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Susan Berland

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.

Councilman Eugene Cook has a proposal that would set term limits for all Huntington elected officials. File photo by Rohma Abbas

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A 3-to-2 split of the Huntington Town Board has sent a proposal aimed at placing term limits on elected officials back to the drawing board.

At an Aug. 15 town board meeting, council members voted against a public hearing on legislation that would limit the number of years a public official could hold office. The sticking point was which town positions it would affect.

Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) made a motion to amend Councilman Eugene Cook’s (R) resolution which proposed a two-term, or eight-year limit, upwards to three four-year terms, or 12 years. Edwards said this would be more in line with term limits placed by other state and federal governmental offices. Suffolk County legislators are limited to 12 years in office.

Cook accepted these changes, but proposed that the elected positions of town clerk and receiver of taxes be removed from the bill as they are not legislative positions.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said he wouldn’t support these changes, citing term limits should apply to all elected officials or none. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D)  and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) sided with him.

Berland proposed, with Cuthbertson’s support, that the issue of term limits on elected officials should be voted on in a townwide referendum this November. Petrone and the council members voted against a hearing on the current proposed legislation to see if a referendum is a possibility.

Councilwoman Susan Berland stands with the free sunscreen dispenser now at Crab Meadow Beach in Northport. File photo from A.J. Carter

By Victoria Espinoza

One Huntington Town official is determined to have residents covered when it comes to their skin.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) received support from her Huntington Town Board colleagues to expand her pilot program and provide sunscreen protection for Huntington residents at 14 new locations in addition to Crab Meadow Beach.

Last summer Berland launched a free sunscreen dispenser program at Crab Meadow Beach after working in conjunction with IMPACT Melanoma, formerly known as the Melanoma Foundation of New England, an organization that provides education, prevention and support for the most serious form of skin cancer.

“The [Crab Meadow Beach dispenser] was a success,” Berland said in a phone interview. “It got a lot of use last year and this year. So I wanted to expand it to 14 other locations.”

For about $1,600, the town will purchase from IMPACT Melanoma 14 additional BrightGuard sunscreen dispensers along with a supply of BrightGuard Eco Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 for each designated location.

The new dispensers will be installed at Asharoken Beach, Centerport Beach, Crescent Beach, Fleets Cove Beach, Gold Star Battalion Beach, Hobart Beach, Quentin Sammis/West Neck Beach, Greenlawn Memorial Park, Heckscher Park, Ostego Park, Veterans Park, Crab Meadow Golf Course, Dix Hills Golf Course and Dix Hills Pool. The sunscreen is environmentally safe, made in America and Para-AminoBenzoic Acid (PABA) free, according to Berland’s office. The councilwoman said she chose locations based on need and their supervision.

“For example the town pool is where all town camp programs are held,” she said. “I’m willing to bet there are some kids who are not using sunscreen or will forget it and this can help.”

Berland said the reaction to the first dispenser and a melanoma prevention and awareness event she hosted earlier this summer have indicated both been a success.

“I get swarmed at the dermatologists office about how great the first dispenser is,” she said. “People can forget to pack their sunscreen or some people have never even used sunscreen before. It’s just not on their radar. So people are now trying it, it’s a great preventative for the residents.”

According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology regular sunscreen use can reduce the incidence of melanoma by 50 to 73 percent.

According the 2014 report “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and most cases are preventable. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths of all skin cancers, killing almost 9,000 people each year. It is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. adolescents and young adults.

Berland is a skin cancer survivor herself and said this issue is very personal to her.

“People need to take care of themselves early in life,” she said. “This has opened up people’s eyes to the entire issue.”

The resolution will be presented to the board at the next town board meeting. Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a phone interview he believes the program’s relatively low cost is an added benefit to the positives it will do for residents.

“It’s a very minimal price,” he said. “It’s not something to put my thumb down on.”

For more information about this program, call Berland’s office at 631-351-3173.

Councilwoman uses personal experience with skin cancer as motivation to spread awareness

Councilwoman Susan Berland stands with the free sunscreen dispenser now at Crab Meadow Beach in Northport. File photo from A.J. Carter

For one Huntington Town councilwoman, warning residents about the dangers of the sun isn’t just a work obligation — it’s personal.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) has been dealing with the effects of spending summers under the sun’s rays for nearly a decade, and it has motivated her to host “Melanoma Prevention: Avoiding the Dangers of Tanning,” an event open to the public Tuesday, April 25, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 100 Main St.

“I think it’s important for any parent whose kid wants to tan to learn spending too much time out in the sun is dangerous,” Berland said in a phone interview. “Hopefully this sways people from making bad decisions.”

Berland said she had her first run-in with skin cancer seven or eight years ago, when she discovered she had an irregular mole on her lower back that was precancerous. These moles, also known as dysplastic nevi, increase the risk of a patient developing melanoma in a mole elsewhere on the body.

“When I was in high school, I was one of the girls wearing Hawaiian Tropic [sunscreen] zero [SPF] and using tinfoil at the beach getting fried,” Berland said. “I did a lot of damage. Nobody knew, you just always thought you looked so much better with a tan.”

When she had kids, she said she was focused on making sure her children were protected with sunscreen, and would often “run out of steam,” by the time it got to her skin.

Berland, like many other people, learned of a “base tan,” a once-popular idea to get before vacations, where the thought was getting a starter level for a tan on your skin would help protect it from getting burnt when on tropical vacations. Many science and health organizations, including medical research group Mayo Clinic, have come out against base tans in recent years, saying they do not protect skin anymore than sunscreen and can actually cause more damage long term.

“I didn’t get fried anymore, and I really thought I was doing the right thing and getting a healthy tan,” Berland said. “Turns out there’s really no such thing as that.”

The councilwoman said she’s had six procedures so far — the most recent in March — to remove dangerous parts of her skin, and she goes for full-body checks every three months.

“I always hope to leave the doctor’s office as I came in but that hasn’t been the case yet,” she said. “The pain is just not worth it — it’s just not.”

In some cases she said skin abnormalities had to be removed with liquid nitrogen. “On a scale from one to 10, that’s about a seven, but in some cases I had to have the procedure on my lip and that is like a 50,” she said of the pain associated with the treatment. “And that is why I am doing this. People are not paying close enough attention. I am a total convert now, I lay under an umbrella at the beach and wear SPF 50.”

Berland said she hopes people will realize how serious skin protection is during the event, where Meghan Rothschild, a cancer survivor and spokesperson for the Melanoma Foundation of New England will be speaking about her fight against cancer and how to prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer and the second most-common cancer in children, teens and young adults aged 15-29. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) will also be attending the event, and echoed the dangers of tanning.

“To many people, indoor tanning seems like a harmless activity — it’s not,” Schneiderman said. “Each session increases your risk of skin cancer and contributes to premature aging, eye damage, allergic reactions and more. There are many myths and misconceptions concerning the safety of tanning, many of them perpetrated by the indoor tanning salon industry. If you engage in indoor tanning or are thinking about it, it’s important to make sure you know the significant associated health risks.”

Berland said she would tell young children considering going to a tanning booth to get their tan out of a bottle.

“Spray tans or makeup, if you don’t like it you can wash it off and start again,” she said. “But in a booth there is nothing you can do to reverse the damage. It’s just not worth it. The pain you go through, the anxiety of wondering when the next spot will be found on your body. You’re playing Russian roulette with your body.”

Councilwoman Susan Berland stands with the free sunscreen dispenser now at Crab Meadow Beach in Northport. File photo from A.J. Carter

As residents try to soak up the last few weeks of the sun’s rays, Huntington officials introduced a new program to help make sure the skin of their residents is as protected as possible.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) is leading a free sunscreen pilot program that kicked off at Crab Meadow Beach in Northport last week. The beach is now equipped with a sunscreen dispenser from the Melanoma Foundation of New England, a nonprofit that works to promote protecting skin from the sun. The dispenser is easy to use, similar to antiseptic dispensers, and is filled with organic, SPF 30 sunscreen.

“I believe that by providing this service to our residents we are helping them guard themselves from the sun, educate themselves on better sun protection and ultimately help the fight against skin cancer,” Berland said in a statement. “The importance of sunscreen is crucial and I’m hopeful that residents will take advantage of the free sunscreen now offered by the town.”

Berland said in a phone interview that she learned about the work the MFNE did through a constituent visiting Boston and wanted to bring the program to Huntington.

After the 2014 “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer,” the MFNE went to work providing free sunscreen in public recreation areas across New England.

According to the 2014 report, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, and most cases are preventable. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths of all skin cancers, killing almost 9,000 people each year. It is also one of the most common types of cancer among U.S. adolescents and young adults.

Berland said she hopes the dispenser will help children enjoy a day at Crab Meadow Beach.

“A lot of time people damage their skin as children and teenagers, but it takes years for the damage to manifest,” she said. “I’d like to encourage people who don’t bring sunscreen to protect themselves for the future.”

The councilwoman said she wants to bring this program back next year and expand it by providing stations at more beaches and other recreational places. However, she needs to find the funding first.

Each dispenser costs approximately $665, $400 for the dispenser, $200 for the refill package and $65 for shipping. The first dispenser was purchased through the town, but Berland said any future dispensers would need to be sponsored and purchased by a business, organization or resident. Berland said she is hoping to get several sponsors between now and the beginning of summer 2017.

Kids signed up for Summer Youth Connection, a free summer camp hosted by Huntington along with other groups and nonprofits. Photo by A.J. Carter

Huntington Town is kicking off its second year of the Summer Youth Connection, a variety of free educational and recreational activities for kids in the community.

Started last year by Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), the camp runs five evenings a week through Aug. 19

More than 200 teenagers participated last year, and this summer Edwards said she is hoping to reach at least 300 kids enrolled. This camp is presented in conjunction with Suffolk County and a multitude of corporate, not-for-profit partners and volunteers.

“Summer Youth Connection is a remarkable cooperative effort encompassing government, not-for-profit groups, companies and community volunteers to help keep our youth engaged in positive activities during what could be a long, hot summer,” Edwards said at the opening ceremony last week. “I thank all of the participating groups and individuals, with a special thank you to the South Huntington school district for hosting us.”

The summer camp offers programs spanning from basketball and golf to creative writing, photography and robotics.

“Summer Youth Connection is a remarkable cooperative effort encompassing government, not-for-profit groups, companies and community volunteers”
— Tracey Edwards

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) encouraged the kids to try an activity that is new to them.

“You are going to have so much fun,” she said to the kids at the event. “My suggestion is to take a class of something you have never done before, so that way you can learn something new, and it will be a great and exciting experience for you.”

The camp runs from 5 to 9 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays. Fridays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. are reserved for special needs youth sport activities.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said he saw countless happy faces at last year’s program.

“Not every kid wants to go to camp,” he said. “They want to be in their neighborhoods. They want to be here and enjoy what we have to offer. I was here last summer. Everybody had a happy smile. Everybody was involved. Everybody was trying new things. We look forward to another great summer this year.”

Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) said at the event that the unity and the excitement shown in the kids participating in the camp is a crucial part of a successful community.

“You are our most precious resource,” he said. “We are invested in you. This has been an extremely tough week in this country, when we look at the violence and hate and the things that try to divide us. But this room is an example of what is great about this country.”

Councilwoman Susan Berland supports a limit of gas-powered leaf blowers. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

The fight against gas-powered leaf blowers continues in Huntington.

Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) launched an initiative to educate Huntington residents on the environmental and health effects of specific leaf blowers this past week. Berland posted a video on her page within the town website that shows a presentation with Quiet Communities and the American Green Zone Alliance, both organizations that work toward protecting the health, environment and quality of life from the use of industrial outdoor maintenance equipment.

“The pollution generated by gas-powered leaf blowers is completely avoidable, as is the high-frequency noise generated by these blowers, which carries through entire neighborhoods and has been associated with permanent hearing damage,” Berland said in the video.

She highlights a lithium battery-powered leaf blower as a preferable alternative to gas-powered blowers.

“Lithium battery-powered leaf blowers give off zero toxic emissions and generate 50 percent less noise than gas-powered equipment,” Berland said. “There is no soil or water pollution and the price is comparable to other types of lawn maintenance equipment.”

Quiet Communities Executive Director Jamie Banks talked in the video about the public health and environmental effects of gas-powered blowers.

“If you think about what it takes to maintain a gas-powered engine, there are a lot of solid and toxic chemicals,” Banks said. “They come usually in cans or nonrecyclable plastic containers with residue. These can be thrown into landfills; the chemicals themselves can be spilled into the soil and eventually reach water supplies and marine systems.”

She also highlighted the health risks that come with using or being around the usage area of a gas-powered leaf blower.

Gas-powered leaf blowers have raised some concerns with Huntington residents.
Gas-powered leaf blowers have raised some concerns with Huntington residents.

“Workers who have these machines on their backs, they are very close to the source of the exhaust emissions and other ground source particulates,” she said, noting that children playing nearby may also be exposed.

Both the exhaust emissions and the ground source particulates can negatively affect health.

A 2013 assessment by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said, “Outdoor air pollution is carcinogenic to humans, with the particulate matter component of air pollution most closely associated with increased cancer incidence, especially cancer of the lung. An association also has been observed between outdoor air pollution and increase in cancer of the urinary tract/bladder.”

The American Lung Association also said in its 2014 State of the Air, “Short-term exposure to particle pollution can kill. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise — these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.”

The noise effect of leaf blowers was also mentioned in Berland’s presentation.

According to public advocacy group Dangerous Decibels, once a sound reaches 85 decibels or higher, it can cause permanent damage to your hearing. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said noise from leaf blowers can reach at least 90 decibels.

According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, rainfall measures about 50 decibels, normal conversation is about 60 decibels and freeway traffic or a vacuum cleaner could reach about 70 decibels.

“The health risks posed by gas-powered landscaping equipment need to be addressed,” Berland said.

She is also encouraging residents and landscaping companies in the Huntington area who only use electric-powered equipment, as opposed to gas-powered equipment, to take a “green pledge” and add themselves to a list that will be featured on the town’s website.

Berland has been working on legislation that would limit use of gas-powered leaf blowers in summer months, as residents have voiced their concerns about the blowers at town board meetings and have asked for Heckscher State Park to be designated the town’s first green zone — an area maintained with zero-emission lawn care equipment.

At previous town board meetings, Berland’s proposal has not picked up much steam with other board members.

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern joins Congressman Steve Israel at the site of a zombie home in Dix Hills. Photo from Amanda Lindner.

One North Shore lawmaker’s proposal to provide housing to homeless veterans is now being used as a model for a federal bill.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) introduced the Housing Our Heroes Act this month, which creates a three-year federal pilot program that provides grants to purchase and renovate zombie homes for veterans use. That proposal reflects similar sentiments expressed in legislation Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) drafted last year.

The Housing Our Homeless Heroes Act, signed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in December 2014, allows for “zombie homes,” or tax-defaulted properties, in Suffolk County to be distributed to veterans.

“No soldier who has ever worn the uniform of our great nation and gone off to protect the ground we stand on should ever have to come home to sleep on it,” Stern said in a statement.

Israel’s legislation is an expansion on an act from Stern, who serves as chairman of the Veterans and Seniors Committee.

“My legislation will not only put a roof over our heroes’ heads, it will also transform unsightly zombie homes into renovated properties that will revitalize housing markets in many of our Long Island communities,” Israel said in a statement. “Whenever we get the opportunity to eliminate two problems with one sustainable solution, we should act on it.”

Israel’s proposal would make grants available to veteran service organizations, non-governmental organizations and homeless organizations. It is intended not only to house homeless veterans but also eliminate blight from neighborhoods, the lawmaker said.

Stern praised Israel’s legislation for helping to ensure “that our military heroes have a place to call home while turning blighted properties into houses fit for heroes.”

According to Stern, he and Israel always saw his act as a model to use at the federal level.

“I’m proud to say we implemented it at a local level,” Stern said in a phone interview. “What we started here is serving as a national model.”

One of the big differences between Stern and Israel’s acts is the funding.

Stern said at the local level, they are utilizing properties the government already owns because of foreclosure. Israel’s legislation doesn’t need to rely on those types of homes because of the funding they receive from grants, so “there is real opportunity for innovation with the spectrum of properties.”

He also said these two bills will complement each other going forward.

Approximately 50,000 homeless veterans are on the streets of the United States every day, including more than 2,500 in New York, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Blighted properties have been an ongoing issue in Huntington Town.

“Huntington residents have been dealing with the zombie home epidemic in our neighborhoods for far too long,” Huntington Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) said in a statement.

Edwards said Israel’s legislation would improve both the lives of veterans and the worth of Huntington resident’s homes.

At a press conference announcing Israel’s proposal on Nov. 9, Gina Raio Bitsimis, a Dix Hills resident and zombie home neighbor, thanked Israel for his commitment to tackle this problem.

“Zombie homes aren’t only eyesores in our neighborhood, they are actively reducing the value of our homes that we have worked so hard to maintain,” Bitsimis said in a statement. “My family and I will welcome these brave men and women into our neighborhood with open arms and look forward to the increase of both our quality of life and the value of our property.”

Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland (D) previously drafted legislation to crack down on blighted properties, and said in a phone interview that the zombie house in Dix Hills, where the press conference was held was the exact house that inspired her to draft an anti-blight act.

“I saw the condition of the house and how it affected the neighbors,” she said. Her legislation includes a point system that determines if a property should be added to the town blight list and enters a restoration agreement with the town.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also said in 2009 that the homeless veteran population was more than 74,000 in a single night and last year more than one in ten of every homeless adult were a veteran.

At the press conference in Dix Hills, members of veteran organizations from Long Island spoke about the necessity of the bill.

“Placing homeless veterans in these homes will give them the opportunity and foundation they need to become independent successful members of our community,” said Frank Amalfitano, director of United Veterans Beacon House.

Beth Gabellini, regional director of Long Island Supportive Services for Veteran Families echoed the sentiment.

“After fighting for our country, veterans deserve every opportunity possible to help get back on their feet and on track,” she said.

Councilmen Mark Cuthbertson and Gene Cook, at opposite ends, argue at a town board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Huntington Town Council approved its $188.7 million budget on Thursday, but not without a heated discussion between Councilman Gene Cook (I) and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) over Cook’s vote.

The budget passed with a 4-1 vote, with Cook as the lone opposition.

The budget included a 0.2 percent decrease in overall spending, a 1.3 percent increase in property tax levy and a $15 million capital budget, the town said in a press release.

This budget will amount to a $29 increase for the average homeowner.

The $15 million capital budget also focused on improvements to the town’s infrastructure, such as rehabilitation of various plants and pump stations in the Dix Hills Water District and headwork improvements in the Huntington Sewer District. Funding was included for road rehabilitation, drainage infrastructure and paving.

The town budgeted an additional $1.9 million for the town’s highway department, due to last year’s severe winter. That increase was offset by “little-to-no” increases in the other major town funds, and decreased spending in some of the special districts, the town said in a press release.

“This was a difficult budget to put together, given the limitations of the tax cap and increases in costs, such as health insurance,” Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement. “But I am pleased that we were able to maintain services and programs our residents want and have come to expect.”

Cook said he was not in support of the budget.

“We, as taxpayers, will be given $15 million worth of bonding,” Cook said at the meeting, just before the budget was approved. “I find that horrendous. I think there are better ways of doing this, so I will be voting no.”

Cuthbertson said that this has become an annual right of passage for Cook.

“I have taken to calling this ‘having your cook and eating it too,’” Cuthbertson said at the meeting. “For the fourth year in a row now, Councilman Cook has offered no advice on the budget and no budget amendment. He simply votes no.”

Cook countered, asking Cuthbertson if he felt better after making that comment and Cuthbertson said he did, because he had stated his case.

“Tell us what you would do instead,” Cuthbertson said.

Cook, who just finished months of campaigning for a successful re-election bid, has said at many events that he feels there is a lot of mismanagement and misappropriation of funds within the town budget. He said he wants to see more consolidation to save taxpayer dollars.

“I want to start each department with a $0 budget, and have them tell us why they need money,” Cook said. “We need to have the directors of these departments be more responsible.”

Cuthbertson questioned if that was possible.

“I don’t see the building department starting off with a $0 budget,” he said. According to Cuthbertson, budgets start with requests from departmental heads.

“We scrutinize those requests very carefully,” Cuthbertson said in a phone interview on Friday. “But at the end of the day, we have to deliver services.”

Cuthbertson said that every councilmember has an obligation to offer amendments if they disagree with the budget.

“But he never does that; he never offers suggestions,” he said of Cook.

At the meeting, Cook suggested that he might present his own budget next year.

“I think it’s about time,” Cook said. “But the problem is, nobody listens to me.”

But county Legislator Sarah Anker has just one-vote lead; longtime Smithtown board member ousted; and all local boards maintain huge majorities

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Sarah Anker are all smiles on Election Day. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The incumbents won big on Suffolk County’s North Shore this Election Day, with only a couple real upsets at the county and town levels.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) handily won a second term at the helm against his Republican challenger, lawyer Jim O’Connor, with 57 percent of the vote.

Bellone thanked many people for his victory and also thanked his opponent for a “good race.”

Steve Bellone gives a speech after being re-elected Suffolk County executive. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Steve Bellone gives a speech after being re-elected Suffolk County executive. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Tonight the people of Suffolk County delivered a mandate: to advance the issues we talked about in this campaign,” he said, at the Democratic Election Night headquarters in Hauppauge. “To continue the reform government so that we can protect taxpayers, make government more efficient and effective. To reverse the decades of decline that we have seen in water quality so that we can protect this precious natural resource for ourselves and future generations.”

He vowed that he would work hard for the voters.

“To the people of Suffolk County: I want to thank you for the confidence you placed in me and this incredible team of legislators. I can guarantee you we will repay that confidence by working hard every single day to make progress on the issues that matter to you and to you families. We may celebrate a little bit tonight but that work begins tomorrow.”

Though Bellone was the clear winner early on, O’Connor said he was proud of his campaign.

“I think we talked about the issues that need to be talked about here on Long Island,” he said.

Despite the results, the challenger enjoyed himself: “I love this. … In America we run for office, we put our ideas forward and we let the people decide.”

Steve Tricarico, Legislator Sarah Anker's Republican challenger, feels confident about a win on Election Day. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Steve Tricarico, Legislator Sarah Anker’s Republican challenger, feels confident about a win on Election Day. Photo by Giselle Barkley

In the Suffolk County Legislature, incumbents from Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington towns won re-election, one of them by a razor-thin margin: Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), who represents the 6th District, was leading her challenger by just one vote after the polls closed. It was not immediately clear if absentee ballots would tilt the scales in the favor of Republican candidate Steve Tricarico, a Brookhaven Town deputy highway superintendent. But Anker said Tuesday night that she felt “cautiously optimistic.”

Tricarico felt the same way.

“I’m feeling very confident,” he said before results were in. “This shows … that people are looking for a change. That’s what I’ve been offering.”

According to Tricarico, Republican absentee ballots outnumbered those of the Democrats, which he said boosts his confidence.

But Suffolk County Democratic Party Chairman Rich Schaffer was calling it in the other direction: “Sarah Anker — mark my words — in about two weeks will be a newly re-elected legislator.”

Anker said her election demonstrates that each vote counts. Asked what could have led to such a close race, the legislator said she’s got the political cards stacked against her as a Democrat representing a largely Republican district.

Legislator Kara Hahn and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone embrace after both are re-elected. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Legislator Kara Hahn and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone embrace after both are re-elected. Photo by Rohma Abbas

“Most political strategists have never understood how I won it the past three times, much less this fourth time,” she said. “But I feel it’s because the people appreciate what I do. They’re looking for leadership.”

From there, it was smooth sailing. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the 5th District legislator, beat Republican challenger Donna Cumella, of Port Jefferson Station, with 63 percent of the vote. In the 13th, Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) beat Kings Park Democrat Rich Macellaro with more than 70 percent of the total.

In Huntington, Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) won his final term in the 16th District against Republican attorney Tom McNally with 60 percent of the vote.

“We understand what’s on the minds of our constituents, we listen to our constituents, and we deliver for our constituents,” Stern said.

Also, Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) took the 18th District against his challenger from the right, Grant Lally, after garnering 56 percent of the votes.

“It’s exhilarating,” a joyous Spencer said. “It’s really is. After two years of hard work and six-month campaign, to really have the people recognize I’m giving my heart and soul to try to support us means a lot to me.”

Doc Spencer celebrates a win on Election Day. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Doc Spencer celebrates a win on Election Day. Photo by Rohma Abbas

Despite her loss, Cumella stayed positive and said she wouldn’t let this year’s election deter her from running for the same position in the future. She said she is now “a little bit more educated with the political arena.”

About her victory over that Republican, Hahn said, “I’m really gratified by the confidence the community has shown in me and I very much appreciate it and I plan to work just as hard as I’ve worked in the last four years.”

Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), the 4th District legislator, and the 12th District’s Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) were effectively unopposed for re-election and secured their next terms.

“I’m ecstatic,” Muratore said. “Maybe we can bring some of our ideas to the table … We’re about doing the right things to people.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine celebrates his re-election as the head of Brookhaven Town. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Supervisor Ed Romaine celebrates his re-election as the head of Brookhaven Town. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Kennedy said she did not spend time campaigning and was pleased with the outcome.

“I want to go home and go to bed so I can wake up tomorrow ready to vote on the Operating Budget Committee board,” she said.

Brookhaven Town saw its supervisor, Ed Romaine (R), and its highway superintendent, Dan Losquadro (R), re-elected easily — Romaine won 72 percent of the votes against Democratic challenger Douglas Dittko and Losquadro beat out his own Democratic opponent, Jason Kontzamanys, with 69 percent of the voters’ support.

Romaine called his landslide victory “encouraging” and Losquadro said, “I really feel that this is a validation of the work that we’ve been doing in the town.”

“It’s such a big department, and really, for the fundamental services that people expect from their tax dollars are that their roads are safe, cleared of snow and debris, and I’m very excited to be given the opportunity to continue to do that work.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright go in for a kiss after both win re-election. Photo by Rohma Abbas
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright go in for a kiss after both win re-election. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The three incumbents running for re-election to the Brookhaven Town Board on the North Shore were returned to their seats. Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) beat Republican challenger Ed Garboski, the president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association. She had 56 percent of the vote to his 44 percent.

“I worked really hard,” she said Tuesday night. “The community came together.”

She has no small task ahead of her. If all of the election results stand, she will be the only Democrat on the Town Board next year, after her effectively unopposed North Shore colleagues Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) won re-election, as did South Shore Republican Councilmen Dan Panico and Neil Foley. But Cartright’s lone Democratic colleague, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, was ousted by Republican challenger Michael Loguercio Jr.

“I’m kind of speechless, which isn’t normally the case for me,” Bonner said about winning by a large margin. “I’m super, super excited to get started, move forward. I can’t wait to get to work tomorrow.”

LaValle called his own win an “honor.”

Over in Huntington, town board incumbents Gene Cook (I) and Susan Berland (D) were returned to the board after a four-way race with 27 percent and 24 percent of the vote, respectively. Democratic challenger Keith Barrett and Republican challenger Jennifer Thompson fell short, each garnering about 22 percent of the vote.

“I can’t wait until tomorrow,” Cook said Tuesday night. “I felt good throughout today because I’m always honest and I think I’ve shown that in the last four years.”

Councilmen Ed Wehrheim and Bob Creighton discuss the Smithtown board election results. Photo by Phil Corso
Councilmen Ed Wehrheim and Bob Creighton discuss the Smithtown board election results. Photo by Phil Corso

Berland said she was “proud and humbled” to be re-elected.

“I just want to keep doing good things for the people of the town and making the town the best place it can possibly be,” she said.

Smithtown Town Board experienced a bit of an upset. Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) was re-elected to one of two board seats, after receiving 31 percent of the vote, but his colleague Bob Creighton (R) was unable to battle back after losing a Republican primary to newcomer Lisa Inzerillo.

Inzerillo was elected Tuesday night with 28 percent of the vote, as compared to Creighton’s 20 percent. The latter total was even lower than that of the lone Democratic candidate for Town Board, who lost after garnering just 22 percent of the vote.

Inzerillo held a private gathering at her home Tuesday night and did not respond to requests seeking comment, but took to her Facebook page to thank her team.

Larry Vetter says the people have spoken in choosing not to elect him. Photo by Kevin Redding
Larry Vetter says the people have spoken in choosing not to elect him. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I am grateful beyond words for all of the support I received from residents,” she said. “It is very humbling to know my grassroots campaign was successful. I look forward to working with the new town board and working for the residents that elected me.”

Wehrheim, who frequently works with Creighton on town projects, called Inzerillo’s win “a loss for Smithtown” and called his own victory “bittersweet” as he prepared to work with the newcomer. Creighton apologized to his room of supporters Tuesday night, adding that he was “sorry things didn’t work out.”

About his defeat, Vetter said, “The message is clear: The town didn’t want me. … Apparently the town is satisfied with what they have.”

Earlier in the night he had said, “If I lose and it’s tight, I might try again. If I get clobbered, I’m not gonna do it again.”

Rohma Abbas, Giselle Barkley, Phil Corso, Victoria Espinoza, Desirée Keegan, Kevin Redding and Eric Santiago contributed reporting.

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