrounding counties] are and that’s because of the foundation that we’ve laid out over these many years. But it’s certainly not going to be easygoing into the next couple of years until the national economy picks up again.”

He doesn’t regret his run for governor, rather he said he would have been kicking himself if he hadn’t tried. He doesn’t regret his party change either, although he said it made him more of a target than when he was a Democrat. Levy said his switch to the Republican Party was not an act of political opportunism, having received endorsements of the Republican and Conservative parties; he won cross-party endorsements for his second term as county executive starting January 2008, winning 96 percent of the vote. The county executive had always leaned to the right economically and on the topic of immigration.

“It wasn’t a big leap, it wasn’t such a surprise to people in Suffolk,” Levy said.

But within one year of switching parties and announcing his run for governor, Levy made a deal with DA Spota to give back the $4 million in campaign funds and not seek re-election for a third term — ending his tenure under what many have called a cloud of suspicion.

Although he was forthcoming about other controversial issues, the county executive was tight-lipped about his agreement with Spota. He simply said, “We’ll have that conversation at another time.”

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