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Politics

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Whether you voted for Donald Trump or not, you have to agree that he is responsible for a positive outcome from his campaign and his election. He has animated the population he serves. It is no secret that Americans have, as a country, been largely apolitical. When I have traveled to other countries, especially when I first began, I have consistently been impressed by and even envied how much politics and current events were a part of the daily conversations among the people I was visiting. But that was not so in the United States. Throughout my academic life, in high school and college, there were almost no political clubs, and those that did exist had few members who were regarded as a little odd for their political passions. I have not found many people who were deeply interested in our government, its processes, its politics and its politicians. Indeed, spot person-in-the-street interviews regularly revealed that most respondents did not know who held which office beyond that of the president and perhaps the governor.

Not any longer.

Imagine my surprise when the 4-year-old son of a friend came home from nursery school and announced his opinion of President Trump, complete with reasons. A 13-year-old I met knows the name of the Environmental Protection Agency chief (Scott Pruitt), and a 15-year-old announced that she wants to register as a Republican as soon as her age allows so she can help decide who the party’s next candidate might be. These are not just youngsters parroting what their parents are saying. In some cases the youngsters disagree with their parents. How do they know to do that? They are now surrounded by news, whether on television, with blasts on their iPhones, from talking to each other in class or hearing many adults offering different opinions. Wherever all of us go, to a doctor’s appointment, to a casual restaurant, in and out of stores (with the exception so far of supermarkets), there is a television turned on and we hear the latest comments from both parties, outrageous or not. The media are having a field day reporting quotables. And the public is deluged. Kids, remember, are part of the public.

How long can you be at a dinner party before the talk turns to politics? When you wake up in the morning and switch on the radio or the TV, don’t you expect to hear the latest quote from Donald Trump? The president has managed to dominate world news so provocatively that his is the most well-known name on the planet.

I think what has happened is a good thing. An informed and engaged public is necessary for a democracy to exist. Our Founding Fathers said as much. The United States has had a dismal voting record at the polls during election season for scores of years. Less than half of those eligible actually vote here compared with other, newer democracies where voters may risk their lives in order to cast their votes. We, living in a nation that is the symbol of democracy, are too complacent to be bothered voting or too cynical to think that our vote might matter.

So I am delighted to see young people talking about politics and asking how government works. And we in the news business are validated by the sight of grown-ups arguing government policies on street corners. Let’s get everybody involved, even if it takes incredible, unprecedented comments and actions to stir us up. I came of age in the Vietnam era when marches and, yes, riots in opposition to government policy toppled a sitting president and eventually stopped the war.

The good news is we don’t have to riot. We don’t even have to march. All we have to do is go to the polls and vote. And if we don’t get what We the People want, we do it again the next time until we get the public servants we wish to represent us. An informed and engaged populace is a beautiful thing.

Summertime provides an opportunity to slow down, renew our energy and get ready for the intensity of the fall. These summer days encourage us to relax and enjoy those beautiful summer breezes and those sunny days.

We all need time to renew and refresh our energy. However, we still must be vigilant when it comes to parenting our children and attentive to what is happening in our world. Too often during the summer parents relax their rules and give their teenage children a little slack. The challenge is to find the balance. Too often during this time, parents turn a blind eye to serious social circumstances. Underage teenage drinking escalates. There are more parties to attend, more opportunities to socialize at the beach, on the boat, at the park and going to concerts, just to name a few.

Too many parents see teenage drinking as a rite of American passage. Unfortunately, my experiences document that more and more teenagers are under the influence of alcohol when they first try illegal drugs like heroin.

Heroin use within our community is escalating daily. Young people of privilege even have this drug delivered to their home. Parents need to be more vigilant. The local clergy have indicated that in their respective congregations they are burying at least one young person a month who has died because of a heroin overdose — that is tragic!

If we are going to turn the tide on this devastating health crisis, we need to form a coalition of concerned persons who are willing to demand change from our insurance companies and from our government leaders. We need more detox and long-term treatment beds today — not tomorrow, not next year, today! Enough with the political lip service to this serious life issue.

This summer we’re getting a real education in American civics. It is a very disturbing lesson! Both major parties have formally nominated their candidate for president of the United States. The money that is being wasted on negative campaigning is shameful. Attacking the character and integrity of each party’s candidate is a real distraction from the real issues that we as a nation must confront.

Our political landscape is wrought with land mines that do nothing but distract us from what is important and blur the real truth. This political season has been embarrassing. It seems to be more fixated on divisiveness than unity. We are a nation blessed with diversity; we need to work harder at building bridges instead of walls between us.

Both candidates should commit themselves to a language of respect, inclusiveness, human rights, social justice and equality for all Americans. Yes, this election needs to address our racial divide. It needs to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and socioeconomics, loss of respect for law enforcement, our broken and inhumane immigration system, our deteriorating schools, the cost of college education, our position on the world stage, international terrorism and the renewed violence in our nation.

Whoever we elect as president of the United States in November must bring us together as one nation founded on freedom and respect for all citizens no matter what our human circumstance. He or she must give voice to every American!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Legislators not letting Bellone off hook

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is searching for ways to improve the county's financial outlook. File photo by Alex Petroski

A high stakes political finger pointing battle is ramping up in Suffolk County.

Top Suffolk County officials have been left to answer for the promotion of former Chief of Police James Burke, who in February pleaded guilty to charges of a civil rights violation and conspiracy to obstruct justice, which occurred following the arrest of Smithtown man Christopher Loeb in 2012.

On Tuesday Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) held a press conference at the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead where he and fellow legislators, including Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), called for both County Executive Steve Bellone and District Attorney Tom Spota to resign from their positions.

On Thursday, Bellone joined the list of people including the legislators and Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco calling for Spota to resign.

“For refusing to cooperate and work with federal law enforcement to prosecute crime in this county, for refusing and blocking federal law enforcement who were working on the Gilgo Beach serial murder case, for allowing violent criminals to go free to protect political friends, for lying about Jim Burke and conspiring to conceal his past…” Bellone said Thursday afternoon on the steps of Spota’s Hauppauge office. “Tom Spota, you must resign from this office so that we can begin the process of reforming this place governmentally and politically in a way that we can ensure this doesn’t happen again. If you fail to do so, I will call on the governor to exercise his authority under the constitution to remove you from this office.”

Trotta arrived while Bellone addressed the media, and interjected that reporters were speaking with a “co-conspirator.” Trotta reiterated his stance on Thursday that Bellone is as much a part of the political corruption problem in the county as Spota for his role in promoting Burke, and standing by him despite evidence of Burke’s troubled past.

“I have never said that I have never made mistakes in my public career,” Bellone said. “I’ve made many mistakes. But they have never, ever been with ill intent and I’ve learned from my mistakes and I don’t repeat them. When I promoted Jim Burke I consulted District Attorney Tom Spota. When I fired Jim Burke I did not consult Tom Spota.”

Bellone said he promoted Burke not because of recommendations from Spota or others, but because he was a “charismatic” and “impressive” person who made a memorable presentation.

Bellone handed a letter calling for Spota’s resignation to one of his employees inside the office, and Spota later met the media to respond Thursday.

“It’s a very, very difficult day for me,” Spota said in a video of that press conference. “He has delivered to me a letter asking for my resignation. I have absolutely no reason why I should resign, or should I be removed from office.”

Spota fired back at Bellone, suggesting his motivation was a “personal vendetta” against Spota for investigating and prosecuting people Bellone was close to.

On Tuesday, Bellone responded to Trotta, Cilmi and McCaffrey’s calls for his resignation through an email from a spokeswoman.

“Rob Trotta and Tom Cilmi are partisan politicians who just don’t get it,” the statement said. “This is not a partisan issue, this is about sweeping out a culture of abuse and corruption in the district attorney’s office.  I regret that I trusted the word of the district attorney regarding Jim Burke, and I have learned from that error in judgment.”

Trotta made it clear following Bellone’s comments that the county executive should not be let off the hook.

“It was an Academy Award winning performance,” Trotta said of Bellone’s press conference. “Forty-eight hours ago we were partisan, and we were political hacks. Now all of the sudden he responds to a Newsday article, he sees what’s going on and he tries to jump in front of it. It’s ridiculously absurd…He’s a total, unadulterated liar.”

Huntington Town Board candidates Gene Cook, Jennifer Thompson, Keith Barrett and Susan Berland talk issues at a debate in Elwood on Oct. 14. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Town Board candidates discussed development, term limits and more at a debate at the Elwood Public Library hosted by the Elwood Taxpayers Association on Wednesday, Oct. 14.

Two seats are up for grabs on the five-member board next month, and four contenders are in the running for the slots. Councilman Gene Cook (I) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) are both seeking re-election. Newcomers Jennifer Thompson, a Republican, and Keith Barrett, a Democrat, are looking for a first term.

In his opening statement, Cook said that he is such a strong believer in term limits that if he gets elected in November, he would “term-limit” himself voluntarily, pledging it would be his last run for the seat.

“It’s tough for those people to run that have never run before,” Cook said. “It’s an unfair advantage.”

Cook asked if every other candidate also believed in term limits and both Thompson and Barrett said they did.

“I think that most people come into office with the best of intentions, but the longer you’re there, the more susceptible you are to corruption,” Thompson said. “I do think that there also is benefit to having fresh perspectives and new ideas.” She also said that campaign funding is an uphill battle and incumbents make it a “David and Goliath situation” where it is very difficult for newcomers to raise matching amounts of funds.

Berland, however, said she does not believe in term limits.

“I believe elections are the best term limits,” she said. “If people want you to continue doing the job you’re doing, they’ll vote for you. If they’d rather have someone else do the job, they’ll vote for someone else.”

The most popular question of the night regarded the The Seasons at Elwood, and what each candidate’s opinion was of the project. The Seasons is a planned 256-unit condominium housing community geared towards residents 55 and older.

Cook said his opinion is on the town’s records, because he was the only town council member to vote against the project, which required a change of zone.

“When 5,500 residents who signed a petition against it and said ‘We don’t want it,’ I was right there behind you,” Cook said.

Barrett asked if it really matters what he thinks of the Seasons at Elwood. “How many of you don’t want it?” Barrett asked and the audience responded overwhelmingly that they did not. “Well then you got my answer.” Barrett also said he would have liked to see more community involvement before the project gained approval.

“I’d like to see somebody from the community and the development being involved,” Barrett said. “There is compromise for everything. We have to work on this more as a community and not ramming it down peoples’ throats.”

Thompson countered that she does think it matters what she thinks of this issue. “I will stand with this community and vote against it,” Thompson said.

Berland voted in favor of the project.

“It was a project that I supported because it’s senior housing and there are a lot of seniors who want to continue to live here,” Berland said. “They ended up with a high density number significantly lower than when they started. I think that [the Greens at Half Hollows] has been an amazing economic boom and I’m hoping that the Seasons will end up being the same.”

Some audience members continued to grill her on why she’d vote the project when many residents were against it.

“There were petitions in favor and in opposition,” Berland said. “They were a large number of people in and outside the Elwood community who welcome senior housing. I vote what I think is best for the people of the town and I don’t think this will hurt the people of the town.”

When asked for three items each candidate would prioritize if elected, Thompson started with safety in Huntington Station.

“We deserve the opportunity to walk our streets and feel safe.” Her other two priorities are making sure water quality remains clean and keeping taxes low. Barrett said he’d prioritize cleaning up criminal activities in Huntington Station. He also said parking in Huntington village is a big problem.

“Parking is a big issue because you can’t go down there and buy a slice of pizza without spending a couple bucks on parking,” Barrett said. His third issue is spending. He said he would like to broaden the scope of certain town department to get Huntington taxpayers the best bang for their bucks.

Cook brought up the shock he felt when he learned the news of Maggie Rosales, an 18-year old who died after she was stabbed in Huntington Station last year. Cook said he went to Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) with a plan to put public safety cars on the road, and link them up with 2nd Precinct to help cut crime. He also said he would like to challenge the some of the numbers in the supervisor’s budget. “I never once voted for Frank Petrone’s budget.”

All the candidates were unanimous on the issue of the ongoing litigation between Huntington Town and the Long Island Power Authority. The utility is suing the town to recover some $270 million in property taxes it paid since 2010, arguing the aging Northport power plant is grossly over-assessed.

Berland said she has been totally in favor of the litigation since day one.

“I think LIPA has to keep with the agreement that they made from the beginning that they would not ask for reassessment,” Berland said. She also said that Cook was the only vote against the litigation and that he wanted to settle instead, and that is something she strongly disagrees with.

Cook said he voted against initiating litigation because he was told if the town loses, Huntington could be on the hook for a large sum of money. He has since changed his stance — he said he believes at this point it is past negotiations and that they have to fight.

Barrett is in favor of fighting LIPA, and Thompson, who voted on the school board to put the district into the court battle, said she still strongly is for the litigation.

The next debate between the candidates will be sponsored by the League of Women Voters. It will take place at Harborfields Public Library on Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at 31 Broadway in Greenlawn.

Ed Maher file photo

The Smithtown Democratic Committee is gearing up for a competitive election season and setting its sights on the town board.

“It is important that we reflect on the past, but it is necessary that we plan for the future of Smithtown — 2015 will be the year that we reshape our town’s policy-making body,” said committee chairman, Ed Maher, citing the town’s recent 350th anniversary festivities. “Our screening committee will convene this spring and we are excited to hear what the potential candidates have in mind for the future of Smithtown.”

Maher also said he will consider screening potential candidates from other parties if needed, and that the Democrats will put the strongest candidates on the ballot in November.

Maher said that several notable Democrats have approached him with interest in running for town board, including former town supervisor candidate Steve Snair and Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency board member, Tony Giordano.

“I cannot deny that one of my goals is to serve our community as an elected official,” Snair said of his possible run. “The voters here in Smithtown have seen how little this all-Republican board has done for them and they will remember in November.”

Giordano also confirmed that he is considering screening for the Democratic nomination for town board positions.

“It’s something that I’m currently looking into,” he said.

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