Editorials

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AIMHighNY, the state’s survey for receiving public feedback on the Common Core Learning Standards, seems to be coming up short.

Board of education members from Huntington Union Free School District expressed frustration with the review system, which was felt across the North Shore this week, and said the survey did not give parents and educators enough space or time to voice their Common Core concerns.

Trustees said the review is specific and tedious, and that the section to submit opinions is “restrictive.”

Upon exploring the site, many of those claims don’t seem far-fetched.

There are more than 24 subsections of the review. At one point, the continual division of a topic into a smaller topic seems endless, and a user may need to go through more than five sections before they can write in their own comments. If a participant wanted to fill out the entire assessment, it would be no small feat — and that’s if time is on your side.

But that is not the case for AIMHighNY. The survey, which opened in October, ends in about two weeks. Schools have even said they are having multiple teachers work on one survey just to submit something.

With the amount of protesting against Common Core we’ve seen throughout New York State over the last few years, should there even be a deadline?

Perhaps like rolling admissions in college, rolling submissions in Common Core may work. Of course reviews need to be evaluated, but with the current public opinion of Common Core, it may be a good idea to continually check parents’ and educators’ suggestions and not limit their time to a four-week period.

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Uerda Zena and mom Barbara are all smiles while in the U.S. to repair the girl's heart defect Photo from Joe DeVincent

Simple but necessary medical procedures we receive in the United States are often something we take for granted, but they are miracles to many people around the globe.

Take, for instance, the case of 4-year-old Uerda Zena, a girl born in Kosovo with a heart defect. Rotary volunteers across Suffolk County and the North Shore recently brought her to this country through their Gift of Life program so she could receive a lifesaving heart operation. Uerda had a hole in her heart the size of a nickel, but the procedure to repair it was not available in her home country because the hospitals there do not have the resources to train their staff.

Uerda’s case is not an isolated one. Young children from developing and disadvantaged nations around the world, including in Eastern Europe, much of Africa and South America, do not have access in their home countries to medicine and surgical procedures they desperately need.

Several global organizations have made it their mission to provide procedures like the one performed on Uerda, but Americans tend to forget that those organizations are necessary at all. If an American child is born with a cleft lip or a detectable heart defect, it is fixed as soon as possible and without the child needing to trek hundreds of miles — or thousands, in the case of Uerda.

We should be grateful for all the lifesaving procedures we have at our fingertips. And maybe instead of spending some of our money on a discounted plasma screen television on Black Friday, we should donate to causes like Gift of Life.

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Our government was designed to have some give-and-take. We have a mostly two-party system and two houses of Congress because the parties and the houses ideally check each other.

The House ensures proportional representation based upon population while the Senate, with each state getting two votes, makes sure the little guy can be heard even in a room of big guys. And the Republicans and the Democrats, in a well-balanced Congress, keep each other on their toes.

That’s why the spread between Republicans and Democrats in our North Shore legislative bodies makes us uncomfortable.

In Suffolk County, we have a large majority of Democrats in the Legislature, and the same imbalance exists on the Huntington Town Board. In Brookhaven and Smithtown towns, the Republicans have the overwhelming majority.

That disproportion will be worse come January, when Councilwoman Valerie Cartright will be the only Democrat on the seven-member Brookhaven Town Board. Her lone colleague on the left, Councilwoman Connie Kepert, was ousted by a Republican on Election Day.

One of the reasons our newspaper endorsed Cartright was our desire to preserve the Democratic minority on the board. This wasn’t because we particularly dislike any of the Republican board members or think they are irresponsible, but our government was designed to have shared control, to bring multiple viewpoints. Differing opinions foster compromise and prevent leaders from having absolute power to enact whatever laws they wish. A minority party is a watchdog.

Similarly, we endorsed Councilman Gene Cook for re-election in Huntington in part because he is the only non-Democratic member, and in that role he keeps the others in check. He will remain in such a position next year.

We hope our majority party leaders, from the Suffolk County Legislature to the town boards, keep in mind that even though they may not agree with minority colleagues, those people serve an important purpose — and we hope they will do their best to reach across the aisle, even though they don’t really have to.

It’s not just lip service
We hear it all the time: Every vote counts. And if you want proof, look no further than the North Shore.

With just one vote in the lead, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood beside a triumphant group of Democrats on Election Day and timidly celebrated. Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer joked she won by a “landslide.” Anker fought a tough battle against Republican Steve Tricarico, a Brookhaven Town deputy highway superintendent, and the fight isn’t over — it could be a while before absentee ballot counts are finalized and an official winner is declared. The vote was 5,859 to 5,858 — it could have been Anker’s own vote for herself that kept her head just barely above water.

Our paper has editorialized about voter turnout in the past, usually after Election Day. But it’s virtually unheard of to have two candidates separated by just one vote.

So once again, we implore you, go out and vote at election time. Every vote does count.

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National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when the country pays tribute to the generations of Hispanic-Americans who have influenced our society, ended on Oct. 15. But that doesn’t mean Long Island’s North Shore should stop thinking about this growing demographic.

There’s more we can do as a region to better accommodate and embrace Hispanic-Americans who help diversify our neighborhoods and are a huge economic driver on the Island. According to a 2007 research report, prepared for the Long Island social activism nonprofit, Hagedorn Foundation, Hispanic residents add nearly $5.7 billion to total Long Island output as a result of their consumer spending, and Hispanic employment continues to grow rapidly. Those numbers can only have grown in the last several years since the report was published — and community tensions have grown along with them.

Tensions between Hispanic residents and police officers have been well documented.

Earlier this year, a class action lawsuit by a group of Latinos alleged the Suffolk County Police Department targeted them. The group claimed several officers robbed them or issued them traffic citations in unfounded, race-based stops. There has also been an outcry from Huntington Station residents, many of them Hispanic, who say they don’t feel safe in their own neighborhoods or protected by police.

And there have been instances of Hispanic people being made to feel marginalized by their own neighbors.

Police should continue to cultivate a stronger relationship with the Island’s Hispanic communities by involving youth and hosting local programs, like forums, where residents can discuss local issues or share concerns. Non-Hispanic residents should also do their part to call out prejudice when they see it, and encourage more Hispanic neighbors to join their various community groups.

We should strive to include Hispanics as we steer Long Island toward its future, and we should do it because it’s necessary, not just because of some national holiday prompt.

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When a car runs a red light in Suffolk County, does it make a sound?

Yes. If you listen closely, you’ll hear your wallet being pried open.

Beware the daring driver who goes through a yellow light to traverse a busy intersection. It’ll happen so suddenly. You’ll see a quick flash of white light, followed by a sinking feeling: You just ran a red.

Flash forward weeks later when you get slapped with a $50 ticket. Let’s not forget the $30 administrative fee. And don’t be late with it, or else you could be hit with additional late fees of $25 or more.

Suffolk County’s Red Light Safety Program just feels unjust. Ask any Long Islander about it, and you’re likely to get that eye-roll or an angry tone.

It’s a “money grab,” they’ll say. And they already pay a ton in taxes to live here.

Remember that story over the summer about the Centereach man who used an expandable pole to push the cameras toward the sky? It attracted much attention and numerous shares on social media. To the public, he was known as the “Red Light Robin Hood.” In a follow-up interview with Newsday after his arrest, the man, Stephen Ruth, defended his actions.

“It’s abusive and it’s got to stop,” Ruth told Newsday reporters. “My taxes have doubled. … They keep taking more and more money from people. When is enough, enough?”

GOPers in the Suffolk County Legislature say they feel like Ruth. Some Republicans are calling for greater scrutiny in the program, and some flat out disagree with it all together. A press conference last week singled out the county’s red light program, dubbing it a cheap attempt at building revenue on the backs of everyday citizens.

We agree with that notion, but we do not outright disagree with the program’s premise. Those drivers who purposely whiz through a red light deserve that ticket they’ll eventually receive in the mail, but we don’t feel the same way about drivers slapped with tickets for not stopping enough before a turn at right-on-red intersections. Cameras don’t capture enough of the oncoming traffic in an intersection, in our opinion, to appropriately determine whether or not a right on red was executed safely, and that — to us  — is a textbook money grab.

The county says red-light-running is “one of the major causes of crashes, deaths and injuries at signalized intersections.” The action killed 676 people and injured an estimated 113,000 in 2009, the year before the county program was enacted. And nearly two-thirds of the deaths were people other than the red-light-running drivers.

But while it is a noble intention to stop speeders or those who flagrantly disobey the rules of the road, and to prevent fatalities from occurring, we agree with the notion that the measure is a money grab. We agree the county should stop and yield to the concerns of many and evaluate how to make the program better.

Could the stuff you’re washing your face with end up in your sushi? It sounds crazy, but yes.

We don’t often agree with legislators who want to add more restrictions to businesses, but a recently approved law, drafted by Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), tries to take tiny pieces of plastic out of the equation.

The culprit is known as microbeads, which are used as exfoliants and are becoming more and more common in personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpastes. The tiny particles are too small for our treatment plants to filter out of wastewater, so they pick up toxins and are discharged into our waterways. Small creatures confuse them with food and ingest them, and those small creatures are consumed by larger creatures — which then reach us at the top of the food chain.

Hahn’s law passing this week means products containing microbeads are going to start disappearing from Suffolk County shelves, with complete removal by 2018.

While some of us may lose our exfoliant, we will all gain a healthier water supply and environment. It’s a sacrifice we’re willing to make, because without it, we may not have the clean water we need to exfoliate with in the first place.

Wastewater is handled at a sewage treatment plant on the North Shore. File photo by Susan Risoli

There’s something in the water — our own excrement.

Last week was national SepticSmart Week, an annual U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiative created to teach people how to care for their septic systems. People should know how to maintain these waste systems to prevent their contents from seeping into the ground and into our drinking water aquifer, but it’s a shame that we are still at this point.

Suffolk County politicians frequently talk about their lofty goals to build sewer systems throughout our neighborhoods. In addition to better protecting surface and groundwater, sewers enable commercial and residential development, which is what we need to keep Long Island a viable community for future generations. But we rarely see progress toward the widespread sewer goal.

Part of the problem is the tremendous cost of “sewering up” all of our homes and businesses. However, it’s better to start paying now than when we are in the throes of another recession and desperately need sewers in order to attract business and keep the economy chugging along; or when we wake up one morning to find our water supply irreparably saturated with human waste particles.

Although there are admirable government initiatives to reduce nitrogen pollution, sewers are the ultimate solution. Maybe our electeds are hesitant to be the hated ones handing taxpayers a large bill for the projects, but someone’s got to do it.

Until our elected officials start taking real action, there are things we can do to help spare our drinking water, such as investing our own money in our septic systems, upgrading them to more environmentally friendly ones and safely cleaning them out more frequently to prevent overflowing.

According to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s office, there are 360,000 county lots with septic systems and cesspools that add nitrogen pollution to our communities. If even 10 percent of those lot owners upgraded their septic systems, it could make a world of difference.

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Photo by Wendy Mercier

At what point does a neighborhood nuisance become a problem that warrants lethal action?

A few North Shore communities have been debating whether to legalize hunting deer in their residential areas, after complaints relating to an increase in their region’s deer population. Hunting advocates say the ticks deer carry have been transmitting Lyme disease to humans; the animals are eating their garden plants; and the deer are moving traffic hazards.

As a result of the complaints, Huntington Town officials have given residents of Eaton’s Neck the green light — under certain restrictions — to hunt deer with longbows on their own properties. Officials in Belle Terre Village, after receiving emotional pushback from many community members, did not take action on a similar proposed hunting law. The issue is still up in the air in Head of the Harbor, where officials recently floated a proposal to allow hunting there as well.

There are many problems with allowing people to hunt deer in a residential location: It will not have the desired effect; it is an unreasonable and disproportionate response to nature; and there is great potential for negative consequences.

It’s not a problem for nature to occur around Long Island, it’s merely a fact of life. We hear residents bemoan the loss of open space and cry out against development. Well, this isn’t “The Sims” life simulation video game — we can’t cherry pick the greenery and sprawling beaches, and kick out the deer. Or rather, we shouldn’t.

There are nonlethal ways to patiently deal with the deer issue: Spray deer and tick repellant in your area; use tick repellant on yourself when you go outside; check your body and clothes for ticks when you hang out in tall grass or woods; use plants that deer do not eat; and drive slowly on small back roads that are surrounded by woods.

Let’s not forget that hunting is dangerous in a residential area because accidents can — and do — happen.

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John Feal speaks at an event advocating for first responders in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. File photo

The definition of hero is a person who is admired, or idealized, for courage. And we can’t think of a more courageous act than stepping up and putting others first in the aftermath of a tragedy like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

When the dust had settled on that horrific day, elected leaders stood hand-in-hand with our first responders, whether they were firefighters, police officers or just volunteers. The narrative was that we would honor their sacrifices and do whatever it took to back them up, long after the debris was removed.

And yet here we are, 14 years later, making them wait to see whether the government will have their backs when they need it most. Never forget, right?

This week, Nesconset native John Feal headed to Washington, D.C., alongside other heroic first responders from across the Island, state and country to call on Congress to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Originally approved five years ago, the legislation helped provide health care and programs to more than 33,000 of our first responders and their families because of complications stemming from their efforts at Ground Zero. But that legislation is slated to expire next month, and it’s not clear whether it will be renewed.

What happened to doing whatever it took to support our heroes? It is shameful to have this same discussion every few years, once legislation expires, because all that does is turn these people into political bargaining chips. To us, that doesn’t seem like a worthy reward for their sacrifices.

It’s time to take permanent action so people like Feal and the many others who worked alongside him know that we will have their backs — because they had ours when we needed it most.

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This month, hoards of Long Island students started their first year of high school. Almost all of those new ninth-graders were born in 2001, and they were either infants during the 9/11 terrorist attacks or still growing in their mothers’ bellies.

It’s shocking that we’ve reached this point, since the memories of what happened that day are still tender for so many of us. How can they be 14 years past? But time, as it always has and always will, marched along and here we are.

The kids who are in ninth grade now will be in college in no time, and the professional world after that. They will be part of a generation of adults who will discover new cures for diseases, build new developments in our neighborhoods, create new art to share their feelings about the world we all live in. It’s crucial that we impart to them how significant Sept. 11, 2001, was and continues to be, and how much it changed the world.

There’s a mantra we hear so often that we hope it doesn’t lose its power: Never forget. We say it in particular about the Holocaust and the other horrors of World War II, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it carries a lot of weight in that context because there are so few Holocaust survivors and WWII veterans who are still alive. But it is also appropriate to say in the case of 9/11, this society’s day that will live in infamy.

However, in light of the milestone we have reached, of our children born in 2001 reaching a significant level of maturity and awareness, we would add something to that concept: Never forget, and never stop talking.