Features

Brookhaven Town councilman on redeveloping the Middle Country Road corridor

Brookhaven Town Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), above. Photo from Brookhaven Town website
Part I

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on several major initiatives during his time at Town Hall. In Part I of this two-part interview, LaValle discusses the recent completion of paving projects in Selden, the need for sewers on Middle Country Road, his background in government and the influence of his family on his decision-making. 

Could you discuss the recent paving projects completed in Selden and your ongoing work with the Town Highway Department?

Well, that is a major, major issue in my area. I have the smallest geographic area in the whole town. Our districts are broken up by population — about 80,000 people in each district — but my area is a very dense, compact area. What that means is that, obviously, I have a lot of roads, a lot of neighborhoods, a lot of businesses.

One of the things that we did a few years ago was that we made a commitment that we were going to spend $150 million on the town end, which is $15 million a year for the next 10 years, in paving. We made a pledge to the community that that’s what we were going to do to try to help the infrastructure in the town. We’ve been on target with that.

How have you coordinated with Suffolk County to bring sewers into downtown areas within your district?

That is absolutely crucial for the growth of the business community in Centereach and Selden along the Middle Country Road corridor. Hundreds and hundreds of businesses that run up and down this road are unsewered, and even the houses there, every one has a cesspool.

Our big issue on Middle Country Road is that if you look at these lots, they’re all half-acre and acre lots. So what can you build on it? You can’t really get the nice restaurants that other areas have, and that hinders how we can develop and how we can move forward.

We’ve had a lot of success in redeveloping a lot of these lots throughout this corridor, but bringing [sewers] here allows us to take some of these beat up lots and have developers come in and combine them and build something new, whether it’s a two-story office building or a nice restaurant. Because with that sewer capacity, you have the ability to do that.

That’s really why it will be a huge game changer for this area. It will bring good new development down the road. When I was with [the late Suffolk County Legislator] Tom Muratore [R-Ronkonkoma], we kind of started that process to get the sewers going. Now [county Legislator] Nick Caracappa [C-Selden] has jumped into office and it’s really getting supercharged right now.

The county is going to be setting this up, but it gives the town the option — because I deal with rezoning — to be able to start talking to property owners and say, “Hey listen, we have sewers coming down here. If you put this lot together and this lot together, then we could do this.” That’s when you really start getting some exciting opportunities with new businesses and various other things that we want to come into the area.

To follow up, what is your organizational philosophy toward commercial redevelopment?

I think the big key is that when you look up and down the road, we have some small lots that are a quarter-acre or a half-acre — all beat up properties. Right now, anybody coming in and buying them asks, “What can I really do with them?”

Take a look at the property values on Middle Country Road. Some 37,000 cars drive down the portion of Middle Country Road in my area every single day; 37,000 is a massive number — a lot of cars. And great property values. It’s prime real estate, but for developers to come in, you need to have the sewer capacity to be able to build a two-story building on an acre lot, and right now you can’t do that.

If you’re a developer, you have to spend money to buy the property, then money to build it, and then you have to be able to rent it to make your money back. Let’s be very honest about it. That’s what developers do. That’s what businesspeople do, they’re here to make money. So you have to be able to attract them in. By giving them sewers, you will then give them the capacity that their money will go out to redevelop, but it’s also going to come back to them because they’ll be able to bring in new businesses.

We’ve come a long way in the last nine years. The big thing for me as far as developing properties is developing that relationship with the business owners and the property owners, being a straight shooter, telling them, “Hey, this is going to work and this is not going to work.” It’s about not wasting people’s time.

A mentor of mine once asked me, “What’s the most important thing in business?” At the time, I was young — like 24 or 25 — and I said money. He said, “No, not even close.” The most important thing in business is time. If you’re a service provider, it’s the time from when your order is made to when you provide that service to your client. Or if you’re a builder, it’s the time it takes to buy the property, to get through the zoning process and to finish off building. If it takes more time, it’s going to cost you more money.

For me, I like to be a straight shooter with the developers, with the property owners, with the businesspeople, and say if it’s not a realistic concept, don’t string people along, just tell them. If it is a realistic concept, then how can we get you from point A to point B? How can we get you from when you buy the property to when you develop the property?

What is your professional background, and how did you end up at Town Hall?

I started off many years ago, after I graduated college, as chief of staff for Dan Losquadro [R] when he was a [county] legislator many years ago [and is now town highway superintendent]. I worked with Dan for about two years and then I went into the private sector — I owned a title agency for about four years. We have since sold that business and I went into the mortgage business, which I still do to this day.

During that time a bunch of years back, I was asked to come back part time to the [county] Legislature to work for Tom Muratore. He was about a year into the job and was trying to figure out his way a little bit. I decided to come back and I was with Tom for about three years. Then the opportunity to run for Town Council came up.

I never really thought that I would run for office, even though my family had been in office. I didn’t think that was what I wanted to do, but I had a lot of friends and family and people in the community come up to me — because they saw all the work that I was doing with Tom — and they said, “Listen, you do a great job and we really need you to run for the Town Board. We think you could do a great job here.”

I took that run back in 2013 and I was fortunate to get elected. I’ve been a sitting town councilman ever since. It’s been nine years of working on a lot of things within the district and it’s really something that I’ve grown to love and enjoy.

How has your family shaped your approach to public service?

My brother, John [Jay LaValle (R)], was a town councilman and a town supervisor. My cousin, Ken LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], was a state senator for over 40 years. They had very different styles when they were in office. When I was a kid, I watched how they worked.

Ken was very statesmanlike in the way he went about things. John was very aggressive and would take care of business and kind of push things and run around with a lot of energy. I kind of look at both of them and have learned from both styles.

I think there are opportunities to be aggressive when you have to push things and show excitement, like my brother John. I also think there are other opportunities when, like my cousin Ken, you have to sit back, listen, take it all in, really understand the situation, and do your homework to make sure that you know what you’re talking about. I think both of those styles kind of mesh with who I am.

Part II

For over a decade, Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) has worked on the Selden Park Complex. Now he can see the finish line. In Part II of this two-part interview, the councilman reflects upon the role of parks, open spaces and the mentorship of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), under whom LaValle served as legislative aide.

What is the status of the Selden Park Complex?

Now this is something that I’ve been working on since I was aiding Tom Muratore 12 years ago. This is going to be the largest park in the Town of Brookhaven — 24 acres that we’re breaking ground on.

Heritage Park [in Mount Sinai] is a park that’s at the end of County Route 83. When we started talking about this with the community years ago, people said, “That’s something we want. Can we do that?” And now we’re right there.

Phase I was to bring back the two Little League fields near Grace Presbyterian Church. I actually grew up playing baseball on these fields. Grace used to lease them to the Little League, but then Grace was having issues with its insurance, so [the fields] went fallow. We were able to work with the county to buy this property. The deal was cut so that the county would buy the properties and the town would develop them. Veterans [Park] used to be a baseball field. We then came in, redid it, and now it’s a multipurpose field for all the kids. That was Phase II.

We just broke ground recently on the third and final phase, the biggest phase that we have going on here. We’re building two additional baseball fields, a basketball court, pickleball courts, playgrounds, a concession stand, shade shelters throughout, a storage facility for our guys and batting cages. And for the first time in the town’s history — and I always like to be the first guy — I was the first guy to pickleball and now I’m going to be the first guy to roller and deck hockey.

This really comes back to my childhood growing up in Centereach. We had two deck hockey and roller hockey rinks, and I would play deck hockey with my friends. We talked about it and said, “You know what? This is a good idea. Let’s bring this back to the community.” It will be the first time ever that we’re bringing that back.

I kind of refer to this as a generational park. This is where we hope that families that come to the area will walk their children around in strollers around the walking trails. Then when they get a little bit older, they bring the kids over to the playgrounds. Then they get a little bit older and play any kind of sport, whether it’s softball, baseball, lacrosse, soccer … whatever sport they want. Then the kids go off to college, and hopefully they come back to the community where they’re going to be doing the same thing and raising their families using this facility.

What is your office doing to protect open spaces?

Just this past year in the Centereach/Selden community, right on the corner of Old Town Road and County Route 83, there’s a parcel over there that we just made a preserve. That happened to be a town property, and we saw an opportunity to kind of protect it and consider it a nature preserve.

That’s something that I think is really important that we do and that we continue to do as a township. You have to keep in mind that our drinking water is extremely important to what we’re doing — it’s right under our feet. And protecting our lands protects that drinking water. Bringing sewers protects that drinking water, so that’s a critical issue for us.

What do you foresee as the long-term impact of bringing more public funds into the Middle Country area?

It’s one of the reasons I ran for office nine years ago. I grew up in this area, and I can tell you the sentiments of people back then. Generally, we were looking around at all these other communities and watching what they were building — money going here, they’re building a park there, preserving property over here. They said, “This guy’s getting this, they’re getting that, and what are we getting? Are we getting our fair share here?”

That’s something I focus on every day, about how we can rebuild and what money we can bring in. Bringing in new development is one thing — the town doesn’t put money into that. I have to go out and recruit people and work with businesspeople. But making sure our parks are up to par, making sure we’re getting extra money for our roads, these are things you are required to do as a town councilman.

As far as parks go, in my time here, we really have run through all of our parks. We have built a dog park since I’ve been here. We rebuilt Iroquois Avenue Park [in Selden] completely — the walking trail, everything is getting redone.

I grew up less than a mile from the Centereach Pool Complex. When I was a little kid, I would go up and play basketball. When I got elected, the backboards at Centereach Pool were rusted out and the ground was broken up on the basketball courts. It had been just horrendous. Since I’ve been in office, we’ve redone the basketball courts. We’re the first facility to have pickleball, we’ve built sun shelters, we’ve rebuilt the bathrooms and redone the walking trail.

Can you describe the mentorship of Tom Muratore and his influence on you now?

Tom was an unbelievable guy. We were a good team. He was the vice president of the [Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association] before he became a legislator. He was a soft-spoken guy, wasn’t the kind who was flashy or who would always jump to the mic. That wasn’t Tom.

Tom was a guy who liked to work with people and had the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever known in politics. He just cared for everybody, didn’t need to get credit for things, just wanted to make the community a better place.

He hired me when I was young and aggressive, bouncing off the walls with a lot of energy. And he was a great mentor because he would look at me sometimes and just say, “Kevin, we can pass it today and just push it through, or we can pass it tomorrow with everybody’s consensus.” Or say, “Let’s take our time and get everybody on board.”

I’m an aggressive guy. I like to keep moving and get things going. Tom kind of put the brakes on me. He taught me to take a little extra time to build that extra consensus, making sure everybody’s on board. There were just so many different lessons that I learned from him.

Next year, when we open up [the Selden Park Complex], it will be weird not to have him here. But I know he’s looking down with a big smile on his face, and he’s glad we’re going to finish this out for the community. Something we started together.

Romaine discussed ways in which local government and New York State must adapt to meet the needs of a changing environment. File photo

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has served in elected office for decades. In Part I of this two-part series, Romaine discusses the problem of coastal erosion, innovative ideas for recycling and why you won’t see his name on a sign at a town park.

What sparked your interest in environmental protection and which issues concern you the most?

Long ago, I made a choice between my eyes and my ears, and I chose my eyes. People can argue whatever they want, but I’ve seen what this Island was. I grew up on Long Island. I’ve watched it change and I know what it needs.

The things that concern me about this Island are the threat of climate change and rising sea levels, which is why we’ve bought hundreds of acres at Mastic Beach — to convert them back to wetlands, to act as a sponge.

The week before I was elected in 2012, Hurricane Sandy hit. I went down to Mastic Beach, which was part of my original district in the ’80s. I knew the mayor and I went down with Dan Panico [R-Manorville], who was the councilman, and we took a tour.

Neighborhood Road is the road that runs east and west through Mastic Beach. Everything south of Neighborhood Road was flooded. And the other thing I remember about that disaster was the smell. With all the trees and the downed wires sparking, it smelled of sewage because all their cesspools were inundated, and it smelled of oil because they all had above-ground tanks that spilled over.

It was so devastating when I went down there. Mastic Beach has recovered since, but I will never forget the disaster that hurricane caused and the flooding that it unleashed. Marshlands act as sponges that are capable of handling a flood like that. That is why I am deeply invested in trying to buy up as much of the marshland that was built upon years ago and get rid of some of the small homes there.

The other concern is the carbon footprint we leave. I’m a big supporter of renewable energy. When I was a [county] legislator for the 1st District, I bought more land and preserved more farmland than the other 17 districts combined.

The pattern of development has been so intense that we’ve screwed up this Island by sprawl. We should have thought more carefully about the pattern of development here and what we could do in terms of public transport, in terms of public services — and we didn’t.

What is your preferred approach to the issue of eroding bluffs, a growing problem along the North Shore?

Sometimes people live along those bluffs, so you want to see what type of engineering solutions there are to secure or stabilize bluffs. I know the Village of Port Jefferson is debating what to do about the Port Jefferson Country Club because their tennis courts are going to fall in [the Long Island Sound] and then right after that, probably the clubhouse.

My view would be the same as it would be for Mastic Beach — to retreat from the bluffs. But again, sometimes you can’t do that because people live atop them, so you have to look at engineering solutions that would help stabilize the bluffs. It’s Mother Nature at work. Can man-made solutions resolve it? Sure they can … temporarily. Clearly, what should have been done is something that would have prevented building near or on the bluffs.

Can you discuss the recycling initiative that your office has undertaken?

Back in 2017, China announced its [Operation] National Sword policy. It said, “Hey, we’re not buying any more recycled goods from the United States.” Well, that created all types of problems.

Unfortunately with recycling, a lot of what needs to be recycled rests with the State of New York, and they have not been innovative. The [Department of Environmental Conservation] has chosen to be a regulator and not an innovator. Let me give you an example: glass.

Glass is one of the largest contaminants in the recycling process. To recycle, what do you need? You need a marketplace. Recycling doesn’t work if you don’t have a marketplace to reuse the goods that you’re recycling, which is why recycling has collapsed in large parts of this country.

What we’re looking for from the State of New York is called a BUD — a beneficial-use determination. We believe glass should be an aggregate used in concrete. Concrete is the most carbon-intensive production of any substance that we know. And the way you can end that is by substituting glass in that process as an aggregate, and we’ve allocated for that.

What this requires is the state DEC to give us a beneficial-use determination. Now we’ve proved that because we’ve built these huge drainage rings for our recycling center and we got state permission to use glass as the aggregate in the concrete. They are not even looking at that.

At Stony Brook University, there’s a boathouse. It’s painted blue and was built in 1989. Do you know what it was built out of? Ash. The strength of that building is stronger today than the day it was built in 1989. Guess what we do with our ash? We put it in our landfill. Yet we don’t get a beneficial-use determination to use ash in concrete, in asphalt or in other products. This would create a market for glass and ash.

Also, I’m waiting on the state legislation. I have an ally in the state Legislature — an old friend of mine, someone I served with in the [county] Legislature in the ’80s, and we still work together to this day: [Assemblyman] Steve Englebright [D-Setauket]. I’m trying to say, “Steve, what are we doing here? There’s so much we can be doing.” We need a “Bigger, Better Bottle Bill.” We need to create markets for products because if we don’t, recycling will not work and will not be effective.

If you give enough time and you watch a leaky faucet, that water one drop at a time over a long period of time will make a difference. I always remind myself of the one drop of water. Because if you keep on hammering away at it, change will come. If only incrementally, it will come for the better, for things that should come, for things that are so common sense that even the opposition can’t argue against it. And usually, the opposition tends to be monied interests that have some kind of economic benefit to them, not to the society as a whole.

How did you end up in the supervisor’s office?

I started out as a teacher. I taught for 12 years, almost all of it at Hauppauge. I was very active in the teachers union there. I was the treasurer of the teachers union on their executive committee. In fact, one of my students was Jay Schneiderman, the supervisor of Southampton [D] — I taught him seventh-grade social studies.

I was always active, kind of on the sidelines as a volunteer. In 1979, in the Town of Brookhaven — which had been under Democratic control for four years — the Republicans won everything and they needed people to go into town government. I had done a lot of work for the school district on federal and state aid, so they asked me to become a part-time federal and state aid coordinator.

I started there, and the first thing I got was a massive grant for community development. We got a huge, multimillion-dollar grant, but there were conditions on hiring staff. So they asked me to become the first commissioner on housing and community development for the town. I asked the school district to give me a leave of absence — they were very kind and gave me three in a row. And finally I told them, “Look, I’m not going to come back,” because I was into that job. I did that for five years and loved it.

All the sudden, the [county] legislative seat in which I lived had opened up and they asked me to run. Even though it was a little bit less money, I thought about it for a while and I said “yes.” I ran and was elected to the Legislature in ‘85 and then again in ‘87. I was getting ready to run again when our county clerk died. In between, I had run for Congress and did very well — I got 49.6% of the vote against an incumbent, Mr. [George] Hochbrueckner [D-NY1].

I ran for county clerk, won all 10 towns and went on to win five elections as county clerk. In that time, I had moved, the lines had changed and I got elected to the 1st Legislative District as their county legislator, which included all of eastern Brookhaven from Shoreham to where I live in Center Moriches, as well as Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island. I loved that district and didn’t lose an election district for the four times I ran. And I was getting ready to run again when Mr. [Mark] Lesko [D], who was the [Brookhaven] supervisor, resigned midterm.

I was asked to run for supervisor and I thought long and hard about that. The major reason I did that was because I had a son [Keith] who was a town councilman and died in office. He always told me that at some point in life he wanted to be a supervisor. That motivated me to say “yes.” I wound up winning five terms as supervisor. So that’s the very short synopsis of a long story.

Brookhaven is an old township that has endured for three-and-a-half centuries. What does it mean to you to be a part of that tradition, and what do you see as your place in it?

The one thing I know about history is that people are quickly forgotten. That’s why I made sure that when I became supervisor, I said, “Other than in Town Hall, I don’t want my name on any town signs or anything.” And you will not see my name on a town park or anything because I made it clear that I’m just passing through.

I believe one of the greatest things I did was save 1,100 acres and put them in the Central Pine Barrens — 800 of which was National Grid property. The legacy that I leave will be a legacy that benefits people, but they will not know it was me.

Brookhaven Town councilwoman rolls up her sleeves in District 2

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) discussed her ongoing work at Town Hall. File photo

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) has served her community for decades. In an exclusive interview, she discussed her journey into local politics, her approach to commercial redevelopment, efforts to protect the environment and the upcoming redistricting process.

What is your professional background and how did you end up at Town Hall?

I moved to Rocky Point 34 years ago. I became very active locally in the Rocky Point Civic Association, the Rocky Point school board, St. Anthony’s [Catholic Youth Organization]. I was very involved in the community, volunteering and generally trying to make things better. I was sort of a person who didn’t ask others to do things for me — if I wanted it done, I rolled my sleeves up.

When [town] Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro [R] was running for the Suffolk County Legislature, he reached out and asked if I would volunteer for his campaign. I knew him, I liked him, and I believed in what he stood for and I got involved in his campaign. He liked my work on his campaign and he hired me to be a legislative aide. I was quite shocked by the offer. Then I worked in his office for four years, always staying actively involved. 

Former Councilman Kevin McCarrick [R-Rocky Point], who was the first representative for Council District 2, ran for two terms but was very busy in his private business — the family owned McCarrick’s Dairy. He was busy at the dairy and he decided he needed to devote his time to the family business and didn’t want to run for office anymore. I was asked by the Republican Party, the Conservative Party and the Independence Party to run for this position, with others also screened as well. And they picked me.

What initially drew you to the Rocky Point community?

My first husband and I were looking to buy a house that we could afford. I grew up in Northport; he grew up in Forest Hills but was living in Centerport when I met him. We got married, had children … and had my daughter. We were renting a house in Centerport. This was when the market had really, really peaked. I had friends who had a house out here. My first husband summered out in Wading River. And 34 years later, I’m in the same house.

What is it about this area that makes it unique?

There’s a very strong sense of community, of friendliness and neighborliness, of helping each other out. I’m always in awe of the strong number of volunteers that are in every hamlet that I represent. 

I have a very healthy respect for people that volunteer. We live in a chaotic time now where people are being pulled in many different directions — and people are having to work harder because their dollar is worth less. I enjoy the job that I have because I meet wonderful people and the volunteers that I meet at civic meetings, at Great Brookhaven Cleanups, at scouting. 

Where I live in Rocky Point, specifically, it still has a touch of how it used to be. I live in the old section, the North Shore beach section, so most of the bungalows have been renovated, but they’re not cookie-cutter, not a development. Every house is a little bit different. It’s a charming community.

What is your approach, your guiding philosophy, toward commercial development and downtown beautification?

Various levels of government have worked very hard to bring redevelopment to Sound Beach — the playgrounds and the veterans monument. We’ve brought money to downtown Rocky Point, 25A and Broadway specifically – sidewalks, streetlights, street trees, the veterans square that we developed, working with business owners to come into whatever hamlet that I represent. 

Commercial development — not large-scale commercial development, not a big-box store, nothing like that — is about working hard with our local stores to help them succeed, whether that’s with permits or meeting with them to help them get through the process with the town, county or state. We kind of view the office as a clearing house. Even if it’s not under my purview, we help. We sort of roll our sleeves up and guide them through the process and stay in touch throughout the process. 

What is your office doing to protect the environment?

We rebuilt two new jetties last year — east and west jetties down at Cedar Beach. The inlet had filled in and it was a navigational hazard. At the back of the harbor, the water was not flushing well and there were water quality issues down there. Former [state] Sen. [Ken] LaValle [R-Port Jefferson] jumpstarted us with a $3 million grant from the state and then we paid $5 million. Now the back of the harbor is so clear and clean. The fish are coming back like crazy.

We’ve done a significant amount of stormwater drainage and infrastructure investment along the North Shore. During Hurricane Sandy, much of our stormwater infrastructure was destroyed. So the highway superintendent and our finance department and our department of environmental protection worked hand in hand with FEMA to capture many millions of dollars so that we could bring back a greater standard to our stormwater infrastructure. 

Can you summarize the upcoming redistricting process for the Town Council?

We undertake this every 10 years. Residents should definitely partake in the meetings. Years ago, when I first ran for office, I represented more of Port Jeff Station and more of Coram. When we redistricted 10 years ago, I lost portions of Port Jefferson Station to try to keep it contiguous to the Comsewogue school district. I lost portions of Coram to keep it contiguous with other electoral districts that it touched.

I invite residents to participate in the process. We have a board that we’ve selected — there is a requirement for specific political parties, so there are equal seats at the table for each party. And they make the decisions on how the maps are going to roll out and how the boundaries will change. We [the Town Council] vote on the redistricting plans that the appointed board makes.

The Bayles Shipyard Band is pictured on the steps of Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel, June 10, 1919. The band performed at ship launchings, Friday night dances, receptions, and costume parties. Source: National Archives

Following America’s entry into World War I, the number of employees at the Bayles Shipyard in Port Jefferson jumped from 250 in November 1917 to 1,022 in January 1919. 

Since many of these workers could not find housing in the village, the United States Shipping Board campaigned to persuade the area’s homeowners to rent rooms to Port Jefferson’s shipbuilders.

A painting by commercial artist Rolf Armstrong was offered as a prize to the villager who did the most to alleviate the housing shortage. Since this and other efforts did not meet much success, the USSB retained architect Alfred C. Bossom to design cottages and dormitories in Port Jefferson for the burgeoning population.

Bossom recognized the urgent need to provide accommodations for the wartime labor force, his numerous commissions including the Remington Apartments high-rise complex built for workers at the Remington Arms munitions factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

To secure a site for Port Jefferson’s housing development, the Bayles Shipyard purchased almost 16 acres of land just west of Barnum Avenue from Catherine Campbell in July 1918. 

Nine detached, one-family homes were designed by Bossom to reflect the character of “old Long Island fishing villages” and erected along Cemetery Avenue, later renamed Liberty Avenue.

Between 1921-23, Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel served as a United States Veterans Training Center. Source: Kenneth C. Brady Digital Archive

Bossom also designed a dormitory unit called the Plant Hotel since it accommodated employees at the Bayles plant. The Mark C. Tredennick Company, which had constructed buildings at the Army’s Camp Upton in Yaphank, was named the general contractor.

Now the site of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, the Plant Hotel included 206 rooms, a cafeteria, powerhouse, athletic field and water purification facilities. A porch connected the three major wings of the complex.

Completed in December 1918 just after the Armistice on Nov. 11, the hotel soon became the center of social life for shipyard workers. A band was formed, a baseball team was organized and dances were held on Friday evenings. 

In April 1919, the Emergency Fleet Corporation commandeered the Bayles Shipyard because of the unsatisfactory progress at the facility. The seized property, which included the Plant Hotel, was then sold to the New York Harbor Dry Dock Corporation.

When the new owners fired hundreds of shipyard workers, the number of boarders at the Plant Hotel dropped dramatically. To compensate for this loss, the hotel began offering rooms to transients by the day or week.

The Port Jefferson Times scolded the hotel’s new clientele for destroying electric bulbs, smashing wash basins, spitting on the floors and generally behaving as if they were hoodlums. 

In December 1920, the NYHDDC shut down the Bayles Shipyard, dismissing all of its workers except for a skeleton crew. Confronted with a virtually empty Plant Hotel, the NYHDDC leased the complex to the Federal Board for Vocational Education, later renamed the United States Veterans Bureau. 

The Plant Hotel, which had been extensively damaged by some departing boarders, was refurbished as a training center charged with teaching disabled soldiers and sailors.

The initial group of 125 veterans arrived at the Plant Hotel in October 1921. During a typical three-month stay, the men prepared for new careers and received medical care. For recreation, they were entertained by theatrical troupes, went on field trips and enjoyed Friday night concerts. 

Port Jefferson’s Plant Hotel was still under construction on October 15, 1918. Photograph by Arthur S. Greene, National Archives

Despite pressure from local business groups and politicians, in June 1923 the Veterans Bureau left Port Jefferson as part of a nationwide plan to consolidate its rehabilitation facilities. 

As demobilization continued, local businessman Jacob S. Dreyer purchased the Liberty Avenue cottages, which have changed hands several times over the years and are still standing. In July 1929, taxpayers in the Port Jefferson school district voted to purchase the Plant Hotel itself and the remaining 13 acres.

In subsequent elections, the citizens authorized the board of education to sell some of the hotel’s furnishings, grade the grounds and construct an athletic field on the site. In June 1934, the taxpayers voted to build a high school on the property.

The board of education quickly sold the Plant Hotel to a high bidder for $250. Workers then demolished the building and hauled away the wreckage. 

 

Kenneth Brady has served as the Port Jefferson village historian and president of the Port Jefferson Conservancy, as well as on the boards of the Suffolk County Historical Society, Greater Port Jefferson Arts Council and Port Jefferson Historical Society. He is a longtime resident of Port Jefferson.

Pixabay photo

By Carolyn Sackstein

It is the season of ice cream.

This week, people visiting downtown Port Jefferson were asked to give their thoughts on the best and worst ice cream flavors and to share their fondest memories associated with this cold, delicious treat.

Brianna Goncalves, Shirley

She likes chocolate peanut butter cup and dislikes mint chocolate chip. When asked about a favorite memory she said, “I get ice cream so much, I really don’t know.” 

 

Joseph Papalia, Florida 

He had just finished a cherry ice from Ralph’s when he was approached about his favorite ice cream flavors. The former Nesconset resident said his favorite ice cream “without a doubt is Häagen-Dazs’ Dulce de Leche.” He went on to state that his least favorite was “chocolate — I don’t like strawberry either.” He said his favorite memory is “right here, Port Jefferson.”

 

Caroline Santonocito, Ridge

Santonocito was asked what her favorite flavor was, she said, “This one, vanilla, from this particular ice cream place [Port Jefferson Ice Cream Café].” She added, “There really is no least favorite ice cream for me.” 

 

Toni Ross, Middle Island 

Ross currently likes tiramisu best, but doesn’t like ice cream containing nuts. Her fondest memory associated with ice cream is of “sitting with my husband and licking my ice cream in Port Jeff waiting for the ferry.”

 

Chris Devault, Rocky Point

He fondly remembers having ice cream while fishing on Lake Michigan. He said he most enjoys coffee-flavored ice cream as well as cookies and cream. When asked what was his least favorite flavor, Devault responded, “One that’s not served.”

 

Sydny Starling (left) and Michael Carneiro (right)

Sydny Starling, Tupelo, Mississippi 

Sydny was with her Shetland sheepdog when she was approached for an interview. The visitor favors cookies and cream and dislikes mint chocolate chip. She has no particular memories associated with ice cream. 

Michael Carneiro, Mount Sinai 

His favorite flavor is chocolate chip cookie dough and his least favorite flavor is mint chocolate chip. He has memories of vacationing and being “a preteen and me, my dad and my brother were getting ice cream. And, you know, sometimes it’s messy. And all of a sudden, I look to the left and my brother goes, ‘Michael you’ve got ice cream on the back of your head.’ So, we were all cracking up, dying laughing, because I, of course, am the person who would somehow get ice cream on the back of his head.”

This Fourth of July, Long Islanders continue to grapple with the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. Pixabay photo

Independence Day is upon us. 

As we prepare for Fourth of July festivities, it is important that we keep in mind what this day celebrates: The signing of the Declaration of Independence, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy continually evolves. 

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia into a privileged family supported by the labor of slaves. 

His father was a planter and a surveyor. Jefferson later inherited his father’s land and slaves and began a lifelong project to construct his well-known estate, Monticello. But Jefferson was destined for a higher calling and was thrust into public life, where he would shape the course of American history.

The American revolutionary penman 

Jefferson was a tall young man, but also awkward and reserved. He demonstrated, however, an early penchant for writing, a skill that served him well as he climbed the ranks of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later the Continental Congress. 

Colonial leaders quickly grasped Jefferson’s compositional brilliance, but also observed he said very little. John Adams, who had worked closely with Jefferson in the Continental Congress, once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Jefferson was a man of the written — not spoken — word.

While serving in Congress in 1776, Jefferson captured the spirit of his era and produced the Declaration of Independence, a radical pronouncement of America’s uniqueness from the rest of the world, justifying why it was necessary for the 13 American colonies to break off from Great Britain. 

Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Millennia of human conflict and conquest had emphasized man’s separateness in the eyes of his fellow man. America is the only society in history predicated on the notion of human equality, the only place on Earth that had the audacity to proclaim that humans can harmoniously coexist regardless of their religion or race or ethnic background or any other criterion.

While Jefferson presented Americans this challenge, it is worth noting that he did not embody the ideals of the Declaration in his own life. Jefferson was a slaveholder, his place in society secured by the labor of slaves. 

As we reflect upon the Declaration, it is questionable whether its author even believed in its principles. Despite the conflict between his head and his heart, Jefferson’s words impact us to this day.

Inspiring generations on Long Island

Jefferson’s patriotic fervor was felt undoubtedly here on Long Island. Most notably, the great Long Island patriot William Floyd had joined the revolutionary cause, becoming the only Suffolk County resident to sign the Declaration of Independence. Floyd served in the Suffolk County Militia and was a representative to the Continental Congress. He risked his life and property to resist British authority. 

Setauket native Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge is another local hero of the American Revolution. Tallmadge is best known for his reconnaissance efforts, collecting information from the Setauket Culper Spy Ring. 

During a daring raid in 1780, Tallmadge landed near Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a contingent of American soldiers. Undetected, they marched to Smith’s Point, attacked, and took this British supply base at Carmans River and the Great South Bay. Under orders from Gen. George Washington, Tallmadge destroyed large quantities of hay that was stored in Coram.

Floyd and Tallmadge are just two of the many local examples of service and sacrifice that occurred on Long Island during the revolutionary period. These figures fought to form a new nation, a nation that was first articulated by Jefferson.

Tour of Long Island

The first administration of the United States was headquartered in New York City, not far from Long Island. For this reason Jefferson, Washington and James Madison all visited the local area, a place that had sacrificed much and contributed greatly to the independence movement.

Jefferson and Madison traveled extensively throughout New York state and New England, eager to meet their new countrymen. Both leaders stayed in Center Moriches, where they met with Floyd near his estate. All his life, Jefferson had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Intrigued by the various Native American dialects and cultures, he met with several tribes in eastern Long Island. 

Jefferson notably encountered the Unkechaug [Patchogue] Indian Nation. Because most of this tribe spoke English, Jefferson successfully transcribed many parts of their language. His research has helped keep alive cultural studies into one of the two remaining Native American groups here on Long Island today.

From Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson

Jefferson’s influence can also be felt through the history of Port Jefferson, formerly known as Drowned Meadow. This now-bustling village was first settled in 1682, located within the heart of Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven. In 1836, the people of Drowned Meadow renamed their community in Jefferson’s honor.

During his address to Congress in 1806, Jefferson highlighted the importance of connecting the United States through infrastructure programs. He said that “new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.” 

Port Jefferson has always been known for the industriousness of its people, as a productive and forward-looking community. Look no further than its shipbuilding history or The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry to see how infrastructure investments from the past keep us connected to this day. 

Port Jefferson is one of 30 towns and counties across the United States that have been named in Jefferson’s honor. Jefferson surely appreciated Long Island — its natural beauty, its indigenous cultures and the local patriots who provided necessary intelligence to gain tactical advantages over the British forces. 

This Fourth of July, as residents and visitors enjoy fireworks shooting above Port Jefferson Harbor, they should remember their own place in history and the figure in history whose name their community bears today. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

How changing political boundaries can have real consequences for voters and their representatives

An early political cartoon criticizing former Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry’s practice of drawing bizarrely shaped state senate districts for partisan gain. Stock photo by Pixy

Redistricting is shaking up this election season.

Redistricting is the process by which new political boundaries are drawn to reflect the changes in populations across regions and states. New congressional districts, as well as state Senate and Assembly districts, are redrawn by state Legislatures every 10 years to accord with the most recent U.S. Census results.

‘Government at its worst.’

— Mario Mattera

This year, a cloud of uncertainty was placed over the electoral process when the state Court of Appeals blocked the New York State Legislature’s plans for redrawn district maps. The majority 4-3 decision sent the responsibility for redrawing the lines to an out-of-state independent commission.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), whose District 2 was altered significantly under the new lines, accused the majority in the state Legislature of attempting to gerrymander his district.

“What happened was — and I’m going to say this — the Democrats went in and gerrymandered the lines in the Senate and the congressional lines,” he said.

Unlike the district lines for the state Assembly, which Mattera suggested were worked out through a series of compromises between party leaders, the state Senate could not find a working agreement for new lines. The state senator also said that the lines could have been revised before they went to court, but the majority objected, hoping to win a favorable opinion for its unfair district maps.

“The judges ruled it gerrymandering, so it went to an outside commission called Special Masters, out of Pennsylvania, and it cost the taxpayers money to do this,” he said. 

Mattera expressed frustration at the process, which he said wasted time and taxpayer dollars unnecessarily. He called the recent redistricting process “government at its worst.”

‘I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines.’ — Jodi Giglio

New boundaries, altered communities

Under the new district maps, people in communities throughout Long Island will see major changes this year in their political representation. Mattera, whose district currently includes Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field, will no longer represent those areas after this year. 

“Even though, as a Republican, I wasn’t getting the best results out of Setauket and Stony Brook, I still loved my district,” he said. “I did very well in knowing the people and getting to know everybody, and now I’ve lost all of the Township of Brookhaven.”

Mattera is not alone in losing a significant portion of his current constituency. State leaders all across the Island have had their district lines redrawn as well.

“Southold in its entirety has been taken away from Assembly District 2 and has been placed in Assembly District 1,” said state Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), who represents the 2nd District. 

Despite losing Southold, Giglio is not disappointed by the changes in her district. She considered the redrawing of the Assembly lines a product of bipartisan negotiations and was glad to pick up new constituencies elsewhere. 

“I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines,” she said, adding, “I was pleased to pick up many people in the 2nd Assembly District and will continue to work for the people of Southold as I have grown very close to them.” 

‘It’s a fact of life.’

— Helmut Norpoth

Redistricting, past and future

Helmut Norpoth, professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, detailed the long history of partisan squabbles over district lines. He said gerrymandering has existed since at least the early 19th century. 

The word “gerrymander” was created after the infamous Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, a Founding Father and later vice president who first employed the tactic to create bizarrely shaped state senate districts. Norpoth said gerrymandering has been around “forever” and that “it’s a fact of life” whenever district maps are redrawn.

Norpoth and two of his students recently submitted a proposal to the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. Their work is centered around making district maps fairer and elections more competitive. 

“One of the requirements that we followed in our proposal is to keep communities intact and minimize any splitting of a natural community into different districts,” Norpoth said. Districts “have to be contiguous, they have to be compact. They have to be as competitive as possible, so that the balance can give both parties a chance.” He added, “There are so many different angles that you have to abide by. It’s sort of a magic act to put it all together.”

‘It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts.’ — Robert Kelly

While there are so many variables considered while drawing district lines, supercomputing may help to speed up and simplify the process. Robert Kelly, professor in the Department of Computer Science at SBU, focuses on automated redistricting, which uses a mathematical formulation to generate district lines based on a wide range of constraints.

“That allows us to look at, for a given state, what the constraints are in redistricting, whether they be constraints by the state constitution, state laws or constraints given by federal court rulings,” he said. “With that, we can formulate a way to evaluate the quality of the given redistricting plan and then we can try to optimize that result.” 

While advancements in computer programming and supercomputing are helping researchers improve redistricting models, Kelly acknowledged that they can also be used for nefarious purposes.

“It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts,” he said. “The conclusion would be that with the availability of so much digital data that allows you to predict the voting patterns of individual voters and allows you to manipulate these district boundaries, it is creating a situation where more and more states are creating district boundaries that favor the political party that happens to be in power in the given state.”

With so much controversy today surrounding redistricting, it is questionable whether the problems of partisan gerrymandering will ever go away. Despite considerable effort by researchers like Norpoth and Kelly, conflict over district boundaries may be a feature inherent to any system that requires those lines to be redrawn.

When asked whether the redistricting process could ever become fairer, Kelly said, “Yes, I believe it could be more fair. … But would I predict that would ever happen? I would not bet on it.”

State assemblywoman on Albany’s neglect of Long Island

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead). Photo from Giglio's website

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) has openly criticized the state government for neglecting Long Island communities.

In an interview earlier this week, she addressed the upcoming gubernatorial primary election, her efforts to reach out to colleagues across the political aisle, the backward state of public infrastructure on the Island and more.

What is your professional background and how did you end up in the state Assembly?

I started my own construction company in 1997. I went to Stony Brook [University] at night while working full time during the day. I started to become very active in the construction industry and in land use — we owned 146 acres in East Quogue. My company is a certified Women Business Enterprise and I’m also a member of [the International Union of Operating Engineers] Local 138.

At the time, the Southampton Town Board put us in a moratorium for 2 1/2 years and raised our property taxes from $80,000 to $400,000. I was present at every hearing for the moratorium, where we couldn’t file an application and basically couldn’t do anything with our property. I felt that my property rights had been violated and became very involved in the political spectrum.

I started the Riverhead Business Alliance, where I had 50 businesses pay $300 a year so that I could hire somebody to send out emails letting businesses know about zoning changes that would be detrimental to their businesses. I set up a board of directors — and I was the president and the founder — and we just let everyone know what was happening in local government. A couple of years later, the business community asked me to run for the Town Board, which I did. I served on the Riverhead Town Board [as councilwoman] for 10 years.

There was a shift in government when [former state] Sen. [Kenneth] LaValle [R-Port Jefferson], who was a tremendous asset to the 1st Senate District, decided that he was no longer going to run. That’s when Anthony Palumbo [R-New Suffolk] decided to run for Senate. They asked me to run to fill his [state Assembly] seat, which I did, and I’m happy to serve the 2nd Assembly District in Albany.

You have spoken recently about the need to funnel tax dollars back into Long Island communities. In your opinion, are Long Islanders underserved by Albany?

Absolutely. I think all of Long Island is underserved by Albany. The largest concentration of New Yorkers is in New York City, so a lot of the money gets funneled into the five boroughs. I think that we pay a tremendous amount in tax dollars and a tremendous amount in our utility costs and that we are underserved.

However, I am very close to a lot of people on the other side of the aisle. I explain to them the problems that we have in our district and that we need help. I have been inviting them out here to come to different events, such as the Bell Town Heritage Area [in Aquebogue], where a friend of mine in the Assembly, Alicia Hyndman [D-Springfield Gardens], actually came out with her daughter and spent the day with me out here in the district, so that I could show her some of the challenges we face. On Saturday for Juneteenth, I went into Hempstead and spent the day with my dear friend, Taylor Darling [D-Hempstead] who is also in the majority, to see what her population is faced with.

I think that’s what it really takes: Not being a foreigner to other areas of the state, to realize what their needs are, and to make sure that we all work together to bring some of that money and some of those resources back to Long Island. 

As local residents enter the voting booth for next week’s gubernatorial primary elections, what are some important issues that they should keep in mind?

The important issues are the high taxes that we pay in New York state and getting people back to work. I think that shutting down the economy and making people dependent on the government is problematic and it hasn’t worked in other countries. 

I’ve worked with Congressman Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] since 2009 in his campaigns and have worked very closely with him over the years to make sure that our voices are heard here on Long Island. I think he’s been a pretty good advocate for us. I’ve listened to the debates and I think all of the candidates make great points. They have different areas of expertise that could help the state and I hope that whoever becomes the governor will tap into those assets, knowledge and experience that those others have. 

I think that Lee Zeldin is the most experienced person running for governor in that he served in the state Senate and he also served in Congress, so he knows the mechanisms of government and can hit the ground running right away because we need a quick reversal of what is happening right now in the state.

Two Long Islanders will be on the primary ballots next week: Zeldin and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3). What does this say about the relationship between Long Island and Albany?

Long Islanders are mad. Whether it’s from the South Shore or the North Shore, the East End or the middle of Long Island, people here are mad. Our Long Island Expressway was a debacle for too many years. We needed that federal infrastructure money and I’m glad to say some of it is coming back to Long Island. 

Long Island is a very unique place. There are a lot of people across the state that are spending a lot of time on Long Island, enjoying our waterfronts and our fisheries, our marinas and our farms, our commerce and our beaches. It’s important that we promote ourselves and make sure that Long Island has a strong voice in the state government.

In your opinion, is the MTA-LIRR underperforming? And what can be done to expedite services and make the railroad more responsive to Long Island communities? 

I can tell you that the New York State government is a crutch for the MTA whenever the MTA fails or overspends or has issues. I think that the current governor [Kathy Hochul (D)] shutting down the government for so long, especially in New York City — and the city government that shut everything down from theaters to shopping to restaurants — it really showed New York City that Long Island can work from home and that we don’t need to go into the city. 

I think that is going to cripple the MTA even more. The fact that the current governor held back and kept shutting everything down, sending the troopers and child protective services into restaurants on Long Island and throughout the state to make sure that everybody was shut down was a further step into government dependency. We were just writing unemployment checks and encouraging people to stay home and not go to work. 

How can the state government be brought closer to the people of Long Island?

As I said previously, by bringing people out here. A lot of people on the other side of the aisle in the majority are planning on coming out and spending some time with me out on Long Island this summer, including Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes [D-Buffalo]. We’re going to visit the wineries and the farms, look at the beaches and spend some time together. She has assured me that she will be out here with me and I plan on taking a trip up to Buffalo to see what her hurdles and her struggles are.

I think that by bringing people out farther on Long Island and seeing what we have out here … especially our expressway. Long Island has been neglected for far too long and we need to make sure that our roads are safe, that our law enforcement is making sure that our communities are safe and that there’s always somebody at the other end of the phone to answer the call. 

Our volunteer firefighters and our volunteer EMS workers, they are finding it very unaffordable to live here. We need to make sure that there are incentives for them to stay as another aspect of public safety. That is the fundamental reason why we have a government: public health, safety, welfare and prosperity.

Is there anything else you would like to say to our local readers?

I would like to say that elections have consequences. It’s very important that everyone pays attention to who is running for office. Look them up on the internet. We have easy access now to look at the platforms of the people running for office. Pay attention to who’s running and who best represents your ideals, your values and your concerns.

The world watches as Vladimir Putin’s legacy and reputation unravel. Pixabay photo

By Rich Acritelli

“On the day of victory over Nazism, we are fighting for a new victory.” — Volodymyr Zelensky

These were the words of the Ukrainian president, who reflected recently upon the moment when the Allied forces defeated Hitler’s Third Reich, May 9, 1945.  

Since Feb. 24, Ukraine has engaged in a bitter struggle against the overwhelming strength of the Russian army, which has decimated the now-fallen city of Mariupol, and is widely suspected of targeting civilians in towns such as Bucha. 

The Ukrainian resistance has defended its homeland valiantly. Current estimates project that over 25% of the original invading forces have been either killed, wounded or captured. At the start of the invasion, many Russian soldiers were unaware that they would even fight their neighbor. Some fighters have notified their families that they were misled by upper command, that the true intent of the invasion was never disclosed to them. With rising casualties, the absence of a just cause and declining morale, it seems this invasion has become a disaster for Russia.

Since President Vladimir Putin took over in 2000, he has attempted to project a new brand of Russian power around the world. For some time, tensions have been brewing between Russia and the West as Putin has tried to exert greater authority and reestablish his country as a global superpower. However, Russian credibility has greatly diminished. 

The present occupation of Ukraine is now a public relations nightmare for Putin. The military campaign is humiliating, showcasing his ineptitude as a military commander. Despite its multitude of tactical advantages, Russia so far has been unable to defeat a clearly weaker nation.  

At the outset of the invasion, foreign policy experts estimated Kyiv would fall within a few days. Instead, the Ukrainian capital has become the epicenter of the resistance movement, a symbol of the triumph of freedom and democracy against tyranny and oppression. 

Zelensky has rallied nations around the world to send weapons and aid. He has persuaded friendly governments to impose sanctions that are crippling the Russian economy. The Ukrainians have the Russians in retreat as Putin pulls troops out of Kharkiv, with his major offensive in the Donbas region stalling as well.

Reports indicate some Russian soldiers have refused to fight. Witnessing the carnage to their own force, these soldiers see their probability of death increase the longer they stay in Ukraine. Between seven and 12 generals have already been killed in attempts to push their soldiers forward. 

Before the world, Putin and senior Russian officials have demonstrated a lack of military skill and an inability to command an army. If the Russians continue to be undisciplined, their casualty count will only rise even further. 

Putin’s leadership questioned

Over the last three months, one disaster after another has sent shockwaves through the Russian military. These blunders have shaken confidence in Putin’s leadership both at home and abroad. The world watched as Ukrainians assaulted the guided-missile cruiser Moskva. This flagship, an emblem of Russian naval might in the Black Sea, was destroyed by Ukrainian forces. On the ground, it is estimated Russia has lost more than 650 tanks and about 3,000 armored personnel carriers. American officers are now studying the glowing deficiencies in logistics, supplies and communications that have hampered Putin’s ability to continue the assault on Ukraine. For all of his past bluster and bravado, Putin and his forces have failed miserably at waging war in the face of growing resolve in Ukraine.

On the international front, Putin has proven unable to thwart American and allied supply lines into Ukraine. American Javelin and British anti-tank missiles have made it costly and dangerous for Russian armor to operate within Ukraine. Over 200 Russian aircraft have been destroyed by American weapons, according to some estimates. Western military support, coupled with the determination of Zelensky’s forces, have contributed to this great Russian quagmire. 

With growing evidence that Putin has no exit strategy and no foreseeable chance of success, the once-vaunted Russian army is on the brink of a possible historic and humiliating defeat. At home, his efforts to sell this conflict to the public have lacked success. Thousands have been arrested and jailed for protesting their government. Parents across Russia have received messages from this government that their loved ones have been killed in combat. All the while Putin has attempted to prevent foreign agencies from covering the conflict. 

Unlike during the Cold War between 1947 and 1991, people today are fully aware of the injustice of this invasion. Through his belligerence, Putin has strengthened the alliance of the Western democracies, and the NATO force is only getting stronger. Countries neighboring Russia are not waiting around for Russian aggression along their borders. Finland and Sweden, two nations that have always maintained a policy of neutrality, have just formally applied for NATO membership. 

Looking at this conflict from afar, China, which has for decades shown aggressive political and military actions toward Taiwan, must wonder if an attack against this island-nation neighbor will be worth the cost. Today, Russia is a pariah state within the global community, its economy is declining and the country is a target for American intelligence. China is an economic superpower which has yet to conduct any modern military operations of its own. Unlike the U.S., which took over and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan through fighting in the last two decades, China is a major power that has not fought any significant battles since the Korean War in 1950-53.  

It is very possible that history will repeat itself if China invades Taiwan. On a daily basis, Chinese officials should watch the military and political blunders taking place in Ukraine. The Russians are failing on all fronts, and its massive costs are only adding up. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

With 4.8 million participants nationwide, pickleball is now the fastest growing sport in the United States, says Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball. File photo from Pixabay

Pickleball, a nationwide recreational phenomenon, has made its way to Port Jefferson village.

On Tuesday, May 10, village residents will be offered the opportunity to learn about pickleball and try it out for themselves. Trustee Stan Loucks said the pickleball village initiative is finally materializing. 

“Pickleball has been on my agenda for about four years,” he said in a phone interview. “We have a clinic planned for May 10 at 6 o’clock that we’re advertising, and registration is through the village recreation department.” 

Loucks described pickleball as a combination of several racket sports in one. Unlike tennis, pickleball is played within a much smaller area, which has a lower impact on the body. “It’s also a sport that the elderly can play,” he said.

Loucks was first introduced to pickleball in Florida, where he said he spends a good portion of his time. There, he noticed a surge in pickleball’s popularity and sought to bring this activity to the village. 

 “The reason I picked pickleball is because if we use the area that we have left over at the country club, those upper [tennis] courts, I can put six pickleball courts there,” the trustee said. “We don’t have room for tennis up there right now and we thought we could put a pickleball complex up there.” He added, “It is a sport that has exploded nationwide. It’s a matter of popularity, expense, room, and it’s an advantage that all ages can play.”

History of pickleball

TBR News Media contacted Stu Upson, CEO of USA Pickleball, for an exclusive interview. He shared the history of the sport dating back nearly six decades.

“Pickleball started in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington [state] — just across from Seattle — by three families who were there for the summer,” Upson said in a phone interview. “The kids were antsy and bored, so they created the game of pickleball on their driveway.”

From there, the sport grew throughout the Pacific Northwest, becoming more popular over time. Upson noted it was particularly popular throughout warmer climates.

“Over time, it really grew in the Sun Belt,” he said. “It’s huge in Florida, California and Arizona.” Addressing the demographics that gravitated to the sport initially, Upson added, “It was a more popular sport among seniors who wanted to remain active and probably had played tennis a lot. Tennis was a little difficult for them to continue to play because it’s harder on the body.”

Within the last five years, Upson observed a boom in the number of picklers throughout the country. “It was growing 20% per year before the pandemic, but when COVID shut the world down, the sport really took off because it was so easy to play.” He added, “Even since the pandemic, the sport has continued to skyrocket and is now the country’s fastest growing sport with now 4.8 million people playing it.”

When asked to explain the rise of pickleball, Upson said it was the sport’s relative simplicity that made the difference.

“It’s easy to play, but it’s also easy to learn,” he said. “You can get out on the court and if you have any basic hand-eye coordination, especially if you have experience playing another racket sport, you can go out on a pickleball court and, within an hour or so, be confident and not embarrass yourself.”

Rules and regulations

While pickleball may look similar to other racket sports, it is governed by its own unique set of rules and scoring procedures. “The scoring is different from tennis,” Upson said. “It’s a much smaller court which is about the same size as a paddle-tennis court,” adding, “In fact, you can fit four pickleball courts in the area of one tennis court.”

Also distinguishing pickleball from its racket sport counterparts is the style in which it is played. Unlike tennis, a pickleball is served underhand. Additionally, the game follows a service-scoring format, meaning points can only be earned while one is serving the pickleball. Games are usually played to 11 points, according to Upson.

The mission of USA Pickleball is to grow the sport,” he said. “As the national governing body, we also sanction tournaments, set the rules of the game, approve all the equipment — the paddles and balls — and we hold tournaments around the country.”

Trustee Stan Loucks has been working for over four years to bring pickleball to the village of Port Jefferson. His vision is now becoming reality. Photo from the Village of Port Jefferson website

Future of the sport

Part of Pickleball USA’s efforts include appealing to the International Olympic Committee for formal recognition at the Olympics. Realistically, pickleball will not be recognized for at least another 12 years.

“We want to help grow the sport internationally and would love for it to be recognized by the IOC and be a part of the Olympic Games at some point, but that’s quite a few years down the road,” Upson said. 

At the local level, there is a growing demand for the sport throughout Port Jeff. “We now have a waiting list,” Loucks said. “We have so many people that have enrolled that we can’t accommodate all of them.” He added, “The demand is there. I think we’re going to have more people that want to play than we’re going to have room for.”

Loucks said programs such as the May 10 clinic are designed to introduce prospective picklers. He emphasized the importance of the upcoming clinic, saying, “I’d like to see the local readers show up at our May 10 pickleball clinic at Texaco Park. It’s free and we will have rackets available. For anyone who shows up, we will try to get them on the court. If we can’t accommodate that many people on the courts, they certainly will see the game being played and receive an awful lot of information about the sport.”