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President Donald Trump

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; what about Trump’s message resonated for Suffolk voters making him the first Republican presidential candidate to win the county since the early 90s; 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 (D-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 “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 reelection 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 Times Beacon Record Newspapers 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 he and LaValle 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 — Leslie Kennedy. 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.”

He 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, the president’s and the president’s Tweets to name a few — they care about what is actually getting done. From that perspective, 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 (D), 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 reelection. He 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 ‘okay 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.

He 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.

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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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Community members call for Trump’s impeachment. Photo by Alex Petroski

On the south corner of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station about 100 community members gathered to call for the impeachment of the 45th president of the United States July 2. And after hearing about the demonstration on Facebook, a few dozen of their neighbors assembled on the north corner of the intersection to voice their support for President Donald Trump (R). Though only six lanes of highway and a median separated the two groups, the ideological gulf between protestors and their interpretation of the first six months of the Trump presidency is seemingly growing by the second.

Jim Barr and other pro-Trump community members oppose the rally. Photo by Alex Petroski

Members of political activist organizations The North Country Peace Group, Long Island Rising and others organized the Impeach Trump rally. The groups have been involved in organizing similar rallies since Inauguration Day Jan. 20 to speak out about Trump’s position on climate change, women’s health care rights, nuclear proliferation and to commemorate International Women’s Day. To coincide with The Women’s March on Washington D.C. Jan. 21, a sister march boasting attendance in the thousands took place at the same corner.

The march calling for Trump’s impeachment Sunday had a different feel from previous events for two major reasons — a sizable group of Trump supporters gathered across the street to oppose the rally, and attendance was substantially lower compared to not only the massive Jan. 21 event, but to all others organized by the groups of late as well.

Organizers from the two groups on the south corner pointed to the holiday weekend as an explanation for the waning number of attendees, rather than a potential decrease in enthusiasm for the Trump “resistance.”

Though citizens on both corners acknowledged the heated political discourse is having an overall negative effect on the country, neither seemed ready to concede any ground.

“The country has never been divided to the extent it is now, and the anger level is very, very high,” said Bill McNulty during the event, a member of the North Country Peace Group who has had a political radio talk show at Stony Brook University for 25 years. When asked how a rally calling for Trump’s ouster days before July 4th might contribute to that divide, McNulty suggested supporters of the president are among those most likely to suffer from his policies, especially regarding health care and the environment.

Community members call for Trump’s impeachment. Photo by Alex Petroski

McNulty admitted discussion of Trump’s impeachment is premature due to the Republican majority in the House and Senate, and because investigations regarding possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian are still in the early stages.

“What we have to do now is draw together these different organizations and focus on a couple of particular points that will enable us to really throw a fright into these politicians,” he said, also conceding political opposition from his corner would be productive if focused on specific issues, though he didn’t back down from his belief Trump is not fit for office.

Across Route 347, most attendees declined to answer questions. Sean Bergin, a Ronkonkoma resident explained his motivation for occupying the north corner.

“They are out here actively trying to undermine a dually elected president,” he said, gesturing across the street. “The Democrat policies that they put forth have flooded Long Island’s streets with blood-thirsty gangsters in the form of MS13, and cheap heroin, which is killing our kids by the dozens and the hundreds every goddamn day. None of the media has the guts to point at Barack Obama’s failed immigration policies as the cause of that. We have a president now who’s putting a stop to that, and those people are terrified because they know it’s the end of the Democrat party.”

Jim Barr, a Selden resident, Trump supporter and President of Long Island ABATE, a group dedicated to the training and education of American bikers, said the source of the anger across the street is Hillary Clinton’s loss in the election.

“This is the United States of America — key word ‘united,’” he said. “We’re all supposed to be on the same page. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama. That’s the last person I would have voted for, but I didn’t cry when he got elected.”

Barr admitted he wished someone would screen the president’s tweets, but said he’s happy Trump hasn’t changed from his demeanor during the campaign.

Sound Beach resident Noreen Morrison, a member of Long Island Rising, explained the thinking behind a July 4th-weekend rally calling for the impeachment of a sitting president, and the possibility it could heat up political rhetoric.

“It’s the only thing we have available to us, peaceful protest,” she said. “I don’t want to see this country come to armed conflict between political factions.”

Though there has been chatter on the Democrat side, no substantial move towards impeachment has accumulated to this point.

Local officials weigh in on President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Paris Agreement

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, helped to establish the United States Climate Alliance in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Lawmakers signed a bill protecting the Long Island Sound last year. File photo from Cuomo’s office

By Alex Petroski

U.S. President Donald Trump’s (R) decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a global effort to combat the threat of climate change, elicited strong responses from around the world. One of the more notable reactions came from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who along with the governors of California and Washington State established the United States Climate Alliance. The coalition will convene the three states, and others that have come out in support of the initiative, in committing to uphold the parameters of the Paris Agreement despite Trump’s June 1 announcement. As of June 5 the alliance included 13 members — 12 states and Puerto Rico.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order establishing the United States Climate Alliance. Image from governor’s website

“The White House’s reckless decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement has devastating repercussions not only for the United States, but for our planet,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York State is committed to meeting the standards set forth in the Paris accord regardless of Washington’s irresponsible actions. We will not ignore the science and reality of climate change, which is why I am also signing an executive order confirming New York’s leadership role in protecting our citizens, our environment and our planet.”

The Paris Agreement, which officially took effect in November 2016, aimed to strengthen the response to climate change globally by keeping temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius during the current century and also strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the effects of climate change. The U.S. is now one of only three nations on the planet not included in the agreement.

According to Cuomo, the United States Climate Alliance will seek to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 percent from 2005 levels and meet or exceed the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan, each of which were self-imposed U.S. goals of the Paris Agreement. The Clean Power Plan was established in 2015 to establish state-by-state targets for carbon emission reductions. Trump signed an executive order early on in his administration placing a hold on the plan and pledging a review. Cuomo also announced New York State will be investing $1.65 billion in renewable energy and energy efficiency in the aftermath of Trump’s decision. In addition he said he aims to create 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020.

Republican New York State Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) did not respond to requests for comment through spokespersons.

Local officials from across the political spectrum spoke out about Trump’s decision in the aftermath of the announcement.

“We live on an island and have already begun to see some of the effects of our rising seas,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “To protect Brookhaven for our children and generations to come it is our responsibility to take action now. The president’s announcement today regarding the Paris climate accord is disappointing. On behalf of our residents, I will continue to fight to protect our environment.”

Democrats including 3rd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and others blasted the decision in public statements.

“President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement is a devastating failure of historic proportions,” Schumer said. “Future generations will look back on President Trump’s decision as one of the worst policy moves made in the 21st century because of the huge damage to our economy, our environment and our geopolitical standing. Pulling out of the Paris Agreement doesn’t put America first, it puts America last in recognizing science, in being a world leader and protecting our own shoreline, our economy and our planet.”

New York State 4th District Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) expressed support for the newly minted climate alliance on Twitter, sharing the hashtag “#LeadNotLeave.”

First Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said in an emailed statement through a spokeswoman that he supported many of the goals of the Paris Agreement, but thought the U.S. “approached this entire agreement all wrong.” He criticized former President Barack Obama (D), who played a leadership role in establishing the Paris Agreement, for bypassing Congress in reaching the agreement and for what he viewed as outsized pledges made by the U.S. compared to other world powers in the agreement.

“What we need to do moving forward should include continuing to take an international approach to protect clean air and clean water, and reduce emissions that are impacting our climate, but we must negotiate it correctly so that we aren’t over promising, under delivering and causing unnecessary harm,” he said.

Sen. Schumer was among the most forceful opponents of Trump’s decision. File photo by Kevin Redding

During Trump’s June 1 speech announcing the withdrawal, he sited a loss of American jobs in the coal industry and crippling regulations on the business world as the drivers behind his decision.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who was appointed by Trump, praised his decision.

“This is a historic restoration of American Economic Independence — one that will benefit the working class, the working poor, and working people of all stripes,” he said. “With this action, you have declared that people are the rulers of this country once again.”

Administrators from the New York District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, a government agency that offers support to small businesses, were not available to comment on Trump’s decision or the formation of the United States Climate Alliance, but a spokesperson for the department instead directed the request to answers U.S. SBA Administrator Linda McMahon gave to Yahoo Global News June 6. She agreed with Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement, adding she believes this will result in more job opportunities for Americans.

“I think [Trump] was making a statement that we’re going to look at what’s good for America first,” she said. “I do think climate change is real, and I do think that man has some contribution to climate change. As to the extent of the science, predictions as to what might happen 20, 30, 40 years from now, I’m not sure we have that totally decided, but I do respect the science behind a lot of it.”

The second attempt passes House, will head to Senate for further scrutiny

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin weigh in on the AHCA, which passed the house last week. File photos

The battle to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, was left in the hands of the House of Representatives for a vote last week, and two representatives for the North Shore had differing opinions on the bill. The American Health Care Act passed in the House by a slim 217 to 213 margin, though before it becomes law it must also pass the Senate and ultimately be signed by President Donald Trump (R).

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) for New York’s 1st Congressional District was among those in favor of the bill, fulfilling a campaign promise of his own and the vast majority of Republican lawmakers across the country since Obamacare was enacted in 2010.

“Almost everyone agrees that our current system is deeply flawed,” Zeldin said in a statement. “The American Health Care Act provides relief from billions of dollars of crushing taxes and mandates enacted under the ACA. Additionally, the bill repeals the individual and employer mandates, taxes on prescription and over-the-counter medications, health insurance premiums and medical devices.”

“The revised version of the AHCA passed by the House is not sound health reform. … Access to insurance is meaningless if premiums are unaffordable and the coverage is not comprehensive.”

— Kevin Dahill

Zeldin also sought to dispel “outright lies” being perpetrated on social media and elsewhere about the new bill, the first incarnation of which he was slow to support unless important amendments were added, he said in March. One thing he specified as a misconception is the idea that people with pre-existing conditions might lose coverage, or that millions will be left uninsured.

“The bill protects people with pre-existing conditions, and gives states greater flexibility to lower premiums and stabilize the insurance market,” he said.

Critics of the bill have noted it was not subject to scrutiny by the Congressional Budget Office prior to the vote, and in the first version that nearly reached a vote in March, the CBO suggested about 24 million people were in danger of losing their coverage.

An amendment to the bill the second time around introduced by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan), would establish funds for a “high risk” pool, which would be used to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

“The high-risk pool plan is an attempt to cover up for another provision in the bill, via an amendment by New Jersey Rep. Tom MacArthur (R), that would allow states to easily waive protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions in the individual market if they experienced a gap in coverage,” according to the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan policy institute.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), of New York’s 3rd Congressional District, was among those critics. He voted against the bill.

“I’m disappointed that House Republicans chose not to work with Democrats to create a common-sense bill,” Suozzi said in a statement. He also called on the Senate to disregard the legislation and focus on working toward a bipartisan solution.

“It will result in skyrocketing premiums, higher out-of-pocket costs, a discriminatory age tax and will steal from Medicare,” he said. “And all of this was done without an updated Congressional Budget Office score to determine how much the new amendment to the bill will cost taxpayers.”

Suozzi also addressed what it might mean for New Yorkers.

“For New Yorkers, this legislation leaves 2.7 million people without proper access to health insurance,” he said. “$4.7 billion will be cut from our state’s Medicaid budget, putting seven million people who rely on Medicaid services and other important programs at risk. This is a bad bill for New Yorkers, plain and simple.”

The bill establishes limits on federal funding for state Medicaid programs beginning in 2020. States that exceed the cap would be subjected to reduced federal funding in the following fiscal year, according to the summary of the bill.

The most notable changes in the new health care plan compared to the existing one include an elimination of the individual mandate, which required all Americans to purchase health insurance or be subject to a fine — a sticking point for many Republicans on Obamacare; a cut of federal Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood for one year; adjusting tax credits based on age instead of income; and shifting Medicaid expansion set forth by Obamacare to the discretion of states instead of the federal government, among many others.

According to a map on the website of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to deliver health policy analysis to the public, issuing tax credits based on age instead of income will result in some lower income Americans paying more for coverage.

“Generally, people who are older, lower income or live in high-premium areas receive less financial assistance under the AHCA,” analysis of the bill by the foundation said. “Additionally, older people would have higher starting premiums under the AHCA and would therefore pay higher premiums. Because younger people with higher incomes and living in lower-cost areas would receive more financial assistance and would have lower starting premiums on average, they would pay lower premiums on average.”

Kevin Dahill, president and CEO of Suburban Hospital Alliance of New York State, an organization that represents the advocacy interests of Long Island health systems including St. Catherine of Siena in Smithtown, and John T. Mather Memorial and St. Charles hospitals in Port Jefferson, issued a statement regarding the House bill.

“The revised version of the AHCA passed by the House is not sound health reform,” he said. “About 70 percent of Medicaid spending in our state covers care for the elderly and disabled, including children. These people will still need care. And even more disheartening is the amendment to cut $2.3 billion in Medicaid funding by shifting the cost burden from the counties to the state. This amendment was advanced by [Republican] New York  Congressmen [John] Faso and [Chris] Collins and it leaves a huge hole in New York’s budget. … Access to insurance is meaningless if premiums are unaffordable and the coverage is not comprehensive.”

Dr. Gerard Brogan Jr., executive director at Huntington Hospital, said he would put the ACA and AHCA in the same category as flawed legislation during a phone interview. He also reiterated Dahill’s concerns that the changes put a large number of people at risk of losing their access to adequate care because of changes to Medicaid.

“There are portions that are either not derived from sound assumptions or won’t accomplish what are the issue that we need to deal with,” he said.

Under sunny skies on a warm spring day, hundreds gathered at the corner of Nesconset Highway and Patchogue Road in Port Jefferson Station April 29 to make their voices heard in opposition of policies and promises from President Donald Trump (R) that reversed environmental protections.

On March 28, Trump signed an executive order to rescind two actions taken by the Obama administration that sought to establish a climate action plan and reduce methane emissions. It also established a review to determine if the Clean Power Plan, another Obama administration policy designed to reduced carbon pollution from power plants, should remain in place. Trump’s budget blueprint for the 2017-18 fiscal year released in March included significant cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, and he has also publicly stated his intention to consider withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a United Nations convention on climate change. He has said the goal in rolling back measures designed to protect the environment is to relieve the financial burden the measures create for American businesses.

The North Country Peace Group and Long Island Rising, two activist groups who have been quick to break out the poster board and markers to congregate and send a message to Trump and politicians who support his policies, organized a sister march of the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. The Port Jefferson Station march saw several hundred protestors armed with signs and chants line the streets to voice their opinion.

“I knew that the people’s climate march was happening and I wanted us to have a local event for Long Island, for Suffolk County,” Rosemary Maffei, a member of both activists groups and an organizer of the Port Jeff Station march said in an interview during the event. “The reasons being, of course, I believe in climate change. I believe it’s happening and unfortunately we have someone in the White House right now who doesn’t believe in it. I think it’s important for us to come out in numbers and to show our representatives that this is an important topic for us and that we want them to represent us and how we want them to vote.”

A press release advertising the event also stated the two groups’ intentions.

“The rally will be an event for our community to come together and voice our concerns about the policies this administration is enacting which will have devastating effects on our planet,” the statement said. “We rally for our planet because if we don’t stop the insanity who will?”

Other residents from the North Shore shed light on their reasons for attending.

“We protect ourselves in all sorts of ways for the future, and here we are allowing the future of our children and grandchildren to be so jeopardized,” John Robinson from Setauket said.

A Port Jefferson resident shared Robinson’s concerns.

“He’s undoing incredibly important legislation that was designed to save the environment,” Merle Neidell said.

President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint includes less funding for the EPA than any federal budget since the 1990s. Image by TBR News Media

The United States Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 to do as its name suggests; protect the environment. However, if the words and actions of the new administration in the White House are to be believed, it might be the agency that needs protection.

In President Donald Trump’s (R) 2018 budget blueprint released March 16, among many other funding cuts at the hands of a $54 billion increase in defense spending, was a proposed $2.6 billion cut to the EPA’s budget and 3,200 fewer jobs at the agency.

“The budget for EPA reflects the success of environmental protection efforts, a focus on core legal requirements, the important role of the states in implementing the nation’s environmental laws, and the president’s priority to ease the burden of unnecessary federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits,” the blueprint said.

Trump’s blueprint also calls for the discontinuation of funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs and climate change research, a plan the blueprint lauds because of the more than $100 million in savings it will mean for American taxpayers. The Clean Power Plan was a 2015 Obama administration initiative that aimed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, a decision the EPA called historic at the time. Trump signed an executive order March 28 to initiate a review of the Clean Power Plan and scale back enforcement of other climate regulations on businesses. During a press briefing March 28 by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he declined to answer a question about whether the president still believes climate change is a “hoax,” an assertion he made in the past.

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

The blueprint also calls for the elimination of 50 EPA programs, which will save taxpayers another $347 million. Some of those programs include Energy Star, created to promote energy efficiency in consumer products, homes and businesses; Targeted Air Shed Grants, established to help local and state pollution control agencies in developing projects to reduce pollution; and the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which screens the effects of chemicals and pesticides on humans’ endocrine systems. Their grants would be zeroed out in Trump’s budget. Cuts would also come in the tune of $250 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, targeting grants and programs for coastal and marine management, research and education.

Furthermore, Trump selected former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to serve as administrator for the EPA, a man who repeatedly expressed his skepticism of climate change in the past. But during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in January Pruitt denied the president’s claim that climate change is a hoax.

“As I have repeatedly emphasized in my testimony to this body and elsewhere, promoting and protecting a strong and healthy environment is among the lifeblood priorities for the government, and EPA is vital to that mission,” Pruitt said during his opening statement during the hearing. “If confirmed as Administrator, I am committed to ensuring EPA’s decisions are conducted through open processes that take into account the full range of views of the American people, including the economic consequences of any regulation.”

During the hearing Pruitt also admitted to being involved in 10 lawsuits against the EPA in the past.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Delaware) a member of the committee, joined the rest of the Democrats on the committee in abstaining from the vote to confirm Pruitt. The Republican senators voted 11-0 to approve him.

“I have shared with Mr. Pruitt, and I will share with my colleagues today, that too much of what I have seen of his record of the environment and his views about the role of EPA are troubling, and in some cases deeply troubling,” Carper said.

U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) was among Pruitt’s supporters on the committee.

“It is my belief that Attorney General Pruitt will return the Environmental Protection Agency to its proper role as a steward for the environment, acting within the bounds prescribed by Congress and the Constitution,” he said.

U.S. Rep. for New York’s First District Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a fervent Trump ally in the House, opposed proposed cuts that would slash federal funding for programs designed to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary.

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi speaks during a town hall Feb. 23. Photo by Kevin Redding

“While we have made great efforts to protect the Long Island Sound and Peconic Estuary so far, there is still so much more we can do to ensure these natural treasures are safeguarded for generations to come,” he said. “We must now redouble our efforts to protect the quality of our waterways, which are depended upon by millions of people. I am committed to making sure they remain funded, supported and preserved.”

Zeldin and Third District U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) were named co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Long Island Sound Caucus earlier this month. Suozzi responded to Trump’s Clean Power Plan executive order in an emailed statement.

“This executive order unravels important measures that are meant to keep the air we breathe clean for families and children,” he said. “Keeping our environment safe is not a partisan issue. As co-chair of the bipartisan Long Island Sound Caucus and a member of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, we need to work together to protect our ever-changing climate. Today’s actions go too far.”

In his 2016 campaign for congress, Suozzi was endorsed by the Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, a grassroots nonprofit created to identify, recruit, endorse and actively campaign for pro-environment candidates for public office.

If Trump’s plan to cut funding for the EPA comes to fruition, the agency would be operating with less money in federal funding than any year since 1990.

Rob Freudenberg, vice president of energy and environment for the Regional Planning Association, a New York-based independent urban research and advocacy organization, addressed Trump’s environmental agenda in a phone interview.

“I think the Trump administration has proposed to increase defense and safety spending at the expense of other programs,” he said. “I have to just question, is it not safety and defense to invest in climate adaptation, coastal studying, reduction of climate change? We are concerned about the approach taken in the blueprint and I think it’s really up to congress to take a stand on these issues. As the budget blueprint stands today it would deal a serious blow to any progress we’ve made in terms of climate adaptation.”

Sen. Schumer was among the most forceful opponents of Trump’s decision. File photo by Kevin Redding

By Victoria Espinoza

President Donald Trump (R) presented his blueprint for the 2017-18 federal budget and if passed by Congress as it stands, it spells out cuts to programs on which North Shore residents depend.

The draft includes more than $54 billion in cuts to federal programs and departments, with the biggest cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. State, Labor and Agriculture departments.

State officials on both sides of the aisle were quick to condemn cuts to the U.S. Department of Energy, to the tune of $1.7 billion or 5.6 percent less than last year’s funding, that could impact Brookhaven National Laboratory. BNL was established by the DOE in 1947 and has housed the work of seven Nobel Prize winners. The lab hosts public tours and special programs, as well as school science fairs and robotic competitions, also scientific lectures for community residents.

Trump’s budget blueprint intends to cut $900 million in funding to the DOE’s Office of Science, under which BNL receives its funding among other national labs.

U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) held a press conference on the front steps of the Brookhaven lab in Upton March 17, calling the proposed cuts a blow to the community since the lab supplies jobs for as many as 3,000 Long Islanders.

Schumer said in recent years BNL has received an annual $537.3 million in federal funds from the Office of Science budget, about $5 million in federal funds from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and about $3 million from the Nuclear Energy Office.

A volunteer delivers a meal to a senior in the Meals on Wheels program. File photo

“This major Department of Energy budget cut is a cut to our future, a cut to our knowledge, a cut to our research and a cut to good-paying Long Island jobs,” he said. “Brookhaven National Lab is home to some of the world’s brightest minds and most cutting-edge innovations, which both advance human knowledge and spur our economy. … These kinds of cuts not only hurt us today but they hurt the future jobs and the companies of tomorrow who would otherwise plant their roots on Long Island.”

Schumer was not the only member of Congress from the area to speak out about the president’s cuts. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has voiced his concerns while also assuring constituents there are many parts of Trump’s budget that are beneficial to the United States.

“I strongly oppose the proposed cuts to Brookhaven National Lab, SUNY Stony Brook and other sources of scientific research in the 1st Congressional District,” he said in a statement. “Throughout the years, we have seen some of the world’s greatest science research conducted at these facilities.”

Zeldin made sure to reiterate Trump’s blueprint is a draft with nothing set in stone.

“Regardless of who is in the White House, the Constitution puts government funding strictly under Congress to initiate through the appropriations process,” he said. “The president’s budget request is just that — a request. It has no force of law or legislation.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget could also see a $6.2 billion or 13.2 percent reduction, which means grants for certain local programs could be ended including the popular Meals on Wheels program that has branches in Three Village and Smithtown. Meals on Wheels is a national program providing meals to senior citizens who cannot leave their homes to shop on their own. Chapters in different states rely on funding from the Community Development Block Grant program through the H.U.D. In Trump’s budget blueprint he proposes eliminating the program, cutting $3 billion to community service organizations such as Meals on Wheels, among others.

Although the Three Village Meals on Wheels is not in jeopardy, as all of its funding comes from community donations, Susan Hovani, president of the Three Village branch, said it would be a shame for other communities to lose funding — like Smithtown Meals on Wheels, which relies on federal funding to operate.

“This major … budget cut is a cut to our future, a cut to our knowledge, a cut to our research and a cut to good-paying Long Island jobs.” — Chuck Schumer

“These programs are very necessary,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s sad to see [federal funding] could be cut, and I think it would be much better to cut from other places.”

Another heap of programs on the chopping block are those funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s budget. Compared to last year’s budget, the department’s funding would decrease by $9 billion, or 13 percent.

Trump’s blueprint proposes completely eliminating the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which supports before and after-school programs as well as summer programs.

“The Trump administration’s call for zero funding for the 21st CCLC after-school initiative is a betrayal of the millions of students and parents who depend on after-school and summer-learning programs,” Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant said in a statement.

Afterschool Alliance is one of the after-school initiatives from the 21st CCLC that is responsible for many New York students after-school hours.

“It is painfully shortsighted and makes a mockery of the president’s promise to make our country safer and to support inner cities and rural communities alike,” she added.

Grant said after-school programs enable many parents to work and cutting these programs could jeopardize their ability to hold a job, as well as create a safe space for kids when they have nowhere else to go or no other positive activities to turn to.

The president said the budget proposal is meant to advance the safety and security of the American people.

“Our aim is to meet the simple, but crucial demands of our citizens — a government that puts the needs of its own people first,” he said in the blueprint. “When we do that, we will set free the dreams of every American, and we will begin a new chapter of American greatness.”

Trump said the proposed cuts are crucial to streamlining government spending and operations.

“These cuts are sensible and rational,” he said. “Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”

Ron Widelec, a member of Long Island Activists speaks during the event Saturday. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

By Victoria Espinoza

Activism is on the rise in the aftermath of the 2016 election on the North Shore and beyond, though at an event in Huntington concerned citizens signed up to do more than carry signs and initiate chants.

On Saturday, March 11, more than 100 people gathered at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Huntington to participate in a training program to run for office hosted by the Working Families Party, along with Long Island Activists, the New York State United Teachers and the Long Island Progressive Coalition.

Ron Widelec, a member of the Long Island Activists, said he believes activism and running for office should go hand in hand.

“These are not separate things, they actually have to work together,” he said. Recently the groups have banded together to support issues like a new health care law for New York, and Widelec said that’s an issue in particular dependent on having the ear of politicians. For a health care rally he played a part in organizing this month, he said he invited his local state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) to the event, but Marcellino instead sent an aide in his place.

“As I was speaking, I looked [the aide] dead in the eye and said, ‘Our state senators need to know that they’re going to vote for this bill, or they’re not going to be our state senators very much longer,’” he said. “That threat only works if when in 2018 he’s up for re-election we can actually run a candidate, mount a campaign and flip that seat. So these things have to work together.”

Long Islanders ask questions and work in groups as they learn about running for office. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

At the event residents learned how to run a successful campaign including conducting fundraisers, getting out the vote and more.

“The concept behind trainings like this is to start running an army of activists citizens who are running for office, not because they’ve been waiting in line for 20 years and finally the local party meets in their little smoke-filled rooms and decides so and so is going to be the candidate,” Widelec said. “The idea is that we get regular people who identify with the struggles of ordinary people and working families … nurses, teachers, small business owners.”

Town officials also came to encourage a new generation of politicians.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she came up through the same channels as attendees of the training program.

“I am excited to be here today and even more excited to look around this room at the people who are here to get more information and be more engaged,” she said at the event.

Cartright said she was asked to run for office in 2013 and said “no” twice before reconsidering.

“I never thought of running for office because all I knew of politics was what I saw on television which was negative and corrupt,” she said. However she realized she could help more people while holding public office and is happy she ultimately said “yes,” adding, “People in this room, you’re already starting to say ‘yes’ by being here — and that’s important.”

Cartright said she understands some people may be sharing the same hesitation she once had, but she encouraged them to push through.

“I understand for many of you the reason for being here is what’s going on the national level,” she said. “But let’s not forget that all politics are local. If you don’t want to be political or never thought of yourself as a political person, like I used to think, put that to the back burner … because as much as you might not think so everything is political. Even when you decide which family members to invite to Thanksgiving — that’s political.”

Jeff Friedman, Long Island political organizer for the NYSUT, voiced concerns for the nation’s state of education under the administration of President Donald Trump (R).

Long Islanders ask questions and work in groups as they learn about running for office. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“In recent months and with political characters like Betsy DeVos … they really threaten to undermine public education as we know it,” he said.

He said every issue can be traced back to the need for effective elected officials.

Centerport resident Marge Acosta ran for a seat on the Harborfields school board in 2016, but was defeated. She said she attended the event because important issues are being debated on multiple levels of government right now.

“It was very motivating,” Acosta said of the event. ‘They gave a lot of really good advice. Everyone learned a lot about getting involved early enough, spreading the word and raising money.”

She said she was disheartened to realize how large of a role money plays in running a successful campaign.

“It’s a shame how much time people have to spend in fundraising,” she said. “One woman there said it was a big part of why she lost her campaign and it shouldn’t be that way. There are loads of highly qualified people who shouldn’t have to worry about raising huge sums of money.”

While Acosta said she’s not sure if she’s interested in running for office again, the event was still invaluable to her.

“Never say never,” she said. “But I think I could help bring this information to a lot of people who are ready to run for public office.”

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