Government

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin said Suffolk County’s federal assistance is going to come down to closing the gap between each party’s proposed bills. File photo by Alex Petroski

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) has been in the thick of federal discussions about another program to support state and local governments.

He said the federal government is having “active talks with respect to there being a next coronavirus response bill … I have been advocating directly to the president and his chief of staff [Mark Meadows] and leaders in Congress about Suffolk County and our local towns and villages.”

The local congressman, whose district covers the North Fork and South Fork all the way west to most of Smithtown, said President Donald Trump (R) called his house last Sunday night and that he used the opportunity to talk about getting funding for local government. Zeldin brought up the MTA with the president.

“I’m trying to get top line numbers for our county, towns, villages, the MTA and Port Authority,” he said.

Zeldin suggested three factors affected a national funding bill. The first is that the Nov. 3 election is rapidly approaching.

“You have to have a willingness to allow your political opposition to also have a win when you have a government that’s divided between parties,” he said. “The only way for a next coronavirus response bill to become law is similarly to the way the past coronavirus response bill became law,” by Republicans and Democrats working together.

Passing another bill would give everyone, including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Trump a win, the congressman said.

“That’s a problem for some, because there are people who really don’t want the president to get reelected,” Zeldin said. “If anyone wants to suggest that that’s not a factor, a political calculation and electioneering, they are incredibly naive to that absolute factor to these talks.”

Additionally, the Republicans and Democrats have been far apart in the amount of funding. The Democrats initially had passed a bill in the House for approximately $900 billion for state and local governments out of a $3.4 trillion total aid bill, but the congressman claimed Democrats are sticking to their highball number. According to Axios, Pelosi is now aiming for a new total aid package hovering around $2.2 trillion with local assistance reduced to $436 billion.

Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have offered a $150 billion package for state and local governments.

“You can’t stick to a state and local government funding number as high as $900 billion,” Zeldin said. “That’s far more than state and local governments are asking for. If you insist on $900 billion or bust, there’s not going to be any additional state and local funding.”

The additional dynamic that comes into play is that some Democrats who were elected for the first time in Republican districts have been putting pressure on Pelosi in the last few weeks, Zeldin said.

“They want there to actually be negotiations and compromise to get it over the finish line,” he said.

With talks restarted between congressional Democratic leadership and the Trump administration, Zeldin said he was “hopeful” that the discussions would result in a new bill.

He said the amount of money the states and local governments are asking for has also declined since the original request. Indeed, New York State has cut its request to $30 billion from $60 billion.

Any bill that passed wouldn’t likely indicate how county and local governments should spend the money, the congressman said.

“I’m not looking for Congress to break up every dollar being appropriated for Suffolk County,” Zeldin said. “The best thing to do would be to provide flexibility, so that county level elected officials can determine the best use of additional funding.”

Rocky Point VFW during a 2019 Veterans Day Event. The Rocky Point VFW has donated to the Joseph P. Dwyer project, but that same initiative may be losing funds without federal aid. Photo by Kyle Barr

County officials said the Joseph P. Dwyer program, which provides veterans with peer to peer counseling for post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, is under financial pressure amid the economic collapse caused by the pandemic.

Though at the same time, a local congressman who helped start the program has questioned whether the program could truly be defunded, even as local officials are facing a grim financial outlook.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin said there is not much risk of the Dwyer program being defunded any time soon. File photo by Kevin Redding

A loss of the Dwyer program is especially problematic this year, as the need for these services on Long Island has more than doubled in the last six months, according to Marcelle Leis, program director of the Joseph P. Dwyer Veterans Peer Support Project.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) led a group of people focused on veterans affairs in the county, which has the largest population of veterans in the state, to ask for federal disaster relief.

The Dwyer program is “at risk because of tough budgets in the state,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. It is “critical that the federal government provide disaster aid to state and local governments so we can continue to function and provide critical services during the pandemic.”

Veterans commit about 20 suicides per day, which is a “national shame,” Bellone said. The county executive cited a recent report in Newsday that estimates that veteran suicides are up by 20 percent since the pandemic began.

“All of the challenges people have faced” have been exacerbated by the “unprecedented natural disaster that we are all living through,” Bellone added.

Domestic violence, mental health and addiction issues have all become more prevalent amid the threat to public health and the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19, officials said.

Thomas Ronayne, Director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, said resources for veterans in Suffolk County were “stretched to near the breaking point.”

Ronayne suggested the virus that has changed the world during this challenging year has been no less an enemy than any combatant veterans faced on a battle field, in a jungle or in a desert city.

Veterans have struggled with the isolation created by calls for them to avoid social interactions, when agencies like Ronayne’s would normally encourage them to socialize and interact with the community and their peers.

Indeed, Joe Cognitore, Commander of the Rocky Point VFW Post 6249, who received the Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge for his service during Vietnam from 1969 to 1971, said he has typically felt relief going out and feels much more pent up by being indoors.

“Staying in and [staring at] the four walls of your home takes a toll on you,” Cognitore said.

Cognitore said the Rocky Point VFW recently donated $2,500 to the Dwyer Program.

Leis said the Dwyer Program receives $185,000 in Suffolk County each year in state funding. Cutting or eliminating that funding would reduce the services veterans can access.

“We do save lives,” Leis said. “We cannot do it alone.”

Ronayne said veterans can reach out to the Agency by calling (631) 853-8387, adding that they are always available to support veterans, but that people who need help immediately should call 911.

Bellone said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) has a “close, working relationship with the president and the White House,” Bellone said. “That’s a critical thing. We need the president to weigh in with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).] We need all parties to come to an agreement on disaster aid.”

Zeldin was a state senator when the Dwyer Program started and said in a phone interview Tuesday that he has continued to provide support.

While Zeldin has spoken with President Donald Trump (R) this Sunday by phone about the need for funding for Suffolk County, he has not heard about any imminent threat to state-sponsored support for a program he helped create.

The Dwyer Program is funded through the end of the first quarter of 2021, Zeldin said, adding he wasn’t aware of anyone inside the state executive or legislative branch who is planning to cut funding for this program.

Zeldin doesn’t anticipate that this particular program will be cut at the state level either.

NAACP chapter President Tracey Edwards has criticized the county for not communicating well enough about the new police reform task force. File photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the county was creating a new 30-member policing task force to develop a plan for police going forward.

The announcement came on the same day, Sept. 9, when advocates from all over Long Island protested on the steps of the county executive seat in Hauppauge over the need for police reform. Speakers also criticized Bellone for seemingly stalling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York State Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative. This executive order, originally signed in June, cites that every department must make a comprehensive review of police departments and their procedures, and address the needs of the community to promote “trust, fairness and legitimacy, and to address any racial bias and disproportionate policing of communities of color.” The governor released new guidance for these reviews, effectively saying municipalities need to understand the disposition of the community before drafting their final plan. Municipalities who do not create such a plan could lose state funding for their police departments.

Members of the Suffolk Task Force

● Deputy CE Vanessa Baird-Streeter

● Jon Kaiman, Deputy County Executive

● Retha Fernandez, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Suffolk County

● Geraldine Hart, Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner

● Risco Mention-Lewis, Suffolk County Police Department Deputy Commissioner

● Stuart Cameron, Suffolk County Police Department Chief of Department

● Errol Toulon Jr., Suffolk County Sheriff

● Tim Sini, Suffolk County District Attorney

● Presiding Officer Rob Calarco

● Majority Leader William “Doc” Spencer

● Minority Leader Tom Cilmi

● Legislator Tom Donnelly, Chair of the Public Safety Committee

● Legislator Jason Richberg

● Legislator Sam Gonzalez

● Noel DiGerolamo, President, Suffolk PBA

● Tracey Edwards, NAACP LI Regional Director

● Theresa Sanders, President, Urban League of Long Island

● Christina Vargas, Chief Diversity Officer/Title IX Coordinator Suffolk County Community College 

● Daniel Russo, Administrator, Assigned Counsel Defender Plan of Suffolk County

● Rev. Charles Coverdale, First Baptist Church of Riverhead

● Bishop Andy Lewter, Hollywood Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral

● Kathleen King, Chair, Suffolk County Native American Advisory Board

● Pastor Angel Falcon, Faith Alive Ministries

● Sister Sanaa Nadim, Chaplain, Islamic Society of North America

● Cindy Reide Combs, Licensed Master Social Worker

● Serena Liguori, Executive Director, New Hour for Women and Children LI

● Jennifer Leveque, Huntington Leaders of the New School

● Girish Patel, BAPS Hindu Temple

● Rabbi Abe Rabinovich, Kings Park JC

● David Kilmnick, President & Chief Executive Officer, LGBT Network

Members of Long Island Advocates for Police Accountability, which was formed after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police in May, were especially critical of Bellone’s handling of rolling out the task force at the Sept. 9 protest in front of the William H. Rogers building. 

Tracey Edwards, who is one of the people named to the new task force, is the regional director  for NAACP Long Island and spoke at the protest building Sept. 9. She said the NAACP and other groups wrote letters to Bellone in June, shortly after Cuomo signed his executive order, but did not hear back and have only seen movement on the executive order now.

As for the task force itself, Edwards said it’s not enough to go through the motions and see nothing of substance come out of it. Specifically, she said police need to increase diversity amongst dispatchers and department leadership, and increase the number of body cameras worn by officers, as just a few examples toward lasting change in Suffolk policing.

“We don’t want a predetermined process, we don’t want selective membership that makes everyone comfortable,” she said. “This is meant to be an uncomfortable process.”

Deputy County Executive Vanessa Baird-Streeter, also a member of the new task force, defended the county’s timing, saying officials were waiting for Cuomo’s guidance document, which was finally released Aug. 17. 

“We were looking at this prior to that date, but this is the guidance we were looking at that allowed us to form the task force,” she said. “For the county, we really want a collaborative process, one where they feel their voice is heard, their concerns are heard, their issues are heard, and then have an opportunity to address those issues.”

The task force is split in half between county and police officials and other community groups. Of the 30 members of the task force, nine are either Suffolk County legislators or work for the county in some capacity. Another six work in some kind of law enforcement capacity, including Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president, Noel DiGerolamo. The other 15 are from a variety of faith, minority or local advocacy groups.

Though in the case of the Suffolk PBA and its head DiGerolamo, some advocates criticized his involvement, especially since the PBA has been proponents and participants of Blue Lives Matter protests countywide, where participants have been strongly opposed to any kind of police reform.

DiGerolamo said in a phone interview that he appreciated being included on the task force and that he hoped other members “will enter into it with an open mind and be reasonable in their expectations” regarding what police reforms are applicable to SCPD. He instead said he hopes people see the need for a greater police and civilian relationship, “not a defund movement, which would only cause a greater divide.”

In regards to reforms such as defunding the police, a phrase which accounts for taking funds away from traditional law enforcement and putting it toward other social services in an effort to reduce the source of crime, the PBA president called it “completely misguided.” He cited changes the police have already done, including a limited body camera program, bias training and a civilians police academy.   

“I think any time you put people together who will share their thoughts collectively, there’s always a potential for growth,” DiGerolamo said.

Baird-Streeter said the guidance document effectively mandates who needs to be on the committee, including key police stakeholders in which the PBA president is one of them.

“Actually, looking for reforms within the police department, it’s important to have the entity that represents the police,” she said.

Suffolk County police and county officials have constantly touted recent reforms already made at the department. Officials cite its implicit bias training where 65% of the force, or 1,600 officers have been trained. Officials also cite their de-escalation techniques taught in the police academy and new diversity initiatives which have resulted in a more diverse department.

But advocates say it hasn’t been enough, and they would rather hear what police plan to do in the future rather than what it’s currently doing.

Irma Solis, director of the Suffolk Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union and longtime advocate has been on the side of police reform for close to 20 years. She said that while there have been recent strides on the side of police, the distance between department reform and the police enacting it is still too great. It’s especially apparent when considering communities with a high density of Black and Latino populations who have a greater sense of being targeted by law enforcement, even years after Suffolk police started its reform initiatives.

“Certain communities really receive the brunt of over policing and over surveillance,” Solis said. “If you have folks [on the task force] who are not willing to look further and begin to understand this is more of a systemic issue and not a case of a few bad apples, it’s difficult to say that we’re going to meet the purpose of this executive order.”

Suffolk County has also announced it would be releasing surveys to residents on their feelings toward police, both those who have had encounters with police and those who haven’t.

Suffolk is using the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety, which is described as an independent nonprofit research group based in Albany, to conduct the more than 6,000 surveys. People will be randomly selected amongst residents as well as those who have had recent interactions with police, both victims and complainants, according to a news release. The surveys will be conducted over the next four months in both English and Spanish. Surveyors are also expected to perform a “targeted oversampling” of people of color, since generating a sample size from a population like Suffolk, which is over 67% white, would not relay how minority communities may feel they are treated differently by police.

“This is an important step to gain valuable insight into how we are doing as a department and how our members are interacting with the public,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in a statement. “We need the support of our communities to continue to be a successful department. I encourage people to respond to the surveys because it will enable us to continue to move toward a more fair and equitable department.”

Officials said this survey will also inform whatever plan Suffolk later sends to New York State. 

Baird-Streeter said the task force will have its first meeting Monday, Sept. 21, where they will discuss how and where other meetings will take place. Though they have eight planned, they are not limiting themselves in how many they can conduct. All meetings, she said, have to be completed before the end of the year in order to have the county’s plans sent to New York State by next April.

Local legislators joined U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R) at a press conference Sept. 14 in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) invited elected officials from across Suffolk County and from all levels of government to join him Monday, Sept. 14, on the front steps of Town Hall to send a plea for help to the capital as Congress members prepare to negotiate the next federal COVID-19 package.

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On hand was U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1), who along with Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY19) introduced the Direct Support for Communities Act in the House of Representatives. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by New York Sens. Chuck Schumer (D) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D).

Wehrheim said the legislators are calling on Congress for direct coronavirus funding while their municipalities face historic financial shortfalls. He thanked Zeldin for working across the aisle and advocating for a bipartisan proposal for the funding that local governments could use for essential services and to offset lost revenues during the ongoing pandemic.

Zeldin said while there has been legislation to provide relief for families, small businesses and for state and local governments under the CARES Act, there was still more that needed to be done.

He gave the example of the Town of Brookhaven, which was excluded from the last relief package. The congressman said for a town to receive CARES Act funding directly it needed a population of more than 500,000. Brookhaven has just under that number. The town had requested $12 million from the federal government, according to Zeldin.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here.”

— Lee Zeldin

“The formula of how that CARES Act money was distributed was very strict to ensure that the money could only be used for COVID-19 related expenses,” he said. “It’s important for there not only to be more funding for state and local governments, but also more flexibility in how that money is spent.”

The legislation introduced recently by Zeldin would allow a new formula to disperse relief funding based on population. Under the new guidelines, if the act is passed, Brookhaven could potentially receive the $12 million.

Zeldin said with the new formula half the money would go to the counties based on population and the other half to towns, cities and villages.

“It’s very important that if and when Congress provides additional support for state and local governments, that the money that is sent from D.C. to Albany actually makes its way to the constituents represented by the men and women who are here,” the congressman said.

During his speech, four protesters jeered Zeldin as he spoke and held up signs, one of which read, “Lazy Lee Must Go! CD1 Deserves Better!” 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) also spoke at the press conference. He said the pandemic has shut down the economy and the effects will reverberate for the next 100 years. He thanked Zeldin for his help with what he called “a rescue bill.”

“Government is no different than the average family,” he said. “Our revenues are down, and we still must provide services. We need some help. We need some leadership.”

Town of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci speaks at the Sept. 14 press conference in Smithtown. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said since the middle of March towns have provided much needed essential services such as senior centers providing meals for those in need, garbage pickup and public safety agencies patrolling the beaches and parks, which he said may have seen more visitors in the last few months than in the last 15 years. He added that the continuity of services continued without federal assistance and it’s important to remember that the future is unknown with COVID-19.

Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) said the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on every aspect of county and local government functions.

“We are on the verge of utter collapse, and without intervention and swift intervention from the federal government, our county government and local governments will no longer exist as we know them here,” the comptroller said. “And guess what? We deserve better. We deserve better from Washington. We deserve a government that is going to actually be receptive to this crisis.”

New York State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Suffolk County Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and Rob Trotta (R- Fort Salonga), plus Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter (R), Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (R), Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman (D) and New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) also spoke at the event to show their support for the bipartisan bill.

Stock photo

By Lisa Scott

Every state has its own election laws. New York State’s laws have been more restrictive than many others, although progress has been made in the past few years. In-person early voting commenced in 2019 and absentee ballot eligibility expanded in 2020 to anyone who has concerns due to COVID-19. We now have electronic (iPad-style) poll books and during early voting customized ballots for each voter are printed.

Your vote will count in November if you educate yourself, develop a voting plan with others if possible, and plan ahead. Waiting until the last minute, particularly with an absentee ballot, increases the odds of your missing deadlines or making a paperwork mistake with no time for correction.

Fortunately, in New York State you have several options for casting your ballot: Absentee Ballots, Early Voting, and Election Day Voting. Follow the steps below, and call the Suffolk County Board of Elections (SCBOE) at 631-852-4500 or, if you have a simple question, call the League of Women Voters (LWV) at 631-862-6860. The LWV is non-partisan, not affiliated with the Board of Elections and cannot give you election advice.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered all Boards of Elections in NYS to mail a letter to all households with registered voters in early September. The letter will give polling place information, details for early voting, and an explanation of the absentee ballot process for the November elections.

Voter Registration

You must be registered in order to vote. You may register if you will be 18 years of age by Election Day, a resident of the county for at least 30 days prior to the election, and a citizen of the United States. 16 and 17 year-olds can now pre-register to vote, but will not be able to vote until they are 18. You may only vote in one state. If you have moved within the state since the last time you voted, you will be able to vote via affidavit ballot in your new election district, but re-registering with your new address before Oct. 9 is advisable.

Registration forms are available at the Board of Elections, post offices and libraries. Online voter registration is possible via the DMV website if you are already in their website. You can call 1-800-FOR-VOTE hotline to request a voter application. You can download and print a form from the New York State Board of Elections (NYSBOE) homepage link Need a Voter Registration Form. The deadline to register is Oct. 9. (If mailed your registration form must be postmarked by that date.) The registration form includes a place where you can also immediately request an absentee ballot.

Absentee Ballot Voting

Unlike June primary voting: Absentee ballot applications will not automatically be sent to everyone – you must apply for one! The deadline to apply is October 27 – DO NOT WAIT – You may apply NOW.

The fastest, simplest, method is online! NYSBOE has introduced an online form at absenteeballot.elections.ny.gov. You only need to enter your county, name, date of birth and zip code. Within seconds you will receive a printable absentee ballot confirmation and number.

You may also email, fax or telephone your request for an absentee ballot to the SCBOE. Details are at https://suffolkcountyny.gov/Departments/BOE/Absentee-Voting-FAQ.  When you receive your ballot follow all instructions.

Fill it out, sign and enclose the oath envelope, apply postage and mail as soon as you can. You may also (in person, or via a friend or relative) bring the SEALED ballot to the SCBOE in Yaphank or to any  Suffolk early voting site during open hours, or to your polling place on November 3.

The BOE must now send a letter to the voter within 24 hours of receipt of an absentee ballot with a problem (e.g. no signature). You should send your ballot in early so that, the BOE would have time to alert you of a problem and you would be able to correct the issue before deadlines.

The Board of Elections will start mailing out absentee ballots Sept. 18. This cannot be done until the candidate list is certified. After you’ve submitted your absentee ballot, you can call the SCBOE to confirm your ballot was received. If you had requested an absentee ballot due to COVID-19 in June, you still MUST reapply for November 2020. NYS absentee ballot application rules for 2021 have not yet been determined.

In New York State, unlike most other states, you can still vote in person even if you voted on an absentee ballot. The absentee ballot will be discarded by the BOE if you’ve already voted in person. Absentee ballots will be counted beginning 48 hours after Election Day. Absentee ballot voter names will be checked against the electronic poll book before being processed.

Early Voting

There are 12 Early Voting sites in Suffolk County. Registered Suffolk County voters may vote at ANY of the 12 sites during the Early Voting period. This is possible because of the new electronic poll books, and ballots that are printed on demand for each voter. All NYS counties have the same 9 early voting dates (Sat. Oct. 24  to Sun. Nov. 1), but times each day vary. No one can vote in person on Nov. 2.

To vote on Election Day in person

Polls are open on Nov. 3 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. in Suffolk County. Look up your voter registration and polling place online to reconfirm all is in order. You can do that via the NYSBOE homepage link Find Out if you are Registered and Where to Vote.

The best on-line sources of information are VOTE411.org (select your state and you can register to vote, find your polling place, see what’s on your ballot and learn about the candidates) and the New York State Board of Elections at elections.ny.gov.

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 www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

There will be a significant reduction in the number of people who can commemorate 9/11 this year, with many like the annual event in Shoreham being closed to the public due to COVID-19. File photo by Kyle Barr

TBR News Media reached out to several local elected officials at the national, state and county level to let them share their thoughts as we head into another commemoration of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

*This post will be updated as more officials respond to our questions.*

Sen. Gaughran Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

State Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) spoke with the TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

Gaughran: When I think of 9/11, I obviously think of the heroism and the number of people I know who died. I certainly think of the police officers and the firefighters and the first responders who, without hesitancy, ran right into those buildings. Probably, some of them knew they were going to get killed. Maybe others figured it was another day when they were going to try to save people.

TBR: Who is the first person you think of in connection with 9/11?

On Sept. 11, 2019, Gov. Cuomo signs 9/11 bill, sponsored by N.Y. State Sen. Jim Gaughran.

Gaughran: Since I have been in the senate, the first person that comes to mind more than anyone else is Tim DeMeo, who is a constituent of mine, who was working for the Department of Environmental Conservation. He was in charge of dealing with oil spills, other contaminated sites and other hazardous clean ups. He was in Manhattan, driving over the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn, when the plane crashed. He got a call, “You should turn around, go back to Manhattan. This is something we’ll have to deal with.”

He turned around. The second plane crashed. He was permanently injured by debris. He stayed there. The next day and the next day, throughout [the clean-up] with all the other heroes…

He worked alongside police and firefighters and others working at the scene. He got very sick. He was not entitled to the same disability retirement benefits that everybody else was who was there. The way the state legislature wrote the bill, it was written so it would [be for] uniformed employees. He was not one of them. He was in the Department of Environmental Conservation. There were eight or nine other people like him. One of the first who came to see me in my district office, he came and told me a story … He said, “everybody else has been helped and I haven’t.”

He has significant medical issues. Attempts to pass a bill never went anywhere. I ended up writing a bill. We passed a bill last year, on 9/11. The Governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] signed the bill.

It’s my proudest achievement so far. It didn’t help as many people as some of the other legislation I dealt with. I’m proudest of [that bill]. All these people were just as much heroes as everyone else. They were left out. New York was ignoring them.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Gaughran: I think it’s basically the same. A nurse or a doctor or a firefighter or an EMT who picks up somebody and puts them in an ambulance and brings them to the hospital are doing this knowing they could easily contract COVID and face the same issues that people they are trying to help are facing. The risks are the same. Running into a burning building is a more immediate risk. Dealing with a sick COVID patient, who may give you the disease, you’re facing a risk that potentially could cost you your life.

TBR: Do you think the divisiveness of today will ease during 9/11?

Gaughran: I would hope so. I remember on 9/11, watching George W. Bush at the site, that iconic image, with the bull horn and everything. That wasn’t that long after the election. My kids were young. They paid attention to everything. [They said] “dad, you didn’t vote for him.” This is a moment when we all have to stand behind him. It was a different world then. It’s hard to get people to agree to the same thing today. The president we have now is not going out of his way to try to create national unity.

I voted for Al Gore, but Bush did push for national unity after that, including visiting mosques, to make it clear that even though the terrorists who killed us were of a certain background, the folks who were living in the United States who happened to be Muslim are patriotic citizens like everyone else.

Rep. Lee Zeldin Shares his Thoughts on 9/11

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) responded to questions from TBR News Media on the eve of the 19th year since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

TBR: What do you think of when you reflect on 9/11 today?

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Zeldin: The bravery, selflessness, fearlessness, and resolve of first responders, Americans, and our entire nation as a whole. When so many of us think about 9/11, we remember exactly where we were that day, when ordinary Americans became extraordinary heroes. We vividly remember what we heard, what we saw and how we felt. We remember first responders running towards danger at the greatest possible risk to their own lives.

While our memories of those moments have not faded, most importantly, neither has our resolve to rise stronger than ever before. New Yorkers remain committed, especially this year, to remember, honor and exemplify those Americans, who in the face of unconscionable evil, were the very best of who we are.

TBR:  Who is the first person that comes to mind in connection with 9/11?

Zeldin: It’s difficult to choose just one person who comes to mind, but with the full permanent funding of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund signed into law last year, one of the first people who comes to mind is Luis Alvarez. While he wasn’t with us to witness the legislation he fought so hard for signed into law, he spent his final weeks with us continuing the fight until the very end so other 9/11 first responders wouldn’t have to.

TBR: In the context of the pandemic, is 9/11 overlooked?

Zeldin: Even in the midst of a pandemic, the commitment of New Yorkers to Never Forget, as we’ve seen with the Tribute in Light and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, underscores how dedicated New Yorkers are to the memory of those who died on that day and the so many who have passed since due to 9/11 related illnesses.

TBR: How would you compare the heroism of first responders who raced to the burning buildings in Manhattan to the heroism of first responders and health care workers who have dealt with the ongoing unknowns and challenges from the pandemic?

Zeldin: The same bravery in the face of clear danger and uncertainty that drove so many first responders on 9/11 to save countless lives at the expensive of their own, is the same bravery that has spurred so many of our local first responders and health care workers to serve throughout the novel outbreak of coronavirus.

Northport power plant. File photo

A decade after the Long Island Power Authority sought to reduce the taxes it paid on the Northport Power Station, the Huntington Town Board voted to approve a settlement 56 minutes before the offer on the long-standing case expired.

With the possibility of a judgment that would not only hurt Huntington’s finances but would also have implications for the economy of Suffolk County, the Town Board voted 4-1 at 11:04 p.m. Sept. 3 to support a settlement that will cut LIPA’s taxes to $46 million from $86 million over the next seven years.

During a public forum that ran for well over five hours, Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said he supported the settlement, in part because he wanted to protect the value of real estate. He also described it as a transaction the town could be “proud of.”

Councilman Gene Cook (R) voted against the terms because he suggested the board was elected to fight for the people.

Several residents spoke during the virtual hearing, with some expressing their reluctant support and others bristling at the deadline to agree to the settlement in the midst of the pandemic.

As part of the terms of the deal, LIPA also agreed to pay the town an additional $1 million each year for 2021-23.

LIPA had submitted an appraisal in 2019 that valued the property at the Northport power plant, which has the four tall red-and-white smokestacks that are visible from the Long Island Sound, at $193 million, considerably below the original $3.6 billion assessment. A judgment in favor of LIPA could have dramatically cut LIPA’s taxes while putting the town on the hook for a refund and interest liability of $825 million.

The Suffolk County Tax Act would require the county to pay the LIPA refund, which the county would then have to charge back to the town.

While the county could raise funds from public investors to pay LIPA, county Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R), who supported the settlement, laid out the extreme difficulty in such a course of action.

“We had to go into the market in April for a $105 million budget anticipation note,” he said. “We got slaughtered. We had to pay 4%” interest on that money. “That’s the equivalent of going to a leg breaker. We’re not in a good financial position at all. Saying we’re shaky” in raising any additional funds, let alone $1 billion, “is an understatement.”

Additionally, County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who voiced his support through a letter prior to the vote, argued that the settlement was “far better than anything [else] offered during the course of the dispute.”

As a part of the settlement, LIPA has agreed to waive all refund liability upon compliance, will pay $14.5 million to the Northport-East Northport school district and will have a lower assessed valuation for seven consecutive years to achieve tax payments not exceeding $46 million by 2026-27.

In years eight through 12, the taxes would remain steady at $46 million.

In addition to the financial implications, the settlement withdraws all appeals and pending lawsuits and gives the town a most-favored nation entitlement, which means that the town would be eligible for similar terms that other municipalities negotiated with the power authority.

The settlement also protects against a ramp down or the retirement of units, which means that the tax base won’t decline even if LIPA closes down some of the capacity of its Northport facility.

The implications of the deal are most profound for residents of Northport and East Northport. For an average residential home worth $484,868, taxes would increase by an average of $370.29. That is still well below the $4,558 increase residents would have seen if LIPA had won a court judgment.

For South Huntington, the increase in the residential tax assessment is a much more modest $22.57 per year for a home valued at $388,816.

Though the Setauket Patriots said their Fourth of July parade held in Port Jeff was an a-political event, a few cars like this military-style Jeep rolled down Main Street bearing “Trump 2020” paraphernalia. Photo by David Luces

The Setauket Patriots, a sometimes-controversial online conservative group, announced they plan to hold a 9/11 parade in Port Jefferson, even though this time they lack the village’s approval. 

The planned march, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 12, would take people from the train station all the way down to the 9/11 memorial across from Port Jefferson Village Hall, next to the marina parking lot. The village has not granted a permit for the march, but the group plans to go anyway. 

“This is about trying to follow the mandates.”

— Margot Garant

The Facebook page for the event states the event is planned because New York City, along with Suffolk and Nassau counties, have declined to hold public 9/11 ceremonies because of the pandemic. The patriots, a known pro-Trump group, said the event “is not a Trump rally but a 9/11 never-forget-our-first-responders event.” Organizers said they expect anywhere from 150 to 200 participants.

This is not the first event the group has decided to host in Port Jeff. When hundreds marched down Main Street in Port Jefferson for a Black Lives Matter march in June, the Setauket Patriots hosted a Fourth of July car parade in response. Both the protest march and Patriots parade received permits after discussions with village officials, which created changes of time and place for both events. This time, the conservative group filed for a permit but they claim their request was denied Friday, Aug. 28.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said an executive order signed July 6 by Mayor Margot Garant effectively stopped the village from signing any new permits for marches or protests. The order was enabled by the village’s previous declaration of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time it was signed, Garant said the permits for such protests and parades had been “a mistake” because of the ongoing pandemic.

In regards to any further action taken by the village, Egan said nothing would be enforced by Port Jeff’s constables, and it would instead fall on the Suffolk County Police Department. In response to whether the village plans any further action against the group if it does host its parade, he again reiterated that Port Jeff’s clerk would no longer be issuing permits for any kind of march.

Garant said that beyond the moratorium on permits, the application the group filed had been incomplete and was rejected for that as well. She added the purpose of no longer allowing groups of more than 50 to gather is an attempt to comply with state orders trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“It has nothing to do with who they are and what they’re doing,” she said. “This is about trying to follow the mandates.”

The mayor said the village has contacted Suffolk County police as well as state police about the planned march. They have also contacted the Town of Brookhaven, since the 9/11 memorial is technically on town-owned land. She advised that the group should try and communicate with the town instead to devise some kind of ceremony.

A spokesperson for the Setauket Patriots, who asked he not be named because of fear of being outed online, called the village’s decision to not allow any more parades unfair, considering the village has started hosting its Harborfront Park movie nights once again, though these are hosted by the village itself and therefore do not require permits.  

“We’re helping Mr. Dooley, and it’s the only reason we’re having it in Port Jeff.”

— Setauket Patriots

The Setauket Patriots leader reiterated that the planned march was planned to be apolitical. He said it was planned after conversations with Daniel Dooley, a New York City Fire Department lieutenant who helped construct the Port Jeff 9/11 memorial. Dooley normally hosts a vigil at the memorial site to commemorate 9/11. He was also described as a member of the group.

“We’re helping Mr. Dooley, and it’s the only reason we’re having it in Port Jeff,” the Setauket Patriots rep said.

Efforts to contact Dooley went unsuccessful as of press time.

A few other 9/11-based events usually happen within the village to commemorate that fateful day in 2001. The Port Jefferson Fire Department normally hosts its own ceremony, and last year the Order Sons and Daughters of Italy in America hosted a candlelight vigil in Harborfront Park. 

Tom Totten, the PJ fire district chairman of the fire commissioners, said they plan to host an in-house ceremony that’s not open to the public. Discussions are still ongoing whether the vigil will be recorded or livestreamed.

Other 9/11 events on the North Shore have been postponed or changed to meet the challenges of the pandemic. The usual Setauket Fire Department 9/11 event will not be open to the public and will instead be livestreamed. Other events, like the 9/11 memorial hosted in Shoreham by the Rocky Point Fire Department, are still up in the air.

Members of the Setauket Patriots group also took the lead in several controversial May protests in Commack calling for the end of the COVID-19 shutdowns. Their Facebook normally posts conservative and pro-president news, but their page also shares more posts that could well be described as inciting violence, such as videos of pro-Trump car paraders in Portland, Oregon, driving into and through counterprotesters and spraying them with pepper spray with captions like, “Bear spray is the new bug spray!” 

Officials from Shoreham Village, Suffolk County and utility companies look at plans for the North Shore Rail Trail, which will stretch from Wading River to Mount Sinai. Photo from Anker’s office

Work is picking up once again on the North Shore Rail Trail project, also known as Rails to Trails. Plans are for a 10-mile bike and walking path along PSEG Long Island-owned right of ways from Wading River to Mount Sinai.

Workers have done grading and the subbase for the North Shore Rail Trail. Plans are to pour asphalt starting from Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Medford-based DF Stone Contracting, which was tapped for the Rail Trail project, has finished grading and creating the subbase layer on the 10-mile pathway. Though there was a period during the pandemic when work stopped for about a month in order to create a safety plan for the project, the company should be ready to start laying down asphalt some time in October. That part of the project will run from Crystal Brook Hollow Road up to Sound Beach Boulevard in Miller Place and should be finished by the end of the year, the legislator said. 

Though the project may have to break for the winter, the hope is to have the entire path open to the public by summer of fall 2021.

“It’s literally moving along,” Anker said.

The $8.82 million trail is being funded through federal and state grants, along with Suffolk County funds. Despite major financial difficulties that Suffolk County faces due to COVID-19 and the subsequent business shutdowns, Anker said the funding for the trail is definitively set. 

If anything, she said the ongoing pandemic has made even more of a case for the trail.

“The pandemic has made people understand how important it is to have outdoor recreational locations,” she said.

This week Anker and officials from the Village of Shoreham, including Mayor Brian Vail, former mayor Ed Weiss met with officials from Verizon, Altice and PSEG Long Island to discuss the trails path. Plans are to go across the old stone bridge that arches across Woodville Road. To make the path accessible, workers would need to run the electrical lines under the bridge instead of over it. The bridge would also need new guardrails and fencing, particularly fencing that curves inward so people on the bridge can’t throw items over and onto cars passing underneath.

There are some more spots along the trail that present challenges. One is a power substation at the corner of Apricot Road and King Road in Rocky Point, where Anker said the path will need to snake around the substation rather than through it. Another is along Echo Avenue in Sound Beach, a relatively highly trafficked road where the path would need to cross. The legislator said she and the county Department of Public Works would need to work with the New York State Department of Transportation in order to make such a place safe to cross.

Photo by Lina Weingarten

Last week, the Town of Huntington announced the Long Island Power Authority agreed to provide an additional $3 million
to the town if a settlement were to go through. The money is in addition to the proposed settlement for the Northport Power Station tax certiorari case, according to a town press release.

After an Aug. 10 town public forum held at Heckscher Park, LIPA agreed to extend the deadline for the town to accept the latest settlement proposal on the Northport Power Station tax certiorari litigation to Thursday, Sept. 3, when the town will hold a public hearing via Zoom on the issue.

After the hearing, the board will vote on the settlement. According to town and LIPA officials, the additional $3 million is to reduce the impact of COVID-19 on Huntington residents.

“We recognize the challenge of the pandemic on the town’s finances and have accommodated their request for additional assistance in the first three years of the settlement,” LIPA officials said in an email statement. “The Northport-East Northport school board voted overwhelmingly to settle this long-standing litigation, and we believe we have made a fair offer for the town to move forward.”

Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in the release that the $3 million in additional payments will be made by LIPA to the town of $1 million per year in 2021 through 2023.

“While we were fortunate to be in a strong financial position when COVID-19 hit, the long-term impacts of this unprecedented economic crisis on our local economy and future government operations are not fully known,” the supervisor said.

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said he would continue to analyze the settlement “but any money that will go to the taxpayers is certainly a welcome development.”

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said the money will soften any financial impacts of COVID-19 “and is certainly worthy of consideration in helping to protect and preserve vital town services and programs that our residents depend on and deserve, especially during these, and continuing difficult times.”

The proposed deal would reduce LIPA’s annual tax bill on the Northport power plant from $86 million to $46 million by 2027.

The public hearing will start at 6 p.m. on Sept. 3. Public comment may be submitted ahead of the forum at huntingtonny.gov/lipa-forum. The forum will livestream on Optimum 18, FIOS 38 and at huntingtonny.gov/featured-programs, where residents may sign up to speak during the forum.

The Town Board’s vote on the LIPA proposal will take place immediately after the public forum ends, and in addition to being livestreamed on Optimum and FIOS, it can be viewed at huntingtonny.gov/meetings.