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Sara-Megan Walsh

Valencia Tavern in Huntington. Image from Google Maps

A proposal to demolish Valencia Tavern to create a mixed-use complex is dividing Huntington residents by their generation.

The Town of Huntington has temporarily stalled a developer’s proposal to demolish the more than 100-year-old Wall Street bar in order to build a three-story building with retail storefront and apartments in Huntington Village.

Conceptual plans submitted to the town last November by the developer, 236 VT Wall Street LLC, call for 7,840-square-foot retail space with a total of 24 apartments on the second and third stories. This would require the developers to acquire more than 9,000 square feet of town land along West Shore and Creek roads in Huntington.

As an alternative, the developer also put forth a plan to redevelop without purchasing the town land for a smaller retail space, but the same number of apartments.

To move forward, the developer would need a number of variances approved for a 13-to-15 parking space deficit, mixed-use zoning, building above the two-story height restriction and possible vision obstruction.
James Margolin, a Huntington-based attorney who represents the developer, said they received a letter of denial from the planning board in January.

“We hope to acquire the surplus town land and move forward with the application,” Margolin said, saying there is no set time frame to submit plans to Huntington’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

The proposed plans have divided the community between those calling for the building’s historic preservation and those seeking affordable housing.

A copy of an online petition titled “Save the Valencia Tavern” was presented by Bob Suter to the Huntington town board Jan. 23 in an effort to save what he called one of the town’s most iconic taverns.

“Now this historic establishment, the one-time haunt of famed Long Islanders like Billy Joel, is being threatened by developers,” Suter read from the petition. “They want to tear down the Valencia and build yet another generic mixed-use property in its place. We feel that demolishing the Valencia would do irreparable harm to the fabric of the community.”

Calls to save the tavern were met by opposition from younger residents, millennials who currently work and play in Huntington hoping one day to call it home.

Dan Busci, a Huntington native, returned to the area after graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in green building design and sustainable development looking for such apartments.

“I’ve looked at apartments around Huntington where I want to live and work,” Busci said. “The high prices have dissuaded me and made it impossible for me to move out.”

He encouraged the board to allow the developer’s plans to move forward and pushed for construction of a green, energy-efficient building in its place.

“Huntington Village has enough bars, what we really need are rental apartments,” Nicole Hoyt said.

Hoyt, a 24-year-old graphic designer, said she has an hour to hour-and-a-half commute daily to her job in Huntington after an unsuccessful hunt for an affordable apartment in town.

“I wish people opposing this new development would take a step back and consider the progression of the community as a whole,” she said. “To pass on this opportunity would be a mistake.”

A fearless Long Island deer forages for food. Photo by Rohma Abbas

An East Quogue-based hunting group is taking aim at Smithtown town code that regulates the use of firearms, including longbows.

Hunters for Deer filed a lawsuit against the Town of Smithtown in New York State Supreme Court last month, claiming the town’s required firearms code is illegal and inconsistent with state regulations set by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The town is stepping on the DEC’s toes,” said Michael Tessitore, president of Hunters for Deer. “We are saying that we already have laws being regulated by the DEC, the town is muddying the waters.”

Tessitore said he and his fellow hunters take issue with the town’s definition of a firearm because it differs from the DEC’s definition and increases the required setback, or distance hunters can be from a dwelling.

Under Section 160 of town code, Smithtown defines a firearm as “a weapon which acts by force of gunpowder or from which a shot is discharged by force of an explosion, as well as an air rifle, an air gun, a BB gun, a slingshot and a bow and arrow.” It was last updated in January 1990.

By comparison, the DEC’s regulations recognize rifles, pistols, shotguns and specific types of airguns as firearms, but doesn’t include longbows which are used for deer hunting.

Due to this difference, Hunters for Deer is suing saying the Town of Smithtown’s required 500-foot setback from the nearest dwelling to discharge a firearm is illegal, citing that New York State reduced the setback for longbows from 500 to 150 feet in 2014.

The difference in the laws illegally restrains hunters from shooting deer within Smithtown or face possible prosecution, according to the lawsuit filed Dec. 7, and denies them their civil right to participate in hunting activity.

“I have a lot of property owners from Smithtown who call me and ask me to hunt their property, but when they find out the setback they don’t want to do it,” Tessitore said. “It causes the property owners to not want to cause any conflict with their community and get tickets for an otherwise legal activity.”

Christian Killoran, a Westhampton Beach attorney representing Hunters for Deer, sent a letter to the Town of Smithtown advising it of the issues with its code, according to Tessitore, but no action was taken.

Nicole Garguilo, newly appointed town spokeswoman, said that town attorney Matthew Jakubowski was unable to comment on pending litigation.

The town’s response to the lawsuit filed Dec. 18 stated the town was advised of the hunting organization’s position, but its “actions were lawful and within statutory constitutional authority.”

Tessitore said his group previously filed a lawsuit against the Village of Sag Harbor when it attempted to make a law that would have banned hunting within its borders, getting village officials to revisit and later change it. Tessitore said he hopes this lawsuit will have similar effect on the Town of Smithtown, causing town offices to amend town code to be more inline with the state DEC’s regulations.

“The only way to get a municipality’s attention is through a lawsuit and let a court decide who is right and who is wrong,” he said.

Lawsuit alleges FaceBook post made after September 2017 vote led to unfair suspension, harassment

The historic St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

Two volunteers are suing the St. James firehouse and its leadership for violating their constitutional rights in the aftermath of the September bond vote.

Siblings Richard Weisse and Tricia Weisse, third-generation volunteers with St. James Engine Company #1, allege the St. James Fire Department, St. James Fire District, Chief Edward Springer Jr. and First Assistant Chief Ryan Davis illegally prevented them from attending any social events due to a Facebook post made after the bond vote in September. The pair is seeking money for their “emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation.”

“We believe that the plaintiffs here were wronged, it’s a clear violation of their First Amendment and Fourth Amendment due process rights,” said David Erhlich, a Garden City-based attorney representing the Weisses. “We believe a jury will be sympathetic and side with our clients.”

The [firefighters] actions against [Richard and Tricia Weisse] amount to sore losers who are taking revenge on the ‘winners”
— Lawsuit

The Weisse family has a long history with the fire department, with their father, the late Richard Weisse Sr. having been a 42-year member and prior captain who was given the title of honorary chief upon his death, Erhlich said.

Tricia Weisse posted a picture of the historic St. James firehouse, located on Route 25A/Lake Avenue, on Facebook Sept. 24, after a $12.25 million capital bond vote failed Sept. 19, according to the lawsuit. Erlich said both siblings were vocal advocates against the bond.

Another person, who was not identified in the lawsuit, wrote a comment under the Facebook post reading, “St. James Fire Dept. Engine Company #1. It is tough, unless you are looking for a new place to party, to see these pics and remain absolutely unemotional about tearing it down. Nice pics,” according to the court documents.

Based on this comment, Richard Weisse and Tricia Weisse claim they received a letter signed by Springer that suspended them and another volunteer, John Tyson, from attending all social events and functions for three months as the comment violated the district’s social media policy. The Weisses said they requested a hearing to have their suspension reviewed, but the district refused.

“The [firefighters] actions against [Richard and Tricia Weisse] amount to sore losers who are taking revenge on the ‘winners,’” reads the lawsuit. “Springer and Davis used and abused their power in the department to punish the plaintiffs for their political decision on the bond issue.”

During this three-month suspension, the fire department hosted several events including its Veterans Day parade, Christmas parade, and Breakfast with Santa where the siblings had traditionally dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Instead, the siblings were forced to sit out.

We made an attempt to reach out to the fire department and fire district via letter and via phone, to resolve the matter”
— David Erhlich

Richard Weisse also alleged in November 2017 that Davis directed that he and other members of Engine Company No. 1 not be transported to a mandatory training, for which he took time off work to attend, and was not able to make it up within the required time frame. As such, Richard Weisse was suspended as a volunteer, according to court documents, and harassed by other firefighters.

“Springer, Davis and the department encouraged and condoned the harassment of Richard,” reads the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that the Weisse siblings’ “expression and advocacy against the bond issue — including the comment which was wrongly attributed to [them] — are an expression on the issue of public importance and is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution from government interference or restriction.”

The siblings’ attorney also makes case for a violation of the Weisses’ Fourth Amendment due process right, claiming New York General Municipal Law Section 209-1 requires firefighters receive procedural due process before being discharged or suspended.

“We made an attempt to reach out to the fire department and fire district via letter and via phone, to resolve the matter,” Erlich said. “All we received back was a letter saying they we are supporting the fire district.”

Jessica Novins, a spokeswoman for St. James fire department and district, commented only, “Should there ever be any litigation against the fire district, the district would not be at liberty to comment.”

Huntington High School. File Photo

Huntington school district has started to address the 2018-19 budget early, admitting there may be challenges ahead for the district.

Superintendent James Polansky gave a presentation at the Jan. 9 board of education meeting to outline how the potential impact of newly approved federal tax laws, the state’s budget deficit and the district’s increasing costs could significantly affect Huntington students and parents.

“There are a lot of question marks this year right now, making predicting the budget a little more difficult than it has been in the past,” Polansky said.

Among his top concerns are the impact of President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, as homeowners are limited to a $10,000 write off for state and local taxes — which includes property taxes. The superintendent said he believes many homeowners will wind up paying high income taxes due to the new limits on deductions.

“It’s no secret that school budgets make up the bulk of property taxes,” he said. “How will that impact voter consideration with regard to the school budget?”

Complicating matters further, Polansky said Jan. 9 he expected the district to get little to no increase in state aid for the 2018-19 school year given New York has a more than $4.5 billion shortfall.

Contrary to Polansky’s prediction, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a $168 billion state budget Jan. 15 in which he proposed increasing state aid for elementary and secondary education by 3 percent for the 2018-19 school year. Cuomo’s proposed budget has until April 1 to be adopted by state legislators.

Polansky said Huntington school district is facing a number of factors that could lead to higher operating costs in the next school year, including increasing costs of employees’ contractual salaries and benefits. The district also will be subject to an increasing contribution rate from 9.8 percent up to between 10.5 and 11.8 percent of its payroll to the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System.

“For a district of our size or larger, that’s not an insignificant expense,” the superintendent said. “We are
obligated to pay into it just like every other school district in New York.”

The district’s presentations on the 2018-19 year will kick off Feb. 5 when Polansky said he will walk step-by-step through the process of calculating the district’s tax levy limit. This will include a discussion on growth of the tax base in Huntington, which he noted is a positive factor.

“Huntington for the last couple of years has been well below the tax levy limit,” he said. “I anticipate there is a good chance we will be well below that limit this year.”

In May 2017, voters approved a $126.2 million budget for the 2017-18 school year — with 1,022 ‘yes’ to 148 ‘no’ votes — that featured expanded enrollment for Advanced Placement and high school elective courses, upgrades to facilities, and additional summer enrichment classes.

Proposed budgetary changes for 2018-19 capital projects will be discussed March 12, followed by instructional and staff changes March 26. A full recap of the proposed budget will be given April 9, before expected adoption by the board April 16. 

“My goal is to get as much straightforward, concise and simplistic information out to my residents,” Polansky said.

Pilot programs aimed at identifying and aiding trafficking victims and potential targets

Dr. Santhosh Paulus, of Huntington Hospital, and Shandra Woworuntu, a human trafficking survivor, together at Huntington Hospital. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Hospital is taking the first step toward helping its health care workers better identify and aid human trafficking victims in the community.

Dr. Santhosh Paulus, a hospitalist at Huntington Hospital, will launch a pilot program for Northwell Health aiming to train hospital staff how to recognize and then provide support to human trafficking victims.

“Six months ago, when I was asked to join a human trafficking task force I said, ‘Gee, that’s interesting. I’m here 19 years and I’ve never come across a patient involved in human trafficking,’” said Judy Richter, a social worker at Huntington Hospital. “We have been missing quite a few patients as we had not been trained in how to recognize the signs or what we can do to help them.”

We need to promote humane work in hospitals. This is the front line to identify victims.”
— Shandra Woworuntu

In December 2017, the former owner of the Thatched Cottage in Centerport was indicted on federal charges for allegedly illegally trafficking workers from the Philippines.

Paulus and his approximately 30-member task force is undergoing training from Restore NYC, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to end trafficking in New York. The task force will then train the hospital’s emergency room department and ambulatory center in recognizing signs of both current victims and potential victims.

“Labor trafficking in agriculture or the restaurant industry looks so different from sex trafficking,” Paulus said, noting human trafficking occurs in more than 25 different trades. “There are so many avenues of how you can be trafficked, there’s no simple answer.”

Some signs physicians will look for are patients seeking treatment accompanied by another individual who is holding onto a patient’s documents and identification for them, answering all questions for them, avoiding eye contact and certain tattoos.

“Human trafficking victims are hard to identify because it’s hidden, you cannot see it with plain sight,” said Shandra Woworuntu, a member of the U.S. Council on Human Trafficking. “Sometime, they walk around. When [my captors] escorted me around, nobody saw me.”

Human trafficking victims are hard to identify because it’s hidden, you cannot see it with plain sight”
— Shandra Woworuntu

As a sex trafficking survivor, Woworuntu spoke to hospital staff Jan. 12 to share her personal perspective. The former bank manager and money market trader came to the United States at age 34, when religious persecution made her feel unsafe in her home country of Indonesia. She arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport through an employment agency that promised her a $5,000-a-month job working in a Chicago hotel. Instead, her passport was seized and she was abducted into a sex trafficking ring operating out of Queens.

“[My captor] demanded from me $30,0000 to be free,” Woworuntu said. “I was compliant due to the abuse, the violence, guns and knife.”

She would make her escape by climbing through a second-story bathroom window. However, Woworuntu said she faced skepticism when initially seeking help from New York City police, churches and even the Indonesian consulate. When brought to a hospital, she recalled screaming as physicians examined her because she didn’t speak any English and wasn’t fully informed what procedures were being done.

“Even if I came from a place that was dirty, I am still human,” Woworuntu said. “We need to promote humane work in hospitals. This is the front line to identify victims.”

As a survivor, Woworuntu hoped sharing her story with Paulus and other Huntington Hospital would help staff members to treat victims with dignity. She now runs Mentari, a 501(c)(3) organization in New York that provides support, basic necessities and vocational training for trafficking victims.

Town to send letter to New York State comptroller asking for review of town's finances

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

A request by Huntington’s new town board to have the state comptroller review the town’s finances was met with criticism.

Huntington Town Board voted 4-1 at its Jan. 3 meeting to go forward with a request to New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D) to conduct a review and audit of the town’s finances, policies and procedures. Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against the measure.

“I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money,” he said. “I think it’s a shot at the prior administration that had healthy financials and won a number of awards each year for the records we keep and our finances.”

In December, the Town of Huntington received its 17th consecutive certificate of achievement for excellence in financial reporting from the Government Finance Officers Association.  The nonprofit professional association serving nearly 18,000 government financial professionals across North America, had reviewed the town’s comprehensive financial report for the year ending Dec. 31, 2016.

I just think this is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money.”
— Mark Cuthbertson

Councilman Eugene Cook (R), who sponsored the audit resolution, denied that it was a strike against former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) and his practices, but rather a way to provide for a fresh start.

“Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Cuthbertson suggested given the lengthy time and funds it would require for the state to audit the town, the new administration and town officials would be better served by studying the town’s yearly internal audits performed by an outside contractor.

Cook sponsored a similar resolution in 2012 calling for state review, but it failed to gain the board’s approval. Petrone then offered a revised resolution that was approved, and ultimately resulted in a 2013 audit conducted by the state comptroller.

The 2013 audit report, which reviewed the town’s finances from Jan. 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, found issues with the town’s ability to track overtime hours and paid leave for town employees adequately.

“We found that the town may have higher payroll costs than necessary because town officials did not monitor and control these costs,” states the 2013 audit’s summary findings.

Any business owner knows if they are buying a new business and going into a new business, they want to check all the records.”
— Gene Cook

The state comptroller’s office also found the town was awarding contracts to attorneys without going through the standard bidding process and then paid without providing detailed invoices in some cases. Recommendations were made and discussed between state and Huntington officials on corrective actions to be made.

“While serving as an affirmation of the policies that have helped Huntington maintain its AAA bond rating, we also appreciate the audit’s insight on how to make Huntington’s government operate even more efficiently,” Petrone had said in his response to the 2013 audit. “We will consider changes to implement the recommendations we have not already put into place.”

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D), who worked for the town prior to 2013 and was sworn in to sit on the town board this month, voted in favor of requesting the state comptroller’s office perform an audit, though she said the measure was not necessary.

“I welcome an audit, but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” the councilwoman said. “If there is one, I think it will prove we run a tight ship.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the resolution merely sends a letter to the state comptroller’s office to review the town’s financials “if they feel it is necessary,” to indicate the town would be both willing and cooperative in the process.

6,000-square-foot home would be built on Cuba Hill Road in Greenlawn

A conceptual rendering of the proposed K.I.D.S. Plus adult group home in Greenlawn. Photo from Facebook

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport advocate and Cuba Hill Road residents will have additional time to reach an understanding over a proposed Greenlawn adult home.

Huntington Town Board voted to unanimously Jan. 3 to extend the time to make a decision on whether K.I.D.S. Plus Inc. should receive a special use permit to operate an adult home off Cuba Hill Road for those with physical and developmental disabilities age 21 and over.

Dozens of residents have spoken up with concerns about the proposed 6,000 square-foot building since the town’s Oct. 17 public hearing, citing concerns about traffic, landscaping, overall size of the home and density of group homes in the area.

“The homes tend not to be very large; the properties are large, that’s why we like to live there,” said Taylor McLam in October, a Cuba Hill Road homeowner who said his residence is approximately 1,200 square feet by comparison. “Seven times the size of my house seems a little much.”

Cuba Hill resident John Wilson presented the town with a petition signed by approximately 30 residents at their Jan. 3 meeting.

“One of the conditions is it shouldn’t change the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “This neighborhood is a section of Cuba Hill Road between Manor and Little Plains Road, that isn’t very built up. The houses are generally on more than an acre.”

A conceptual sketch of the interior layout of K.I.D.S. Plus proposed Greenlawn home for individuals with physical and developmental disabilities. Rendering from K.I.D.S. Plus.

K.I.D.S. Plus founder Tammie Murphy Topel, a Northport resident, said she has hosted two community meetings since October 2017 to hear and address the Greenlawn residents’ concerns, in addition to one-on-one meetings. Based on their feedback, Murphy Topel said she’s made revisions to her proposed building plans.

“We want to know what’s going on in the community, we want to be good neighbors,” she said. “We don’t want to be adversarial in any way.”

One of the most cited issues, according to Murphy Topel, was the appearance of the originally planned 26-foot-wide driveway for vehicles. After speaking with Huntington officials, changes have been made to narrow that to 20 feet, the width of a standard two-car
garage, according to Murphy Topel.

She said significant work has been put into the landscaping of the outside of the building, sharing an artistic rendering showing a variety of indigenous trees planted postconstruction to help obscure view of the building from Cuba Hill Road and its neighbors. The outdoor lighting will feature gooseneck barn lamps to direct the light downward instead of out, according to
Murphy Topel, with some subtle ground lighting along the driveway.

Murphy Topel hopes to share these new renderings and changes with concerned Greenlawn residents at a community meeting set for Jan. 19, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Harborfields Public Library. She said she has invited all town board members, town planning officials and any residents.

One thing she won’t consider is downsizing the 6,000-square-foot size of the home featuring suites for eight individuals, she said, which is all one level.

“These are people with disabilities looking at this as a forever home,” Murphy Topel said. “We are looking into the future when there will be ambulatory issues. We don’t want them to be navigating stairs.”

Even the K.I.D.S. Plus founder had to admit though, the parcel she purchased  on Cuba Hill Road is less than ideal for constructing the home, due to its hilly nature, the amount of grading and retaining walls that will be required.

“By designation in the [town] code, we have to have a two-acre piece of property and in the town of Huntington, there’s not a whole lot of two-acre pieces of property that are affordable,” Murphy Topel said. “If someone else can find me a two-acre piece of property for $400,000, I would take it, flip this land and build elsewhere.”

Smithtown resident Tom Lohmann takes the oath of office after accepting appointment to Smithtown Town Board. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Sara-Megan Walsh

In Smithtown, a new year brings with it new chances.

Almost two months after Tom Lohmann (C) was trounced in the race for Smithtown Town Board, the former New York City Police Department member was sworn in to fill the vacant council seat left by new supervisor, Ed Wehrheim (R).

Lohmann, 60, a special investigator for the Suffolk district attorney, came in sixth place receiving 9.31 percent of the votes as candidate on the Conservative ticket Nov. 7. He was appointed councilman at the Jan. 9 town board meeting.

His appointment officially took effect Jan. 10, and he will serve through Dec. 31. Lohmann will need to campaign in November if he wishes to fill the remaining year of Wehrheim’s term through December 2019.

Tom Lohmann. Photo by Johnny Cirillo

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Lohmann said of his appointment by Wehrheim, rumblings of which were heard at the end of December. “It’s a big privilege and I’m honored that the board saw fit to give me this opportunity. Over the next 11 months, the people in this town will see the type of person that I am — my word is my bond and I look forward to working for the people in this community.”

Lohmann said he intends to make good on his campaign promises to revise and update Smithtown’s “antiquated” code and redevelop a comprehensive master plan to include all hamlets, in consultation with civic groups and local businesses, to create a better, more transparent government. During the campaign, he said he would like to start up quarterly community meetings in different hamlets so town officials could sit with residents to gauge their concerns and get feedback. He will also be the only town councilmember from Smithtown as the others reside in St. James and Kings Park.

During the meeting, three members of the board — Wehrheim, Lisa Inzerillo (R) and Thomas McCarthy (R) — voted to appoint Lohmann with councilman Lynn Nowick (R) abstaining. Nowick said she wanted an
opportunity to vet all the interested parties for the position and hear community input before making her decision. The town board had about four résumés for the council seat to review, Wehrheim said.

“I would like to have had a longer, more thorough vetting process,” Nowick said. “I wanted to first hear the public possibly at this meeting or the second meeting this month, because I answer to them. But I have no problem with Mr. Lohmann. We’ll work together fine.”

Many residents took to the podium to confront Wehrheim and the rest of the board about their decision to appoint Lohmann instead of Democratic candidate Amy Fortunato. Fortunato placed third in the general election, behind the two incumbents in the election with 17.60 percent of the votes.

“Amy received almost double the amount of votes as Mr. Lohmann,” said Maria LaMalfa, a Smithtown resident of 33 years. “We have 23,000 Democrats, 35,000 Republicans and 2,000 minor party registered voters and we all want the same things in our town. I think the way to accomplish what we want is to work together as a coalition. We have not had that in all the years I’ve lived here.”

“I would like to have had a longer, more thorough vetting process”
—Lynne Nowick

Another resident, Elizabeth Isabella, echoed these concerns.

“I hope in the future we can dialogue across party lines and I want you to know I do congratulate you, but I am very disappointed that Amy’s votes were not taken into consideration,” Isabella said. “And I do wonder what the conversation was as you made your decision.”

Wehrheim pointed out that two major appointments made to the Conservation Board made earlier in the meeting were given to Democrats.

“We do intend to work across party lines,” Wehrheim responded.

Following the meeting, the new supervisor further defended his decision to bring Lohmann aboard, claiming he was a perfect fit for the board.

“We needed to find someone who is thinking the way we’re thinking moving forward so the government can be cohesive and all on the same page,” Wehrheim said. “I also believe there’s a distinct advantage of having someone on this board with a law enforcement background. I think he’ll be an asset when it comes to interacting with [police] and dealing with the opioid epidemic.

Runners braved the cold to raise funds for pediatric cancer research at Maggie's Mile Jan. 1. Photo by Karen Forman

By Karen Forman

The bitter cold weather didn’t stop approximately 500 courageous souls who braved the -2 “feels like” temperatures to run Maggie’s Mile at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park on New Year’s Day.

Kieran Gibbons, a member of Northport Running Club, stood alone at the starting line while hundreds of runners huddled indoors at the Sunken Meadow Golf Course Clubhouse waiting for the race to begin.

“I am a longtime friend of Maggie’s family,” Gibbons said, “and this is a healthy way to start the New Year and raise money for pediatric cancer research.”

Students of South Huntington teacher Steve Schmidt bundled up to attend Maggie’s Mile Jan. 1. Photo by Karen Forman.

According to Steve Schmidt, “The event raised nearly $10,000 for the nonprofit Maggie’s Mission,” which will donate the funds toward research of malignant rhabdoid tumors at Memorial Sloan Kettering in memory of his daughter, Maggie.

Greenlawn teen Maggie Schmidt was only 16 years old when she was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer, malignant rhabdoid tumors, in October 2016. She died after a nine-month battle June 1, 2017. Many who took part in Monday’s event were members of the Northport Running Club, of which Steve Schmidt and other family and friends are members.

“After everything Steven and Donna and the family went through, we wanted to come together as a community to support them,” said Erica Fraiberg, a member of the running club.

Fraiberg finished second in the women’s division with a time under 6 minutes. The top two finishers were Alex Eletto, 20, of Stony Brook, for the men’s division who finished the mile-long course in 4:48 and Amanda Scanlon, 38, of Northport, who finished in less than 6 minutes.

Maggie’s father, a third-grade teacher at Maplewood Elementary School in South Huntington, ran the race dressed as Father Time with support from his students. Eight-year-olds  Priscilla Kenny and Michael
Ferdinando are in Schmidt’s class this year and came to run Maggie’s Mile, along with Michael’s older brother Joe, age 10.

Steve Schmidt stands with Baby New Year at Maggie’s Mile on New Year’s Day. Photo by Karen Forman.

“We love our teacher,” Michael said. “We wanted to do this. We made our shirts for the race. We have to run for Maggie’s Mission.”

Schmidt’s son, also named Steve, 20, proudly displayed a freshly inked tattoo on his arm for his late sister. He recalled how he and his dad were hiking out West in August 2016 when they got a call that Maggie was in the emergency room at Huntington Hospital.

“Maggie had internal bleeding,” he said. “They thought she had a burst cyst and that she would be fine.”

The late Greenlawn teen was still bleeding after surgery and had to be transferred to Cohen’s Children’s Hospital, according to her brother, where she then underwent a second surgery within three days and multiple blood transfusions.

For more than two months, the Schmidt family ushered their daughter back and forth to the ER and to various doctors, without a firm diagnosis of what was wrong. It wasn’t until October 2016 when Maggie underwent a third emergency surgery during which doctors found the multiple tumors in her abdomen.

“We need to raise money to fund more research,” the brother said. “We have almost no information about this disease. It’s so rare, that there aren’t enough cases.”

To learn more about Maggie’s Mission, visit the nonprofit organization’s website at www.maggiesmission.org.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci outlines his vision of a new direction for Huntington at his inauguration Jan. 2. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has been officially sworn in as Huntington’s 80th supervisor, as of his first full day in office Jan. 2.

His oath of office was administered
moments after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day by Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia at his cousin’s Commack restaurant in front of his family and close friends on his grandfather’s Bible from Calabria, Italy.

Hundreds of Huntington residents and elected officials later watched Lupinacci retake the oath at the official Inauguration Ceremony Jan. 2 held at his high school alma mater, Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station. Lupinacci took the oath of office, and oaths were administered to re-elected Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D), newcomer Councilman Ed Smyth (R) and Highway Superintendent Kevin Orelli (D).

This night has been a long time coming, a night when we return town government to the control of those with a clear vision of what defines our suburban lifestyles,” he said. “This is the night in which we begin putting into action our mandate to preserve the keys to what has made Huntington such a desirable community over the years to live, work and raise a family.”

Raia presented the new supervisor with the town’s chain of office, a 1-pound, 11-ounce ceremonial piece made of wampum and several medallions.

Chad Lupinacci takes the oath of office as Huntington’s newly elected town supervisor Jan. 2 Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

In his inaugural address, Lupinacci outlined staff and policy changes he intends to make over the upcoming months, particularly plans to hire a new economic policy adviser to oversee business matters in the town.

“We want to make sure that we are always open for business and work hard to create all the jobs we can, while maintaining the jobs that are here,” Lupinacci said.

The Jan. 3 town board meeting will see the appointment of a new town attorney and set dates for 2018 town board meetings — increasing the number to two every month, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. In coming weeks, Lupinacci said he plans to further consider scheduling the meetings at different locations across the town, instead of Town Hall only.

The new supervisor’s top priorities include increasing the town’s use of social media and passing term limits for the town’s elected officials. Councilman Gene Cook (R) pulled his proposal to create a three-term limit on all town officials, including the town clerk and receiver of taxes, at the Dec. 13 town board meeting before it could be voted on.

The town recently received $1.7 million in state funds to construct a parking garage in Huntington village, which Lupinacci said he plans to push forward with in coming months.

These new town positions and policies are part of Lupinacci’s campaign promise of “a new direction” for Huntington, which he elaborated on Tuesday night.

“It does not mean tearing everything down and starting over. It does not mean undoing everything that the town government has done over the past 24 years,” he said, calling for a round of applause for former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D). “But a new direction does mean identifying those policies, programs and procedures that should remain and building on them, while identifying those that do need to be changed and changing them as quickly as possible.”

Former Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) left a white elephant on Lupinacci’s desk as a token of good luck. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

One thing that will remain unchanged, Lupinacci announced Patricia DelCol has agreed to stay on as his deputy supervisor — an announcement met by a round of applause.

Cuthbertson, who served as a councilman for 20 years under Petrone, welcomed Lupinacci into the town after taking his oath of office.

“We take a new beginning today with Supervisor Lupinacci and the new administration,” Cuthbertson said. “I heard a lot about new beginnings in the campaign, and I can tell you that if new beginnings mean we continue to look at how we can continue to improve how we deliver town services and manage town government, I’m all for new beginnings. There’s always room for improvement at all levels of government.”

Particularly, Cuthbertson said he expects the new town board will have to tackle the issues of how to help local businesses stand up to competition against internet retailers and affordable housing for both millenials and seniors.

“When we make the tough decisions, we really do move our town forward and it has a lasting and positive impact.” Cuthbertson said. “It’s something I hope we will do in the coming four years.”

A small white elephant figurine was left sitting on Lupinacci’s desk by Petrone, as his way of wishing the new supervisor and his administration good luck.

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