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U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin

Last year's presidential election motivated Shoshana Hershkowitz to become more politically active and encourage others to do the same. Photo from Shoshana Hershkowitz

The 2016 presidential election campaign motivated a South Setauket mother of two young children to become more politically active and teach others how to do the same.

Shoshana Hershkowitz, a registered Democrat who considers herself a Progressive, has become a familiar face at local political rallies while balancing motherhood and teaching. In January she founded the Facebook group Suffolk Progressives — a page with nearly 1,000 followers — in order to engage others in political conversations and educate them on how to become more active in government. The page includes discussions and videos viewable to those interested in learning what they can do to become more civically engaged, even if they’re busy. 

Hershkowitz, a lecturer at Stony Brook University and conductor of the Stony Brook Chorale, said she credits her Israeli parents for her passion. She said her family was able to discuss politics, even with those who disagreed with them, without the discussions leading to arguments.

“I grew up at the dinner table talking about [politics] so that is something I always felt comfortable with and something we’re supposed to do,” she said.

Hershkowitz at a recent political rally. Photo from Shoshana Hershkowitz

Before her children were born, she volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, and knocked on doors, including in Pennsylvania, encouraging others to vote for him. After she gave birth to her oldest child, she said she didn’t have as much time to be as entrenched in politics as she would have liked. With the little time she had, she campaigned for local candidates and occasionally wrote a political blog, called Jew Kids on the Block.

“This election kind of re-galvanized me, I think which is true of so many people, and then it just kind of took off from there,” Hershkowitz said. “It started as a coping mechanism for me, and then it just sort of turned into what I thought would be an interesting opportunity to teach other people how to engage in political activism in a way that fits their lifestyle.”

She said when she was first trying to figure out how to make her voice heard, she started making calls to local members of congress including U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Zeldin has referred to the people who stake out his Patchogue office as “liberal obstructionists” in the past.

“I can make a difference at home in my pajamas,” she said.

Hershkowitz said she is also a big believer in writing letters to newspapers, something she had been doing before President Donald Trump (R) ran for office. She even helped to conduct a workshop about writing letters at U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi’s (D-Glen Cove) office.

“Now I realize that it’s a really important vehicle,” she said. “It changes the narrative in your community in a way that I think social media doesn’t. You can certainly talk to people you agree or disagree with on social media, but I still think that the newspaper has an outreach that social media does not at this point.”

More than a few of Hershkowitz’s letters have appeared in this newspaper.

She said she began taking her children to rallies during the last year, which has enabled her to become even more active on the local political scene. Her children have joined her at the January Women’s March on Washington in Port Jefferson Station, the March for Science at Stony Brook University and protests in front of Zeldin’s office.

Hershkowitz said she makes sure a rally will be a peaceful and safe one before bringing her children. She said she didn’t take them to a vigil in Port Jefferson the day after the Charlottesville protests, because she said she didn’t have the words to explain to them what happened in Virginia. She said she also limits their exposure to broadcast news.

“They see me call congress, they see me do all these things, and I will explain why I’m doing it, but I try to make sure their consumption of media is really limited in this time,” she said. “It’s hard to contextualize that for such young kids.”

The South Setauket resident balances political activism with motherhood and work as an instructor and chorale director. Photo from Shoshana Hershkowitz

Hershkowitz said the Suffolk Progressives Facebook page began as like-minded friends sharing thoughts on various topics. Among those friends is Stefanie Werner, who she met last year at a child’s birthday party.

“As someone who is also a strong supporter of progressivism and democratic values, it was amazing to form an instant kinship with a person who held the same beliefs and desires for change,” Werner said. “Shoshana is a powerhouse of energy and exuberance, resolving to revolutionize our political process and those who represent us.”

Cindy Morris, the Democratic candidate for Brookhaven Town Clerk, met Hershkowitz at a Democratic committee event for activists. Morris said Hershkowitz has made the grassroots efforts available to people with all levels of experience with her work that  goes beyond marches and rallies. One example is Hershkowitz posting a video on Facebook explaining how to call local legislators and strategies once they’re on the phone.

“She has made politics less intimidating and more inspiring, galvanizing and easier to participate in than ever before,” Morris said.

Hershkowitz also has met many local lawmakers in her travels, including Port Jefferson Village Mayor Margot Garant. The mayor described Hershkowitz as a spitfire “who is finding her voice during a time when others are afraid to speak up.” Garant said the activist is persistent, yet never demeaning, when she speaks with others, even if their opinions differ.

“She’s exemplary on how we all need to be with one another, “ Garant said.

Hershkowitz said her mission is to continue encouraging others to speak up.

“I hope that people realize that this isn’t someone else’s work, this is all of our work, and it can be just a couple of phone calls every day and making that a ritual like brushing your teeth is enough,” she said. “Don’t wait for someone else to do that work right now.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin speaks during an interview at TBR News Media. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Alex Petroski

From the podium at The Emporium in Patchogue Nov. 8, 2016 after his race against Anna Throne Holst (D-Southampton) was officially called and his near-20-point victory was secured, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) said he was looking forward to the opportunity to “make America great again.”

Zeldin has become synonymous with President Donald Trump (R) locally, and though he said during an exclusive interview with the Times Beacon Record News Media editorial board he still supports the president, just short of 10 months removed from his re-election, Zeldin also said he is not a “proxy” for Trump, or anyone else. During the 90-minute interview, the congressman preached bipartisanship, addressed the future of health care, discussed Trump’s Twitter account and inflammatory speeches like the one he made in Arizona Aug. 22, criticized the president for his response to the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest and addressed the state of his support for Trump going forward.

Zeldin celebrates his 2016 election night victory in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

“I don’t give anyone my proxy.”

Despite being a strong supporter of Trump during their parallel 2016 campaigns, Zeldin had a strong response when asked if the president had his unequivocal support.

“I don’t give anyone my proxy,” Zeldin said, though he did say he supports the president and wants him to be successful. He added if he had to vote for Trump again today, he ultimately would. “It’s not 2020, but if you asked me Aug. 25 of 2017 if I was casting a vote right now and he was running unopposed, yeah. If he was running against someone else and there was a compelling reason to go some other direction, then you factor into it.”

Zeldin pushed back on the perception of a large group of his constituents who believe he is the local embodiment of Trump. He cited several examples in which he has been critical of the president, including when Trump made a Holocaust remembrance statement that made no reference to Jewish people, or when he voted in line with many House Democrats against a bill that would roll back internet privacy protections, which Trump ultimately signed into law.

The congressman also reiterated a statement he has made publicly in the past, that the meeting between Donald Trump Jr., other members of the Trump administration and people with ties to the Russian government alleging they had damaging material on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 should have never taken place.

“If you really wanted to ask yourself, is this guy just going to be or has he been some proxy or some stooge who is refusing to say where he disagrees, you would have to ignore like 20 different examples where it’s not even taking my word for it, this is stuff that I’ve said on national TV,” Zeldin said. He surmised the perception he is too tightly connected to Trump comes from people who can’t wait for the day Trump is no longer in office.

Zeldin added although he disagreed with former President Barack Obama (D) on issues, at no point did he view him as anything other than his president.

“There are people who think nothing has gotten done.”

Zeldin pushed back on the idea that partisan gridlock, which has long characterized the country’s perception of Congress, is getting worse or is being amplified by Trump. He said bills are being passed and bipartisan discussions are being had everyday by members of the House.

“People have this perception that when the House is in session and we’re all on the floor together that it’s an old school Aaron Burr duel taking place amongst all members all the time,” he said. “Where everyone’s basically literally trying to kill each other on the floor.”

Zeldin said he isn’t going to sugarcoat it, or try to make the discussions sound all rosy. He pointed to the over 50 bills passed since Trump has taken office as proof of Republicans and Democrats working together to get things done.

He said these topics tend to get overshadowed by what is broadcasted on TV news.

“People get very discouraged when you put on the news and you’re only coming in contact with bad news,” Zeldin said. “It’s almost like [it’s] not even newsworthy to talk about what got done that day. What’s newsworthy is what may be the biggest, most dramatic confrontation or battle that might be going on. That’s the news everyday.”

He attributed heated political rhetoric and the notion Congress is struggling to work together to the business model of the three major 24-hour cable news stations — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

“The information they’re coming in contact with is deliberately targeting them to stir emotion, because that’s how they get traffic,” he said.

The congressman recalled several times when he was slated to do a cable news interview on a particular topic, which the president would be happy to see gain coverage, only to be asked questions about the investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia during the campaign because of a Tweet he sent moments before the interview.

He admitted the president has the power to steer the conversation in the right direction.

“There is no person in the United States of America with more of an ability to drive the conversation,” he said. “I don’t know of the last time we had an individual in the United States of America with a bigger soapbox than the president of the United States.”

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill.”

Common ground exists between Republicans and Democrats on the future of the federal health care law, according to Zeldin, though he said he’s skeptical of the Senate’s ability to reach a majority on a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. At no point during the 90-minute conversation did the congressman use the phrase “repeal and replace,” though he discussed, at length, some of the issues with the individual market and what it would take to repair it in a way that works.

“Beyond partisanship there’s an ideological difference on the insurance piece, and what do you do with the ACA,” Zeldin said. “They just absolutely, genuinely to their core disagree on certain components of what direction [to go in].”

Zeldin was extremely critical of the process that led up to the ultimately failed Senate vote on health care and stressed the need to return to regular order.

The health care vote revealed three Republican senators as willing to oppose the president on major legislation. As a result of that vote and other circumstances in which Republican senators have spoken out against Trump, Zeldin encouraged the use of the president’s “bully pulpit,” like the way he spoke about Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) during his trip to Phoenix Aug. 22.

When asked if the president is doing enough to grow his base of support rather than just appealing to those he already has in his camp, Zeldin was also critical.

“There are opportunities for him to do more to broaden that coalition,” he said.

He also indicated the president is prepared to compromise on a health care bill.

“He’s willing to sign 50,000 different versions of this bill,” Zeldin said.

“There is no moral equivalency.”

The congressman was most critical of the president on his response to the events in Charlottesville. He repeatedly stated there is no moral equivalency between marchers on the side of the KKK and Nazism and those who attended the rally to oppose hate, a point that was contradictory to statements Trump made publicly on the subject. Zeldin said he did agree though with the president’s point that members of the “alt-right” were not the only one’s who arrived at the Virginia rally for the purpose of inciting violence.

“If you are a good person showing up to that march and you realize once you get there that by being associated at all with that march that you are associating yourself in any way, shape, or form with the KKK or Nazism, a good person, immediately, instinctively completely disengages,” Zeldin said.

The Aug. 17 suit opposes dumping in Long Island Sound

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine, Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Assemblyman Steve Englebright are joined by environmentalists to support a state lawsuit against the EPA's practice of dumping dredged materials in the Long Island Sound during an Aug. 28 press conference at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is picking a fight with the federal government, and as of Aug. 28, he officially has backup.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), joined by town board members, environmentalists and State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), announced the town’s support of a lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman Aug. 17 against the United States Environmental Protection Agency regarding the open dumping of dredged materials in the Long Island Sound. The lawsuit alleged the Long Island Sound Dredge Material Management Plan, which was approved by the EPA, violates the Ocean Dumping Act and Coastal Zone Management Act, and also cited a “failure to address environmental impacts on the Long Island Sound.”

“The state of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

—Ed Romaine

In 2016, the EPA increased the number of open water dumping sites in the Sound from two to three, despite a call from state government leaders of both New York and Connecticut in 2005 to reduce and eventually eliminate the practice of dumping in the Sound. According to the suit, the dumping is also inconsistent with several investments of taxpayer dollars and policies that have sought to clean up the vital Long Island waterway. Cuomo opposed the additional dumping site in late 2016, and Romaine and the town sent a letter to the governor in support of legal action against the federal agency.

“We’re here to send a very strong message — that we are opposed to dumping in the Sound,” Romaine said during a press conference Aug. 28 at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai. “The state of New York and this governor, Andrew Cuomo, has done a great service to this state and to the residents of Long Island by working to enjoin, in the court, the EPA from allowing continued dumping in the Sound.”

Romaine accused the EPA of taking the expedient course of action rather than the most environmentally sound course with dredged materials, some of which are contaminated by pollutants.

Though a spokesperson for the EPA declined via email to comment on ongoing litigation, an April 2016 statement from the agency spelled out the motivation for continued dumping in the Sound.

“Dredging is needed to ensure safe navigation in the sound,” EPA spokesman John Martin said in an email to Times Beacon Record Newspapers. He added the agency felt the proposal struck “an appropriate balance between the need for dredging to maintain safe and efficient navigation and our desired outcome to restore and protect Long Island Sound.”

Kevin McAllister, the president of Defend H20, a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and restoring the quality of Long Island’s waterways, spoke in support of the town and the governor during the press conference.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on water quality improvements and the open water dumping of contaminated silt flies in the face of these efforts.”

—Kevin McAllister

“As a federally designated Estuary of National Significance, Long Island Sound is in need of greater protection,” he said. “We’re spending billions of dollars on water quality improvements and the open water dumping of contaminated silt flies in the face of these efforts.”

Representatives from the nonprofits Sierra Club Long Island and the Setauket Harbor Task Force also pledged support in opposition of the dumping plan.

Englebright offered a suggestion for an alternative to the continued dumping in the Sound.

“It is ironic that at a time when we’re watching a terrible hurricane devastating the great state of Texas and reflecting on the reality that sea level is rising, that the federal government is proposing to take a vast amount of sediment that will be needed to bulwark our coastal investments, our coastal communities from a rising sea level to augment our beaches with that sediment, to take it instead and use it in the most harmful possible way,” Englebright said. He added the dumping is “radicalizing the ecology” of the waterway, saying the sediment could be needed and should be used to strengthen coastlines. Englebright cited a deadly 1953 storm in the Netherlands that inspired the same fortification he proposed, a practice that nation has continued since.

Brookhaven Town Council members Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) also voiced support of the lawsuit. Romaine said he had been in contact with 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) regarding the town’s support of the lawsuit, and Romaine said the congressman is strongly opposed to dumping in the Sound.

Zeldin has sponsored and supported bills designed to improve the health of the Sound in the past and has opposed long term dumping at the designated sites.

“The Long Island Sound shouldn’t be a dumping ground, especially when there are many viable alternatives to open water dumping, including recycling and safe disposal on land,” Zeldin said in an emailed statement through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena.

This post was updated to include comments by Lee Zeldin.

Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer works at his desk in his North Babylon office. Photo by Alex Petroski

As the night progressed Nov. 8, 2016, it steadily became clear that months of data and polls had failed to accurately predict the future. Around midnight, it was no longer in doubt — Donald Trump was going to be the 45th president of the United States, and Democrats had a long road ahead to figure out what went wrong.

Both nationally and locally, the time since the shocking 2016 presidential election has served as a period of reflection and resistance for the Democratic Party. Political leaders across the country, like Suffolk County Democratic Committee Chairman Rich Schaffer, were tasked with crafting a new message and understanding the emotion Americans voiced with their votes in November: anger.

In an exclusive interview at his North Babylon office, Schaffer weighed in on the platform of the party going forward: How Trump’s message resonated for Suffolk voters making him the first Republican presidential candidate to win the county since the early 1990s; a high profile race for Suffolk’s district attorney; the two congressional seats up in 2018; his journey in politics since age 11 and much more.

The future of the party

Schaffer is in an enviable and high stakes position. The leading Democrat in the county has a blank slate as a platform, while the party tries to rebirth itself from the ashes of 2016. The path forward is whatever Suffolk Democrats choose to make it from here, but choosing wrong could be a major setback. The successes of ultra-progressive candidate Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) could make a further left-leaning Democratic Party a possibility for the future. However, swinging too far to the left could alienate moderates from both sides of the aisle, similar to the way Trump Republicans are trying to go it alone with little support outside of the base.

“I’m trying to make sure I keep saying this: Make sure we don’t burn the house down,” Schaffer said of infighting amongst different sects of the party. “Or even I use the line, ‘Don’t make me pull the car over.’ The kids are arguing in the back and we’re about 50 miles away from the destination and they’re carrying on … I’ll pull the car over and we’re not going anywhere.”

Schaffer said he held a meeting in March with about 25 leaders of various activist groups in the hopes of emerging with a unified front.

“I brought them all together at our headquarters and I said, ‘Look, we all have the same goal — we want to defeat [U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley)] and [U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford)] and we want to defeat Trump,’” Schaffer said. “‘That’s our four-year plan. We all have different reasons why we want to accomplish that goal — your issue might be health care, your issue might be the travel ban, your issue may be you think Trump’s an idiot, you’re concerned about the Supreme Court. Whatever your issue is, we have to put that energy together and see how we can, as best as possible, move in the same direction to accomplish that.’”

The Democratic Party is not in the shambles locally as it might appear nationally, according to Schaffer. The Suffolk County Legislature has had a Democrat majority since 2005. He said he wasn’t a huge fan of the “A Better Deal” Democratic rebranding effort released by the party nationally recently, but instead would like to see politicians from both sides of the aisle meet in the middle and compromise on important issues, rather than focusing on branding and slogans.

Schaffer described his initial foray into politics as getting swept up in a Democratic wave of support. Living in West Islip, Schaffer had a friend named Jeff, whose older brother Tom Downey was running for the county legislature in 1971. The candidate, who was just 22 years old at the time, enlisted the help of neighborhood kids, including 11-year-old Schaffer, to pass out fliers for the campaign.

“The father, Mr. Downey, says, ‘Alright you guys, get in the station wagon, we’re going to go deliver these fliers for Tom,’” Schaffer said. Downey was elected, becoming the youngest member of the legislature in its history. In 1987, Schaffer was also elected to the county legislature, and when he was sworn in at age 23 he became the second youngest member. He also currently serves as town supervisor for Babylon and will seek re-election in the fall.

Schaffer credited his preparation for office at such a young age to an unusually difficult upbringing. He said his father abandoned the family when he was 10 years old, and when he was 14, his mother was sent to jail for killing someone while she was driving drunk. His aunt and uncle finished raising him through those difficult times, though he came out the other end more prepared than most for adversity.

In 1974, Downey ran for Congress again aided by Schaffer and others. He attributed the post-Watergate environment to Downey’s victory as a Democratic candidate. Schaffer said he anticipates a similar wave to impact the 2017 and 2018 elections locally and nationally as a response to all things Trump.

Trump support in the county

Trump’s victory nationally was a surprise, but a Republican winning Suffolk County was a shocker not seen in the last five election cycles. He took home nearly 53 percent of the vote and Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle, who also played an active role in Trump’s campaign, told TBR News Media during an interview in April the key issues that drove local residents to the polls in support of a first-time politician were the failures of his predecessors to make any inroads on immigration, health care and jobs in Suffolk.

Schaffer realized the irony in LaValle and him naming the same few issues as the most important to voters in the county.

“Because they’re human issues,” he said. “So that’s what I say, is that I’m never going to question John LaValle’s commitment to wanting to make a better place in Suffolk County. I’m never going to question — take a Republican — [county Legislator] Leslie Kennedy [R-Nesconset]. I’m never going to question that. I know that nobody wants to have gunfights breaking out and gangs and people overdosing, but can we sit down and figure out how we get it done?”

Schaffer was careful to relay that the party needs to have a parallel focus in order to smooth over tensions between the two in the current political climate.

“I think the message should be that we’re going to oppose Trump and his team on things we believe are hurtful to people,” he said. “And we’re going to support him on things, or compromise with him on issues that are going to deliver results.”

A common refrain from Republicans is the everyday voter doesn’t care about “distracting” issues — like the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign/administration, palace intrigue stories and the president’s tweets to name a few; the voters care about what is actually getting done. From that perspective, the Democrats Schaffer has come in contact with are in the same boat as Republicans.

Local races

Schaffer pointed to the race for Suffolk County district attorney as a potential indicator of where politics is heading in the county in the near future. He sang the praises of Democrat candidate and current Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini, whom the party has already endorsed. Sini will square off with Ray Perini (R) a criminal lawyer from Huntington, for the seat left open by Tom Spota (D), who will not seek re-election. Schaffer also cleared up an issue with Sini’s announcement of his candidacy, which came as a surprise because during his confirmation hearing to become police commissioner before the legislature he said he had no interest in running for DA.

Schaffer said at the time Sini was being truthful, he had no intentions of running, but he said Sini felt he had made more progress in his short time as Suffolk’s top cop to make him comfortable seeking a step up.

“No secret kabuki plan, no conspiracies,” he said. “Nobody said, ‘OK, we’ll fake them out and tell them you’re not running and then you’ll run.’”

LaValle was critical of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and his management of Suffolk’s finances. The county has a poor credit rating and an ever-growing deficit, though Schaffer defended Bellone and said he’s done an admirable job in a tough position.

Schaffer also addressed comments LaValle made in April regarding Zeldin and his claims that “liberal obstructionists,” and not genuine constituents, were the ones opposing his policies and protesting his public appearances. LaValle called those constituents “a disgrace.”

“Yeah and John should know better also,” Schaffer said. “I’m not ever going to question anyone’s patriotism unless somebody shows me evidence that they’re colluding with a foreign government or they’re doing some terrorist activity.”

Schaffer said regardless of where on the political spectrum a given Democrat falls currently, the goal is to find candidates capable of defeating Zeldin and King.

James Canale, left, has the support of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin in his bid for town council. Photo from James Canale

Being a 25-year-old first-time candidate for public office might seem like a disadvantage to most, but don’t try to tell that to James Canale (R-Port Jefferson Station). Canale, a Port Jefferson Station resident for about 20 years, will run against incumbent Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for a spot on the Town of Brookhaven board representing the 1st Council District in November. Cartright was first elected to the position in 2013 and is concluding her first term in office.

Canale said in a phone interview he sees his age and inexperience in politics as an asset for his campaign.

“Because I didn’t go to school for political science or political policy, I come in with a clean slate and no bias,” he said. “I am not entrenched in any party politics. I don’t owe anyone any favors. I’m just a regular guy and I want to make sure I never forget my roots. I see too many of my friends moving off Long Island because they can’t find opportunities here.”

Canale identified repeatedly with being a millennial and said a major focus of his campaign will be trying to find ways to create opportunities for young people to find employment and affordable places to live in Brookhaven. Also part of this new politician’s platform are the environment and animal rights issues.

Canale, who currently works part time in the town’s Department of General Services, echoed many of the policies regarding the environment from the town’s top Republican — Supervisor Ed Romaine (R).

“I don’t have kids but when I do I want to make sure that they’re able to have a high quality of life on Long Island,” Canale said. Sustainability, renewable sources of clean energy, investing in electric vehicles for the town fleet, the preservation of parklands and open spaces and clean air and water were among the environmental issues the candidate said he found most essential to the health and future of Brookhaven and Long Island as a whole.

Canale received the nomination to run on the Republican ticket from the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee earlier in June, though Chairman Jesse Garcia did not respond to requests for comment. Other than Romaine, another local Republican the young candidate views as a role model is 1st Congressional District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), and the congressman has taken notice.

“I endorse James Canale for Brookhaven Town’s 1st Council District,” Zeldin said through spokeswoman Jennifer DiSiena in an email. “James is an exceptional bipartisan candidate who is more than capable of taking on this role. James has demonstrated his commitment to fiscal responsibility, environmental protection, and making Brookhaven a better place to live and work. James will excel as a Councilman, and I am proud to lend him my support.”

Though Canale said he doesn’t necessarily fall in line with Zeldin on every issue, he said he’s extremely proud to have his support and lauded the work he has done for veterans and his bipartisan approach to policy. He referred to himself as a progressive Republican. He said he is “very pro-LGBT,” believes in the public education system — which the Comsewogue school district graduate said he’s proud to be a product of — and said supporting small businesses should be a priority for all Brookhaven shoppers.

Canale spoke respectfully of his November opponent, who did not return a request for comment.

“I do think my opponent has done a commendable job in the town,” he said of Cartright. “She’s a very good person and I have the utmost respect for her.”

Canale addressed the idea that he has stepped into a heated political climate, which could present challenges in his first foray into the arena.

“I’m a very honest guy with integrity, I always want to do the right thing,” he said. “I don’t have blinders on. I want to listen to everybody.”

Disclaimer: James Canale previously worked as a freelance photographer at Times Beacon Record Newspapers and directed “The Culper Spy Adventure,” a TBR News Media production.

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing several expletives (which have been removed from the photo), a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name. Photo from Robin Siefert

Not long after Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert spoke to the school board about an anti-Semitic note left on her 9-year-old daughter’s desk March 23 at Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) picked up the phone.

Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress, has 10-year-old twin daughters and reached out to Siefert as soon as he got wind of her situation, saying, “It hit very close to home.”

Rocky Point mother Robin Siefert is upset nothing was done after her 9-year-old daughter found a note on her desk containing hate speech. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to assist,” Zeldin, a regular at the school’s annual Veterans Day assembly, said after his call with Siefert. “I could tell I was talking to a very loving mother passionately advocating for her daughter, and trying to be strong through a challenge that negatively impacted a young, innocent child.”

He said he felt it was important the issue be combated aggressively at its source, saying someone who draws a swastika may be inclined to do it again, or more, in the future.

“There can’t really be a tolerance for it, or it’s only going to grow,” he said.

Siefert, who will be meeting with the board again in executive session May 16, said of Zeldin’s call, “It was just very nice to know my congressman cared about the situation … I have a lot of gratitude. I still can’t believe this happened to my child, but [she’s] starting to get a little better.”

The note in question, written by a classmate of Siefert’s daughter, included three obscenities, a swastika and Adolf Hitler’s name.

Siefert argued during a board meeting April 19 that not enough was done at the administrative level to comfort her daughter, inform the parents of the incident or find the student responsible for the note.

According to Rocky Point school district superintendent, Michael Ring, a thorough investigation has been conducted since the March 23 incident occurred, and there’s been transparency between school and parents.

“The police were contacted by the district regarding the matter and information provided thereon,” Ring wrote in an email. “Parents of all students in the class were contacted by the teacher at the time of the incident. Counselors have gone into the classroom to speak about tolerance, acceptance and respect. None of this was done in response to Mrs. Siefert speaking at the [board of education] meeting. All of this was put into place after and as a result of the incident, which the school and district took very seriously.”

Conversely, Siefert said, “This is all because I went in front of the board and said what I said. All these things happened after I spoke.”

Ring noted the school has continued to employ all its existing and ongoing character education and anti-bullying initiatives, including Six Pillars of Character and Social Skills/Friendship Groups and Caring Connections.

He said as recent as May 9, officers in the Suffolk County Police Department conducted an anti-bullying presentation to all grades at Joseph A. Edgar.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin reached out to a Rocky Point mom over an anti-Semitic note her daughter received. File photo

“I’m glad they’re being proactive now,” said Siefert, who claims she, not the school, was the one who filed a police report after the incident. “But I’d be much happier if the kid who did this to my daughter was put in counseling and punished appropriately.”

Zeldin agreed. According to his staff, the district’s efforts to find the student responsible were outlined, but ultimately the district, as well as police, believe “there is not enough evidence to take action.”

It will, however, “continue to follow proper protocol and work with the family on this case.”

“In alignment with our anti-harassment and code of conduct policies, proven instances of bullying are treated extremely seriously and age-appropriate discipline is put in place in response to such incidents,” Ring wrote. “This is a continuing investigation.”

On April 24, Linda Towlen, principal at Joseph A. Edgar, sent a letter to parents of students in a fifth-grade class informing them of an April 21 incident where small swastikas were found on a bathroom sign-out sheet.

According to the letter, “a thorough investigation has been undertaken to determine the source of these unacceptable symbols” and “as is our protocol … the Suffolk County Police were notified and a report filed.”

After this most recent incident, the school implemented the Second Step program in the classroom that deals with bullying and teasing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Kevin Dahill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suozzi also addressed what it might mean for New Yorkers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle at his Holtsville office. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Republican hadn’t won Suffolk County in 24 years. The 2016 presidential election was out of the ordinary on dozens of levels, a fact that propelled Donald Trump to the presidency and helped him to become the first Republican candidate to win Suffolk County since George H.W. Bush in 1992. Trump received just 36.5 percent of the vote in New York state, though 52.5 percent of Suffolk voters selected the first-time political candidate. John Jay LaValle — arguably the most influential Republican in Suffolk politics — played a massive role in securing that victory.

During an exclusive interview at his Holtsville office April 18, the Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman shed light on Trump’s surprising victory locally and nationally, his life in politics, serving as a Trump surrogate and the future of the party.

The state of the party

LaValle, 49, who has been in his current position since 2009, endorsed Trump about a year ago during a campaign event in Bethpage, calling him the most important presidential candidate in modern history.

“I wasn’t happy over the last several years on how the Republican Party — let’s say over the past decade — how the party dealt with the Obama Administration,” LaValle, an attorney by trade, said, sitting at his desk, his eyes glancing up intermittently at a muted television fixed on Fox News throughout the conversation. He said the GOP’s singular purpose, to its detriment, had become opposing former President Barack Obama (D). “We’d become a party without a compass. We didn’t have a purpose.”

John Jay LaValle speaks during an election night party for Lee Zeldin in Patchogue. File photo by Alex Petroski

He added he thought it was a mistake for the party to be so focused on social issues, especially because public sentiment was heading in the opposite direction from the traditional Republican ideologies on most.

By the time of his formal endorsement April 9 at that Bethpage rally, only Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) were still alive in the Republican primary process, though LaValle said he made his decision to endorse Trump when he was still in a field of 17 candidates.

“I’m from…what someone would consider to be the establishment of the Republican Party,” LaValle said. “So when I came out and endorsed Donald Trump everyone was like, ‘what?’ And even people, my own cousin, was like ‘what are you doing?’ Everyone thought I was crazy. But one of the things that very much attracted me to Donald Trump was that I really thought that he would be someone that would perform a radical change to the Republican Party.”

LaValle’s cousin is New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), a mainstay in the state senate since 1976. Both are residents of Port Jefferson.

The chairman bought what Trump was selling, and encouraged Suffolk voters to do the same. He said Trump’s position that the government was “broken” and needed an outsider to fix it resonated for him, and believes it’s what voters liked about him locally.

“When I became a councilman in Brookhaven Town in 1996, the dominant issue was illegal immigration, and its effect on the housing,” he said. LaValle would later go on to be the youngest supervisor in Brookhaven’s history. In 2001 he took control at just 33 years old. “So here I was now in 2016, 20 years later and the dominant issue is still illegal immigration.”

LaValle said both Republicans and Democrats had squandered opportunities to make meaningful changes to immigration legislation, which is evidence of an inability in traditional politicians to get things done for their constituents in other areas, like creating jobs and jump-starting the economy.

Trump’s win has put a strain on the Republican Party and clouded its future, especially in light of record low approval ratings so early in his tenure. “Transformation” and “splintering” were two words LaValle didn’t deny were appropriate descriptors of the status of the party at the moment, though he said a polarization of politics is wreaking havoc on both parties.

He likened what’s going on now in the party to his days as Brookhaven Supervisor. He said he accomplished things that were atypical of Republican beliefs at the time, like enacting a $100 million Environmental Bond Act. He also said he was proud of actions he took like appointing women and African-Americans to leadership roles in the town — he named Cecile Forte, an African-American woman, the chair of the zoning board; and Marvin Colson, an African-American man the chair of the planning board — and consolidating town operations to a centralized location in Farmingville, where Brookhaven headquarters still stands.

“There’s…four different parties in this country right now instead of two, and while the liberals are trying to move the Democratic Party left, the conservatives are trying to pull the Republican Party right — it’s a very messy situation in the country,” he said. “You may look back 20 years from now and look at this particular time period in American history as a time period that actually created four major political parties in America. You can’t be a moderate on either side and be with the wings. It’s been too polarized.”

Although he said his job doesn’t entail influencing legislators about policy, the possibility of a splintering of the Republican Party could raise difficult questions for “establishment” Republican lawmakers who don’t join LaValle in subscribing to the book of Trump.

LaValle suggested Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and some other early signs bear this out — Trump campaigned to the right but is governing from a more moderate platform.

“Everyone thought I was crazy…I really thought that he would be someone that would perform a radical change to the Republican Party.”

— John Jay LaValle

“He doesn’t give a [expletive] about Republicans and Democrats and all that,” LaValle said of the president. “In fact, he was a Democrat. Then he became a Republican, but he was a moderate Republican. Then when he was running he became a very conservative Republican. From day one, I recollect him saying to me, ‘there’s only two things I want to do — I want to fix the economy and I want to get rid of this terrorism.’ He goes, ‘the rest of it, I could care less about.’”

The Trump presidency

Despite the missteps and uneasiness that have been hallmarks of Trump’s first 100 days in office, LaValle seemingly has no inclination to reverse course and distance himself from the president.

“I don’t criticize the boss in public,” he said.

After he endorsed Trump he went on to do about 160 television appearances as a surrogate for his candidate during 2016.

The chairman said he first met Trump several years ago when the businessman was considering a run for governor of New York, though little came of that meeting. The two met for the second time during the rally in Bethpage in 2016. Since, the two have spoken regularly by phone, and LaValle said he’d sat in on meetings at Trump Tower in the past, and even weighed in on policy when called upon by the man who currently occupies the highest office in the land.

“He runs his meetings like a game show — it’s phenomenal,” LaValle said. He told a story of the first time Trump called him on his cellphone and asked him to come to Manhattan for a meeting. LaValle said his friends instructed him to keep quiet, prepare to listen and limit his contribution to the meeting to “hello, Mr. Trump” and “goodbye, Mr. Trump.” Instead, LaValle said Trump repeatedly pressed him and others in the room for input on policy and issues, and he felt Trump genuinely listened to others’ opinions. LaValle said he once asked Trump why he valued his opinion so much.

“I trust you, and until you fail me that’s it, I’m going to rely on you,’” the chairman said Trump told him. That trust can be traced to a promise LaValle made to Trump in April 2016 after a campaign event at The Emporium in Patchogue, when he pledged to deliver Suffolk County for Trump during the Republican primary.

“When he was leaving he was telling me ‘oh you know what it cost me to come here? You know what I had to give up?’ I said ‘no, I appreciate that Mr. Trump, and I’m going to tell you right now — Suffolk County will be the number one county for you in the state of New York next Tuesday,’” LaValle said. “He said ‘well I’m going to hold you to that.’ I said ‘good, and I’m going to deliver.’ And we did. And he appreciated that.”

More than 72,000 Suffolk County residents chose Trump on primary day, to just 18,000 and 9,000 respectively for Kasich and Cruz.

Suffolk County Republican Committee Chairman John Jay LaValle at his Holtsville office. Photo by Alex Petroski

On another occasion, LaValle was forced to justify comments he made on CNN when he was asked to defend two “diametrically opposed” statements Trump had previously made.

“So my phone rings and he says, ‘what’s this about me evolving?’ And this is classic Donald Trump, by the way,” LaValle said. “So I said, ‘uh, excuse me?’ He goes ‘evolving, John — what’s this about me evolving? I’m watching TV and I hear you say that I’m evolving.’”

LaValle, laughing, said he thought he’d handled the situation beautifully.

“‘John, John, John — I’m not evolving. I’m running for president of the United States of America. I’m not evolving,’” he said Trump told him. “I said ‘well I understand sir, but what would you like me to say?’ He says ‘what would I like you to say? You say Donald Trump is the greatest candidate ever to run for president in the history of the United States.’”

LaValle said he later heard Kellyanne Conway, a key player in Trump’s campaign, use the word “evolving” on television, so he knew Trump was just blowing off steam at the time.

According to LaValle, another byproduct of the Trump presidency has been a head-on confrontation with debilitating political correctness, an aspect of Trump’s persona and platform that the chairman has found invaluable.

The chairman blamed gang violence on Long Island and heroin abuse to political correctness brought about by the Democrats.

“He’s made it okay to kind of tell it like it is — or at least like you see it,” LaValle said. “That was a big problem. In our country, we had gotten so bad at being politically correct that we weren’t allowed to like, even say certain things that were true.”

Attributing the rise of heroin abuse on Long Island to political correctness because of a lack of adequate border security addresses illegal drugs entering the country, but not a growing demand at home, which can be traced back to overprescribing of powerful pain medications, which then leads to heroin when prescriptions dry up.

The chairman offered strong defenses for Trump on issues that few have felt inclined to rush to justify — like supposed ties between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign, transition team and administration. He said the president hasn’t deviated from anything he’s said publicly about Russia. His desire has always been to improve relations, and contacts between his team and Russia make sense in striving to achieve that goal. When asked why the knee-jerk reaction from several associates is to deny said communications, LaValle said the media is granted no prior assumption that sources will respond to questions truthfully, though he said anyone who didn’t given honest answers is “destroying their credibility.”

Although LaValle insisted he didn’t criticize the boss in public, it’s not hard to take that concept and juxtapose it with the fact Trump has had issues as a result of publicly making false statements. The president said he won the most Electoral College votes (306) since President Ronald Reagan — in fact Obama won 332 four years ago and 365 in 2008, and going back to a Republican president Bush senior received more than Trump as well.

He walked the line on the comments Trump was caught on tape making to Billy Bush for Access Hollywood during a candid conversation neither party knew was being recorded.

“I mean I do feel bad that he got, kind of like set up, caught on tape with that whole grabbing thing,” he said. “I mean, I know so many guys that have said stupid things in their lifetime. We always just have the benefit of no one’s paying attention. And I’m not saying it’s right to do, don’t get me wrong, but that sucked for him to be caught on tape saying that.”

Even though he sympathized with Trump, he said earlier he understands why Trump’s own words could create a negative perception.

“It’s America, I guess they can do it. But it doesn’t make them any less sleazy and sleaze balls that they are. That’s what they’re doing. To me it’s a disgrace.”

— John Jay LaValle

“Saying Rosie O’Donnell is a fat slob, the stuff with Megyn Kelly, no, I could understand why there’s a perception that he’s a sexist, because he said things that are not appropriate,” he said.

In the beginning of the interview, LaValle described Trump as a brilliant businessman who understood he could say “something stupid just for the hell of it…he knew that’s the price he had to pay to get all of that free media,” and lauded him for “telling it like it is.”

Suffolk County

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) has taken small steps to distance himself from the president of late, though unless something drastically changes, the race for his seat in the House as representative for New York’s 1st Congressional District in 2018 will serve as a referendum on the party of Trump in Suffolk County.

After upsetting U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who held the seat from 2003 to 2014, Zeldin defeated Anna Throne-Holst (D-Southampton) by 18 points to retain his seat in 2016. Zeldin’s big win was seen as an indicator of Trump’s success in the county because he was a strong supporter of Trump in 2016. Zeldin even proclaimed from the podium after the race was called on election night that he was excited to have the chance to “make America great again.”

Zeldin’s proximity to Trump has caused an uprising of some 1st District constituents since the election, with protests occurring throughout the past few months and demands for more access to the congressman. Still, LaValle isn’t concerned about Zeldin’s chances for reelection in 2018.

“Lee Zeldin is going to win big time in 2018,” he said. “I think the Democrat Party has shown itself to be frauds, crybabies, snowflakes and sore losers… It’s all a fraud. It’s not about — this isn’t a grassroots effort. These people are professionals. They’re being paid to be there and to organize individuals to disrupt town hall meetings of our duly elected representatives.”

Politico, an American political-journalism company has maintained there is zero evidence of protestors being paid. This rhetoric may seem familiar to some, as powerful Democratic leaders once made the same claim a few years back. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in 2009 Tea Party protestors disrupting town halls were funded by “the high end,” calling it “Astroturf,” meaning not an authentic grassroots movement, but something supported by benefactors.

“These people are a disgrace,” LaValle continued about the protestors. “It’s America, I guess they can do it. But it doesn’t make them any less sleazy and sleaze balls that they are. That’s what they’re doing. To me it’s a disgrace.”

In a phone interview, Zeldin said LaValle has been a strong ally during his political career. He also praised the job LaValle has done since taking over, noting a large shift in town and county seats in elected positions from blue to red during LaValle’s tenure, which he said the chairman played a role in.

“John is someone who can easily motivate a packed room of volunteers to want to campaign just a little harder and dig down a little bit deeper to help get across the finish line,” he said.

LaValle has been rumored to be a candidate to oppose Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) when he seeks reelection. He criticized the job Bellone has done in the position, saying the county’s finances have been “horribly mismanaged,” and said he doesn’t think Bellone is right for the job, though he didn’t offer any insight on his future aspirations.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I’ll know it when it happens,” LaValle said. “The one thing I learned is I would have never expected to have done what I did last year in a million years. It was just something that I probably never would even have fathomed. So one thing that I learned is don’t ever try to make your plans too specific. Keep it loose, keep it fluid and be ready for something exciting. I know one thing, it’s going to be something exciting and it’s going to be something big.”

An aerial view of the area designated for sidewalk replacement. Image from Google Maps

What’s old will soon be new again as U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced this week $1.58 million in federal funding would be designated to go towards the construction of new sidewalks and curbs on Old Town Road in Port Jefferson Station and Coram. The funding will cover 80 percent of the total cost of the project. The new sidewalks will span from Route 347 in Port Jefferson Station to Route 112 in Coram along Old Town Road, and some of the improvements included fixes to become compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Congressman Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

“This is key funding to improve walkability and bicycle access in the Town of Brookhaven,” Zeldin said in a statement. He said the sidewalks in question are in desperate need of repairs. “Last Congress, I proudly helped lead the bipartisan effort to pass the highway bill, which secured funding for the Surface Transportation Block Grant. Our transportation and infrastructure are essential to the Long Island economy, way of life and safety, and I will continue working to ensure that states and local governments have the flexibility and resources necessary to strengthen our infrastructure and improve transportation safety, job creation, and our overall economy and quality of life.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) praised Zeldin for securing the funds because of what it could mean for the environment, as the new paths will create carbon-free transportation alternatives to driving cars, he said.

“Old Town Road connects the communities of Port Jefferson Station and Coram and both hamlets will soon become more pedestrian and bike friendly with the construction of new sidewalks as well as bicycle access along this route,” he said in a statement.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also thanked Zeldin and stressed the importance of infrastructure improvements in the town.

“Infrastructure keeps the town moving forward and upgrading it improves our quality of life and creates jobs that drive the local economy,” he said. “Congressman Zeldin has always been a strong advocate for the people of the 1st District, and I look forward to working with him to help find more ways to make Brookhaven a better place to live and work.”

Brookhaven Town  Superintendent of Highways Dan Losquadro (R) expressed similar excitement for the impending improvements.

“As we work to improve our infrastructure, the construction of bicycle paths and ADA-compliant, accessible sidewalks is crucial in ensuring the safety of our roadways for motorists and pedestrians,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin calls for funding for two EPA programs relating to the Long Island Sound during a press conference March 13. Photo by Kevin Redding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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