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Nancy Goroff

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Ned Puchner stands in Gallery North’s gift shop. Photo by Rita J. Egan

For 2020, Setauket’s Gallery North trustees have set their sights on featuring more Long Island artists and making art appreciation even more accessible to the community. They plan to forge ahead with these resolutions with a new executive director.

With more than 20 years of experience in the arts as curator, manager and administrator for galleries, nonprofits and museums, Ned Puchner took over the role of executive director of Gallery North Dec. 1. The position was previously held by Judith Levy, who recently retired.

“He’s got the whole package, and we’re really excited to have him on board.”

— Nancy Goroff

Nancy Goroff, president of Gallery North’s board of trustees, said a search committee was formed to find a new executive director and dozens of applicants were narrowed down to three for the board to choose from.

She said Puchner had what the board was looking for, with experience producing high-quality art exhibitions and an understanding of running the business of a nonprofit. She described him as personable and community minded, which she believes will help to strengthen connections in the area.

“He’s got the whole package, and we’re really excited to have him on board,” she said.

Puchner said he discovered the nonprofit while job searching online and saw Gallery North possesses some of the same elements as his last place of employment, the Greenville Museum of Art in North Carolina. He said while the staff there was smaller, like the Setauket gallery they would organize various fundraisers throughout the year and worked with the local art community. The North Carolina museum also has other similarities to Gallery North as it has been around since the 1960s and has a university in town.

“It’s really uncanny how I came across Gallery North,” he said. “There were so many various similarities between what I saw in Greenville and what I see in Setauket and the Three Village area.”

Once he visited Gallery North, the new executive director said he was impressed with how casual it was inside with a community feel among the staff and people who visit, where everyone seems to know each other. He added it’s an ideal place to present art in a nonintimidating way as an educational and fun-based gallery.

“I don’t want people to be scared away from the notion of being in an art gallery,” he said.

Puchner said a bonus was that he heard how wonderful the Three Village community was and his research confirmed that. A few weeks after his arrival, his wife, Nancy, and two children, aged 4 and 6, joined him in their new home in Stony Brook. Another plus with moving to New York, he said, is being closer to his family that lives in Piermont, Rockland County. He said his children were excited to hear they would live closer to their cousins and grandparents. His wife, who teaches art history at UNC Pembroke, has been able to continue working for the school by transitioning to online teaching until the end of this year.

As for his first few weeks in the Three Village area, Puchner said he’s been busy helping with Gallery North’s holiday pop-up store and lining up exhibits for the new year. The first exhibit he has helped with is for Paton Miller, an artist from Southampton, which will run from Jan. 17 to Feb. 23. The gallery will host an opening reception for Miller’s exhibit Jan. 16 at 6-8 p.m.

“I don’t want people to be scared away from the notion of being in an art gallery.”

— Ned Puchner

In the future, he hopes to organize a committee to help review work that is submitted to Gallery North. He has been putting together the suggestions of board members and others about artists so that he can review the list and see if the gallery can present the work and if the exhibits will be equitable.

He respects the gallery’s reputation for featuring local artists, and Puchner said he hopes to broaden its vision to also show artists from the East End, Brooklyn and Long Island at large.

“One of the great things about Gallery North is that it’s so rooted in the local area, it’s so community based, it has a very strong history with that and with the artists that it has shown and promoted over the years, and I certainly want to continue that dynamic to something to be really nourished, because there’s a lot of great talent in this region,” the director said.

In addition to his work in Greenville, Puchner earlier in his career worked at the former Luise Ross Gallery in SoHo, where they also trained artists. His interests include folk/self-taught/outsider art, and he said his experience at Luise Ross was one of the things that inspired him to focus on the community-oriented aspect of folk art and self-taught artists.

Goroff said after talking to the president of the board of the Greenville museum, she was impressed to hear about different ways Puchner got the community more involved by reaching out to artists in the area. To complement the museum’s permanent collection, he brought in the work of local artists who produced work that was related to the permanent collection.

“It was something he chose to do when there were other ways that he could have enlivened his exhibitions down there, but he chose to do it by reaching out to the members of the art community so that really spoke to how committed he is to that and how much he values it,” she said. 

Puchner has spent much of his first weeks here by visiting local art centers such as the Wang and Staller centers at Stony Brook University as well as the Reboli Center and Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. He is looking forward to visiting The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery and The Atelier at Flowerfield, both in St. James, in the near future and working with all of them “to try to build on some of the work that all these organizations are doing to create a really vital
and important art community here.”

“I think that’s something that is really vital to helping to create a very family oriented community,” he said. “I want to play a role because I have a family of my own so I want to do what I can to nourish that art community here in the Three Village area.”

Moderator Dave Calone with candidates Perry Gershon, Nancy Goroff, Bridget Fleming and Three Village Democratic Club president, Virginia Capon. Photo from Three Village Democratic Club

By Donna Newman

Three candidates have announced their intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the House of Representatives for the 1st Congressional District in 2020. They were invited to a Dec.12 meet the candidates night held by the Three Village Democratic Club. Club president, Virginia Capon, welcomed the audience and introduced the evening’s moderator Dave Calone, who was a candidate for the seat in 2016. Capon was pleased by the size of the crowd, which was approximately 120 people.

Questions were solicited from club members prior to the event.

The candidates are Bridget Fleming, Perry Gershon and Nancy Goroff.

Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor) is a three-term Suffolk County legislator representing District 2. She was first elected to the Town of Southampton Town Board in a special election and went on to win a full term a year later. Prior to that she served as a prosecutor in Manhattan for nearly a decade, eventually specializing in fraud in government programs. In her opening remarks she said she saw a clear path to victory next November.

“I have run and won, again and again,” Fleming said. She noted she has 10 years of experience delivering for this district — and her record speaks for itself.

Perry Gershon, of East Hampton, was a mortgage broker for commercial properties until he divested from his company in 2017 to run for office. In 2018 he won the local Democratic nomination for Congress by being the top vote-getter in a field of five. Gershon lost to incumbent Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the general election, garnering 47.4 percent of the vote to 51.5. Gershon thinks he stands the best chance to win this time because of his previous campaign.

“The hardest part of running for office is getting out the electorate,” Gershon said. “I’ve done it. We built up energy — we inspired volunteerism.” He believes his first experience will be invaluable.

To Nancy Goroff, Suffolk is home. She has lived and worked in the district for 22 years. She raised her children in the Three Village area. Her research and teaching at Stony Brook University have created lots of connections, both academic and governmental. Goroff feels she can bring a new perspective to Congress by offering innovative solutions. A scientist, she said constituents can have faith she’ll make decisions based on science and facts.

“We deserve better,” Goroff said. “[It would be good] to live in a world where government actually tries to solve people’s problems.”

The candidates fielded a question about the elimination of student loan debt.

Gershon said, “The system is broken. [There should be] a trade-off of public service for debt assistance.”

Fleming said, “If you can refinance a car or a home, why not student loan debt?” She created a program while in law school at the University of Virginia offering loan forgiveness in exchange for public service.

Goroff said, “Make education as accessible as possible. Where [students] go should not be limited by parents net worth.”

Another question asked if the candidates would trade a border wall for protection of the Dreamers.

Fleming wanted more details. “We do need firm rules at the border that must be fair and humane. We need a comprehensive solution to immigration issues,” she said.

Goroff said, “We need secure borders, [but] our country values immigrants. We need to give people hope in their home countries, so they don’t have to walk a thousand miles.”

Gershon replied, “Yes. I would do that trade to protect people in this country already. We do need comprehensive immigration reform, too.”

In answering a question on guns, there was consensus among the three that legislation is needed, that the assault weapons ban should be reinstated, that high capacity magazines should be banned and that, if the majority of Americans support universal background checks, the NRA ought not be allowed to prevent such legislation from being passed.

Regarding a question about health care, there was agreement that the Affordable Care Act needs to be improved, that health care is a human right and every American deserves affordable access to high quality care. Goroff and Gershon said they’d favor Medicare for All — as an option.

Should military spending be decreased? All three candidates expressed a desire to restore respect for the U.S. around the world. In light of a recent Washington Post exposé on the waste and corruption of military spending in Afghanistan, Gershon and Goroff called for the military to spend more wisely — with Goroff adding, “First, increase spending on diplomacy.”

What bill would they first introduce as a congressperson?

Gershon answered, “Election reform.”

Fleming responded, “We need to fully fund the EPA.”

Goroff seemed to concur, “Focus on climate-change research funding.”

Perry Gershon, again a Democratic contender for U.S district rep., spoke at a protest early in 2019. Photo by Kyle Barr

The late June Democratic debates hosted by CNBC could have been the first true coal mine canary, telling us that even more than a year out, the race for the White House is going to be a long, complicated and grueling affair.

Nancy S. Goroff, Department of Chemistry Professor, announced her run for District 1. Photo from Stony Brook University

Over two nights, the 20 candidates stood shoulder to shoulder, shouting over each other for attention and sound bites. Though it was talked well enough on every national media outlet, finding North Shore residents who watched the debates, let alone had a full opinion on the Democratic candidates, can be a chore.

However, for Suffolk County and the Suffolk Democratic Committee, it’s business as usual. According to Rich Schaffer, the county Democratic chairman, the focus starts with the local races long before any attention is applied to the congressional candidates, let alone the presidential contenders.

“You won’t get them energized this year until we finish with the local races, so our main focus will be on the town and county races,” Schaffer said. “We had minimal interest in the presidential, a couple of people calling to see about participating in a particular campaign of a particular candidate, but other than that we haven’t much.”

What’s your opinion?

Here is what a few residents from local areas thought about the current Democratic presidential candidates:

Brian Garthwaite, Port Jeff Station:

“Do I think any of the candidates that I saw talk in the last two days will go anywhere? — I hope not,’” he said. “No one really stood out to me.”

Garthwaite guessed at who would be on the final podium come 2020.

“It’s tough to say right now but if I had to guess I think it’s going to be either [Joe] Biden or [Kamala] Harris.”

Judy Cooper, West Islip:

“I’m a Democrat and I like Joe Biden, but I want to hear more about one or two of the lesser known candidates — like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar,” she said. “I haven’t thought about a ticket yet. I watched the first night of the debate, but then got sick of it the second night. It was inconsequential the second night. The first night there were many candidates, but they seemed to be more substantial candidates.”

Peggy S., Northport:

“I’m a Democrat, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I’d support anybody but a Republican. I like Mayor Pete the best.”

Anthony Alessi, Northport:

“I want anybody who can beat Trump,” Alessi said. “Kamala Harris impressed me last night. I’d love to see her beat Trump. My ideal ticket is Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.”

Quotes gathered by David Luces and Leah Chiappino

In local races, the Town of Brookhaven is becoming a hotspot. Though he sees Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) as well established, Schaffer specifically looked at Cheryl Felice, who is running against Michael Loguercio (R-Ridge) for the 4th District, and Anthony Portesy, who is running for Brookhaven Highway Superintendent against Daniel Losquadro (R), specifically having a good shot considering people’s complaints with the state of their roads.

“He’s knocking on doors, and he hears a lot of complaints about the conditions of the roads and the services being provided by the highway department,” he said. 

Two Democrats have already stepped up again to face U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) in the 2020 congressional contest. Last year’s nominee Perry Gershon is again running this year, while Stony Brook resident Jack Harrington is on the sidelines, with rumors he has considered running. On July 9, Stony Brook University scientist Nancy Goroff declared she too would be running against Zeldin, setting up what may be a heated primary race mirroring the 2017-18 Suffolk primary runup.

“As a scientist, I believe in facts,” Goroff said in a release declaring her candidacy. “And it’s a fact that Washington is hurting Suffolk families. I’m running for Congress to use my experience as a scientist to combat global warming, make healthcare affordable, protect a woman’s right to choose and end the gun violence epidemic.”

The Democratic chairman said the committee has been hands-off when it comes to congressional campaigns, letting them hire their own staff and leaving them to their own campaigns. Despite the constant attention paid to national politics, he said he expected the usual number of voters, comparing it to last year’s 22,240 primary votes out of a possible 143,700. 

“It was a little more animated than past years, but on par for where it’s been, 15 to 20 percent turnout,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be animated next year, that’s for sure.”

But to Schaffer, the national race will come down to around five or six candidates, and only then will you see the public become energized around their chosen individual. The next Democratic debate, set for July 17, may be a major tipping point. Politico has reported many Democratic presidential campaigns said they believe the next set of debates could start the culling to the top contenders.

The biggest point on the national and congressional stage is whether he feels they can defeat Zeldin and Trump. If Schaffer had to choose a candidate at this moment, it would be past Vice President Joe Biden, saying he “was part of the successful years of the Obama presidency,” and “if we’re looking for someone who can take on Trump and not just convince Democrats but those ‘persuadables’, I think Biden has the best shot.”

Rich Shaffer at his office in North Babylon. File Photo by Alex Petroski

The Democratic chairman sees Suffolk’s population as more conservatively minded than what may be seen in New York City or other progressive hot spots. 

This is despite the rise of more progressive candidates such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, with Harris’ poll numbers, in particular, surging after the CNBC debates, but Schaffer said what’s important is defeating the incumbents.

“If we win, we win as a party. If we lose, we lose as a party,” he said.