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Donald Trump

Congressman supports end of ‘dreamer’ policy, preaches sensible border security fix

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

The heated debate over immigration is nothing new in the United States, or in Suffolk County for that matter, but the discussion has been enflamed and accelerated by a decision President Donald Trump (R) floated, walked back and ultimately left in limbo regarding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this week. Zeldin addressed challenges with improving immigration policy during an exclusive interview with TBR News Media at the end of August, and also weighed in on the possible phaseout of DACA this week.

The DACA program was enacted in 2012 during former President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration as a temporary solution to the dilemma about how to handle the immigration status of individuals who were brought to the U.S. illegally at a young age, rendering their decision to cross the border as out of their hands. The policy granted “dreamer” status to roughly 800,000 individuals, retroactively. This week, Trump announced via Twitter his intentions to phase out the program within six months, though few details were offered, and since then the president has backtracked, signaling to Congress he would like for them to come up with a solution.

“Many of these children involuntarily came to our country very young, have been here for a long time, go through our education system, love our country and are looking to stay here and greatly contribute to our economy and nation’s future,” Zeldin said in a statement. “What I struggle with the most is how you can possibly allow someone illegally in our country to be given preference over someone who is not in our country solely because that individual abroad is following the rules and respecting our laws, and as a result, they are not yet here.”

“If you want to come to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules.”

— Lee Zeldin

The decision by Trump has drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle for both the seeming lack of compassion for the group of mostly young people who have made a life in the U.S. and know the country as their home, and for the flippant nature of making the announcement on social media. Zeldin said it is a challenging issue because dreamers have established a life in America and were brought here involuntarily, though he said allowing them special treatment creates an unfair dynamic for those attempting to come to the U.S. legally.

“I support legal immigration,” he said. “I oppose illegal immigration. If you want to com se to America and pursue the American Dream, follow the rules. If you commit a crime and are deported, don’t come back. Every nation’s backbone is its rule of law. It is great to pursue the American Dream and to consider yourself a dreamer and everyone in the United States legally should consider themselves dreamers.”

Zeldin said in his statement and in August he would be open to discussion for ways to repair what he said he views as a flawed immigration system.

Referring to Trump’s campaign rhetoric and statements he has made since taking office, Zeldin said he wished the conversation on immigration and border security could get past “build a wall” versus “don’t build a wall.” He criticized Trump for a lack of publicly stated details regarding a border wall, citing natural barriers like rivers and mountains, which already secure large portions of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“If we sat down with [Trump] and had a conversation and he says, ‘We should put a 30-foot wall in the middle of the Rio Grande,’ that would be different,” Zeldin said. The 1st CD representative said he would be in favor of strengthening existing fencing in areas, building a new barrier in vulnerable areas and even utilizing some electric fencing to secure the border.

When asked if he thought Trump had the ability to advance immigration reform in a bipartisan fashion, Zeldin said he wasn’t sure because he hadn’t spoken directly with Trump on the issue, and his public statements lack specifics.

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

By Rita J. Egan

A local activist group is asking a Long Island billionaire and his daughter to stop funding the alt-right.

According to a press release from the North Country Peace Group, Robert Mercer, billionaire co-CEO of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter Rebekah have allegedly contributed millions of dollars to alt-right causes due to his alliance with the online media company Breitbart News.

The group held a rally in front of the company’s entrance on Route 25A Aug. 23 because members feel Breitbart News has provided a forum for white supremacist, sexist and other racist voices.

Approximately two dozen protesters were in attendance with signs in tow. During the rally, Charles Perretti of Setauket grabbed a megaphone and addressed the crowd.

“What does [the Mercer family] want?” he asked. “They want to control the public dialogue. They want to advance their attitudes and values at the expense of true representative government and the spirit of one man and one vote.”

Perretti said Mercer supports the current Republican presidential administration, referring to that of President Donald Trump (R).

“What do we want, the people on the corner?” he said. “We want concern for the common good.”

The statement inspired protesters to respond repeatedly: “Concern for the common good.”

In recent months, the local peace group has organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including Trump’s proposed transgender military ban, climate change, alleged use of force by police and a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington.

Peace group member Rosemary Maffei, of Setauket, has been in attendance for much of the group’s protests. She said attending political demonstrations is something she feels she needs to do for herself personally and for the country, and she appreciates being around like-minded residents.

“I feel it’s important to let people see that there is resistance to Trump and the Republican Party, especially here on ‘red’ Long Island,” she said. “Sitting home and doing nothing while the country is being torn apart is something I don’t understand.”

Mercer did not respond to a request sent through an executive assistant at his company for comments about the rally.

This post was updated Aug. 30.

 

Former Suffolk police chief James Burke was arrested for using violent force with a suspect two years ago. File photo

A presidential visit to Suffolk County ended with the Suffolk County Police Department distancing itself from President Donald Trump’s (R) comments encouraging police officers to use more force with suspects at an event in Brentwood Friday, July 28.

“Please don’t be too nice,” Trump said to an audience of Suffolk County Police officers. “When you guys put somebody in their [police] car and you’re protecting their head, you know the way you put your hand over their head? Like don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody. I said you can take the hand away okay?”

Officers broke into laughter and applause after Trump’s remarks, however less than two hours after he spoke police departments and organizations throughout the country came out to condemn Trump’s words.

“As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners,” the Suffolk department said in a statement on Twitter. “The SCPD has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners. Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”

For Suffolk County, the subject of police brutality is especially important, as disgraced former police chief James Burke was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for use of violent force with suspect Christopher Loeb, along with attempting to cover up his efforts and more.

During the trial Loeb, who was imprisoned for a parole violation said the incident changed his life, according to a report from The New York Times.

“I will never again feel comfortable in Suffolk County, the place I used to call home,” he said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) vowed to “reform [Suffolk County] governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again,” as a result of the details of Burke’s crimes becoming public.

Trump traveled to Suffolk to talk about efforts to eradicate gang violence, particularly with MS-13, which has been associated with violent criminal offenses in the past year in the county, especially in Brentwood.

Other police departments also condemned Trump’s rhetoric.

“To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public,” a statement from the New York City Police Department said.

One  police officer from Gainesville, Florida directly called out both the president and the Suffolk cops who cheered on his remarks.

“I’m a cop,” Ben Tobias said on Twitter. “I do not agree with or condone POTUS remarks today on police brutality. Those that applauded and cheered should be ashamed.”

Despite the reaction from the crowd, the Suffolk County Police Department was quick to distance itself from Trump’s remarks.

U.S. Rep Lee Zeldin (R) traveled with Trump throughout his trip to Long Island and praised the president for his efforts.

“This administration has taken a hard stance against gang activity, and it is imperative that we come together as one community in rejection of this violence which has claimed too many innocent lives,” he said in a statement. “It is our obligation to make eradicating this criminal organization a top priority.”

Zeldin did not respond to requests for comment regarding Trump’s encouragement of police using less restraint with suspects.

Outside the event Trump supporters were grateful to have the president come and focus on their issues.

Smithtown resident Angela Martinez spoke in support for the president.

“This is the best, Trump coming here,” she said in an interview. “This is supposed to be good for the Island, this is supposed to be good for the community. The community really needs to work together.”

Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr.

One protestor comforts another during a protest in Smithtown July 27. Photo by Jill Webb.

By Jill Webb

In a show of unity, North Shore residents resoundingly condemned President Donald Trump’s (R) intentions to ban transgender people from the military this past week.

Individuals gathered in front of the U.S. Army Recruitment Center in Smithtown in disapproval of President Trump’s announced ban July 27.

The ban stemmed from a series of tweets President Trump put out July 26, citing his reasoning for the transgender ban being that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s declaration of the ban on Twitter led the Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition to come out to Smithtown to oppose the ban in a peaceful demonstration. The group advertised the demonstration via Facebook as a way for the transgender community and their allies to speak up for transgender service members.

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of LITAC led the demonstration with a loudspeaker in hand, chanting in solidarity with the transgender community.

The goal of the demonstration, according to Grey-Owens, was to put transgender soldiers in the spotlight.

“To make people aware of the fact that there are Americans that are supporting our transgender troops — that’s important,” she said. “Number two, it’s to make people aware of the fact that the transgender community is constantly under duress, constantly being discriminated against and this is just one more thing.”

The aim of LITAC is to advocate for the transgender community, often through forums, demonstrations, and putting on informational sessions that Grey-Owens refers to as transgender 101s.

The Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, passed in 2003 makes it unlawful for anyone in New York State to be discriminated against in employment, housing, credit, education and public accommodations because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

But the law isn’t as clear for transgender individuals. SONDA does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and expression — but it does apply when a transgender person is discriminated against based upon his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation, according to the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Specific counties and areas, including Nassau and Suffolk County have taken matters into their own hands and passed more specific anti-discrimination legislation for sexual orientation.

Grey-Owens said that LITAC’s objective is to step in at any time the transgender community is being discriminated against.

The executive director, along with many of the other attendees of the demonstration, was aggravated with Trump’s accusations against the expenses of transgender health.

“One of things that they found is the number is so small in comparison to the defense budget, that it is a point zero something of the actual cost,” Grey-Owens said. “The army spends more on Viagra — ten times more on Viagra — then they will on transgender health costs.”

One of the best ways to help the transgender community, according to Grey-Owens, is to unite with them.

“If you take look at the crowd that’s here now, there are way more cisgender people [someone who’s gender identity matches the sex they were assigned to at birth] than transgender people here, and that’s made our voice louder,” she said. “People are adopting our cause as their cause. If they’re interested in helping out, this is how you help us: expand our voice.”

One participant, Edna White, said that she was in attendance in support of her transgender family and friends. She stressed the negative effects of the segregation.

“Taking a serious defense of our country — that shouldn’t be separated,” she said. “We’re already separated enough in war as it is, so to do that is really disheartening for me.”

Heather Sacc, another protestor said she found Trump’s sudden tweets against the transgender community very alarming.

“There’s 6,000 trans people in the military that have risked their lives,” she said. “The military didn’t ask for this. It’s just [Trump] woke up in the middle of the night and decided ‘oh that’s what I’m gonna do.”

A protestor shows support for transgender military members. Photo by Jill Webb.

Jay Gurecio attended the demonstration representing the LGBTQ+ visibility coalition, a group she is a co-founder of. Gurecio said she felt betrayed by Trump going back on his claims he would support the LGBTQ+ community during his campaign.

Trump tweeted in June 2016, thanking the LGBT community.

“I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he said.

Guercio believes he has not kept to his promise.

“For him to go back on something that was implemented a year ago, that trans-people were allowed to serve and were allowed to get their surgery and their hormones covered, it’s just outright wrong,” Gurecio said.

Gurecio thinks the message Long Island should take from the demonstration is there is an LGBT community that will do everything in their power to stand in solidarity with each other.

“We’re peaceful, this isn’t angry, this isn’t something that’s even violent in any which manner,” Gurecio said. “I want people to understand that we just want to live our lives, and that we want the same rights as everyone else.”

The following day protestors continued to berate Trump during a visit he made in Brentwood to the Suffolk County Police Department.

Patricia Rios was holding a sign saying she voted for Trump and regretted her decision.

“Once he comes for the ‘T’ [talking about Transgendered] he’s going to come for the L, the G and the B,” she said. “So we’re here to protest that.”

Dr. David Kilmnick, CEO of LGBT Network, a Long Island LGBT advocacy group said more than just transgender military members rights were ignored this week.

“We found out… Trump was coming here, and timing would have it that he tweeted that he was going to ban transgender folks from serving our country and serving our military,” he said. “That wasn’t the only thing he did to the community this week — which was big enough. His attorney general filed a court brief saying that Title VII doesn’t protect LGBT people from discrimination from the federal government. Having Trump here on Long Island, having Trump as president is an embarrassment, a disgrace. He doesn’t represent the values of our country of equality and justice.”

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released July 28 showed a large portion of the county disagrees with Trump on this position.

According to the poll, 58 percent of adults agreed transgender people should be allowed to serve while 27 percent said they should not.

Currently it’s unclear if Trump’s announcement will lead to real policy change, as the

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said last week the current military policy would not be changed until the White House issued further guidance.

Additional reporting contributed by Kyle Barr and Victoria Espinoza.

Parade participants this year on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, France. Photo by Michael Shurkin

By Edna Ayme-Yahil

When I was 11 years old, I was confronted with what would appear to be a simple decision. I received a letter from R. C. Murphy Junior High requesting that I choose which language to study. Little did I realize that by ticking off the box in front of French rather than Spanish, German or Latin,  was sealing my future fate. Thirty years later, I’d find myself married to a François rather than a Francisco or a Frank, living in Paris instead of Madrid, Santiago or Vienna, and reflecting on what it means to be an American in Paris on July 14, a day steeped in symbolism when a U.S. president that I didn’t vote for came to visit a French president for whom I would have voted had I been allowed.

Le Quatorze Juillet

The French celebrate Le Quatorze Juillet to commemorate the storming of the Bastille (July 14, 1789) and the Fête de la Fédération (July 14, 1790). In 1880, July 14 was proclaimed a national holiday and has been celebrated ever since with a military parade in Paris.

Since the end of World War I — except for the period of German Occupation from 1940-44 — the French President and hundreds of thousands of citizens gather on the Champs -Élysées to watch the military parade. The President of the Republic often uses the occasion of the 14 Juillet to make political statements. For example, in 2007, troops from the other 26 European Union member states marched to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome; the parade in 2014 commemorated the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I with representatives of the 80 nations that participated in the war invited to the ceremony.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Americans love to celebrate Bastille Day, as the holiday is called in the Anglophone world, with viewings of “The Triplets of Belleville”, wine tastings and parades. From New York City to New Orleans to Philadelphia to Milwaukee, Americans fete the occasion with a passion and friendship that belies a relationship  with France that can best be described as love-hate despite the fact that France has consistently been a staunch ally of the U.S. since the Revolutionary War — think Lafayette and both World Wars versus “freedom fries,” the Iraq War,  and “cheese eating surrender monkeys”.

Edna Ayme-Yahil graduated from Ward Melville High School and currently lives in Paris, France. Photo from Edna Ayme-Yahil

14 July 2017

Late last month, Emmanuel Macron invited Donald Trump to be his guest of honor this 14 Juillet with a dinner at a chic restaurant located inside the Eiffel Tower followed by the place of honor at the military parade — which also included American troops this year to celebrate 100 years of the entry of the U.S. into WWI. This is despite the fact that Trump supported Macron’s opponent, the far-right populist Marine Le Pen, in France’s recent elections, the two men are at opposite sides of the climate change debate, and as recently as a month ago, Trump declared that he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

The irony of Trump’s visit to France and his new-found bromance with Macron lies in the symbolism of this day, which represents overcoming the despotism of monarchy and the oppression of people who spoke up as well as the reality of these two modern leaders. Over the course of one year, between 14 Juillet 1789 and 1790, France had abolished feudalism and adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizen, a document that intended to protect French citizens’ equality, freedom of speech, and political representation. America’s Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence grew out of this same Enlightenment philosophy. How does this jive with the train wreck that is Trump’s presidency as well as Macron’s channeling of the Sun King at Versailles?

Luckily, both French and Americans could choose how to celebrate the occasion this year. Those who wanted to support the festivities made their way to the Champs early Friday morning. For those who hate Trump, there was a No Trump Zone party in the Place de la République on the evening of the 13th and a “Don’t Let Your Guard Down Against Trump” march on the 14th that started from the Place de Clichy. I know where I was. And if the recent Pew Research study is correct, 86 percent of the French population joined me there, at least in spirit.

Edna Ayme-Yahil is head of communications for EIT Digital and on the Board of the European Association of Communication Directors. She graduated from Ward Melville High School in Setauket and currently lives in Paris with her French husband and 10-year-old bi-cultural daughter.

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle at his Holtsville office. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Republican hadn’t won Suffolk County in 24 years. The 2016 presidential election was out of the ordinary on dozens of levels, a fact that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency and helped him to become the first Republican candidate to win Suffolk County since George H.W. Bush in 1992. Trump received just 36.5 percent of the vote in New York state, though 52.5 percent of Suffolk voters selected the first-time political candidate. John Jay LaValle — arguably the most influential Republican in Suffolk politics — played a massive role in securing that victory.

During an exclusive interview at his Holtsville office April 18, the Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman shed light on Trump’s surprising victory locally and nationally, his life in politics, serving as a Trump surrogate and the future of the party.

The state of the party

LaValle, 49, who has been in his current position since 2009, endorsed Trump about a year ago during a campaign event in Bethpage, calling him the most important presidential candidate in modern history.

“I wasn’t happy over the last several years on how the Republican Party — let’s say over the past decade — how the party dealt with the Obama Administration,” LaValle, an attorney by trade, said, sitting at his desk, his eyes glancing up intermittently at a muted television fixed on Fox News throughout the conversation. He said the GOP’s singular purpose, to its detriment, had become opposing former President Barack Obama (D). “We’d become a party without a compass. We didn’t have a purpose.”

John Jay LaValle speaks during an election night party for Lee Zeldin in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

He added he thought it was a mistake for the party to be so focused on social issues, especially because public sentiment was heading in the opposite direction from the traditional Republican ideologies on most.

By the time of his formal endorsement April 9 at that Bethpage rally, only Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) were still alive in the Republican primary process, though LaValle said he made his decision to endorse Trump when he was still in a field of 17 candidates.

“I’m from…what someone would consider to be the establishment of the Republican Party,” LaValle said. “So when I came out and endorsed Donald Trump everyone was like, ‘what?’ And even people, my own cousin, was like ‘what are you doing?’ Everyone thought I was crazy. But one of the things that very much attracted me to Donald Trump was that I really thought that he would be someone that would perform a radical change to the Republican Party.”

LaValle’s cousin is New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), a mainstay in the state senate since 1976. Both are residents of Port Jefferson.

The chairman bought what Trump was selling, and encouraged Suffolk voters to do the same. He said Trump’s position that the government was “broken” and needed an outsider to fix it resonated for him, and believes it’s what voters liked about him locally.

“When I became a councilman in Brookhaven Town in 1996, the dominant issue was illegal immigration, and its effect on the housing,” he said. LaValle would later go on to be the youngest supervisor in Brookhaven’s history. In 2001 he took control at just 33 years old. “So here I was now in 2016, 20 years later and the dominant issue is still illegal immigration.”

LaValle said both Republicans and Democrats had squandered opportunities to make meaningful changes to immigration legislation, which is evidence of an inability in traditional politicians to get things done for their constituents in other areas, like creating jobs and jump-starting the economy.

Trump’s win has put a strain on the Republican Party and clouded its future, especially in light of record low approval ratings so early in his tenure. “Transformation” and “splintering” were two words LaValle didn’t deny were appropriate descriptors of the status of the party at the moment, though he said a polarization of politics is wreaking havoc on both parties.

He likened what’s going on now in the party to his days as Brookhaven Supervisor. He said he accomplished things that were atypical of Republican beliefs at the time, like enacting a $100 million Environmental Bond Act. He also said he was proud of actions he took like appointing women and African-Americans to leadership roles in the town — he named Cecile Forte, an African-American woman, the chair of the zoning board; and Marvin Colson, an African-American man the chair of the planning board — and consolidating town operations to a centralized location in Farmingville, where Brookhaven headquarters still stands.

“There’s…four different parties in this country right now instead of two, and while the liberals are trying to move the Democratic Party left, the conservatives are trying to pull the Republican Party right — it’s a very messy situation in the country,” he said. “You may look back 20 years from now and look at this particular time period in American history as a time period that actually created four major political parties in America. You can’t be a moderate on either side and be with the wings. It’s been too polarized.”

Although he said his job doesn’t entail influencing legislators about policy, the possibility of a splintering of the Republican Party could raise difficult questions for “establishment” Republican lawmakers who don’t join LaValle in subscribing to the book of Trump.

LaValle suggested Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and some other early signs bear this out — Trump campaigned to the right but is governing from a more moderate platform.

“Everyone thought I was crazy…I really thought that he would be someone that would perform a radical change to the Republican Party.”

— John Jay LaValle

“He doesn’t give a [expletive] about Republicans and Democrats and all that,” LaValle said of the president. “In fact, he was a Democrat. Then he became a Republican, but he was a moderate Republican. Then when he was running he became a very conservative Republican. From day one, I recollect him saying to me, ‘there’s only two things I want to do — I want to fix the economy and I want to get rid of this terrorism.’ He goes, ‘the rest of it, I could care less about.’”

The Trump presidency

Despite the missteps and uneasiness that have been hallmarks of Trump’s first 100 days in office, LaValle seemingly has no inclination to reverse course and distance himself from the president.

“I don’t criticize the boss in public,” he said.

After he endorsed Trump he went on to do about 160 television appearances as a surrogate for his candidate during 2016.

The chairman said he first met Trump several years ago when the businessman was considering a run for governor of New York, though little came of that meeting. The two met for the second time during the rally in Bethpage in 2016. Since, the two have spoken regularly by phone, and LaValle said he’d sat in on meetings at Trump Tower in the past, and even weighed in on policy when called upon by the man who currently occupies the highest office in the land.

“He runs his meetings like a game show — it’s phenomenal,” LaValle said. He told a story of the first time Trump called him on his cellphone and asked him to come to Manhattan for a meeting. LaValle said his friends instructed him to keep quiet, prepare to listen and limit his contribution to the meeting to “hello, Mr. Trump” and “goodbye, Mr. Trump.” Instead, LaValle said Trump repeatedly pressed him and others in the room for input on policy and issues, and he felt Trump genuinely listened to others’ opinions. LaValle said he once asked Trump why he valued his opinion so much.

“I trust you, and until you fail me that’s it, I’m going to rely on you,’” the chairman said Trump told him. That trust can be traced to a promise LaValle made to Trump in April 2016 after a campaign event at The Emporium in Patchogue, when he pledged to deliver Suffolk County for Trump during the Republican primary.

“When he was leaving he was telling me ‘oh you know what it cost me to come here? You know what I had to give up?’ I said ‘no, I appreciate that Mr. Trump, and I’m going to tell you right now — Suffolk County will be the number one county for you in the state of New York next Tuesday,’” LaValle said. “He said ‘well I’m going to hold you to that.’ I said ‘good, and I’m going to deliver.’ And we did. And he appreciated that.”

More than 72,000 Suffolk County residents chose Trump on primary day, to just 18,000 and 9,000 respectively for Kasich and Cruz.

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle at his Holtsville office. Photo by Alex Petroski

On another occasion, LaValle was forced to justify comments he made on CNN when he was asked to defend two “diametrically opposed” statements Trump had previously made.

“So my phone rings and he says, ‘what’s this about me evolving?’ And this is classic Donald Trump, by the way,” LaValle said. “So I said, ‘uh, excuse me?’ He goes ‘evolving, John — what’s this about me evolving? I’m watching TV and I hear you say that I’m evolving.’”

LaValle, laughing, said he thought he’d handled the situation beautifully.

“‘John, John, John — I’m not evolving. I’m running for president of the United States of America. I’m not evolving,’” he said Trump told him. “I said ‘well I understand sir, but what would you like me to say?’ He says ‘what would I like you to say? You say Donald Trump is the greatest candidate ever to run for president in the history of the United States.’”

LaValle said he later heard Kellyanne Conway, a key player in Trump’s campaign, use the word “evolving” on television, so he knew Trump was just blowing off steam at the time.

According to LaValle, another byproduct of the Trump presidency has been a head-on confrontation with debilitating political correctness, an aspect of Trump’s persona and platform that the chairman has found invaluable.

The chairman blamed gang violence on Long Island and heroin abuse to political correctness brought about by the Democrats.

“He’s made it okay to kind of tell it like it is — or at least like you see it,” LaValle said. “That was a big problem. In our country, we had gotten so bad at being politically correct that we weren’t allowed to like, even say certain things that were true.”

Attributing the rise of heroin abuse on Long Island to political correctness because of a lack of adequate border security addresses illegal drugs entering the country, but not a growing demand at home, which can be traced back to overprescribing of powerful pain medications, which then leads to heroin when prescriptions dry up.

The chairman offered strong defenses for Trump on issues that few have felt inclined to rush to justify — like supposed ties between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign, transition team and administration. He said the president hasn’t deviated from anything he’s said publicly about Russia. His desire has always been to improve relations, and contacts between his team and Russia make sense in striving to achieve that goal. When asked why the knee-jerk reaction from several associates is to deny said communications, LaValle said the media is granted no prior assumption that sources will respond to questions truthfully, though he said anyone who didn’t given honest answers is “destroying their credibility.”

Although LaValle insisted he didn’t criticize the boss in public, it’s not hard to take that concept and juxtapose it with the fact Trump has had issues as a result of publicly making false statements. The president said he won the most Electoral College votes (306) since President Ronald Reagan — in fact Obama won 332 four years ago and 365 in 2008, and going back to a Republican president Bush senior received more than Trump as well.

He walked the line on the comments Trump was caught on tape making to Billy Bush for Access Hollywood during a candid conversation neither party knew was being recorded.

“I mean I do feel bad that he got, kind of like set up, caught on tape with that whole grabbing thing,” he said. “I mean, I know so many guys that have said stupid things in their lifetime. We always just have the benefit of no one’s paying attention. And I’m not saying it’s right to do, don’t get me wrong, but that sucked for him to be caught on tape saying that.”

Even though he sympathized with Trump, he said earlier he understands why Trump’s own words could create a negative perception.

“It’s America, I guess they can do it. But it doesn’t make them any less sleazy and sleaze balls that they are. That’s what they’re doing. To me it’s a disgrace.”

— John Jay LaValle

“Saying Rosie O’Donnell is a fat slob, the stuff with Megyn Kelly, no, I could understand why there’s a perception that he’s a sexist, because he said things that are not appropriate,” he said.

In the beginning of the interview, LaValle described Trump as a brilliant businessman who understood he could say “something stupid just for the hell of it…he knew that’s the price he had to pay to get all of that free media,” and lauded him for “telling it like it is.”

Suffolk County

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has taken small steps to distance himself from the president of late, though unless something drastically changes, the race for his seat in the House as representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District in 2018 will serve as a referendum on the party of Trump in Suffolk County.

After upsetting U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who held the seat from 2003 to 2014, Zeldin defeated Anna Throne-Holst (D-Southampton) by 18 points to retain his seat in 2016. Zeldin’s big win was seen as an indicator of Trump’s success in the county because he was a strong supporter of Trump in 2016. Zeldin even proclaimed from the podium after the race was called on election night that he was excited to have the chance to “make America great again.”

Zeldin’s proximity to Trump has caused an uprising of some 1st District constituents since the election, with protests occurring throughout the past few months and demands for more access to the congressman. Still, LaValle isn’t concerned about Zeldin’s chances for reelection in 2018.

“Lee Zeldin is going to win big time in 2018,” he said. “I think the Democrat Party has shown itself to be frauds, crybabies, snowflakes and sore losers… It’s all a fraud. It’s not about — this isn’t a grassroots effort. These people are professionals. They’re being paid to be there and to organize individuals to disrupt town hall meetings of our duly elected representatives.”

Politico, an American political-journalism company has maintained there is zero evidence of protestors being paid. This rhetoric may seem familiar to some, as powerful Democratic leaders once made the same claim a few years back. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in 2009 Tea Party protestors disrupting town halls were funded by “the high end,” calling it “Astroturf,” meaning not an authentic grassroots movement, but something supported by benefactors.

“These people are a disgrace,” LaValle continued about the protestors. “It’s America, I guess they can do it. But it doesn’t make them any less sleazy and sleaze balls that they are. That’s what they’re doing. To me it’s a disgrace.”

In a phone interview, Zeldin said LaValle has been a strong ally during his political career. He also praised the job LaValle has done since taking over, noting a large shift in town and county seats in elected positions from blue to red during LaValle’s tenure, which he said the chairman played a role in.

“John is someone who can easily motivate a packed room of volunteers to want to campaign just a little harder and dig down a little bit deeper to help get across the finish line,” he said.

LaValle has been rumored to be a candidate to oppose Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) when he seeks reelection. He criticized the job Bellone has done in the position, saying the county’s finances have been “horribly mismanaged,” and said he doesn’t think Bellone is right for the job, though he didn’t offer any insight on his future aspirations.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ll know it when it happens,” LaValle said. “The one thing I learned is I would have never expected to have done what I did last year in a million years. It was just something that I probably never would even have fathomed. So one thing that I learned is don’t ever try to make your plans too specific. Keep it loose, keep it fluid and be ready for something exciting. I know one thing, it’s going to be something exciting and it’s going to be something big.”

Mothers angry over lack of administrative action, response

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing several expletives (which have been removed from the photo), a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Photo from Robin Siefert

By Kevin Redding

A Rocky Point mother took the school district to task at a board meeting last week after, she said, nothing was done about a hateful, anti-Semitic note left on her 9-year-old daughter’s desk last month.

Last month, Robin Siefert’s daughter — who is the only Jewish student in her fourth-grade class at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School — sat down at her desk to find her “luck of the Irish” Post-It note had three obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name scribbled on it.

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing hate speech. Photo by Kevin Redding

The original note, handed out to each student in the class, made her daughter feel lucky and happy, her mother said. She told the board her daughter is now a changed kid.

“Where before she was always outgoing and happy, my daughter now cries on and off all day, she doesn’t sleep through the night, she’s developed anxiety and constantly says no one likes her,” Siefert said. “Why weren’t the students asked to give a handwriting sample? As soon as this happened, an assembly about tolerance should’ve been scheduled. Very little has been done.”

The mother said her daughter felt uncomfortable returning to her class.

“She is now forced every day to sit in the classroom knowing that someone in the room feels animosity toward her while having no idea who that person may be,” she continued telling the board. “And since [the student] has gotten away with this, who knows what they will do next?”

In response, board trustee Sean Callahan, who expressed sympathy and shock, said the administration is not going to turn their backs on this.

“This is intolerable, and I’m not hearing that a person who reportedly did it was identified, and that is a concern,” Callahan said. “That’s what we need to find out.”

Siefert sent an email to the board April 5 explaining the situation, and nothing has been done to date.

She said the district’s failure to ensure her daughter’s safety and well-being in the aftermath of what she considers a targeted incident forced her to take matters into her own hands — she filed a report to officers at the 7th Precinct, who immediately recognized it as a hate crime.

“My daughter now cries on and off all day, she doesn’t sleep through the night, she’s developed anxiety and constantly says no one likes her.”

— Robin Siefert

The police told her they would contact the school and instruct administrators that measures should be taken to find the student who wrote the note. According to the mother, requests to take handwriting samples have been refused.

Siefert did commend her daughter’s teacher, however, who sent a letter to parents alerting them of what happened, and asked them to watch a video with their children.

“He should be recognized for his actions,” Siefert said, “but that letter should’ve been written by an administrator and should have gone home to every parent in the district.”

Siefert said during her meeting with Courtney Herbert, the school’s assistant principal, she was told counselors were sent to speak with students in the classroom — but not specifically her daughter.

“This kid is doodling these things at home the way my kid doodles hearts and rainbows,” she said. “They don’t seem to care about what must be going through her mind at school every day.”

Herbert, the mother said, explained that the school actually has no consequence policy in regards to this type of event,

Siefert said despite calling Michael Ring, the superintendent, March 24, she has not received a response.

“I realized [quickly] they don’t know what to do,” Siefert said. “I don’t think it’s a situation where they don’t want to do anything, but I really felt like these people have no clue what they are supposed to do. They were not thinking about my daughter and how this was going to affect her, at all.”

Two mothers are upset over hate crimes against their children that occurred at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, above, and claim administration has done little to address the issue. Photo from Syntax

The Rocky Point mother is not the only one dealing with this sort of situation. According to an Anti-Defamation League report Monday, “the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was 86 percent higher than the same period last year” with about 541 attacks and threats between January and March.

Siefert demanded the school be better prepared to handle situations like this in the future — inspiring a fellow mother to speak out about the school’s mishandling of recent incidents of bullying and discrimination among students.

Alana Rodriguez, the mother of a fourth-grader at the school with a Puerto Rican and Italian background, addressed two racial incidents involving her 10-year-old son.

In November, after President Donald Trump (R) was elected, a classmate of her son’s told him: “I can’t wait for your kind to leave this country,” referring to the wall Trump proposed building at the Mexican border. In February, another student called her son the N-word because he was doing well in a game of basketball against other kids.

“With both incidents, I was never notified by the school — and that’s not okay,” said Rodriguez, who heard about the incidents from her other son. “The child is still in recess with my son — nothing happened to him. He even went up to my son after and said, ‘See, you told on me and I didn’t get in trouble.’”

When Rodriguez met with the assistant principal, she said she was told her son didn’t seem upset by what happened.

“This is intolerable, and I’m not hearing that a person who reportedly did it was identified, and that is a concern. That’s what we need to find out.”

— Sean Callahan

“It’s sad that, at 10, my son can’t count on grown-ups or administration to feel protected,” she said. “There has to be some form of communication from school to home. There should be assemblies throughout the year that teaches kindness and tolerance, and how to treat others.”

In an email response to questions regarding the incidents, Ring made clear the school district doesn’t take matters involving student safety and security lightly.

“[The district] investigates all acts of bullying and harassment immediately upon notification,” Ring wrote. “Any incidents found in violation of our code of conduct or anti-bullying policy are met with proper disciplinary actions and parental involvement when necessary. Additionally, the district’s strong character education program proactively promotes the ideals of acceptance and tolerance of all individuals regardless of their race, gender or religious affiliations … [the administration] remains vigilant in its efforts to keep an open-door communication policy…”

To those like Siefert’s family friend Lisa Malinowski, who joined her when she went to speak with the assistant principal, administration needs to wake up in order to solve problems.

“They have to realize we don’t live in Mayberry,” Malinowski said. “Rocky Point isn’t really the quaint little town they think it is. They really need to wake up and know that the reality of the world today is scary.”

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer. File photo

Government officials and community organizations alike are concerned with possible tax reforms they say could cost Long Island residents millions.

While President Donald Trump (R) has not released any formal proposal yet for tax reform, organizations like the Long Island Association, a nonprofit group focused on business and civic affairs, are reacting to both Trump’s and his administration’s rhetoric during and since the 2016 election.

The LIA sent Trump a letter in December outlining some of their fears with possible tax reform in the coming year, specifically the possibility of eliminating deductions for real property taxes, mortgage interest, state income tax and reducing charitable donation deductions.

“We are concerned about some of the comments your Secretary of Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin made about limiting the ability to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes on federal tax returns,” the letter from the organization said. “Speaker Paul Ryan has also expressed support for scaling back or eliminating the deduction for state and local income and property taxes.”

Matt Cohen, vice president of government affairs and communications for the LIA, said eliminating deductions could be a “disaster,” for Long Island. He referenced various news articles including one in The Hill, which reported the administration is taking a “serious look,” at capping deductions including ones for charitable donations.

“If these proposals are given more structure and momentum it would be devastating for Long Island.”
—Matt Cohen.

“If these proposals are given more structure and momentum it would be devastating for Long Island,” he said in a phone interview.

The LIA Research Institute did a study on the effects eliminating the deductions might have and said it could cost Long Islander’s $4.4 billion. In a 2013 report, they found Long Island sends the federal government $23.1 billion more than it receives back in programs and services from the government, so taxpayers in all brackets would be impacted by these cuts to deductions. The study said the middle class would be hit especially hard with tax increases, anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 annually, and $3 billion would be taken away from the regional economy.

“No matter who you are, if you’re deducting mortgage interest on your returns you’re going to get hurt by this,” Cohen said. “In an area with high costs and high taxes, this could even drag down the real estate market.”

Cohen is not the only one who is concerned.

Suffolk County legislators and Executive Steve Bellone (D) echoed the sentiments.

“For Suffolk County residents, who already pay a steep price in property taxes, this type of tax reform will be a blow to homeowners and will have a negative ripple effect on our economy as a whole,” Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said at an event earlier this month. “With potential increases as high as $4,000, this reform will cut off many Suffolk County residents from the American dream by discouraging home ownership, and will cripple current homeowners’ ability to make ends meet.”

Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) stressed the importance of residents understanding this debate as it reaches the national stage.

“Whether you are a local business owner or a middle class Suffolk County resident looking forward to a reduction in your taxes as it was promised along the campaign trail, it’s important for all of us to understand what the impact to each of us will actually be if you have a proposal such as this one that would be implemented,” he said.

Bellone said the elimination of these deductions is not welcome to Suffolk County.

“Any attempt by Washington to eviscerate these critical financial incentives under the guise of tax reform is a nonstarter and should be dead on arrival,” he said.  “Instead of making it more costly to own a home on Long Island, the federal government should do more to lower taxes for hardworking homeowners and not the other way around.”

Elected officials were not the only voices speaking up.

Robert J. Ansell, board member of the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce also spoke at the April 5 press event.

“Two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product is consumer spending,” Ansell said. “The elimination of the mortgage interest, state income tax, and real property tax deductions not only puts a significant damper on incentivizing home ownership, but will also mean that families will have less disposable income to spend in their communities on local businesses.”

Cohen said it’s important to get out early with this issue, even though no formal or concrete decisions have been made yet.

“It’s a new administration, a new theme with new policies — we just want to get out ahead of this and show where we stand,” he said

Ryan Madden from the Long Island Progressive Coalition leads a march calling for renewable energy in the form of wind. Photo from Ryan Madden

Scientists and politicians are relied upon to do the bulk of the work to reduce the effects and pace of climate change, but local activist organizations on Long Island are taking on the burden as well.

“I think it’s really important for grassroots and local solutions to tackle this crisis — to be at the forefront of the solutions,” Ryan Madden, with the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “A lot of the problems we see in this country, in New York State and on Long Island, whether it’s rampant income inequality, access to education, just issues of local pollution and ailments related to the combustion of fossil fuels, all of this connects into a larger system that informs why climate change is a problem in the first place.”

The LIPC, a community-based grassroots organization that works on a range of issues related to sustainable development as well as achieving social, racial and economic justice, has a program for improving energy efficiency. The group helps low- to moderate-income homeowners take advantage of free energy assessments and obtain financial resources to be able to go through energy-efficient retrofits and ultimately help reduce carbon footprints. The organization also recently entered the solar arena.

Members of Sustainable Long Island’s youth-staffed farmers market in New Cassel. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“It’s part of a larger push to democratize our energy system so that communities have a say in the build out of renewable energy and have ownership or control over the systems themselves,” Madden said. “We’re pushing for constructive and far-reaching changes, which is what we think is needed in this time.”

Madden added he has fears about the future because of comments President Donald Trump (R) has made in the past regarding climate change and his previously stated belief it is a hoax. Trump signed an executive order March 28 that served as a rollback of the Clean Power Plan, an initiative meant to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. The order infringes on commitments to the Paris Agreement, a universal, legally binding global climate deal.

“We’re trying to meet that with really bold, visionary climate policy that has a wide range of economic transformative impacts, while also remaining on the ground helping homeowners and institutions make that switch through energy efficiency and renewable energy,” Madden said.

Other organizations like the Sierra Club, a nonprofit, are also focused on renewable energy, but in the form of offshore wind.

“Offshore wind is the best way to meet our need for large-scale renewable energy that can help us fight climate change and provide good jobs for New Yorkers, but we aren’t used to getting our energy this way in the United States,” Sierra Club organizer Shay O’Reilly said. “Instead, we’re used to relying on dirty fossil fuels, and our energy markets and production systems are centered on these ways of producing electricity.”

Gordian Raacke, with Renewable Energy Long Island also works on this front. He and his group advocated for and eventually convinced the Long Island Power Authority to do a study on offshore wind power.

“January of this year, LIPA agreed to sign a contract for New York’s first, and the country’s largest, offshore wind project,” he said.

New York Renews hosted a town hall to get community members together to talk about climate change issues. Photo from Ryan Madden

Deepwater Wind will build and operate the 90-megawatt project 30 miles east of Montauk Point in the Atlantic Ocean. The project will generate enough electricity to power 50,000 homes.

In 2012, the group also commissioned a study to evaluate whether Long Island could generate 100 percent of its annual electricity consumption from renewable energy sources. The study, The Long Island Clean Electricity Vision, showed that it would not only be possible, but also economically feasible.

Currently, the LIPC has a campaign to pass the Climate and Community Protection Act in New York State, which would decarbonize all sectors of New York’s economy by 2050, redirect 40 percent of all state funding to disadvantaged communities — which would decrease pollution over decades — and ensure a transition away from fossil fuels.

These topics and others are taught in classes at Stony Brook University under its Sustainability Studies Program. Areas of study include environmental humanities, anthropology, geology, chemistry, economy, environmental policies and planning. Students do hands-on and collaborative work and take on internships in the field. They also clear trails and develop businesses to help increase sustainability among other hands-on initiatives.

“Our mission is to develop students who become leaders in sustainability and help to protect the Earth,” Heidi Hutner, director of the program said. “Climate change and pollution is the most important issue facing us today. We have to find a way to live on this planet and not totally destroy it and all of its creatures. Our students are skilled in many different ways, going into nongovernmental or not-for-profit organizations, becoming law professors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, educators, but all focused on the environment. A former student of ours is the sustainability director at Harvard Medical School.”

Students from the program organized to march in the People’s Climate March in 2014, and will be doing so again April 29. The purpose of the march is to stand up to the Trump administration’s proposed environmental policies.

Students and staff at East Islip High School work with Sustainable Long Island to build a rain garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

Undergraduates in the program also work closely with environmentally active local legislators like state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), and county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport). There is also a Sierra Club on campus.

The LIPC regularly hosts round tables to show other environmental groups what it’s up to and town halls to let community members share their stories and even visit assembly members to lobby for support. Sustainable Long Island, a nonprofit founded in 1998 that specialized in advancing economic development, environmental health and social equality for Long Island, also focuses on low-income communities through its programs.

Food equality and environmental health are the group’s biggest areas of concentration because according to Gabrielle Lindau, the group’s director of communications, the issues are tied to each other.

“There is a polarization here on Long Island,” she said. “We have extremely rich communities, and then we have extremely poor communities.”

According to Lindau, 283,700 people receive emergency food each year, so Sustainable LI builds community gardens and hosts youth-staffed farmers markets to combat the problem.

“It’s a game-changer for low income communities,” she said. “These communities gardens are great because they give people access to fresh, healthy food, and it also puts the power in their hands to find food and also, the learning skills to be able to grow that food. It’s also a paid program, so it’s giving them an opportunity to earn what they’re working toward.”

The youth-staffed farmers markets, which began in 2010, have been a real catalyst for change in communities like Farmingdale, Roosevelt, Freeport, Flanders, New Castle and Wyandanch where access to fresh food is not a given.

Children help Sustainable Long Island build a community garden. Photo from Gabrielle Lindau

“We have so much farming going on out east here on Long Island and I don’t think people who live here ever step back to look at all the food we have here in our own backyard,” Lindau said. “These markets are an incredible program because they’re not only teaching kids in communities about agriculture where they wouldn’t have necessarily had the opportunity to do that, but they’re also teaching them financial literacy skills, and, at the same time, they’re bringing in healthy food items to their neighbors.”

Shameika Hanson a New York community organizer on Long Island for Mothers Out Front, an organization that works to give women a voice for change — empowering and providing them with skills and resources to get decision makers and elected officials to act on their behalf — does specific work with climate change, also calling for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As a national organization, the topics range depending on the needs of an area from getting methane gas leaks plugged, to stopping oil trains for moving through the area, to getting involved in carbon offsets. Specifically on Long Island, women are creating a task force to ensure the drinking water quality across the island is standardized.

“Democracy doesn’t work without civic engagement,” Hanson said. “There’s a need for a conversation to happen that is united. Even though the water authorities are separate, the water isn’t.”

Sustainable Long Island also works on building rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff into local waters.

“We’re in a dire situation here on Long Island when it comes to our aquifers,” Lindau said. “We have an intense amount of nitrogen that’s already going into the ground.”

The nonprofit works with the Environmental Resource Management Foundation and PSEG Foundation and builds rain gardens like the one at the Cove Animal Rescue in Glen Cove and others in East Islip and Long Beach.

“It’s about educating communities on the importance of the rain garden and why green infrastructure practices are pivotal for environmental health on Long Island moving forward,” Lindau said. “If we don’t have clean drinking water, we’re going to be in trouble, if we don’t have usable soil to plant in, we’re not going to have farms growing the produce we need to survive and if we don’t have that produce, then we’re not going to be able to bring food into these low-income communities for people who can’t get it otherwise. They’re all connected in a number of different ways and a lot of them root back to health.”

Students in Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program participate in the 2014 People’s Climate March in NYC. Photo from Heidi Hutner

Sustainable Long Island has done work with local municipalities following superstorms like Hurricane Sandy. They helped communities rebuild, hosted peer-to-peer education meetings to better prepare locals and business owners for another devastating storm and provided job training to bring businesses back.

“A big part of this is going into communities and educating them and helping to advocate in order to facilitate change,” Lindau said. “Working with other groups is extremely important as well. We’re not a lone wolf in the nonprofit world — we not only find it important to work with governments and other municipalities — but to connect with other nonprofits who have something unique to offer as well.”

Melanie Cirillo, with the Peconic Land Trust, reiterated the need for local organizations to team up. The Peconic Land Trust conserves open space like wetlands, woodlands and farmland. It keeps an eye on water quality and infrastructure like Forge River in Mastic, which is a natural sea sponge that absorbs storm surge.

“Wetlands are key in so many of our waterfront properties,” she said. “We have a finite amount of drinking water that we need to protect for our own health. The protection of land is integral to the protection of the water.”

She said although every organization may have a bit of a different focus, they’re all working under the same umbrella and premise, with the same goal in mind: maintaining the health of Long Island.

“I think it’s important for groups to have the ability to bring people together, especially because the impact of climate change affects people in a lot of different ways, whether it’s high energy costs, the impact of superstorms like Hurricane Sandy, sea level rise or coastal erosion, or ocean acidification that impacts people’s fishery and economic way of life,” Madden said. “We have to meet the immediate visceral needs of people — of communities and workers — but we also need to be thinking decades ahead on what it will take to decarbonize our entire economic system. It’s really important for groups to be oriented toward that long term focus, because this is an all hands on deck situation.”

This version corrects the spelling of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Program Director Heidi Hutner’s last name.

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