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editorial

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As the saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So, the Sierra Club, state and local elected officials in Brookhaven are making noise, calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and target the Long Island Rail Road for electrification.

So far, the group, which held a press conference in Stony Brook Dec. 9, has accumulated more than 7,500 signatures, and hopes for 10,000 from Long Islanders by Dec. 12. It may be enough to grab the governor’s attention, but why not help expand the campaign, since people from many other communities along the line benefit from such a long-awaited move.

We ask readers, and their affiliated organizations, to join the effort. The Town of Smithtown, for example, recently announced the construction of a new apartment complex to be built across from Town Hall on Main Street in Smithtown. The appeal of that project was promoted as a good housing option for young professionals who regularly commute into Manhattan. 

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and town council members should push for electrification. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended the groundbreaking to applaud that project. He and the other legislators should also appeal to the governor for electrification of the Huntington-Port Jeff line. 

In Huntington, state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) has been involved with the MTA overhaul. He is pushing for the idea, and it might help if industries and businesses along the commuter rail line organize their own letter writing campaign. 

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University are both along the Port Jefferson Branch. The governor has acknowledged, when he delivered this year’s budget plan, that both institutions were key components to growing Long Island and the state’s economy, extolling his intent to make the area a premier research hub in the United States. So, why not address that slow commute with high-speed service between these research centers, New York City and the region’s airports? Let’s not forget it might also reduce the number of cars on our busy roads.

Grassroot efforts are impactful and should be regularly exercised. On this and many other issues it has a way of instilling a community’s faith in the democratic form of government. 

The outcome can not only reduce emissions in the transportation sector and benefit the economy. It will also improve quality of life. For example, the 4:18 train on Dec. 10 from Stony Brook to Penn Station was 35 minutes late from Port Jeff, effectively making the journey to New York an unacceptable 2 1/2 hours. As a result two staff members had their respective evening’s entertainment truncated. 

The Sierra Club has an online petition which can be found at: sc.org/55×35. To submit petitions from a letter writing campaign to the governor directly, his press office recommends using the postal address: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York State Capitol, State Street and Washington Avenue, Albany, NY 12224. 

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The season for giving is here, and while North Shore residents plan their holiday feasts, it’s a good time to consider the plight of people less fortunate. 

Imagine, more than 89,000 children on Long Island are hungry, according to Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares. These children aren’t dreaming of visions of sugarplums, they are wishing for substantial meals to get them and their families through the day.

Some centers, such as the Community Food Council on East 5th Street in Huntington Station, are reporting a 33 percent increase in demand over the last three months. It’s unclear why the sudden surge in food insecurities but the food banks are in need of supplies and volunteers, and counting on the local community to find ways to pitch in. So, it’s a good time to develop a plan. 

When preparing to donate to a food bank, a good rule of thumb is to call the nonprofit or visit its website to see what is needed. During this time of year, many have volunteers on hand to put together holiday meals. Throughout the year, depending on donations, there may be a surplus of one item and a deficit of another.

While many may be inclined to reach into their pantry to find nonperishables, a cash donation can often be the most beneficial to nonprofits, so they can turn around and buy food in bulk. This can also save volunteers time, because they don’t need to go through items looking at expiration dates.

If one wants to donate food, a trip to the supermarket is the best bet to ensure the donated items aren’t expired. Though if your cabinets are bursting at the seams, reach in and make sure to check expiration dates on cans and boxes. Also, look cans over to ensure they are not dented or leaking and that boxes aren’t damaged. And steer away from food in glass jars as these containers can easily break.

Take into consideration more nutritious options, too, such as cereals high in fiber, whole wheat pasta and low sodium soups and vegetables. When it comes to any kind of mixes, remember many households may be out of milk or eggs, so choose a mix that can be used with water. Another thing to consider is purchasing toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, diapers and toilet paper.

To increase the spirit of giving, organize your local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops or religion classes or get your children involved. Or, if you already know of a group organizing a food drive, contribute your items to the event. Collecting food for those in need is a wonderful way to inspire young ones to help others and it encourages them to continue charitable pursuits when they reach their goals or succeed them.

In our coverage area, in addition to Long Island Cares and the Community Food Council, there are the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point, St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, Ecumenical Lay Council Pantry through the First Presbyterian Church in Northport, St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station, Our Daily Bread Food Pantry in Setauket and many more. 

As the lights come down in a few weeks, remember when it comes to food banks, the hungry keep coming. The spirit of giving can last all year round as these organizations are always in need of donations no matter what month on the calendar.

The gift of time, too, is also a generous way to contribute.

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The pending impeachment proceedings of the 45th president of the United States means dinner table conversations this holiday season could get extra heated and dicey. So, it may be in everyone’s best interest to avoid broaching the topic, which risks exposing the passionate political leanings of loved ones.

So, what’s a family to do?

As the saying goes, you can’t pick your relatives. But you certainly can choose and encourage activities that bring people together rather than widen the divide. As you and the brood gather, equip yourself with a solid plan that keeps the peace.

Keep in mind, talking about the weather, once a light, safe-harbor topic, could backfire. Discussing California wildfires, for example, could spark a fruitless debate over the scientific theories behind climate change. Knowing this tendency, if you see news footage of the flooding in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy, you might want to quickly change the channel.

The first step in any successful endeavor is to set a realistic goal: Coming away from the weekend festivities without anyone suffering black eyes or bruised egos.

One idea is to play a game. Try coming up with a new name for the country, one that drops the word “United” in the United States of America. To keep it democratic, go around the table allowing each person to suggest their own clever alternative.

Before or after dinner, you can also play the fast-paced word game Bananagrams, only conduct politics-themed rounds. The entertaining activity allows for self-expression and could likely become a fair-minded approach to spending quality time together while eliminating tensions in the air. If it doesn’t? Hold a regulation wrestling match on the living room floor and keep score. Takedowns, reversals, near falls and escapes all count.

If tensions rise? Flip the bird.  As in turkey. (Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that you can get away with this one.)

Music soothes the savage beast. So, stream it in. Or better yet, make your own. Form a drum circle using common household objects as percussion instruments. The ancient practice of striking rhythm together is known to alleviate isolation and alienation. But be sure to hide the good china from the tribe.

Building crafts can also be a fun and rewarding activity for family members. Martha Stewart built a dynasty, once she acknowledged this fundamental fact. Try building sock gnomes together. The blind, deaf and mute miniature humanoids can actually become an unexpected and perhaps even necessary source of inspiration for the crowd.

Instead of discussing politics, you might try identifying the moral virtues of each of the world’s many different great religions. 

On second thought, don’t do this.

You could eat in silence like monks. Or you can try giving thanks with everyone recounting their blessings out loud in turn. This may in fact be the wisest strategy, since there’s likely plenty of material to go around.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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For journalism to be effective in not only covering the events of the day, but also uncovering mistruth and misdeed, it requires access to people and records. 

As local journalists, that usually means sitting in an interview or talking on the phone with our local school district, village and town officials, as well as our local, state and federal representatives and officials. More often, though, we find a certain lack of … well, frankly, the ability to connect with some of them. 

This issue needs to be addressed.

Journalism is financially struggling, locally and nationally. Advertising dollars have plummeted, and staffing is short on people. The Pew Research Center has reported print circulation for weekday papers was down nationally by 8 percent for 2018 over the previous year, and 9 percent for Sunday papers.

So, as newspapers struggle to maintain current standing, access to information from all these local sources is now at a premium. 

Too often, information is withheld, embargoed or stymied. Though it is more rare, some officials resort to tactics of intimidation to prevent the release of information. Some sources are afraid to comment on issues for fear of public retaliation. 

Cases of great importance, like that of the ongoing health issues at the Northport Middle School, have bureaucratic hurdles that include using public relations firms as contact people. Something as simple as getting an official’s comments or requesting documents through the Freedom of Information Law can often become problematic. 

It seems to take more work than it has in years before. 

In modern times, the number of public relations professionals only seems to increase, while the number of journalists decline. Bloomberg News wrote this year there are six PR professionals for every one journalist working in the field. This is up from a less than two-to-one ratio just 20 years ago. If you were to check our inboxes, you would likely have to shield your eyes from the blinding number of emails we receive daily from PR firms.

That is not to say we oppose these professionals. They are often a very useful and necessary component of business. And a good PR person can make a reporter’s work a little bit easier. But of course, that’s only when good things are happening. When there are issues, we often find communications professionals actively make getting even simple comments from officials that much harder.

We as journalists often prefer to speak directly to officials when the need arises. That’s what the public expects. We thank the many people who have worked with us on stories, both public officials and spokespersons alike, but we also ask everyone to understand the importance of the press, often regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy, even at the levels closest to the community.

Restricting access to even the smallest bits of information hinders the effectiveness of government by the people. It’s problematic for both the journalist and the municipal body that maintains government operations.

In the great tug of war match between journalists and officials over information, the knot in the rope should always land on the public’s side of the line, and our role is to be the watchdog for the people.

We thank the officials and communication specialists who honor that premise and work diligently to uphold high standards. Our world is a better place when that happens. 

Dennis Sullivan blows a bugle at the 2011 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Centereach VFW post. File photo by Brittany Wait

Veterans Day events across Long Island have inspired children to sing, bands to play, politicians to speak and servicemen to march in parades.

Many Long Islanders came out to exhibit unwavering support for veterans on this national holiday. But with so many veterans facing hardships, such as food insecurities, joblessness, homelessness and health issues — some service-related — more needs to be done each and every day.

There are many ways our readers can help the men and women of the armed forces long after Veterans Day is over. Long Island organizations are always looking for help, year-round, whether it’s donating time, money, clothing or gently used items.

Here are a few groups, where you might lend a hand: 

• Long Island Cares Inc. — The Harry Chapin Food Bank: This Hauppauge-based center has been helping veterans, military personnel and their families since 2010. According to the nonprofit, more than 1,200 veterans per month typically receive support from its regional food bank through many of their programs. Long Island Cares will provide 500 veterans with holiday meals this year. The food bank is able to do this in part thanks to an $11,000 donation expected from Steven Castleton, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. Long Island Cares also offers the Veterans Mobile Outreach Unit, the VetsWork program and Military Appreciation Tuesdays where all Long Islanders can help by donating food items or money.

• United Veterans Beacon House: Headquartered in Bay Shore, this organization provides housing throughout Long Island for veterans. According to its website, on any given day more than 255 men, women and children throughout the tristate area have received services ranging from help with homelessness to treating PTSD, addiction and more. The organization can always use coats, gently used clothing and furniture.

• Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University: Located on SBU’s west campus, interested people can help out by assisting the home’s residents during their recreation programs and trips, or simply by sitting and talking with the men and women.

• Northport VA Medical Center: The VA presents opportunities where community members can volunteer or donate their time or money. A cash donation can be used by the VA to buy items for patients including hygiene products and refreshment supplies. The hospital also collects items such as magazines, coffee, and new or gently used clothing.

Some veterans are doing well, but sometimes they could use a little company. Many people at the senior centers and retirement homes would welcome a visit, so they can share a story, or have someone even record it for future generations.

Long Island has the highest concentration of vets in New York state. These men and women are our neighbors. Make some time to find a vet in your community.

Steve Bellone (D) and fellow Democrats celebrate keeping the county executive position. Photo by David Luces

As election season draws to a close, finally, we are among the many breathing a sigh of relief. 

We heard that a few people were unhappy with our endorsements. That, of course, should be expected. Some points, though, need to be made clear about our process for endorsing candidates.

Starting in late summer, we start gathering a list of candidates for the upcoming electoral season and arrange candidate debates in TBR News Media offices in Setauket. The process is long and grueling and, despite months of effort, sometimes candidates cannot find a time that works for everyone or, as we saw in several cases this year, some people simply never respond or don’t show up. So, we talk with the candidates that do come to the office and conduct candidate interviews over phone or email with the remainder. The better interview is always done in person as a debate in a roundtable discussion.

The last publication date before election day — which for us is a Thursday — becomes the election edition. In that issue, we exclude letters to the editors that focus on local politics, because there is no way for people to respond publicly before the election. Instead, we include our endorsements on the letters-to-editors pages. 

Our election issue contains multitudes of political advertising, but there’s a common misconception that advertising buys our endorsements. The advertising and editorial departments are two distinct entities, and work on two separate floors of our small office space. Advertising is indeed what keeps TBR afloat, but that department has no input on editorial decisions. Of course, there is communication between departments in the newsroom, but that comes down to the placement of ads, and our papers policy avoids placing political ads for candidates on the same page as the candidate profiles that we write.

The endorsements are a product of the interviews, not the other way around. In fact, we are prouder of the debate articles we conduct, which we try to make as balanced as possible between the candidates. We let all sides speak their piece before carefully writing the articles. The debate interviews are conducted throughout October, then written and placed into our annual election issue. These articles range from 500 to more than 1,000 words each for some of the wider-ranging offices. 

The endorsements, on the other hand, are barely more than 200 words each. They represent the collective opinion of editors, along with our publisher Leah Dunaief who moderates the debates. We consider long and hard all that we heard, along with our experience with the candidates on the campaign trail. Sometimes we cannot come to an agreement, or may be on the fence, and meet again the next day to review pros and cons of our choices. The endorsements represent those who we feel might make a better fit for office, but they are also our chance to compliment the person we didn’t endorse or criticize candidates for past performance. 

We at TBR News Media congratulate all who stepped up to campaign for public office but, if we were to be honest, endorsements sometimes have little bearing on future performance. In 2016, we endorsed the opponent of Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) for the office. Toulon won that election, and in 2018 we named him one of our People of the Year. What matters is what an elected official does for the constituents when in office.

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It may be difficult sometimes for news consumers to decipher between a news article written by a journalist and a press release composed by a public relations practitioner, especially when the number of the latter outnumbers the former. In an era of websites and social media,  press releases are plentiful and can be easily shared. So, readers should take heed.

No offense to those in the public relations field. These are the people who play a valuable role in working with journalists to alert them about interesting stories in their coverage areas and connect them with important people.

However, during times when newsrooms are short-staffed and websites make it easier to post items, many times press releases may appear as articles, though they adopt a public relations position that aims to promote rather than inform. For many news outlets, the luxury of using a press release as only a starting point and digging in deeper with their own reporting has become more and more difficult. And with one quick posting, a story presented by a PR person is shared as news.

When it comes to some short pieces — say about an upcoming career fair, what’s going on at the local library or what awards students or people have won — sharing a short press release isn’t a bad idea. When applicable and appropriate, these pieces can be a valuable tool, because journalists can’t be everywhere.

But when it comes to articles that take on controversial subjects, such as where taxpayer money goes, or where an elected official or political candidate stands, it would be wiser to look for the pieces written by a bona fide journalist. Why? Simply because a press release is written to present the stance of a person or institution, usually from a positive point of view. News articles written by journalists look to represent the various sides of an issue, and when it comes to hot button topics, to find the information that wasn’t revealed. This information is also vetted and double-checked.

It’s important for readers to pay attention to what they are reading. When it comes to contentious events, does the article include all sides? Does it cite documentation that verifies the stated facts? Does it show different points of view and include the names of people who chose not to comment? Be sure to look for multiple points of view from credible, authoritative people with firsthand knowledge of a situation, such as an eyewitness or an expert.

It can be difficult at times. There are those contacts who are inaccessible — some even hiding behind their public relations staff — and with short-staffed newsrooms, a well-written press release can be a big help. But when it comes to articles about contentious topics and important matters, make sure that article you’re about to quote at the dinner table or party or share on social media has been carefully constructed by someone who attends the meetings, makes the phone calls and asks the important questions.

Sharpen your skills when it comes to interpreting information. The skill is essential at a point in time when the ways of democracy are being challenged.

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If you ignore prejudice, you invite prejudice.

Stony Brook University officials recently hosted a forum in Port Jefferson to highlight how, despite efforts to stamp out prejudice in the local community, its specter constantly lingers in the background. The catalyst for the panel discussion was a recent incident, where a Sikh man was essentially barred from entering a restaurant because his religious garb was misunderstood.

Presenters praised the more than 40 people, mostly business owners, who attended the panel for being open-minded. Many walked away with new insights and goals in mind.

It makes little economic nor moral sense to restrict who can buy your products or shop because of a lingering prejudice, so we agree that all North Shore businesses should be looking for ways to become more inclusive. 

Prejudice sits just under the skin of a community and surfaces regularly. Back in May, a gay couple were called “faggots” by a waiter as they left a restaurant in Smithtown. The restaurant wrote a long apology on its Facebook page, but not until after the news was carried far and wide. That incident not only looks bad on that one individual and the business where they are employed, but the stigma is transmitted to all surrounding businesses.

People can pretend that prejudice is contained as overt acts of aggression, yet the truth is less obvious. In reality, much of Long Island is dotted with areas of high wealth, situated alongside areas of upper and lower middle class. Consider Long Island school districts, which dictate their own boundaries. Segregation among school districts is such that the majority of Brentwood students, for example, are black and Hispanic, while a district like Three Village is comprised of more than 80 percent white students. To pretend that such overt segregation doesn’t lead to ignorance and prejudice is fooling oneself. The truth is that Long Island is regarded as one of the most segregated metropolitan regions in the country. 

Restricting somebody from entering a restaurant is overt in its ignorance. It’s wrong for a whole host of reasons, and in the small relatively insular communities of the North Shore of Long Island, those ideas are hard to wrestle away.

But those ideas must be torn away, ripped up and be jammed deep to the bottom of the garbage bin.

Our local shops have a lot they can do to help. The Stony Brook University panel suggested businesses talk about hiring people to become more diverse. Simply putting a sign in a store window inviting people of all races, religions, creeds, sexual orientations and genders to shop can emphasize inclusivity.

Learn to recognize prejudice and then take a stand when you see it, especially if it’s within your own thoughts and actions.  There are benefits to racial and cultural diversity. Let’s celebrate our differences.

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Sheriff Errol Toulon speaks at the Sept. 26 event. Photo from Suffolk County Village Officials Organization

The opioid epidemic is so expansive that it seems impossible that one individual can end the overdoses and deaths and the related crimes. But even in the smallest municipalities — the villages, fire districts, school districts, people have the opportunity to institute real change.

On Sept. 26, members of the Suffolk County Village Officials Organization met to hear from the district attorney, the police commissioner and the sheriff about the current state of the opioid crisis. Presenters reviewed a wide range of resources and programs available in the county, but also emphasized that we all need to think outside the box to collectively address the explosion of narcotic drug use, which has also led to a local increase in illegal gun crimes and sex trafficking.

Village officials should hold public information sessions on what was learned at this meeting and create committees comprised of residents committed to help.  People need to be better informed. In turn, other community leaders can invite speakers into local schools and religious centers to speak on the topic.

The facts are alarming.

In 2018, Suffolk police launched a sex trafficking investigation unit that has identified and interviewed over 200 local sex trafficking victims. County leaders say that the people behind these crimes exploit the young women by making them dependent upon opioids and demanding repayment through sex. Instead of calling it prostitution, law enforcement prefers that people now refer to these crimes as sex trafficking, and a modern day form of slavery.

An increase in narcotics-related, court-authorized surveillance in the county through search warrant and phone-line eavesdropping has translated into a 49 percent increase in illegal handgun seizures and a doubling of illegal shotgun seizures.

If you are an elected official in one of these villages, also consider opening a line of communication on the topic with residents. Submissions can be anonymous.

The county has outlined as its goals for the explosion of narcotic use and related crimes: prevention, treatment and recovery. Whatever your ideas are to better accomplish this, please let it become more widely known with your local elected officials, who can convey this to other branches of government. As a news publication, we also welcome your input.

Since 2013, an estimated 2,109 people have died of an opioid overdose in the county, according to its statistics. That toll would be higher, but thankfully Narcan, the opioid overdose antidote, is credited with saving lives and has reversed 599 overdoses so far in 2019.

Clearly, though, there still is ongoing, nightmarish trouble stemming from prescription pain killers and illicit opioid addictions. Action is needed.

For help, people can call these emergency numbers:

Suffolk County Substance Abuse Hotline: 631-979-1700

Suffolk County Police Department Crime Stoppers and Drug Activity Hotline:  631-852-NARC (6272). Messages can also be sent as a text to “TIP SUFFOLK” at 888-777, but investigators prefer the open dialogue of a telephone call. All calls are confidential.

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Long Island residents bear a tremendous tax burden. So, when the editorial staff at TBR News Media report low voter turnouts for local elections, we are constantly puzzled. Why are people not voting?

A recent example is the Sept. 10 special election in the Setauket Fire District where commissioners were looking for the go-ahead to buy four new pumper trucks. While the vote wasn’t one that would immediately result in higher taxes like a bond vote, the district was still looking for the community’s approval to spend approximately $2.5 million. The vote was a meager 85-65 for the new trucks. With over 11,000 voting age residents in the fire district, where was everybody that Tuesday?

In comparison, on Sept. 18, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket saw 416 residents approve its budget and 61 voting “no.” While not a huge turnout, more people showed up to cast their votes.

Looking at board of education votes in North Shore communities, the turnouts seem only marginally higher. Considering school budgets can be a big hit to taxes, why do so many people miss out on casting their votes?

In 2019, for example, the Miller Place School District proposed a $74 million budget, an $1.2 million increase from the previous year. Only 783 residents turned out to vote. The hamlet may be small compared to other districts in our area, but according to the 2010 census, more than 12,000 people live there. Again, where was everyone?

When it comes to elections, whether for a fire or school district or library, entities are required by law to post legal notices in their local newspapers, which they do. And while they are not legally obligated to, many send out letters and include information in their newsletters and on their websites, and spread the word through social media. Plus, many school districts and libraries hold events to go over budgets with the community, though the meetings tend to be not well-attended by residents. The current system and practices seem inadequate.

It may be time for elected officials to look into the possibility of combining all such votes on one day, either in November or on primary day. If that’s not possible, due to fire district boundaries being different to those of school districts, then maybe legislators can set up funds to help fire districts, schools and libraries cover costs to better advertise elections. With the most recent Setauket Fire District vote, no letters were sent out, due to cost.

Under the current arrangement, entities have more incentive not to promote elections, since low voter turnout often means a proposal is more likely to be approved by the few people in the know.

Perhaps it’s time to institute a requirement: A certain percentage of residents must vote before a referendum can become official.

But the onus must also fall on the electorate as well as the government entities organizing an election.

So, in the meantime: Vote! It’s the only way to be sure your voice is heard.