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Kevin Redding

Lee Zeldin meets with constituents in East Patchogue. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding and Alex Petroski

Hundreds of concerned constituents on both sides of the aisle gathered inside the Hagerman Fire Department in East Patchogue March 3, set up at scattered round tables, waiting to hear their names called to meet with U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

In another room, the congressman was holding mobile office hours and meeting with five to six people at a time, grouped according to the topics they wanted to discuss, to hear the issues of the people he represents, which ranged from health care and what’s to come of the Affordable Care Act, abortion and the congressman’s stance to defund Planned Parenthood, immigration, the environment, and tax reform.

Constituent questions are sorted for Lee Zeldin’s mobile office hours. Photo by Kevin Redding

Despite demands from various local groups to host an in-person town hall in recent weeks, Zeldin has committed to these individualized and small-group meetings to avoid what he’s called the “liberal obstruction” of town halls that have taken place around the United States.

Tehmina Tirmizi, a student at Stony Brook University, said she hoped to talk to Zeldin about the rhetoric of President Donald Trump (R) and his administration, which, she feels, supports bigotry and fear of minorities.

“[They] incite hatred, anger, stress, depression and a lot of people have been hurt and are hurting inside and they should be keeping the peace,” she said. “They can’t just say something, have people react to it and then go and hide somewhere. I’d love to see Zeldin make a statement and come out against [the rhetoric] and he has yet to do that.”

Wading River resident Jim Lupis was there on behalf of a pro-life group to encourage Zeldin to defund Planned Parenthood.

“Taxpayer’s money shouldn’t be used to perform abortions, and murdering innocent children should be totally illegal,” Lupis said. “Zeldin has a strong voting record against Planned Parenthood and I want to speak to him about staying the course and defunding such an evil thing.”

Eastport resident Penny Mintz said, on top of being concerned about Citizens United and “the takeover of the wholesale purchase of government by big corporations,” she wanted to talk about the elimination of consumer protections, environment and healthcare.

“I have no hope of actually speaking to him … I’m only here so that he knows there are all these people who care enough and are watching him, and he can’t abandon us for corporate interests.”

—Penny Mintz

“I have no hope of actually speaking to him … I’m only here so that he knows there are all these people who care enough and are watching him, and he can’t abandon us for corporate interests,” Mintz said. “I wish he would back down from Trump and the policies the president is imposing.”

Just a few tables away, Hampton Bays resident Mark Raschke said he wanted to meet Zeldin, give him support, tell him he voted for him, and let him know he liked the way he supported Trump. Port Jefferson Station resident and military veteran Ed Bednarek wants to know where his congressman feels the country is going to go under the Trump administration, and when “the liberals are going to stop fighting and start getting on board and work with us as a team,” also calling for veterans to take priority over immigrants.

Ira Silverberg, of Bellport, said he wanted to challenge the congressman on a voting record that is “not protecting the environment of Long Island as well as he says it is.”

When asked how he felt about the mobile office hours in comparison to an in-person town hall meeting, Silverberg said “this format has disenfranchised 85 percent of the people who have shown up and is too controlling and inadequate to deal with the needs of the diverse, concerned community.”

For Cindy Morris, from Stony Brook, who wished to speak with Zeldin about the civil liberties she felt had been under attack as of late, she said the mobile office hours format “does not work.”

“We are all just talking amongst ourselves … [Zeldin’s] staff isn’t even circulating and coming out to talk to us,” Morris said. “I look at this room and I see diversity, so this is an opportunity for him to really meet with his constituency and not just meet with the people who pay for him to win elections. We aren’t protesters, we’re passionate citizens.”

Anna Hayward, a Stony Brook University professor, echoed Morris’s feelings.

“In a town hall format, he could hear our issues but we can also hear other people’s issues…we’re a very respectful, educated, and well-mannered community and I don’t think he needs to worry about people screaming at him and attacking him,” she said.

Zeldin supporters line the street waiting for a chance to speak to the congressman. Photo by Kevin Redding

Conversely, Nancy Beltran of Holtsville stands by Zeldin’s decision to not hold such a public forum.

“There’s no risk of chanting and screaming and bullying in a group setting so it avoids all of that, he’s doing the right thing by trying to hear the people without all that noise,” Beltran said.

Outside the fire department, dozens of people — supporters of Zeldin on one side holding up signs that read “Thank You Lee Zeldin for doing what we elected you to do” and opponents of Zeldin on the other with signs that read “Lee Let’s Talk” — stood to voice their concerns.

“I’m very passionate about supporting Lee Zeldin…he’s a stand up guy, he listens to people, educates himself and is not just a go-with-the-political-winds [leader],” Patchogue resident Heather Martwello said.

Mary Casey, who stood in opposition of Zeldin, questioned his moral courage in not wanting to hold a town hall meeting.

“His reported reason is that it just descends into screaming and yelling and it’s useless but I think it’s because he wants to maintain that aura of being right and if you have people screaming at you, you can’t be in control,” she said.

Zeldin’s aversion to holding a traditional in-person town hall has left many in his district angered, despite mobile office hours and an hour-long telephone town hall in February.

A group called Project Free Knowledge hosted an event called The People’s Town Hall March 4 in at the Performing Arts Studio in Port Jefferson, which featured a Zeldin impersonator, repeated potshots at the congressman and a foil called The People’s Candidate. The show was meant to serve as political satire, though one of the organizers behind the production said the group intended to deliver a serious message through the performance.

“… [Lee Zeldin] needs to prescreen people’s questions, he’s incredibly controlling about the conditions in which it happens, and it’s clear he doesn’t want a general town hall with community moderators because he’s not actually prepared to stand accountable for the things that he’s doing.”

—Anna Sitzmann

Anna Sitzmann, a member of the Project Free Knowledge team and a participant in the performance, said the group’s mission was to be both informative to those in attendance while also being critical of Zeldin.

Sitzmann said this was the first time the group has branched out into “political theater,” a phrase she said she’s often heard Zeldin use to describe activist demonstrations. She added the group met with Zeldin about three weeks ago and asked him to host a community-moderated, live town hall, which he declined. Sitzmann said that’s when the group decided to put on their own town hall.

“Zeldin has certainly met with constituents personally, but as we made reference to, he won’t do it for more than half an hour, he needs to prescreen people’s questions, he’s incredibly controlling about the conditions in which it happens, and it’s clear he doesn’t want a general town hall with community moderators because he’s not actually prepared to stand accountable for the things that he’s doing,” Sitzmann said in an interview after the performance. She added Zeldin was invited to attend the event but she received an “unbelievably disrespectful response.”

A spokeswoman for the congressman, Jennifer DiSiena, responded to Sitzmann’s claim in an email, saying she’s not sure what Sitzmann was referring to and called the performance “unbelievably disrespectful.” DiSiena took issue with much of the content of the show.

“Congressman Zeldin will meet with any constituent interested in a productive, substantive exchange of ideas,” she said. “He has even met with the protesters involved in setting up that Mock Town Hall. He is not interested in the type of political theater that this group of liberal obstructionists is interested in promoting. The country faces real challenges and Zeldin will remain focused on working across the aisle to constructively find solutions. Requesting a town hall for the purpose of disrupting the town hall without any sense of decorum or decency is wrong and will not be taken seriously.”

Sitzmann said she’s not concerned about the possibility of the performance adding to an already heated political discourse, which seems to be swallowing whole the district and country alike.

“If I’m stoking the flames of Zeldin’s fire, fine,” she said. “I admit that a lot of people that voted for Lee Zeldin or voted for Donald Trump were upset about things that they ought to have been upset about, but I think the Republican party and especially President Trump have harnessed that anger and misdirected it towards things that don’t deserve the blame, such as minorities and global cooperation, while as a way of hiding the real cause of the problem, which is the kind of economic advantage seeking that both of them partake in.”

By Kevin Redding

A beloved Mount Sinai administrator, whose kindness and compassion have served the district for nearly four decades, is retiring at the end of the year — leaving behind huge shoes to fill.

Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore dresses up on Election Day in 2008. Photo from John Gentilcore

Every morning for the last 17 years, principal John Gentilcore has stood in front of Mount Sinai Elementary School to greet his students with his warm trademark smile as they hop off the bus.

As part of his daily routine, he also makes a point to put time aside in his administrative schedule to visit classrooms and engage with the kids, oftentimes sitting, legs crisscrossed on the floor with them. When lunchtime rolls around, Gentilcore pulls up a chair and eats with them in the cafeteria, making sure to sit at a different table each day.

“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine,” the principal said, adding that there’s something about the kids that brings a smile to his face.

When Gentilcore became principal in 2000, kindergarten teacher Willow Bellincampi noticed right away just how much the kids loved him.

“Sometimes with the principal, kids are afraid, but when John comes through the door, they’re so happy,” she said. “He’s always around, he gets down to their level, looks them in the eye when talking to them and not a lot of adults do that. ‘I’ll send you to the principal’ is never a threat to them because they love him. He’s compassionate.”

At 60, Gentilcore admitted although it wasn’t an easy decision, retiring at this point in his career will give him more time to spend with family and friends, and travel.

“I definitely get more from the kids than they get from me … they’re so genuine.”

—John Gentilcore

“I’ve been really proud to be part of the Mount Sinai district and I will miss the people, the great faculty, staff, and, first and foremost, I will miss the children,” he said.

Before becoming principal of the elementary school, Gentilcore taught several grade levels and coached girl’s varsity soccer at Friends Academy, a private school in Glen Cove, after graduating from SUNY Oneonta.

As the son of a superintendent — his father — and an elementary school principal, Gentilcore said he received informal education at the dinner table with them.

He was first named principal at the school in 1987, before being named the assistant principal at Mount Sinai Middle School in 1991, and principal in 1995. Ultimately, he landed back at the elementary school in 2000, where he said he “felt at home.” In 2003, he received his doctorate from Hofstra University.

Mount Sinai Elementary School Principal John Gentilcore dresses up in pajamas with students. Photo from John Gentilcore

“There’s something about kids that is very refreshing,” he said. “The elementary school is where their educational journey begins and it’s where we can start a real foundation together. Throughout the day, if a little one needs my assistance, I’ll conference with them. I try to make each day a little bit better than the day before.”

Although reluctant, the school board voted to accept Gentilcore’s August retirement.

“He is the consummate elementary school principal, a gentleman who deeply cares about his students, and we will miss him as a board and a school district,” Board trustee Robert Sweeney said during the Feb. 15 meeting.

Assistant principal Elizabeth Hine considers Gentilcore the best mentor she could ask for.

“I can’t say enough about how wonderful he is as a boss and a principal,” she said. “He taught me how to handle students, parents, everything … he’s just amazing. He enjoys what he does. It’s all about the kids, and he keeps that in the forefront of his mind and that’s how he makes all his decisions. It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of teachers to come in on a daily basis knowing he’s not going to be there.”

The 4x400-relay team of Mark Rafuse, Lawrence Leake, Kyree Johnson and Anthony Joseph (on far right) took gold at the Suffolk County state qualifier meet (Jonathan Smith and Brian Pierre have also competed on the relay team). Photo from Huntington school district

When Huntington head coach Ron Wilson and his winter boys’ track and field team stepped into the Suffolk County state qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, they had one thing on their mind: redemption.

Kyree Johnson crosses the finish line in the 4×400-meter relay. Photo from Huntington school district

And that’s exactly what they felt when they went home.

In the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils had experienced their fair share of shortcomings, notably during its Armory Track Invitational Feb. 3, when senior Shane McGuire, a leg of the team’s 4×400-meter relay, tore his hamstring. The next day, at the large school county championship, the Blue Devils’ top sprinter Kyree Johnson felt a tweak in his own hamstring before competing in the long jump and, at the request of Wilson, sat out of competing altogether.

The team ended up losing the county championship 52-51. Had Johnson jumped that day, they would’ve won, the coach said, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was that tight loss that hurt them most, dropping from first to fourth in local published polls — only fueling the fire that would light up the track in Brentwood Feb. 13.

“Before we started, I said to the boys, ‘alright fellas, everyone thinks we’re not as good as we used to be, but we need to go out here and prove them wrong,’” Wilson said. “At the meet, we let everything take care of itself and when we finally started running, I was like ‘redemption at last.’”

That redemption came in the form of collaborative speed and agility.

Smithtown West’s Michael Grabowski with his first-place plaque. Photo by Kevin Redding

Johnson, whose week of resting paid off, placed first in both the 55-meter dash, with a personal best time of 6.41 seconds, and 300 dash, with a meet-record time of 34.8, qualifying him to compete in the state championships March 4 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“After I won the 55-meter dash and saw my time of 6.41, that made me realize that I’m not hurt anymore,” Johnson said. “I just relaxed and stayed calm, and looked at it like every other meet … because if I didn’t, I’d start making myself nervous, so I just kept thinking ‘it’s just another regular meet.’”

Running the anchor leg, he also helped the Blue Devils take home gold in the 4×400 relay in a time of 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds, along with teammates Lawrence Leake, a senior, Mark Rafuse, an eighth-grader, and Anthony Joseph, a senior. The Huntington teammates will be joining Johnson at the state championship March 4.

Leake, who, according to Wilson, is one of the toughest and hardest working young men he’s ever coached, also placed first in a competition of his own. He took gold in the 600 run and broke the meet record with a time of 1:21.70. The record was previously held by Brentwood’s Greg Santiago, who finished in 1:21.99 in 2000.

Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton leaps over the bar during a previous competiton. File photo from Daniel Claxton

“During the race, I figured everyone else was going to get out pretty hard the first two laps to make sure I wasn’t going to catch them, so I just stayed close and in striking distance until the last lap and put the pedal to the metal and let it go,” Leake said. “It feels pretty good to have a record beat all by myself.”

Smithtown West senior and state qualifier Michael Grabowski had a similar strategy on his dash to first place in the 3,200 run, which he finished in 9:29.19. Competing against  Jack Ryan of Westhampton Beach and Jonathan Lauer of Sachem North, Grabowski knew he had to play it smart by feeling the race out for the first five laps, and push it for the final sixth.

“I was comfortable with my pace and stuck with Lauer, until Ryan made a move and went past him with about 300 meters to go, and opened the race up,” he said. “As soon as Ryan went past Lauer, I followed Ryan and waited until the last lap and kicked. Once I started my kick, there was no going back and he didn’t really have a chance.”

Marius Sidlauskas of Smithtown East placed third in boys’ 1,600 with a time of 4:29.40; Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East placed first in boys’ high jump with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches; Elijah Claiborne, Isaiah Claiborne, Tyler Dollhausen and Dan O’Connor of Northport placed first in boys’ 4×800 relay in 8:09.76; and Ryann Gaffney of Huntington placed fourth in girls’ 55 hurdles with a time of 8.75.

Greg Drossel outside Holtsville Hal's pen. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Ever since Greg Drossel was young, he’s had a love for the great outdoors. The 64-year-old Ridge resident grew up in Three Villages when it was still a largely wild area and spent most of his days reveling in and examining nature. Whether it was flipping rocks over for in-depth analysis or chasing animals through the woods, Drossel’s upbringing on Long Island laid the foundation for his career as a naturalist, an animal caretaker and, ultimately, the permanent handler of Holtsville Hal, the North Shore’s cherished groundhog and meteorologist, for 21 years.

Greg Drossel with the great prognosticator Holtsville Hal on Groundhog Day this year. Photo by Kevin Redding

From 1979 until 1997, Drossel crossed his passion for nature with a desire to get more kids to appreciate the outdoors as general manager of the Long Island Game Farm, a family-owned wildlife park in Manorville that currently features hundreds of animals and has been a frequent destination for school kids for decades. He currently serves as assistant director of student life at Ross School in East Hampton, where he holds lectures and mentors students on all things nature related and started an archery program, for which he is the instructor.

Drossel also served as a consultant for many zoos across the country and was involved in a lot of animal-related confiscation work with the federal government, retrieving illegally kept mountain lions and alligators from people’s homes. The naturalist has even handled animals for films, like Woody Allen’s “Alice” and the 1993 drama “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” and TV commercials and has appeared on “The Today Show” and “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” with renowned zoologist Jim Fowler.

I had the opportunity to speak with Drossel right before Holtsville Hal made his famous Groundhog Day prediction at the Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville on Feb. 2.

Have you always loved animals?

Absolutely. My dad was brought up on a farm in East Setauket up off Sheep Pasture Road, and I’ve always been around the outdoors, grew up hunting and fishing and camping and having a respect for the natural world and it’s just stuck with me all these years. I hate to use the word, but that’s my drug. My kids say “put dad out in the middle of the woods with a pocketknife and a rock and he’ll be fine for the rest of his life.”

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Stony Brook-Setauket-Port Jefferson area and then moved to Lake Grove and now I live in Ridge out in the Pine Barrens.

Did growing up in that area make you the person you are today?

Definitely. Like anything else, I get to go back there quite often because I still have some friends and relatives that still live there. I remember grouse hunting with my dad as a kid where Stony Brook University is now … that was all wild, there was no Nicolls Road [back then]. I remember riding down Nesconset Highway when it was two lanes, one going, one coming, and it’d be nothing to see deer and fox standing on the side of the road in Setauket.

How did you become Hal’s handler?

Just being here. I’ve always enjoyed coming to the Wildlife and Ecology Center. Years ago when I ran the Long Island Game Farm, I used to handle the groundhog Malverne Mel and then when I left the game farm, I was able to spend more time here. This is such a great jewel in the Town of Brookhaven.

Where did Hal come from?

I believe Hal was rescued after being hurt and so that’s why he’s here now. And he’s permanently here [at the Ecology Center.] He’s got his own pen that he lives in.

What’s the life expectancy of a groundhog?

Well, there are understudies and I don’t want to give it all away. Of course, he’s the original Hal and always will be — he’s immortal.

Do you only see Hal on Groundhog Day?

No, I bring my grandkids here a lot and I have a summer camp at the Ross School and twice throughout the six weeks I make a trip out here with a bunch of little five, six and seven-year-olds.

What’s Hal’s personality like?

It depends, we all wake up in the morning in different moods and we’ll find out [today on Groundhog Day] how he’s feeling.

Do you think the little guy enjoys the festivities?

How could he not? I think he does, yeah, but you’d have to ask his agent. I’m just his lowly handler.

Does Hal get any special treats after the Groundhog Day event?

Actually no, he just wants to go back to sleep [like the rest of us], so they bring him back to his pen.

Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn about wild animals and nature?

It’s part of who we are. We all come from nature and we’re all caught up in technology, and I’m not saying that technology is bad but you got to get outside and really appreciate the outdoors. There’s a book called “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv about kids having nature-deficit disorder. You want to learn about geometry? Let a kid look at a pinecone. You want to learn about physics? Let them float a stick down a stream and see where it goes and how it gets there. It’s all out there.

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Sasha and Wookie enjoying their years in Setauket. Photo by Holly Leffhalm.

Two large German shepherd dogs attacked and killed a pet alpaca and severely injured a llama in a pen at the back of a home on Main Street in Setauket Feb. 5. It happened at about 2 a.m., according to Bob Ingram, a neighbor who witnessed the aftermath and found the dogs still at the scene.

“I heard barking coming from the pen,” the next-door neighbor Ingram said. “It was pitch black out and the barking was aggressive. Then I heard a shrill sound and knew one of the llamas was in distress.”

He drove his car onto the grass, toward the pen where he saw the two black-and-brown dogs menacing the llama. It was barely 10 minutes from the time he was awakened to the time he viewed the scene, he said. Ingram said he honked the horn, but the dogs just ignored it. Finally, he rolled down the car window and yelled and the dogs took off. Ingram called 911 and awaited police response. Upon arrival, an officer determined it necessary to euthanize the surviving animal.    

The animals, 17-year-old Sasha the llama and Wookie, the alpaca, rescued eight years ago by Kerri Glynn, were beloved by many in the neighborhood.

“Llamas are such lovely animals,” Glynn said. “There’s not an aggressive bone in their bodies. We’d let them out [of the pen] in the backyard and they would never leave the property. They were the easiest animals to care for that I’ve ever owned.”

Ingram reached out on social media to alert Three Village residents of the danger posed by the dogs. The pen abuts the field at Setauket Elementary School, so he called to alert administrators there. He called his veterinarian, to spread the word.

In the wake of vicious maulings in Brookhaven Town last summer, the board unanimously approved a new policy Jan. 24, effective immediately,  intended to keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, it’s to dog owners: Watch your dogs, protect them … and be a responsible owner … if you’re not, the town is putting things in place as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said at the meeting.

Under the new town code amendment, which reflects stricter state law for dealing with “dangerous dogs,” the definition has been expanded to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

Owners of a dog deemed dangerous, who do not properly house their pets, will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100; third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000 and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

After the Sunday attack, on social media people who travel along Mud Road, Quaker Path and Christian Avenue reported sightings of the two dogs dating back to January.

Save-a-Pet founder Dori Scofield said she had not received any calls about the dogs at either Save-a-Pet or Guardians of Rescue.

“German shepherds are super smart dogs,” Scofield said. “They’re going back to where they’re from.”

Area searches done since Sunday by local residents have not located the dogs.

Roy Gross, who heads the Suffolk County SPCA, said the organization had no knowledge of the Sunday morning incident.

Gross recommended a course of action should anyone see the dogs.

“Do not approach the dogs,” he said. “Dial 911 immediately, tell them you’ve sighted dogs matching the description of the ones that killed the pets on Main Street in Setauket, and give the location. If you are driving and can safely see where the dogs go, do so. A second call should be made to Brookhaven Animal Shelter (631-286-4940) to inform them of the location.”

He also gave advice to pet owners in the area.

“All animal owners should keep tabs on them — do not leave them out alone unattended,” he said, adding that is always good policy.

Ingram said he was devastated by the loss.

“I know these llamas really well,” he said. “They’ve been to my children’s birthday parties. Sasha was here when I moved in … [Those dogs] really scared me. A single person couldn’t handle those two dogs.”

Additional reporting by Kevin Redding.

Stony Brook students from around the world attend an informational forum regarding President Trump's executive order restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority nations at the Charles B. Wang Center Feb. 1. Photo by Kevin Redding

Stony Brook University students, many of them international, poured into the Charles B. Wang Center on campus last week to voice their concerns and seek guidance following President Donald Trump’s (R) controversial executive order signed Jan. 27 which put a temporary freeze on travelers entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority nations.

A 19-year old student from Yemen, one of the seven countries targeted under the ban, said he’s afraid of being detained if he were to travel through John F. Kennedy International Airport for spring break. He asked not to be identified because of safety concerns.

A 24-year-old Muslim student from Bangladesh wanted to know if she’d be able to see her family this year.

A 22-year old student from Pakistan said he’s no longer interested in finding a physics job in the United States because, as he put it, “it’s just not an environment I want to be in.”

On Feb. 1, less than a week after Trump signed the order to ban citizens of the seven nations from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and all refugees for 120 days —the order has since been temporarily halted by a federal appeals court, though the U.S. Justice Department filed an appeal of the ruling — the university hosted an information session with two New York City-based immigration lawyers, Alexander Rojas and Eric Lorenzo of Barst Mukamal & Kleiner LLP.

According to Dr. Jun Liu, SBU’s Vice Provost for Global Affairs and Dean of International Academic Programs and Services, the session was organized by SBU President Dr. Samuel Stanley to affirm the university’s “commitment to diversity, strong values of inclusiveness, and campus environment that welcomes all.”

The legal experts addressed and interpreted the immigrant reform, which Rojas described as “startling,” as it stood on the day, and fielded questions from those in attendance. Representatives from the offices of Visa and Immigration Services and Dean of Students were also on hand to offer support and answer questions.

Rojas repeatedly advised students currently holding visas from any of the seven affected countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — to remain in the U.S. until the end of the 90-day period, April 27, because, as he said, “there is no guarantee that you’ll be allowed re-entry into the [U.S.].”

The three main student visas are F-1, H-1, and J-1, nonimmigrant visas for those studying, those in “specialized occupations,” and those wishing to take part in work-and-study-based exchange and visitor programs, respectively.

According to Lorenzo, the only type of visa excluded from the executive order are G-1, or diplomatic, visas, which are typically for representatives of foreign governments within the United Nations or foreign embassies within the U.S.

But Rojas, who acknowledged there’s still plenty of uncertainty hanging over the ban in terms of its function and development, said those within immigration law anticipate Trump might extend the 90-day period and implement considerations with regards to the countries listed, something the order already laid out as a possibility.

According to the lawyer, an unconfirmed draft with additional countries for the travel ban list had been circulating. The rumored additional countries, Rojas said, are Egypt, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Venezuela, Philippines, and Mali.

“It would be prudent to not travel until there’s further guidance with regards to what the White House is going to do with respect to these additional countries proposed on that [supposed] list,” he said. Rojas added he’s not sure of the rationale behind any of the nations currently on the list, or the ones speculated to be in danger of being placed under similar restrictions.

The student from Bangladesh, who would only identify herself as Adrita, was told by Rojas that since her native country is not currently on the travel ban list, she should have no concerns about traveling back home to see her family.

While the 24-year-old genetics student admitted she’s glad to know she won’t be affected by the ban, she called the whole situation unfair.

“Even though I’m not from any of the affected countries, the ban seems to apply to Muslims…so obviously I’m concerned,” Adrita said. “Pakistan is one of the [possible] countries, and Pakistan is right next to Bangladesh. My parents told me ‘forget it, don’t travel, what if you’re told to come back to us?’ I’m doing a PhD here; I can’t just leave.”

Trump has insisted since the roll out of the order it’s not a Muslim ban but a security measure to prevent threats of terrorism.

“America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave,” the President said in a statement. “We will keep it free and keep it safe…to be clear, this is not a Muslim ban…this is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”

Daud Khan, 22, from Pakistan, said he anticipated this sort of situation upon Trump’s election.

“I was just home [in Pakistan] in December for my brother’s wedding and I made it a point to return before Trump’s inauguration so I arrived Jan. 19 to be on the safe side,” he said. “Because you don’t know what he’s going to do.”

A beware of dog sign outside Peter Connelly’s home in Rocky Point. He was the owner of the pit bulls involved in last summer’s attacks. Photo from Matt Tuthill

In the wake of vicious dog maulings in the area, Brookhaven Town Board voted unanimously last week to adopt a new policy that will keep a tighter leash on dangerous dogs and their owners.

“If there’s a message tonight, the message is to dog owners: watch your dogs, protect them, protect them against other pets, and be a responsible owner because if you’re not, the town is putting things in place to act as a deterrent,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during the Jan. 24 town board meeting.

Under the new county code amendment, entitled “Dog Control and Animal Welfare,” which reflects the stricter state law for dealing with dangerous dogs, the definition of “dangerous dogs” has been changed to include not just dogs that attack people, as the code was previously written, but other pets or service animals as well.

Now the town, or the person who was attacked, can present evidence with regard to an attack before a judge or local animal control officers.

“I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners.”

—Matt Tuthill

The owners of a dog deemed dangerous who do not properly house their pets will face large fines. A first-time offender of dog attacks will now pay $500 as opposed to a previous fine of $100, and third-time offenders will pay up to $1,000, and must keep their dogs leashed, and in some cases, muzzled, when out in public.

“It’s an attempt to place the onus on the owner,” Romaine’s chief of staff Emily Pines, who worked closely with town attorneys to craft the revised law, said during the meeting. “If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

The new policy comes after two incidents in Rocky Point last August wherein three loose pit bulls attacked and severely injured a woman and her boxer on a beach. Just a week later, the same pit bulls jumped over a fence onto a resident’s property and killed two Chihuahuas and injured their owner.

The pit bulls, which were returned following the first attack without penalty, were later euthanized by the town.

Rocky Point resident Matt Tuthill, who lives close to where the attacks occurred, spoke in support of the stricter rules on dog owners during the public hearing on the amendments.

Since the attacks last summer, Tuthill said he and his wife keep a knife in their 9-month-old son’s stroller whenever they take a walk around the neighborhood.

“It’s a huge concern to go outside with our son, and we even stopped going outside for a while,” Tuthill said. “I don’t think anyone who takes a long hard look at the facts of what happened last summer could possibly conclude that the existing town codes did enough to deter negligent dog owners. A loose dog that’s allowed to roam a neighborhood is as much a danger to other children and pets as it is to itself.”

He asked that dog owners in opposition to the proposed policy “please support common sense.”

Colin Goldberg, another Rocky Point resident, who founded the website Brookhaven Bites directly following the attack on his neighbor’s Chihuahuas, echoed Tuthill’s call for enforcement on dog owners.

“Let’s not forget that five dogs were killed,” Goldberg said. “If you care about the welfare of dogs, you will choose to support these changes as well as look more deeply into a real solution to this issue.”

“If the dog is going to be around in the neighborhood, the owner has a responsibility to keep the neighbors and other people in the community safe.”

—Emily Pines

Medford resident Rick Palomo said he’s been dealing with loose pit bulls and their negligent owners for the last few years. A year and a half ago, two pit bulls charged up his front deck and killed his cat, which he said was handicapped and “never had a chance” against the dogs. About two months ago, one of the pit bulls attacked and pinned down another cat of his, but his son was able to save it in time.

He said that with town’s previous policy of capturing dangerous dogs and releasing them back to the owner after a small fine, the dogs are back in the streets running rampant and “terrorizing the neighborhood” within days.

“We don’t know what to do; we finally set up traps in my backyard last Friday and police came and captured the dogs,” Palomo said. “We’re doing everything by the book … I’m afraid they’re going to kill a kid or attack somebody and really mess them up. We have to put a stop to it. I don’t want to see the dogs get killed.”

Palomo’s son, Joseph, said the pit bull owners would just laugh at the old legislation.

“It’s time to get legal action involved, they won’t listen to anybody anymore,” he said. “They said ‘Our dogs don’t bite people, they just don’t like cats,’ and that’s very evil.”

While none of the dangerous dog owners were present at the meeting to make a statement against the proposed codes, Laurette Richin, founder of Long Island Bulldog Rescue, told board members that creating strict laws is not the solution.

“I’ve been rescuing and placing bulldogs and pit bulls in [the Town of Brookhaven] for 17 years and I think people need to be responsible with each other and mind their neighborhood by reporting these things,” Richin said. “I don’t think this should be legislated more.”

In response, Councilman Michael Loguercio (R-Middle Island) said that “sometimes you have to pass a law to protect people from themselves, so not only does this law emulate the state’s law but it helps protect the dog owners as well.”

The new policy will be in effect immediately.

Over the summer, Shoreham-Wading River graduate and singer-songwriter Gina Mingoia stepped into her father’s home studio in their garage to fulfill a promise she made to her late friend and classmate Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old student who died in October 2014 following a head-on collision during a football game.

Months before his death, when they were both entering 11th grade, Cutinella told Mingoia, who was then in the process of auditioning for NBC’s “The Voice,” that if she ever became famous, she had to write a song about him.

More than two years later, it’s the 18-year-old singer’s heartfelt and moving “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” released last week on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube with a music video that’s reached more than 8,000 views, about Cutinella, their long friendship and the impact of his loss, that has catapulted her into the local spotlight.

Gina Mingoia and Tom Cutinella in eighth grade. Photo from Gina Mingoia

Both the song, which recently hit the airwaves on 101.7 “The Beach,” and its video, which shows Mingoia reflecting on her friend in several settings including the high school’s recently-dedicated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, have served as sources of healing for those closest to Cutinella, especially Mingoia herself.

“I Wish” was the first song she wrote after the fatal accident, between December 2014 and January 2015, after taking some time away from her passion in the midst of mourning.

Even though she had been trying to write songs in the aftermath that weren’t about the loss, she couldn’t. Finally, she sat down and the song came pouring out in as little as 15 minutes. “I wish I got to say goodbye,” sings Mingoia in the bridge. “To see his smile one more time.”

“The words came quickly,” Mingoia said. “I played the guitar and wrote it. I didn’t even show my dad for a while after … I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Her father Sal, a Suffolk County police officer and local musician who served as producer and played all the instruments on “I Wish,” said the song helped his daughter get through her devastation.

“[Gina] had a strange reaction to the death; all of her friends were collapsing and hitting the ground and screaming and crying, but she almost had no reaction,” Sal Mingoia said. “She just walked around in a daze — so maybe the song is what brought her out of it and brought her back to normal. She put all her feelings into it and it just came out.”

“To know that [Gina Mingoia] respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it.”

—Kelli Cutinella

After recording “I Wish” in the middle of summer, Mingoia said her father was adamant about filming a video for the song and showing it to the world, but she knew she couldn’t do that without the approval of the Cutinella family. Sal and Gina Mingoia have performed together at the Thomas Cutinella Golf Tournament, a fundraising event started by Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s parents, and it was there, in October 2016, that Mingoia shared the song with them.

“I thought they were going to say no,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too invasive, but they loved it and pushed for it. Once it was done, Mrs. Cutinella just got right up and hugged me, for like five minutes, and said in my ear that he is watching and that he loved it. That made me cry.”

Kelli Cutinella, who thinks Mingoia is “an amazing artist with a beautiful voice,” was especially moved. As it’s their mission in life to keep her son’s memory alive and his legacy strong, she and her husband felt honored.

“She did not have to write this song about [Tom] … she wrote it from her heart and that speaks volumes to us,” Cutinella said. “To know that she respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it, and as soon as she shared it with us, we shared it with others.”

Thomas Cutinella died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

For the video, shot in November, Sal Mingoia enlisted the help of his friend Frank Lombardi, a police helicopter pilot and skilled cameraman whose expertise helped bring the message of the song to life.

The emotional video features the singer, wearing a hat that bears Cutinella’s jersey number “54” throughout, looking at her late friend’s “in loving memory” page in the yearbook, clippings from newspaper articles following his passing, and a local barber shop adorned with his name and number.

In a shot in the beginning of the video, Mingoia shows a tattoo on her bicep that reads “I love you” in Cutinella’s handwriting, taken from a little note, featured at the end of the video, he gave to her in health class.

She said she and Cutinella, upon meeting the summer before sixth grade, were immediate friends, were always in the same science and math honors classes, and even formed an “apocalyptic preparation squad” through their love of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

“There was not a single person in the world who knew him and didn’t love him,” Mingoia said. “He was just a genuinely good person in every way.”

She thinks it’s incredible that even people who don’t know her, only knowing Cutinella, are sharing the video, a majority of whom have sent her messages sharing their favorite memories of the former Wildcats athlete.

“They’re incredible to read,” she said. “I just want people who loved Tom and need a way to remember him to use [the video]. I think our community, in particular, and all of Long Island can relate to it.”

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Above, the author behind the bar at Mario’s in Setauket with a copy of his book

Reviewed by Kevin Redding

In writing his first book “Wednesday Night Meeting,” a large novel of connected short stories tackling a wide range of topics from religion to baseball to surrealism to poetry to minor traffic violations, East Setauket resident Louis L. Lasser IV set out to create something unconventional and personal, wanting to, in his own words, “write a book I always wanted to read.” It’s clear when speaking to the 38-year-old North Shore native that the unconventional route has always been his preferred one, and his book, made possible by a Kickstarter campaign and available now on Amazon and at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, is for those looking for something different.

The tap dancer-turned-math teacher-turned-bartender-turned-author, who grew up in Mount Sinai, got inspired in New York City, and spends his mornings writing and his nights serving drinks at Mario’s Italian Restaurant in East Setauket, recently spoke with me in the darkly lit, cozy restaurant about his upbringing, his complex relationship with religion, how film directors informed his narrative style and the influence Long Island and Manhattan have had on the book.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I grew up in Mount Sinai going to dance classes, tap and ballet, because my mom was a ballet teacher. I would hide it for a long time and didn’t want to tell my friends. I actually ended up studying a lot, started playing [sports like baseball and football] less and dancing more … I quit football in high school just to tap dance, which my coach didn’t really understand or like very much. He was like “what are you kidding me, Lasser?”

I started at Cheryl Rich Dance Studio in Nesconset and then when I went to Adelphi University, they didn’t have tap programs so I had to take the train into the city to Broadway Dance Center and started taking classes from the world’s greatest tap dancers, Savion Glover, Omar Edwards, and it ultimately led to me dancing on stage with Gregory Hines several years later, so that was a big part of my life and it still is.

What did you study in college?

I was a math major. Then I taught math for 12 years in the private school system. I taught in the city (La Salle Academy), Southampton and then in Sayville at Prince of Peace Regional School.

What got you interested in writing?

I’ve been writing since I was a kid. I liked writing poetry and I learned that I could save a lot of money on mom’s presents by writing her a poem, putting it in a frame, and then she’d cry — which I knew was an accomplishment for a gift.

What did you like to write about?

Everything from appreciation for life and the crazy chance that we even exist to seeing the good and bad in things. A lot of it came to question religion and the role it plays and whether people really think about their religion or whether it’s a religion of convenience. A lot of my life has been about religion. My grandfather was a pastor, my mom taught me to question things and be very accepting, and my own readings led me to be very skeptical about a lot of stuff, so a lot of my life has been trying to figure out what religion means and the book tackles that.

When Prince of Peace closed, a lot of teachers got reassigned to other schools or private schools and I liked teaching but I didn’t love it and I always wanted to write and wanted to take on something bigger than poetry. I wanted to actually put a novel together.

What is your writing process?

I treat it like a job. Every morning from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. is writing time. The pen wasn’t on paper at 6 but I woke up, made the coffee, opened the laptop, started taking notes. For three hours, I had to “show up.” Sometimes it would be really productive, and sometimes you’d regret it. Sometimes I’d wake up and say ‘this week this chapter has to be done or I’m gonna punch myself in the head’ or force myself to take a cold shower for an hour. Set some punishments, which isn’t a bad way to actually motivate yourself. I’ve heard a good way is to take a terrible picture of yourself and give it to someone else and, if you don’t meet that deadline, they post that picture on social media, so you better get it done.

Tell me about ‘Wednesday Night Meeting.’

There are four main characters and they all start out with their own short stories that alternate throughout the beginning and then become a cohesive novel halfway through, and the story arcs of each character are based on math equations where they eventually will start separately and meet in the middle and then their lives are altered from there. That’s kind of the math teacher background playing a part.

One of the main characters is a poet questioning what’s going on with religion and the book takes place about five years from now and it’s after a big breach where everything embarrassing — any sexual history that you’ve had, search history, keystrokes — is out there and no one knows exactly who knows everything but it, in turn, makes most of America become religious to at least publicly atone to say “I’m not that bad, I’m not that terrible, I’m gonna correct my life.”

There’s this Mafia-like group [in the book] going after people that question God because people don’t like when you have questions in this fictional world [2020]. So the secret group DOC (Defenders of Christ) is going after artists, writers, and will do anything it takes to kill or suppress someone who has influence in raising other people to question their superiority. They’re going after the main characters, who are openly questioning it and don’t know they’re being targeted.

A majority of the book takes place in Manhattan. What is your relationship with the Big Apple?

Living out here on Long Island I’d see the city as a big beacon basically, the center of the entire universe. You have all the skyscrapers and all these things. My grandmother, who was an opera singer who sang for a radio station in Chicago, would take me in all the time to see Broadway shows and go shopping.

Every once in awhile she’d wake up and want to go to the city and have no one to go with, and my mom would say “Lou, do you have any tests in school today?” and I’d always say “no, never, of course not, I don’t even think they want me there today.” And she’d say “I was thinking it would be good for your grandmother to go with someone” and I’d say “I can make that happen.”

So I skipped out on several days of school to go out into the city, and had a really great picture of the city and I wanted to just keep going there. I’ve always held it in high regard and I frequently go there, for dance or just to go out to dinner.

Has Long Island influenced the book?

Oh, a lot. I could argue this area is one of the best places to live anywhere — we have beaches five minutes from us to drive down and do some writing, it’s a short train ride to the city if you need further inspiration. Bartending here you meet a lot of locals [and] they’re very encouraging. I think Setauket gives you the space to really think, it’s a great town to live in. I use Setauket as a place to write. Before I started working [at Mario’s], I was writing here at the bar. If I go anywhere, the locals will expect me to have a laptop and a book and a beer just doing my thing.

Who are your influences?

Outside of writers like E.E. Cummings and David Foster Wallace, I like the way Quentin Tarantino puts a story together. He doesn’t stay in the same timeline. Spike Lee also does some really cool things and tells things differently.

The book was self-published thanks to Kickstarter. Tell me about that.

I didn’t want to go the traditional publishing route because I have no following … I’m a new author, and no publisher’s gonna say “let’s take on some guy from Setauket and bet on a book that’s really weird in layout with a lot of weird fonts.” I knew I had to do it myself and I figured Kickstarter would be a way to raise some capital for doing everything myself like editing, illustrating the cover, etc. There’s a lot of behind the scenes things that you don’t really think of that require money. I met my goal in about two weeks.

What’s next for you?

I have a really broad outline of what my next book will be about. The main character will probably be a tap dancer. I think I want to call it “Sky Ride Tap,” which is the name of a bar in Chicago under the Skyride, a World’s Fair exhibit. It’s just a dive bar but I want it to take place there so I’m anticipating going to Chicago in a few months and staying for a week, going to that bar everyday, talking to people, and figuring out how I can do it.

 

A six-year-old James meets Hillary Clinton in 2008. Photo from Anne Shybunko-Moore

On Friday, Jan. 20, about 900,000 people are expected to be gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to witness Donald Trump being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president.

Among the crowd of thousands will be selected future leaders from schools across the country, including James Moore, a sophomore at Ward Melville High School, who will represent Long Island in a five-day program surrounding the historic event.

The Presidential Inauguration Leadership Summit, held between Jan. 18 and 22, gives students like James the opportunity to take part in a series of workshops, seminar discussions and presentations that coincide with the inauguration, listen to world-renowned speakers — some of this year’s honored guests include General Colin Powell, the youngest-ever Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai via video satellite, renowned filmmaker Spike Lee, former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley (D) and Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson — and gain a perspective on local, national and global issues facing their generation.

Ward Melville High School student James Moore will attend the Presidential Inauguration in Washington, D.C. Jan. 20. Photo from Anne Shybunko-Moore

James was invited to participate in the exclusive experience as an alumnus of the Junior National Young Leaders Conference, which he was chosen to join by his elementary school teacher when he was entering seventh grade.

He served on the student council and Junior Honor Society while at Gelinas Junior High in East Setauket, received Triple C Award upon graduating sixth grade for demonstrating outstanding “Courage, Character, and Commitment throughout the school,” has volunteered at Island Harvest packaging food for the homeless and received the New York State Scholar-Athlete Team Award in 2015 as a varsity-level track runner who maintained a GPA of 90 percent or better during the season.

Additionally, James volunteers at Setauket Presbyterian Church by helping to teach Sunday school.

“Being part of history is a big part of why I wanted to go,” James said in an interview. “I’m looking forward to hearing the other side of politics, how people are seeing things from around the country, and just getting to be with people who are similar to me … it’s cool to be able to think and be part of this [moment] together.”

He said the 2016 presidential election was “surprising” and “interesting to watch.”

“I remember waking up after the election was over going ‘wow, that happened?’” he said. “[But] I’m not upset with it and I’m not going to go out and complain about it but it threw me off.”

While he said he’s excited about learning more about the political process, and hearing Yousafzai’s speak in particular, the 15-year-old from Setauket is no stranger to interacting with major politicians and voicing his thoughts on social, environmental and community issues in public forums.

In fact, as the son of two presidents of major defense and trade manufacturing companies on Long Island whose event guest lists frequently include Hillary and Bill Clinton, James has been politically engaged practically since birth.

“He’s met Bill and Hillary a few times, Congressman Steve Israel, Congressman Tim Bishop; he’s met these folks and he’s very confident and comfortable in speaking with people in leadership roles,” his mother, GSE Dynamics President Anne Shybunko-Moore, said. “James has grown up in a very aware environment … because of what I do, we’re always watching the news and talking about the issues.”

“I remember waking up after the election was over going ‘wow, that happened?’”

— James Moore

James even participated in Hillary Clinton’s campaign last February and is interested in an internship position at Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket) office.

His mother said her son has a “sincere realness” that makes him a natural leader.

“He’s always been very thoughtful,” she said. “He’ll see a situation and be like ‘what can I do to help or change that?’ That’s just who he is.”

James’ father, Manufacturing Consortium of Long Island President Jamie Moore, said he hopes his son gets a “fire lit” and obtains an understanding of what he can do with his life from his experience in Washington.

“I see so many of these kids just kind of floating through, and playing Pokemon Go or whatever, and there are so many opportunities they could be doing to increase their knowledge, help out other people, help other communities and this is one of those things that will hopefully help open his eyes and give him some ideas,” he said. “We try to craft that by giving him enough experiences to get out there and try new things.”

While in D.C., James said he’ll be following his program itinerary by day and studying for his school midterms by night.

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