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Legislator Sarah Anker

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Thousands gathered for the last summer concert Aug. 27., but the chamber was denied entry to promote Photo by Greg Catalano

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and legislative challenger Gary Pollakusky have crossed swords over the final summer concert in Rocky Point Aug. 27.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker is running against Republican Gary Pollakusky to represent the 6th District. Photos by Alex Petroski

Members of the Rocky Point Sound Beach Chamber of Commerce said they were restricted from entering the concert venue, featuring Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, to promote the chamber and their own businesses. Pollakusky is the executive director of the chamber, which was established last year.

Chamber members took to local Facebook groups to decry how they were allegedly treated, saying they were turned away by aides from Anker’s office. In a video posted to the chamber Facebook page, Pollakusky talked to Anker through an aide holding a phone, which had Anker saying she had already told the chamber president no, and said, “Police would be there if you are not off the premises in the next hour.”

Both legislative candidates have put the onus on the other for why the chamber was denied access.

Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 is the main sponsors and promoter for the summer concert series alongside the Suffolk County Legislature. Post Commander Joe Cognitore said he had told the chamber members they were invited and had written a letter to that effect. 

The letter, dated July 22, invites the chamber to manage and invite business in the community to the summer concert series, reading, “In keeping with our commitment to our downtown revitalization grant we look forward to supporting our business community.”

In the past, local businesses have been allowed at the annual summer concerts.

“The only permission required was that of the event organizer.”

— Gary Pollakusky

He added the VFW post does not get involved in politics and runs the concert for the benefit of the veterans and community.

“We’re apolitical,” Cognitore said. “The chamber, civic, they meet at the post. I’m part of all of them because we’re involved in all parts of the community.”

Charles Todaro, the treasurer of the chamber, confirmed the letter dated July 22, which said it gave permission to the chamber to come set up tables at the event. When they arrived, he said, they were denied entry by Anker’s staff, along with the threat of calling the police.

Todaro said the grants that supplies funds for the concert series are meant to help promote shopping in local businesses. He called the reason they were denied access “political,” but said it wasn’t because Pollakusky is running against Anker.

“We are shocked and appalled by Sarah Anker’s political actions because the chamber had written permission from the concert holder to take part in the event,” Todaro said. “We had all the wheels in motion, and we got this very last minute threat not to come.”

While Cognitore confirmed he had given the letter to the chamber, Anker said she had not learned of such a letter until after the concert. She said her challenger had called last minute Monday, Aug. 26, the day before the concert, to say he and chamber members would be attending. She said she told Pollakusky no over the phone, it being too last minute and with thousands of attendants there would be no room for tables. She added she told him he and his chamber members could come as attendants rather than as vendors.

“We have the concerts to bring people to downtown Rocky Point, not so much to bring the vendors into the concert,” she said. “That’s following the grant requirements for the cultural omnibus funding that funds these concerts.”

Pollakusky said they received contact from the VFW the day before the event asking them to place a courtesy call to the legislator’s office. They received a call the next day at 12 p.m. saying they were not allowed inside.

“There’s been a precedent set for years for the North Brookhaven Chamber to attend, there’s also been a precedent set for businesses to attend,” the chamber president said. “The only permission required was that of the event organizer … I’m very disappointed that Sarah would use her office to prevent the chamber and other local businesses from taking part in a community event funded from taxpayer’s money.”

“We have the concerts to bring people to downtown Rocky Point, not so much to bring the vendors into the concert.”

— Sarah Anker

Anker said Pollakusky came to the concert grounds at St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in the early afternoon and that he “harassed my staff in a confrontational manner that I had to call police and church security.”

Pollakusky referred to the video posted to the chamber page regarding the chamber’s interactions with Anker’s staff. 

“Our community and our businesses were harmed,” he said.

Both political candidates accused the other of politicizing the situation.

Jennifer Dzvonar, who had been president of the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce before it disassembled in 2017, wrote on Facebook that her chamber had a table at each concert where then members were invited to attend. Dzvonar is now president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce. 

Anker said that while the North Brookhaven chamber had attended previous concerts, they were allowed a single table to advertise members and chamber events. The RPSB chamber was looking to set up multiple tables. She added that previously with the old chamber, details of how and where they would set their tables was established months in advance.

If anything, it’s a rocky start to the upcoming election season.

Red light cameras along Route 25A. File photo by Elana Glowatz
Since 2010, Suffolk County has been authorized by New York State to install red-light cameras at intersections. Today, 215 cameras operate at 100 intersections. The program is intended to reduce the number of cars running red traffic lights and by extension reduce the number of crashes and the severity of the crashes. The county has as its vendor for the red-light camera program Conduent, a divestiture from Xerox. Conduent receives from Suffolk County 42 percent of all fines as per contract terms, and its contract was set to expire December 2019. Graphic by TBR News Media

The next five years of red-light cameras’ survival in Suffolk County has finally been decided.

After lengthy debate and public comment period, Suffolk lawmakers voted along party lines to extend the program for another five years Sept. 4. The program was set to expire by the end of the year.

Legislators speak out on the red light camera program. Photo by David Luces

The issue of red-light cameras has been a divisive topic since its inception nearly a decade ago. Republicans, who unanimously opposed the program, have called it a ‘money grab’ for the county, which has generated $20 million in revenue annually. Democrats, on the other hand, supported the extension though acknowledged that it needs to be fixed.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who co-sponsored a bill for a report on the county’s red-light camera program, said she remained frustrated with its findings but ultimately supported the program. She also called for more education on distracted driving prevention.

“There needs to be improvements [to the program], the program right now is not acceptable,” she said.

Legislators proposed the idea of payment plans for fines, waiving administrative fees for first-time offenders and the implementation of an annual report on all camera locations.

Republicans said the program has negatively affected driver behavior, as many drivers stop short at red lights to avoid getting a ticket. The county has seen a marked increase in rear-end accidents in the last few years.

Paul Margiotta, executive director of the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, disagreed and pointed to the increased prevalence of distracted driving as the culprit. He said he believed the program has been working.

Republicans continue to disagree.

“It has become clear that the program isn’t working said Comptroller John Kennedy, who is running for county executive in the fall against Steve Bellone (D). “Suffolk’s residents realize it’s little more than a money grab,”

Supporters have said the program has saved lives by reducing red-light running and serious accidents on roadways.

“The minority caucus led by Rob Trotta and his band of conspiracy theorists were dealt a resounding defeat. This is a victory for common sense and effective public safety programs,” said Jason Elan, a Bellone spokesperson, in a statement.

Though before the vote, many of those who attended the Sept 4. meeting spoke negatively about the program.

“Red light cameras are disproportionately located in lower income neighborhoods.”

— Hector Gavilla

Hector Gavilla, a Huntington-based lawyer who is running for county legislature, said Suffolk is trying to come up with reasons to say the program works.

“Red light cameras are disproportionately located in lower income neighborhoods,” he said. “This red-light camera tax is placed on the most vulnerable people in our communities… we all agree that whoever intentionally tries to run a red-light should definitely get a ticket, however the vast majority of these tickets are on right turns on red.”

Previously, legislators proposed relocating red-light cameras to areas and intersections where the most serious accidents occur.

Other speakers said the program is failing in its original goal to improve public safety.

As one individual put it: “If it’s [red-light cameras] causing more accidents than it’s not safe,”

Another concerned county resident said it is a no-brainer to not extend the program.

“You can’t delay this to another five years, fix the flaws of this program, fix the quality of life in Suffolk County,” he said.

Legislators have already put in a request for proposal to find a new vendor for the program. They stressed the need for the new vendor to be either locally based or be required to have an office in the county. Also, Margiotta said county officials plan to look for a vendor that provides a payment plan.

County officials joined Legislators Sarah Anker and Kara Hahn and County Executive Steve Bellone in announcing new changes to Cathedral Pines County Park. Photo by David Luces

County to increase accessibility options

As the weather begins to improve and with summer just around the corner, residents may begin to enjoy Suffolk County-owned parks. With their minds on attracting nature tourism, county officials came together April 26 to announce the start of a $5 million multiyear modernization project at Cathedral Pines County Park in Middle Island. 

“We are announcing our next phase of the Stay Suffolk campaign, where we are encouraging our residents to stay local,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said. “We want them to enjoy the things that we have here particularly in the summertime.” 

The renovation project is part of an effort to promote Suffolk County parks, local tourism and highlight popular destinations, as well as regional attractions. 

The first phase of the project will be a restoration of some of the park’s most used areas. Roads will be widened and realigned to reduce congestion, while areas are planned to be reconfigured to accommodate 74 additional campsites. All sites will be outfitted with concrete paved picnic table pads, barbecue grills, fire rings, a Wi-Fi system, water and electricity. 

Additionally, the renovations will create a designated recreation area away from the current campsites in the center of the park, where visitors can have oversight over children without disturbing other campers. 

“When we invest in our parks, it improves our quality of life,” Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the chair of the Legislature’s parks committee, said.

“This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

— Kara Hahn

In 2012, the county had an analysis and study done on the park to develop a master plan, which has led to the $5 million expansion.

A playground will be converted into additional visitor parking, while the county would create a new children’s playground located adjacent to the activity building. New projects also include a new picnic pavilion area, additional picnic tables and grills, bathhouses with upgraded showers that meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility, five new horseshoe courts, two new boccie courts and a new sand volleyball court. The final phase of the plan is to create a new drive-up check-in station for campers to streamline the check-in process and updates to sanitary systems and the installation of a new central dump station with tanks to store sanitary waste from the bathhouses.

Hahn added that the project will go a long way in providing the necessary activities for residents to take a vacation locally.  

“There are so many spectacular spots available for hiking, camping and biking,” she said. “This is the place to be, and it will be even nicer once we are done with the improvement plan.”

Cathedral Pines consist of 320 acres of parkland located along the headwaters of the Carmans River and is one of 10 Suffolk County parks that offer overnight camping and possesses a 6-mile mountain bike trail system.  

The county has also announced new accessibility options at other county-owned parks.

Handicap-accessible golf carts will be available at West Sayville Golf Course for free for disabled veterans. Wheelchair-accessible beach chairs will be available at the Cupsogue, Meschutt and Smith Point beaches. Patrons can call the beaches in advance to have the wheelchairs ready upon their arrival. Mobility mats will be rolled out this summer at Smith Point to make it accessible for wheelchair users, elderly and families traveling with children.  

“I’m a part of the senior committee and I hear a lot of complaints that some residents are not able to come to our parks because it’s not accessible,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “So now moving forward we are investing in this very important issue.”

Suffolk legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) along with women’s groups and members of local soccer teams attend a press conference April 2 for Equal Pay Day. Photo from Kara Hahn’s office

Suffolk County and Town of Brookhaven officials celebrated Equal Pay Day April 2 by vowing to call attention to the gender pay gap between men and women, especially in the sports world.

Members of the Island-wide Gender Equality Coalition, soccer coaches and student athletes joined forces at a press conference in Hauppauge to highlight workplace gender discrimination in compensation and call on the U.S. Soccer Federation to end gender discrimination in soccer for the sake of future generations of young women athletes and the integrity of the sport. In addition, they called for women all over the country to sign their petition and help them send a message in the world of athletes and beyond. 

“As the mother of a young girl, I want my daughter to know that her mother fought for equal rights and equal pay for women when I had the opportunity.”

— Valerie Cartright

On International Women’s Day March 8, the U.S. women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination suit against the U.S. Soccer Federation, citing salary disparities and unequal support, including inferior training, promotion and playing conditions than their male counterparts. Despite consistently greater success on the field than the U.S. men’s soccer team, the three-time world champion, four-time Olympic gold medal U.S. women’s soccer team said they continue to be paid a fraction of the salary paid to men’s team members. They also allege, unequal treatment by the federation often exposes female athletes to more hazardous conditions to practice, train and compete.

“Young girls around the world idolize the U.S. women’s soccer players because they exemplify unmatched strength, skill and fearlessness,” said Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “Their lawsuit sends a message of solidarity with women worldwide who are fighting for equality in the workplace and presents an important teachable moment for our children about gender disparity and the ongoing fight for women’s equal rights.”

At the Town of Brookhaven board meeting March 27, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) sponsored a resolution to make April 2 Equal Pay Day within the town, which was passed unanimously by the board.

“Pay equity is critically important to having a fair and just workplace,” Cartright said. “Unequal pay and gender discrimination impact a woman as an individual; it impacts her family and the larger society. On a personal level, as the mother of a young girl, I want my daughter to know that her mother fought for equal rights and equal pay for women when I had the opportunity.”

“Their lawsuit sends a message of solidarity with women worldwide who are fighting for equality in the workplace.”

— Kara Hahn

In New York State, the gender pay gap, or the earnings ratio of women’s median earnings divided by men’s median earnings, is 80 percent. In 2017, women living in Suffolk County earned 78% of what men earned, according to Hahn’s office. Women who are identified within minority groups fare even worse, with black woman earning 79% and Hispanic woman earning just 58% as compared to white men.

“Today, we are wearing red to symbolize that women are ‘in the red’ in terms of pay, as compared to men performing similar work,” said Colleen Merlo, the executive director of L.I. Against Domestic Violence and chair of the Gender Equity Coalition. “This issue is not just a women’s issue, it affects children and families.”

Hahn said she created a letter writing campaign and petition about attaining gender pay equality and to help the U.S women’s soccer team. The petition can be accessed at Change.org under the title Pay and Treat Women Soccer Players the Same as Male Players at http://chng.it/k54wZZqJH6 and a sample letter can be found at http://tinyurl.com/yycb3f8v.

During the next two months leading up to the World Cup in France June 7, the group hopes to obtain 75,000 signatures for the petition, which they will then deliver to U.S. Soccer Federation officials. A 2015 petition supporting the team garnered more than 69,000 signatures, according to Hahn’s office.

Narcan kit

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai)and the Sound Beach Civic Association will host an opioid overdose prevention and Narcan training class at the Sound Beach Firehouse, 152 Sound Beach Blvd., on Monday, April 8 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. This class meets the NYS Department of Health requirements and includes training on how to recognize opioid overdose, how to administer Narcan and steps to take until EMS arrives. Participants will receive a certificate of completion and an emergency resuscitation kit that includes Narcan. Free but advance registration is required by calling 631-854-1600.

Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Westhampton Beach that provides educational and recreational programs for youth in Suffolk County, discusses the effects of drugs and alcohol on the youth and student athletes at Legislator Sarah Anker’s Youth Sports Safety Forum. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Sports are fun until safety becomes an issue.

In light of two incidences in Shoreham-Wading River where children where harmed while playing sports, Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) hosted a Youth Sports Safety Forum on Wednesday, Sept. 30 to raise awareness of the issue.

The death of 16-year-old Tom Cutinella, who died last year after a collision on the football field, and an incident involving 15-year-old Jack Crowley, who was revived after he was struck in the chest with a baseball at the batting cages, sparked an even greater desire to help prevent these incidents from occurring,

Despite the poor turnout, as about 20 community members attended, the forum’s goal remained the same: to educate the public about keeping student-athletes safe on and off the field. The forum consisted of several speakers, including Anker, County Executive Steve Bellone (D), school sports coaches and athletic professionals.

Although student-athlete safety is traditionally perceived as the coaches’ sole responsibility, guest speakers like Rick Mercurio said parents and players are also responsible for an athlete’s safety. Mercurio is currently part of the Federation of International Lacrosse’s Development Committee and used to coach the Sachem High School boys’ lacrosse team.

He also admitted that coaches have the power to make a student feel stressed or happy.

“We forget that when we talk about safety … it’s not just about an athlete’s physical safety,” Mercurio said during the forum. “It’s mental safety as well.”

While athletes may jeopardize their own safety during practices or games if they feel pressured to go above and beyond for their coach, Frank McCoy, an orthopedic physical therapist from Advanced Sports Physical Therapy in East Setauket, said parents are also a source of pressure for student-athletes. He mentioned some parents may push their children to reach the professional level in their sport. He added that that pressure causes young athletes to surpass their own limits.

“They don’t want to necessarily mention that they have pain or that they’ve had some discomfort during practice or a game because they don’t want to be taken out of the game,” McCoy said during the forum.

Mark Passamonte, Frank McCoy, Dan Nowlan, Rick Mercurio, Legislator Sarah Anker, Kym Laube, Don Webster, Jeremy Thode and Dr. Hayley Queller were all speakers at Anker's sports safety forum. Photo from Theresa Santoro
Mark Passamonte, Frank McCoy, Dan Nowlan, Rick Mercurio, Legislator Sarah Anker, Kym Laube, Don Webster, Jeremy Thode and Dr. Hayley Queller were all speakers at Anker’s sports safety forum. Photo from Theresa Santoro

According to McCoy, 90 percent of athletes sustain an injury while playing sports and 50 percent continue to play when they are injured. Injuries from overusing parts of the body becomes a concern when athletes are pushing past their pain to appease parents or coaches. These types of injuries are usually preventable provided that athletes do preventative exercises, which they don’t always learn from their coaches or parents.

McCoy also mentioned that athletes should not play more hours than their age and should not play one sport year-round or multiple sports in one season.

Aside from resting the body, Jeremy Thode, the athletic director at Center Moriches High School, said positive reinforcement is also vital to an athlete’s safety. Student-athletes may suffer added stress if they are faced with degrading comments like “you throw like a girl.”

“We’re telling little boys — number one that they’re not good enough in their performance, but we are also saying negative things about girls,” Thode said.

The idea is that these comments may encourage young athletes to ignore their mental or physical discomfort or both to prove their worth in their sport or sports.

Kym Laube, executive director of Human Understanding & Growth Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Westhampton Beach that provides educational and recreational programs for the youth in Suffolk County, acknowledged how drugs and alcohol may affect players — especially those who may not have family support or a healthy living environment.

Laube said they can’t build treatment centers big enough or fast enough to accommodate the magnitude of athletes struggling with alcohol or drug issues. According to Laube, alcohol is still the number one killer of high school students. Combatting this issue, especially concerning student-athletes, is a group effort since athletes may drink to relieve stress and anxiety, but are more susceptible to injuries 24 hours after they drink.

“We know that if coaches take a strong policy — if families take a strong policy, we begin to stop saying it’s just kids being kids,” Laube said during the forum. “It’s about wanting to keep them safe on the playing field.”

Anker not only agreed with the forum’s guest speakers on their concerns and viewpoints regarding safety in sports, but reemphasized the importance of keeping athletes safe and informing the public how to ensure the safety of young athletes.

“As a community, we must learn from past incidences and go forward to create safe programs for our young athletes,” Anker said in an email. “Everyone has the ability to protect our kids, however, if they do not have important information regarding sports safety, our children may be at risk for injury. By providing valuable information we can limit injuries on the field and keep our kids safe. I will continue to work with our sports experts to bring their information to communities across Suffolk County.”

This version corrects the spelling of Jeremy Thode’s name.