As Bellone Rides Off, Others Step Forward. Editorial cartoon by Kyle Horne: kylehorneart.com @kylehorneart

It is shaping up to be a big election season for the residents of Suffolk County. It may be early in 2023, but we’re already thinking about Election Day. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) is termed out, triggering massive turnover across levels of local government.

As local Democratic and Republican committees put forward their slate of candidates for county executive, town supervisor and various legislative positions, it is time for We the People to do our homework.

County, town and village officials have a different set of responsibilities than those serving on the state or federal levels. Their duties locally include making decisions about land use, law enforcement, roadwork, waste management, recreational facilities and matters that affect our everyday lives.

Preserving open space, treating our garbage and paving roads are not issues of Democrat versus Republican. These matters impact every resident, which is why it’s important to put aside party affiliation when we enter the voting booth this year.

Experience matters.

Before you vote, take a look at the candidates’ respective backgrounds. Does a candidate have relevant experience in the public or private sectors that will aid his or her decision making? Here at TBR News Media, we will take a deep dive into these candidates over the coming months, introducing our readers to their professional backgrounds and policy positions.

We know all the candidates will have much to say in the months ahead, and many will back their goals for our future with concrete plans.

As journalists, it is our job to provide our readers with the information necessary to make informed decisions on Election Day. We take this responsibility seriously and look forward to following these elections closely.

In the meantime, we remind our readers that you play a part in this as well. By writing letters to the editor about the various local races, you have the opportunity to interpret and contextualize our election coverage. Letters are your chance to influence the shape of our democracy, so don’t squander it.

Before voting, remember to research your ballot thoroughly, check your party affiliation at the door and keep an open mind. We will be here to help along the way.

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Whether or not school districts should hire armed guards is complex, requiring thoughtful consideration from parents, students, community members, educators, school administrators and elected officials.

But as we work through the intricacies of this sensitive and often contentious issue, a related matter is worthy of our attention: How can we appropriately cover mass shootings when these tragic events arise?

The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are injured or killed. Unfortunately, mass shootings are commonplace in this country. Already in 2023, there have been more mass shootings than days in the year. As a nation, we have failed to address this critical policy concern. 

When one of these all-too-familiar violent events occurs, the press often too hastily reports on it. Helicopters circle above the crime scene as field reporters rush to the periphery, searching for immediate information. 

A tragedy soon becomes a spectacle. Within days — sometimes just hours — the suspect’s name is revealed to the public. Then the shooter’s image is flashed incessantly on every newsreel and in every major newspaper in America. As the media goes to work uncovering the personal details of the shooter’s life, a depraved human being is made into a national celebrity.

And this phenomenon is not unique to the press. Hollywood capitalizes on violence; the more graphic a film’s depictions, the more revenue it will generate. Violence sells in this country, whether in motion pictures, music, video games, digital media or newsprint. And the ubiquity of these images within American popular culture has the natural effect of normalizing violent behavior nationwide.

Here at TBR News Media, we reject this dynamic entirely. Mass violence in America should not be accepted as mainstream nor should it be sensationalized or embellished. With a medium that enables us to disperse information widely both in print and on the web, we are responsible for using our platform appropriately.

Research on mass shooters indicates they are often motivated by perceived isolation or social rejection. Some commit an atrocity to achieve a mark on the world, since even playing the villain can be preferable to obscurity.

As journalists, we must deny violent offenders precisely the attention and fame they so crave. We legitimize acts of violence when we publish names or run headshots of mass shooters. By lending our platform to the least deserving, we encourage copycat offenders.

It is time that we, the members of the press and the distributors of information, end the dramatization and glorification of mass violence in America. It is time to substitute sensationalism with rigid, objective reporting when violence inevitably ensues.

This same standard applies to digital media. In this century, so much of the information available to us is circulated online. For this reason, Big Tech has a similar obligation to monitor its content and halt the spread of personal details regarding mass shooters.

While restraining our coverage is necessary, mass violence deserves our close attention. Still, we must focus on the issues: Should we hire armed guards in and around schools? How do we keep guns out of the hands of potentially violent offenders? How can we expand access to mental health services, so fewer people resort to mass violence? And more.

The focus should be policy driven and victim centric. We should create awareness of the problem while working to identify solutions. But we must not say their names or run their headshots.

By covering shootings appropriately, we can do our part to curb the spread of mass violence. By applying these methods consistently, journalists can work to change the culture, save lives and make a positive difference for the nation and humanity.

Louis Jordan's Typany Five, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948. William P. Gottlieb/Wikimedia Commons

Black History Month is celebrated throughout February, and for more than 50 years, has provided an outlet for people to remember and reflect upon African American history.

We see many examples of Black history right here on Long Island. Though not fully understood or preserved, the examples feature most prominently in the field of entertainment.

How many readers are aware of the Red Rooster club on Route 25 between Gordon Heights and Coram with its national Black celebrities and advertising a “complete floor show every night” through the late 1940s? How many can recount the contributions made by the Celebrity Club in Freeport in the 1950s and ‘60s, when R&B and soul reigned supreme? 

Then there was East Setauket’s own Paula Jean’s club, where not only could one enjoy the top national and local blues artists at the turn of the new millennium but also the most authentic Cajun or Creole cuisine this side of New Orleans and south Louisiana.

Never heard of these clubs and their place in the Black hierarchy? That’s all the more reason why measures should be taken by the state, counties, towns and villages to recognize these sites with heritage plaques. These important and historic local institutions should be studied in local history classes from K-12, community colleges and universities.

In years to come, the investment of time and resources will be paid off in the form of enhanced Long Island artistic recognition, increased tourist traffic and greater cross-cultural understanding.

Today, the local club tradition is continued in honor of many top Black jazz legends at Tom Manuel’s The Jazz Loft in Stony Brook in live performances and at its museum which features pioneering stars such as Louis Jordan — arguably the inspiration for rock ‘n’ roll music — and balladeer Arthur Prysock. 

The recently opened Long Island Music Hall of Fame is located on the site of the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheater behind Stony Brook Village Center. It was the place to be for international acts such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong until 1970.

Like The Jazz Loft, LIMHOF is another institution preserving the music history of artists and entertainers of all colors and stripes. Both organizations should be supported and patronized by local residents and tourists alike. But more recognition through plaques and other landmarks should be offered by our municipalities, as is done with music trails in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Months celebrating specific cultures such as Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian Pacific Heritage Month and more, are all helpful for reminding us that our country is what it is today thanks to people of all walks of life. Recognizing our accomplishments shouldn’t be confined to just four weeks out of the year.

Let’s think of better ways to share the stories of people from all walks of life, those who accomplished greatly whether in music, politics, the armed forces or other fields. Let us remember and honor their legacy by putting those ideas into practice. Here on Long Island, there is diversity in history from which we can learn so much for our future benefit and enlightenment.

Port Jefferson's stop on the Long Island Rail Road. File photo by Erika Karp

The decades-old plan to electrify the Port Jefferson Branch line of the Long Island Rail Road has transformational implications for our community, region and state. Yet for far too long, this critical infrastructure need has gone unmet, passed over repeatedly for other projects.

The MTA’s long pattern of negligence has condemned our commuters to ride in rickety train cars powered by diesel, an antiquated, environmentally hazardous fuel source. For a better ride, our residents often travel inland to Ronkonkoma, the MTA siphoning ridership to the main line and adding cars to our already congested roadways.

A fully electrified rail would provide the necessary recharge for downtowns still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. It would free up mobility for our residents, connecting them to every restaurant, bar and storefront along the North Shore within walking distance of a train station.

Electrification would give students and faculty at Stony Brook University swift access to Manhattan, producing even stronger ties between the southern flagship of our state university system and the global capital. This project would unlock the full commercial, environmental and educational potential of our region.

Throughout history, generations of New Yorkers have participated in engineering feats of great scope and vision. In the early 1800s, our citizens constructed the Erie Canal, bridging the world’s oceans to the American frontier. A century later, we built the state parkway system, laying thousands of miles of road, linking Montauk Point and Niagara Falls along a continuous stretch of pavement.

Generations have taken part in our state’s rich public works tradition, which has united New Yorkers around herculean aims, facilitated greater movement and improved the lives of ordinary people. 

Yet, at every stage, the North Shore has been systematically shut out from any public investment of considerable scale. MTA has continually repurposed our tax dollars with no giveback to North Shore communities. 

With our money, MTA recently opened its Grand Central Madison terminal ($11 billion), opened the 9.8 mile Third Track between Hicksville and Floral Park ($2.5 billion) and laid the groundwork for a proposed Interborough Express between Brooklyn and Queens ($5.5 billion estimated). 

For us, Port Jefferson Branch electrification is our shared vision of change. This is our noble cause, our generational investment, our Erie Canal. The funds for the projected $3.6 billion Port Jeff electrification project are there if we can start getting them to come our way. And to do that, we must begin applying maximum pressure upon our elected officials.

From village and town boards to the county and state legislatures to the United States Congress, every public representative between Huntington and Port Jeff must be in alignment, letting out one common cry, “Electrify our line.”

We must treat electrification as the paramount infrastructure concern of our region, demanding our elected representatives and public railroad match our level of conviction. We should cast no vote nor contribute a single campaign dollar for any candidate without their unyielding support of this project.

This October, MTA will publish its 20-year Capital Needs Assessment. Port Jefferson Branch electrification must be included within that document for it to have any shot to prevail over the next two decades.

Write to your congressman and state reps in Albany. Write to the MTA and LIRR. Tell them to electrify this line, lest there be consequences at the ballot box. With all our might, let us get this project underway once and for all.

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To our readers: We appreciate your weekly letters to the editor. Writing a letter enables vital communication and contributes to a meaningful community dialogue. It is also a safety valve for expressing different, equally passionately held opinions in a civil fashion.

Letter writing can be powerful as the writer broadcasts opinions to the wider public. Here at TBR News Media, our editorial staff shoulders responsibility in channeling that message appropriately.

We hope writers and readers can regard our letters page as a community forum, a place to express themselves and potentially influence their peers and neighbors. But by necessity, this forum must be moderated to function. When a writer expresses a thought as a fact, we do our best to confirm the information is accurate. If we cannot find the information on our own, we go back to the writer and ask for a source. As journalists, we have an obligation to ensure that the facts cited are verified, that we are not allowing someone to use our letters page to spread misinformation or vitriol.

Often we are asked why our letters do not focus squarely on local matters. It’s simple — we don’t receive as many localized letters as we would like. 

Our editors aim to choose letters that represent a mix of local, county, state and national topics. We also look for a mix of opinions from conservative, liberal and moderate points of view. Letters serve as a form of public debate, and people from various sides of the political spectrum should be heard.

Moderating our letters page, we view ourselves as mediators for the various interests and opinions of the community. By sharing diverse perspectives on a range of topics, we arm our readers with the information and give them the freedom to make up their own minds.

We are asked why certain writers appear regularly on the opinion page. It’s because they write to us often and thoughtfully, and contribute to the public dialogue. We welcome and encourage letters from readers, and we hope to continue seeing new names each week.

Sometimes, we don’t receive a substantial number of letters to choose from each week that gives both sides of an issue.

If readers feel something is missing from our paper — whether from the news or editorial sections — we urge that they write us. We welcome readers’ thoughts — including criticism — regarding our content. Please feel free to react to a recent article or reflect upon life in our hometown. You can comment on an entertaining festival or even chronicle a delightful day spent at the park. The opportunities for letter writing are endless, so don’t be shy. Let your thoughts be heard.

We edit letters not to censor, but to catch grammatical mistakes, for consistency and to protect the media outlet and letter writers from libel suits. We edit for A.P. style, which is the standard in most U.S.-based news publications. We also edit for length and good taste. If a letter runs longer, we may print it as a perspective piece along with the writer’s photo.

As for good taste, our letters page is not the place to bash a neighbor or a fellow writer. There are plenty of instances when one writer will reference another person and their letter, addressing specific ideas in the other’s writings, and that’s acceptable. However, name-calling or denigration are not helpful.

In the past, we have received letters using derogatory nicknames for presidents and other officials and political figures. We do our best to edit out uncivil language.

The letters page is not a place for one to spew animosity or insults. If blanket, hateful statements are made about a group of people based on the color of their skin, ethnicity or religion, they will not be published. Our letters page is designed to add to, not detract from, a healthy public discourse.

So, please send us a letter — see address and formal policy statement to the right of this editorial. We are always interested in your thoughts, especially regarding what goes on in our coverage area.

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County officials are currently engaged in a contentious debate over the Suffolk County School Bus Safety Program. 

Proponents say the program bolsters traffic safety around school buses. Detractors argue the program represents little more than a convenient revenue generator to plug holes in the county budget.

Promoting safety on public roads remains a priority regardless of where one stands on the program itself.

New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law is a worthy undertaking to protect school children. Whether cameras remain strapped to school buses, drivers should always be vigilant near a school bus with flashing yellow lights. 

Under no circumstances should one ever pass a school bus while the stop arm is extended.

But roadway safety is not isolated to school buses. The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes in 2021. That’s a 10.5% increase from the previous year.

NHTSA reports collected from 2016 to 2020 indicate that nearly 1,000 vehicular fatalities occurred on Long Island, more than half of which were in Suffolk County.

Statistics aside, we read almost weekly reports of individuals involved in significant motor vehicle accidents within our coverage area. Many times, they include serious bodily injury to the victims. At other times, they can be fatal.

Long Island is unique in its autocentric character. Development of our Island happened nearly a century ago, and the suburbanization of Long Island happened almost simultaneously with the growth of the American automobile industry.

Planners, notably Robert Moses, saw the car as offering individual autonomy. They viewed the Long Island Dream as an expression of that individualistic promise. 

Unfortunately, they failed to provide sufficient mass transit infrastructure, twisting a dream into our difficult reality.

Today, Long Islanders are glued to their cars. For most of us, getting to work requires a car. Having success in our professional and social lives requires a car. For those who do not live within walking distance of a train station, accessing the rail requires a car. 

All of this highlights the need to drive responsibly.

When we operate a moving vehicle, we harness the power to unleash great bodily injury — even death — upon ourselves and others. At the same time, we can monitor our decisions and protect our fellows on the roads.

We can make our roads safer by following the speed limits, driving sober and taking extra precautions when we get behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, we Long Islanders are stuck in our cars for the foreseeable future. But we are stuck together. 

Let us be mindful of our neighbors. Let us regard the lives of other drivers as we would our family members or friends. 

We can help make these roads safer for all through our positive choices today.

The Huntington Arts Council recently benefited from a NYS Council on the Artsl grant.

The New York State Council on the Arts recently awarded its Regrowth and Capacity recovery grants to local nonprofits. The grants will help arts and cultural organizations continue to return to pre-pandemic capacity and creation levels by providing monetary relief.

The art community, along with other nonprofits and businesses, was severely impaired by COVID-19 guidelines that had prevented large gatherings of any kind in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. The effects of the lockdown have continued to linger as many people remain hesitant to participate in public events. NYSCA recovery funding efforts are commendable.

Arts organizations that had to furlough staff, cancel programs and cut back their usual offerings may now have a better chance of fully opening their doors again. Canceling programs led to less audience outreach and community support. Grants, such as the ones received from NYSCA, will give organizations the boost they need and, hopefully, remind people that these institutions are essential for community health. 

The arts play a vital role in our society. Dance, music, galleries, public works of art and others help us relax; they remind us to take a break from our hectic lifestyles.

News cycles can be disheartening, painting a bleak picture of societies and the future of humanity. Creative works can help us liberate ourselves from these distortions, making sense of the world, improving our quality of lives and elevating moods.

The local economy tends to improve, too, with arts and cultural organizations due to increased consumer purchases and tourism.

Studies have shown that public works of art are beneficial to cities. An illuminated art installation is not only aesthetically pleasing but also can provide needed light along a dark street or path. Public works of art also help community members connect, and people within those municipalities may feel more represented. Art can be used to raise general awareness about various issues, encouraging civic engagement and opening minds.

A building’s mural or art installation in a town may even help to foster pride in one’s neighborhood. Most of all, public art in our local neighborhoods, free cultural programs — whether at an art exhibit or concert at a local park — make these forms of expression accessible to anyone, no matter age or income.

For too long, our communities were isolated as elected officials and medical professionals worked to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, methods of managing the disease left many divided. For a nation and world scarred by isolation and angst, art offers us a path forward and a means to heal.

Many cultural institutions are ready to revitalize themselves. With NYSCA’s Regrowth and Capacity recovery grants, now they can. Let’s take this opportunity to reunite and reconnect through the arts, even if just for a few hours on a weekend day.

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After over a decade in dormancy, the Port Jefferson Civic Association was resurrected Monday, Jan. 9.

PJCA joins the vibrant civic community throughout the TBR News Media coverage area. From Port Jefferson Station/Terryville to Three Village, Mount Sinai to Sound Beach, Centereach to Selden, and Smithtown to Huntington, civic associations work to improve this area continually.

Civic associations perform a critical public service. We often find powerful and monied interests run roughshod over ordinary folk. With their legal teams, public relations personnel and deep pockets, these special interests often do as they please — with the tacit or even express approval of local politicians.

But who is there to represent the citizens? Who ensures that the people are heard and that their will is implemented by local government? The civic associations.

In our democracy, the people are sovereign. The people empower the politician to carry out their will. But this is often not the case as politicians sometimes advance their own agendas out of a sense of grandiosity and self-importance.

A well-organized civic association serves as a valuable check on power. Through its members, the civic body comes to represent the shared values and interests of the community, directing local officials toward more representative policy outcomes.

Some of the best-informed and most engaged citizens are civic members. For this reason, they offer valuable feedback to local politicians. Civic associations, therefore, benefit and enhance local government.

Moreover, a civic association is a platform for residents to stay up to date and informed on local topics such as future planning, development proposals and redistricting. Through this forum, members can exchange ideas, debate pertinent issues and identify potential solutions. 

We hold that a bottom-up approach is necessary. Power, policy and vision should come from the people, not the politicians. Through the discussions at civic meetings, elected representatives can carry the people’s collective vision into fruition. The civic-centric model represents the ideal of local governance.

The staff of TBR News Media congratulates the members of the Port Jefferson Civic Association. We look forward to following their work and the continued successes of civic groups throughout our coverage area. 

For those who are not affiliated with a local civic, we highly encourage you to join. Now is your opportunity to get involved, to make your voice heard and to leave a positive mark on your community.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unforeseen challenges for nearly everyone in our nation and world.

COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of 6.65 million people around the globe, 1.09 million of which are in the U.S. Countless more have been infected, with the illness hitting hardest the elderly and those with preexisting conditions. In this time, however, perhaps no demographic sacrificed more greatly than our youth. 

We made a decision: Would we let the kids — who were not nearly as vulnerable to the disease as their older counterparts — continue their lives as usual? Or would we limit their in-person activities and restrict their social gatherings to curb the spread of COVID-19? Given a choice between age and youth, we opted for age.

Many children were shut out from traditional social interactions during those critical early years of their emotional and psychological maturation. Sadly, many high school seniors lost their graduation ceremonies, proms and final sport seasons. 

In the absence of interpersonal connections, our young became increasingly dependent upon their technologies. Zoom sessions quickly replaced the classroom. Video games supplanted schoolyards and after-school hangouts. Their relationships with the outer world became mediated through a digital screen.

There is still much to learn about the long-term social and psychological impact of the pandemic on our youth. How will the frequent COVID scares, forced separations, quarantines and widespread social panic affect their developing minds? This remains an open question.

As we transition into the post-COVID era, we know that our young will have difficulty adapting. Right now, they need our help more than ever.

The generation that came out of World War I is often called the “Lost Generation.” A collective malaise defined their age following the shock and violence during that incredible human conflict. 

Members of the Lost Generation were often characterized by a tendency to be adrift, disengaged from public life and disconnected from any higher cause or greater purpose. Right now, our youngsters are in jeopardy of seeing a similar fate. 

Like the Great War, the COVID-19 pandemic was outside the control of our children, with the lockdowns and mandates precipitating from it. Yet, as is often the case, the young bore more than their share of hardship.

We cannot allow Gen Z to become another Lost Generation. They have suffered much already, and it is time that we repay them for their collective sacrifice. To make up for that lost time, parents and teachers must try to put in that extra effort. 

Read with them, keep up with their studies, and apply the necessary balance of support and pressure so that they can be stimulated and engaged in school. Keep them from falling behind.

Remember to limit their use of technology, encouraging instead more face-to-face encounters with their peers. These interactions may be uncomfortable, but they are essential for being a fully realized human being. Devices cannot substitute these vital exchanges.

As it is often said, difficult times foster character and grit. Perhaps these COVID years will make the young among us stronger and wiser. But we must not allow the COVID years to break them either. 

Despite their lost years, with a little effort and love they will not become another lost generation.

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Here we are in the midst of the holiday season.

In the Dec. 1 TBR News Media article, “Check in with each other, yourself before approaching holidays, local doctors urge” by Daniel Dunaief, medical professionals stressed the importance of people visiting or calling loved ones and taking note of their moods.

The doctors had additional excellent advice: Check in with yourself during this busy season, too.

The last few weeks may have been overwhelming for many people with preparing the house for company, decorating and ensuring there’s a special gift for everyone.

While stressing about how clean the house is or if it’s decorated enough, sometimes what gets lost in the mayhem is that this is the season when people make more of an effort to gather, to stop for a bit and to catch up. In the grand scheme, our home doesn’t need to look like it’s ready for a photo shoot with Homes & Gardens to spend quality time with our loved ones.

It’s the time of year when we tend to reach out to those who don’t live near us, too. Whether it’s a call, text, letter or card, it is wonderful when we reconnect and take a trip down memory lane.

As for the stress of gift giving, it doesn’t have to get out of control. Following a budget and avoiding charging presents can go a long way regarding our bank balances. In addition to exchanging presents, there are so many ways to show we care. 

People can also share their talents or skills by gifting a picture they painted or a poem they wrote. A loved one may need help painting a room or raking the leaves. Why not offer the gift of time?

Sometimes the gift of time is the most cherished present of all, and many people, especially parents and grandparents, would appreciate some one-on-one time put aside for them, whether it involves a free or inexpensive activity or just talking over hot beverages.

There’s a sacred side of this season, too, that sometimes gets lost in the hustle and bustle. Just sitting and thinking of the miracles represented by Christmas and Hanukkah can bring much-needed stress relief.

This time of year should be about hope and starting fresh in the new year. The holidays are a time for joy and laughter, a moment to celebrate the many blessings in life. Materialism and commercialization of the holidays and competing with our neighbors over holiday displays may create unnecessary pressures for us, perverting the meaning of the season.

Here’s to a relaxing holiday season filled with family and friends, from TBR News Media.