Village Beacon Record

A sign in front of The Gift Corner on North Country Road at Mount Sinai invites those passing by to shop Nov. 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

A sign on North Country Road in front of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai during the Black Friday weekend could be easy to miss. Cars passing by had only seconds to read the words “Small Store Saturday — If you haven’t been here, today is the day!” as they drove on the winding road.

Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner, was busy on Small Business Saturday and the entire Black Friday weekend, marked on the calendar by shop owners and customers alike as the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season. The small space, packed with small decorations and knickknacks, had customers squeezing past each other as they picked out their holiday gifts. Despite the bump in business Bernholz saw over the weekend, she wondered why relatively few people have even heard of Small Business Saturday.

“How long has this been going on, eight to 10 years?” the gift shop owner said. “It still cracks me up we have people coming in on Saturday and, holy Christmas, they say, ‘What is small store Saturday?’”

Small Business Saturday originally started in 2010, sponsored by American Express, as a way to incentivize people to shop local during the busiest shopping weekend of the year.

American Express reported the weekend after Thanksgiving was quite a busy time for small businesses across the nation. Consumers spent approximately $17.8 billion nationally while shopping local, according to data released Nov. 26 from the 2018 Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey from American Express and the nonprofit National Federation of Independent Business. The survey noted 42 percent of those surveyed reported shopping at local retailers and restaurants, just 1 percent down from last year. Still, 41 percent reported also shopping online that same day.

Those small business owners surveyed in the report said they expect an average of 29 percent of their total yearly sales to come through the holiday season, yet the owners of local small stores on the North Shore know they have a disadvantage compared to big box stores and the online retail giant Amazon and the like.

“People should understand how hard it is to run a small business,” Maria Williams, the owner of Sweets N Scoops in Shoreham said. “A small business’ costs are necessarily greater because we can’t buy in bulk like [large businesses] can.”

Business owners across the North Shore reported a range of outcomes from the busy shopping weekend.

Port Jefferson

Outside Ecolin Jewlers in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Ecolin Jewelers, 14 E. Broadway, Port Jefferson

Linda Baker, co-owner of Ecolin Jewelers, said while most of her sales come in the last two weeks before Christmas, and not the Black Friday weekend, the year overall has been very good for her business.

“This whole year has been better,” Baker said. “This is probably the best in maybe eight years.”

She said she she’s experienced more people coming in toward the end of the year, with the phones constantly ringing off the hook with people’s orders, adding she’s feeling good about her numbers for the season.

“I’m glad to see that people are happy, walking around and coming into stores,” she said.

Outside East End Shirt Co. in Port Jefferson. Photo Courtesy of Google Maps

The East End Shirt Company, 3 Mill Creek Road, Port Jefferson

Owner of The East End Shirt Company, Mary Joy Pipe, said her business participated in the Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce annual Holiday Shopping Crawl, offering a free hoodie valued at $20 for those spending $50 in store. She added turnout on Small Business Saturday was comparable to last year, and that has always had to do with the foot traffic and the weather.

“Our Santa Parade brings a lot of people down into the village, and more folks are around for the extended holiday after Thanksgiving,” she said. “We need feet on the ground and nice weather, and we got that on Saturday.”

Pipe’s business has changed with the times. East End Shirt has both a website and brick-and-mortar storefront, but her online component is a comparatively small percentage of her sales compared to her shop, which has existed in Port Jeff for close to four decades, she said.

“Is Cyber Monday or Cyber Week having an effect? — yeah it is,” she said. “People are not coming out, but anything that has a shipping component I know the potential for retail is still there if they can’t get it shipped in time.”

Outside Red Shirt Comics in Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

Red Shirt Comics, 322 Main St., Port Jefferson

Joshua Darbee, the owner of Red Shirt Comics, said he had multiple sales going on, including buy-one-get-one-free on new comics, 25 percent off back issue comics, and 20 percent off on most of the toys and graphic novels in the shop. As a store that only opened in 2017, Darbee has been working to build a loyal customer base.

“If people are going to buy on Amazon, they’re going to buy on Amazon,” he said. “There’s really no competing with them.”

The comic industry relies on periodicals, driving customers back monthly for the next issue in an ongoing series, and Darbee said without return customers there is no way his business can thrive. He saw a steady stream of traffic come into his shop during Black Friday weekend — a better turnout than last year — and he hopes those sales, along with his card game and tabletop role-playing events hosted at the shop, will bring in return customers.

“The hope is that people will see the long-term damage [Amazon and other online retailers] can do to the local economy,” he said. “You just have to try to engage with people, be friendly and be part of that community. It’s been awesome to see people go out on weekends like this and support small businesses.”

Shoreham to Mount Sinai

Game On, 465 Route 25A, Miller Place

Tristan Whitworth, the owner of video game shop Game On in Miller Place said his business did well the days after Thanksgiving, this year seeing a 30 percent increase in customers compared to last year. He attracted customers with select sales of up to 60 percent off specific products, which incentivized people to come in and spend time on the few video game consoles he set up around the shop.

“It’s making sure the customer knows that we’re there to give them a good shopping experience,” Whitworth said. “I always try to keep it so that it’s not about customers rushing in to make a sale. People were there for an hour or two even though it was Black Friday.”

Whitworth said he knows there is a huge market for used video games online, but he always tries to make his business about the customer service.

“You can get every single thing we sell online, so it’s really about having the experience of going to the shop and buying stuff, talk to the guy who owns it about what game you should buy or try out,” he said. “That’s what you need.”

Sweets & Scoops in Shoreham. Photo courtesy of Sweets & Scoops Facebook page

Sweets & Scoops, 99 Route 25A, Shoreham

While Maria Williams, owner of dessert haven Sweets & Scoops, said most of her business occurs just before holidays, rather than afterward, but she was pleased with the sales she had for people ordering custom chocolate arrangements and other party favors.

She said she sees the importance of local business as a means of giving vitality to an area.

“People need to stop shopping on Amazon,” Williams said. “If they stay local and shop local in small business we do well, and we can hire more people.”

The sweets shop owner said the best product she and other small businesses can offer people is something unique. She said she tries her best to make items customized for the individual, products that one cannot get anywhere else.

“It’s eight years now that I’ve been in business and thank god it became a success because of its uniqueness,” Williams said. “[Large corporations] don’t have that extra touch, and everything is so commercial with them. Here no two things are ever alike.”

Outside The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Gift Corner, 157 N. Country Road, Mount Sinai

Bernholz said last year’s Black Friday weekend was one of the busiest in years, with lines going out the door of her small North Country Road gift shop. This year was also good for her business.

“We did well on Friday, but Saturday was awesome,” Bernholz said. “It was very packed all day, and so many people came in that are my regulars — really showing their loyalty.”

Bernholz business has been around for close to 30 years, but she said she is not very active on the internet, nor is she proficient with technology in general. She still relies on her dedicated customers, some of whom bought holiday gifts from her as kids and continue to buy them as adults.

Her dedicated customers even advertise for her. The Gift Corner has signs along Route 25A promoting her shop, but it was one put up for free, without even originally letting Bernholz know they were there.

“I don’t advertise, I have never advertised,” she said. “A customer does that on their own … It’s unbelievable.”

A photo of Jose Borgos who allegedly left dogs out in freezing temperatures. Photo from SCPD

More than 20 dogs were left out in the cold in Rocky Point until a local police officer saw them and took action.

Jose Borgos, a 52-year-old Rocky Point resident, allegedly left 21 Rottweilers out in freezing temperatures Nov. 22 at his house on Broadway. Seventh Precinct Officer Karen Grenia was on patrol when she heard dogs barking at about 10 a.m., according to a Suffolk County Police Department press release. The officer discovered the dogs in Borgos’ backyard, nine of which were found in travel crates in a shed.

Borgos, who identified to police as a dog breeder, was charged with 21 counts of violating the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law pertaining to appropriate shelter for dogs left outdoors, which requires dog owners to provide appropriate shelter to dogs existing out in inclement or harmful weather. He was also charged with 21 counts of violating Suffolk County code on outdoor restraint of animals, which prohibits dogs from being tethered outside when the temperature is below freezing.

Information on Borgos’ attorney has not yet been made available, and he was scheduled for arraignment at a later date.

The Town of Brookhaven Animal Control will determine the placement of the dogs, the police statement said.

President of Strong Island Rescue Frankie Floridia, the Pit Bull Chocolate and SCSPCA Detective Jennifer Pape at the Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach. Photo by Kyle Barr

A dog who was maimed after a knife attack in Brentwood has found safety with a Centereach animal hospital and a North Shore-based animal rescuer.

At about 5:30 a.m. Nov. 20, Suffolk County police responded to a domestic dispute in Brentwood, according to a release put out by SCPD. Malik Fields, 25, was allegedly involved in a dispute with his girlfriend during which police said he stabbed two of the family’s six dogs. Detective Jennifer Pape of the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was also brought onto the scene by SCPD when it was discovered one pit bull named Storm had been stabbed and was bleeding profusely, according to Pape. Fields’ family brought Storm to a West Islip animal hospital where he was euthanized.

“Stabbing cases are rare, but in a year we investigate about 3,000 animal cruelty complaints,” Pape said. “It’s heart wrenching — it’s why I do what I do. They’re innocent, it’s why we need to protect them.”

Several hours after the initial disturbance, after authorities had already left, Fields’ family discovered another pit bull named Chocolate had also been stabbed, according to Pape. The family called Frankie Floridia, president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, seeing if he could help take the dog to a veterinarian. Floridia called Pape, who rushed back to the scene. Soon after, the family brought the dog to the Animal Medical Hospital of Centereach at about 1:45 p.m. where Chocolate immediately went into surgery.

“I knew one dog had passed away and so we had to go fast to make sure everything was OK with the [other] dog, that was my main concern,” Floridia said.

Chocolate received a 12 inch laceration across his left shoulder. Photo by Kyle Barr

Veterinarian Dr. Charles Greco said the dog had a 12-inch laceration deep along his shoulder that had cut into his left-side deltoid muscle. After being sedated, Chocolate was out of surgery after approximately 30 minutes. The veterinarian said he performed the surgery pro bono, yet this wasn’t the worst case he’s seen in his career.

“I had one case years ago where a dog was stabbed 40 times,” Greco said. “This dog had nothing to do with this [dispute], he just happened to be there.”

Chocolate is now in stable condition and is in the care of Floridia, who said he had been told by the family the dogs did not instigate or intimidate Fields. Despite the harm inflicted upon the young pit bull, Chocolate is still friendly and calm among strangers, willing to sniff their pants legs and walk around freely.

Fields was charged with two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, according to the SCPD. He was arraigned Nov. 27, though Field’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. An order of protection was issued for the dogs by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, which prevents Fields from interacting with the four other dogs, who were uninjured at the alleged incident and are still living with the family at the Brentwood house. In the meantime, Floridia did not want to give details on his plans for the dog, but he said he will work to make sure Chocolate goes to a caring home.

“We have good plans for him,” he said. “I’m going to do what’s best for the dog.”

Erase Racism is holding events across Long Island. Photo from Erase Racism website

A Syosset nonprofit and a Stony Brook University department are teaming up to open up a public dialogue pertaining to one of Long Island and America’s oldest societal problems.

ERASE Racism, a regional organization founded in 2001 that advocates for public policy to promote racial equality in housing, education and more, and SBU’s Center for the Study of Inequalities, Social Justice, and Policy, a department founded in 2017 that provides a forum for the promotion of various forms of student and faculty engagement on the same issues, will co-host the first of a series of forums meant to jump start a community conversation on racial inequality.

The series of forums, entitled How Do We Build a Just Long Island? will kick off at the Hilton Garden Inn on the SBU campus Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.

“This whole thing is premised on the fact that everybody can educate themselves,” ERASE Racism President Elaine Gross said in an interview. “It’s not about anyone calling anyone a racist. It’s not a blame and shame kind of thing. Let’s make sure we have all the facts, let’s make sure we understand the context.”

Gross said so far about 400 people have registered to attend the event. She said from the organization’s inception its goal has been to identify institutional and structural racism and seek to educate the public about the history that has led to places like Long Island being so racially segregated today.

“It is embedded — it doesn’t require that all of the players be racist people, or bad people, it only requires that people go along with the business as usual,” she said.

Christopher Sellers, SBU history professor and director of the center, said part of the thinking behind the forums is to frame the conversation in a way for people not exposed to racial inequality or injustice on a daily basis to see barriers and exclusions they may not have viewed as such. He said the goal is to ultimately expand the discussion from the confines of the campus and into the community. He called Long Island the perfect place to begin this dialogue.

“Demographic change causes people to get more defensive and fall back on these racializing tool kits they may have picked up from their own past,” he said, adding that data suggests Long Island has become more racially diverse during recent decades, specifically seeing an increase in those of Hispanic descent.

Sellers said he feels a sense of urgency to begin a wide discussion on racial intolerance despite the perception from many that in the decades since the civil rights movement society has made sufficient progress in creating a just America for all. In “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017” released Nov. 13, the FBI reported a 17 percent increase in incidents identified as hate crimes from 2016 to 2017, with nearly 60 percent of those incidents being motivated by racial or ethnic bias. From 2015 to 2016 there was a roughly 5 percent increase in these incidents. From 2014 to 2015, hate crimes went up by about 7 percent.

“We need as a university to do something, we as academics can no longer sit on our hands,” Sellers said. “This is maybe a more urgent matter than we’ve considered before.”

Gross said the aim of the events is education.

“We didn’t plan to be doing this at a time when the country is so divided and there’s so much overtly biased comments, racist comments being said at the highest levels,” Gross said. “We planned this because we felt that even though with all of the work that we’ve done, we felt that was really needed was a regional public discussion and understanding of how things are connected.”

To register for the event and to get more information on the remainder of the forums — slated for Riverhead, Hempstead, Melville and Hauppauge — visit www.eraseracismny.org.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini announces charges related to illegal dumping scheme. Photo from DA's office

Long Island homeowners who thought they were getting free, clean fill for their properties off Craigslist may have learned if the offer seems too good to be true, that’s because it was.

Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D) announced a 130-charge indictment Nov. 26 against 22 individuals and nine corporations who allegedly cooperated in a massive conspiracy to illegally dispose of solid waste in 24 locations spanning Suffolk and Nassau counties.

“What we’re dealing with here is an epidemic of illegal dumping in Suffolk County,” Sini said. “It’s gone on far too long, and our message is very clear: We will not tolerate this criminal conduct in our county. We will do whatever it takes to uncover illegal dumping.”

Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio acted as “dirt broker” in the island-wide dumping scheme. Photo from DA’s office

The conspiracy was allegedly led by Smithtown resident Anthony Grazio, 53, also known as “Rock,” who acted as a dirt broker by arranging for locations where trucking companies could illegally dispose of their solid waste and construction debris, according to Suffolk prosecutors.

An investigation dubbed Operation Pay Dirt, which involved the district attorney’s office, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County Police Department, launched in February 2018 revealed Grazio was allegedly posting ads on Craigslist and other websites offering “free, clean fill — free delivery,” in addition to stating it was “certified and approved for residential and commercial use.” Grazio allegedly worked with Vito Fragola, 44, of Commack, to also post a sign on a tree outside a home on Wilson Boulevard in Central Islip to advertise “free clean fill,” in February 2018, according to court documents.

When a Long Island homeowner or business expressed interest in fill for landscaping projects, Grazio and owners or operators of nine different trucking companies would discuss the potential of the site and the amount of material that could be dumped there from New York City construction and demolition sites, according to the district attorney.

“The bigger the property, the better for the defendants as this scam was all about making money,” Sini said. “When an ideal property was found, Grazio could often be heard directing his co-conspirators to ‘hit it hard.’ Grazio approved material being dumped at residential locations even when notified that the material smelled like diesel fuel or had pieces of wood, asphalt, concrete, large boulders or even glass contained in the material.”

Investigators claimed after dumping contaminated fill on a property, Grazio and his co-conspirators allegedly went as far as to provide the homeowners with false laboratory reports stating the material was clean or cover it with a layer of topsoil to ensure grass could grow. In other cases, the truck owners and operators were allegedly caught having phone discussions on how to cover up the hazardous materials being moved about to prevent detection of the illegal dumping.

Out of the 24 locations identified to be impacted by the scheme, the district attorney’s office said 19 were residential properties, four commercial and one school in Roslyn Heights.

“They did this to make money, they did this to save on operating costs, and they did it at the expense of the health of our residents,” Sini said.

Testing performed by the DEC found fill at six locations was positive for acutely hazardous substances, mainly pesticides, with 17 sites containing hazardous substances under the state’s Environmental Conservation Law. These hazardous substances included arsenic, lead, copper, nickel, mercury and other metals.

Map of all illegal dumping sites. Photo from DA’s office

“Illegal solid waste dumping poses a serious threat to New York’s environment and burdens communities across Long Island,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

Among North Shore individuals charged alongside Grazio and Fragola for being involved in this alleged scheme were: Alix Aparaicio Gomez, 50, of Huntington; Anthony Grazio Jr., 19, of Smithtown; Michael Heinrichs, 48, of Port Jefferson Station; Robert Hirsch, 43, of Commack; Joseph Lamberta, 68, of Hauppauge; Steven Nunez Genao, 24, of Port Jefferson Station; Milan Parik, 46, of Centereach; James Perruzza, 18, of Northport; Frank Rotondo Jr., 47, of Miller Place; Thomas St. Clair, 51, of St. James; and Robert Walter, 31, of Nesconset.

The top count on the indictment is second-degree criminal mischief, which is a Class D felony, and, if found guilty, carries a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison.

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Miller Place Superintendent Marianne Cartisano and board of education President Johanna Testa look over captial projects for the coming summer. Photo by Kyle Barr

Miller Place school district officials are looking to perform some lasting modifications to some of their schools’ infrastructure, as discussed at the Nov. 14 board of education meeting.

Summer 2019 will bring new ceiling lighting to the Laddie A. Decker Sound Beach School, a new 6,000-gallon fuel oil tank for the high school, replacing the existing 15,000-gallon tank, as well as replacing asbestos-ridden floor tiles existing in several classrooms at the high school.

The entire project will cost $500,000, with $400,000 coming from the district’s capital funds, according to officials. Another $100,000 will come from state funds secured by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Rocky Point-based architect Michael Guido, the district’s retained architect, told the Miller Place school board that with the inclusion of gas service lines recently installed in the school it no longer has need of such a large tank, thus the scale down.

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano said the existing floor tiles containing asbestos were installed back when the high school was built, and they exist in several classrooms throughout the building. While she said they don’t pose any harm to students currently, they will be removed during the summer when there are no students in the classrooms.

“It’s not a dangerous situation at all, but while we’re doing work in the building we’re going to go in and replace some floor tiles,” she said.

The new lighting at  Laddie A. Decker will include new ceiling structural support and new, brighter LED lighting.

Guido said the bids for all projects will go out from Jan. 3 through 16, and they anticipate awarding the bid Jan. 23. The work for all buildings will be done during the upcoming summer, and district officials said they would work to make sure construction does not impede summer programs.

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

The halls of the Miller Place High School are dead quiet, and footsteps echo far down the long halls. All the students are sitting down and being lectured to from one period to the next, all except one class where their raucous noise can be heard through the door.

Walking into business teacher Thomas Fank’s fourth-period Virtual Enterprise class is like walking into the main floor of a Manhattan business startup. There is an onrush of sound, a cacophony of fingers clacking on keyboards and students shouting across the short space of the computer room. As a stranger walks in, Miller Place High School student Andrew Friedman strides over with a hand outstretched. He doesn’t say, “Welcome to Miller Place” or “Welcome to Fank’s fourth-period.” He says, “Welcome to Amplify Audio,” the name of their virtual company that sells headphones and other audio equipment.

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Everyone here enjoys what they’re doing so they don’t go off topic much at all,” said Friedman, the president and CEO of their virtual company. “I look forward to this class every day.”

The business had only gotten off the ground at the beginning of October. Despite having only a 40-minute period every day, the students already have a portfolio as thick as a phone book, with sheet upon sheet of statements of goals, human resources forms, invoices and so on. The class has a living breathing website including a Spotify music playlist, a link to the virtual company’s Instagram account and a page where one can buy their products. Though the site and company are still under construction, just like a real business, Amplify Audio buys from wholesalers and then sells items for a profit, though all with virtual funds.

The business started with $150,000 in virtual investments from the renowned McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, the agrochemical company the Halex Group and Autonomous Ballistics, a Manhattan-based firearms company. All these investments were made with calls by the students themselves, and though they don’t involve actual dollars, the sales pitches are very real.

“If we didn’t have those investors, we would have had to take out a loan and we would have been in debt before we even started,” said Tyler Cohen, vice president and CEO of Amplify Audio. “This is one of the issues that a real company deals with. Where are they going to get the money?”

Virtual Enterprise classes have been becoming more and more popular in schools throughout the U.S., though Fank’s two VE classes have only been in place since the start of the school year. The business teacher said when he originally proposed the class to the school board, he expected it to be a much harder sell, but nearly everyone was on board with the idea.

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s student driven, and that’s why they like it,” Fank said. “The kids have more responsibility and more accountability than other classes, and there’s more peer-to-peer learning.”

Fank, who himself has his own small business, a wedding DJ company called Encore Events, teaches two VE classes. His fourth-period class is the Amplify Audio group, while his eighth-period class’s company is called Snap Shack, which sells photobooths for use at party events.

Everything within Amplify Audio is virtual, from the products to the money they use to sell them, though the students don’t treat it as such. Throughout the 40-minute period they have, each and every minute is spent in meetings, making sales, working on company documents, or like the much-maligned party planning committee from the hit television show “The Office,” planning for holiday events or birthday parties for every employee. Those in the human resources department complete employee evaluation forms of their fellow students as if they were real employees.

“We’re the ‘Toby’ of our office,” said Julianne Cerato, the human resources director of Amplify Audio and member of the party planning committee. “When it comes to the evaluations, they may be friends, but we’re still a business, and you have to focus on them as if they’re just a co-worker.”

Students in Thomas Fank’s Virtual Enterprise class at Miller Place High School work on their virtual business. Photo by Kyle Barr

Students on the sales team make real efforts to pitch their products to teachers and students around the high school. Alex Constantis, the president of marketing, made 10 sales alone from Nov. 5 to Nov. 9 to teachers and students he found while wandering the halls.

The next step for Amplify Audio is finishing out its business plan by Dec. 12. Every member of Amplify Audio staff has to pitch in at least three pages of a 60-page report, though this is just the start to the company’s adventure.

In October both VE classes traveled to Long Island University Post to participate in the annual Virtual Enterprise competition. Fank said his classes didn’t place, simply because of how new they were compared to other schools that have been working on their businesses for several years. He hopes by January, when the next competition takes place, his classes will make top honors.

“The accountability is the main thing I tell them about,” Fank said. “We don’t have any kids who come in here and sit on their phones. They know they have to do work because it’s part of that team-oriented feel that we have, and it really guides them to want to do well.”

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By Bill Landon

The Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats football team will don the Suffolk County crown for a fourth time in five years after defeating the Mount Sinai Mustangs, 28-21, at LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook University Nov. 16 in the Division IV final. The Wildcats will play on for the Long Island championship Nov. 23 at Stony Brook against Cold Spring Harbor.

Thousands packed Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai for the Town of Brookhaven’s ninth Polar Plunge, an annual event in which brave souls dive into icy waters to raise money for the Special Olympics. All funds raised by the event go toward sports training and competition, health and inclusion programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities looking to compete.

File photo

With the 2018 midterm elections over, both New York State and the U.S. as a whole saw a major upset. Despite local leaders like U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) keeping their seats, both the state Senate and U.S. House of Representatives flipped over to the Democratic Party after years of Republican majority control.

They have forgotten about ‘We the People,’ and now it’s all about themselves.”

— Rich Jiranek

Despite these changes, many local residents said they expect to see more gridlock and political divisiveness for the next two years.

“I thought that it was the point of politicians to care about the people, but it’s not,” said Miller Place resident Rich Jiranek. “They have forgotten about ‘We the People,’ and now it’s all about themselves.”

Jiranek, a Republican, said he didn’t see his party accomplish much of anything in the 18 months they controlled both the U.S. Congress and the presidency. Now he said he sees the ongoing push for recounts in the Florida governor’s and senator’s races and Georgia governor’s race as just a prelude to more political bickering.

“It’s just not right,” he said. “There’s nothing fair about it anymore.”

The sense of foreboding over potential partisanship was shared by people of all different political ideologies. Steve and Christina Dierlam, both Lindenhurst residents, sat at one of the outside tables at the Port Jeff Brewing Company on a cool fall afternoon, thankful for the day off with their young child because of paid family leave, a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in 2016 and enacted at the beginning of 2018.

“Everything is just going to grind to a halt at this point,” Steve Dierlam said “I think that is what we’re dealing with. It’s pretty terrible that we’re the only two districts that went Republican when the rest of the districts in New York went Democrat.”

Christina Dierlam agreed and said that while she and her husband have voted for Democrats and agree with a lot of Democratic legislation, she believes government will come to a major impasse.

“Whoever is the speaker, the Democrats are going to shoot down any legislation the Trump administration or the Republicans try to implement, which I’m happy about, but it will just present more gridlock,” she said.

“This party wants to do that; the other party wants to do this. As bad as that sounds, that has been happening for a long time before this election.”

— Patrick Leahy

Mount Sinai resident Anna Hill said she expects to see even more conflict, especially with recent comments by the now expected majority leader in the House Nancy Pelosi (D) about re-opening the investigation into Russian involvement during the 2016 presidential election and ties to the Trump campaign. Trump has tweeted that if his campaign is investigated, he will challenge the Democrats in the House.

“I think what’s going to happen is there’s going to be more conflict, and Trump is going to be bullying people in the House of Representatives, and that’s going to make it harder to get things done,” Hill said. “I see more chaos, unfortunately.”

All those interviewed said that they disagreed with the political discord and partisan squabbling, but it was hard to say how or when it could ever stop. Stony Brook resident Patrick Leahy said that not enough attention gets paid to local laws that impact people on a day-to-day basis, and the political divisiveness has gotten to the point where people will move from their homes just to live in areas that agree with them politically.

“A person’s actions define their character, not what they say,” Leahy said. “This party wants to do that; the other party wants to do this. As bad as that sounds, that has been happening for a long time before this election.”

Though not all is doom and gloom, according to Port Jefferson Station resident Tara Braaten. This midterm election saw some high turnout all across the country. The New York Times reported that, by current estimates, 113 million people came out to vote in these midterms, encompassing 48 percent of the eligible voter population. This is up from the 2014 midterm elections, which saw only 83 million votes cast.

“I just feel that raising awareness and people being more active and proactive participating is going to have more of a difference to whatever decision being made or outcome,” she said. “We have to have constant vigilance, and it’s still up to us, despite who’s sitting in the chair.”

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