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Sarah Anker

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Suffolk County shoppers, get your nickels ready.

In an effort to encourage residents to shop with reusable bags instead of plastic and paper “carryout” bags that harm the environment, the Suffolk County Legislature is rolling out a 5 cent fee on all disposable bags at a variety of retail establishments, from supermarkets to department stores beginning Jan. 1.

The new law, which was officially passed by the Legislature in September 2016, applies only to the single-use plastic or paper bags provided by cashiers at the end of a sale and used to carry goods from the store. There won’t be a fee, however, on bags found in produce sections for fruits and vegetables, frozen foods or on bags by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, according to the law.

Cashiers are required to add the total fees to a customer’s receipt based on how many bags are used. Residents can avoid the fee by either buying a reusable bag — ones made of cloth or canvas, which are available in many retail stores — or shopping with a bag from home.

“Hopefully people will say ‘I’m not paying 5 cents’ and go with the other options,” said Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), who wrote the legislation to reduce the influx of plastic bag waste that gets trapped in trees, blocks storm drains and causes significant damage to water supplies and wildlife. “We’re hoping to change behaviors. While we won’t change everyone’s, this will change a lot of people’s and that can make a big difference. I think once people start to not use the plastic bags, they’re not going to really miss them.”

Spencer’s bill began in March 2016 as a ban on all single-use plastic bags, piggybacking off an initiative adopted by the Town of Southampton, but it didn’t receive enough support. This revised bill was co-sponsored and pushed by five legislators, including Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Bridget Fleming (D-Sag Harbor), and 140 out of 150 residents who weighed in on the initiative during a public hearing testimony.

As of Jan. 1, shoppers will be paying for paper and plastic bags at most retail stores, encouraging others to use reusable bags. Stock photo

The legislators also worked alongside a Suffolk County plastic bag working group, which consists of local scientists, educators, environmentalists, business people and government employees.

“We have to curtail the use of plastic bags,” Krupski said. “They’re everywhere. I would encourage people not to pay the fee. It’s all just a matter of changing your habits and keeping a shopping bag in your vehicle to have it at the ready. It’ll take time for people to get used to that, but like anything else, people will get used to it.”

A 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags was adopted in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and the accumulated nickels have contributed a total $10 million to the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Fund, as of 2015.

As mandated by New York State, however, the fees collected in this bill will be retained by the stores. Not being able to apply the collection to an environmental cause convinced a Democratic legislator not to support the law.

“That 5 cent charge should go back into the environment,” said Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who voted “No.” “Instead, the fees are going back into the pockets of the stores. The legislation needed work.”

Anker also said she received outcry from constituents over the concept of fees.

“A lot of the community, especially the senior population, did not want to pay extra for the plastic bags,” she said. “But I will say, plastic is a really harsh environmental pollutant.”

Spencer said he plans to revisit the legislation after a year to evaluate the financial impact it’s having and ask the state to allow funds to be used for environmental purposes.

“It would be great to do that, but only the state has that ability,” Spencer said. “The state may make that decision.”

Jay Peltz, general counsel and vice president of government relations at Food Industry Alliance, which represents 800 state supermarket chains, convenience stores and wholesalers, including Stop & Shop and King Kullen, which will be charging the fees, said it’s a current law where everybody wins.

“It will help the environment and it will help the stores,” he said. “It’s a thoughtful, productive law and is the only way to both reduce plastic bag distribution while incentivizing people to increase their use of reusable bags.”

He added that the fees may be used to help pay for higher minimum wages expected to be put in place in the coming year, but store owners are still weighing the options.


Survey: Shoppers still prefer plastic
By Desirée Keegan

A local survey conducted shows that just 5 percent of shoppers bring reusable bags.

The finding, coming ahead of a 2018 Suffolk County law banning the free use of plastic and paper bags at a vast majority of retail stores, was concluded after students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip and North Babylon, with member of St. Joseph’s College, surveyed 11,395 shoppers in November and December, in front of grocery stores, convenience stores and a pharmacies.

New Suffolk County environmental law prohibits plastic and paper bags in favor of eco-friendly reusable ones. Stock photo

The polling, organized by a county-created task force to help educate the public about the bill, found 71 percent of individuals use plastic bags, while the balance use paper, a combination, or no bag.

The survey will be repeated next year to analyze the effect of the law on consumer behavior, according to
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said she hopes between 60 and 70 percent of residents are bringing reusable bags by next year.

“Reducing litter, marine pollution and saving our oceans are worth changing our habits,” Esposito said.

While plastic bags drew the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers, the law also requires stores to charge for paper bags, as well as thicker “reusable” plastic bags, to prevent stores from circumventing the law, Spencer said.

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s primary sponsor, said county residents should contact his office at 631-854-4500 for a reusable bag, especially if you cannot afford one.

“If you need a reusable bag, come see me,” Spencer said, adding he bought 1,000 reusable bags to give away.

Suffolk County district attorney candidate Tim Sini and sheriff candidate Larry Zacarese during recent visits to the TBR News Media office. Photos by Kevin Redding

Suffolk County District Attorney

A fresh start for DA’s office

It’s no secret that Suffolk County’s District Attorney office is in desperate need of a culture change. The allegations-turned charges against Thomas Spota (D), who held the position since 2001, have created public distrust in a position that requires it. The district attorney decides who gets charged with crimes, and a lack of confidence in the integrity of the person leading that position creates a tangled web of problems Suffolk County residents shouldn’t have to worry about.

To that end, Tim Sini (D) has dealt with a startlingly analogous situation as police commissioner, which ironically features many of the same players, and he’s handled it as well as anyone could have asked. Real progress is being made on the gang front, and we think his experience in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, coupled with his time as police commissioner are more than enough to put to bed concerns from people like his challenger about his age and relative inexperience.

On Ray Perini (R), we were mostly satisfied with his defenses of two scandals from his past brought to light during this campaign. However, at a time like this, the mere hint of possible wrongdoing in the position of district attorney is enough to continue damaging public perception of a position in need of a fresh start.

With all that being said, we’re endorsing Sini for Suffolk County district attorney.

Suffolk County Sheriff

A new sheriff in the county

With two new candidates boasting impressive work backgrounds running for Suffolk County sheriff, Republican Larry Zacarese and Democrat Errol Toulon, it was difficult deciding who to endorse. After much deliberation Zacarese gets our endorsement.

We believe Zacarese has done his homework when it comes to the job as sheriff and his experience at Stony Brook University as assistant chief of police and director of the Office of Emergency Management will be an asset. His position there is a well-rounded one. He is involved in operations, planning, mitigation, response and recovery and working with the installation of and maintenance of the electronic security system for more than 250 buildings.

He has also met with those on task forces dealing with the gang problems on Long Island to ensure that they are well staffed and good relationships between federal and local agencies are intact.

We hope that Toulon will continue to pursue a career in politics. With a great deal of experience in law enforcement including at Rikers Island, we can see him serving the county in the future, perhaps in a role such as police commissioner.

Suffolk County Legislator District 5

Hahn handles county business

Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has the experience to take care of business in the 5th Legislative District of Suffolk County, and we endorse her in her run for a fourth term as a county legislator.

Approachable and accessible, Hahn listens to the needs of her constituents.

The chairwoman of both the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee and Parks & Recreation Committee, she supports the county’s program to update septic systems, which will reduce nitrogen in our waters. In the past she has sponsored initiatives authorizing appraisal of lands under the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program.

She has been a steward for our local parks by tackling illegal dumping by increasing county penalties and creating programs for children to explore local public lands with her Parks Passport program.

We were impressed with her challenger Republican Edward Flood, and we hope he will continue to pursue a political career. A lawyer who is the chief of staff for state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue), we believe Flood has the potential to serve in office, and as a supporter of the group Long Island Needs a Drag Strip, he has good ideas when it comes to bringing in more tax revenues while creating minimal disruption to residents.

Suffolk County Legislator District 6

Safe in Sarah Anker’s hands

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is focused on local issues.

Although legislative issues may reach further than that of the town, we appreciate the incumbent’s care and concern for her district’s constituents and the challenges they face, not just the ones that the county does.

We think she works diligently and closely with her constituents, making her the best candidate in this race. We commend her track record on issues like parks creation; protecting drinking water by prohibiting the acceptance of wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing; and her work with Father Frank Pizzarelli and Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson to try to quell opioid addiction.

Some of the points her Democratic opponent Gary Pollakusky made about the county’s lower bond rating, $2.1 billion debt and $200 million structural deficit are all causes for concern, but Anker is just one member of a larger group, and should not be held accountable for all of its ills or credited with all of its successes.

Pollakusky’s campaign style tends to be rough, even bullying. We are also concerned about the merits of his business ventures and nonprofit organization based on the odd mechanics of the website and social media.

Anker has shown leadership, being able to see the problem, recognizing who can solve the problem, getting in touch with the right people, putting them all together in a room and stepping back and letting the solution evolve. She listens to people and sees if she can help. We’re all for that.

Suffolk County Legislator District 12

Kennedy should keep at it

As her first full term in the Suffolk County Legislature comes to a close, we feel that Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) has proven to be a passionate, effective and caring leader for the 12th District.

Kennedy, a longtime nurse, is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with her colleagues from both  sides of the aisle, whether it’s regarding hikes in county fees or public safety projects, and seems to have the residents’ needs in mind with every decision she makes. It’s very clear she is rattled by the county’s current financial situation and is doing everything in her power to make sure families and constituents have the opportunity to grow and thrive. She has also done plenty of research on a wide variety of issues not only in her district but Suffolk County as a whole, and seeks to find a pragmatic solution to every one of them.

Suffolk County Legislator District 13

Trotta tackles Suffolk’s issues

It’s important, and rare, in politics to have a watchdog in the ranks —  a whistle-blower who’s not afraid to call out colleagues and issues for the greater good. And there’s perhaps nobody on the local level with a louder bark than Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Trotta, a former county police officer, has for the last four years consistently fought in favor of making Suffolk County an easier and cheaper place to live for residents of all ages even at the expense of making enemies. He’s become the face of exposing corruption in the county, whether it’s egregious hikes in fees or the connection between campaign contributors and elected officials. He’s also on the front line of the debate against the Suffolk County Red Light Safety Program, which has been proven to increase accidents at busy intersections and seems to serve no other purpose than to collect more fees from residents.

His Democratic opponent Colleen Maher doesn’t appear to show any interest in campaigning and, as far as we know, is just a name to put on the ballot.

Trotta is brutally honest, a statistics and facts-based whiz and the very definition of a realist. He tells it like it is and actually backs up his accusations with ways to fix the problems.

As cynical as he is about the way the county runs, it’s apparent that Trotta still very much cares about the region and is rooting for it to turn around, especially for the sake of young people. He wants them to have an opportunity to grow and thrive here. And,  with him serving more terms as legislator, there’s a chance they will one day.

Suffolk County Legislator District 16

Bring Berland to the county

When it comes to Suffolk County’s 16th Legislative District, we believe that Democratic hopeful Susan Berland has the experience and community knowledge needed fill the seat of termed-out Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

Berland has shown her devotion to the Town of Huntington’s residents by working full time as a councilwoman for the last 16 years, despite it being only a part-time position. She demonstrates a fine-tuned understanding of the taxpayers needs on multiple issues: sticking to a tight budget while maintaining town services and supporting affordable housing projects while promising to fight for preservation of open space.

Her prior work experience as a state assistant attorney general will give her insight into tackling the area’s challenges of combating gang violence and drug addiction. Public safety remains another big task.

While we applaud the efforts of Republican candidate Hector Gavilla in his first run for political office, he needs to gain a better grasp of a county legislator’s role and how national issues translate the local level first. It’s difficult to understand his position on some issues. Gavilla said he was strongly in favor of cutting back on Suffolk police officers’ salaries while simultaneously stating that the government should spare no expense in protecting the public’s safety, also noting that he would increase police patrols.

The next individual elected to the county legislature will need a nuanced, detailed understanding of budgets, contracts and smart growth, and we think Berland fits the bill.

Suffolk County Legislator District 18

Doc Spencer can fix Suffolk

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D) has served admirably in his role representing the northern portion of Huntington township in the county’s 18th Legislative District for the last six years.

Spencer’s background as a licensed physician has given him the insight and experience to successfully tackle several serious health issues. Spencer’s résumé includes raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21; banning the marketing of energy drinks to youth; prohibiting the sale of powdered caffeine to minors and more. In our conversation with him, Spencer demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the different challenges the county faces in addressing the opioid and heroin problem.

While his Republican challenger Dom Spada raises legitimate concerns regarding Suffolk County’s fiscal situation, it is a crisis that every elected official is aware of and has spoken about at length. No one is arguing against cutting costs, but the bigger challenge is reaching a consensus on where to make cutbacks and trim programs.

We believe that Spencer is an overall stronger candidate to address the county’s pressing health needs and build the consensus in the Legislature needed to fix the county’s budget woes.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker is running against Republican Gary Pollakusky to represent the 6th District. Photos by Alex Petroski

A Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency volunteer and small business owner is challenging incumbent Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) as she vies for a fourth term to represent the 6th District.

Gary Pollakusky, a Rocky Point resident since 2012 who graduated from Baldwin High School and Cornell University, said he wants to bring more fiscal responsibility to the county while working to keep young people living on Long Island. He moved to Rocky Point from Long Beach following losing his home to Hurricane Sandy.

“You have to force the government to work within its means,” he said during a recent debate at TBR News Media’s office. “We need to treat the public’s purse like we treat our own. You don’t borrow from Peter to pay Paul.”

“I will continue to provide leadership in our county government by prioritizing fiscal responsibility, public safety and protecting our health and environment.”

— Sarah Anker

While Anker, a resident of Mount Sinai for more than 20 years, who previously lived in Middle Island and Coram, said she is fiscally conservative, Pollakusky pointed to Suffolk’s recent practice of borrowing to make payroll. He criticized Anker for calling for a traffic study following the release of a red-light camera program report and for voting for the $700 million contract between the county and the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association. Though he was critical, he ultimately admitted he would have voted in favor of the contract as well, citing public safety as the primary reason.

“Each year our budget is going up $50 million and $48 million is going toward the police contract,” Pollakusky said. “We have to create sustainable contracts, we need people who understand business and have business acumen and financial acumen in government.”

Anker defended her track record on the Legislature. She voted against the controversial fees, which many have referred to as “backdoor taxes.” The legislator voted to reduce Suffolk County’s pipeline debt by closing out unused funds for unrealized capital projects; against the increase in mortgage recording fee, which would have gone up $300; against the alarm bill fee; against increased fees for Suffolk County parks; and against the proposed plastic bag fee that would charge 5 cents per bag at the grocery store.

“I also feel if you don’t have the money don’t spend it, but unfortunately, you have to provide services, it’s mandated by the government,” Anker said, adding that she took a pay freeze and also voted to freeze other legislators’ salaries. “We combined comptroller with treasurer’s office, saved $23 million by privatizing the health care centers, sold the Foley Center, reduced staff by 1,000 people, cut county services costs by 10 percent and I think we still have a lot to do.”

Democrat incumbent Legislator Sarah Anker is running for her fourth term as the 6th District representative in the Suffolk County Legislature. Photo by Alex Petroski

She fell in agreement with her challenger regarding the SCPD contract, as she said it’s important to have boots on the ground amid the opioid crisis and rise in gang violence, but said she’s still hoping the county can make cuts at the negotiation table next year when the existing deal expires.

“We have a new police class which contributes to 15 percent of their health care,” she said. “It takes them longer to reach the highest pension payout; we’re revamping the whole system once these senior officers retire. Overtime should not be included in pensions, and the best thing I can do, and I’ve done this for 20 years, is to advocate strongly — shine a light and let the county executive and police unions know that this needs to be done. I can be one of many voices to direct them to do the right thing; to have a bully pulpit and use it effectively.”

The legislator highlighted her sponsored legislation passed to create a permanent heroin and opiate advisory panel, re-established from a temporary 2010 panel, created to ensure a continuous and interdisciplinary approach to help mitigate the issue. Her challenger cited the panel’s few recommendations the last time around and said he has a more active approach he would take.

“I want to identify programs, like the Given a Second Chance program developed locally four years ago, and keep the heroin crisis more consistent in curriculum and assemblies,” Pollakusky said, also highlighting his panel work with his organization, North Shore Community Association. “We need community coalitions to push law enforcement to close down drug-dealing homes and more drug reform on the supply side.”

While Pollakusky said his organization, which is not a registered nonprofit, was created in 2013, there is no mention on the website or Facebook page prior to June, when he announced his run against Anker.

“We need to look at storefronts that left and see why, see what true development we’re doing and how it’s being led.”

— Gary Pollakusky

“The association began with a small group of community advocates who felt there was a void in their local civics organizations,” he said in response. “No money flows in or our of our group. When we raise money it is through and for 501(c)(3) organizations in need, and much of our work has no events
associated with them.”

The challenger said he is more business friendly than Anker, and his time working with the town IDA has helped him. He said by retaining talent and creating jobs, keeping residents on Long Island is more attainable.

“We need to look at storefronts that left and see why, see what true development we’re doing and how it’s being led,” he said. “I act. I create jobs.”

Anker questioned his businesses, saying he outsources jobs to countries other than the United States for Media Barrel LLC and Travel Barrel LLC. Pollakusky responded that they are support teams not employees, to which Anker responded: “Do they do your work for you? Do you have [products] that are made in the United States? That’s all I’m asking.”

“For you to perpetrate these lies I not only find disappointing, I find that shameful,” Pollakusky said, asking Anker if she owns a car, television or phone made in the United States. “I am a local businessman. I work within our local economy, I have local clients.”

Republican Gary Pollakusky is running to represent Suffolk County’s 6th legislative district. Photo by Alex Petroski

Travel Barrell only lists some of the events that Pollakusky discussed, many of which are unclickable. The website’s About Us, Our Brands, Testimonials and Contact Us tabs also do not work. Anker questioned her challenger about an event called Boobs & Tubes, also listed on the website, which he referred to as a charity event that donates to breast cancer research. Based on online photos and videos of the event, referred to as “the most fun you can have with (some of) your clothes on,” it is marketed as an exclusive weekend summer event of camping, tubing, barbecuing, music and relaxation. The 2017 New York trip was canceled. Pollakusky’s last name is the only last name not in the About Us and the only mention of charity is deep in the About Us: “After Scott lost his friend Marcelo Vandrie to cancer in 2009, Boobs & Tubes began donating a portion of its proceeds to a different charitable event each year.” There is no mention of how much or to which charities the organization contributes anywhere on the website.

Anker cited several initiatives she’s proud of contributing to locally, including land acquisition with the Little Portion Friary in Mount Sinai and Cordwood Landing property in Miller Place to preserve more open space, a single-stream recycling program and work with veterans and seniors.

“I will fight for lower utility costs and continue to educate residents about common scams,” said Anker, who used to serve on the Mount Sinai Civic Association and worked on major projects like the construction of Heritage Park and ongoing Rails to Trails recreational path. “I will continue to provide leadership in our county government by prioritizing fiscal responsibility, public safety and protecting our health and environment. I will stand strong to support our veterans who have defended our nation. I will do everything in my power to protect our children. I will use my extensive experience in public policy to create safer communities for families and to improve the overall quality of life for Suffolk County residents.”

This version was updated to correctly identify what year Gary Pollakusky moved to Rocky Point and the names of his companies. The version also adds what university he graduated from.

Tree decorated in honor of national Breast Cancer Awareness month

Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, founder of the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, places a flag with her friend Camille's name under the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai's Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

Throughout October, a tree at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai will be pretty in pink in celebration of national Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Up to 5,000 lights on the Pink Tree for Hope, which sits in front of the Heritage Center on Mount Sinai-Coram Road and overlooks the park, burned bright during a ceremony Oct. 4 held by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the nonprofit North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition.

The Pink Tree for Hope glows pink at Heritage Park in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Photo by Kevin Redding

The glowing tree will serve as a reminder to passersby of the importance of breast cancer prevention by way of early detection screenings and education. The names of local breast cancer survivors and those who lost their lives to the disease are displayed on little flags around the tree.

“There’s not one person I know that has not been affected by breast cancer in one way or another,” said Anker, whose grandmother passed away after a long fight with the disease. “I am honored to partner with the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition to raise awareness about the prevalence of breast cancer, honor our loved ones lost to breast cancer, and support survivors across Long Island.”

Anker encouraged residents to work together and support groups like the coalition to help find a cure for breast cancer. The North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition, founded in 2001 by Sound Beach resident Patti Kozlowski, is a grassroots organization that raises funds to provide non-medical or support services for local families fighting breast, gynecological and other forms of cancer. If someone is out of work for a number of weeks during and after breast cancer treatment, it can be devastating financially, Kozlowski said.

“We need to help raise awareness and hopefully help people understand the magnitude of what we’re dealing with,” said Kozlowski, who will be collecting donations to support the nonprofit’s mission at the park throughout the month. “Treatment is incredibly important.”

Darlene Rastelli, assistant director at the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center at Stony Brook Medicine, set up at a table during the ceremony to spread the word that “early detection is the best prevention.”

A flag placed in honor of a man’s wife, a breast cancer survivor, sits under the Pink Tree for Hope at Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

The American College of Radiology, Rastelli said, recommends women over the age of 40 have a breast screening once a year.

“It’s so important to screen not only in October, but throughout the year,” she said. “Breast cancer is not a death sentence anymore. If you get your screenings done early enough, it can be managed early and you can survive.”

Miller Place resident Felicia Lopez said she was scared when she was diagnosed in 2011, because she wasn’t educated and assumed the worst.

“I didn’t know anything about it, but the doctors comforted me and told me it was curable,” said Lopez, who is now cancer-free. “You have to be your own advocate. You have to check your own body regularly.”

Before the ceremony, Kozlowski, who started her nonproit as a way to inspire women to come together, wrote her friend Camille’s name on a flag.

“She’s a co-worker of mine who retired Aug. 31 and was diagnosed with breast cancer Sept. 1,” Kozlowski said before placing the flag under the tree. “I think this tree will give people a good feeling to know they’re not alone.”

The Pink Tree of Hope, adorned with lights donated and installed by Bob Koch of Koch Tree Services Inc., will be lit throughout October at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai.

Learn more about the North Shore Neighbors Breast Cancer Coalition at https://www.facebook.com/NSNBCC/.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (fourth from left) with local community members around the Pink Tree for Hope at Mount Sinai’s Heritage Park. Photo by Kevin Redding

Members of the Davis Town Meeting House Society, with Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, received a grant from the Legislature to improve Coram’s Lester H. Davis House. Photo from Legislator Sarah Anker's office

By Desirée Keegan

The Davis Town Meeting House Society has raked in some needed cash flow.

The nonprofit organization that works to protect Coram’s Lester H. Davis House received a $5,000 omnibus grant from the Suffolk County Legislature to assist with community event and program planning.

“We were very excited and very happy,” society president Maryanne Douglas said on receiving the grant. “We’re buying things to improve and further our community outreach and to help us finish our renovations.”

Coram’s Lester H. Davis House. File photo

After applying and being approved for the grant, the society presented a detailed list of expenditures to the Legislature, which then approved the purchases of various items and allocation of funds. The organization will spend the money and provide receipts to Suffolk County, which will then reimburse the society.

Some items on the purchase list include sconces to light the upstairs of the house, archive boxes, stamps and ink cartridges to send out newsletters, a PA system and a rack to display artifacts, according to Douglas. Other funds are allocated for guest speakers, like the 3rd New York  Regiment, which recently performed a reenactment for the organization.

“We aren’t completely electrified, so lighting is a big deal,” she said.

The society currently operates out of the Swezey-Avey House at the corner of Yaphank-Middle Island Road and Main Street in Yaphank, but anyone is free to visit the Davis house, at the corner of Mount Sinai-Coram Road and Middle Country Road.

The grant from the Legislature to help Coram’s historical Lester H. Davis House will help grow community outreach, like paying for a presentation by the 3rd New York Regiment at the organization’s community yard sale. File photo

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) presented the check to the organization.

“The members of the society do a wonderful job preserving the beauty and integrity of the Davis House, while providing educational programs for residents,” Anker said. “I’m proud to present the grant and I look forward to continuing to partner with the organization and its members to improve the quality of life in our community.”

Upcoming meetings and presentations at the Swezey-Avey House include Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan’s “George Washington’s Long Island Spy Ring,” Oct. 2; Jonathan Olly’s “Midnight Rum — Long Island and Prohibition,” Nov. 6; and Paul Infranco’s “Camp Upton,” Dec. 4 at the society’s annual holiday party.

The Davis Town Meeting House Society is also in the midst of its annual membership drive.

For more information about the organization, to volunteer, or to receive a membership application, visit www.davistownmeetinghouse.org.

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, works at one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program to give low to no cost Narcan to those with prescription health insurance coverage. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis on Long Island has left devastation in its wake, and as opioid-related deaths rise every year, New York State has created an additional, more affordable way to combat it. To deal with the rash of overdoses as a result of addiction, New York State made it easier for people with prescription insurance to afford Naloxone, a common overdose reversal medication.

On Aug. 7, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced starting Aug. 9 that people with prescription health insurance coverage would be able to receive Naloxone, which is commonly referred to as Narcan, for a copay of up to $40. New York is the first state to offer the drug for such a low cost in pharmacies.

Narcan kit are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“The vast majority of folks who have health insurance with prescription coverage will be able to receive Naloxone through this program for free,” said Ben Rosen, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Health.

Before the change, the average shelf cost of Narcan, which is administered nasally, was $125 without prescription with an average national copay of $10. People on Medicaid and Medicare paid between $1 and $3, Rosen said.

This action on part of the state comes at a critical time. Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related deaths in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. On Aug. 10, President Donald Trump (R) declared the opioid issue a national emergency, meaning that there is now more pressure on Congress to pass legislation to deal with the crisis, as well as a push to supply more funds to states, police departments and health services to help deal with the problem.

The drug is available in over 3,000 pharmacies across New York and well over 100 pharmacies in Suffolk County. This includes all major pharmacies like CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid, but also includes a few local pharmacies that already participate in the state Aids Drug Assistance Program and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage and Medicaid, according to Kathy Febraio, the executive director of the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York, a not-for-profit pharmacists advocacy group.

The program is only available for people who either have Medicare, Medicaid or health insurance with prescription coverage. Otherwise, officials said that those who lack insurance who need access can get it through a number of free Narcan training courses.

“We think that anything that can have an affect on this crisis is a good thing,” Febraio said. “This will certainly help. We need anything that will get Naloxone into the hands of those who need it.”

While Suffolk County Legislator and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) likes the idea of additional access to Narcan, he is skeptical about whether those who get it know how to properly administer it.

Narcan kits are now available for low to no cost at many New York pharmacies, like at Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James. Photo by Kyle Barr

“You don’t need a PHD to know how to use it, but there is some training that would help people be more comfortable, such as how to properly use it in an emergency situation and how to store it so that it is accessible while making sure children can’t get their hands on it,” he said. “Unfortunately the epidemic is so wide spread. Everyone knows someone who is affected.”

Christina Loeffler, the co-owner of Rely RX Pharmacy & Medical Supplies in St. James, one of the few non-major pharmacies in the county participating in the program, said though the business has not yet received many calls for Narcan, the state requires pharmacists to demonstrate how to use it.

“You have to counsel the patient and show them how to use it,” she said. “We were showed videos, we were given kits to practice on before we were certified to do it. I feel like it’s a good thing that they’re doing it.”

The county currently provides numerous Narcan training courses for locals, where they receive training and free supplies of the life-saving drug. Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said that she will be co-hosting a free Narcan training course Oct. 5 at Rocky Point High School with support from the North Shore Youth Council.

“They absolutely need to be trained,” she said. “Narcan is almost a miracle drug — it brings people back from death. However, people need to know what they’re doing so that it is administered correctly.”

Check on the New York State Department of Health website’s opioid overdose directories section for a full list of participating pharmacies.

When Charles Murphy returned home to Northport in 1971 after serving 14 months in the Vietnam War, he wasn’t greeted with open arms or hand shakes. In fact, it was just the opposite.

“There was no band, no rallies, no thank you’s,” said Murphy, 68, an Army veteran. “You went back into the population and tried to cope with who you were. And you were a different person then. As a group, we Vietnam vets got the short end of the stick.”

Thomas Semkow, 71, who was in Vietnam between 1968 and 1969, said he remembers being looked down on when he came home.

“People weren’t very nice to us,” the Wading River resident said. “We were the outcasts of society.”

But Aug. 1 — more than 50 years since members of the U.S. Armed Forces first set foot on the battlegrounds in Vietnam — Murphy, Semkow and dozens of other Vietnam veterans within Rocky Point VFW Post 6249 and beyond finally got the recognition they’ve always deserved.

“People weren’t very nice to us. We were the outcasts of society.”

—Thomas Semkow

It happened during the intermission of  Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and the VFW’s annual Rocky Point free concert series.

Each of them stood together in front of a grand stage outside St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church as Anker and Military Liaison Steven Castleton presented Vietnam veteran lapel pins on behalf of the U.S. Department of Defense and a special proclamation signed by President Barack Obama in 2012. Family members of veterans were also honored.

The veterans smiled with gratitude and hundreds of residents applauded as they received the accolades. Part of the proclamation read, “Let us strive to live up to their example by showing our Vietnam veterans, their families, and all who have served the fullest respect and support of a grateful nation.”

“I salute you all, thank you for your service … and welcome home,” said Joe Cognitore, the VFW post commander.

Cognitore, who served in an Army reconnaissance unit in Vietnam between 1969 and 1971, said the VFW has been putting on summer concerts for the community for more than 10 years and was excited at the prospect of giving back to those who warrant the attention.

“They were never welcomed home, and so I’m anxious to see them all come up tonight,” Cognitore said earlier in the evening. “Us Vietnam veterans look out for the guys and girls that are out serving now — we’re dedicating our lives to help them. Men and women who serve today are just unbelievable and we don’t want anything to happen to them like it happened to us.”

“Us Vietnam veterans look out for the guys and girls that are out serving now — we’re dedicating our lives to help them.”

—Joe Cognitore

Daniel Guida, of Shoreham, was an Army lieutenant in 1967 and 1968. He said it felt really good to be recognized not just with medals, but love and support from the community.

“Recently, when I had my Vietnam veteran hat on walking into K-Mart, six or seven people thanked me and wanted to shake my hand before I even got in the store,” Guida said. “That’s a foreign concept to me and it really brings a certain reality to what you did and shows that people do appreciate it.”

Members from the Long Island Young Marines stood holding flags during the concert’s opening pledge of allegiance and “God Bless America” performance before Cognitore addressed all the veterans in the crowd, from those who served in World War II to those currently enlisted.

The pin and proclamation ceremony ended with residents and veterans holding hands in a large group circle, swaying and raising them in the air to the chorus of the Southbound band’s cover of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“We’re all forever brothers,” Murphy said of his fellow Vietnam veterans. “No matter where we go. Forever brothers. We’re the only ones who know what we dealt with.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker speaks during a press conference July 25 about creating a permanent panel to address the ever-growing opioid crisis. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Following another year of rising opioid use and overdoses, Suffolk County officials announced legislation that would create a new permanent advisory panel to try to address the issue.

“We have lost people from this [problem],” Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said during a July 25 press conference. “Children have died, adults have died and we’re here to do more.”

The panel would have 24 members, including representatives from health and science groups, members of law enforcement, hospital employees and individuals from the Legislature’s Committees on Health, Education and Human Services and would focus on prevention, education, law enforcement and drug rehabilitation across the county, Anker said. The panel is planned to be broken up into sub-committees, which would tackle a specific area.

“This is an issue that needs all hands on deck,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said. “We are not going to arrest ourselves out of this — this is a public health issue [of historic proportion], but law enforcement plays a critical role.”

Over 300 people from Suffolk County died from opioid-related overdosess in 2016, according to county medical examiner records. Sini said that in 2016, the police administered Narcan, a nasal spray used as emergency treatment to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, in Suffolk County over 700 times.

A 2010 bill saw the creation of a similar advisory panel with 13 members, many of whom are members of the new proposed panel. The original, impermanent panel ended five years ago, but had made 48 recommendations to the legislature focused mainly on prevention education, treatment and recovery. Two recommendations from this committee that were put in effect were the Ugly Truth videos shown in public schools, and countywide public Narcan training.

Though proud of the work they did on that panel, members agreed the situation has worsened since it was disbanded.

“[Seven] years ago we stood here and announced the initial panel — I had the privilege of co-chairing that group — a lot of the things we recommended actually happened, some things didn’t,” said Dr. Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive officer of the Family and Children’s Association. “Regardless, the problem hasn’t gotten any better, and in fact, it’s gotten progressively worse. Some of the gaps in prevention, access to treatment, recovery and law enforcement haven’t yet been filled. For us to have an ongoing opportunity to have a dialogue together — to brainstorm some new solution to disrupt the patterns here — is very, very valuable.”

On the education side, Islip School District Superintendent of Schools Susan Schnebel said at the press conference that education has to begin at a very young age.

“It’s important that schools take hold of what happens in the beginning,” she said. “That includes educating students at a very early age, educating the parents to know what’s there, what are the repercussions, what is the law. That needs to happen with a 5 or 6-year-old.”

Executive director of the North Shore Youth Council Janene Gentile, and member of the proposed panel, feels that the advisory panel is an important step. She said she hopes that it will be able to do more in helping prevent people, especially young people, from using opioids in the first place, and hopefully help those exiting rehab.

“Implementing a family component when they are in rehab is really crucial, while they are in rehab and when get out,” Gentile said. “There are other agencies like mine — 28 in Suffolk County. If we can reach out to them they can help with re-entry [into society]. They go on the outside and the triggers that started them on opioids are still there, and they need to have places where there are no drugs. We’ve gone through a lot, but we’ve got to do more — and prevention works.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct's Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman talks to sisters Natalie and Katherine Byrnes at the Coffee with a Cop event in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Suffolk County police officers recently paid a lengthy visit to Park Avenue Plaza in Miller Place — not to make arrests, but to make friends.

Three members of the 6th Precinct mingled with residents of all ages at Crazy Crepe Cafe July 13 for “Coffee with a Cop,” a monthly initiative that gives police officers and community members a chance to meet one another, discuss concerns, or just share a coffee and some laughs.

Sisters Natalie and Katherine Byrnes received badge stickers after meeting with members of the 6th Precinct at the Coffee with a Cop event in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

Originally launched in 2011 in Hawthorne, California to better connect officers with the citizens they serve, the concept was adopted by each of Suffolk County’s precincts just over a year ago.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to approach the police in a nice, calm setting,” Community Oriented Police Officer Enforcement unit Sergeant Walter Langdon said. “Usually when we have interactions with the public it’s when dealing with something bad or stressful. [Coffee with a cop] is a way for them to see we’re not just here to arrest people, we’re here to help people and give them advice any way we can.”

Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman called the initiative a “homerun” for residents.

He said discussions with them ranged from suspicious activity in their neighborhoods, to the county’s heroin problem, to future employment with the police force.

“It’s a unique forum and it’s unconventional by prior standards in a sense because time isn’t always there for us to have that extended conversation with people,” Zieman said. “So here we can engage on a totally different level, and it’s really cool and we see incredible results from this.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct’s Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman and Crime Section Officer Dena Miceli talk to residents about issues, concerns or anything else they’d like to talk about at a Coffee with a Cop event hosted by Crazy Crepes in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

With crayons and junior police badge stickers in hand, Zieman knelt at a table to chat with 7-year-olds Natalie and Katherine Byrnes, who asked him what it took to be a police officer.

“The most important thing right now is everything you do in school and how you behave and interact with people matters,” Zieman told the Miller Place elementary students. “School is super important, because they go back to your schoolwork, check report cards and want to know what kind of students you were, and if you pass that process, you can become a police officer.”

When Zieman gave them free passes for a police event at Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Mount Sinai next month, the girls beamed.

“I thought it was awesome,” Natalie said with joy after meeting the officer.

Rocky Point resident Debbie Donovan, who wandered into the cafe for lunch with her kids not knowing about the event, said it was a great idea.

“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults.”

— Debbie Donovan

“I think people need to see the presence of the police and this takes away the distance, the fear, the intimidation and the stereotypes for both kids and adults,” said Donovan, who wanted to speak to the officers about escalating drug problems in her community.

“Unfortunately, Rocky Point is changing and not for the better, especially on a particular side of town,” Donovan said. “It’s hitting way too close to home. I do see police more visible than I recall growing up, which does provides a sense of security.”

Her 11-year-old daughter Rhiannon said she likes that the police interact with the community.

“To some people, cops are just, ‘you did this, so you’re going to jail,’ but cops here want people to enjoy themselves,” she said.

Sixth Precinct Crime Sections Officer Dena Miceli, a plainclothes cop who explained to Rhiannon and her brother Jake about daily tasks on the job, said it means a lot when kids show an interest.

“If we can make some kind of difference in their lives and be a positive role model, that’s really all that we can ask for,” Miceli said. “This is such a helpful thing not just for residents, but for us also.”

Suffolk County 6th Precinct’s Community Liaison Officer Will Zieman, Crime Section Officer Dena Miceli and COPE Sergeant Walter Langdon talk to kids, like Jake and Rhiannon Donovan about what cops do in the area. Photo by Kevin Redding

Zieman said through the initiative, the department aims to collaborate with any and all local businesses and elected officials within each precinct to try to expand community involvement as much as possible. When he reached out to Crazy Crepe Cafe on a whim, manager Nick Mauceri was immediately on board.

“We love getting involved with the community in any way and this is something different than we’ve ever done before,” Mauceri said. “The conversations and exchanges are so personable and relatable, it’s great to see.”

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) worked alongside the 6th Precinct to make the event happen.

“The best resource for our law enforcement are the residents and they need to understand the police are here to help them,” Anker said. “Communication ties the fibers in our community and this is a great way to encourage people to create a relationship with our police.”

The next “Coffee with a Cop” event will be held at Smith Haven Mall Aug. 3 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. All ages are welcome. Visit www.facebook.com/SuffolkPD/ for more information.

Sarah Anker talks local issues at a debate at Times Beacon Record Newspapers. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Kevin Redding

As Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) gears up to run a campaign in the hopes of serving the 6th District for a fourth term, two political newcomers — Republicans Gary Pollakusky and Frank Vetro — also each hope to occupy the seat in November.

Anker, who assumed office in 2011 and won her last election by a total 19 votes, said the most important part of running for public office is knowing the community. As someone who’s lived in the area for more than 30 years, she said her experience “literally trumps the [predominantly Republican] political system.”

“I will continue to do my job working for the people and not for the party,”
said Anker, who founded the Community Health and Environmental Coalition, advocated to build Heritage Park in Mount Sinai
and created the Jobs Opportunity Board connecting graduating seniors with local jobs. She has also provided sports safety forums to local schools to prevent deaths and serious injuries among student-athletes, helped reduce county government costs by streamlining services, and takes pride in being heavily involved with civic groups and always being accessible to constituents.

The legislator said she wants to build a stronger economy by revitalizing our communities, sustaining the district’s environment and continuing her work in the prevention and intervention of those addicted to opioids.

“I think I’ve proven myself through my past experience [through] community advocacy and by getting the jobs done,” she said. “I’m here to serve for our quality of life and environmental legacy.”

Gary Pollakusky

Gary Pollakusky

Pollakusky, 41, a Rocky Point resident who served as campaign manager for Anker’s 2015 Republican challenger Steve Tricarico, and recently secured the Republican nomination, said he believes Suffolk County is in the greatest physical crisis it has ever faced in our history.

“After 10 years of Democrat control … we have an opioid problem that is out of control, and gangs and drugs are pushing into our community like they belong here,” he said.

If elected, he said he aims to fix the county’s outstanding debt, eliminate excessive fees, make the area more affordable to its seniors and young people, stamp out the opioid problem and do more to support small businesses.

As the self-starter of Media Barrel LLC, a Rocky Point-based marketing and advertising business that strives to solve problems for companies and various local organizations, Pollakusky said his business experience and community activism will support his candidacy and ultimately his election.

“Beyond the barbecues and concert series are very important issues that need to be addressed,” Pollakusky said. “How are we going to get out of debt? How are we going to inspire companies to stay in Suffolk and on Long Island? This is what I do for a living. I help businesses solve problems by giving them solutions. I will bring business into the county, and work on our debt and balance our budget.”

On his opponent, Pollakusky said while Anker is well meaning, he said he thinks she’s misguided and ineffective.

“I help businesses solve problems by giving them solutions. I will bring business into the county and work on our debt and balance our budget.”

— Gary Pollakusky

“We’re in a pretty sad state,” Pollakusky said. “Not a lot has changed in our county since 2015. You know we’ve hit rock bottom when our county legislator is more concerned with making a pocket park surrounding a boulder than figuring out ways to actually retain the structural deficit. We’re drowning in debt and she wants to sink us with a rock.”

Upon graduating from Cornell University with a bachelor of science degree in industrial labor relations, Pollakusky ran the human resource department of AHL Services before working at Columbia Business School as assistant director of admissions.

Outside of his small business, he said he created the nonpartisan North Shore Community Association in 2013 to tackle community problems through transparency and advocacy, including educational drug forums. He was recently among Long Island Business News’ 40 Under 40 Awards list.

A former resident of Long Beach, Pollakusky and his wife, Jeanine, moved to Rocky Point after Hurricane Sandy destroyed their home. He said he loves the hamlet’s close-knit community.

“We love our open space, our beaches, our main street, small-town lives and the people,” he said. “We have such amazing people here that would do anything for their neighbors. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Frank Vetro

Frank Vetro

Vetro, 45, the host of a LI News Radio show, a real estate agent and longtime educator from Miller Place, is currently in the process of gathering petitions to run against Pollakusky in the September primary. He said although he isn’t used to the political world, speaking publicly to residents on the radio for years pushed him to throw his hat in the ring.

“My listeners, after hearing me day in and day out, would always say, ‘Why don’t you run? You should run, you’re passionate, you really care,’” said Vetro, who wants to stamp out county corruption. “I have always fought for underdogs.”

He also discussed keeping the area affordable to those young and old.

“A last straw for me was that me and my family are so close, and a lot of my family is moving off Long Island because of the cost of living and better opportunities elsewhere,” he said. “I’m losing them and I can’t take it anymore — the taxes, the mismanagement, people being in office and leadership positions not on their merit but because they knew somebody. When is enough, enough?”

Vetro said his daily experiences, educating and rehabilitating young gang members and drug addicts, give him an advantage over other politicians.

“I think when you have your finger on the pulse and you’re in the trenches doing it, it gives you a better understanding of what’s going on,” Vetro said.

“A last straw for me was that me and my family are so close, and a lot of my family is moving off Long Island because of the cost of living.”

— Frank Vetro

As a principal at Hope House Ministries School, Vetro said he works with youth in great crisis, some of whom have been kicked out of school, and he helps them get reacclimated to a “normal” life. He said working with recovering addicts puts him in close quarters to what he sees as a major problem in New York.

“My body of work sits hand in hand with what’s going on on Long Island,” he said of the opioid crisis.

His job as a realtor, he added, gives him hands-on knowledge of the housing market.

In 2006, while principal of Hampton Bays High School, Vetro was arrested for alleged phone harassment of several women. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges, which were later reduced to violations. Ever since, he has been fighting corruption in the court system and rebuilding his life, and even wrote a book last year called “Standing on Principal,” detailing his arrest and injustices he faced.

“I know about Suffolk County corruption better than anybody and what I do to help people and what I stand for … I really, in my heart, believe that I’m the most qualified,” he said.

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