Authors Posts by Raymond Janis

Raymond Janis


Public officials celebrate the announcement of $5 million to create ‘shovel-ready’ sewer plans for Port Jefferson Station Friday, Aug 11. From left, local business leader Charlie Lefkowitz, former Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. Photos by Raymond Janis

On the road to community revitalization, Port Jefferson Station/Terryville just passed a major procedural hurdle.

Public officials gathered along the eastern trailhead of the Setauket-Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail on Friday, Aug. 11, announcing $5 million to create sewer plans for the Route 112 corridor. These funds, which come from the American Rescue Plan Act, will help lay the groundwork for an eventual expenditure to finance the entire sewer project.

“What we’re talking about is the objective of achieving economic revitalization, job creation, business growth and water quality protection all at the same time,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). 

Bellone said there are several potential funding sources from the federal and state governments, but those levels require “shovel-ready plans.” This $5 million, Bellone continued, would maximize the potential for a full-scale sewer investment.

“You never know when all of a sudden at the federal level or the state level funding becomes available,” he said. “It can happen like that, and you need to be ready,” adding, “This funding will help get this sewer project shovel ready.”

Introducing sewers into the Port Jefferson Station commercial hub would bring the proposed $100 million redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza, above, into focus.

Local revitalization

The sewer investment comes on the heels of a decades-long local effort to bring about a traditional downtown in PJS/T.

‘Port Jefferson Station is on the rise.’

— Jonathan Kornreich

Major development plans are currently on the drawing board, most notably the proposed $100 million redevelopment of Jefferson Plaza, located just south of the Greenway. Former Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) [See story on Hahn’s recent resignation] said the $5 million would bring community members closer to realizing their local aspirations.

“The synergy here between doing something that will drive economic prosperity as well as a cleaner environment is a win-win, and sewering will become the foundation on which the Port Jefferson Station hub will be built,” Hahn said. “This is a tremendous step forward.”

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook), who represents Port Jefferson Station/Terryville on the Town Board, cited ongoing revitalization efforts as a means to promote and enhance the quality of life for the hamlet’s residents.

“Speaking directly to the members of our community, I think you should be encouraged by the fact that from the federal government all the way down to the town level, our eyes are on you,” he said. “There are hundreds of millions of dollars of investment — both public and private money — planned, already made, on the table and in the books for this immediate surrounding area.”

The councilmember added, “Port Jefferson Station is on the rise.”

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, at podium, said modernizing wastewater infrastructure is necessary for achieving the hamlet’s redevelopment aspirations.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), who is running for Suffolk County executive against business leader Dave Callone, a Democrat, tied the sewer investment to plans for commercial redevelopment and water quality protection.

“We are looking to redevelop Port Jeff Station,” Romaine said. “Sewers are necessary for development.” The town supervisor added, “I look with great anticipation for this and any other sources of funding that we can put in place to make sure that we can preserve our surface and groundwater. It’s key.”


The introduction of sewers into Port Jefferson Station raises several questions about potentially added building density enabled through increased sewer capacity.

New leadership within the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association has recently prioritized density, creating a land use committee to oversee new developments throughout the hamlet. 

Reached by phone, civic president Ira Costell called the sewer project “the fundamental building block to protect water quality,” though calling the initiative “a positive step that has to be done carefully.”

“While the sense of our organization is that we welcome redevelopment and positive growth, we are mindful of ensuring this occurs in a well-planned and strategic way that benefits the community and ameliorates impacts,” Costell said 

“There are still some concerns about the overall density and intensity of use in the Port Jeff Station area, and we’re just hopeful that the planning process will enable the community to have proper input,” he added.

Paul Sagliocca, a member of the civic, advocated for some money to be set aside to evaluate potential traffic impacts from new developments along 112.

“This downtown revitalization is great, but it needs to stay on the main roads,” he said. “They need to do a comprehensive traffic study.”

Kornreich noted that the commercial real estate landscape has shifted dramatically following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Downtowns … are seeing high rates of vacancy, commercial spaces that are underutilized, subprime kinds of tenants because landlords are desperate to get any kind of cash flow in there,” the Brookhaven councilmember said. “We have to take some action to rezone and repurpose some of this underutilized real estate.”

He pointed to mixed use as a possible solution, noting the simultaneous need to resolve housing shortages and repurpose commercial real estate. 

Mixed-use development “creates walkable areas that can be sewered, that are more environmentally friendly and are more economically viable,” he added.

Bellone expressed confidence in the local planning process. “There has been a lot of community-based work that has been done at the town level, the community level and in partnership with the county,” the county executive said. “That process, I know, will continue.”

Sewer debate

The announcement follows an ongoing public debate about the regional viability of sewers in Suffolk County. Just last month, the Republican-led Suffolk County Legislature rejected the administration’s proposal to put a 1/8 penny sales tax on the upcoming November ballot to finance new wastewater infrastructure. [See story, “Suffolk County Legislature recesses, blocks referendum on wastewater fund,” July 28, TBR News Media website.]

Deputy County Executive Peter Scully, who had spearheaded the sales tax initiative, attended Friday’s press event and maintained that the need for sewers remains. He commended the county Legislature for approving a long-term sewer infrastructure plan in 2020.

“This sewer project in Port Jefferson Station’s commercial hub is part of that plan,” he said.

New York State Sen. Mario Materra (R-St. James), whose 2nd District previously encompassed Port Jeff Station before last year’s redistricting process, attended the press event. 

The state senator said this $5 million would signal to higher levels of government the area’s willingness to modernize its wastewater infrastructure and support the environment.

“We have a $4.2 billion bond act” approved by New York state voters last November, Mattera noted. “Jobs like this will show [officials] up in Albany to bring us the money back and that we really are serious about sewering and we care about our clean water.”

File photo from Kara Hahn

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) resigned Monday, Aug. 14, vacating her seat in the county Legislature to become New York State Parks deputy regional director for the Long Island region.

Hahn entered the county Legislature in 2012 and could not pursue reelection because of 12-year term limits for legislators. Hahn’s 5th Legislative District spans Three Village, Port Jefferson, Port Jefferson Station/Terryville, Belle Terre and parts of Mount Sinai and Coram. 

In an exclusive interview with TBR News Media, she reflected on her time in county government, summarizing legislative victories and offering an optimistic outlook.

‘The tones’

A lifelong resident of the county’s 5th Legislative District, Hahn said she grew up watching her parents, both of whom she characterized as energetic and active within the community.

“My dad, a proud Army man and veteran, was a volunteer firefighter in the Stony Brook Fire Department,” she remembered. “Growing up, you’d hear that alarm go off almost every night — They called it ‘the tones’ on the radio. It didn’t matter if there was a family birthday party, a weekend or late at night, he would answer that call.”

Hahn’s mother was a civic leader, working within the community to resist the development of a property across the street from their house. The daughter remembered her mother picking up trash on the street, noting “she cared so much” about the look and feel of the local area.

These two examples formed the basis on which Hahn had modeled her public service career. She described her parents as “a real inspiration to me.”

Road to the county Legislature

Before entering elective office, Hahn received her degree and pursued a career in social work policy. She served as president of the Civic Association of the Setaukets and Stony Brook, the precursor of today’s Three Village Civic Association.

Hahn spent years in various staff positions within the county Legislature, first as press secretary for the late Presiding Officer Maxine Postal and later as chief of staff for former Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher. She worked for nearly six years as director of communications for the late Presiding Officer Bill Lindsay.

Facing term limits, Viloria-Fisher approached Hahn in 2012, asking her to make a run for her seat. Hahn was elected that year and reelected in five successive county elections. The legislator was elected to serve as the Legislature’s majority leader from 2016 through 2019 and was chosen as deputy presiding officer for 2020-21.

She made a bid to run for the Democratic nomination for New York’s 1st Congressional District in 2022, but withdrew. 


Given her background in social work, Hahn considered her efforts combating the opioid epidemic in Suffolk County as “my most impactful.”

“One of the first things I worked on in 2012 was to put Narcan into our police sector cars,” she noted. “Now, Narcan is a household name,” but “back then, nobody knew” the benefits.

“It was such a simple tweak,” she added. “It didn’t take a huge policy vision and an immense plan. It was a simple step to put a lifesaving drug in the hands of those who arrive on the scene first.”

Hahn said the Narcan initiative saw immediate success, saving “thousands of lives through the years” and catalyzing her later addiction prevention work.

Following this initial policy win, Hahn worked with the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence to create a training program for athletic coaches to recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction. Her office also recommended new protocols for emergency rooms, among other outreach and prevention initiatives.

Environment, parks access

Hahn said environmental conservation was another area of focus during her time in the county Legislature. She suggested open space preservation, water quality protection and single-use plastic reduction as core tenets of her environmental policy agenda.

She added that expanding access to county parks had been among her proudest efforts within the county government, notably at McAllister County Park in Belle Terre.

“There was no parking lot” at McAllister, she said. “So the only people who could use the county park were folks who had a boat or anyone who could walk from Belle Terre.”

The former legislator added, “It’s really the thing I got thanked for the most — adding that parking lot.”

She said the modernization of Forsythe Meadow County Park in Stony Brook, including constructing a parking lot and walking trail, had expanded the use of that county complex.

“Nobody could use it before,” she said. “But now there’s a big beautiful field with a bench under the tree,” adding, “I hope one day, we’ll be able to connect that with Stony Brook Village.”

Hahn said restoration of Old Field Farm had similarly brought more residents to the county park there.

Tough choices

The departing county legislator expressed gratitude to the many people who she had worked closely with during her tenure. 

“I’m just so grateful,” she said. “So many great people worked with me, helped me and gave me great ideas.”

Hahn reflected fondly upon the frequent collaborations she shared along the way: “I think that’s when it feels the best — when the community comes to you, says ‘We have a problem,’ and then you work together to come up with a solution.”

She admitted that there were several trials along the way, namely the dissensions and bitterness fomented during political campaigns. 

“The politics was hard,” she stated. “I don’t like having to make it about me come campaign time … so campaigning is hard, but it’s part of the process.”

She noted that budgets have represented a perennial challenge for the county government, and raising tax revenue can be difficult.

“We had to make some tough choices along the way,” she said, citing the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility closure in Yaphank, raising taxes on the police district line and increasing some fees. “Those are hard choices,” she added.

The COVID-19 pandemic represented a major governmental, budgetary and public health challenge. However, three years after the height of the COVID lockdowns, Hahn suggested the county and greater community had largely recovered.

“The whole world turned upside down, but we are in a much better place than you would ever have imagined,” she said. “Those challenges were real, the decisions were hard, and I was honored to have the trust of our community to make them.”

Now leaving office, she maintained that there is still work to be done in countering the opioid epidemic, environmental degradation, mental health and other issues.


Hahn expressed optimism for her personal transition from county to state government, highlighting the prominent role parks have played during her time in public service.

“Facing the term limits, I was offered this job,” she said. “I feel like it’s the perfect next step for me to continue to serve our community, the Long Island region and the environment.”

During her nearly 12 years as a county legislator, Hahn spent five chairing the county’s parks and recreation committee. She referred to parks as “the heart and soul of every community,” their vital role underscored by the pandemic.

Parks are “a place of respite, peace and tranquility, often a place of recreation and escape from daily life,” she observed. “The pandemic made it clear how important they are to families and communities to have those spaces.”

She added, “I look forward to stewarding, protecting, managing, expanding access and caring for all the gems of the state parks we have on Long Island.”


Speaking to her constituents directly, she shared her appreciation for their trust and confidence in her.

“It’s been the absolute honor of a lifetime to serve and be able to make a difference in this community that I love so much,” she said. “It’s hard to say goodbye, and that means it was an incredible experience.”

Like the examples set forth by her parents, Hahn said she viewed her service in the county government as answering the call.

“I hope people think of me as someone who truly cared and someone who truly made a difference,” she said. “I hope people found me accessible, approachable and responsive.”

She concluded by saying, “I really feel like I was able to make a difference and help people, and that is good for the soul.”

Sandra Swenk, former mayor of Port Jefferson, chronicles the causes and effects of the village’s incorporation movement. Photo by Raymond Janis

This year marks Port Jefferson’s 60th anniversary as an incorporated village.

On a snowy day in December, 1962, Port Jefferson residents voted to form their own local government, a maneuver that still has ramifications generations later.

Sandra Swenk was among those leading the cause for incorporation and later served as the third mayor of the village she fought to create.

In an exclusive interview, Swenk reflected on the village’s genesis story, outlining the contributing factors for incorporation and the lasting effects of this homegrown revolution.

Civic awakening

Before there was a village, Port Jeff was an unincorporated hamlet, subject to the local laws and rules of the Town of Brookhaven. At around the time of incorporation, Brookhaven had been exploring instituting a parking district, a proposal jeopardizing the area’s historic character.

“They wanted parking, but they were going to take down some of these old homes to do it,” Swenk said. “That spurred a lot of interest in having home rule.”

The Port Jefferson Property Owners Association was the central civic group of that period. Swenk considers herself among the few remaining surviving members of that civic effort.

“Our property owners association was very active at the time,” she said.

Road to self-determination

Swenk noted several contributing factors leading to the village’s incorporation. Paramount among them was the growing industrial activity surrounding Port Jefferson Harbor.

“We were very concerned about the industrial aspect of the harbor — the tankers, barges, oil and possible spillage,” she said. “We wanted more recreational use of the harbor.”

‘It’s about making our own decisions.’

— Sandra Swenk

The threat of a deeper harbor, and the precipitating industrial and commercial growth, had also loomed large at the time. Growing tensions had existed for some time between the town and the surrounding residents of the harbor, with a fear of possible dredging.

“We in Port Jefferson did not want to see the harbor dredged because that meant a deeper port for larger boats to come in,” Swenk noted. “That was something that really triggered our interest in incorporation. That was a turning point, I would say.”

When referendum day arrived, the outcome was “overwhelming,” according to Swenk. “We won by a 2-1 margin [689-361],” she said, adding, “It was overwhelmingly in favor of incorporating — having our own government, our own board of trustees and controlling what might happen.”

Home rule

Following the vote, locals then set out to guide their village board in a direction reflective of the popular will.

Swenk said historic preservation, beautification and adaptive reuse had been core tenets of her administration from 1971 through 1977.

“I wanted to see the village revitalized,” she said. “I felt that there was adaptive use of some of the older buildings throughout the business district.”

She referred to Upper Port as a “thriving business district” during those early years, with bookstores, retail spaces and other commercial opportunities uptown.

“We were always a busy community, and that was something I wanted to see continued,” she said.

Another essential feature of home rule, according to her, was the preservation of the area’s historic character. Swenk, a charter member of Port Jefferson Historical Society, said she continues this endeavor to this day.

Incorporation in context

Swenk suggested that on the whole, the incorporation achieved much of its aims, such as protecting the harbor from overcommercialization and preserving the village’s historic charm.

She noted that parking remains an unresolved issue even today and that the village’s municipal boards can sometimes skirt their own rules.

“They’re not adhering to the codes in many cases,” she said. “As an application comes in, what an applicant is required to do to meet the code and all, they should follow it.”

She added that various stakeholders within the community could have greater collaboration in remediating local issues. “There hasn’t been enough togetherness in planning,” she said. 

Yet since incorporation, Swenk maintained that citizens have served as the drivers of their local democracy. With the recent reemergence of the Port Jefferson Civic Association, Swenk said some patterns of local history are playing out again today.

“It takes an issue to get people involved,” the incorporation leader and former village mayor said. PJCA members “seem to have the interest of the village” at heart.

Reflecting upon the legacy of the incorporation movement, she said locals could take away from the movement the power of civic engagement in contributing to tangible change in their community.

“It’s about making our own decisions,” she said. “It’s good being incorporated. I’m proud of my village. It means a lot to me.”

This story is part of a continuing series on the incorporation of Port Jefferson.

File by Lina Weingarten

By Raymond Janis

A townwide debate over accessory dwelling units came to a conclusion Tuesday, Aug. 8, with the Huntington Town Board opting not to advance Councilwoman Joan Cergol’s (D) proposed code amendment to sanction basement apartments and detached garages as secondary living spaces in single-family homes.

Lois Hayn, one of the attendees, added some context to the discussion. She told the Town Board that the code amendment was part of an ongoing local opposition effort to resist the “ever-increasing congestion that plagues this town and a Queens-like atmosphere that has taken a huge toll on our quality of life.”

Desiree Ben, a member of Harp the Alliance of the Responsible Civics, reflected upon the public effort to resist the code amendment.

“Huntington’s at a tipping point,” she said. “The people spoke, they were organized and you heard.”

She inquired about the overall planning of the town. She said the ADU reversal was a matter of the town overseeing and guiding the development of the area.

“I don’t think anyone here is against development, but development done thoughtlessly and without a master plan can really decrease the value in the single-family home areas and put that value right into the pockets of developers,” she added.

To see the video of the entire meeting, go to

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim responds to a resident during a Smithtown Town Board meeting Tuesday, Aug. 8. Photo by Raymond Janis

By Raymond Janis

Following a sizable protest on Saturday, Aug. 5, over the prolonged closure of the town-operated Callahan Beach in Fort Salonga, members of the Smithtown Town Board defended their policy at the Aug. 8 meeting.

During the public comment period, resident Irwin Izen suggested a lack of intergovernmental coordination between the town and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in expediting the beach’s opening and that the Callahan Beach project’s current progress is “unacceptable.”

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) countered Izen’s criticism, noting that the project has stalled due to NYSDEC’s permitting process, which took seven months.

“The project was never delayed,” he said. “It has been worked on from day one. We’re as frustrated as anyone else that it’s taking this long, but that’s unfortunately what has to happen when you have government agencies working on a project like this.”

He added, “We would hope that [the project] would come to completion sometime in October.”

Resident William Holtz advised the board and administration to observe closer oversight of the workforce housing requirements for new developments. He cited an agreement reached for The Preserve at Smithtown, located in Nesconset and owned by the Hauppauge-based Northwind Group, which earmarks 15% of units for workforce housing.

“I would like to see some sort of follow-up, some sort of enforcement, in terms of those commitments that have been made by the developers and not simply have the current Town Board just accommodate whatever needs the developers say that they have,” Holtz said.

Responding, Wehrheim advised Holtz to contact the Planning Department and the Town Attorney’s Office. The town supervisor assured that The Preserve development would comply with the workforce housing conditions outlined under state law.

“I can assure you that they will — the developer of that property over there — will comply with New York State law about workforce housing,” he said. “No question about it.”

David Regina, inspector for Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct, delivered a comprehensive public safety report outlining various crime trends throughout the area.

Regina stated that the 4th Precinct has observed an uptick in sideshows, or drag races, on public roads. 

“These are very dangerous events,” he said. “They become unruly, and we’ve had plenty of police cars damaged. It really got out of control at certain points.”

To alleviate this problem, the 4th Precinct has collaborated with neighboring precincts, sharing information and monitoring on social media about possible organized sideshows.

Enforcement measures have “had an effect,” the inspector said, adding, “The frequency has gone down.”

Regina reported on the most recent crime statistics and noted that the area is “doing fairly well.” However, he alerted residents to a pernicious spike in larcenies, a trend common across precincts and throughout the county.

Regina warned that criminals and thieves are targeting pocketbooks and wallets in retail stores.

“They walk by an unsuspecting victim’s shopping cart, who might just be getting a box of cereal off the shelf, and they reach right in the pocketbook,” taking only the credit cards, he said. “So the victim will not know.”

Given the difficulty of targeting this crime, Regina advised residents to safeguard their bags and wallets while shopping.

To watch the entire meeting, visit The Town Board will reconvene Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 2 p.m.

Campers from the Bridgeport Seaside Park Summer Day Camp during a field trip to Port Jefferson Tuesday, Aug. 8. Photo by Raymond Janis

The people of Port Jefferson and Bridgeport, Connecticut, have long shared cultural and historical ties due to The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, which connects the two ports via a ferry route.

This connection was again strengthened Tuesday, Aug. 8, when dozens of campers from the Bridgeport Seaside Park Summer Day Camp docked in Port Jeff Harbor for a day trip.

Lee Nastu, recreation coordinator for the City of Bridgeport, has worked within the Bridgeport camp for nearly two decades. He said the yearly Port Jeff visit had been a perennial favorite among campers until the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on the routine trip. 

“We’ve probably done this visit for about 10 years, so we wanted to bring it back,” he said. 

Riding on the ferry and touring the local area of another state offers “something a little bit different” from the ordinary camp experience, Nastu said. Sweetening the pot for the kids was also some discounted food from the Steam Room, located on East Broadway.

The recreation coordinator discussed the lasting cultural ties between the two ports, both housing power stations, and added how campers participate in an ongoing local tradition through this field trip.

“There are two smokestacks” at the Port Jeff plant, and “we only have one over there,” Nastu said. “As we were pulling in, I pointed out to some of the kids that it looks just like we’re going back to Bridgeport.”

Noting the similarities between Harborfront Park and Bridgeport’s Seaside Park, he added, “We have a beautiful park down in Bridgeport — a beautiful park, a beautiful beach, so it’s similar.”

Museum organizers, standing outside the former Rocky Point train station, will soon put the stories of Long Island’s veterans on full display. From left, museum curator Rich Acritelli, VFW Post 6249 Cmdr. Joe Cognitore and museum committee member Frank Lombardi. Photos by Raymond Janis

The Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6249 is embarking on an ambitious quest to showcase the stories of Long Island’s veterans.

Organizers will launch a veterans museum on Dec. 7 at the site of the former Rocky Point train station, situated just across the street from the post’s headquarters at the intersection of Broadway and King Road.

‘It’s about giving back to the community and making positive impacts within the community.’

— Frank Lombardi

Joe Cognitore, commander of Post 6249, said the planned museum represents an extension of the VFW’s programs and outreach initiatives.

The idea of erecting a veterans museum in Rocky Point has been decades in the making. Cognitore said the post unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a nearby drugstore before acquiring the former train station property through a community giveback from a neighboring developer.

The museum will serve to “educate the community, with an emphasis on young adults,” Cognitore said.

Rich Acritelli, a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College, has been performing the historical research and archival work for this project and will serve as museum curator upon its opening.

The post seeks to cast a wide net, Acritelli said, featuring the stories of veterans throughout the Island rather than narrowly tailoring the exhibits to the immediate locale.

“This is more of a broader” undertaking, he said. “It’s not just Rocky Point or Sound Beach. It can be East Hampton, Huntington, Wyandanch,” adding, “There aren’t too many places like this [museum]” on Long Island.

Inside the planned veterans museum in Rocky Point. From left, Frank Lombardi, Rich Acritelli and Joe Cognitore.

Acritelli said he plans to cover “every inch of this museum” with military equipment, historical relics, uniforms, collectibles, books and other memorabilia. Plans for rotating exhibits are also in the works.

Cognitore suggested that, within the broader national context, younger generations are gradually losing touch with American history. He said the post aims to regain that historical connection through this museum.

“We need to know that history,” he said.

Frank Lombardi, a member of the museum committee at Post 6249, envisions local veterans offering firsthand accounts of actual historical events, comparing and contrasting their recollections to popular fiction.

“If we showed a movie like ‘Platoon,’ you can show the movie, and then you can have some of the Vietnam veterans talk and say, ‘This is what it was really like, and these are the inaccuracies in the movie,’” he said.

For the museum’s organizers, each of whom has served in the U.S. Armed Forces, this endeavor represents the next iteration in their service.

Cognitore said the project is a necessary means for processing his wartime experiences and providing greater historical understanding to those who have not witnessed the brutality of war.

This bazooka will soon be on display along with military equipment, historical relics, uniforms, collectibles, books and other memorabilia.

“Working on this helps me free myself of all the things I did see or did do and kind of makes me happy to know that positive things are happening because of where I was and what I did,” the post commander said.

Acritelli said he regretted leaving the service because of the camaraderie shared among his compatriots. He said the museum and its collaboration has inspired similar feelings from his days in the military.

He maintains that Long Island’s vets are valuable primary sources in telling the local and national history.

“There are a lot of stories,” he said. “We want to make this into a large primary source.”

Lombardi remarked that he hoped the museum could inspire greater historical awareness and understanding of the realities of war while bringing community members together.

“It’s about giving back to the community and making positive impacts within the community,” Lombardi said. “We all grew up here locally on Long Island, and it’s important to recognize those who have come before you.”

Acritelli notes the active role that community members can play in preparing the museum for its launch date at the end of the year.

“We need people to donate things,” he said. “If they have basements and garages and old boxes full of stuff, they can give that to us or put it on loan,” adding, “We’ve got to build up some inventory.” 

Potential donors should contact Acritelli by email at [email protected].

Above, members of the Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa Foundation during a golf outing event Monday, July 31. Back row, from left: Dawn Gibbons, Thomas Boyle, Gina Mastrantoni and Rose Mastrantoni. Front row: Emily LaRosa, left, and Maria Murrow. Photo by Liz Ashley Photography

By Raymond Janis

A new local tradition was launched Monday, July 31, when family and friends of the late Ward Melville High School alum Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa hosted the inaugural 18 for 18 golf event in his honor. 

JoJo was diagnosed in 2018 with the cancer, desmoplastic small round cell tumor sarcoma, which had him in and out of the hospital for the remaining years of his life. He died in August 2021.

Amid beautiful summer weather on Monday morning, dozens attended the event at the St. George’s Golf and Country Club in East Setauket for 18 holes of golf in JoJo’s honor. 

“My son was one of the kindest, most amazing human beings,” Gina Mastrantoni, his mother, said. “He had the strongest will.”

Golfers take off for 18 holes of golf. Photo by Liz Ashley Photography

JoJo was a multisport athlete who “played every sport imaginable,” Mastrantoni said. “Lacrosse, football, swimming, wrestling, soccer — you name it, he did it. He lived for sports.”

The Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa Foundation, with Mastrantoni as executive director, was created in 2021 to honor his memory by assisting children fighting for their lives. Rose Mastrantoni, Gina’s sister and the foundation’s marketing/public relations officer, described the impact of the prolonged hospital stays.

“They spent almost four years living in the hospital,” Rose Mastrantoni said. “You don’t realize they don’t leave the hospital, don’t leave their child’s bedside,” adding that the foundation seeks to do “anything we can do to help” those families.

“He was always rooting for the underdog,” Gina Mastrantoni said. “He always cared about the person in the bed next to him at the hospital.”

Foundation secretary Maria Murrow, JoJo’s aunt, referred to her nephew as a lover of sports and a golf advocate. She also noted the prominent role his favorite number, 18, played throughout the day.

“We’re dedicating the event and the day to him,” Murrow said. “It’s an ‘18 for 18’ — 18 holes for number 18 to give back to JoJo.” She added, “We endeavor to do more repeat events … like the toy drive and anything else that will help families who don’t know what obstacles are coming up.”

Following JoJo’s diagnosis, Gina Mastrantoni noted that he began to hone his golf skills. “We’re having this golf outing in his honor,” the mother said. “This was his favorite course, where he played and perfected his golf game whenever he could.”

JoJo’s sister, foundation vice president Emily LaRosa, referred to the event as “a way that we keep him in our minds and at the forefront of what we do every day.”

“We’re not forgetting about him,” she said. “This is our way of keeping him with us and trying to do good in his name.”

Foundation treasurer Dawn Gibbons, a longtime friend of Mastrantoni, characterized the immense work that took place behind the scenes to make the inaugural outing a success.

“It’s a tribute to JoJo, but I have to say that this event is also a tribute to his mom and his sister, Emmy,” Gibbons said. “As Gina said, he was always very concerned about the kid in the next bed. They want to now help that kid and their families.”

She added, “They know what they went through, and they want to ease the burden on other families with this foundation.”

Gina Mastrantoni responded to the immense show of support during this golf outing as “beautiful,” noting the sense of pride she derives from her son’s example.

“Everyone’s here in support of JoJo,” she said. “It’s overwhelming, as his mom. It makes me proud.”

To donate to The Joseph “JoJo” LaRosa Foundation, please visit

Left, David Ceely, executive director of the Huntington-based Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center. Right, John Di Leonardo, anthrozoologist and executive director of Humane Long Island. Left photo from Ceely; right from Di Leonardo

Animal shelters pose increasing challenges to shelter staff, policymakers and community members.

With limited budgets and staffing shortages, local shelters are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. In the face of these pressures, animal caregivers throughout the area are working to adapt to these circumstances.

Trends on the ground

David Ceely is the executive director of Huntington-based Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center, a nonprofit organization coordinating with and rescuing from municipal shelters throughout Long Island.

‘I think all shelters are very overwhelmed.’

— David Ceely

In an interview, Ceely highlighted the fundamental differences between nonprofit and municipal shelters, noting variations in financial structure and rules. Based on recent experiences on the ground, Ceely indicated that the number of animals admitted to shelters has generally increased since the pandemic.

“When we go out to these other shelters on Long Island, [New York] City and even across the country, we’re definitely seeing an influx of animals turned into shelters,” he said.

John Di Leonardo is an anthrozoologist and executive director of Humane Long Island. This nonprofit animal advocacy organization also specializes in nontraditional shelter animals such as chickens, turkeys and ducks.

Di Leonardo reported that the general trends “have remained pretty similar” from prior years. However, there has been “immense progress” in some areas. 

He cited recent state legislation barring the sale of kittens, puppies and rabbits in pet stores, suggesting that these trends signal progress for animal rescuers.

“Once that bill does take effect, and stores will only be able to sell rescued animals, I think that a huge burden will be lifted off of shelters in our area,” he said. “But until then, I think all shelters are very overwhelmed.” 

Contrasts in shelters

“Our job is to go out to the municipalities,” Ceely said. “They’re funded by government, and they have a different set of rules than we do, where if they run out of space, they may have to euthanize.”

He added, “Little Shelter doesn’t do that. … We don’t euthanize for space, and some of the municipalities may have to.”

Along with these differences in financial and administrative structures, Ceely suggested that the municipal and nonprofit shelters often further depart in their hiring and training practices.

“Unfortunately, with the town shelters, they don’t necessarily have a full-on training program for the directors that go in place there,” Ceely said. “They have to try to figure it out as they go, which gets really demanding, so I see a lot of turnover there.”

He added that the lack of training and turnover at a municipal shelter can lead to “concerned citizens.”

Di Leonardo added to this sentiment, noting the differences in qualification for shelter management positions at municipal and nonprofit shelters.

“A lot of times in municipal shelters, the positions may be union-based, or they may be patronage positions mixed in with a lot of people who actually have the animals’ interests at heart,” he said.

Despite some of the perceived downsides to the municipal hiring structure, Di Leonardo maintained that privatization presents a host of new challenges, such as closed admissions policies.

“When these shelters are privatized, they often become closed admission, which is a problem,” he said. “When you’re closed admission, you have to pick and choose which animals you take, whereas municipal shelters are typically open, and they have to take whatever animal comes to their door.”

Possible solutions

Di Leonardo outlined some steps locals can take to reduce the burden upon local animal shelters. He said the process can start with reorienting thinking around the sanctity of animal life.

‘Our animal care as a whole and our sheltering system is definitely a reflection of the values in a community.’

— John Di Leonardo

“Before surrendering an animal to a shelter, everyone should always make sure that they are exhausting every possible outcome to make sure they’re treating that animal like a family member and not just as a disposable birthday present,” he said. “Before anyone does get an animal for a holiday or a gift, they need to remember animals are not props.”

Ceely maintained that outreach initiatives could help alleviate pressures on both the municipal and nonprofit animal shelters on Long Island.

“Probably the best way [to enhance services] is to work on a lot of outreach to get the word out on social media and through word of mouth,” he said. “But also to have plenty of events at the facilities to try to promote adoptions.”

He added that lowering or eliminating the adoption fees for qualified adopters is “also a good idea.” In addition to these remedies, Ceely suggested a shift in focus among local officials and greater initiative by those directing the municipal shelters.

“There are a lot of other areas in the municipalities that are prioritized before the animals are,” the Little Shelter executive director said. “Oftentimes, if the animal shelter directors themselves are not speaking up, they might not get the attention or the funding that they deserve to run their shelters the right way.”

Ceely said residents can assist their local shelters by donating, volunteering, fostering and — above all — adopting.

“Most importantly, they can adopt — getting the animals into homes so that we can go out and rescue more,” he said.

For Di Leonardo, a community’s animal shelter system reflects its values. He recited a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

“Our animal care as a whole and our sheltering system is definitely a reflection of the values in a community,” the Humane Long Island executive director noted. “How we treat them and care for those who have the least rights in our community is a reflection on ourselves.”

U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota. Photo from LaLota’s website

Freshman U.S. Congressman Nick LaLota (R-NY1) held the third telephone town hall event of his tenure Wednesday, July 26. 

During this event, he addressed the exorbitant utility costs shouldered by Suffolk County residents, opined on rising opioid overdose deaths in the county and around the nation, and condemned the federal government’s handling of immigration.

Utility rates

County residents, on average, pay $226 per month on electricity, 28% higher than the national average, according to EnergySage. Pressed by one caller about how he would help lower energy bills for 1st District residents, LaLota proposed an “all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

“There’s battery, there’s wind, there’s solar,” he said. “I think that we should explore it all, and we should take advantage of everything that is on the table.”

He tied energy development to national security. By promoting homegrown energy sources, LaLota maintained that utility costs would begin to decrease along with American dependence on foreign energy.

“I think that increasing American energy independence will not only increase the supply of energy, it will bring the prices down,” he said. “A correlated benefit of that is we have to buy less oil from Russia, from Venezuela and from the Middle East.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers petroleum “a significant source of emissions of methane” while “drilling for oil may disturb land and marine ecosystems.” Despite these environmental risks, LaLota expressed support for expanding domestic drilling.

“Forty-something billion barrels of proven oil reserves are underneath our feet,” he said. “We can get those resources out of the ground safely. It will help bring energy prices down, both at the pump and what it costs to heat your home.”

SALT deductions

The congressman said he and members of a bipartisan caucus are working to repeal the $10,000 cap on state and local tax, or SALT, deductions created under the 2017 Trump-era Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

“We used to be able to, as New Yorkers, deduct an unlimited amount from our federal taxes that we paid into our state and local taxes,” LaLota said. “Right now, it’s capped at $10,000.”

LaLota said he had prepared legislation to increase the maximum federal SALT deduction to $60,000 for individuals and $120,000 for families. He pledged to oppose any tax package proposed by the Republican majority in the U.S. House which does not include “a reasonable accommodation” on SALT.

“I’m going to say ‘No SALT, no deal for real,’” he added. “I’m in it until the end.”


LaLota denounced President Joe Biden’s (D) handling of the U.S.-Mexico border and New York City’s “sanctuary city” designation.

He said he supported two recently passed resolutions barring public schools and colleges from housing migrants, legislation that comes on the heels of a proposal to house asylum seekers at Stony Brook University. [See story, “With Hochul’s asylum plans uncertain, policymakers weigh in as county issues emergency order,” June 1, TBR News Media website.]

“I don’t think that we ought to be mixing unvetted migrants with our school-aged children,” LaLota said.

He also suggested that migrants receive disproportionate government assistance to other vulnerable groups. 

“Right now, the homeless shelters in New York have more migrants in them than they have American citizens,” the congressman said. “Veterans, the mentally ill, drug addicts, they’re not getting the government resources they need because they’re being diverted to folks who are not in this country legally or are manipulating the asylum process.”

He added, “I think that needs to change.”

The congressman proposed reinstituting Title 42, a pandemic-era immigration policy allowing swift expulsion of asylum seekers over public health concerns.

“I support increasing funding for [U.S.] Customs and Border Protection, building more physical barriers, investing in technology and vehicles, and hiring more asylum judges,” he said, adding, “But what’s absent is we need leadership from the executive branch.”

Opioid epidemic

The most recent data from the New York State Department of Health indicate overdose deaths and those involving synthetic opioids had “significantly worsened” in Suffolk County between 2019 and 2020 — deaths in 2020 totaling 363, up 88 from the previous year.

Fentanyl “is coming in at ports of entry, it’s coming in between ports of entry,” the congressman said, advocating for beefier border security measures to reduce opioid deaths.

LaLota said the House-passed Stop Chinese Fentanyl Act would sanction Chinese companies “who are putting this poison into our system and killing our young folks,” adding, “We should exercise all other options on this.”