2020 Elections

A caravan of cars rolled through Port Jefferson Oct. 17 in support of President Donald Trump. Photo by Kyle Barr

Beyond the interruption to Saturday business for stores, some of whom are hanging on for dear life by their pinkie, beyond the traffic and the noise, where is this going?

Because we are two weeks before an election, likely one of the most consequential elections of our lifetime, and the Trump caravans taking over roads not just on the North Shore as they did last weekend, but from both east and west, have told us one thing: There are real efforts to take the general antipathy seen on the national stage and transport it to here at home.

Seemingly in response to a single Black Lives Matter march in Port Jefferson back in June, local right-wing group Setauket Patriots has hosted three events since July. One was a sanctioned car parade for Fourth of July. Another was an unsanctioned parade for 9/11. Now we have the most recent caravan supporting the reelection of President Donald Trump (R) last Saturday. All these events have contained many examples of people waving flags supporting Trump, but this latest parade finally dropped any pretense.

In videos shared online, some patriots members have displayed animosity to local officials, to neighbors or effectively anyone who doesn’t agree with them. One video highlighted an actor portraying Trump calling Port Jeff Mayor Margot Garant “evil” for issuing the group a summons for marching without a permit. In another, a member of the caravan jokes about shooting counterprotesters.

Grown men and young children got into public shouting matches on the side of the street. There were reported examples of people in the caravan using gay slurs at any who showed disagreement. And, of course, not every example of bad behavior was carried out by Trump supporters. One counterprotester flipped the bird at all those gathered at the street corner, drawing jeers from the crowd.

Are these examples just small bites of a larger, more intricate context? We hope so, but there’s a real danger to thoughts like these. Yes, you can and should disagree with the decisions of public officials like the mayor of a small incorporated village, but what is the point of pejoratives? Where is this going? Is there going to be something like the planned armed coup by residents against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)? Not likely but, then again, officials like U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) have joined in on attacks against the mayor seemingly on political grounds. These attempts at further dividing a local community are not welcome.

And beyond that, if you joke about shooting your political opponents, no matter if they are protesters, officials or police, you no longer deserve the kind of public platform you currently enjoy.

Divided. That’s what we call ourselves now. We say we are polarized and distinct, with one red America and one blue America. Why? Why do we push this polarization as if it’s inevitable?

This month, TBR News Media has been hosting debates with candidates running for local elections. Would you be offended or glad to know just how often these people from two separate parties actually agree on local issues? Both Republicans and Democrats agree with how important it is to maintain our North Shore bays and the Long Island Sound in general. Both parties understand the issue of Long Island’s brain drain and the need to keep both old and young here. They might disagree on the particulars, but that is why we have the debates in the first place, isn’t it?

Even on the so-called hot-button issues like police reform, there is real nuance and ideas from candidates you likely won’t see on any nationally televised debate stage.

There are people, even in our local community, who are trying to twist us and divide us. We ask that we all look past that and attend to the facts to guide our political decision-making. Check back with TBR News Media Oct. 29 for our upcoming preelection issue.

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By Peggy Olness and Nancy Marr

It is said that 90% of Americans have already decided on their choice for President this year. In fact, early voting has already begun in some states (NYS starts on Oct. 24) and absentee ballots have been mailed by county Boards of Elections to those who’ve requested them. The Presidential campaigns have dominated the media for (it seems) a year, while voters barely register their interest on concerns about lower-ballot races and propositions.

All seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are voted on every two years, and Suffolk County voters are either in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd CD. Currently the Democrats have a majority of the 435 voting seats in the House. US Senators are elected for 6-year terms; in 2020 neither of our two senators is facing election. Currently the 100-member Senate has a Republican majority.

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New York State’s Senators and Assembly members are all up for election in 2020; the Governor is not. We experienced the use of executive orders for the Governor during the pandemic, but it’s up to the Legislature to codify the laws.

Both the NYS Senate and the NYS Assembly currently have Democratic majorities (historically the NYS Senate had a Republican majority) and have been able to pass a number of laws including voting reform in the past 2 years. Check your NYS Senate and Assembly races and candidates on Vote411.org.

Additionally, there are candidates for NYS Supreme Court, County Court Judges and Family Court Judges on your ballot. Most are cross-endorsed by all major parties; thus they have no opponents. Refer to Vote411.org to find the Judicial candidates on your ballot.

In addition to the races, party lines and candidates, every Suffolk County voter will have 2 resolutions on the reverse/back of your ballot. (Town of Riverhead voters will have a third resolution relating to their Town government). Each resolution statement is written as a question, and you have a choice to vote YES or NO.

The League of Women Voters of Suffolk County is not supporting or opposing any resolution, but will clarify the pros and cons or issues relating to each proposition.

PROP 1: for all Suffolk County voters

Shall Resolution No. 442-2020, adopting a charter law to change the legislative term of office for County legislators from two (2) years to four (4) years be approved?

Details:

The twelve-year term limit for legislators would remain in effect notwithstanding any change in the legislative term of office. If approved by voters, the four-year term of office would begin Jan. 1, 2022 (affecting all 18 Legislators elected on the November 2021 ballot.)

Pros:

■ All other Suffolk County elected officials serve four-year terms.

■ Allows more time for legislators to see projects come to fruition.

■ Frequent periods of campaigning for office and fundraising take time away from legislative issues.

Cons:

■ Frequent elections help to keep legislators accountable.

■ Frequent elections require candidates to hear from citizens more often.

PROP 2: for all Suffolk County voters

Shall Resolution No. 547-2020, adopting a charter law to transfer excess funds in the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund to the Suffolk County Taxpayer Trust Fund and to eliminate the requirement that interfund transfers be made from the General Fund to the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Fund be approved?

Purpose of Resolution 547-2020:

This resolution proposes that funds from the Sewer Assessment Stabilization Reserve Fund (ASRF) be made available to pay county operating expenses. In 1987, county voters passed a quarter cent sales tax to fund the Drinking Water Protection Program (DWPP). The funds have been used for land acquisition, maintenance of water quality and the sewer districts, including current efforts to fund septic systems that can remove nitrogen from waste water. The ASRF Fund 404, which receives 25% of the DWPP tax revenue, was created within the Suffolk County Drinking Water Protection Program to protect taxpayers in sewer districts where there is an increase in costs of more than 3%.

The ASRF ended 2019 with a balance of 35 million dollars.  The resolution proposes a Suffolk County Taxpayers Trust Fund be created to receive 15 million dollars of the unspent balance, as well as any other sum that may be transferred to the Trust Fund to balance the county’s operating budget.   

The resolution also proposes that a debt of $144,719 million, borrowed from the DWPP since 2011, be canceled so that the funds that are released can be placed in the Trust Fund for use by the county for its operating budget, if so passed by the legislature.

Background:

In September 2020, the New York State Comptroller listed Suffolk County as one of the eight NYS municipalities in significant fiscal stress, stating “since the pandemic hit, local governments have seen a massive drop in sales tax collections. This is hurting their bottom lines and many have few options to plug the hole.” Rather than borrow from other sources that impose interest charges, the county borrowed from the DWPP with the requirement that it pay the amount borrowed back once revenue sources rebounded.

In 2018, 2019, and 2020 the county paid back a total of $26,581 million, leaving $144,719 million outstanding. The County Executive points out that Suffolk has satisfied some of its obligations by already spending $29.4 million for water quality and land acquisition projects, as agreed to in a 2014 settlement, in which he agreed to repayment by 2029.

There is concern that the intent and result of the resolution becoming law, although it deals with a complex issue, is not clearly phrased to the voter. The resolution is contrary to two court decisions. In the Levy lawsuit in 2011 and the settlement by the County Executive in 2014, the county has been ordered to repay the monies borrowed from a fund dedicated to drinking water protection. 

Visit the LWVSC website resources page at https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county/resources to learn more about Suffolk County finances, the actual legislation behind the propositions and more details on Proposition 2.

Peggy Olness is a board member and Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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Election results were announced in both the villages of Old Field and Poquott after ballots were tallied Sept. 15

 Poquott

While only three names were officially on the ballot in the Village of Poquott — one for mayor and two for trustee — three additional residents garnered votes as a few dozen wrote in Dianna Padilla for mayor and Debbie Stevens and Felicia Chillak for trustee. All three have run unsuccessfully in the past.

At the end of the night, current trustee Chris Schleider won his quest for mayor with 237 votes, while Padilla garnered 54. Current mayor Dee Parrish and trustee Jacqueline Taylor won the two open trustee seats with 231 and 217, respectively. Stevens garnered 55 votes and Chillak received 61.

uOld Field

Trustee Bruce Feller is the new mayor of Old Field, garnering 80 votes the night of Sept. 15. Entering election day Tom Pirro was the only candidate on the ballot for trustee, even though two seats were open but residents wrote in former trustee and deputy mayor Thomas Gulbransen. Pirro regained his seat with 69 votes, and Gulbransen will be on the village board once again with 26 write-in votes.

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Trustee Bruce Feller runs for mayor in 2020 election

The Old Field Lighthouse. Photo by Huberto Pimental

When it comes to one trustee position, Old Field residents will find no candidates on the ballot during the Sept. 15 election.

Bruce Feller

While trustee Bruce Feller is running for mayor this year, only current board member Tom Pirro, a certified public accountant, will be on the ballot for the two available trustee seats. Both candidates were elected to their current positions in 2018.

If there are no write-in candidates, the trustees will appoint someone to the seat.

Feller said he knew in 2019 he would run after current Mayor Michael Levine decided not to run again after 12 years in the position. While elections were originally scheduled in March, they were moved to September due to the pandemic.

Feller, besides his current two years on the board, served as a village trustee in 1998 after taking over the expired term of Barbara Swartz when she became mayor. He and his wife, Marianne, in the past have also served on a village committee to preserve the Old Field lighthouse.

Feller said regarding the board, which includes a mayor and four trustees, he plans to treat it as “a hand.”

“Those five fingers have to work together,” he said. “They each have different roles — each finger including the opposing thumb — and those roles can shift through any of the five of us. My view is I’m no more or less than one out of five votes.”

He said usually after a March election the trustees would be sworn in during April and wouldn’t hit the ground running until the next board meeting. He said this year after the election and the votes are counted, elected officials will serve in their positions immediately.

The Village of Old Field will hold its election Tuesday, Sept. 15, from noon to 9 p.m. at the Keeper’s Cottage located at 207 Old Field Road.

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The Incorporated Village of Poquott. File photo

Despite contentious elections in the past, this year the Village of Poquott’s races for mayor and two trustee seats are both unchallenged.

Chris Schleider is running for mayor of Poquott. Photo from candidate

Trustee Christopher Schleider will be running for mayor Sept. 15. A teacher and lifeguard at Robert Moses State Park, he has been a trustee in the village for three years. He said he decided to run for mayor because he wants “to be a part of all of the good things that are happening in the village.”

Schleider is impressed with how Poquott has dealt with the pandemic, and during the last few months he has witnessed residents volunteering their time to help with landscaping and cleaning up debris after Tropical Storm Isaias.

“Through all of the uncertainty of these past months, I have been inspired as residents and the board displayed their ‘can do’ spirit, working together to overcome the many challenges the village faced,” he said.

As mayor, Schleider said he hopes to build not only on the sense of community but also “ensure that, together, our village will be able to handle whatever comes next.”

Current mayor Dee Parrish as well as trustee Jacqueline Taylor will be running for the two empty trustee seats. Taylor was appointed to the board after William Poupis’ departure as trustee in July 2019.

Parrish has been mayor for six years. One of her main projects during her tenure was ensuring the construction of the village dock, which was completed in June 2019. The mayor said in an email that the dock has been an asset to the Poquott community, and during the pandemic, “it gave our residents a place to go and a place to run into neighbors during a troubling period of isolation.”

She said besides resident boaters and fishers using the dock, the Setauket Harbor Task Force has used it twice for environmental studies.

Parrish, who publicly stated on the three candidates’ campaign website that she didn’t receive much training from the administration prior to hers, has also said she spent a good amount of time during her last term to train and prepare the “next generation.” In an email she said she decided to stay on as trustee to provide a smooth transition among other things.

“I decided to stay on as trustee because there are still other projects that I want to see completed for the village — projects I’ve been working on directly with residents that are still counting on,” she said. “I’m also staying on to facilitate a smooth transition for the next mayor by being available to answer any questions or assist in any way based on my six-and-a-half years’ experience on the board of trustees. I have always volunteered for the village and plan on doing so for years to come with or without a position on the board.”

Village of Poquott residents can vote in person Tuesday, Sept. 15, from noon to 9 p.m. at Village Hall located at 45 Birchwood Ave. One voter at a time will be admitted inside to vote and everybody is required to wear a mask and socially distance.

Mike Siderakis and his wife, Sandra, have raised their three children in Nesconset. Photo from Mike Siderakis website

The 2020 race for the New York State Senate 2nd District seat will pit two political newcomers against each other. Mike Siderakis, a retired state trooper from Nesconset, has been tapped by Suffolk County Democrats to run for the vacant seat previously held by former Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). Republicans have chosen Mario Mattera, a St. James resident, local union official and Suffolk County Water Authority board member.

Mike Siderakis

Republicans aim to keep control of a district they’ve had for the last 16 years, while Democrats see a real opportunity to retake the seat and further expand their majority in the state Senate.

Democratic candidate Mike Siderakis believes he is the right man for the job.

“We need someone that will be able to fight for the people of Senate District 2, I believe I am the right candidate,” he said. “I want to continue to serve the community and protect suburban interest [in the district].”

Siderakis said his time spent in Albany meeting elected officials as vice president and legislative director of the Police Benevolent Association of the New York State Troopers inspired him to run for office.

“I saw the job, and I thought some of these politicians didn’t have the best interests in mind for their constituents,” he said. “I knew I could do a better job than them. I care about this community.”

Siderakis said one of his main concerns is dealing with the impact of COVID-19 on the state and on local businesses.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions on future state and local budgets,” the Democratic candidate said. “We’re going to figure out how we are going to raise revenues.”

Assisting local businesses and attracting jobs to the area is another priority.

“Small businesses play a big part in keeping people in the district,” Siderakis said. “They have faced hardships during this pandemic, some have been forced to close down. We have to support them.”

The Nesconset resident added that he wants to attract industries and other businesses to Long Island to make sure the district is not losing young professionals by providing better-paying jobs as well as affordable housing.

“We need someone that will be able to fight for the people of Senate District 2, I believe I am the right candidate.”

— Mike Siderakis

“I’ve lived in the area for the past 25 years, my daughter also lives on the Island — it’s expensive to live here,” Siderakis said. “I want to make this a great place for people to raise their families and for future generations.”

The Democratic candidate said he also wants to address rising property taxes. He hopes with the influx of new businesses and highly skilled workers they would be able to increase the tax base.

Other issues include continuing to support doctors, nurses and other essential workers. Also, making sure all individuals have access to health care and that frontline workers have the proper equipment and medical coverage to fight coronavirus. Siderakis wants to ensure students and teachers are in a safe environment when schools reopen.

The Democratic challenger said he is someone who can work on both sides of the aisle to get things done for the 2nd District.

“Partisanship is dividing us, there is a need for compromise,” he said. “If we listen to each other and come to a common ground we can get better results. [The district] needs someone who on day one can advocate for the people of SD2 and I feel I can do that.”

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By Nancy Marr

The year 2020 in New York State began with excitement about voting access and modernization. Governor Cuomo had signed the bill for 9 days of early voting in November 2019 and New York voters embraced it.

We synchronized federal, state and local primary elections to reduce costs and encourage greater turnout. Young people can pre-register at ages sixteen and seventeen with automatic registration when they turn eighteen. Voters who move within the state will have their registration go with them seamlessly. We also closed the LLC Loophole, meaning that an LLC’s political spending was limited to the same amount allowed to corporations, $5,000 annually. We expected to see the fruit of these efforts this year.

Then, starting in March, we saw the threat of the pandemic on voter safety. After declaring a state of emergency, Gov. Cuomo ordered the presidential primaries postponed from April 28 to June 23 (already the date of state and local primaries) and then ordered Boards of Elections to send Absentee Ballot (AB) applications to all voters in New York State eligible to vote in a primary.

There was great confusion since some voters had already mailed individual AB applications, and those were different from the mass-mailed applications. The NYS Board of Elections announced cancellation of the Democratic presidential primary due to pandemic fears. Then a court declared that cancellation invalid, and the primary was back on. This caused the absentee ballots to be on two pages (presidential on one, other offices on another page) resulting in some  eligible voters not receiving both ballot pages.

A huge number of people in Suffolk County applied for Absentee Ballots (more than double the in-person number of voters) and counting mailed in ballots could only begin on July 1 and was expected to end on July 9. Our media didn’t help either; readers were told which candidates were “leading” after the relatively small number of in-person votes were counted on election night (in CD1’s Democratic primary, about 15,000).

As if that amount of confusion couldn’t be any worse, due to the virus a very large number of poll workers chose not to work on election day, regular polling sites refused to be hosts and the Suffolk Board of Elections reduced the actual number of polling places on June 23 by almost two-thirds.

Letters were mailed to voters just before election day, but chaos resulted, including removing neighborhood polling places in communities where transportation was a challenge as well as communities of color. Signage was poor or non-existent in new locations and many places were hard to find. 

Voters in New York State have traditionally felt that although we had antiquated aspects to our elections (no early voting, no “no excuse” absentee ballots, no same-day voter registration, and terrible voter turnout) we were in pretty good shape compared to other states that were suppressing the vote. Our blinders have now been removed and much work needs to be done, quickly and thoughtfully, in order to assure a fair, secure, auditable, inclusive and clear process on Nov. 3.

Your voice counts as much as your vote. The New York State Legislature has already closed its session, but the Governor can bring them back. We need money allocated to the Boards of Elections to ensure the Nov. 3 elections are perceived by all voters as valid and reflective of all those who voted.

Study media writeups of the June 23 results during July, learn from them, and in the fall help spread nonpartisan communication about the process. The League of Women Voters’ voter information website, www.VOTE411.org. is a great starting point to see if a voter is registered, learn who is on their ballot, and understand election law and changes in their state.

Threats to the viability of the United State Postal Service will be an issue if the November election is deemed not safe enough for in-person voting. Congress must act immediately to fix the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) which required the USPS to create a $72 billion fund to pay for the cost of its post-retirement health care costs, 75 years into the future. This burden applies to no other federal agency or private corporation.

Nancy Marr is first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

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Numbers included are from those who went to the polls Tuesday and those who voted early. Due to the abundance of absentee ballots requested by Long Islanders a final tally of votes won’t be completed until July 1.

So far, results have shown close primaries for Democrats in both the U.S. District 1 Congressional seat and for the New York State Senate District 1 position. Perry Gershon leads for the congressional position with just 166 votes over the person currently in second place Nancy Goroff.

Laura Ahearn leads the pack of Dems with a total of 2,360 votes, a little more than 200 than the person in second place, Valerie Cartright.

Other races are not so close. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3) leads with over 20 percent more than the next candidate.

Laura Jens-Smith has a near 50 point lead over fellow Democrat William Schleisner, with both seeking the New York State Assembly District 2 seat held by Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

U.S. Congress – 1st District (Democratic)

Perry Gershon – 33.5% – 5,166 votes

Nancy Goroff – 34.37% – 5,002 votes

Bridget Fleming – 27.91% – 4,062 votes

Gregory Fischer – 2.21% – 322 votes

U.S. Congress – 3rd District (Democratic)

Thomas Suozzi – 58.93% – 8,374 votes

Melanie D’Arrigo – 32.7% – 4,646 votes

Michael Weinstock – 8.37% – 1,189 votes

New York State Senator – 1st District (Democratic)

Laura Ahearn – 31.08% – 2,360 votes

Valerie Cartright – 27.92% – 2,120 votes

Thomas Schiavoni – 23.86% – 1,812 votes

Skyler Johnson – 12.45% – 945 votes

Nora Higgins – 4.69% – 356 votes

New York State Assembly – 2nd District (Democratic)

Laura M. Jens-Smith – 77.99% – 1,772 votes

William Schleisner – 22.01% – 500 votes

Virginia Case

By Lisa Scott

COVID-19. Economic Meltdown. Social Justice Demonstrations. BlackLivesMatter. Shutdowns. Social Distancing. Active Military in our Cities. Misinformation. Local Budget Meltdowns. Post Office Survival. Malign Foreign Influences. Interruption of Census Reporting. Voter Suppression. And just this week, Voting Chaos exemplified in Georgia. Shall we continue listing 2020’s norm-shattering events and trends? Or do we instead renew our commitment to making American democracy work in this all-important election year?

As New York State voters, we’ve been through the worst of the pandemic, and yet also are experiencing an extraordinary amount of communication and action from our governor, Andrew Cuomo. The flurry of executive orders, daily briefings and critiques seem overwhelming, yet in a time of irresponsible misinformation it is vital for all our citizens to be spoken to as responsible and intelligent adults.

This far 2020 has been a “voting year” for the record book in New York. Starting in mid-March, village elections were postponed, special elections were delayed, a presidential primary was postponed, school board and budget elections were delayed, the presidential primary was rescheduled, cancelled, reinstated by the courts and now will be held several days after Mr. Biden has clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. Congressional and New York State Senate and Assembly primaries will be held as scheduled, but the special elections (to fill vacant lawmaker seats) will now have to wait until the November general election.

For the first time ever, the governor has ordered school districts to mail absentee ballots to every eligible voter in New York State, and to cancel all in-person voting. This presented huge challenges, and individual districts performed as best they could … but clearly need more lead time, transparency, money and much improved communication. 

From very low voter turnout in all past years, school districts in 2020 expect huge numbers of ballots to be returned, and worry about voters rejecting budgets because this is one of the few ways voters can directly comment on their economic distress. But remember, school, village and special district elections are not covered by the same election law rules as what we consider primary or general elections run by county boards of election. 

By 9 p.m. on June 23, voters will have cast votes in the Presidential, Congressional, NYS Senate and NYS Assembly primaries. A vast number of those votes will have been done via absentee ballots, forcing boards of elections to purchase new high-speed absentee ballot counters and incur significant costs for prepaid/postage to apply for and mail the ballot. (Absentee ballots must be postmarked by June 23 to be counted.) 

There will be early voting sites open from June 13 to 21 with varying hours for those who wish to vote in person, and the usual 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. hours on election day itself — Tuesday, June 23. If a person had received an absentee ballot but decided instead to vote in person, the Board of Elections counts the in-person voting first, and when the absentee ballot from the same voter is recorded, it will not be considered a valid vote and put aside. 

How will you know who is on your ballot in 2020, and what each candidate stands for? The League of Women Voter’s ballot information website, VOTE411.org, should be your go-to site. Information is usually available about four  weeks before a primary or general election. LWV candidate debates are still being held, albeit virtually via Zoom and available on YouTube.

Our LWVUS CEO, Virginia Kase, recently wrote from Washington, D.C. …

“If you are like me, you might have commented from time to time that 2020 feels like the worst year ever. It’s been rough. Many of us are just entering Phase 1 of our states’ reopening plans. We’ve seen challenges to our democracy, a global pandemic, and more black lives lost because of the color of their skin. It’s hard not to feel hopeless. But what if 2020 is actually a turning point?

Yes, America is going through some very difficult labor pains right now, but I believe that our democracy can be reborn. I believe that now, more than ever, we have the power to change our country and our society for the better. Right now, there is an awakening the likes of which I’ve never seen in my life, and I am, for the first time in a long time, hopeful.

Being democracy defenders means standing up to injustice with all our power: the power of our voices, the power of our resources, and the power of our votes. That is how we continue the push for a more perfect democracy.”

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.

Dr. Anthony Fauci

By Peggy Olness

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts” said our NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This simple but important statement has re-emerged in this unusual era as a call for truth, and can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Being informed is every citizen’s responsibility, whether making sense of a cacophony of voices during a pandemic or ultimately choosing leaders on election day. Use this time of enforced and prudent social distancing to educate yourself on how to separate fact from opinion and fiction. 

Over 100 doctors and nurses serving on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic recently sent a letter to the largest social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Google, & YouTube, warning that misleading information about COVID-19 is threatening lives. The letter called on these organizations to more aggressively monitor the posting of medical misinformation appearing on their websites.

Misinformation about COVID-19 includes unfounded claims and conspiracy theories about the virus originating as biological weapon development and being deliberately spread by various groups or countries. Even more dangerous have been the unsubstantiated claims for “sure cures” that involve certain types of therapies or treatments with substances, many of which are poisonous or which must be monitored by a medical professional. There have been documented instances of people dying or suffering serious harm as a result of following this misinformed advice.

For COVID-19 information dependable places to start are the websites of the CDC and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was created by Congress in 1946 to focus on infectious disease and food borne pathogens. It functions under the US Public Health Service (PHS) to provide leadership and assistance for epidemics, disasters and general public health services. It is responsible for the Strategic National Stockpile, a stockpile of drugs, vaccines, and other medical products and supplies to provide for the emergency health security of the US & its territories.

Also under the PHS are the National Institutes for Health (NIH), responsible for basic and applied research for biomedical and public health, founded in the 1880’s to investigate the causes of malaria, cholera and yellow fever epidemics. A subagency, of the NIH, the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is the lead agency studying the nature of the coronavirus and its treatment and prevention. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D, NIAID Director since 1984, has helped NIAID lead the US through a number of crises including HIV-AIDS, Ebola, West Nile Virus, SARS, H1N1 flu, MERS-CoV, Zika and COVID-19. Dr Fauci has been trying to communicate the facts his agency has discovered about coronavirus and COVID-19. Scientists are seekers of findings that can be replicated, and their research is constantly being updated, revised, communicated, and it is collaborative and open. 

Misinformation and rumor have always been a part of society, and the children’s game of “Telephone” has been used for generations to show how factual information can become changed or distorted when it is passed down a line of people. So what can we do about it? Before making decisions about action, be sure that the information and sources that are guiding you are reliable and trusted. During this COVID-19 crisis, actions taken by those around you can have negative consequences. Remember to use social media with an emphasis on “social;” your source for facts and your basis for decisions should be well-documented media/journalism and peer-reviewed science. Be sure, as President Reagan advised, you have trusted but also verified.  

The Suffolk Cooperative Library System, with the assistance of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters and building on the work of the Westchester LWV, has produced a 10 minute professional development video: “INFODEMIC 101: Inoculating Against Coronavirus Misinformation” which can be found on the Livebrary YouTube channel https://youtu.be/7qmy3FaCjHU

Peggy Olness is a board member of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit http://www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org, email [email protected] or call 631-862-6860.