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Politics

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When voters head to booths Thursday to participate in several statewide primaries, it is unlikely that the race for a judicial seat presiding over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court will be at the top of their minds. We understand. The governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general races are likely what will drive primary voters to the polls, and deservedly so, as those are high-profile positions with juicy political implications for those who track things like the shifting nuclei of both parties.

So for those who haven’t paid close attention to what’s going on in a judicial race for a court most people probably never heard of, there’s a few things we think voters should know.

Tara Scully and Theresa Whelan are set to square off in the Democratic primary Sept. 13. Scully, a registered Republican, has already gotten the nod to secure that party line in the general election, meaning if she wins the Democratic primary, her name will appear next to both major political parties come November. Whelan, on the other hand, is an actual Democrat, though Newsday has reported that based on a deal cut by party bosses, if she wins the primary she’ll also be granted the Conservative Party line in the general election. Have we lost you yet? To summarize, on November’s general election ballot either a Republican will have both major lines or a Democrat will be listed as both a Democrat and a Conservative.

To try to get to the bottom of this mess, we invited the candidates in for a discussion with the TBR News Media editorial staff Sept. 6. While we are not endorsing a candidate, we have some thoughts we’d like to share anyway.

We admire what Scully did — stepping up and answering a call for a candidate unshackled by predetermined deals. She was able to earn enough petition signatures in a short window of time to run on both major party lines. However, if the result is she is representing both Democrats and Republicans on the ballot in November, it’s difficult to argue that voters still have a fair choice.

And while Whelan is a Democrat seeking a nod from her own party, rewarding backroom dealing designed to circumvent the will of voters is not a practice that should be encouraged either.

Having said all of that, after being in a room with the candidates for an hour, a few things became very clear. Both candidates are running with their hearts in the right place. They each expressed a desire to preside over a court that requires a touch of empathy and compassion, with fairness being of the utmost importance and politics divorced from the job. We also love to see political races featuring two accomplished and qualified women. Each has served as president of the Women’s Bar Association in addition to a litany of other impressive resume lines. Both seem to realize as well that they are essentially — no pun intended — surrogates having the political baggage marring this race imposed upon them. The discussion was respectful, truthful and honest, and each expressed that she had nothing bad to say about the other personally.

Regardless of the outcome of this race, we hope what voters glean from it is yet another reminder that citizen vigilance is not just important for a healthy democracy, but in reality, it’s the only thing keeping it alive. Research candidates. Figure out what these people stand for before you enter a voting booth or be prepared to live with the consequences.

Scully and Whelan face off in Democratic Primary Sept. 13, but they could meet again in the general election

Theresa Whelan and Tara Scully discuss their Democratic primary race, which takes place Sept. 13, during an exclusive interview at TBR News Media in Setauket Sept. 6. Photos by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr and Alex Petroski

Political races for local judgeships don’t tend to garner much attention, but the 2018 race to preside over Suffolk County’s Surrogate’s Court is breaking the mold.

Judge John Czygier Jr., who currently oversees the county’s Surrogate’s Court, is nearing the mandatory retirement age, leaving a vacancy candidates Tara Scully and Theresa Whelan are competing to fill. The position, which yields a salary in excess of $200,000, carries a 10-year term, and the occupant may serve until age 70. The candidates face off in the Democratic primary Sept. 13 for the party line in the general election.

The situation has drawn criticism far and wide, largely on the practice of cross-party endorsement deals. The candidates sat down Sept. 6 for an exclusive interview with TBR News Media’s editorial staff to set the record straight.

What is Surrogate’s Court?

Surrogate’s Court is responsible for handling all issues involving wills and the estates of people who die. The court also handles guardianship hearings and some adoption cases for children whose parents are deceased. Each of New York state’s 62 counties has one surrogate judge except New York and Kings counties, which have two each. The court’s rulings can involve large amounts of money, making it uniquely susceptible to political patronage.

Scully and Whelan both said they have the utmost respect for Czygier and seek to continue his legacy and practices.

“Surrogate’s Court is there to help families when they can’t really help themselves,” Whelan said. “It has to be fair.”

Scully stressed the importance of having empathy in Surrogate’s Court.

“It’s a sanctuary and it needs to be treated like that,” she said. “People there are dealing with extremely difficult issues.”

Family Court Judge Whelan vies for nod

“I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

— Theresa Whelan

Whelan, 56, a Wading River resident, said she is throwing her hat into the ring for the Democratic nomination because of her qualifications and experience.

“I have the bench experience,” Whelan, a registered Democrat, said. “I thought that it was important that an actual Democrat represented the Democratic Party in this race.”

The nominee took the bench in Suffolk County Family Court in 2008, before becoming the supervising judge in 2016. There, she hears primarily abuse and neglect cases. Her responsibilities include overseeing nine judges and seven support magistrates in two courthouses.

“I have assisted hundreds, if not thousands of children to be successfully reunited with their parents,” Whelan said. “And if that’s not possible, we try to find them another loving option.”

Since 2009, Whelan has led Suffolk County’s Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, an initiative to address court practices when a child is removed from a parent’s care while trying to ensure their safety and well-being.

The nominee said she is an active member of the Suffolk County Bar Association and often lectures for them. She co-chaired Suffolk’s Family Court & Matrimonial Law committee for three years and is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association. Whelan’s husband, Thomas, is also a judge, currently serving as a Suffolk County Supreme Court justice.

Despite current calls for an end to party patronage, Whelan said the position she’s running for is not a tool to fix the political system. She hopes to win on her own merits.

“I have support of statewide judges, the chief judge, the administrative judge, the bar association, etc. [in my roll on the Family Court],” the nominee said. “I stand here as my own candidate.”

Scully cites her experience in elder law

Scully, 41, of Setauket, said she’s seeking the Democratic nomination after calls by Newsday and other elected officials to challenge the patronage system affecting this and other judicial races.

A registered Republican, she pointed to her years working in elder law as part of the experience she can bring to the Surrogate’s bench.

“I do recognize I have an uphill battle,” Scully said. “But I love the Surrogate’s Court, and I believe the sanctity of our courts has to be preserved.”

Scully started her career working in the executive chamber of former New York State Gov. George Pataki (R), before serving as counsel in guardianship proceedings for the state’s Appellate Division’s Mental Hygiene Legal Service. Like Whelan, she also is a former president of the Suffolk County Women’s Bar Association.

Scully began her Port Jefferson-based practice in 2011 focusing on elder law. She said she has extensive experience in estate planning and administration, asset protection and guardianship proceedings, all of which she said would be important knowledge for Surrogate’s Court. Like Whelan, Scully also has political connections in the family as her father, Peter Scully, has name recognition in Suffolk County. He previously served as the regional chief for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and currently works as one of County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) deputies.

Tara Scully said she often provides free legal representation for indigent seniors, veterans and those with disabilities.

“I have a poor business sense in the amount of pro bono work I take on,” Scully said.

In 2015, Scully ran for Brookhaven Town District Court judge where she said she saw firsthand the way party patronage has entwined itself with politics after turning down a cross-endorsement deal. She lost by 173 votes.

“I was so green I didn’t realize at the point that in many circumstances it was business as usual,” Scully said. “I think a lot of people were upset with me that my gut reaction was revulsion.”

Political backstory

“Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

— Tara Scully

Although judges are expected to set aside their personal beliefs, politics has marred the race, though not necessarily thanks to the candidates themselves. Neither Whelan nor Scully were involved in this race as of early summer. Newsday reported earlier this year District Court Judge Marian Rose Tinari, who is married to Conservative Party chairman, Frank Tinari, and is a Conservative herself, had secured the Democratic Party line in the Surrogate’s Court race as a result of a deal with Suffolk Democratic Party chairman, Rich Schaffer, which was one of many similar deals between Suffolk party bosses.

In June, Newsday ran an editorial in the form of a want ad, calling for a candidate “with a backbone to resist pressure from political bosses,” in response to the cross-endorsement of Tinari. Scully said she sprang into action as a result of the editorial to meet a tight deadline, and garnered enough signatures to run as both a Democrat and Republican. With a primary challenger stepping up to the plate, Tinari withdrew. Democrats then selected Whelan, who called herself a lifelong Democrat, as their candidate.

Scully has argued her decision to enter the Democratic primary — despite being a registered Republican — has provided voters with a more transparent choice than if a Conservative had remained on the Democrat line.

“I think the real point is six weeks ago, eight weeks ago, the Democrat candidate was a Conservative, and Democrats would go in and vote and not have any idea that the individual they’re voting for is not in line with their party philosophies,” Scully said. “Cross-endorsement deals are dictating who our judicial choices are, and the voter is unaware an individual without political backing, without a political upbringing or allegiance to political parties is never going to take the bench.”

Whelan argued that voters are equally in the dark with a Republican in a Democratic primary. If she loses Thursday, there will be one name occupying both major party’s lines come November, as Scully has already been penciled onto the ballot by the Republican Party. Whelan joked when voters enter booths Sept. 13 they’ll simply be deciding between two Irish last names with little knowledge of the politics. She also took issue with Scully portraying herself as “standing up for Democratic principles” on her campaign site.

“If I don’t win the primary, voters don’t have a choice, and I think that’s fair to say,” Whelan said. “I’m presenting myself as a Democratic Party member and the experienced judge, so that Tara and I can actually have a real election on Election Day, and I think that’s what she was trying to accomplish in the beginning.”

This post was updated Sept. 11. This post was updated Sept. 12 to clarify a quote from Whelan.

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With less than two weeks to go before New York State’s primaries, we’ve been ramping up our coverage of the 2018 elections at TBR News Media. One thing has become abundantly clear: There are a seemingly endless number of hurdles for who can run, their campaigns and how to vote.

In Shoreham, Rocky Point Fire Chief Mike Yacubich has fought to stay on the ballot after citizens in the state’s 2nd Assembly District challenged his petitions to be the Republican candidate to run for the seat. Their objections were based on the fact that he and his son share the same name — and that there was no distinguishing middle initial indicated on the forms — which they argued could have led to confusion for voters.

In Northport, Democratic hopeful Michael Marcantonio was found ineligible to run for the state’s 12th Assembly District after it was brought to the court’s attention he cast his vote in North Carolina in 2014. At the time, he was a law student at Duke University and didn’t realize judges may rule that ballot severed his five-year residency in New York, which is the time required to run for political office.

In Huntington, Republican candidates have petitioned to create a “Stop LIPA” ballot line for the Nov. 6 elections. Their opponents have filed objections. It has raised questions about when Stop LIPA became a legitimate third party and cast doubts on which elected officials are rallying against the utility’s attempt to get the taxes lowered on its Northport plant, an issue we see as local and party-less.

Throughout the summer, we’ve seen voter drives encouraging teenagers to register before heading off to college. The process of simply obtaining an absentee ballot requires completing a preliminary application that needs to be hand delivered to the Suffolk County Board of Elections Yaphank office or snail mailed at least seven days in advance, and casting an absentee ballot then requires a second trip to the post office. Also, being required to work during polling hours is not listed as a valid reason for obtaining an absentee ballot.

Our state laws regarding how to run for office and how to cast a vote need to be simplified. The process needs to be streamlined and modernized. Our failure to do so hurts both Democrats and Republicans, it knows no party lines. Rather, it collectively silences the voices of aspiring politicians looking to make a difference, employees working long hours to make ends meet and uninformed youth who find too many barriers between them and the polling booths.

First, information on how to run for office and eligibility needs to be made clear and more easily available to the public. A fundamental concept to our democracy is that anyone can run for office — but they have to know how and what to do.

In New York state, anyone with a valid driver’s license can register to vote online and change their party affiliation. Given this is possible, we fail to see any reason why a request for an absentee ballot should not also be fileable via email or an online form on Suffolk County Board of Elections’ website with an electronic confirmation given.

With the technology available today, it’s hard to believe we’re locked into pen-and-paper forms and snail mail to register political candidates for elections and to vote if temporarily out of state. It’s time we re-examine these methods. Participating in democracy should be getting easier, not more difficult.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The Town of Huntington’s new administration made a second wave of staffing changes at its Aug. 7 meeting, reinstating some positions, while abolishing others.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) sponsored a resolution last week that reinstated nine job titles with a total annual salary of $284,921 while also creating 14 new positions for a total of $272,413. The bill also cut nine staffing positions, which is estimated to save more than $268,000 annually.

We look at the different departments, I’ve been in office seven months now to see what has been working and what isn’t working.”

– Chad Lupinacci

“We look at the different departments, I’ve been in office seven months now to see what has been working and what isn’t working,” Lupinacci said.

A second bill put forth by the supervisor appointed nine individuals to the newly created positions, many of which are exempt from taking civil service tests. Both pieces of legislation passed by a narrow 3-2 vote, split on party lines with Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) voting against. They accused the board’s hiring process for these position of lacking in transparency and reeking of political nepotism.

We are seeing chapter two of the Republican patronage playbook at work,” Cuthbertson said, denouncing the legislation. “A slew of positions are being created that require no civil service test. These are patronage jobs — plain and simple.”

The councilman reported he and Cergol weren’t included in the hiring process, stating he had seen only one candidate’s résumé prior to the town board meeting and questioned if those appointments had proper qualifications.

We are seeing chapter two of the Republican patronage playbook at work.”

— Mark Cuthbertson

Councilman Gene Cook (R) voiced support for Lupinacci’s appointments, stating the changes were needed in order for town government to run efficiently.

“In the past month or two, I’ve had nothing but complaints against the people in the building department,” he said. “I’ve had the same thing with the planning department. There’s been a number of issues and people deserve better.”

As part of the staffing changes, Joseph Cline, who has served as Huntington’s director of engineering services, was demoted to deputy while maintaining his $138,375 salary. Cline will be replaced by Daniel Martin, who will make more than $146,500 a year. He was appointed to serve as a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge since 2010 before becoming a deputy town attorney.

Lupinacci said he stood by the newly hired and appointed employees based on their skills and merit. Of the nine appointments made Aug. 7, five are new hires and four individuals were already employed by the town but are taking on new roles for which they will receive an additional stipend.

There’s been a number of issues and people deserve better.

— Gene Cook

Cuthbertson previously criticized Lupinacci’s February appointments for going to “11 white Republican males” many of whom had previously campaigned on the party line for various government positions. The councilman argued this second wave of appointments will also have a negative fiscal impact on the town.

“This is gravely wrong from a fiscal and budget standpoint,” Cuthbertson said.

He estimated many of the newly created positions would cost the town approximately $40,000 a year in benefits including health care insurance and retirement benefits.

The town will pull roughly $265,000 from its contingency funds in order to fill the new positions.

“Where is the transparency you promised?”

— Joan Cergol

Cergol voted against the move, calling it a “dizzying array of personnel maneuvers that mystify even those of us used to looking at these resolutions, let alone the public.” She also questioned the hiring process used.

“Where is the transparency you promised?” Cergol said.

She said the resolution Lupinacci presented to board members on the Friday before their meeting had dramatically changed by Tuesday afternoon without explanation.

Among those who will be leaving Town Hall include: John Coraor, director of cultural affairs; Rob Reichert, deputy director of planning; and Jake Turner, the deputy director of engineering services.

The town will be looking to fill three openings that have resulted due to these promotions or being newly created, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo, including an entry-level auto mechanic, an audio-visual production specialist and a plumbing inspector position by civil service candidates.

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Whew, that was close. We feared that a good ole game of Suffolk County partisan tug-of-war almost left us high and dry again.

Suffolk County legislators voted down 14 bond-seeking bills for various projects that have impact on the day-to-day life of residents June 5 and 19 on a party-line basis. The reasoning given was the 14 items were lumped together in three resolutions, which Republicans argued didn’t allow them to individually vote against projects that they didn’t agree with or may regret funding later.

For nearly a month, both Democrats led by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and Republicans headed by Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) publicly bickered back and forth on how to approach county bonds. Each group held press conferences and made inflammatory statements as time kept ticking in the race against the clock to get federally matching funds for both the Wading River-to-Mount Sinai Rails to Trails project and repaving of Commack Road, among others.

It’s said all’s well that ends well, right? Luckily for North Shore residents, both the Rails to Trails and Commack Road bills received the bipartisan support — a supermajority 12 out of 18 votes — necessary to move forward at the July 17 legislative meeting. Most of the 14 bills were voted on individually this time around, the majority of which were approved.

Unfortunately, a few projects failed or were not voted on. Cries for funding repairs and upgrades to Suffolk County Police Department’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank failed despite the roof leaking, the floor having holes and the air conditioner and heating not working properly, according to Bellone. Republicans argued the planning should be done in-house rather than borrowing to pay for the project.

We couldn’t help but notice that a bill to fund $4.68 million for upgrades for the Suffolk County Police Department and county Medical Examiner’s office also failed. Another bill, one that would have given the Republican Suffolk County Board of Elections Commissioner Nick LaLota another term, as his time in office ends Dec. 31, also failed. The outcome of these votes seems to indicate that political partisanship is still afoot, alive and well, as all Long Islanders are aware that politics, too, affects our law enforcement offices.

A word of warning to our Suffolk County elected officials: While President Donald Trump (R) and our U.S. Congress play on sharp political divides to gain power and momentum, that’s not an acceptable way to act here. We beg, don’t take your political cues from Washington, D.C.

We — your residents, constituents and voters — expect you to rise above party politics and do what’s best for Suffolk. You must reach out across the aisle, discuss charged issues calmly and reach a compromise that best benefits all. It’s in the job description.

A look at SCPD's current K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank, which lawmakers are seeking funding to upgrade. Photo by Amanda Perelli

By Amanda Perelli

Republicans and Democrats in Suffolk County are having trouble getting on the same page.

Amid a greater fight over the issuance and ultimately failed vote on bond-seeking resolutions lumped together into an all or nothing proposal from the Democratic side in recent weeks, funding for several county initiatives is in a state of limbo, including for plans to upgrade Suffolk County Police Department’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank. The bond was voted down as a stand-alone proposal at the July 17 legislature meeting.

“This is unfortunately again, where we run into politics,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said at a July 10 press conference at the facility. “The funding for the new K-9 state of the art facility here is being blocked again by members of the minority caucus.”

The roof leaks in the current structure, the floor has holes in it, and the air conditioner and heating do not work properly, according to Bellone.

“I just wanted to note for the record once again that while I support the construction of this building I do still believe that we should be able to do the planning for this building in-house with [Department of Public Works] staff,” said Minority Leader and Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) prior to the vote at the July 17 Legislature meeting. “A number of us, both on the republican side and democrat side toured the facilities. It’s clear that they need to be replaced, but we just believe that the planning for this can be done in-house. Operating funds rather than spending $150,000 of borrowed money to outside contractors to do this work.”

Bellone and other county Democrats called for funding for a renovated, full-indoor kennel for training and to house these dogs when their handlers are away during the press conference.

Sue Hansen of RSVP, Legislator Monica Martinez, County Executive Steve Bellone, and Legislator Rob Calarco call for funding for SCPD’s K-9 Unit facility in Yaphank at a July 10 press conference. Photo by Amanda Perelli

“The population of this county has grown over the years and as a result the size of our K-9 unit has grown over the years,” said Legislator and Deputy Presiding Officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). “We are housing far more dogs here now than we ever had, and we have to have appropriate facilities for these animals to be kept so that they can be in the top shape and top health, so they can do their job, which is important.”

The SCPD K-9 Unit currently has 22 dogs. Nearly 12 years ago, a more than 20-year-old Sachem School District trailer was transported to Yaphank as a short-term SCPD K-9 Unit housing facility, and it is still in-use today, according to a press release from Bellone’s office.

“When it came time to vote for the resolution and fund this new facility, they voted against it,” Bellone said, referring to the legislature’s Republican members. “So here it is, unbundled, a single, stand-alone bond. Earlier this year, we put that forward and they voted no.”

The Minority Caucus wants the planning done in-house rather than borrowing to pay for the project, which, according to Bellone, would delay the project up to four years.

“We made it clear to police officials that we agree with building a new facility — that’s not the problem here, but what the county executive is asking us for is to borrow $150,000 to pay an outside contractor to design a kennel,” Cilmi said last week. “We spend $250 million in public works every year, and we believe that somebody from public works, working with our police department, should be able to engineer that building. They’re in a donated shack basically right now, we don’t need a Taj Mahal here.”

Animal rights activist Sue Hansen attended the conference representing local animal welfare and rescue organization Responsible Solutions for Valued Pets. She said the organization has been working with Suffolk County Legislator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), who is chairwoman of the county’s Public Safety Committee, on laws dealing with animals. Hansen said the organization is in favor of bonding to pay for the upgrades to the facility.

This post was updated July 17 to reflect the result of the vote on the matter at the July 17 Legislature meeting.

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Last week we had the five Democrats vying for a spot on the ballot to represent New York’s 1st Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) at TBR News Media’s Setauket office for a debate-style discussion. Traditionally, this is an exercise we do every fall for each of the various races for local political offices. We write about the discussions and endorse a candidate, and we do not traditionally do this for primaries. However, this particular race at this particular time in national politics felt like an important moment to fully embrace. We are witnessing a presidential administration that both sides can at least agree on calling, if nothing else, virtually unprecedented.

This is noteworthy here and now because the district is represented by a congressman who is taking an enormous political risk by routinely doubling and tripling down on even the most unprecedented behaviors and policies that have been displayed and put forth by President Donald Trump (R). A byproduct of being a chief congressional defender of this president is that a political campaign through a long hot summer with a Democrat stockpiled with endless juicy campaign content like: “Trump and Zeldin wanted to take your health care away and let Paul Ryan raise your taxes,” awaits.

Full disclosure: We have not yet had Zeldin at our office for an extended, far-ranging discussion, as we do periodically, in 2018. A memorable quote from his last visit was, “I’m no one’s proxy.”

We intend to invite the congressman in for a discussion again in the near future, ahead of a one-on-one debate with the primary winner this fall. In the meantime, his two Twitter accounts should be examined —
@RepLeeZeldin and @LeeZeldin — and conclusions drawn. For a congressman who has been roundly criticized for declining to hold what his critics would define as the proper number of in-person, no-holds-barred town halls, his statements on Twitter can sometimes be the best we’ve got.

What he chooses to discuss on Twitter, and how it is received, has become of interest to us. A calculation Zeldin is likely to be making currently, if retweets and likes are to be believed is rabble-rousing about Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Russia and general identity politics sells.

While our organization is not endorsing a primary candidate, we will offer a few thoughts that registered NY-1 Democrats should know come June 26. They will have their choice of five, clear-headed, issue-driven candidates who are decidedly left of Hillary Clinton (D) and a few strides to the right of Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) on the political spectrum, but not much. They each offer unique and interesting political challenges for Zeldin, especially should he choose to embrace Trumpism and identity politics as his campaign motif.

Kate Browning lives two miles from the incumbent on the South Shore, and insisted she knows what it takes to make a dent in Zeldin’s base, in addition to touting her experience in the Suffolk County Legislature.

Elaine DiMasi is a scientist from Brookhaven National Lab, who we imagine would be difficult to debate on a topic like, say, “clean coal.”

Perry Gershon can ironically sell a similar background to Trump: a political outsider from the private sector — commercial lending and a small business owner — running on change, with the most money of any of the candidates, which largely comes from his own pocket.

David Pechefsky boasts legitimate domestic policy experience as a longtime New York City Council staffer, though he has not personally held political office. He also possesses a legitimate foreign policy background, having served as an adviser to foreign governments.

Vivian Viloria-Fisher has a solid blend of track record, depth of experience, name recognition from her years in the county Legislature and laser focus on the few issues we could easily see being the deciding factors come November: health care (especially regarding reproductive/women’s health care rights), gun control and immigration.

We will continue tracking this race through November and will update you with the primary results come the end of June. We hope you will reach out to us with your thoughts and feelings about the challengers and the race, too.

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When it comes to having options to choose from, sometimes less is more.

As of April 12, the Democratic nominees to run against 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) have dwindled down to five from seven. While it’s nice to see new and old faces throwing their hats into the political ring — for which we wholeheartedly commend them — a five-way race in the Democratic primary could create a situation in which voters are overloaded with information and less prepared to cast the vote that makes the most sense for them and the district as a whole come November.

With some signs of internal fighting going on between the candidates already, it’s not a leap to think the longer five people are alive in the race the muddier the ideologies of the party locally will get, similarly to the way the 2016 presidential primary featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) and Hillary Clinton played out, but more so.

Condensing the nominees would show unification within the “party and a clearer focus come Election Day, which regardless of party should be a priority for voters on both sides seeking relevant personal representation in the federal government.

While we understand following the November 2016 election of President Donald Trump (R) and locally with Zeldin that those on the other side are vocal and motivated, it would be a mistake to allow infighting to harm the eventual primary winner’s chances in the general. If those running can engage in substantive policy discussions about how they differ and how they are the same, an admittedly near-impossible task with five candidates, ultimate party unification and digestible information for those heading to the polls would likely be the byproduct, and that is a good thing for everyone in New York’s 1st Congressional District, party be damned. If Democrats cannot find a way to do this, it will be to their ultimate detriment, as they can rest assured the Republican party will undoubtedly rally behind its candidate well before November.

A five-legged beast proved to be a challenge for Harry Potter, and a five-headed one on primary day could be just as scary for voters.

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Students applaud as their peers deliver speeches during the Port Jeff Station March for our Lives March 24. Photo by Alex Petroski

The 1980s rock band White Lion said it best when they sang: “When the children cry let them know we tried, ’cause when the children sing then the new world begins.”

Children across the country ensured their cries were heard March 24 when millions of them took to the streets to call for implementation of stricter gun control laws as part of hundreds of March for Our Lives rallies. Now we have a challenge for them and the parents and grandparents who joined them — keep the momentum.

The rallies were inspired by the battle cries of students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. For centuries, protesting has been a popular way to get politicians to pay attention, but those rallying calls need to be followed by action in order to get things done. We surmise many if not most of the student marchers understand this is just beginning, like Avalon Fenster, one of the organizers of the March 24 rally in Huntington.

“In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority,” Fenster said.

It’s something Port Jefferson High School students Ben Zaltsman, Matt Pifko and Gavin Barrett also get. These students helped establish a station in their high school where their peers can get assistance in writing letters to their representatives. Letter writing, emailing and calling the offices of elected officials is a vital process to let legislators know what their constituents want and need.

However, writing to a congressman is not the end of the line either if true change is the students’ goal. All the letters and phone calls in the world mean nothing if a person isn’t registered to vote. The March for Our Lives website, www.marchforourlives.com, has set up a form to make it easier for voters to register. It’s a rite of passage and a civic responsibility when a teen turns 18.  High school students who are heading off to college in the fall need to also familiarize themselves and their peers with the process of obtaining and
submitting an absentee ballot. If you are registered to vote in Setauket but go to school at SUNY Cortland, unless you’re driving home on the morning of Nov. 6, an absentee ballot is your only option.

Simply showing up to fill out a ballot is not enough either. People of all ages need to ask themselves what matters most to them, and then see how their representatives in the U. S. Senate, House of Representatives and state positions vote on issues.

There’s one more step 18-year-old marchers need to keep on the table as well. If you feel you and your community are not being represented effectively by those in power, consider running for office, or at least help those who represent your interests get elected. That’s what 24-year-old Josh Lafazan did last November, and he became Nassau County’s youngest legislator. For a few political offices — including New York State senator and assemblyperson — the minimum age requirement is 18 years old. To serve in the federal government, you must be at least 25 years old.

Leslie Gibson, a Republican candidate for the Maine House of Representatives, is a living embodiment of what is possible. He recently dropped out of his race after receiving criticism for remarks he made on Twitter about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, including calling Emma Gonzalez, who has been in the forefront of the movement, a “skinhead lesbian.” He had been running unopposed, but after he made the comment, challengers sprung up from both parties, including a 28-year-old Democrat who had never considered seeking political office before.

We’ve heard the children’s cries. Now the real work begins.

We’ve reached a period of outrageous outrageousness. Or maybe extremes of extremism.

I read recently about an advertisement by a beer company that seems overtly racist.

Now, I’m not going to name the company because that might accomplish what it could have been attempting in the first place, which is to get its brand name in front of people.

This company has caused quite a stir by linking the color of beer to its quality, which in turn is linked to race in the ad.

What’s happening in the country? Have we reached the stage where all news is good news?

We live in a world of such polarization, so many shrill messages and such a rapid news cycle that you almost have to be outrageous and ridiculous to get attention and to remain in the public’s eye for more than just a moment.

It’s not an unprecedented phenomenon. Borrowing from the fictional world, poor Roxie Hart from the show “Chicago” is “the name on everyone’s lips,” as the song goes. But then, once the gripping trial ends, the newest crime of passion captivates the city’s attention, relegating Roxie to a less prominent place in the
dramas of the Windy City.

In our real world, which sometimes seems to require a reality check, people doubt everything. Why, just the other year, the current president questioned the national origin of the previous one.

Doubt and cynicism are all by-products of a shrill time where people shout alternative facts from
the rooftops.

And to bring matters up to speed, current politicians are questioning the motives of the Parkland
shooting survivors. Some suggest that left-leaning people who want to take away everyone’s guns are manipulating America’s youth. These students are not too young to die, but are somehow considered too young to have formed such an energized national movement.

Are people becoming more extreme with their time, with their emotions and with their donations? Yes, without a doubt. As the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates suggested, “desperate times call for desperate measures.” He was describing the response to life-threatening diseases and not to people who feel their lives are threatened leaving their homes.

As Long Island native Billy Joel sang in 1989, “we didn’t start the fire.” While that’s true, and people have lived through periods of considerable instability and uncertainty, we are living in a time defined by extremes.

At some point, We the People have to decide what we can accept and what we can’t. That beer advertisement seems to be a cheap ploy put together by a cynical advertising executive, who has now pulled the ad after it may have served its purpose.

Maybe this executive got his or her wish and more. Not only are people talking about it, but the company may also not have to pay as much for the ad, because now they’re not running it anymore.

How do we combat such unacceptable messages and decide when a company has crossed the red line? One possible solution is to follow the example of the United States government. When other countries create intolerable situations for their citizens or our citizens or the world, we start by hitting these nations in their wallets and refuse to buy their products.

Maybe a decline in sales at a company would send the kind of message that defeats the notion that all press is good press. Other cynical executives might get the message if the stock price or sales fell after such an advertisement polluted the company’s image. With our consumer decisions, we can send messages that it’s not OK to be offensive and outrageous just to sell another product or a toxic idea.

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