METRO photo

One thing that’s special about a community paper is that we are covering the stuff national or larger media corporations aren’t talking about. 

We’re covering your local school sport teams, the stay-at-home mom who has become a philanthropist and the new Eagle Scout projects sprouting up around town. 

The bigger outlets cover the national news. CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN and FOX — they’re taking care of what the president is doing — not so much the local legislature or town council. 

When we receive your letters to the editor, we are thrilled and so appreciative. We absolutely adore that you want to share your opinions with us, and we’re so grateful you trust us with that responsibility. But sometimes we wonder why residents aren’t talking to us about the community. We want to hear more about that. 

Our readers are able to see things we reporters don’t see. You are out there, talking with people, seeing things with your own eyes and meeting people who we don’t know exist. We need you to help share those stories. 

National politics affect us — we agree, and we feel it, too. But as we continue into 2021, we ask of you to start sending us more letters that stem from where we live. What are you angry about locally? What do you want to see change here? What are you most proud of? What needs to be said? 

This is your chance as a local citizen to share something on your mind that could potentially make a difference. Local lawmakers read the community papers — President Joe Biden (D) and former President Donald Trump (R) do not. 

We love national news, as well, but let’s try — moving forward — that we keep it as close to home as we can. Remember, our letters are 400 words or less and we edit for A.P. style, which is the standard in most U.S.-based news publications, as well as for libel and good taste. We also ask that our writers provide sources or backup information for the more detailed letters, so we can fact-check the information.

Most of all, remember while letters can serve as a form of public debate, the purpose is to argue the issues, not personally attack an individual.

Shop local. Eat local. Support local. Read local. Write local. 

Rosa Parks

Black History Month, which initially started as a weeklong commemoration in the early 20th century, has been a way to remember and celebrate important people and events in African American history officially for more than 50 years. After a tumultuous 2020, with several alleged police brutality cases against people of color across our nation, it’s more important than ever to recognize the contributions of Black Americans.

We’re not just talking about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks or former President Barack Obama (D), but also those who the spotlight hasn’t shone on enough or not at all. There are veterans who served in our armed forces, even when their fellow countrymen didn’t accept them as equals. There are entertainers who once were applauded when they were on stage but weren’t able to eat dinner at the same restaurant as those who were delighted by their performances. There are those who made great strides in science and aeronautics, who are barely mentioned in our history books.

The month is a reminder to reach out to our neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances and former classmates and listen to their stories. People just like us who work hard every day to provide a good life for themselves and their loved ones, and who dream of a better tomorrow. Yet, every day many Black Americans face obstacle after obstacle because they find — before they utter a word or make a move — they are being judged by the color of their skin.

Many of us can’t even comprehend being judged based on our bloodline. We heard the stories of our parents, grandparents or other ancestors who were once called derogatory names or turned away from jobs, some not even applying due to signs such as NINA (no Irish need apply) hung on workplace doors. But today, many of us couldn’t imagine this happening to us.

However, it’s happening every day, in our country, in our towns, even in our schools to those who are Black.

This past summer, journalism-style guidebooks used by papers across the country decided when describing Americans of African ancestry to no longer use “black” but “Black.” The call was made because lowercase is a color but uppercase signifies a culture. Capitalizing Black celebrates people who share history and culture just like Germans, Italians, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos and more.

Let’s not let this month pass without learning about our fellow Americans’ cultures and about them as human beings. Months dedicated to certain cultures provide the opportunity to learn more about the history of people outside of our inner circle and everyday lives. It gives us a chance to broaden our horizons and understand that we are all in this thing called life together, only if we realize just how similar and equal we are.

We are inviting readers to share their reflections about this year’s Black History Month in perspective articles. Submissions should be approximately 500 words, and we welcome photos to accompany the piece. Send articles and photos to Rita J. Egan at [email protected]

Photo from Suffolk County Police Department

When did people become so careless? 

Being taught how to cross the street has apparently gone out the window. Young adults and even children are riding their bikes into oncoming traffic.

We’re sick of it. 

Long Island has some of the most aggressive drivers in the country — why do we have to worry about high schoolers popping a wheelie in front of our cars on a major county road? 

And they don’t care. They laugh it off, make faces or — worse — curse at us like it was our fault they chose to almost kill themselves. 

The worst part is, though, someone is bound to eventually get hurt — something we truly do not want to see. 

But we are grateful to the Suffolk County legislators who are trying their hardest to crack down on people taking advantage of our streets. Whether it’s a child or an adult riding their bike down the hill in a pack, bicyclists have become difficult to deal with.

And that’s sad, because we don’t want to banish or punish them for something so healthy, but there needs to be more communication.

While county Legislator Rudy Sunderman’s (R-Mastic) recent reckless bicycling bill is rather harsh by telling riders that they could face jail time for inappropriate biking, if everyone just listened to their mothers, grandmothers, fathers and teachers to not go near a fast-moving car, then this wouldn’t have been a problem.

And more adults can speak up. In the summer of 2019, officers with the Suffolk County Police Department’s 4th Precinct spoke with TBR News Media about their program to educate reckless bicycle riders. The officers compiled a video with clips of teens creating havoc on Smithtown. The purpose was to use the video to educate parents after officers stop a youth for reckless bicycling.

Even without watching such a video, adults know riding in the middle of a busy street is not safe. Before someone faces jail time, educate your children, speak up to the young people who harass you with their bikes.

Of course, the driver of a 3-ton vehicle will be blamed if someone gets hurt, but that shouldn’t be the case. Bike riders should not be taking advantage of our streets and should not be risking their lives by showing off unnecessary tricks.

We all know what wheelies look like. They’re not original, and we don’t care. 

Be safe. 

A truck from the Town of Huntington plows the street on Feb. 1.

The first day of February reminded us that winter is still here, and a foot or more of snow can fall from the sky at any time wreaking havoc on our everyday lives. Heavy snowfalls may be welcomed by skiers and children, but for everyone else the snow can be a nuisance and even a danger.

On Monday, as with previous storms, weather forecasters and elected officials reminded residents to stay off roads if they didn’t need to go out. In the past, despite those warnings, many found themselves still having to go to work. Nowadays, after trying to navigate business during a pandemic for months, companies have learned that a good deal of work can be done from home.

For nearly a year, employers and employees all over the country have embraced the use of email, Google, Zoom, messaging platforms such as Slack and more. Some in New York had no choice in the beginning as many businesses in the state that were deemed nonessential were required to close down. Others have chosen, even after the shutdowns were lifted, to continue having employees work from home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The use of modern technology has kept the work flowing and employees connected. Many have found that their workers are more efficient as there are fewer distractions at home, and without having to deal with their commutes, many are willing to take the time they would have been in the car, bus or train and use it to do more work.

Working from home can be a game changer not only during long-term shutdowns or for taking care to keep employees healthy, but it can also be used when driving just isn’t wise, especially for workers who have strict deadlines to meet. Imagine, now employees on a snowy day are less stressed because they don’t have to worry about hazardous roads.

During a pandemic, the work-from-home option has helped to keep employees healthy, and on the day of a storm, it helps keep them safe. In turn, the fewer people on the road, the fewer calls police officers receive, which in turn keeps them safe, too. Because, it doesn’t matter what type of car a person has, whether big or small, if snow is blowing across the roads and visibility is compromised, it’s not wise to be on the road

Law enforcement and health care workers need to be out on the roads to get to their jobs to keep the public safe and healthy, the rest of our jobs aren’t as essential.

Let’s take what we’ve learned in 2020 and apply it in the future to keep residents safe. If there is one lesson that we can take with us from the pandemic, it’s that things can be done differently and still produce the same results.

Will there be more snow this winter? We don’t know, but what we do know we’re ready for it. Bring it on!

Photo from Deposit Photos

You would think a global pandemic that has lasted nearly a year would have gotten New York more organized, right? 

In the beginning, none of us had any idea what was going on with COVID-19. Every day was a new battle, and we had to evolve everything in our lives constantly. 

That was OK. It was fair. The virus was new and we, as Americans, never experienced anything like this before. There was a learning curve. 

Back in March, April and even into June, it was a little more understandable knowing that getting tested for the coronavirus was hard. We didn’t have enough testing, supplies or even gloves for the nurses and doctors to wear as they administered the swab. 

Fine. But why is it almost February 2021 and we still have practically no organizational skills? 

Why is it that New Yorkers are told one thing about testing and now vaccines, but when they try to take advantage of it, they’re denied? 

We have co-workers, family members and friends who should be getting their vaccines. They’re in the most at-risk age group, they’re workers in a medical office but aren’t first responders, they’re out in the public, working as cashiers at grocery stores and big-box retailers taking money from people they don’t know. 

Why can’t they get the vaccine yet? 

Reports say that there isn’t enough available yet — and supplies, once again, are low. 

We understand that. We understand that there are more than 7 million people on Long Island alone. 

But what we don’t understand is why there’s little transparency, and contradicting reports. Why can some people get it and others cannot? 

We have heard stories of some elderly people who cannot get an appointment at all, and no one is there to help them. We hear other stories that people waited in line for nearly five hours. Other stories say that they drove up to the site and were finished in 10 minutes.

We just want answers. We want a plan. We want a serious plan that will give us a play-by-play on what to do, what to expect and a timeline. 

Curveballs will happen. We saw that a lot in 2020. 

But clearly the federal, state and local governments did not have “to stay organized with anything related to COVID” on their New Year’s resolutions list. 

This is not the time to go with the flow. Lives are at stake. 

President Franklin D. Roosevelt

It was during Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inauguration address in 1933 when he uttered the famous sentence, “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It was a call to Americans to work together to fight against dark times.

Our country has known collective terror throughout the decades, and 2020 will be remembered as the year we feared an invisible virus and people taking advantage of peaceful protests by looting stores and burning cars. That trepidation carried over into the new year as citizens watched as extremists sieged the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

Nearly 90 years after Roosevelt called for Americans to fight fear, we find ourselves afraid of our fellow citizens. Since the attack on the People’s House in Washington, D.C., members of Congress are worried that their safety, as well as that of their family members, is in jeopardy. Some even believe their own colleagues will harm them if they speak out against former President Donald Trump (R). Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI-03), a freshman congressman, told CNN he was afraid of possible threats after he voted to impeach Trump.

The fear has trickled down to our own neighborhoods as many are hesitant to speak their opinions, afraid if their views are more conservative than others they will be tied to the extremists who assaulted the Capitol.

There are those who once wouldn’t think twice about standing on a corner to protest or rally, even if people who held opposing views were right across the street. Now many are hesitant that their words might be met with foul language, assault and worse.

Many this past summer, during protests, witnessed foul language being exchanged between protesters and anti-protesters. Black Lives Matters participants in a rally in Smithtown in June took to social media alleging that they were assaulted. In September, a Massapequa man was arrested for allegedly assaulting a 64-year-old man who was rallying with the North Country Patriots, a conservative group that meets on the corner of Bennetts Road and Route 25A every Saturday morning.

Our times have become so divisive that many have forgotten the adversities Americans have gone through together — the Great Depression, the world wars, 9/11 and more. These horrific events didn’t leave us weaker, they left us stronger.

We became stronger because we live in a country where we have the right to pursue happiness, the right to gather, the right to express our opinions and so much more. And while we may not have the right to use those words and actions to cause harm to others or property, we have those rights.

Most of our fellow Americans get that. So let’s move forward together, stronger and more fearlessly than before with knowledge and empathy, embracing our freedoms and respecting that others in this country enjoy the same rights.

Photo from Pixabay

Not every publication out there is “Fake News.”

During last week’s insurgence at the U.S. Capitol, a photo — taken by a journalist — has made its way around social media, memorializing the words “Murder the Media” written on a wall inside The People’s House.

That’s disheartening to say the least.

Now more than ever, facts are important — whether you like us or not. 

The fact that journalists, reporters and photographers down in D.C. are now sharing their stories about that Wednesday’s events — how they were attacked, name called, hurt and threatened — is a terrifying thought.

The media has always had a rocky relationship with readers. A lot of the time, many people don’t like what is being reported on or how it’s being said. That is something this field has dealt with since the first newsletter came out centuries ago.

But the last four years are on a different level. It’s a whole new battle.

There have been many times that reporters at TBR News Media were harassed on assignment, also being called “fake.” 

We are your local paper. We are the ones who cover the issues in your backyard, who tell the stories of your neighbors that you live beside, and we showcase your children, whom you love, playing their favorite sports. 

We aren’t commentators or analyzers, except on our opinions pages that are clearly labeled.

We are the eyes and ears of our community, and we do the heavy lifting when you have questions. We interview your elected officials and bring awareness to issues other larger papers or TV stations forget to research or mention.

How is that fake? 

Now more than ever, we ask you to support what we have put our hearts and our livelihoods into. 

Next time you might think that the media had it coming to them, just remember that those reporters who have been hurt and humiliated don’t come into your workplaces, breaking your equipment and ridiculing you for what you do.  

We serve all the public and are proud to do so.

Stock photo

If only every main road could be a downtown. The ones we know and love, the ones with walkable streets, sights to see, unique restaurants to eat at, a feeling that life is being lived there at every level. 

Though of course anything is better than driving down the highway and passing by the umpteenth empty strip mall, with enough “for rent” signs to recreate a new mall entirely.

And it makes it that much more glaring when it seems every developer focuses on the new — of a new apartment complex or a new shopping mall or a new medical park — all ignoring the multitudes of empty complexes dotting the Long Island landscape. New development, especially that which plows ahead without concern for the neighborhood, next leads to issues of congestion and the impact on the environment. Meanwhile, local electeds are vying for shrinking pots of funds to buy up and preserve land that keeps the environmental vistas, as we have on the North Shore, viable and serene. There will never be enough money to buy up every stretch of forest or meadow or beach. 

Reporting on North Shore Long Island sometimes feels like watching a hoard of starving animals vying for the smallest strip of meat, as discarded carcasses rot not 5 feet away.

That’s why the Town of Brookhaven’s plans for a so-called commercial redevelopment district zoning are so interesting, because it seems like one of the few real efforts we at TBR News Media have seen toward incentivizing rebuilding instead of new development. Though we also hope that such developer incentives can find ways around abuse, especially when too many developers are already incentivized to build with things like Industrial Development Agency tax deals.

Brookhaven’s proposed CRD special zoning, as proposed, will only be available to those property owners who can prove they are redesigning aging property with walkability, livability and commercial interests all in one. Such applications for that special zoning will also be at the discretion of the Town Board.

If the idea pans out, it could mean a massive push toward revitalization in places such as Port Jefferson Station. If it does what it’s intended to do, other towns like Smithtown or Huntington, who are suffering their own ills of vacant stores and strip malls, could adopt something similar as well. It would be nice, for a change, to hear from a developer about redesigning an eyesore rather than the usual plan to pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

Though we also have to share our reservations. Developers are already well incentivized throughout Suffolk County to build anew, especially with a multitude of deals coming from IDAs at both the county and town level. In Port Jefferson, for example, every single new apartment complex in the past several years has been given a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes deal by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency. While IDA board members say such projects will contribute to the economy, these new developments hardly add any significant job numbers to the local economy once the building process is complete. 

Brookhaven’s CRD zoning intends that developers will get more leeway on applications for rebuilding based on location or how many amenities there are — such as green space or places for social activity. The risk is that these same builders will find ways to take advantage of these deals while still getting IDA money. Such a new zoning will need even greater scrutiny on applications than is already happening at the town level. A bike rack here or there isn’t worth as much to a community as a new location’s property taxes.

Still, overall, we think this could be a great leap in the right direction. We hope both local developers and local government are up to the task of revitalizing the commercial areas too long neglected.

METRO photo

We want you to compare a few numbers. Look at these figures: 27 to 34; then 106 to 2,923.

The news is consistently stacked with such figures, but it’s all our job to prioritize them to make sure we’re doing the right thing.

On a call with reporters last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said people are dying at higher rates because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In just the first week of December, the county counted at least 34 dead. This means we can expect a horrific month, as just 35 people died from COVID-19-related issues in the entire month of November. 

When we look at national figures, on Thursday, Dec. 10, at least 2,923 Americans died from COVID-19. That is more deaths than all those who perished when the towers fell on 9/11, and it is happening on a daily basis. This is what our focus should be on. If we can get through the winter months, then hopefully we can see more broad use of the vaccine and then, if we stay focused, a return to where we were before March 2020.

Instead, another figure drags our attention to political irrationality. Only 27 of 249 Republican members of Congress were willing to say as at Dec. 5 that President-elect Joe Biden won the election in a Washington Post poll, despite the fact that all states’ voter rolls were already certified.

A total of 106 U.S. representatives signed onto the State of Texas’ attorney general’s plea to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ballots of four swing states that went to Biden. Of those pledging onto this strange and ill-conceived attempt to usurp the national election includes U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1). Last week, the Supreme Court threw out the plainly ridiculous Texas AG’s suit, but that original act by the GOP underlays a deepening resentment to the very foundations of our democracy.

In an article published last week in TBR papers, Suffolk Republican Committee Chairman Jesse Garcia spoke about how Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) used the pandemic to “scare voters away from the polling places,” and used the crisis to hurt GOP primaries. It’s important to note that Suffolk Republicans only had one primary this year, while the rest of their candidates were appointed by party leadership. Democrats had four of their primaries delayed by these new rules in Suffolk alone. While more Dems voted by mail than Republicans, there was a significant number of absentee ballots sent by conservatives, as evidenced by the end total of votes compared to those shown on Nov. 3.

Giving little evidence of any real fraud, Garcia cited a case in which a Water Mill man, a Democrat, was indicted for allegedly requesting two mail-in ballots for his deceased mother back in October. He was indicted by Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini, a Democrat. If anything, this example shows that current efforts to account for fraud have worked, rather than the opposite.

Erroneously saying such fraud was widespread in Suffolk also discounts the work of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, of which there are two commissioners, one appointed by the Republicans and one by the Democrats. 

If there turns out to be real evidence of fraud, and not just partisan hyperbole, we expect it to be looked into through the proper channels, but anticipating illicit activity with no proof does little but reinforce a deepening partisan divide, something we clearly do not need right now.

Is this a distraction? Do we need to forget the more than 2,000 who have died in Suffolk County alone throughout this awful year? Which ones are numbers to be plotted in a spreadsheet and which ones should we apply real effort toward? Because keeping COVID numbers low means that hospitals can deal with the incoming patients. When hospitals become overloaded, more people die. It’s that simple. That is why we wear the masks and keep socially distanced. That is why we care for our neighbors and support those people on the front lines.

Those elected officials focusing on rewriting the outcome of the election need to look back to their folks at home and perhaps remind themselves which numbers are the ones that matter.

File photo by TBR News Media

Every year we sit down with local candidates for our preelection political debates in the TBR News Media office. This year, of course, those debates were held via Zoom.

Despite the new format this year, one thing didn’t change — the first thing we do is thank each of the candidates for taking on the responsibility for running for office. We recognize being a public official is no easy task and running for office is just as difficult.

All candidates deserve an extra round of applause for their patience regarding the counting of mail-in ballots. After Election Day, as we reached out to the various candidates in our coverage area, those who were behind after in-person voting remained patient, and those who were ahead were humble. Most who were ahead didn’t claim victory as they understood the importance of making sure every ballot was counted, and they acknowledged every single vote mattered.

After a few long weeks, we would like to congratulate U.S. Reps Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3); state Assemblymen Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills); and state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) for regaining their seats. We also welcome newcomers, state Sen.-elect Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and state Assemblyman-elect Keith Brown (R-Northport) to the world of legislation, as well as Sen.-elect Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) and Assemblywoman-elect Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) to their new roles.

Now that the votes are counted, it’s time to get back to business. We urge each of our elected officials to take the next few weeks to carefully assess what is going on in their districts, so after they are sworn in come January, they can hit the ground running.

It’s no secret that the coronavirus has wreaked havoc on our local businesses. Those in Albany and Washington, D.C., need to get them the funds they need to keep their doors open and their employees on the payroll. If the funds aren’t available, those in government need to work together to come up with creative ideas to keep these businesses afloat while ensuring public health safety.

Elected officials also have to look deeper as to how hard the pandemic has hurt their constituents financially. The loss of jobs and pay cuts have left many unable to make their mortgage and rent payments or keep their refrigerators full. Conversations with residents may provide vital information about what is truly happening within districts.

While New York is one of the fortunate states to have strong leadership during the pandemic, there is still a lot of work to do. And while we can hope for federal aid, we can’t count on it, as all of the states are going through the same struggle as New Yorkers are. We need to come up with new ideas to help keep Long Island strong.

Looking beyond the coronavirus, there is one thing that comes up every year during our debates. How are we going to make the Island more affordable in order to keep both our young people and retirees here, but at the same time, not overdevelop our valuable open spaces? It’s time to stop talking about it and start doing something about it. A closer eye needs to be kept on developers who promise affordable housing but are completely out of touch regarding what wage earners can actually afford. What’s the sense of building affordable housing in precious open space if the housing is out of reach financially for most residents?

Most of all, we ask our leaders in government to work together, to extend their hands across the aisles. We have seen what divisiveness in the United States has done to our country over the last decade — let’s see people come together against partisanship, now more than ever.

We have one thing in common besides our humanity. Both sides of the aisle are Americans.