Authors Posts by Elana Glowatz

Elana Glowatz

Avatar
369 POSTS 0 COMMENTS
Elana Glowatz is TBR's online editor and resident nerd. She very much loves her dog, Zoe the doodle.

by -
0 836
Dad with his three daughters on a trip to the Bronx Zoo. Photo from the Glowatz family collection

A dad is a funny thing.

But not as funny as he thinks he is.

Especially, it seems, when he is in a house full of females, as my father was when I was growing up and usually still is. Perhaps he is just misunderstood, because between his wife and three daughters — four, if you count the dog — Dad can get lost in the shuffle.

He has to contend with a gaggle of cackling women, a sometimes-boisterous group that frequently discusses matters or cracks jokes that aren’t for male ears or are just plain lost on him. Usually he smiles and watches patiently through it all — or stays away entirely. There is great satisfaction on his face when we talk about a subject he can easily contribute to, like business, politics or baseball. Or AC/DC. On those topics, he is the expert and everybody knows it.

But this isn’t to say that he feels uncomfortable without any other guys around — my dad is all about his ladies. He has worked from a home office my entire life, so he was there just about every day, fixing boo-boos, making home videos about the trials and tribulations of a doll’s life and breaking up some pretty bad sisterly fights, too.

Dad gets friendly with a cardboard President Ronald Reagan on the streets of New York City. Photo from the Glowatz family collection
Dad gets friendly with a cardboard President Ronald Reagan on the streets of New York City. Photo from the Glowatz family collection

While many women would say they don’t want to marry someone like their father, my dad is a model for whom I should be with. He can be rough around the edges but when it counts, he is a true gentleman. He can be a real tough guy, but he’ll cry if he feels like it (in recent history, he got choked up at my older sister’s wedding). He often reminds us, whether we roll our eyes at the repetition or not, the importance of holding on to our traditions and values. His family is his top priority and always has been, and he would defend any one of us to the death — he once threw himself between me and a snarling dog that had escaped its yard and lunged toward us while we went for a walk (in case you’re wondering how we got out of that, my dad ferociously barked at it and it cowered away).

And as much as we hate to admit, although we women sometimes tease him, my dad is beyond cool, partly because he is himself, no matter what other people say.

My mother told me many times when I was growing up that apart from her own father, my dad is the finest man she has ever known. While I understood what she was saying, I never fully grasped it until I had grown.

I once asked my dad whether he was disappointed that he never had any sons. He reminded me that he loves his three girls, tutus and all, and that he still did all the great stuff with us he would have done with boys, like teaching us how to ride bikes, taking us to baseball games and hugging us when we cried.

I guess the only real disappointment in my dad not having any sons is that he can’t teach any young men to be just like him.

Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the great ones like him.

by -
0 2777
Past Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. File photo by Elana Glowatz

It’s been some 130 years, but the half-mile loop the horses raced is still visible, though it’s coated in layers of leaves.

The path in the woods is all that remains of the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville, where local bettors once gathered to watch men race in carts called sulkies behind horses, or compete on bicycles or even on foot.

Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith said the track is one of the last known of its kind in the Northeast. He discovered the hidden gem a couple of years ago using Google Earth: After hearing rumors that such a track existed off Canal Road, Smith looked at an aerial view of the hamlet and quickly noticed a faint oval shape cut into the woods. He visited the spot with his wife, Pam, the next day and walked the length of the track.

Brookhaven Town has already acquired about half of the 11-acre plot since Smith alerted Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld about the track and an effort to preserve it began two years ago. Fiore-Rosenfeld (D-East Setauket) said the other half is owned entirely or almost entirely by one family, and the town is discussing an acquisition with them so it can preserve the site.

Starting in the 1880s, horses would race in heats throughout an entire afternoon at the Terryville site and the attendees would gamble modest amounts. The horses would take a few minutes to go counterclockwise twice around the half-mile track, which was part of a larger circuit of driving parks. It was adjacent to the Comsewogue stables, of which Robert L. Davis, a well-known area horse trainer, took ownership. The stables are now the Davis Professional Park.

“This was not some backwoods, good ol’ boy, local kind of thing. This was a big deal for its time,” Smith said. He called it the NASCAR of its day and said, “This was an era when the horse was king. The horse was everything to everyone,” including transportation, sport and work.

 A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Eventually, however, the excitement petered out — the automobile was likely the track’s downfall.

“People were more enamored and more excited with racing automobiles than they were with racing horses,” Smith said.

At least through the mid-1950s, local kids raced jalopies around the 25-foot-wide track, which helped preserve it, preventing it from becoming completely overgrown.

“A lot of this has just been pure luck,” Smith said, referring to the fact that the track was still visible and he was able to find it. He pointed out that if the Google Earth satellite image had been taken not in the winter but during the summer, when the trees had leaves, he would not have been able to see through them to the track beaten into the ground and would not have known it was there.

It was also by luck that Smith found a pair of Victorian-era field glasses. He had been searching for horseshoes with a metal detector near the finish line on the west side of the track when he came upon them. They were broken, likely dropped near the finish line and trampled.

Smith said he cleaned them using toothbrushes and compressed air.

Other artifacts he has are a ticket from a July 4, 1892, race and news articles that mention the track. He does not have photos of the track in use, but he believes they are out there somewhere.

Fiore-Rosenfeld said during a visit to the track that one reason he is interested in preserving the driving park is to make a place where residents can recreate. With it abutting the Woodcrest Estates apartments, he said, it is a natural place to create a public space.

The councilman said, “It’s a miracle that it’s still here” and it’s mostly whole.

In addition to the track being overgrown, a Long Island Power Authority right of way cuts into its southwestern curve. Hurricane Sandy also tore some trees out of the ground, so there are a few obstacles in the way of those who wish to walk it.

As the town waits to acquire the remainder of the track to ensure its future, Smith pieces together its history. A stump could have been part of a guard rail on the border of the track and the infield — inside the racing loop — was clear of trees so viewers could see across to the other side.

It’s hard to picture the Victorian-era scene, Smith said, “but these were local guys and horse racing was their passion.”

Suffolk officers revive two people days after department puts overdose-ending medicine into police cars

File photo

Jeff Reynolds recently attended a funeral in Huntington for a young woman, a heroin addict who had gotten clean but died of an overdose after a relapse. Reynolds, the executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said two weeks later, the young woman’s boyfriend also died from an overdose.

Drug use has become more and more of a problem on Long Island in recent years. According to a special grand jury report from the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, there were 231 overdose deaths from controlled substances in Suffolk County last year.

Opioid painkillers accounted for 75 percent of them.

But an initiative to combat opioid overdoses — from drugs like heroin, Vicodin and Percocet — is already showing promise, just days after it was launched. Suffolk County Police Department’s Michael Alfieri, an officer in the 7th Precinct, responded to a call of an overdose in Mastic Beach last week. According to the police, Alfieri found a 27-year-old man unresponsive and not breathing, and revived him by intranasally administering Naloxone, an opioid blocker known by its brand name, Narcan. The officer also gave the man oxygen before he was transported to the hospital. That overdose victim survived.

Officers Thomas Speciale and David Ferrara revived a woman in Lake Ronkonkoma who had overdosed on heroin on Aug. 5. The 4th Precinct officers responded to a 911 call at 1:20 pm and found the 21-year-old woman in a parked car, unresponsive and barely breathing, police said. Speciale administered Narcan and Ferrara provided additional medical care before the woman was transported to the hospital for treatment.

The New York State Department of Health piloted a program that allows those in certain counties, including Suffolk, with basic life support training, such as volunteer emergency medical technicians, to administer Narcan. Previously, it was limited to those with advanced life support training.

Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) sponsored a bill, which the county Legislature adopted, that expanded this to include officers in the Suffolk County Police Department, many of whom have basic life support training. A police spokesperson said it is being piloted in the 4th, 6th and 7th Precincts and the Marine Bureau, and 267 officers have already been trained to administer the intranasal medicine.

“Our officers are first on the scene in virtually all medical emergencies,” Dr. Scott Coyne, SCPD’s chief surgeon and medical director, said in a phone interview. He said it is important that officers have resources like Narcan to treat people because “it’s really during those first critical minutes that they mean the difference between life and death, particularly in overdose situations.”

Last Monday was the first day the officers were on the street with Narcan, according to the police department. Alfieri saved the man who overdosed two days later, and Speciale and Ferrara saved the Lake Ronkonkoma woman on Sunday.

“There was one less mother grieving for her child,” Hahn said in a phone interview after the first incident. She expressed her hope that the program would save more lives in the future.

Reynolds said Narcan works by quickly surrounding opiate receptors, blocking the drug’s ability to access the brain. “The person will experience some withdrawal but the overdose will come to an immediate end.”

Other benefits of the medicine are that it’s inexpensive and there aren’t any negative consequences if it is administered to someone who has not overdosed on opioids, Reynolds said. Signs of an overdose include blue nail beds, blue lips, unconsciousness and the inability to remain upright.

Dr. Coyne said, “Undoubtedly this pilot program will be a great benefit to the citizens of the county and particularly it’s going to result in, I believe, many lifesaving events.” Dispatchers are receiving more and more calls about drug overdoses, he said, adding that 60 police cars now carry Narcan.

Other states have had success with similar programs. According to The Boston Globe, Narcan reversed more than 1,000 opioid overdoses in 12 Massachusetts cities between 2007 and 2011 through a pilot program that allowed substance abuse treatment centers to train people how to use the overdose antidote.

Dr. Coyne said the SCPD precincts piloting the Narcan program were selected because they appeared to have more overdoses. The Marine Bureau was chosen because it serves Fire Island, and the time it takes to transport someone to a hospital could be longer than in other places.

Dr. Coyne and Hahn both said they would like to see the local program expanded and Reynolds said Narcan “should be in every police car,” and even school nurses and parents of addicts should carry it.

For friends and family of those addicted to opioids, LICADD trains people to identify an overdose and administer Narcan through an injection into the leg — different from the police department’s aspirator — and sends trainees home with two vials of Narcan and two syringes.

Reynolds said the best way to prevent an overdose is to not use drugs in the first place, but that Narcan is an important measure in helping those struggling with addiction survive long enough to receive help.

He said Narcan “gives these kids a second shot.”

Director pulls 15 felines from condemned home, waiting on adoptions to help more in cat colony

Three cats emerge from the bushes at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food Monday for the numerous cats living on the property. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Erica Kutzing has already pulled 15 cats from a condemned house and its surrounding property on Oakwood Road in Port Jefferson, but she said there are between 20 and 25 more left.

“And that’s of the ones that we can see.”

There could be more hiding — the property has a lot of foliage and the house is a mess. There are flies and cobwebs all over the junk inside, the ceiling is coming down in some places and there is a strong smell, partly of cat urine.

Dori Scofield nets an injured gray kitten, and Frankie Floridia and Erica Kutzing help her put it into a crate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Dori Scofield nets an injured gray kitten, and Frankie Floridia and Erica Kutzing help her put it into a crate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kutzing, director of operations at Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in Port Jefferson Station, would like to continue taking the friendly cats back with her to the shelter, but it is full. Her operation on Oakwood Road is partly on hold until some people start adopting the animals and free up space. Until then, with the permission of the owner, she visits the site every day to deliver food and clean water, and to help the cats that need it the most.

The first day she brought food to the house, she said, “they swarmed us,” and the cats tried to chew through the bags of food. “They were starving.” In the roughly three weeks since she started feeding them — with donations from the community — she estimates they’ve each gained about five pounds.

On Monday, Kutzing brought the usual five cans of wet food and full bag of cat food to Oakwood Road. A couple of cats watched as she cleaned aluminum trays filled with muddy rainwater from a storm the night before and replaced the dirty water with the food, with the help of volunteers Frankie Floridia and his son Dylan Inghilleri. Then other felines started to emerge from bushes and windows and below a dumpster on the front lawn.

Cats eat at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Cats eat at a house in Port Jefferson after Save-A-Pet volunteers put out food. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Most of the animals, Kutzing said, are the property owner’s pets. While he loves them and his pet ownership started with the best intentions, “cats can breed faster than you can stop them.” Some of those still at the house are friendly, but they have become wild because of their living situation.

The Port Times Record reported in November that there once also were four Alaskan huskies on the property, but they were removed when firefighters investigating smoke found unsafe conditions inside the house. That’s when it was condemned.

According to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, four misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty are still pending against the owner.

Dori Scofield, director of the Town of Brookhaven Animal Shelter and Adoption Center and founder and president of Save-A-Pet, said there are many houses like this all over the town and the country, where people have good intentions that “go haywire,” and their properties are overrun with animals. “They get in over their heads.”

Scofield was the one who first received a call, in her role with the town, about the house and went to investigate.

She was also at the site Monday, and netted a 6-month-old gray kitten that Kutzing said had a broken tail and possibly a broken pelvis.

A female kitten at a house in Port Jefferson named Pinot came out to see rescue volunteers, who visit the property every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
A female kitten at a house in Port Jefferson named Pinot came out to see rescue volunteers, who visit the property every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Kutzing explained that it was painful for the kitten to walk and “with every step her lower end drops to the floor.” She added when the kitten eats her daily deliveries, usually she will lie down in the aluminum tray.

Monday, the cat ate from outside the tray, but she sneezed multiple times throughout her meal. Kutzing explained that the kitten also has an upper respiratory infection.

After Scofield quickly threw the net over the gray kitten, Kutzing and Floridia helped her put the kitten into a carrier to take back to Save-A-Pet for treatment. Afterward, she will likely be released back at the house.

Scofield said she didn’t want to see the cats stay at the condemned house permanently, and it would be ideal for someone with a barn to take in the feral cats.

Kutzing stressed the need for adoptions and that the cats at Save-A-Pet that had been pulled from the Oakwood Road house have been medically cleared and are good with other cats “because it’s all they know.” The organization needs homes for both the young cats and the older ones, she said, adding that older cats can be positive because they know how to use a litter box and owners will already know the cats’ personalities.

Scofield also stressed that people who find themselves with a large number of animals “shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help,” either from Save-A-Pet or Brookhaven Animal Shelter. “We’ll do whatever we can to help them.”

Kutzing urged against concerned residents visiting the Oakwood Road property on their own. She said it would be trespassing and she doesn’t want anyone “to hinder our trapping by scaring the cats,” because they are now comfortable around the volunteers.

In 125 years, Port Jefferson Fire Department has seen many changes to firefighting and the village

Volunteers from Hook & Ladder Company No. 1 of the Port Jefferson Fire Department assemble on East Main Street in 1892. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

Fred Gumbus still remembers the time he burned off his eyebrows, decades ago in a brush fire.

“The wind changed” and the flames “came across a big field of grass,” Gumbus said. He goes by “Pop” at the Port Jefferson Fire Department, where he is an honorary chief and a member since 1948.

Port Jefferson firefighters work at the Sinclair bulk storage plant during a 1964 fire. The blaze kept igniting because the fuel lines had not been turned off. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive
Port Jefferson firefighters work at the Sinclair bulk storage plant during a 1964 fire. The blaze kept igniting because the fuel lines had not been turned off. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

He and Hugh Campbell, a former chief who joined the same year, were running from the fire, but realized it was gaining on them and they couldn’t outrun it. “We have to go through,” Gumbus said, and they covered their noses and mouths with their hands.

Campbell said, “We were going to burn to death if we stayed there.”

They made it out, coughing and choking.

Gumbus said his buddy was laughing at him and when he asked what was so funny, Campbell told him he didn’t have any eyebrows. He responded that Campbell didn’t either, “and we busted out laughing.”

The pair, who were once in the first grade together in Stony Brook, were in their 20s then. Now they are in their late 80s, and still members of a department that has since seen great changes.

The Port Jefferson Fire Department marks its 125th anniversary this year, and equipment and techniques are drastically different from the days these men first joined.

Fred Gumbus, James Newcomb, Walter Baldelli and Hugh Campbell, at the Port Jefferson firehouse, talk about the toughest and most memorable calls they went on in their many years with the department. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Fred Gumbus, James Newcomb, Walter Baldelli and Hugh Campbell, at the Port Jefferson firehouse, talk about the toughest and most memorable calls they went on in their many years with the department. Photo by Elana Glowatz

James Newcomb, an honorary chief who joined almost 69 years ago, said firefighters once used something called an “Indian can,” which was a metal backpack that held five gallons of water and squirted with a hand pump. Firefighters also used to just wear a rubber coat.

Campbell said those coats would burn or melt. He also noted changes to the way firefighters work — “in the old days we had more surround and drown,” but now firefighters attack the flames, and put them out where they are. They no longer “stand outside and watch it burn.”

One fire Walter Baldelli remembers was at the O.B. Davis Furniture Store on East Main Street. Baldelli, a 93-year-old honorary chief and a member since 1948, said the department fought flames through the whole night at the old wood-floored building, and found the body of a night watchman the next day.

Campbell said he was on the stoop next door taking a break and saw the man’s toes sticking up in the bathroom of the scorched building. The watchman was flat on the floor and his body “was like it was boiled” because the water shooting in from the hoses turned to steam. The firefighters knew the man was in there somewhere because he had left his hat at the back door of the building.

Firefighters battle flames at the O.B. Davis Furniture Store on East Main Street in 1960. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive
Firefighters battle flames at the O.B. Davis Furniture Store on East Main Street in 1960. Photo from the Port Jefferson Village Digital Archive

Another large fire was at the post office when it was on Main Street. It was 1948, and Baldelli said hoses drafted water from the harbor to put out the flames. He could taste the saltwater in the air.

The fire had started in the cellar, Baldelli said, and when the blaze was put out and he went down there, the water came up high and it was warm. He added that an employee on the scene when the fire broke out saved all the first class mail.

At one brush fire, Newcomb was on Norwood Avenue and the fire was jumping through the treetops on both sides of him. Newcomb said it was his scariest fire and when the flames came over his head, he stuck his nose in the dirt and the explosion “sounded like a jet coming down.” He said he couldn’t breathe for about 30 seconds.

Newcomb will be the grand marshal of the department’s 125th anniversary parade, which is on June 9 at 5:30 pm. The fire department, which was established in 1887, is also holding a block party on Maple Place that evening, with a display of antique apparatus.

by -
0 1008
Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Rachel Shapiro

Suffolk County officials, including former County Executive Steve Levy, “intentionally corrupted and undermined” the Ethics Commission and contributed to its disbandment, according to a special grand jury report released April 19.

Testimony in the report by unnamed county officials alleges that County Official E, who worked in the county executive’s office, attempted to influence ethics commissioners’ decisions; tried to use an ethics complaint as leverage against a legislator to influence his vote; and had not received proper authorization to file financial disclosure forms, among other offenses.

Based on previous reporting, this newspaper determined that County Official E is Levy.

Testimony in the report alleges that other county officials colluded with Levy in these actions as well as committed separate offenses. County Official H, the report said, was an Association of Municipal Employees worker who filled out his time sheets and calculated his accruals as a management employee, leading to him receiving more than $14,000 in health benefits he did not earn.

This newspaper, also based on previous reporting, has determined County Official H to be Alfred Lama, the former executive director of the Ethics Commission.

No charges have been filed against the officials, as testimony did not reveal any illegal activity. The grand jury instead made recommendations to the executive and legislative branches — including creating penalties for ethics violations such as improperly influencing the members of an ethics board or commission — and future county ethics bodies, such as enacting procedural guidelines regarding complaints, hearings and decisions.

Levy took issue with the report. It was “based in large part on testimony from political detractors of the county executive,” he said in a statement shortly after it was released Thursday.

He said seeking the commission’s opinion on a potential conflict of interest, as he did in the case of the legislator, “is not an abuse of the Ethics Commission, it’s the very reason you have one,” and that he did not tell Ethics Commission members how to vote on any issue.

The former county executive also took issue with the report saying that while, for a time, he only filed state financial disclosure forms, he was obligated to file county forms, which the report said were more thorough.

Mark Davies, a former executive director of the Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics who drafted state ethics law, said in written testimony to the Suffolk County Legislature in September 2010 that “on the whole, the state form is more extensive than the county form.” He argued that because the county form lacked certain categories, such as offices in political parties and organizations and agreements for future employment, it was not in compliance with state law. Legislation has since been introduced to bring the local form into compliance with state law.

Levy also said that state law mandated the county to accept the state form over the county form, something the grand jury report said “remains an open question with advocates on both sides publicly arguing their positions.” Lama advised the former county executive without a ruling from the entire Ethics Commission, saying Levy could file the state form instead of the county form.

The grand jury report also discussed the findings of an audit by the county comptroller. Lama, who was the ethics commission’s executive director from 2004 until it was abolished, was audited last year. According to the document from Comptroller Joe Sawicki’s office, the investigation was to determine whether the director’s hours worked from 2004 to 2011 had been logged correctly, and whether he was given appropriate pay and health benefits according to the hours he had worked.

The grand jury report said Lama, an AME union employee, had filled out his time sheets as if he were a management employee. It also said there was no evidence of fraud on Lama’s part.

Sawicki said in an interview that he began reviewing Lama’s time sheets and found that the director had often worked less than 50 percent of the work week. The audit states, “[Lama] worked 84 percent of the required full-time hours in 2005 and only 49 percent of the required full-time hours in 2010.” The audit states the county attorney did not change the position to part-time so the director would have the flexibility to work full-time if needed.

The comptroller’s audit found that Lama had been overpaid more than $8,000 in wages and had received more than $14,000 in health insurance coverage premiums that he did not reimburse to the county — from periods when he worked less than 50 percent of the work week and therefore, the audit stated, was not entitled to the premiums.

According to the Suffolk County AME contract, part-time employees “must work greater than 50 percent of the established work week to be entitled to benefits.” Those who fall below that mark, the contract says, may purchase health insurance on a pro rata basis.

Lama said in a phone interview Tuesday that he did not know he was a union employee, and filled out his time sheets for the 7.5-hour day of a management employee.

The grand jury report said Lama signed a “new employee orientation” document, acknowledging his “receipt of the collective bargaining agreement for his AME position and his AME enrollment card.” However, Lama said he went to an orientation when he was hired and “they handed me a piece of paper and I signed it. I wasn’t aware that they were going to put me into the union.”

He added that he always tried to be “as truthful as possible” when filling out his logs, and questioned why it took so long for someone to tell him he was filling in his time sheets incorrectly. “Don’t wait until the end of the rainbow and tell me I made a mistake,” he said.

Louise Brett explains a painting of a ship called the Enchantress. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Louise Brett often paints and draws scenes from the past — a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate, ships in Port Jefferson Harbor, a buggy on East Main Street and the cottages at West Meadow Beach.

The area “is changing so fast,” she said. “I wanted to show everyone what it looked like when I was here.”

Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett does drawings of the area in the past, including this one of a horse walking through the Belle Terre gate. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Some of Brett’s works are on display in Edna Louise Spear Elementary School, in the same room the Board of Education uses for its meetings. At the last session, the district presented Brett, who attended the high school but did not graduate, with a certificate of recognition and she received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Brett said in an interview at her home that the acknowledgement was exciting.

It isn’t the first time her work has been displayed — her paintings of a Victorian Port Jefferson appeared on the covers of the Charles Dickens Festival guides for 2006 and 2007. Under sunset skies, she included characters found in both Dickens novels and the village.

Brett, 83, was born in Old Field and moved to Port Jefferson 10 years later. She said she has always been able to draw well, but didn’t always have the resources — including pencils and paper. When she was growing up during the Great Depression, if she saw her teacher throw away a piece of chalk, she would take it home and — with her twin sister, Gussie — draw on the sides of their piano.

Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Louise Brett, above, paints almost every day. Photo by Elana Glowatz

She got some help when she was in her teens while working as a soda jerk, operating the soda fountain at a local shop. On paper bags in the shop, “I would sketch anybody that walked in,” she said. The owner bought her a paint set and she took art lessons in Mount Sinai. At the Board of Education meeting, while presenting the certificate of recognition, elementary school principal Tom Meehan said Brett would walk to the lessons with her brushes in her boots.

While she was learning, she got in trouble with her mother for keeping dead birds under her bed to draw. “I had to know what they looked like,” Brett explained.

Years later, she still paints almost every day, even with her cats, Bonnie and Clyde, wandering around the room that holds her easel and past works. She said art is an outlet for her. When her husband of 54 years, Nicholas, had health problems a few years ago, she painted the Roe House using descriptions in letters former village historian Rob Sisler collected. Brett used details such as the fact that the Roes owned two oxen and carts — which led her to paint a barn with a thatched roof — to determine how to illustrate the scene. “You have to use your imagination,” she said.

Louise Brett's first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.
Louise Brett’s first oil painting was of the house next door to her childhood Port Jefferson home.

Brett signs all her paintings “Lou Gnia,” for her maiden name Gniazdowski. Her father, who died when she was 3 years old, came to the United States from Poland just before World War I. Brett once took a trip to her family’s village in Stare Miasto, in Poland’s Leżajsk County, a few hours southeast of Warsaw. The village name means “old city,” and she took photographs of various scenes to paint once she got home. In her Reeves Road house she has a “Polish room,” in which there are paintings of houses, cattle drinking from the San River and wagons with rubber wheels, like those on cars.

Paintings also line the walls of the rest of her home, including depictions of ships and beaches and a mural of grazing horses on the far side of the living room.

The artist said painting calms her, to the point where she can forget she is in the middle of cooking dinner. “I just go into a different world,” she said. “I love to paint. It’s just like a sickness.”

Exit interview with former county executive summarizes gripes; targets respond

Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy. File photo

By Elana Glowatz & Rachel Shapiro

Former County Executive Steve Levy was under no illusions that he would make friends when he took Suffolk’s top office eight years ago.

He stood his ground in long-term battles with the Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association and the Legislature and he says that paid off. When the PBA took out anti-Levy ads after the county executive shuffled police officers around to cut costs, he took it all in stride.

“You’ve got to have the backbone to stand up to that and not wilt,” Levy said in an interview. “Over time you’ll be proven correct, as we were with the highway patrol change and as we were with civilianization.”

PBA second vice president Noel DiGerolamo fired back in a phone interview Tuesday that “the only thing that was proven over time is that Steve Levy was not a person to be trusted or believed, as proven by his departure from the government … and his ongoing legal troubles with the [district attorney].” DiGerolamo was referring to Levy’s return of $4 million in campaign funds as part of an agreement with District Attorney Tom Spota, under which the county executive also agreed not to seek a third term.

Levy, 52, has declined on several occasions to discuss the details of the deal.

Other battles aside, Levy considers county Comptroller Joe Sawicki and Newsday’s editors and reporters to have played a part in trying to tarnish his reputation. In reflecting on his time as county executive, he painted a picture of the comptroller and the newspaper working to embarrass and discredit him.


Control battle with comptroller

One example he gave is Sawicki’s office performing an audit on the request for proposals process to sell the county-owned John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility, to determine whether the county had followed procedures correctly. Levy said he was interested in selling the nursing home to save the county money. When the report was completed, Levy said, the comptroller then “conveniently drops it on the table of the Legislature the same day they’re voting” on the sale, in order to sway the legislators to kill it.

But the comptroller told a different story. In an interview with Times Beacon Record Newspapers following Levy’s allegations, Sawicki said Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook) and legislators Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and John Kennedy (R-Nesconset) requested the audit in November 2010, and his office was rushing to complete the report by March 2, 2011, the day of the vote. And according to Christina Capobianco, Sawicki’s chief deputy comptroller, the audit staff was “stonewalled” by the county Health Department and attorney’s office, delaying the process.

‘I think he became extremely paranoid over the years.’ — Joe Sawicki

However, Levy was not convinced. “It’s too cute to just so happen to finish your audit on the same day that the Legislature is voting on this issue,” he said. “If [Sawicki] was concerned about timing he simply could have mentioned this to the Legislature. He never did. … This was an 11th hour surprise to try to kill the deal.”

The Legislature ultimately voted to sell the nursing home, but the buyer, Kenneth Rozenberg, was no longer interested.

Levy said Sawicki had an agenda against him. He pointed to the fact that at the same time the nursing home audit was being performed, Sawicki donated money to the Nursing Home Support Fund for employees who were working to save the facility from closure, and he attended a fundraiser.

According to a New York State Board of Elections financial disclosure report, Sawicki donated $500 to that group on Jan. 10, 2011.

Levy called the act a conflict of interest and said that Sawicki was considering a run for county executive and was buying the support of the nursing home employees’ union. But the comptroller said although others had suggested it to him, he had not planned to run for county executive, and that his office’s audit and his support of keeping the nursing home open were “totally separate.”

Sawicki said his wife is a geriatric nurse at a private nursing home and that the Foley facility had a place in his heart.

“In my mind, helping the employees contribute to their legal fund to fight to stay open and keep their jobs is a lot different than an audit I was doing of the RFP process,” Sawicki said. “I would do it all over again.”

‘It’s too cute to just so happen to finish your audit on the same day that the Legislature is voting on this issue.’ — Steve Levy

In addition to Levy’s claim that Sawicki was trying to cast him in a negative light because of a potential run for county executive, Levy said there was friction because he would not approve some of the comptroller’s hires in order to save money.

Sawicki said Levy would block approval of employees hired within his department’s approved budget. Ultimately, various elected county officials called for legislation that would allow them to approve their own hires if they stayed within their budgets. The legislation passed.

Although Sawicki expressed frustration with the hiring situation, he said he never did anything to give Levy a bad name. “You can’t find anything that I did that exceeded my role as the comptroller,” Sawicki said. “I pride myself on being the chief fiscal watchdog. I like that title.”

The comptroller also said that Levy didn’t like being audited and “I think he became extremely paranoid over the years.”

Levy responded, “If I didn’t want him doing audits I would have been complaining from my first year in office.” He added, “It’s absolutely his role to do audits.”


Financial disclosure

The county executive also took issue with Newsday’s coverage of various subjects, including his financial disclosure forms and wife Colleen West-Levy’s business. In a series of articles beginning in 2010, Newsday investigated Levy’s filing of the state-mandated financial disclosure form.

Throughout some of Newsday’s stories, such as “Disclosure bill would force Levy to report to county,” published June 15, 2010, the reporter stated as a matter of fact that the county form was more thorough than the state form that Levy was filing. This statement was not attributed to any source. In at least one other story, the reporter has also cited unnamed officials for this information.

In the stories, the reporter interviewed political opponents of Levy, who are quoted as saying that the county executive was in violation of county law when he filed state forms instead of county forms.

Levy argued that the reporter left out crucial information, including three expert opinions, one from Mark Davies, that cited Levy’s requirement to file the state form and his compliance with county law.

Davies, former executive director of the Temporary State Commission on Local Government Ethics, has served on several ethics committees, including as co-chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Bar Association’s section of state and local government law. He is also an adviser to the American Law Institute’s Project on Public Integrity and an adjunct professor of law at Fordham Law School.

‘Newsday is proud of its reporters and editors who pursued this story thoroughly and fairly while withstanding repeated criticisms and even personal attacks.’ — Statement from Newsday

He said in a written testimony to the Suffolk County Legislature in September 2010, “Indeed a comparison of the state form and the Suffolk County form reveals that, on the whole, the state form is more extensive than the county form.” He gave examples of disclosure categories the county form does not include, such as offices in political parties and organizations; the nature of a filer’s business; agreements for future employment; assignments and transfers of income and interest to others for less than fair market value; securities held by a corporation for investment when the filer or his or her spouse owns or controls 50 percent or more of the corporation; gifts and reimbursements; and any information on the assets and liabilities of the filer’s dependent children.

The county form also does not ask the filer to list unpaid positions with entities that have no current business or licenses with the county, even if they had immediate past county business or have upcoming county business.

Davies argued that because the county form lacks these categories, it does not comply with state law. He recommended that the county adopt the state form, at least on an interim basis, until the county form is brought into compliance with state law.

In the past year, legislation has been introduced to bring the local form into compliance with New York State law.

Levy said he gave the reporter the information from Davies early on in the reporting to include in the story, but it was not printed.

In Newsday’s story “Levy defends financial disclosures,” published June 9, 2010, a chart compiled by the reporter highlights specific information that is required on the county form and not the state’s — but not vice versa. The chart correctly says the county form requires the filer list bank accounts, including the type of account, the nature of ownership and the name of the bank. The state form does not require this information.

With regard to real estate interests, both forms require disclosure of location, size, general nature, acquisition date, percentage of ownership and range of value of the property. The only difference between the forms is that the county’s requires the filer to name partners and the valuation date. The chart incorrectly states that the state form does not require market value. The form specifically asks for approximate market value.

The chart also incorrectly says that the state form does not ask the filer to list credit card debt. In fact, the filer must list liabilities, but the form provides many exceptions, credit card debt not being one of them. Tim Glynn, an attorney in Setauket concentrating in business law, said a credit card balance should be reported, according to the language of the form. However, if the balance was accrued by purchasing items that were exempted, the filer could leave the debt off the list.

Newsday’s chart correctly says the state form does not require disclosure of government contracts secured through competitive bidding or requests for proposals, while the county form does.

“What [the reporter] would gloss over and not put in is that I was required by law to file a state form instead of a county form,” Levy said. “Newsday tried to make it look like I was forum shopping for a particular form to file because I wanted to hide something. It’s total nonsense.”

Levy is required by state law to file the state form as a sitting member of the Pine Barrens Commission, a state agency. This fact was confirmed by the county Ethics Commission in a 2006 ruling. For his first two years in office, Levy filed both state and county forms. Following the ruling in 2006, he began filing only the state form. Similar to wording in other stories, Newsday describes the ruling in “Levy defends financial disclosures” by saying, “The county ethics commission — whose members were appointed or recommended by Levy — has allowed him to file a state disclosure form since 2006.” Levy argues that the language used makes it appear as if the commission is giving him special treatment when, in fact, it is upholding state law.

Despite this, in 2010 Levy filed county forms from the years he had missed — from 2006 to 2009. In an interview, Levy said he filed the county form for those years because he had nothing to hide.

Times Beacon Record Newspapers sat down with Newsday’s vice president of public affairs, Paul Fleishman, and presented Levy’s claims about Newsday. The paper declined to give responses to each allegation, and instead issued the following statement:

“The facts speak for themselves. Last year, following an investigation by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy forfeited $4 million of campaign money and announced he would not run for re-election. Newsday is proud of its reporters and editors who pursued this story thoroughly and fairly while withstanding repeated criticisms and even personal attacks. Newsday has a long and respected history of straightforward and courageous investigative reporting on behalf of the people of Long Island, who depend on us to shed light on matters that are important to the public. It is a responsibility to our community that we take very seriously, approach thoughtfully and pursue with the utmost care, integrity and commitment to accuracy. We stand firmly behind our reporting and our coverage.”


Colleen West-Levy

As it probed Levy’s financial disclosure forms, Newsday also questioned the business practices of his wife, Colleen West-Levy. Specifically, Newsday listed companies that had worked with West-Levy’s firms and had also received county funds, seeking to determine if there was a connection between the two. West-Levy’s court reporting and transcription businesses, Enright and Enright Sten-Tel, had a relationship with various companies that contracted with the county, five of which were law firms that Newsday named in the July 8, 2010 article “A question of disclosure.” While the story said that three of those firms had a relationship with West-Levy’s companies before her husband took office, Levy said his wife had worked with all of them before he took office and the work was not the result of political connections.

Levy estimated that of his wife’s roughly 200 clients, only 10 to 15 of them had any connection to the county.

The article also named Stony Brook University Medical Center’s Cody Center and Good Samaritan Hospital, based in West Islip, in the investigation as to whether there could be a connection between the hospitals receiving county funds and West-Levy’s businesses working with the institutions.

A 2005 ruling from the Ethics Commission stated that West-Levy could continue her work with Stony Brook University Medical Center and with any other hospital in the county without posing a conflict of interest.

“To any objective reporter, that 2005 opinion from the county’s Ethics Commission should have ended any thought of this sensationalistic ‘gotcha’ story,” Levy said in a statement.

‘This inaccurate and irresponsible series of articles [goes] to great lengths to insinuate that Colleen built her businesses upon my becoming county executive.’ — Steve Levy

Levy takes issue with the nature of the stories about his wife. The lead of the July 8 story states, “Court reporting firms owned by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s wife, Colleen West, have regularly received work from businesses that have been paid millions of dollars in county contracts in recent years.” In the 16th paragraph, on the second page of the story, Newsday cites Levy and his wife as saying she did not work on county business for the firms.

“This inaccurate and irresponsible series of articles [goes] to great lengths to insinuate that Colleen built her businesses upon my becoming county executive, and that she and I have somehow attempted to avoid proper disclosure,” Levy said in a July 2010 statement. In an interview, Levy called it “disgraceful reporting with numerous inaccuracies.”

In the case of a July 31 article, “Babylon lawyer to head group probing ethics commission,” Levy said it contains a “gross misrepresentation” of what is required to be listed on state financial disclosure forms. The state form requires the filer to list his or her sources of income and those of a spouse. However, the form says, “Do not list the name of individual clients, customers or patients.” The county form does not require the filer to list clients either.

In the July 31 article, the reporter writes, “Newsday reported earlier this month that court reporting firms owned by Levy’s wife, Colleen West, do business with at least seven county vendors that have received millions in payments from the county. Levy said he is not required to disclose his wife’s clients, even though the county form requires disclosing all sources of income, including those of a spouse.”

Levy takes issue with the story painting the picture that disclosing his wife’s clients and disclosing his wife’s income are one and the same. He also said, “Shockingly, Newsday failed to note that the county form likewise does not require or request a listing of individual clients,” and that this omission suggests that by filing the state form, he was attempting to hide information from the public.

In addition, in “A question of disclosure,” the Newsday reporter writes that in 2008 County Attorney Christine Malafi, at Levy’s request, wrote a letter to law firms receiving county business, making it clear that Enright was not on a list of court reporters that could be chosen for county business. Newsday said this was after the PBA raised questions about Enright doing county work. However, Levy said in an interview that it was in 2005, through Malafi, that he notified all county vendors that would use court reporting services that they were only to use the firm that was awarded the county bid, which was not Enright.

Concerned by the coverage, Levy said he presented Newsday several times with memos refuting information in various stories on several topics. Newsday did print a correction following an October 2010 story alleging Levy redacted personal financial information from his disclosure forms, when the Suffolk County Ethics Commission had actually redacted the information. But Levy said his concerns were largely limited to the letters page, instead of in further news reports or corrections.

In May 2011, the Press Club of Long Island announced Newsday’s main reporter on these stories won Outstanding Long Island Journalist. In 2009 the reporter, along with another Newsday reporter, won the Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for a series of articles about special government districts.


The past, present and future

Levy said he made enemies because he “made tough decisions” — reorganizing the police department to save money, selling the Foley nursing home, limiting county hires and requiring union givebacks as a way to avoid county layoffs.

A fiscal conservative, Levy prided himself on saving money where he could. He said he gave up three bodyguards, took 240 county cars out of service, which had been “doled out like political lollipops.” He said his administration developed a different mind-set for county government, requiring double sign-offs for overtime and controlling travel expenditures. The county put its health care package out to competitive bid and saved $18 million annually, Levy said.

“Despite the tough times we’re having, we’re still in better shape than [surrounding counties] are and that’s because of the foundation that we’ve laid out over these many years. But it’s certainly not going to be easygoing into the next couple of years until the national economy picks up again.”

He doesn’t regret his run for governor, rather he said he would have been kicking himself if he hadn’t tried. He doesn’t regret his party change either, although he said it made him more of a target than when he was a Democrat. Levy said his switch to the Republican Party was not an act of political opportunism, having received endorsements of the Republican and Conservative parties; he won cross-party endorsements for his second term as county executive starting January 2008, winning 96 percent of the vote. The county executive had always leaned to the right economically and on the topic of immigration.

“It wasn’t a big leap, it wasn’t such a surprise to people in Suffolk,” Levy said.

But within one year of switching parties and announcing his run for governor, Levy made a deal with DA Spota to give back the $4 million in campaign funds and not seek re-election for a third term — ending his tenure under what many have called a cloud of suspicion.

Although he was forthcoming about other controversial issues, the county executive was tight-lipped about his agreement with Spota. He simply said, “We’ll have that conversation at another time.”

by -
0 1201

Dancer Linda Sorel to celebrate 100th birthday in Port Jeff

Linda Sorel, a resident of the Port Jefferson Health Care Facility, turns 100 Nov. 28. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Linda Sorel was supposed to go to school. Instead, without telling her mother, she took her practice clothes and went to the Capitol Theatre on Broadway. “They played music and I danced and I got hired, and from then on I never went back to school.” She said she has been a dancer her entire life, and that audition landed her with the dance troupe Chester Hale Girls. She was later one of the Rockettes at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932. But the view from the stage only begins to scratch the surface of what she has seen.

Sorel has lived through both World Wars, the advent of refrigerators and electric lightbulbs, raising 10 cats, decades of inflation and, more recently, laryngitis. She will celebrate her centennial Nov. 28, marking 100 years of spirit and adventure.

“I’m a mere hundred,” she said. “I don’t feel any different now than I felt when I was 35.” The five-foot woman gestures with almost every word, her silver nail polish sweeping through the air.

James Ciervo, the director of therapeutic recreation and community relations at Sorel’s nursing home, said the new centenarian is still as “sharp as a tack.”

Linda Sorel at about age 20. Photo from Sorel
Linda Sorel at about age 20. Photo from Sorel

Sorel spends much of her time feeding birds outside Port Jefferson Health Care on Dark Hollow Road and writing poetry. One of her poems, about a cat named “Gigi,” she can recite by heart. Another describes how it felt to be a Rockette: “The overture is over, the curtains tightly drawn, as we await in the wings, the signal to go on.” She said she also writes poems for people she cares about, such as the nurses who take care of her.

Although she often finds herself busy, Sorel set aside time to reminisce and talk about how different things were when she was younger. She was born and raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, after her grandparents emigrated with their two little girls to the United States from Bialystok at a time when it was part of the Russian Empire. She was raised by those two little girls, her mother and Aunt Ada.

When Sorel was a kid, the family wouldn’t go to supermarkets for food. She said there were merchants with horse-drawn carts who would go along the cobblestone streets and sell them groceries, which they would store at home in an ice box, not a refrigerator. There were also no electric lights. Sorel remembered that people would light outdoor lamps on posts using a long stick, and when one of her older sisters died at 11, during the Spanish Flu epidemic, a gas light in the hallway was turned low for mourning.

One of the things she misses most about those days was the cheap candy. Sorel recalled spending only a penny to get a piece of chocolate-covered jelly, and said she enjoyed going to a local ice cream parlor, sitting on a tall chair and buying an ice cream soda, which was served in generous portions.

But she has memories from that time that are not as happy. Sorel said during World War I, she was “a tiny little girl and the sirens would go off” in Manhattan to warn of a possible air raid. The family would close the blinds, turn out the lights and get away from the windows. “Oh, the Germans are coming over here,” she remembered fearing. But they never did and the sirens would stop.

When she was older, in her early 20s, Sorel got her big break dancing with the Rockettes, although she said she enjoyed ballet more. With the Rockettes, she had a strict routine. “I loved to put my own feeling into it, and you had to do what everyone else did.”

After her professional dancing days were over, in the late 1960s, she moved to Patchogue, where she had spent weekends as a kid, and remained there until relocating to the nursing home. With her 100th birthday approaching, Sorel revealed her secret to longevity. She said she has been on a diet her entire life, never touching any food between meals and staying away from fats and starches. However, she has a weak spot: chocolate, and the darker the better.

In advance of her centennial celebration, Linda Sorel remained focused on her great-nephew Danny and politics — the only thing she said she would miss “Dancing with the Stars” to watch.

As for Danny, Sorel said she received a letter from her great-nephew recently and wanted to show everybody. She talked about how grown-up he is now. But when he was little, the centenarian remembered, the boy would call out, “‘Look, Aunt Linda!” “And he would do these crazy things,” Sorel said, flailing her arms. “And I would look.”