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Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown will have a different look in 2018. File photo by Phil Corso

No clear winner has emerged in the Smithtown Republican primary for town supervisor as a narrow 39-vote margin at the close of polls Sept. 12 left the outcome undecided, pending a count of absentee ballots.

Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) holds a razor-thin lead on incumbent town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R), 2,822 votes to 2,783, in the unofficial election results posted Sept. 13 by the Suffolk County Board of Elections.

“By definition, it’s too close to call,” said Nick LaLota, the Republican commissioner for the county board of elections. “The number of paper ballots outstanding exceeds the margin of victory by machine. It is literally too close to call.”

LaLota said the board of elections has received 322 absentee ballots as of Sept. 13. He said he expects the county may still receive a few dozen additional ballots over the next week. Absentee ballots must have been postmarked by Sept. 11 and received by the county by Sept. 19 to be valid.

“I am confident that we will remain victorious once they are opened,” Wehrheim said Wednesday morning.

The councilman said his campaign, along with Smithtown Republican Committee Chairman Bill Ellis, ran an extensive absentee voter outreach campaign leading up to the primary race.

“A lot is going to depend on how the absentee ballots go,” Ellis said in a phone interview. “We worked aggressively and I believe a lot of the absentees we had contact with voted for the entire team.”

LaLota said he anticipates by Sept. 25 the Suffolk County Board of Elections will have all the voting machines and paper ballots to be checked, and will have given sufficient notice to both campaigns in order to begin counting absentee votes.

The process of counting paper ballots involves opening each absentee envelope, allowing the ballot to be reviewed by a board of elections inspector and campaign observers, potentially including attorneys representing the campaigns. If there are any objections to the validity of a ballot it will be recorded.

The final outcome of the primary race may remain unknown until late September.

“With 300-plus ballots, I’d assume it’s going to take a few days,” LaLota said. “Attorneys have been known to gum up the process.”

Vecchio wrote the primary’s outcome was “still questionable” in an email statement, and that he was uncertain about the odds of being declared the Republican candidate after the absentee ballots were counted.

This is not the first time Vecchio has been challenged by his own party in a primary for town supervisor. In 2013, he faced off against former town councilman Robert Creighton (R) and prior to that, Jane Conway in 2005. In both of these primaries, Vecchio had a decisive victory at the polls.

“Against both Jane Conway and Bob Creighton, the results were substantially in Mr. Vecchio’s favor,” Ellis said. “Never has he lost on the [voting] machines to anyone.”

If Wehrheim remains victorious, he will be running for Smithtown town supervisor on the Republican, Conservative and Independent party lines in November.

Wehrheim currently has approximately $59,000 available in his war chest to spend on the general election, according to the 11-day pre-primary financial disclosure report filed with New York State Board of Elections.

“We won’t start campaigning until [the absentee ballots] are opened,” Wehrheim said. “Once they are open and the decision is finalized, then we will begin to carry on for the general election if we are the successful candidate.”

The winner of the Republican town supervisor primary will face off Nov. 7 against Democratic Party candidate William Holst and Kristen Slevin, running under her own None of the Above campaign.

File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Suffolk County Police 6th Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a motorcyclist in Selden Sept. 10.

Jared Tepperman was riding a 2001 Honda motorcycle northbound on Boyle Road when his motorcycle struck a 2010 Honda Accord, which was also traveling northbound, at the intersection of Hemlock Street at approximately 4:10 p.m.

Tepperman, 21, of Smithtown, was transported via Selden Fire Department ambulance to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. The driver of the Honda, Stacey Rios, 44, and her passenger, Daniel Loria, 45, both of Selden, were transported to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Detectives are seeking the identity of another motorcyclist who was involved in the incident and fled the scene prior to police arrival.

Both vehicles were impounded for a safety check. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the 6th Squad at 631-854-8652.

WWE Wrestler and Smithtown resident Mick Foley poses for a photo with the Castoro family during his event Sept. 7 where he raised funds for autistic families affected by Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Kevin Redding

Wanting to help in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, wrestling icon and Smithtown resident Mick Foley stopped by a local comic book shop Sept. 7 to sign autographs for a cause close to home.

The big-bearded and even bigger-hearted 52-year-old best known to WWE fans as Cactus Jack, Mankind and Dude Love visited Fourth World Comics on Route 112 in Smithtown to sign autographs, pose for pictures and raise money for KultureCity, a Birmingham, Alabama-based nonprofit advocating for autism awareness and acceptance.

WWE wrestler and Smithtown resident Mick Foley poses for a photo with young children during an event at a comic book store in Smithtown where he raised money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Photo by Kevin Redding

Foley helped raise $3,240 for the organization that is helping dozens of special needs families that have been affected by the Category 4 storm in Houston, Texas.

When he found out the group had members on the ground in Texas, and special needs families were struggling with torn-apart homes and lost items, he knew he had to get involved. The organization is also near and dear to Foley, because his son is autistic.

“Anyone who knows about children on the autism spectrum know they tend to thrive on regularity, and so to take everything they have and to suddenly turn that upside down is just devastating — even above and beyond what other families are going through,” Foley said. “This just seemed like a good way to make a difference. The money we raise may not change the world, but it will change the lives of these families.”

As a frequent shopper and celebrity guest at Fourth World in recent years, Foley took his idea for the meet-and-greet fundraiser directly to Glenn Fischette, the comic book store’s owner.

“It was really last minute, [but] as we can’t really go down there and help, we figured this is a good way to do it,” said Fischette, adding that he and Foley spent a day and a half blasting the event across social media after Foley proposed the idea Sept. 5. By 5 p.m. on the day of the event, an hour before Foley was set to arrive, a long line of super fans had already assembled outside.

WWE wrestler and Smithtown resident Mick Foley meets young fans during a signing to raise money for Hurricane Harvey victims. Photo by Kevin Redding

“People just love him. I know a lot of people who’ve been here before to see him, and they want to see him again,” the owner said. “He’s really into the charity stuff, so it’s great.”

Set up behind a table inside Fourth World Comics, Foley put a smile on the faces of hundreds of adults, teens and kids eager to meet their hero as he signed shirts and his own Pop! Vinyl doll for $20 to $30.

The Castoro family, from Smithtown — parents Jason and Nicole, and their 9-year-old kids Marilena and Brandon — were at the front of the line, each of them donning a wrestling shirt. As excited as they were for Foley, they came to support the cause, too.

“I think it’s wonderful he’s using his celebrity status for a good cause,” said Jason Castoro, a lifelong fan. “Sometimes when we go to meet famous wrestlers, you have to wait on a long line, and that’s just to meet them and take a picture. This really adds something special to it. We realized we had to come to this.”

Nicole Castoro pointed to her daughter, Marinella, who she said came up with a similar idea on her own.

“The other day, she said, ‘why can’t all the wrestlers just give the people in Texas the money they make?’ and here he is, giving them all the proceeds,” she said. “That’s really cool.”

WWR wrestler and Smithtown resident Mick Foley signs an autograph for Chance Clanton, of Austin, Texas, who is staying in New York for the week. Photo by Kevin Redding

Another lifelong WWE and Foley fan was Chance Clanton, an Austin, Texas resident staying in New York for the week. He said he has friends in Houston and is grateful for the overwhelming support from everybody, including his childhood idol.

“It’s really cool that he’s taking time out of his really busy schedule to show support for something like this,” Clanton said. “But it also really was no surprise to me when I heard he doing it, he’s so charitable.”

Throughout the event, Foley shared stories from his career, goofed off and laughed with fans, all the while thanking each and every one of them for being there.

“I’m really flattered by the length of that line — I didn’t think there would be this many people,” Foley said. “This shows the strength and the heart of the Smithtown community and the surrounding areas. We’re called Strong Island for a reason. We pull together. And that’s really nice to know.”

The home at 73 Henearly Drive in Miller Place has residents on the block up in arms over its purchase for redevelopment by the Developmental Disabilities Institute. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

A group home for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities is heading to Henearly Drive in Miller Place, but some residents on the block are up in arms over the purchase.

The group home will be the most recent in a string of homes across Suffolk County set up by the Smithtown-based Developmental Disabilities Institute, and will house six  low-functioning autistic  adults over 21 years old, as well as three full-time staff members.

The establishment will function as a place to call home for those with disabilities who have aged out of the nonprofit’s  residential programs for children.

DDI’s director of development, Dan Rowland, said the company went into contract May 23 to buy the house at 73 Henearly Drive for redevelopment.

“It’s a family neighborhood. It’s just very upsetting the amount of traffic it’s going to bring. They’re going to create a nuisance.”

— Janice Simon

Despite speculation of turning the entire front yard into a parking lot, he said there is only a plan in place to widen the property’s driveway to accommodate four vehicles for employees and visitors, and rules will be put in place for the home’s residents to keep neighbors at ease. The parking will also accommodate minivans used to transport group home residents anywhere they need to go in the community.

Residents near the property said the new development will disrupt the community’s quality of life, pointing to staff members entering and exiting the property as potential risk for an increase in traffic and safety hazards in the area — which, they said, is predominantly quiet, peaceful and occupied by children.

“It doesn’t make any sense why you would put this in the middle of a nice neighborhood, how is that fair?” said Henearly Drive resident Janice Simon, who is worried there will be a congestion of vehicles and possible dumpsters in the street around the property, where children currently play.

“Everyone deserves a place to live, but you don’t just disrupt what we have,” she said. “It’s nice, it’s a family neighborhood. It’s just very upsetting the amount of traffic it’s going to bring. They’re going to create a nuisance.”

A letter sent out by DDI’s director of adult services Aug. 18 invited residents living within 500 feet of the property to an information session to discuss the group home, and how the organization operates, at the Comsewogue Public Library Aug. 29.

Following the meeting, a letter circulated among neighbors addressing concerns surrounding the group home and urging them to contact community leaders if they oppose it.

“This block has enough traffic on it,” the letter titled “Attention Neighbors” read. “We do not want people rushing to get to work driving down this block that is very populated to begin with.  … Although we are not begrudging the residents the ability to live in a group home, we feel that the choice of 73 Henearly in the middle of a highly populated block is not the right one.”

A resident on the block, who asked to remain anonymous, agreed.

The home purchased by the Developmental Disabilites Institute is located on the corner of Willmington Street and Henearly Drive in Miller Place. Photo by Kevin Redding

“That’s the main concern,” the resident said. “It’s not who’s going to be living there or what type of people are going to be living there, but the increased traffic and the effect on home values, opening a business in the middle of a very quiet neighborhood. I just think putting it in a busier area like Miller Place-Yaphank Road would be more appropriate.”

However, Rowland expressed objection to the home being seen as an imposing business.

“Just because people are providing services in the home for someone who needs it doesn’t make it a business … this is a home,” Rowland said.

According to the director, the organization has launched more than 30 group homes throughout townships in Suffolk and Nassau counties, including Brookhaven and Islip,  and many of them sit in residential neighborhoods.

He said, in choosing a location for its group homes, DDI works alongside the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities in Albany to gauge the amount of care facilities in a town — including other group homes, hospitals, vocational centers and nursing homes — to ensure it won’t be opening a home in an area that is oversaturated.

The house at 73 Henearly Drive was chosen because of the surrounding neighborhood, the features of the structure and its suitability to house the six adults, Rowland said, adding that the individuals who will live there deserve a home in a safe community as opposed to being confined inside an institution.

“We understand that people are going to be uncomfortable with the idea of something like this being introduced to their neighborhood, and we’re sympathetic to the viewpoints of the neighbors in the neighborhood we’re moving into, but we also have to protect the rights of the people we care for,” Rowland said. “We hope to overcome their discomfort with it by demonstrating that we can, and will be, good neighbors with everybody.”

In response to those on Henearly Drive anticipating a neighborhood eyesore in the group home, the director of development said the 55-year-old nonprofit’s track record speaks for itself.

“We keep them looking good, we maintain them and we respect the neighborhood values in terms of noise or any sensitivity of increased traffic,” he said.

“Group homes don’t have quality of life problems. There’s no loud music, there’s no speeding and no unkept properties. And what about the people who need the services? What about their quality of life? They’re human beings.”

— Jane Bonner

Dawn McCarthy, president of the Miller Place Special Education Support Group, said she doesn’t see the home as a blight on the neighborhood either.

“I don’t think it’s going to interrupt quality of life at all,” McCarthy said. “Miller Place has a fairly decent-sized population of autistic children. I wonder how residents would feel if it was their children’s home. I can’t imagine it’s going to have an impact on anyone’s resale value.”

An anonymous resident expressed concern over a purported risk of individuals leaving the home at night, which she said is why the residence will be electronically locked and equipped with alarms.

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) called the opposition to the group home disheartening.

“I’ve explained to everybody, and this is the truth, that in almost 10 years in office, I have never ever had a problem with a group home in my council district,” Bonner said. “Group homes don’t have quality of life problems. There’s no loud music, there’s no speeding and no unkept properties. And what about the people who need the services? What about their quality of life? They’re human beings.”

Henearly Drive resident Janine Biancaniello made it clear her opposition was aimed at the group home’s employees and not its six individuals.

“When I come home from work, my home is my safe haven,” Biancaniello said.“I don’t want strangers up and down my block, 500 times, people I don’t know coming and going all day and night … [with] everybody outside smoking and on their phones and hanging out — no way — it doesn’t work like that. We’re going to have to pay their taxes while our property values go down. They’re going to change our way of life.”

The group home is protected under the Padavan law, which allows group homes to supersede local zoning as long as they meet state codes.

DDI said it is uncertain at this time when the group home will open.

Smithtown Town Hall. File photo

Four Republican candidates — two incumbents and two challengers — are ready to face off Sept. 12 to get their name on the party line this November. There are two seats that are up for grabs on the Smithtown town council, each for a four-year term.

Bob Doyle. Photo by Nicole Garguilo

Bob Doyle

Doyle, 66, of Nesconset, has 37 years in law enforcement under his belt. He  is a former Suffolk homicide detective and served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam. He created what became the Suffolk County gang task force and has spent most of his career bringing MS-13 gang members to justice.

As president of the Country Pointe Homeowners Association, he  has experience running a large sewer treatment plant. Doyle said he is determined to bring sewers to the three downtown hamlets.

If elected, Doyle said he wants to restore the town’s infrastructure — including its curving roads and sidewalks — bring in smart business development to the downtown areas, and create a more transparent town board.

“Don’t you want to elect a new team that has the leadership, the vision and the energy to accomplish that?” Doyle said. “I’m hoping, ultimately for a clean slate because we need to get the job done for the citizens of Smithtown. I’m ready to hit the ground running once I’m sworn in.”

Tom Lohmann. Photo by Johnny Cirillo

Tom Lohmann

The former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau said he’s stepping into the political arena for the first time because he’s unhappy with how his town’s government has operated in recent years.

“Smithtown used to be the town that most townships wanted to emulate,” Lohmann, 59, a Smithtown native, said. “We had bustling downtown districts and it was just a great community. But over the years, I don’t think the town has kept up with the influx of people and our streets, ball fields and marinas are not what they once were.”

Lohmann said he hopes for a more transparent, committed and cohesive town board if elected.

“We still don’t even have sewer systems,” he said. “In good conscience, I was no longer going to stand by. I have the work experience and leadership to do things. I’ve always been a doer and the time for talking is over, it’s now the time for action.”

Tom McCarthy. File photo

Tom McCarthy

McCarthy, a former local business owner who has served on the town board since 1998, wears a lot of hats at town hall. He has spearheaded multiple recent projects, such as planting more than 100 trees throughout Smithtown, pushing the infrastructural rebuilding of Lake Avenue in St. James, and has been evaluating the possible purchase of the administrative building from the Smithtown school district.

The Nesconset native also serves as deputy town supervisor and is actively working to develop sewers with $40 million in state funds, which will be split between Kings Park and Smithtown.

He said he would look forward to another four years on the board with Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and Nowick.

“We just want to continue making Smithtown greater,” McCarthy said. “Financially, we’re in the best shape the town has ever been in, we have a triple A bond rating, and a tax decrease coming up in 2018. There’s so much positive going on right now and it is not time for a change.”

Lynn Nowick. File photo

Lynn Nowick

A lifelong resident of St. James, Nowick, a former county legislator and tax receiver for Smithtown, followed in the footsteps of her father, the late Councilman Eugene Cannataro (R), when she ran and was elected to the town board in 2013.

In her 22 years as an elected official, Nowick said she has been a strong advocate for open space and preservation, in areas like Head of the Harbor and the Nissequogue River. She championed much of the current sewer project and revitalization efforts in Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James.

If elected, Nowick said she wants to continue to keep taxes low, get sewers into the downtown areas and maintain Smithtown’s quality of life — which she considers to be a major priority among residents.

“When it comes down to it, it’s about the parks, the beaches, the golf courses, sidewalks, roads, and if we can get sewers and our downtowns back up, it’s going to be a bonanza for the town,” Nowick said.

Go Vote

Polls will be open for primaries Sept. 12, 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. Town of Smithtown residents are eligible to vote in the town council race if: you are a registered Republican, are at least 18 years old, have lived at your current address at least 30 days before the election, and not been in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

To double check if you are registered to vote, check on the state’s website at voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx.

Hurricane Harvey caused devastation across Texas and neighboring states last week. Stock photo

By Alex Petroski, Rita J. Egan, Kevin Redding, Desirée Keegan and Sara-Megan Walsh

Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern coast of Texas as a Category 4 storm, dumping historic floodwaters on the region and leaving hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes, injured or worse. About 1,700 miles away several efforts to raise money and accumulate food and supplies for those affected sprung up across the North Shore this past week into the weekend. Business owners, nonprofits, citizens and even kids pitched in to try to help in the early stages of getting victims back on their feet.

Port Jefferson

Tara Higgins, Kate Higgins and Joseph Higgins, owner of Tara Inn in upper Port, during a fundraiser Sept. 4 at the pub to benefit victims of Hurricane Harvey. Photo by Alex Petroski

In October it will be 40 years that Joseph Higgins has owned Tara Inn pub on Main Street in upper Port. When Higgins heard of the devastation in Houston and the surrounding region as a result of Hurricane Harvey, he said it resonated with him in a way that left him feeling like action was required. The pub owner decided to hold a benefit Sept. 4, Labor Day, to raise money for people affected by the massive storm. In addition to the sale of raffle tickets and Harvey relief T-shirts donated by Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, Higgins pledged to donate 100 percent of the bar’s food and beverage sales from the day to a group providing aid for victims in the region.

Tara Inn amassed more than $15,200 in sales and donations during the course of the day, which will be donated to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which was created to honor the memory of Siller, who was a firefighter killed in the line of duty Sept. 11, 2001. The organization is asking for donations to help Harvey victims on its website, and 100 percent of the money raised will go toward supplies and helping those affected.

“Forty years ago I had eight kids, my wife and I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, and I said, ‘God, help me raise these kids,’ and he did,” the 86-year-old Higgins said during the event, while seated near the pub’s front door with a container for additional donations. “And I can’t thank God enough for all he has given me and that’s why we give back. I’ve had a great life, and I like to give back. There have been times in my life where I had an opportunity to do something good and I didn’t do it, and I always regret that. Every time something comes along that we can do for somebody else, I want to do it.”

Tara Inn was filled with guests and volunteers throughout the day, including two of Higgins’ daughters.

“This is the family business, and we’ve done fundraisers in the past, and we just thought it was our small contribution to people that have been really devastated,” said Tara Higgins, whom the bar was named after. “Our customers are very loyal and really step up when we do fundraisers.”

Bubba Davis, a Port Jefferson Village resident for 78 years, was among those in attendance for the fundraiser at Tara Inn.

“This family here, they’ve always done that — they’re fantastic people,” Davis said.

Higgins’ wife of 65 years, Pat, was also at the pub for the event.

“He has the biggest heart in the world,” she said of her husband. “We feel so sorry for all the poor kids.”

In addition to the Tara Inn fundraiser, an emergency clothing drive will be hosted Sept. 9 at the Avalon Park barn in Stony Brook from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. by Knead 2 Feed, an organization that works with Port Jeff elementary school students to help the homeless. The organization, which was founded by former Port Jeff resident Jane Parker, features about 40 kids from the local area ranging from 5 to 14 years old who typically meet once a month to fulfill their mission of collecting goods to donate to a homeless shelter in Manhattan. This month their meet up will be the clothing drive.

“It’s a great group of kids who we’re really just teaching how important volunteering is and just trying to inspire them to be altruistic and help other people,” Parker said in a phone interview. She added the group has plans to drive a U-Haul truck to Texas in the coming weeks to deliver the bounty from the clothing drive.

Port Jefferson high school graduate Shaughnessy Harrison and her team at Keller Williams Realty Homes & Estates also collected donations of supplies to fill a truck  headed to Texas Sept. 7.

STAT Health Urgent Care centers, including the one in Port Jefferson Station, also accepted donations of supplies and nonperishable foods through Sept. 4, which were loaded into a truck and driven to Texas this week.

Setauket

Eric Cohen, president of True View Window Cleaning and Power Washing, with donations he collected and plans to drive to Texas to donate to Hurricane Harvey victims. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A few days after Hurricane Harvey left devastation behind in its wake in southeastern Texas, a Setauket business owner sat in his office surrounded by boxes and bags of much-needed staples.

Eric Cohen, president of True View Window Cleaning and Power Washing, said he was watching news coverage of the hurricane with his 12-year-old daughter Jamie when she turned to him and said, “That’s not going to happen to us Daddy, right?”

The Port Jeff resident said he started explaining to her there was no need to worry because volunteers would bring the flood victims food and help rebuild their houses. It was then he said he realized he needed to do something.

“I figured she’d grasp it better if I did something than explain it,” Cohen said.

The business owner decided he would collect food, toiletries and clothing, load up a truck and transport them to one of the drop-off centers in Texas. He said this is the first time he has organized a drive like this, but as soon as he made the decision to do so, he posted on social media and called clients. In the days that followed, dozens of people stopped by with donations, and a few of Cohen’s clients have helped store items in their offices.

This past weekend, he loaded a 24-foot enclosed trailer with cases of water, granola bars, Ramen noodles, canned goods, diapers, toothpaste, deodorant and blankets.

Cohen said he’s excited and the donation drive has been satisfying, but he is a bit nervous about the trip. Before choosing a day to drive down, he was monitoring the weather, availability of gas in Texas and safety issues. Cohen plans on posting updates about the trip on his business Facebook page, www.facebook.com/trueviewcleaningservices.

“I kind of have butterflies in my stomach thinking about the trip down,” Cohen said. 

His daughter said she thinks Cohen’s volunteer mission is cool.

“It’s nice because we have a lot of things that they used to have, and now they don’t have anything, and now he’s going to help them,” Jamie said.

In addition to Cohen’s Hurricane Harvey relief drive, Alchemy Martial Arts and Fitness of Setauket, located at 254 Main St., will be accepting donations for flood victims until Sept. 16. All contributions will be dropped off at U.S. Rep. Tom Souzzi’s (D-Glen Cove) office in Huntington.

The school owner, Nick Panebianco posted on Facebook he was approached by 7-year-old student Josh Rossler who asked: “What are we doing to help with what’s going on in Texas?”

“He really impressed me today, and I hope all my students can take this act as an example of how a martial artist holds themselves in and out of the classroom,” Panebianco wrote. 

The board of Jefferson’s Ferry life plan community in South Setauket was moved to donate $5,000 to the LeadingAge Hurricane Harvey Disaster Relief Fund after a photo of La Vita Bella Assisted Living Home residents awaiting rescue in waist deep water appeared in various news outlets. LeadingAge represents organizations serving older adults in 38 states, and in the past members of LeadingAge donated $1.3 million in total for victims of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy.

“Seeing the footage and photos from Houston, particularly of some of our most vulnerable populations, quickly moved us to action,” George Rice, chair of Jefferson’s Ferry’s board of directors, said. “Knowing that LeadingAge would target 100 percent of our donation to help seniors in need made it easy to help.”

Mount Sinai

Mount Sinai Fire Department volunteers box up assorted items to be shipped directly to shelters in Houston. Photo by Kevin Redding

A cardboard sign spray-painted with the words “Help Texas” greeted residents who stopped by the Mount Sinai Fire Department over the weekend.

In an effort dubbed “Help Us Help Texas,” volunteer firefighters collected hundreds of items — including cases of water, pet food, nonperishable foods, diapers, contractor bags and paper towels — from members of the community, who dropped the goods off to the firehouse on Mount Sinai-Coram Road Sept. 2 and 3.

As residents pulled into the parking lot with vehicles full of much-needed supplies for those suffering in the wake of the storm, all members of the department from junior firefighters to chiefs helped carry them in, while other volunteers got to work boxing them up to be delivered to shelters in Houston.

“It’s so encouraging that everybody can get together and do what needs to be done under these types of circumstances,” said safety officer Dan Desmond, who has been a volunteer with the Mount Sinai department for 30 years.

Desmond said he wasn’t surprised to see so many people stopping by to help.

“There’s nothing stronger than the bond that Long Islanders have,” he said. “Whether it’s for somebody in Alaska or down in Texas, if somebody needs help, Long Island’s going to come together.”

Adam Thomas, an 11-year volunteer who organized the event, said he immediately sprung into action because he has friends who serve as firemen near Houston. As he and other Mount Sinai volunteers couldn’t make the trip to Texas, he thought of the next best thing.

Through Facebook, emails, phone calls and word of mouth, Thomas promoted the donation drive in the week preceding it.

With a direct contact on the scene in Houston, Thomas was also able to compile a specific list of supplies for residents to contribute. Rather than clothing or cash, the most crucial supplies included batteries, flashlights, cleaning supplies, mops, hygiene products, masks, goggles and bug spray.

“My friends down there, they’ve been working all night, and sent me a text saying, ‘We need mosquito sprays’ because they’re getting slaughtered by them — they have fire ants all over the place too,” Thomas said.

As another car full of items pulled in, Thomas said the initiative felt wonderful.

“It’s not just me doing it, it’s everybody that’s helping,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”

Department lieutenant Rob Pobjecky, who helped Thomas get the event off the ground, pointed to another storm’s relief effort as inspiration.

“I think that the outpouring of help that we got from around the nation with Hurricane Sandy really helped spawn this idea that we can give back and help others in their time of need,” Pobjecky said.

The lieutenant said  the event was evidence of social media being put to good use.

“I’m not the biggest fan of social media, but in instances like this, I think it’s when it really is tremendous,” Pobjecky said.

As one resident dropped off water, baby wipes, cat food and paper towels, she said of her donations: “It’s the least we can do, right?”

Wading River

The New York Air National Guard 106th Rescue Wing, based in Westhampton Beach, traveled to Texas to help with rescues.

The group rescued nearly 300 people by boat and helicopter as of Aug. 29, military officials said, though the number has grown substantially since then.

Wading River’s Ryan Dush, a 32-year-old staff sergeant, was one of about 140 members of the 106th Rescue Wing to help in Texas.

Dush’s rescues included an airlift of an extended family of nine, including a 1-month-old child. The family members, three of whom were adults, were inside of a partially submerged pickup truck. Dush led the group members to the roof, where he strapped them into harnesses that hoisted them 60 feet up to the helicopter.

According to Capt. Michael O’Hagan, the helicopter was already filled to capacity when the group was spotted.

“A male was spotted waving for help,” he told CBS News. “It turned out to be a family of nine.”

Dush can be seen in a video on the 106th Rescue Wing’s YouTube channel holding the infant as he was pulled back up to the helicopter.

It hit home for Dush, because he’s the father of a 1-year-old girl.

“It was definitely an emotional rescue, going after an infant that was that small,” Dush told CNN. “I rescued another infant today. It’s an amazing feeling to come out and help people in their time of need.”

In multiple YouTube videos on the channel and elsewhere, family members can be seen smiling and waving to Dush, mouthing “thank you” as they are dropped off at the George R. Brown Convention Center in West Houston, which is serving as a shelter.

“We as a New York wing are very well-acquainted with this type of a disaster, having lived through Hurricane Sandy only five years ago,” O’Hagan said. “We remember that in our time of need others came from around the nation to help us out, so we’re happy to do so. Everyone that’s here is a volunteer. This is the very definition of what we do as the Air National Guard — these things we do so that others may live.”

Smithtown

A Smithtown-based charity has sent volunteers down to Texas to make sure man’s best friends aren’t forgotten in a time of need.

Volunteers from Guardians of Rescue, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that works to protect the wellbeing of all animals and come to the aid of those in distress, have been rescuing pets affected by Hurricane Harvey and reuniting them with their owners.

“The Guardians have been taking rescued animals to the Montgomery Animal Control where Best Friends have set up an emergency intake shelter to care for animals displaced from the hurricane and flooding, and to get them reunited with their owners,” Guardians of Rescue posted on their Facebook page Sept. 6. “And while we didn’t rescue the dogs in the video, we did get to witness the happy moment of a woman who had just picked up her dogs that had been brought into the shelter.”

In addition, the Smithtown Fire Department joined others across Long Island in collecting donations for Hurricane Harvey victims at their main fire house on Elm Avenue through Sept. 6. All donations will be packed up on a tractor trailer for delivery to Houston residents.w

In Saint James, Sal’s Auto Body also opened its doors as a drop location for non-perishable and other donations for Hurricane Harvey victims.

Huntington

Halesite Fire Department coordinated with two Huntington business owners to serve as a drop-off point for donations to Hurricane Harvey victims through Sept. 6. Photo from Dom Spada

Two Huntington auto-shop owners found themselves unable to stand by without taking action after watching televised news broadcasts of the widespread flooding in Houston. It struck a painful reminder of Hurricane Sandy, five years ago this fall.

“I was watching the news with my wife, that morning, and my kids were very upset,” said Huntington resident George Schwertl. “We’re sitting here right now very comfortable and as we saw on the news, it’s a mess down there. We have to help.”

Schwertl, owner of Schwertl Auto Body in Islandia, and Andre Sorrentino, owner of PAS Auto Body in Huntington, coordinated as massive donation drive for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in coordination with Dom Spada, second assistant chief of Halesite Fire Department.

Halesite firefighters are particularly sympathetic to the damage flooding can cause, Spada said, given the area’s flooding in past storms and rescue missions of stranded automobile drivers.

“Water can be a nasty thing and wreck havoc on people’s homes and their lives. We had to do something,” Spada said. “We know how water can be, as we’ve had it with our own residents. We know what they are going through and it’s probably at least 10 times what we have gone through.”

Halesite’s Fire Chief Greg Colonna sent out a mass email to local residents Aug. 30 calling for donations of nonperishable food, toiletries, hygiene products, water, blankets and dog food to be dropped off to one of the participating businesses, the firehouse or one of its sister fire districts — Dix Hills, East Northport or Huntington Manor — by Sept. 6.

Schwertl said he and Sorrentino originally rented five Sprinter vans to be driven by local volunteers down to Houston Sept. 7, but that number had grown to eight trucks and tractor trailers, and was still growing.

“We’ve had a great turnout everywhere with the businesses, the fire departments,” Schwertl said. “It’s an incredible turnout, to see everyone coming together. People are volunteering to drive down with us, they are volunteering and offering trucks.”

The group has been coordinating with a legislative aide from U.S. Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) who previously lived in Texas, Suffolk County Legislator Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station), and state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) to get the specific locations of shelters in need of supplies, according to Schwertl.

“We want to be positive that when we get there they will take the donations and it will go into the right hands,” Sorrentino said.

The convoy of trucks and trailers driven by a mixed volunteer of retirees, construction workers, servicemen from Hauppauge to Huntington plans to depart late Sept. 7 for Texas.

A Huntington nonprofit has collaborated with the Town of Huntington to make sure that all of Hurricane Harvey’s victims, big and small, are getting aid so desperately needed.

Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center of Huntington reached out and made arrangements with an animal rescue group in Rockwall, Texas, to accept shelter dogs and cats for adoption to make more room for more four-legged refugees.

“We are giving more room for the shelters down there so they can do the right thing, take in and reunite pets that they are still finding in the floods right now,”  Little Shelter executive director, David Ceely, said.

Ceely said Sept. 1 that the plans were underway to arrange transportation of approximately a dozen shelter animals up to Delaware where they will be handed off, and driven the rest of the way to New York with their expected arrival on Labor Day. The animals were then going to be split up for lodging with five dogs and three cats going to stay at Little Shelter, according to Ceely, while the Town of Huntington’s Animal Shelter was going to accept three to five dogs.

“Town municipal shelters don’t normally do this type of thing,” he said. “For Huntington Animal Shelter to do this is groundbreaking.”

The plans to transport these animals hit a speed bump earlier this week, according to Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter, who said the transportation of the animals was delayed due to legal issues with getting health certifications needed to allow pets to travel across state lines.

If the legal issues can be sorted, Ceely said the animals will be required to be put under a two-week quarantine period for medical and behavioral screening before being put up for adoption.

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Smithtown Town Hall. File photo

Two elected Republican officials will face off against one another in the Sept. 12 primary to see who will get the party line in this November’s election for Smithtown town supervisor.

Incumbent town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) is being challenged by Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) who received the Smithtown Republican Committee’s official nomination at the party’s convention May 30.

Pat Vecchio. File photo

Patrick Vecchio

Vecchio, 87, is the longest-presiding town supervisor in the history of New York state. First elected in 1977, he announced his intention to seek re-election to his 14th term in May.

“For 40 years I’ve stood on these steps to be sworn in [and] you may be wondering why,” Vecchio said in May. “I do it because I love to help people and truly love what I do, and each day that I go to work has been a pleasure. [Sure], there have been times I’ve thrown the phone book on the floor and slammed the telephone down, but I still love what I do and want to continue working with these people to make this the best town, not only in Suffolk County but maybe in New York state.”

Under Vecchio’s leadership, Smithtown stands as one of the most fiscally stable municipalities in the county with a triple-A bond rating. There was no tax increase on residents in 2017, and it’s predicted that there won’t be a tax hike in 2018 either.

The Town of Smithtown was also the first municipality in the state to pass the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, giving credit to Vecchio’s environmental record. The supervisor has also passed several initiatives to provide affordable housing for senior citizens.

Ed Wehrheim. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim has served on the town board since April 2003 when he was first appointed by Vecchio to fill the seat left by state Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). He now seeks to unseat the man who appointed him.

“I believe people are ready for a new beginning, and that’s across the gamut,” Wehrheim said.

The councilman has served as the director of parks, building and grounds in the Town of Smithtown managing an $8 million budget and frequently works with other departments.

However, he said over the last eight-to-10 years he’s seen a gradual deterioration of the parks and community spaces within the town.

“We need to begin to levy our triple-A bond rating and low debt to begin to upgrade our parks and recreational facilities,” Wehrheim said.

If elected supervisor, his other goals including bringing greater transparency to town government and the implementation of a business advisory council to aid in the creation of new development plans. Much of this, Wehrheim said could be possible with recent state funding given to the town.

“We need an energetic, full-time town board to begin to wisely use that money to improve Smithtown wisely,” he said.

Go vote

Polls will be open for Sept. 12 primaries, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Town of Smithtown residents are eligible to vote in the supervisor race if a registered Republican, are at least 18 years old, have lived at the current address at least 30 days before the election, and not been in prison or on parole for a felony conviction.

To double check if you are registered to vote, check on the state’s website at voterlookup.elections.state.ny.us/votersearch.aspx.

The 265-year-old Arthur House, located on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street, has historic ties to Long Island’s Culper Spy Ring. Photo by Kevin Redding

A neglected, pre-Revolutionary War house on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown and other historically significant structures in the area could help boost the town’s future, according to a Smithtown historian.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske urged for Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and town council members to draft a resolution to start a Town Hall National Register Historic District in the downtown area at the Aug. 8 town board meeting, which, according to her, would serve to benefit the region’s economy. 

She asked the resolution be expedited by the Town Planning Department in cooperation with the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities as well as the community.

The proposed historic district, which Geske first proposed to the board about eight months ago, would center on the town hall building — built in 1912 by St. James architect Lawrence Smith Butler — and include the 106-year-old Trinity AME Church on New York Avenue, the 105-year-old Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection on Juniper Avenue and the 265-year-old Arthur House.

The Arthur House is located at the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Arthur House is the only Revolutionary War-era house on the Route 25A Spy Trail, Geske said, and currently sits on the grounds of the Smithtown Central School District. It’s a property she has pushed in the past to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Geske informed the board that the house, built in 1752, was once inhabited by Mary Woodhull Arthur, the daughter of Abraham Woodhull — better known as Samuel Culper Sr. — George Washington’s chief operative during the famous spy ring. The intelligence he provided helped win the American Revolution.

Her recent call for the historic district coincided with the July 27 bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) designating the Washington Spy Ring National Historic Trail. The trail runs through towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Smithtown along Route 25A.

“Let Smithtown lead the way in a big way by capitalizing on its own special history and world-class architecture added to the heritage now being recognized at the state and national levels for all towns along the Route 25A Washington Spy Trail from Great Neck to Port Jefferson,” Geske said at the board meeting. “The Washington Spy Trail wouldn’t exist if not for the father of Mary Woodhull Arthur of Smithtown, a true daughter of the American Revolution.”

She also noted The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotion Alliance were granted funds from the state to install signs along the trail in May.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has listed the Arthur House as endangered for more than 10 years. Photo by Kevin Redding

Geske said registering the Arthur House would be beneficial to the town as it could bring about possible grants from the state for the restoration and stabilization of old properties and promote more tourism in that area.

“The Arthur House was on the SPLIA’s endangered list over 10 years ago and it’s a building that’s been proposed for demolition,” she said. “These are the buildings that have been cast off in the past. [But] they actually could become the cornerstone for revitalizing downtown Smithtown. The history can actually bring to life a new future for downtown, it would be amazing.”

Sarah Kautz, director of preservation for SPLIA, said she hopes the town will involve its vast history into the downtown revitalization efforts. The town’s comprehensive revitalization plans came to the conclusion its historic buildings were an important component, according to Kautz, but did not provide concrete plans to address them.

“The town has never really incorporated preservation in a systematic way that would bring it into the wider plan for revitalization,” Kautz said. “The Arthur House is important because it’s an early property and is part of Smithtown’s really interesting early history going back into the 18th century. We would love to see a real clear approach for how those historic properties are going to fit into the revitalization and there’s a great potential for them to do so.”

The town board is in the process of evaluating Geske’s proposal, according to Councilman Tom McCarthy (R).

“We’ve asked the planning department to see how feasible it is … we’ll have to look at the pluses and minuses, do due diligence, but it could be a benefit to the township as a whole,” McCarthy said. “We have so much history [and] it’s very important to preserve it but now we have to look at everything surrounding it. We don’t want to shoot from the hip.”

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Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

By Marianne Howard

The Smithtown Historical Society was fortunate to be able to provide children of all ages an opportunity this summer to step away from the screens, iPads and TVs to take an active role in volunteering and participating in its programs, camps, and daily activities this summer.

The historical society offers a Portals to the Past summer camp for children ages 6-to-12 for nine weeks throughout the summer. Cooking, sewing, drawing, painting and helping on the farm are all a part of the regular camp offerings. This year, Melissa Clemens,  director of education, created a junior educator program which bridges the gap between the camp years and the college years to create a well-informed core of teens to act as ambassadors in their schools and communities to promote an interest in history and education. The first training session in June had eight teens who spent the summer learning all about the historical society and their community. These 13- and 14-year-olds will continue to assist the society at various events throughout 2017.

Students of all ages were able to learn about local history and engage in hands-on projects through the Smithtown Historical Society’s summer programs. Photo from Marianne Howard

The society had two college-age interns volunteering with its education department this summer: Robert Rock, a Smithtown resident attending Williams College who has not declared a major; and Jacqueline Michels, a Hauppauge resident attending Providence College as a history and secondary education major. The two students tackled every task given to them and were able to make headway in some of the historical society’s newest projects. Rock assisted at all of the public programs this summer from goat yoga and movie night to the community barbecue. He also initiated a butterfly garden and helped to oversee its planting by volunteers from the Smithtown Youth Bureau at the end of August.

Michels worked diligently to draft a new field trip curriculum for the society’s Obadiah Smith building in Kings Park and reworked the “Long Island Kids: Then and Now” field trip program, which was offered for the first time last year.

“It’s great to see that the future of museums is in great hands,” Michels said. “Based on my time at Smithtown Historical Society this summer, I feel that SHS presents a community-building mission to the public. The organization works to bring together Smithtown residents over their shared local history through community events and programs. This summer, I’ve watched the Smithtown Historical Society make efforts to reach out to Smithtown residents of all ages to bring them to the historic buildings on their property and to bring local history out to the public.  All of their efforts build community by bringing together the residents of Smithtown to experience their shared history.” 

Rock also agreed that increasing involvement of younger members of community is essential. 

“I see the historical society as continuing to provide these programs for public involvement but increasing the involvement of younger members of the community,” he said. “As SHS has made a strong, and so far successful effort to further the involvement of this group through programs such as goat yoga, history happy hour, the movies on the lawn, and yoga on the lawn, I see this trend as continuing to mark the society’s path.”

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

A scholarship has been launched to honor the memory of Northport resident Scott Martella who died in 2016. File photo

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Smithtown family is hoping to honor the life of their son by providing others with an educational opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

Stacy and Stephen Martella announced the creation of the Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund in partnership with The United Way of Long Island in memory of their son, who was killed a year ago.

Scott Martella was a Smithtown student who worked with local politicians. File photo

Scott Martella, a Smithtown native and Northport resident, died in a three-car crash on the Long Island Expressway Aug. 21, 2016.

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service,” his parents said in a statement. “We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

The memorial fund aims to provide scholarships to low-income students who will be attending college and whose studies may include international or public relations.

In conjunction with the scholarship fund, Smithtown Central School District announced it will be creating a series of service learning projects for students that will run from October 2017 to May 2018. This will be done in partnership with the United Veterans Beacon House, a nonprofit partner agency of United Way, to work together on a host of activities such as painting, planting a garden, landscaping and more.

Scott Martella, who was 29 when he died, is widely remembered for his career in public service and his involvement in New York State government and politics. Martella got started when, at age 22, he became the youngest board of education member elected in Smithtown school district’s history in 2009.

From 2011 to 2015, Martella  served as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) Suffolk County representative before being promoted to Long Island regional representative. In June 2015, he started working as the director of communications for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D).

“Scott believed in the awesome power of public service. We hope to keep his legacy alive by giving future leaders the same chance Scott had in pursuing a college education.”

— Stacy and Stephen Martella

“Scott was clearly one of the most engaging people that I’ve come across in government,” Bellone said in an interview. “Beyond the fact that he was smart, talented and hardworking, he had that something extra special that he was able to make that connection with people.”

In addition to the scholarship fund, Martella’s parents and Bellone hosted a Back-to-School Drive this month to provide supplies for underprivileged students. They said their goal was to prepare 5,000 backpacks for homeless or at-risk children.

“One of the last major events [Scott] did before he died was put together this Back-to-School Drive with Long Island Coalition for the Homeless,” Bellone said. “It’s obviously sad to think that he’s gone, but this was also a way to carry on his legacy of public service, a very appropriate way to carry on his legacy of public service.”

Charitable contributions to The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund can be made online at www.scottmartella.com or www.unitedwayli.org/ScottMartellaMemorialScholarshipFund.

All donations made by check should be written out to include The Scott Martella Memorial Scholarship Fund on the envelope as well as the memo section. Checks should be made payable to United Way of Long Island, 819 Grand Blvd., Deer Park, NY 11729.

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