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President Donald Trump

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Donald Trump and now Aaron Boone? What’s going on?

A well-known businessman, who spent considerable time on TV after he had made his money, was elected president — in case you’ve been living in a hole somewhere for the last year or so — despite not having any experience whatsoever as a politician.

Then, recently, the New York Yankees, who expect a championship every year and aren’t fond of learning curves, went out and hired someone whose playing claim to fame as a Yankee came with one swing 14 years ago. After his playing career ended, Boone entered the broadcast booth where he talked about the game.

Like Trump, Boone was beamed into the leaving rooms of those who paused to watch the program that featured him.

And now, like Trump, Boone must do some quick on-the-job training, becoming a modern-day manager.

Now, I don’t expect Boone to attack other players, managers or umpires on Twitter, the way the president has done when he unloads written salvos against anyone who dares to defy or annoy him.

What I’m wondering, though, is how did these men get their jobs? Since when is experience doing a high profile job no longer necessary? What made Trump and Boone the choice of the Electoral College and the best candidate to make the Yankees greater again, respectively? These Yankees, after all, were surprisingly great this year, falling one game short of the fall classic.

One word may answer that question: television. Somehow we have gone from the comical notion, years ago that “I’m not a doctor, I play one on TV,” to the reality of “I know better because I seem that way on TV.”

Long ago, in 1960, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were running for president, TV helped sway voters, particularly those who watched an important debate. So, I suppose, it seems like a logical extension to imagine that TV helped fast track the careers of people who spent time sharing their thoughts, tag lines and observations with us through that same medium.

Sports and reality TV have commonalities. A sport is the ultimate live, unscripted event, where people offer off-the-cuff thoughts and analyses on fluid action. Each game and each moment can bring the unexpected — a triple play, an inside-the-park home run or a hidden-ball trick — that requires an instant reaction.

Similarly, albeit in a different way, the reality TV that brought Trump to the top of the political heap gave him a chance to respond to changing situations, offering a cutting analysis of the potential, or lack thereof, for people on his show.

While viewers watch these familiar faces and hear their voices, people can become convinced of the wisdom and abilities of these TV stars who become spokespersons and champions for their own brands.

So, does Trump offer any insight into Boone? The new Yankees manager may find that second-guessing other people is much easier than making decisions himself and working as a part, or a leader, of a team.

Trump has bristled at all the second-guessers. While he’s familiar with the media scrutiny, Boone, too, may find it irritating that so many other New Yorkers are absolutely sure they know better when it comes to in-game decisions that affect the outcome of a Yankees contest.

Perhaps what Boone and Trump teach us is that selling your ideas or yourself on TV has become a replacement for experience. TV experience has become a training ground for those selling their ideas to the huddled masses yearning for a chance to cheer.

U.S. Reps. Peter King, Lee Zeldin and Tom Suozzi voice bipartisan opposition to the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Nov. 28. Photo by Alex Petroski

Components of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a federal tax reform bill passed by the House of Representatives in November and currently before the U.S. Senate, has achieved the seemingly impossible in finding common ground for Republicans and Democrats.

Members of Long Island’s congressional delegation from both political parties stood in front of the Internal Revenue Service building in Hauppauge Nov. 28 alongside business owners, representatives from local chambers of commerce, and town and county elected officials to deliver a clear and unified message: As currently constituted, both the House and Senate versions of the bill would harm Long Islanders.

“I view it as a geographic redistribution of wealth to propose eliminating [state and local tax deductions],” 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said during the press conference, pointing to the elimination of the SALT deduction as a key sticking point in the bill. “You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

“You’re proposing to take more money from a place like New York in order to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere.”

— Lee Zeldin

The SALT deduction, which was enacted 100 years ago, is a provision that in the past, through federal tax returns, gave a portion of tax dollars back to individuals in higher income and property tax states like New York, New Jersey and California to avoid double taxation. The deduction was eliminated in the House version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the body passed Nov. 16, for individuals’ income taxes, and limited property tax deductions to $10,000. The Senate’s version of the bill, which has not been voted on yet, completely eliminates all SALT deductions. Both the House and Senate versions double the (married filing jointly) standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. The bill has been touted by President Donald Trump (R) and other members of Republican leadership as a massive tax cut for middle-class families.

The 2nd District U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) and 3rd District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) also attended the press conference to rally support for changes to the bill. Zeldin and King were among 13 Republicans in the House to vote “no” on the bill, with 227 voting to pass it. None of the House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.

“There are some good aspects in both the House bill and the Senate bill,” Zeldin said. “Voters last November, when they went to the polls looking for that tax relief for them, for their families, for their community … this is not the tax relief that they had in mind. We may be upsetting a lot of people in our own party back in Washington right now, but we are not elected to be their congressmen.”

King echoed Zeldin’s position on both versions of the bill, calling the position between the three representatives a “united front.”

“I strongly favor tax cuts across the board,” King said. “I believe they are necessary, but this bill, both the House version and the Senate bill, I am opposed to.”

“We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that.”

— Peter King

King reiterated that his biggest issue with the bills is the elimination of the SALT deduction.

“This is inequitable, it’s unjust and it’s wrong,” King said. “Long Island is really the main victim of this tax bill. We’re not asking for any special benefit, because we’ve gotten a raw deal over the years as far as federal distribution of revenues, but don’t add to that. Don’t make it worse.”

King, who has been a supporter of Trump and his agenda, also took the opportunity to send a message to the White House.

“My district twice voted for Barack Obama by four points and by five points,” King said. “Donald Trump carried [New York’s 2nd Congressional District] by nine points. That was a 14-point turnaround. The people of Long Island didn’t make that turnaround so the Trump administration could raise their taxes so the rest of the country could get a tax break.”

Suozzi, the lone congressional Democrat at the event, also preached unity on tax reform as it pertains to Long Islanders.

“This would be a punch in the gut to everybody on Long Island if this bill were to pass either in the House form or the Senate form,” he said. Suozzi added that he thought it took guts for Zeldin and King to be among the 13 “no” votes among Republicans in the House. “We’re united 100 percent in recognizing eliminating the state and local tax deduction would be devastating to our constituents.”

New York’s income tax rate is among the highest in America, with members of the top tax bracket paying 8.82 percent in 2017. On average, the state income tax deduction for New Yorkers making between $50,000 and $200,000 in annual income for the 2015 tax year was between $4,049 and $9,330. The same group of earners deducted on average between $5,869 and $8,158 over the same time period in state and local real estate taxes. The 2015 tax year is latest year with available data according to the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, an organization that provides independent analysis of tax policy.

Participants of a protest against the federal tax bill outside of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket Nov. 29. Photo by Kevin Redding

Representatives from local organizations stood outside Renaissance Technologies in East Setauket Nov. 29 to voice their opposition to the bill. Until recently, Robert Mercer was the chief executive officer of the hedge fund, though he is known nationally for his contributions to conservative and right-wing political campaigns.

“It’s clear that there are a lot of changes that are coming and for middle-class folks like us, they’re not going to be good changes,” said Peter Verdon a Suffolk County resident who was present at the protest. “The system is clearly out of whack, tilted towards the extremely wealthy and it’s continuing in that direction and enough’s enough. We can’t allow that to continue to happen.”

Bill Crump, a Lindenhurst resident and member of the Long Island Progressive Coalition political activist group also attended.

“We’re going to have a $1.5 trillion deficit and they’re going to cut our Medicare and our benefits,” he said. “It’s coming out of our pockets. Trump claims he’s going to give a tax cut. Maybe he’s going to give you a quarter while he reaches in and takes your wallet.”

This post was updated Nov. 29 to correct the income tax and mortgage tax deduction amounts under the two bills, and to include information about a Nov. 29 protest in Setauket. Additional reporting contributed by Kevin Redding.

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

By Alex Petroski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to start with a headline relationship that would make Niccolò Machiavelli proud and work my way toward life on Main Street. You remember Machiavelli? That’s the author who wrote “The Prince,” which was first published way back in 1532, about how to manipulate people to survive and use any means available.

Wait, please don’t go. There won’t be a test and that’s the last date I’ll put in this column. Promise.

So, I’m thinking about relationships because of the new and improved dynamic between President Donald Trump and his Best Friend for Now — BFN, anyone? — Sen. Mitch McConnell. After a few tough losses, the Republican leaders seemed testy in their exchanges.

No, no, they said earlier this week, that wasn’t so. They are buddies and they agree on everything. Well, almost everything. According to sources, the senior senator also wants two scoops of ice cream when he visits the White House, but the commander in chief has no intention of changing his ice cream policies, even for his BFN.

Anyway, what brought these two older white men together? Did they talk about what it’s like to be misunderstood? Were they eager to find a friend in Washington, D.C., and did neither of them want to get a dog, as the expression goes?

No, they came together because they need to. It’s so much easier, they decided, to agree and to work together than to disagree. That sounds reasonable, but what would Machiavelli think? I suspect he’d be thrilled. After all, it’s about surviving, learning to fight another day and moving the chess pieces of life around on the board. Fortunately, and I won’t put the date in here because I don’t want to break my promise, chess was invented before “The Prince” was published. If you want to find it, you can look it up on the internet, which is the source of all information and misinformation in the universe. So, Machiavelli would have known about chess and the need to sacrifice the short-term humiliation of needing anyone and the mutually assured long-term gain of having allies in Washington.

OK, so let’s step away from the seat of our democracy and go out into the real world. Why do the rest of us need relationships and what can they do for us?

Are we like ants and bees, who need each other for specialized jobs?

Yes and no. Certainly, I would have a hard time building my own house. I feel as if I have an incompetence allergy to the words “some assembly required.” I am also visual-arts deficient. People offer all kinds of false modesty, saying things like, “I used to ski a little” or “I used to do a bit of singing,” when they almost made the Olympic team and were a few auditions short of starring next to Julie Andrews on Broadway. I, however, am not being modest. If I were responsible for building walls and decorating them, we’d be living in caves and would be staring at uninspiring chalk drawings of woolly mammoths.

So, yes, our individual deficiencies suggest we do need each other. But, maybe, we benefit not just what we get from others.

One of my good friends is in a new relationship. He has always been in decent physical shape. He’s not much of a reader and has shied away from even the shortest of reading assignments. Anyway, he’s dating a woman who is a regular runner and an avid reader. Lo and behold, he recently beamed after completing a half marathon and is happily building his own personal library.

Maybe the best and longest lasting relationships are those that push us to find the best in ourselves. It’s not exactly Machiavelli 101 and it doesn’t require a press conference, but maybe the right relationships are those that help us develop in unexpected ways.

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If we stepped outside tomorrow to a 52 degree day, we’d race back inside and put on a coat.

If we opened the door in January to the same temperature, we might race back into the house to shed that same coat.

It’s all about expectations.

Our daughter figured that out several years ago. Gone are the days when she tells us she thinks she did well on a test. She doesn’t want us to ask, “What happened?” or hear us say, “Oh, but you thought you did well on that test.”

Instead, she often tamps down our expectations, indicating that we’d better brace for the equivalent of the academic cold. If she does better than expected, she won’t have to contend with questions. If she met the lowered expectations, she can say that, even if she didn’t do well, she can take consolation in knowing how she performed.

Yes, relationships are all about managing those expectations.

Let’s take a quick look at President Trump. He’s a shoot-from-the-tweet president. He frequently misspells words, gets facts wrong here and there, and attacks his opponents, his allies and anyone in between according to his mood.

Has he done the same thing as our daughter? Is he resetting our expectations? Is he pleased to redefine the notion of a modern-day president?

If, and when, he seems levelheaded, deliberate and considerate, is he climbing over a bar he reset for himself, giving us a chance to applaud the manner in which he interacted with a public prepared for a stream of anger and disdain?

Relationships, as Harry from the movie “When Harry Met Sally” knew all too well, are also about setting expectations. When Harry (played by Billy Crystal) is sharing one of his many philosophies of life with Sally (Meg Ryan), he suggests that he never takes a girlfriend to the airport early in a relationship because he doesn’t want her to ask why, later in the relationship, he doesn’t take her to the airport anymore.

Some people’s jobs, like stock market analysts, meteorologists and oddsmakers, involve setting expectations.

Built into their forecasts, meteorologists often leave the back door open, in case they’re wrong. As in, “It probably won’t rain, but there’s a 15 percent chance of precipitation today.”

While that forecast is innocuous enough, it leaves a small measure of flexibility in case the weather people missed a heavy band of rain clouds from their Doppler models, which happened recently, leaving my wife disappointed and dripping wet at her office after trudging through an unexpected shower.

Of course, a meteorologist who predicted rain every day in anywhere but Ketchikan, Alaska, where the locals say it rains 400 days a year, wouldn’t last long, as people would bristle at carrying unnecessary umbrellas through the brilliant sunshine

Many years ago, my wife and I went to see a movie. When we got to the theater, the film was sold out.

Instead of turning around, we bought tickets to a film on which we hadn’t read any reviews and knew nothing. We wound up watching “Shakespeare in Love.” We thoroughly enjoyed it, in part because we had no expectations.

Perhaps the most difficult expectations to meet, or exceed, are our own. Raising the bar for anything — the taste of the food we cook, our performance during a presentation or our ability to stay calm in a crisis — involves risk. Then again, once we clear our new expectations often enough, we know what we can expect of ourselves and can move on to bigger challenges. The rewards, even if we never tell anyone how much more we accomplished than we expected, seem well worth the risk.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

From the podium at The Emporium in Patchogue Nov. 8, 2016 after his race against Anna Throne Holst (D-Southampton) was officially called and his near-20-point victory was secured, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he was looking forward to the opportunity to “make America great again.”

Zeldin has become synonymous with President Donald Trump (R) locally, and though he said during an exclusive interview with the Times Beacon Record News Media editorial board he still supports the president, just short of 10 months removed from his re-election, Zeldin also said he is not a “proxy” for Trump, or anyone else. During the 90-minute interview, the congressman preached bipartisanship, addressed the future of health care, discussed Trump’s Twitter account and inflammatory speeches like the one he made in Arizona Aug. 22, criticized the president for his response to the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest and addressed the state of his support for Trump going forward.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

“I don’t give anyone my proxy.”

Despite being a strong supporter of Trump during their parallel 2016 campaigns, Zeldin had a strong response when asked if the president had his unequivocal support.

“I don’t give anyone my proxy,” Zeldin said, though he did say he supports the president and wants him to be successful. He added if he had to vote for Trump again today, he ultimately would. “It’s not 2020, but if you asked me Aug. 25 of 2017 if I was casting a vote right now and he was running unopposed, yeah. If he was running against someone else and there was a compelling reason to go some other direction, then you factor into it.”

Zeldin pushed back on the perception of a large group of his constituents who believe he is the local embodiment of Trump. He cited several examples in which he has been critical of the president, including when Trump made a Holocaust remembrance statement that made no reference to Jewish people, or when he voted in line with many House Democrats against a bill that would roll back internet privacy protections, which Trump ultimately signed into law.

The congressman also reiterated a statement he has made publicly in the past, that the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., other members of the Trump administration and people with ties to the Russian government alleging they had damaging material on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 should have never taken place.

“If you really wanted to ask yourself, is this guy just going to be or has he been some proxy or some stooge who is refusing to say where he disagrees, you would have to ignore like 20 different examples where it’s not even taking my word for it, this is stuff that I’ve said on national TV,” Zeldin said. He surmised the perception he is too tightly connected to Trump comes from people who can’t wait for the day Trump is no longer in office.

Zeldin added although he disagreed with former President Barack Obama (D) on issues, at no point did he view him as anything other than his president.

“There are people who think nothing has gotten done.”

Zeldin pushed back on the idea that partisan gridlock, which has long characterized the country’s perception of Congress, is getting worse or is being amplified by Trump. He said bills are being passed and bipartisan discussions are being had everyday by members of the House.

“People have this perception that when the House is in session and we’re all on the floor together that it’s an old school Aaron Burr duel taking place amongst all members all the time,” he said. “Where everyone’s basically literally trying to kill each other on the floor.”

Zeldin said he isn’t going to sugarcoat it, or try to make the discussions sound all rosy. He pointed to the over 50 bills passed since Trump has taken office as proof of Republicans and Democrats working together to get things done.

He said these topics tend to get overshadowed by what is broadcasted on TV news.

“People get very discouraged when you put on the news and you’re only coming in contact with bad news,” Zeldin said. “It’s almost like [it’s] not even newsworthy to talk about what got done that day. What’s newsworthy is what may be the biggest, most dramatic confrontation or battle that might be going on. That’s the news everyday.”

He attributed heated political rhetoric and the notion Congress is struggling to work together to the business model of the three major 24-hour cable news stations — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

“The information they’re coming in contact with is deliberately targeting them to stir emotion, because that’s how they get traffic,” he said.

The congressman recalled several times when he was slated to do a cable news interview on a particular topic, which the president would be happy to see gain coverage, only to be asked questions about the investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign because of a Tweet he sent moments before the interview.

He admitted the president has the power to steer the conversation in the right direction.

“There is no person in the United States of America with more of an ability to drive the conversation,” he said. “I don’t know of the last time we had an individual in the United States of America with a bigger soapbox than the president of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill.”

Common ground exists between Republicans and Democrats on the future of the federal health care law, according to Zeldin, though he said he’s skeptical of the Senate’s ability to reach a majority on a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. At no point during the 90-minute conversation did the congressman use the phrase “repeal and replace,” though he discussed, at length, some of the issues with the individual market and what it would take to repair it in a way that works.

“Beyond partisanship there’s an ideological difference on the insurance piece, and what do you do with the ACA,” Zeldin said. “They just absolutely, genuinely to their core disagree on certain components of what direction [to go in].”

Zeldin was extremely critical of the process that led up to the ultimately failed Senate vote on health care and stressed the need to return to regular order.

The health care vote revealed three Republican senators as willing to oppose the president on major legislation. As a result of that vote and other circumstances in which Republican senators have spoken out against Trump, Zeldin encouraged the use of the president’s “bully pulpit,” like the way he spoke about Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) during his trip to Phoenix Aug. 22.

When asked if the president is doing enough to grow his base of support rather than just appealing to those he already has in his camp, Zeldin was also critical.

“There are opportunities for him to do more to broaden that coalition,” he said.

He also indicated the president is prepared to compromise on a health care bill.

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill,” Zeldin said.

“There is no moral equivalency.”

The congressman was most critical of the president on his response to the events in Charlottesville. He repeatedly stated there is no moral equivalency between marchers on the side of the KKK and Nazism and those who attended the rally to oppose hate, a point that was contradictory to statements Trump made publicly on the subject. Zeldin said he did agree though with the president’s point that members of the “alt-right” were not the only one’s who arrived at the Virginia rally for the purpose of inciting violence.

“If you are a good person showing up to that march and you realize once you get there that by being associated at all with that march that you are associating yourself in any way, shape, or form with the KKK or Nazism, a good person, immediately, instinctively completely disengages,” Zeldin said.

By Rita J. Egan

A local activist group is asking a Long Island billionaire and his daughter to stop funding the alt-right.

According to a press release from the North Country Peace Group, Robert Mercer, billionaire co-CEO of the Setauket-based hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, and his daughter Rebekah have allegedly contributed millions of dollars to alt-right causes due to his alliance with the online media company Breitbart News.

The group held a rally in front of the company’s entrance on Route 25A Aug. 23 because members feel Breitbart News has provided a forum for white supremacist, sexist and other racist voices.

Approximately two dozen protesters were in attendance with signs in tow. During the rally, Charles Perretti of Setauket grabbed a megaphone and addressed the crowd.

“What does [the Mercer family] want?” he asked. “They want to control the public dialogue. They want to advance their attitudes and values at the expense of true representative government and the spirit of one man and one vote.”

Perretti said Mercer supports the current Republican presidential administration, referring to that of President Donald Trump (R).

“What do we want, the people on the corner?” he said. “We want concern for the common good.”

The statement inspired protesters to respond repeatedly: “Concern for the common good.”

In recent months, the local peace group has organized or participated in several rallies covering various topics including Trump’s proposed transgender military ban, climate change, alleged use of force by police and a sister event to the Women’s March on Washington.

Peace group member Rosemary Maffei, of Setauket, has been in attendance for much of the group’s protests. She said attending political demonstrations is something she feels she needs to do for herself personally and for the country, and she appreciates being around like-minded residents.

“I feel it’s important to let people see that there is resistance to Trump and the Republican Party, especially here on ‘red’ Long Island,” she said. “Sitting home and doing nothing while the country is being torn apart is something I don’t understand.”

Mercer did not respond to a request sent through an executive assistant at his company for comments about the rally.

This post was updated Aug. 30.

 

Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer works at his desk in his North Babylon office. Photo by Alex Petroski

As the night progressed Nov. 8, 2016, it steadily became clear that months of data and polls had failed to accurately predict the future. Around midnight, it was no longer in doubt — Donald Trump was going to be the 45th president of the United States, and Democrats had a long road ahead to figure out what went wrong.

Both nationally and locally, the time since the shocking 2016 presidential election has served as a period of reflection and resistance for the Democratic Party. Political leaders across the country, like Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer, were tasked with crafting a new message and understanding the emotion Americans voiced with their votes in November: anger.

In an exclusive interview at his North Babylon office, Schaffer weighed in on the platform of the party going forward: How Trump’s message resonated for Suffolk voters making him the first Republican presidential candidate to win the county since the early 1990s; a high profile race for Suffolk’s district attorney; the two congressional seats up in 2018; his journey in politics since age 11 and much more.

The future of the party

Schaffer is in an enviable and high stakes position. The leading Democrat in the county has a blank slate as a platform, while the party tries to rebirth itself from the ashes of 2016. The path forward is whatever Suffolk Democrats choose to make it from here, but choosing wrong could be a major setback. The successes of ultra-progressive candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) could make a further left-leaning Democratic Party a possibility for the future. However, swinging too far to the left could alienate moderates from both sides of the aisle, similar to the way Trump Republicans are trying to go it alone with little support outside of the base.

“I’m trying to make sure I keep saying this: Make sure we don’t burn the house down,” Schaffer said of infighting amongst different sects of the party. “Or even I use the line, ‘Don’t make me pull the car over.’ The kids are arguing in the back and we’re about 50 miles away from the destination and they’re carrying on … I’ll pull the car over and we’re not going anywhere.”

Schaffer said he held a meeting in March with about 25 leaders of various activist groups in the hopes of emerging with a unified front.

“I brought them all together at our headquarters and I said, ‘Look, we all have the same goal — we want to defeat [U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)] and [U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)] and we want to defeat Trump,’” Schaffer said. “‘That’s our four-year plan. We all have different reasons why we want to accomplish that goal — your issue might be health care, your issue might be the travel ban, your issue may be you think Trump’s an idiot, you’re concerned about the Supreme Court. Whatever your issue is, we have to put that energy together and see how we can, as best as possible, move in the same direction to accomplish that.’”

The Democratic Party is not in the shambles locally as it might appear nationally, according to Schaffer. The Suffolk County Legislature has had a Democrat majority since 2005. He said he wasn’t a huge fan of the “A Better Deal” Democratic rebranding effort released by the party nationally recently, but instead would like to see politicians from both sides of the aisle meet in the middle and compromise on important issues, rather than focusing on branding and slogans.

Schaffer described his initial foray into politics as getting swept up in a Democratic wave of support. Living in West Islip, Schaffer had a friend named Jeff, whose older brother Tom Downey was running for the county legislature in 1971. The candidate, who was just 22 years old at the time, enlisted the help of neighborhood kids, including 11-year-old Schaffer, to pass out fliers for the campaign.

“The father, Mr. Downey, says, ‘Alright you guys, get in the station wagon, we’re going to go deliver these fliers for Tom,’” Schaffer said. Downey was elected, becoming the youngest member of the legislature in its history. In 1987, Schaffer was also elected to the county legislature, and when he was sworn in at age 23 he became the second youngest member. He also currently serves as town supervisor for Babylon and will seek re-election in the fall.

Schaffer credited his preparation for office at such a young age to an unusually difficult upbringing. He said his father abandoned the family when he was 10 years old, and when he was 14, his mother was sent to jail for killing someone while she was driving drunk. His aunt and uncle finished raising him through those difficult times, though he came out the other end more prepared than most for adversity.

In 1974, Downey ran for Congress again aided by Schaffer and others. He attributed the post-Watergate environment to Downey’s victory as a Democratic candidate. Schaffer said he anticipates a similar wave to impact the 2017 and 2018 elections locally and nationally as a response to all things Trump.

Trump support in the county

Trump’s victory nationally was a surprise, but a Republican winning Suffolk County was a shocker not seen in the last five election cycles. He took home nearly 53 percent of the vote and Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle, who also played an active role in Trump’s campaign, told TBR News Media during an interview in April the key issues that drove local residents to the polls in support of a first-time politician were the failures of his predecessors to make any inroads on immigration, health care and jobs in Suffolk.

Schaffer realized the irony in LaValle and him naming the same few issues as the most important to voters in the county.

“Because they’re human issues,” he said. “So that’s what I say, is that I’m never going to question John LaValle’s commitment to wanting to make a better place in Suffolk County. I’m never going to question — take a Republican — [county Legislator] Leslie Kennedy [R-Nesconset]. I’m never going to question that. I know that nobody wants to have gunfights breaking out and gangs and people overdosing, but can we sit down and figure out how we get it done?”

Schaffer was careful to relay that the party needs to have a parallel focus in order to smooth over tensions between the two in the current political climate.

“I think the message should be that we’re going to oppose Trump and his team on things we believe are hurtful to people,” he said. “And we’re going to support him on things, or compromise with him on issues that are going to deliver results.”

A common refrain from Republicans is the everyday voter doesn’t care about “distracting” issues — like the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign/administration, palace intrigue stories and the president’s tweets to name a few; the voters care about what is actually getting done. From that perspective, the Democrats Schaffer has come in contact with are in the same boat as Republicans.

Local races

Schaffer pointed to the race for Suffolk County district attorney as a potential indicator of where politics is heading in the county in the near future. He sang the praises of Democrat candidate and current Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, whom the party has already endorsed. Sini will square off with Ray Perini (R) a criminal lawyer from Huntington, for the seat left open by Tom Spota (D), who will not seek re-election. Schaffer also cleared up an issue with Sini’s announcement of his candidacy, which came as a surprise because during his confirmation hearing to become police commissioner before the legislature he said he had no interest in running for DA.

Schaffer said at the time Sini was being truthful, he had no intentions of running, but he said Sini felt he had made more progress in his short time as Suffolk’s top cop to make him comfortable seeking a step up.

“No secret kabuki plan, no conspiracies,” he said. “Nobody said, ‘OK, we’ll fake them out and tell them you’re not running and then you’ll run.’”

LaValle was critical of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and his management of Suffolk’s finances. The county has a poor credit rating and an ever-growing deficit, though Schaffer defended Bellone and said he’s done an admirable job in a tough position.

Schaffer also addressed comments LaValle made in April regarding Zeldin and his claims that “liberal obstructionists,” and not genuine constituents, were the ones opposing his policies and protesting his public appearances. LaValle called those constituents “a disgrace.”

“Yeah and John should know better also,” Schaffer said. “I’m not ever going to question anyone’s patriotism unless somebody shows me evidence that they’re colluding with a foreign government or they’re doing some terrorist activity.”

Schaffer said regardless of where on the political spectrum a given Democrat falls currently, the goal is to find candidates capable of defeating Zeldin and King.

It’s become an Abbott and Costello comedy routine, except in the nation’s capital. Let’s take a look:

Trump: “Strange as it may seen, they give ball players nowadays very peculiar names.”

Costello: “Funny names?”

Trump: “Nicknames, nicknames. Now, on the Washington team, we have who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know is on third.”

Costello: “That’s what I want to find out. I want you to tell me the names of the fellows on the Washington team.”

Trump: “I’m telling you. Who’s on first, what’s on second, I don’t know is on third.”

Costello: “You know the fellows’ names?”

Trump: “Yes.”

Costello: “Well, who’s playing first?”

Trump: “Who was playing first, but I fired him.”

Costello: “You fired him? Who did you fire?”

Trump: “Yes. I most certainly did. It was time for a new first baseman. We’ve got a better one coming in to play first.”

Costello: “Oh yeah? Who is that?”

Trump: “No, who was on first.”

Costello: “What are you asking me for?”

Trump: “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you. Who was on first.”

Costello: “I’m asking you, who’s on first?”

Trump: “I already told you, not anymore.”

Costello: “Not anymore is on first?”

Trump: “Yes.”

Costello: “You won’t tell me the name of the fellow on first base?”

Trump: “Yes, not anymore.”

Costello: “OK, so not anymore is playing first?”

Trump: “He was, but he just left, too, so now I have no one.”

Costello: “You don’t have a first baseman?”

Trump: “Yes, I do, no one.”

Costello: “How can no one play first?”

Trump: “He’s very talented. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen at the position. He’ll win games for us.”

Costello: “When you pay the first baseman every month, who gets the money?”

Trump: “He did, but no one gets it now.”

Costello: “So, you’re not paying anyone?”

Trump: “No, we’re paying no one. Sometimes his wife comes down and collects his paycheck.”

Costello: “No one’s wife?”

Trump: “Yes. After all, the man earns it.”

Costello: “No one does?”

Trump: “Absolutely.”

Costello: “Washington has a good outfield?”

Trump: “Oh, it’s great again.”

Costello: “The left fielder’s name?”

Trump: “Why.”

Costello: “I don’t know, I just thought I’d ask.”

Trump: “I just thought I’d tell you.”

Costello: “Then tell me who’s playing left field?”

Trump: “No, who was playing first, but he was fired.”

Costello: “Stay out of the infield! The left fielder’s name?”

Trump: “Why.”

Costello: “Why?”

Trump: “I’m thinking of moving why to center field after he did such a great job in left.”

Costello: “Who did a great job in left field?”

Trump: “No, who only plays first and he’s not on the team anymore, so I don’t want to talk about him.”

Costello: “You got a pitcher.”

Trump: “Wouldn’t this be a fine team without a pitcher?”

Costello: “Tell me the pitcher’s name.”

Trump: “Tomorrow.”

Costello: “Why not now?”

Trump: “No, why is in left field. He never pitches, but he might play center field.”

Costello: “Now when the guy at bat bunts the ball against tomorrow — me being a good catcher — I want to throw the guy out at first base, so I pick up the ball and throw it to no one.”

Trump: “Now, that’s the first thing you’ve said right.”

Costello: “I don’t even know what I’m talking about.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer from New York was among the strongest opponents of the GOP-backed bill to repeal Obamacare. File photo by Kevin Redding

With a dramatic thumbs down gesture from U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) in the middle of the night July 28, the GOP-backed health care bill was effectively killed in the United States Senate, leaving the future of health care in the country, state and county a mystery.

“First: I want to thank Sens. [Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)], [Susan Collins (R-Maine)], and McCain for showing such courage, strength, and principle.”

— Chuck Schumer

As a result of the vote, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, remains the law of the land for the time being, despite rhetoric from President Donald Trump (R) suggesting the system is on the verge of collapse. In New York, a universal health care bill progressed past the state assembly and has been in committee since June 2016, awaiting state senate approval and a final signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). A New York State health care bill would supersede federal law.

“First: I want to thank Sens. [Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)], [Susan Collins (R-Maine)], and McCain for showing such courage, strength, and principle,” U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said on Twitter July 28. The three Republican senators voted in line with the 48 Democrats to effectively kill the bill, despite the GOP majority. “To everyone who called, tweeted, emailed, and raised their voice in any way: thank you. Your stories matter. But we are not celebrating. We are relieved — for the millions of Americans who can keep their insurance and breathe a little easier. Now, it’s time for the Senate to come together in a bipartisan way to fix the problems that exist in our health care system. We can stabilize the markets through funding cost sharing reduction and creating reinsurance programs, which keep premiums, deductibles down.”

U.S. Rep. for New York’s 3rd Congressional District Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) released a proposal July 31 with the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators which Suozzi serves as the vice-chair of, that would “stabilize the individual insurance market,” in the wake of the vote, according to a press release. The plan would create a dedicated stability fund to reduce premiums and limit losses of coverage, repeal the 2.3 percent medical device sales tax that is on all medical device supplies, provide clear guidelines for states that want to enter into regional control of their health care and create more options for customers, and more.

“Americans are desperate for Democrats and Republicans to work together to try and tackle the challenges our country faces,” Suozzi said in a statement. “The Problem Solvers Caucus, by proposing this major bipartisan first step, is like an oasis in a desert of dysfunction. We still have much more to do with health care and other issues and we hope our colleagues will join our efforts in this spirit of goodwill and compromise for the common good.”

“The Problem Solvers Caucus, by proposing this major bipartisan first step, is like an oasis in a desert of dysfunction.”

— Tom Suozzi

The New York State Assembly bill for the 2017-18 session, which is currently in committee, would establish The New York Health Act, to create a single-payer health care system.

A single-payer system requires a single-payer fund, which all New Yorkers would pay into to cover health care costs of an individual, instead of through private insurers. In a single-payer system every citizen is covered, patients have the freedom to choose their own doctors and hospitals, and employers would no longer be responsible for health care costs. Suozzi attended a March rally in Huntington in support of a single-payer system for New York.

The U.S. Senate version of the health care bill passed by the House of Representatives in May  would have resulted in drastic cuts to Medicaid funding for New Yorkers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, nearly $92 billion in funding would be cut from New York’s Medicaid expansion dollars between 2020 and 2026.

The predominantly Republican support for the repeal of Obamacare stems from expensive premiums and an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance for all Americans with a fine for noncompliance.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office was no more optimistic about the GOP health care bill than the Kaiser Family Foundation. A July 20 report from the CBO on one of the many versions of the now-failed senate bill predicted 17 million Americans would be uninsured by 2018 had the bill passed, in addition to increases in premiums.

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