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Lee Zeldin

Perry Gershon. Photo by Kyle Barr

As the five-headed Democratic Primary to select a challenger for 1st District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) nears, six Stony Brook University faculty members, some with ties to Brookhaven National Lab, have authored a letter endorsing their preferred winner.

The signers of the letter are throwing their public support behind Perry Gershon, a first-time candidate for political office from the private sector, who made a career as a commercial mortgage lender and small business owner, citing his belief that “facts trump opinions.” The group also supports Gershon’s broader dedication to protecting the environment.

The endorsement came with a disclaimer that the signees being affiliated with SBU are for identification purposes only and do not imply institutional support for any political candidate. Other notable endorsements in the race thus far include Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski’s (D-Cutchogue) stated support for Kate Browning, a former legislator herself; and Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) backing Vivian Viloria-Fisher, another Suffolk legislature alumna. Notably, the group of six from SBU’s STEM department did not endorse BNL scientist Elaine DiMasi, who is also among the five candidates in the race.

The full letter from the SBU professors supporting Gershon is below, lightly edited for grammar and style.

Endorsement of Perry Gershon for Congress by faculty and researchers in science, technology, engineering and math at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory

An open letter to the community:

As faculty and researchers at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory  involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teaching and research, we believe it is of vital importance that you vote for Perry Gershon as your next U.S. Representative in Congress in New York’s 1st Congressional District June 26 in the Democratic Primary.

For all of us, at both the university and the lab in Brookhaven, mid-western Suffolk has been our home for many years, just as the South Fork in eastern Suffolk has been Perry’s home for over 20 years. CD1 covers both — we share the same aquifer and the same need for clean water. What happens here locally, in our country, and in the world, matters deeply to all of us.

We need Perry in Congress because he believes that facts trump opinions. Perry grew up in an academic family. His parents are both medical researchers at Columbia University. While a student at Yale, Perry was involved in original research as co-investigator on multiple published papers with faculty. He understands at his core that investigation and evidence must win out over demagoguery.

Perry believes in the overwhelming evidence of climate change and its profound effects at every scale, from Long Island to the entire Earth. Unlike President Donald Trump (R) and Zeldin, Perry would stay in the Paris Climate Accord and work to help America meet its goals. Perry holds that expanding markets for innovative clean technologies generates jobs and economic growth. Research at SBU, BNL, and Suffolk incubators can be at the forefront of turning CD1’s economy into one that supports good-paying, middle-class jobs that offer our young people the opportunity to stay on Long Island.

Perry knows that Environmental Protection Agency regulations, based on scientific study, are made to help and protect every one of us. Yet under Trump (R), EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (R) and Zeldin, expert scientists are no longer even allowed to provide advice to the EPA, because recipients of EPA grants, who are the most knowledgeable experts, are forbidden from serving on EPA’s scientific advisory committees — the bodies that make sure regulations to protect public health and environmental values are based on sound science.

Perry knows that Department of the Interior decisions should benefit the country, not benefit any corporation that wants to exploit our natural resources for its bottom line. We do not need or want offshore oil drilling destroying our pristine coastline and threatening our tourist industry. While Zeldin feigns opposition, his support of Trump has allowed Zinke to move forward to expedite drilling permits.

Perry stands for the Democratic values that we all share: seeking truth and diversity of opinion. Unlike Trump and Zeldin, Perry actually listens. He actively seeks input and advice. His main goal is to solve problems in ways that benefit the greatest number of people.

On June 26, the Democratic Primary will choose the candidate who will oppose Zeldin in November. We firmly believe Perry Gershon has the intellect, the skills, the fortitude, and the resources to beat Zeldin — a powerful combination that is not matched by any of the other primary candidates.

We ask you to support Perry Gershon, to take back Congress by removing the man who has become Trump’s mouthpiece and enabler — Lee Zeldin. On June 26, please stand with us in returning truth to our government’s decision making.

Sincerely,

Dr. Douglas Futuyma Distinguished Professor, Ecology and Evolution at SBU

Dr. Nancy Goroff Chair, Department of Chemistry, SBU

Dr. Jeff Keister

Dr. Barry McCoy Distinguished Professor, CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, SBU

Dr. Lorna Role Distinguished Professor and Chair, Neurobiology and Behavior, SBU

Dr. Gene Sprouse Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Physics and Astronomy, SBU

Kate Browning, Perry Gershon, Elaine DiMasi, David Pechefsky and Vivian Viloria-Fisher debate at TBR News Media's Setauket office. Photo by Kyle Barr

Fifty percent of the Nov. 6 ballot in the race to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District is already set, but there’s plenty to sort out before the other half is finalized.

Five candidates garnered enough signatures on their petitions for elected office, earning spots on the ballot for the June 26 Democratic primary. They’ll square off for the right to challenge incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the general election.

Kate Browning. Photo by Kyle Barr

All five candidates were at TBR News Media’s Setauket office June 1 for a debate to point to the areas in which they differ, matters they think they’re better suited for the job and ways they can dethrone
their adversary.

In pitching herself as the candidate most capable to do the latter, former Suffolk County Legislator Kate Browning said she can take votes away from Zeldin in a variety of ways.

“We need to be able to appeal to the blue-collar voters, and I believe that’s something I can do,” she said. “Having a husband who’s in law enforcement, who’s an Army veteran — we hear Lee Zeldin talk about ‘vote for the vet, vote for the William Floyd graduate,’ and I live in his base, and I can tell you I know that I can take votes from his base. And having two kids in the military, I can take a lot of that away from him.”

Zeldin is a U.S. Army Reserve veteran.

Perry Gershon identified a different way that he can pull from Zeldin’s support. The candidate said he made a living in commercial mortgage lending for 25 years and owned a small business — a sports bar in New York City — touting the fact he is a political outsider hoping to shake things up.

“What that background means is that when I talk about the economy and jobs I have a little extra credibility, because I’ve been involved in creating jobs before,” Gershon said.

Elaine DiMasi. Photo by Kyle Barr

Elaine DiMasi provides perhaps the most unique qualifications of the bunch.

“There aren’t too many districts that can add a professional scientist to that problem-solving team that is congress,” said DiMasi, a physicist at Brookhaven National Lab. “There’s 435 professionals there — many lawyers, many legislators, many more people with business degrees than with backgrounds like mine, and it’s badly needed right now.”

David Pechefsky said he offers a blend of foreign and domestic policy experience despite never holding elected office, which is uncommon for most first-time candidates. He has worked as an adviser to governments abroad, in addition to his time as a staffer for the New York City Council.

“We’re going to need that to go toe-to-toe with Zeldin,” he said. “He talks a lot about foreign policy. Our national lawmaking body [is] going to have to vote on a whole host of issues pertaining to foreign policy, and I also feel deeply that the Democratic Party needs to challenge the narrative on foreign policy. We cannot afford to continue to have military interventions.”

Vivian Viloria-Fisher said she previously served as a delegate at three Democratic National Conventions in the past. That, her experience as a Suffolk County legislator and living in the district for nearly five decades helps her to understand the needs of 1st District Democrats, she said.

Perry Gershon. Photo by Kyle Barr

“This is who I am, this is who I’ve always been,” she said. “I have a footprint that goes throughout the district and I’ve done good work throughout this district. I’m well-known.”

Viloria-Fisher and Pechefsky said they possess empathy and compassion, respectively, which they said they feel Zeldin lacks. DiMasi said she’s dexterous, or quick-witted, capable of thinking on her feet in the midst of say, a scrutinized debate. Gershon said during his years in business he thought he’d earned a reputation as a person with high integrity, capable of getting along with people from all walks of life. Browning said she’s approachable, often having to remind people to call her “Kate,” as opposed to Legislator or Mrs. Browning.

The winner of the primary will be campaigning for a seat Zeldin won by almost 20 points in 2016, within a county Trump won by seven points, marking the first time a Republican presidential candidate secured Suffolk County since 1992.

Viloria-Fisher said she partnered with Republicans to pass various pieces of bipartisan legislation while representing the county. Pechefsky said he thinks his message — his willingness to advocate for working people — cuts across political lines. DiMasi said she thought her approach to campaigning — sticking to just the facts — would earn her respect with Republicans.

David Pechefsky. Photo by Kyle Barr

Gershon said he believes many people who voted for Trump in the past could be convinced to vote Democratic because he thinks many regret doing so, with an opportunity to score points because of the Republican tax plan, which did particular damage to Long Island property owners. Zeldin was one of few Republicans in Congress who did not vote for the bill.

The candidates identified many of the same issues — gun control legislation, immigration reform, health care options, lack of high-paying jobs, high cost of living in the district — as the most important to the voters they’ve spoken to, while also citing what they said they viewed as Zeldin’s misguided positions on these issues.

Browning named taxes and water quality as among the biggest concerns facing the district in the near future.

“[Zeldin will] come to the Island and say, ‘I have a great environmental record, I’m opposed to the offshore drilling, I’m all about clean water,’ however, he’s voting for bills that are polluting the waters in Virginia,” she said.

Pechefsky identified availability of affordable housing, for people from all income brackets, as desperately needed.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Brookhaven is losing population except for Patchogue, and seniors can’t afford to stay here either,” he said. “When you say we’re trying to figure out interventions that can make for healthier communities, healthier neighborhoods — housing is one you could tackle directly. I worked a lot on housing policy in the city.”

Viloria-Fisher also noted the importance of creating reasons — be it high-paying jobs or vibrant downtowns — for young graduates to remain local and plant roots.

She also referenced Zeldin’s position on guns, and campaign donations he has received from the National Rifle Association, as counter to the values of voters she said she’s spoken to.

“He calls it Second Amendment support, I just call it gun violence support,” she said. “Nobody needs to carry around an assault weapon.”

DiMasi said she’s been trying to get through to those with a distaste for politics, recalling a conversation with an African-American as she was campaigning door-to-door.

“The fact is, I believe that federal law is the place to decrease discrimination,” she said. “Laws create personal biases, much more so than the other way around, and that’s from research. We have to understand just how deeply disenfranchised people have become.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks up on behalf of local anglers at Mascot Dock in Patchogue April 8 to refuse the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission’s decision to cut the state’s sea bass allocation. Photo from Lee Zeldin’s office

Local anglers aren’t taking the marine fisheries commission’s bait.

After learning the Atlantic State Marine Fisheries Commission decided it would cut New York’s sea bass allocation quota by 12 percent while increasing that of neighboring states, small business owners and local fisherman joined forces with politicians to make a plea in Patchogue.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was with state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) April 9 at Mascot Dock to take what they called an aggressive stand against an unfair decision, saying the cut is coming even though black sea bass stock has rebounded — currently 240 percent greater than target biomass, or the volume of organisms in a given area. By issuing its own set of regulations for black sea bass fishing this season and entering into non-compliance, the state can take a stand against what many are saying is an inequitable decision that could further harm New York’s already struggling anglers.

“Going into non-compliance is never the first option, but it may be the only one in taking a stand for New York anglers who year after year continue to get screwed,” Zeldin said. “With the vast majority of Long Island fishing taking place in waters shared with New Jersey and Connecticut — such as the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound — it is unfair that New York anglers are, once again, being penalized with smaller fishing quotas than neighboring states.”

He pointed to the fact that two boats fishing could be sitting next to each other with one allowed to catch up to double the amount of the others.

“The hard working recreational fishing community is rallied together in an attempt to keep New York anglers on par with its neighboring states,” said Huntington captain James Schneider. “The Sea Bass stocks are extremely healthy. This is a valuable resource for all the citizens to utilize, just like the corn in Iowa and oil in Alaska.”

Long Island’s largest one-day fishing event also took place at St. Joseph’s College the same day in Patchogue, bringing together fishermen and stakeholders of Long Island’s maritime economy from across the Island.

New York State plans to sue the federal government if it loses an appeal against the restrictions on the recreational fishery for black sea bass, state officials have said. Last year, the state of New Jersey successfully fought quota restrictions on fluke and won once going before the U.S. secretary of commerce.

“The people of the marine district of New York will not accept or endorse any options with a cut to our sea bass regulations in 2018,” Center Moriches captain Joe Tangel said. “The time is now for the state, it’s stakeholders, and our representatives to take a stand.”

DEC marine resources chief Jim Gilmore warned that noncompliance, if rejected by federal regulators, could lead to a shortened or eliminated season for 2019 if there is overfishing this year.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks about the expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program to Suffolk and Nassau community colleges at a press conference in Selden April 4. Photo from Lee Zeldin

Students who have served and their families are receiving some transitional support.

U.S. Reps. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Peter King (R-Seaford) announced the expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program to Suffolk and Nassau County community colleges. The initiative, through the Department of Veterans Affairs, helps veterans, service members and their qualified dependents succeed in school using a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance, including referral services and peer-to-peer counseling. The program is intended to lead students to graduation and prepare them to enter the workforce in viable careers.

Services may be accessed by:

  • Service members and veterans eligible for any of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs educational programs, including Post 9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill
  • Service members and veterans attended training through the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program
  • Eligible dependents of veterans who are in receipt of VA education benefits, including spouses attending school through the Post 9/11 GI Bill and eligible children

“Our nation’s servicemen and women put their lives on the line to protect us, and when they return home, they have earned nothing less than our unwavering support when transitioning back into civilian life,” Zeldin said during an announcement of the program’s expansion at Suffolk County Community College April 4. “The expansion of the VetsSuccess on Campus program means local veterans here at Suffolk and Nassau will have access to an even wider rage of tools at their disposal to help them transition into their new lives after military service.”

Suffolk County is home to the largest number of veterans in the state. SCCC serves more than 700 military-connected students annually across three campuses, and NCCC serves more than 300.

Students like retired Air Force Master Sgt. Olivia McMahon benefit from the program, and she said she’s thrilled to hear that what she was once provided remote access to will now feature a more personal connection to resources and benefits.

“As a single working parent and veteran, I cannot stress enough the importance of this program,” the SCCC student said. “It allows us to reach our educational goals and further educate our community.”

VetsSuccess on-ampus counselors provide:

  • Adjustment counseling to resolve problems interfering with completion of educational programs and entrance into employment
  • Vocational testing
  • educational and career counseling
  • Expedited VR&E services
  • Support and assistance to all veterans with VA benefits regardless of entitlement, benefit usage or enrollment status

Christopher Holder, the VetsSuccess on-campus program counselor, was at the April 4 press conference to talk to veterans about his position in the program and share firsthand experience with re-acclimating to society.

“As a veteran, as a disabled veteran, I have made the transition these students are making now,” he said. “I hope that my experience on both sides, as a veteran and as an administrator, will help these veterans make theirs.”

During the event, Zeldin and King presented SCCC Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Christopher Adams, with an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the expansion of the program and to honor the veterans it serves.

“Suffolk County Community College has a long history of assisting student veterans and maximizing their benefits and achieving their educational goals,” Adams said. “They deserve it and we are honored to be able to recognize their service to our country in this way.”

VetsSuccess on Campus began as a pilot program in 2009 at the University of South Florida in Tampa and has expanded to such an extent that SCCC and Nassau are now two of 99 colleges in the nation with the program.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Even though it feels like Election Day 2016 was sometime last week, the 2018 midterms are right around the corner.

To that end, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) hosted a telephone town hall March 14 to give constituents the opportunity to ask questions and hear where he stands on hot-button issues in New York’s 1st
Congressional District. This was one of several telephone town halls Zeldin has hosted since he was re-elected in 2016, though many of his constituents have been rabidly calling for him to host in-person town halls for more than a year, in addition to the three-in-one day town halls he hosted in April 2017, on what some felt was short notice.

“While in D.C. these telephone town halls allow me to reach out to the greatest number of constituents at once, allowing me to listen to your concerns and answer your questions,” he said on the call. “Listening to your questions and insight is such an important part of my job.”

Zeldin fielded about 10 questions during the 60-minute call on a wide array of topics. Below are some of the highlights, with questions bolded and lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Michael: “I did vote for [President Donald] Trump (R)], but I was very disturbed when he said what he said as far as due process and our Second Amendment rights, taking guns away from people that may be perceived as not having any business having them. I wanted to be assured that you would do your part to remind our president that due process does not come second.”

“I totally agree with you, due process is incredibly important,” Zeldin said, though he offered some qualifiers that sounded as though there was at least some common ground between his position and what Trump said during a televised listening session with survivors of the February shooting in Parkland, Florida. Trump suggested that those who display signs they might be harmful to themselves or others should have guns seized immediately, prior to a crime being committed, due process be damned. He has since backed off from that sentiment.

“It’s important that we’re doing what we need to do, smart policy to keep people safe,” Zeldin said. “There were so many balls that were dropped in Parkland, at different levels of government … People who are
saying Nikolas Cruz shouldn’t have had access to a particular kind of firearm, I’ll say, a guy who shows — I don’t care if he’s 19 or 89 — anyone who is showing all of those threats and indicators, they should not have access to any firearm.”

Zeldin also reiterated his support for the Second Amendment and citizens’ right to bear arms. He also in response to a later question said he thought it was great that high school students locally and nationally are
educating themselves on issues and making their opinions known.

Nora: “In regard to the opioid epidemic, I realize that lots of funding keeps on being funneled toward this crisis, and I see that police are arresting more and more of the drug dealers. I’m not seeing in the hospital setting that the people themselves who are taking the drugs or addicted are getting the help they need. Are there any plans to build facilities for people to get the help they need before they die?”

Zeldin responded to Nora, who said she is a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital, by saying in a discussion he was involved in with several generals discussing the future of foreign diplomacy, he relayed to them that opioid addiction is nearing the level of a national security threat. The congressman touted previously passed legislation, specifically the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, an $8.3 billion plan to fight drug addiction in the United States, with a significant amount of funding for prevention and treatment, and added that the bill needed repeated funding annually.

He mentioned a need to improve the quality of treatment facilities or sober homes, as well as legislation that would help to prevent the practice of “doctor shopping,” or seeking prescriptions for pain medications to feed opioid addiction. However, he fairly quickly pivoted to border security.

“When we talk about border security or people entering our country, what often gets lost in that is this is also illegal substances as well,” he said.

Frank: “Nationally there needs to be some support of President Trump in stopping illegal immigration, and what I was concerned about locally is my understanding is that there are many areas on Long Island that support sanctuary status — it’s a blatant disregard for federal law and something needs to be done about this.”

“I’m with you,” Zeldin said. He went on to name a number of examples of illegal immigrants committing violent crimes in cities around the United States as evidence the practice of protecting illegal immigrants from federal prosecution simply for that reason needing to be ended. “The sanctuary city policies we see across the country are so wrong. The federal government is responsible for creating immigration law in this country, and where you have local politicians pandering for votes and refusing to assist … you’re putting our law enforcement officers at risk. I have colleagues that celebrate illegal immigration.”

The full recording of the town hall can be heard on Zeldin’s website, www.zeldin.house.gov.

In a July 2017 tweet, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin insisted he’d ‘married up’ when his wife Diana asked him to take their date to the shooting range. Photo from Twitter

By Ernestine Franco

We’ve seen a number of letters in this paper where you [U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)] expound on all the great things you’ve done for your district. However, it seems to me that you either have forgotten
about or don’t want us to know some of your votes and issues you’ve supported, especially relating
to gun control.

The horrific events at the Parkland high school in Florida happened because a 19-year-old was able to walk into the school with an AR-15-style rifle, which he legally bought, and murder 17 people. Some of the children who survived the shooting, the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, are speaking out: “How are we allowed to buy guns at the age of 18 or 19? That’s something we shouldn’t be able to do,” Lyliah Skinner, a student who survived the shooting, told CNN.

Beginning with the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, life for many of our children has become about practicing active shooter drills and huddling through lockdowns. So I have to wonder about your position on gun control. I question whether you care about what many children now have to deal with when they go to school.

On Jan. 14, 2014, after the Newtown massacre, in a letter to the New York State Senate, you wrote, “This debate should be even more focused on targeting illegal guns and providing maximum assistance to New Yorkers with mental illnesses in order to most directly avoid another tragedy like Newtown. Our focus …  has to be providing people in need of mental health care more access to help. Society as a whole also needs to better understand mental illness and develop improved means of detecting potential violence long before it can become a threat to anyone else.”

So it seems you believe the solution to some of these mass shootings is that we need to better detect problems with the mentally ill rather than ensure that people with mental illness cannot buy a gun? Then please explain why you voted “yes” on the bill to nullify the Obama-era rule that prohibited people with severe mental health issues from purchasing guns?

Granted there was lots of evidence that the shooter’s behavior should have triggered alarm in those around him, but it is unclear whether recognizing and trying to deal with the signs would have changed what this young man wanted to do that day. However, it is clear that if he couldn’t buy an AR-15, he more than likely could not have been able to kill 17 people. So, I ask you, will you support a ban on assault-style weapons?

The day after the school shooting in Florida, in a Facebook post, you expressed sympathy for the victims and their parents. Taking President Donald Trump’s lead, however, you never used the word “gun,” as if the carnage were just about the person.

According to MoveOn.org, you have received $33,732 from the National Rifle Association. So, here, I have to again wonder whether your views on gun control have more to do with gun sales than with gun rights. The majority of Americans, even most gun owners, as well as the majority of Republicans, support enhanced background checks as well as a ban on assault-style weapons. Why don’t you? Is it about the money you can get from the NRA rather than what most people want? What’s more important to you: That anyone, even someone who is mentally ill, should be able to buy an AR-15 or ensuring that our children are kept safe?

On Dec. 6 you co-sponsored H.R. 38 — the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017. This act authorizes someone who holds a concealed-carry permit issued in one state to carry a concealed firearm in any state that also authorizes concealed carry of firearms. This bill overrides federal law concerning the concealed carry of a firearm into a school zone or onto a federally owned property.

In case I have misrepresented any of your positions, and if you are really committed to keeping our children — and your own — safe, how about holding an in-person  town hall meeting so we can
discuss these issues?

Ernestine Franco is a Sound Beach resident and proofreader for TBR News Media. She is also a member of the Sound Beach Civic Association.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen Pennington and Warrior Ranch Foundation Vice President Tony Simonetti spend time with Pennington’s horse Red. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

When Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro first stepped into the round pen with a horse at Warrior Ranch Foundation, her guard was up.

Castro, who served in Operation Enduring Freedom from 2002 to 2004, and admittedly struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, was face to face with a 1,400-pound Friesian horse named BlackJack during a July demonstration by the Mount Sinai and Islip-based nonprofit, which pairs military and first-responder veterans with rescue horses in need of rehabilitation and training.

Marine Corps veteran StaceyAnn Castro bonds with
Vet therapy: Mount Sinai’s Warrior Ranch helps heal
her horse BlackJack. Photo from Warrior Ranch
Foundation

The tough-as-nails veteran was attempting to engage BlackJack in basic ground exercises, but the horse was not budging. Its guard was up too.

“I soon realized it was because I was terrified of him,” Castro later said. “When you’re with these horses they feel everything you’re feeling, even the emotions you think you’re hiding from everybody else. You can’t hide them from a horse.”

Castro relaxed, and as she calmed down, so did BlackJack. The horse began to lick and chew — a reflex associated with the animal’s release of stress.

“By the end of the session, I wound up with a friend,” she said of BlackJack. “With the horses, you have someone you’re actually bonding with in your own private, silent language. It’s beautiful.”

Officially incorporated in June 2016, the Warrior Ranch Foundation has helped reduce the stress levels and PTSD symptoms of more than a dozen veterans still recuperating from a wide range of conflicts — from the Korean War to Vietnam War to the war in Afghanistan — by teaching them how to groom, feed and train troubled horses. And much like the veterans, the nine residential horses, mostly retired race and show animals that have been trained their whole lives to compete and perform in high-stakes settings, are learning to adapt to a new, more relaxed world.

Cathie Doherty spends time with horse Cody.
Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“There’s a strong parallel between them and it’s amazing to see their emotional breakthroughs,” said Eileen Shanahan, the nonprofit’s founder and president. “While the race horses are trained to run, run, run, and as a result have emotional issues, the veterans are trained to go out there and do the best they can to protect and defend us. When they come back, they have to shut that off and that’s not so easy. We provide a safe haven for these humans and animals.”

Shanahan’s organization is the result of her lifelong love of country and horses. The Queens native, who shoots and produces television programs and commercials for a living, comes from a large military family with a father who served in the Marines, an uncle and brother in the Navy, nephews in the Army, as well as several first responders.

Although she mostly rode buses and subways growing up, Shanahan always admired horses from afar, seeing them as beautiful creatures.

When she got married and moved to East Quogue in the 1980s, she took up horseback riding and, 15 years ago, began adopting rescue horses and studying natural horsemanship — a variety of rapport-based horse training techniques.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

For nearly a decade, she dreamt of providing this outlet for local veterans and finally launched it with the help of longtime friends and equestrians specialists. While the group currently works out of two private barns, the future plan is to turn Warrior Ranch into a national organization.

“We want to eventually help hundreds of veterans and horses because it really works,” Shanahan said, explaining that interactions like Castro’s is very common at the ranch. “A lot of times when they come here, the veterans have their arms crossed, but by the end of the day, they have ear-to-ear grins. A lot of them break down and cry and it’s so powerful to watch.”

Tony Simonetti, Warrior Ranch’s vice president and top horse trainer, has made a career of rehabilitating emotionally distraught horses and re-interacting them with their human counterparts, resolving more than 500 extremely difficult horse cases for people across the country. When asked his most memorable veteran-horse interaction within the organization, he talked about Army Staff Sergeant Allen Pennington, Warrior Ranch’s first soldier to go through the program, and Red, a 4-year-old, retired race thoroughbred.

“[Allen’s] this big, rough and tough guy, and when the horse connected with him, I just saw all the stress he was holding inside bubble right up through his chest and then he just couldn’t keep himself composed,” Simonetti said. “He broke down and turned around and hugged that horse like it was his battle buddy. And I told him, ‘don’t feel bad about that. That’s what you’re here for.’”

During a testimonial on the Warrior Ranch website, Navy veteran Cathie Doherty, who was diagnosed with PTSD and put on medication for a number of years, said she was grateful to have attended a women veteran’s retreat at the nonprofit.

United States Army Staff Sgt. Allen
Pennington with horse Red. Photo
from Warrior Ranch Foundation

“It was really an amazing experience,” Doherty said. “I think it touched me much deeper than I imagined it would. I appreciated working with the horses and that I had to make a connection with them. I feel I was present in the moment. I didn’t care about my phone, I didn’t care what was going on around me. It was a beautiful experience for me.”

Castro said companionship with a horse might be more beneficial than a human’s.

“When you’re a veteran and you’re having a bad day, you don’t want to tell anybody, you don’t want to talk about it — you want to forget about it,” she said. “But I also don’t want to be alone and, so, when you’re there with the horse, and that horse knows what you’re going through and feeling, he feels it too. And because you love the horse and you don’t want the horse to feel that way, you’re going to try and make yourself feel better. It’s awe-inspiring.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who served four years in the Army, visited the ranch in Mount Sinai with his family Oct. 7 and saw firsthand the value of the nonprofit.

“It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to see the positive effects that you’re having on these horses, and from these horses the veterans are getting love that they possibly have never experienced
before,” Zeldin said. “In a way, you’re directly coping with the symptoms of PTSD while also productively escaping the worst of it. It’s a great concept and I’d love to see Warrior Ranch grow into something a whole lot bigger than it already is.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, fifth from left, meets with members of the Warrior Ranch Foundation. Photo from Warrior Ranch Foundation

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would reduce the number of income tax brackets from seven to four; eliminate deductions for state and local income taxes; and would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski

Last week Republicans in the House of Representatives took a major step toward fulfilling a lynchpin campaign promise that is seemingly decades old.

The House Ways and Means committee released the framework of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 2, a major piece of legislation touted by President Donald Trump (R) as a cut to income taxes for “hardworking, middle-income Americans,” though it would negatively affect New Yorkers if signed into law, according to lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle.

The highlights of the bill, which would require passage by the House and Senate and the president’s signature before becoming law, include a consolidation from seven individual income tax brackets down to four; the elimination of the deduction for state and local income taxes, a provision that in the past through federal tax returns gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income tax states like New York; and a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent.

“I am a ‘No’ to this bill in its current form,” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in a statement. “We need to fix this state and local tax [SALT] deduction issue. Adding back in the property tax deduction up to $10,000 is progress, but not enough progress. If I’m not fighting for New Yorkers, I can’t expect anyone else from another state to do it for me.”

U.S. Rep. for the 2nd District, Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), was even more critical of the bill than Zeldin.

“The goal of tax reform is to help hard-working Americans make more money so they can live the American Dream,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The American people expect us to find a bipartisan solution to tax reform that helps create good paying middle-class jobs. This plan doesn’t achieve that goal. I won’t support it.”

Other New York lawmakers from the Democratic Party voiced harsh opposition to the bill in its current form.

New York’s U.S. senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) each said via Twitter they viewed the bill as a tax break for corporations that would have a negative impact on middle-class citizens. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called the bill a “tax increase plan.”

“The tax reform plan, they call a tax cut plan,” Cuomo said in a statement. “It has a diabolical dimension, which is the elimination of the deductibility of state and local taxes … what makes it an even more gross injustice is, the state of New York contributes more to the federal government than any other state. New York contributes more to Washington than any other state. We’re the No. 1 donor state. We give $48 billion more than we get back. Why you would want to take more from New York is a gross, gross injustice.”

Duncan MacKenzie, chief executive officer of the New York State Association of Realtors said in a statement the bill would harm many New York homeowners.

“It will lessen the value of the property tax deduction and it cuts a host of other key housing-related tax incentives,” he said.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in the 1980s and dedicated to educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact, estimated the bill would result in a $1.5 trillion increase to the national deficit.

Mark Snyder of Mark J. Snyder Financial Services, a Hauppauge-based personal financial planning and management firm, called the bill a “torpedo aimed at the wallets of Long Islanders” in an email. He also pointed to the elimination of the SALT deduction as clear evidence the bill would harm New Yorkers.

“As a representative from New York, I’d kick this bill to the curb,” he said when asked what he would do if he were tasked with voting on the bill.

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.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico, on left, with the new food scrap composters. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

As far as the Town of Brookhaven is concerned, going green is not just a casual practice — it’s a moral obligation to ensure Long Island’s future.

In the last few months, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and members of the town board have launched a series of environmentally friendly initiatives and continued ongoing efforts that encourage local residents to
reduce their carbon footprints and preserve the serenity of their surroundings.

“Whenever there are ways to benefit the environment, I’m 100 percent involved [and] I’m blessed by an extremely supportive town board,” Romaine said, highlighting an especially strong partnership with Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “I don’t want to say Jane is my environmental soulmate, but she and I are on the exact same page. She is one of my cheerleaders in every manner, shape or form.”

Other environmental actions taken by Brookhaven:

– A 127-acre solar farm called Shoreham Solar Commons will be constructed on the recently closed Tallgrass Golf Course.

– The extension of the Pine Barrens to include 800 acres of national property around the former Shoreham nuclear plant will go forward upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) signed authorization.

A multiyear project to convert all 40,000 of Brookhaven’s streetlights to LED bulbs has begun with 5,000 already converted.

– Through a partnership with U.S Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the town has secured funding to fix stormwater infrastructures along the North Shore, from Miller Place to Shoreham.

– A center at Ceder Beach in Mount Sinai  has been established to grow millions of oysters and sea clams that filter and clean the water.

In May, Bonner held her fifth bi-annual Go Green event at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. It’s the town’s biggest recycling event where residents can dispose of unwanted medication and prescriptions and recycle old TVs and computers, as well as paper. The e-waste drive gathered 15,000 pounds of electronic waste and shredded 13,580 pounds of paper products and 26 boxes of unwanted pharmaceutical drugs, according to the town.

The councilwoman also hosted a Homeowner’s Guide to Energy Efficiency forum at the center later in the month, educating residents on how to get a free energy audit, affordable home energy improvements and save $1,000 a year on home energy bills. Through this effort, less fossil fuels are used to heat and light homes.

“We take it very seriously,” Bonner said of the town’s green initiatives. “We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth and this transcends party lines. Regardless of party affiliation, we all know we can do a better job of taking care of the planet.”

Aside from providing free compost and mulch to residents at Brookhaven Town Hall, officials also recently utilized a $5,000 grant to rip up the back lawn of the property to plant and restore native Long Island grasses, from which seeds can be collected and used.

In June, the town officially authorized the nonprofit Art & Nature Group Inc. to transform Brookhaven’s historic Washington Lodge property into a community nature center that offers environmental education programs.

Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) organized Brookhaven’s Food Scrap Composting pilot program at town hall last month, with hopes to expand it as a townwide initiative.

Through the program, town employees can deposit food waste, such as banana peels and coffee grinds, into organic material collection containers placed throughout the buildings, which are then collected and composted to be used for garden beds around town buildings.

“We must provide alternative waste management solutions like these if we are going to provide a cleaner, greener earth for future generations,” Panico said in a statement.

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