Politics

Slurp Ramen in Port Jefferson has set up a unique means of serving customers, with a large screen in between workers and patrons. Photo by Kyle Barr

Local business owners are looking at an uncertain future due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis here on Long Island.

Due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) executive order that shut down nonessential businesses last Saturday in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus, entrepreneurs and others are worried if they will be able to survive the financial blow. With bills due at the beginning of the month and with no new income coming in, many are calling on the state and the federal government for help.

Indu Kaur, the director of operations of The Meadow Club, looks at blueprints of new the building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

On Tuesday, Congress and the President Donald Trump (R) administration finally reached a $2 trillion agreement to assist people during the ongoing crisis. The new bill includes one-time direct payments to residents of $1,200 per adult making up to $75,000 a year or $2,400 to a married couple making up to $150,000, with $500 payments per child. It also includes a $367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home. Meanwhile, for larger industries the bill includes $500 billion for guaranteed, subsidized loans to bail them out as revenue has severely dropped.

Still, the question remains of how small local businesses will remain intact or even be able to open their doors again as the crisis ebbs.

Indu Kaur, director of operations of The Meadow Club in Port Jefferson Station, said, “This is a burden my father and I are trying to figure out, just like everyone else,”

A family of restaurateurs who recently took over The Harbor Grill had plans to open their third restaurant this month. In addition, The Meadow Club was set to reopen after being closed due to a fire in 2018. Kaur said the ongoing health crisis has put both openings on hold.

In the meantime, she said, The Curry Club in East Setauket is taking take-out and delivery orders.

“We had to lay off our staff,” she said. “There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

When asked about the recent virus rescue bil from the federal government, Kaur said “it was great news and a good first step. “Many of us are suffering financially right now.”

She also said she is hopefully that Suffolk County can eventually do something similar to help business owners.

Currently, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering economic injury disaster loans to affected businesses. Funds come directly from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the maximum unsecured loan amount is $25,000.

Kaur said she doesn’t think that is a viable option for her and other business owners.

“I’m not sure we can take out one more loan on what we already have,” she said. “For others there might be no other option.”

Last week, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) announced the launch of the Business Recovery Unit, a component of the county’s Business Response Plan, to address concerns and questions that businesses have amid the coronavirus outbreak. Businesses are asked to complete a comprehensive survey on the county’s website (www.suffolkcountyny.gov).

In a conference call March 23, Bellone said that, with several hundred surveys completed, over 4,000 workers were indicated as laid off or furloughed.

“We keep getting calls and the numbers are going up; we are getting calls from workers who are self-employed who are in the same boat,” Bellone said.

In the new federal relief package, furloughed workers will have their salaries replaced for four months, getting whatever amount the state provides in unemployment plus a $600 add-on per week. Gig workers such as Uber drivers are included in that as well.

“There are still things like rent, insurance and utility bills that we have to worry about.”

Indu Kaur

In an effort to help business owners, New York State Republicans sent Cuomo a COVID-19 action plan that includes extending the payments of monthly sales tax by 90 days, making available no-interest loans immediately to entities that face a dramatic decrease in business and eliminating penalties for late payments of business and property taxes, among other things.

Similarly, over 17,600  people signed a Change.org petition titled Save Small Business Before It’s Too Late. It also called on the city, state and federal governments to take the necessary steps to save local businesses.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, creating jobs, generating tax revenue and providing valuable services,” said New York City Councilman Mark Gjonaj (D), who started the petition.

Lenore Paprocky, president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce, said, while a lot of businesses are hurting, she is grateful how everyone is willing to come together and help fellow entrepreneurs.

“It’s difficult right now but we want to keep these businesses afloat,” she said.

The chamber has come up with a list of local businesses that are offering catering/takeout and automotive services.

Paprocky said they are trying to stay optimistic amid the ongoing shutdown, and she hopes elected officials can hash something out to help them.

“The future is uncertain, but we need to stay positive and work together to get through this,” the president of the chamber said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has feuded with the federal government about getting resources to New York during the coronavirus pandemic. File photo by Erika Karp

The coronavirus pandemic is going to get much worse in New York State and in Suffolk County in the next few weeks.

That’s the message from Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) and County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who describe efforts to increase hospital beds, change EMS policies, and collect personal protective equipment to help health care workers and first responders.

The state created a viral pandemic triage protocol. By taking a patient’s temperature and screening for a sore throat or cough, EMS personnel will determine whether a patient needs to go to the hospital.

“If a patient doesn’t qualify to be transferred to the hospital, the on-site emergency responder will provide a hand-out with a list of what you need to do and whom to contact should the symptoms worsen,” Bellone said on a daily conference call with reporters.

The new policy shouldn’t create alarm for residents, Bellone said, but merely reflects the current state of the pandemic.

Indeed, on the same day Cuomo created this new EMS protocol, he indicated the need for hospital beds for the state was even greater than anticipated just 24 hours earlier. The number of hospital beds in the state, currently stands around 53,000, with 2,626 beds currently in Suffolk County. Based on the current trajectory of infections and hospitalizations, the number of beds necessary for residents of the Empire State will be closer to 140,000 at its peak, which means that hospitals will need to more than double the number of beds in a short time.

What  Cuomo had requested by doubling the number of beds was a “Herculean effort,” which may not be adequate to the anticipated need, Bellone said.

“The surge may be happening much earlier than anticipated,” Bellone added. “It is a reminder of what we need to do.”

To prepare the health care community and first responders for that increase, Bellone has been urging people to donate personal protective equipment. Two days after his office started collecting the gear in Yaphank, Bellone has received 284,000 pieces of equipment, which includes five van loads from Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Over the next 24 hours, Bellone’s office is working to create additional donation sites on the Western and Eastern ends of Suffolk County.

As testing for the coronavirus Covid-19 increases, so, too, do the number of positive cases. As of this morning, 1,880 residents had the virus among 7,000 who were tested. The number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds has increased to 50 from 38 yesterday.

For the sixth day in a row, Bellone’s office announced additional COVID-19 related deaths, as four people passed away with the virus, all of whom also had underlying medical conditions. A woman in her 80’s died at Mather Hospital on March 19, a man in his 60’s died at Huntington Hospital on March 20, a woman in her 80’s died at Huntington Hospital on March 22 and a woman in her 70’s died at Southside Hospital yesterday.

Bellone extended his condolences to the families. The death toll for the virus in Suffolk County is now 17.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook Hospital is expected to receive 25 ventilators, although the delivery date is undetermined at this time.

Bellone said Amneal Pharmaceuticals, which manufacturers an anti-malarial treatment that the state is testing as a potential treatment for coronavirus called hydroxychloroquine, has donated two million pills to the state.

“We are grateful that a local company is helping to contribute to this effort,” Bellone said. Amneal, which is headquartered in Bridgewater, New Jersey, has a factory in Yaphank.

During the pause in activities in New York that  Cuomo created and that started yesterday, landscapers can continue to perform necessary maintenance functions. Bellone said he was still awaiting clarity from the governor’s office about construction jobs.

Suffolk Legislator Susan Berland was at the head of changing ban the box legislation. File photo

The Suffolk County Legislature voted overwhelmingly March 17 to pass a piece of legislation that “bans the box” and restricts employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications.

The new law aims to allow those with criminal convictions to have more employment opportunities without the stigma of past criminal history. In addition, supporters of the bill have said that it would help those individuals rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application.”

— Susan Berland

County legislators have been trying to pass ban-the-box legislation since last year, but the latest breakthrough came late last month when lawmakers announced they had reached a bipartisan agreement on a new amended piece of legislation. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) sponsored the bill, while Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) were co-sponsors. 

“This law allows applicants with criminal records to have the opportunity to get their foot in the door, have that face-to-face with an employer and get that interview,” Berland said. 

In addition, the law gives the applicant the chance to address their criminal history with a prospective employer earlier if they choose to and protects the employer’s right to investigate the backgrounds of its applicants after an initial interview.

Berland said the new amended legislation protects both sides. She believed previous versions of the bill placed too much onus on employers, requiring them to wait an extended period of time until they could inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

“There were a lot of hoops that were unnecessary, though we all agreed that we wanted to take the question off the application,” the legislator said. 

Advocates have said Suffolk County has one of the largest parole populations in the state and that one in three adults have a criminal record in the U.S. According to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but far less have actually been convicted. 

Supporters of the bill have said the ban would afford people a second chance, instead of having their applications discarded on the basis of one answer. Also, it would reduce the stigma and bias associated with individuals with a criminal background. Suffolk County will join more than 150 municipalities and 35 states in the U.S. which have implemented ban-the-box laws. 

“You can’t help but be affected by their stories,” Berland said. “These people have made mistakes, but they want to turn their lives around.”

Co-sponsor McCaffrey said in a statement that individuals deserve an opportunity to put their best foot forward in a job interview without being automatically disqualified. He said the legislation “strikes a fair balance.”

Gonzalez, the other co-sponsor, said he believes access to gainful employment will improve the quality of life for people with criminal records and the communities in which they live, ultimately reducing recidivism and increasing public safety. 

“We have been working on this legislation for quite some time — it’s a good day,” Berland said. “These are people that want to better themselves as well as families. This will get them in the door based on their application.”

File Photo by Alex Petroski

By Perry Gershon

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) is a master at telling half-truths. He goes to great lengths to tell his constituents that he supports health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and lowering prescription drug prices, but his voting record says differently. Zeldin voted against coverage for pre-existing conditions, and just recently, shot down a bill for prescription drug coverage reform and prescription drug coverage reform. He even has the audacity to take credit for programs he voted against. A quick look at his record, however, is quite revealing.

Zeldin voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has cast several such votes in his three terms in office, most recently May 2017 (and he openly urges the courts to overturn the ACA now). The federal requirement to provide coverage for people with pre-existing conditions comes directly from the ACA, so Zeldin’s opposition to coverage for pre-existing conditions is right there in his votes. Zeldin and President Donald Trump (R) claim to offer ACA replacement legislation that provides for pre-existing condition coverage, but these bills do not protect consumers, especially those with pre-existing conditions. They provide no requirement that these individuals will not be penalized in pricing and availability of coverage.

When Congress, in Dec. 2019, passed its bill to make prescription drugs more affordable, Zeldin voted against the bill (HR-3). His position on this critical issue is again demonstrated by his vote. The only effective way to control the cost of prescription drugs is to let Medicare, the largest consumer, negotiate drug prices directly with the manufacturers. It’s no surprise that Zeldin continues to prohibit Medicare from negotiating because much of his campaign contributions comes from drug makers and their affiliates. This isn’t me saying this, it’s right there in his campaign finance reports that he is legally obligated to file with the Federal Election Commission. Given Zeldin’s benefactors, it’s no wonder he opposes true prescription price reforms.

Zeldin takes credit for funding medical research at Stony Brook. His most recent February “newsletter” stated that he secured $3 million of new National Institutes of Health grants to Stony Brook for medical research, and he cites a bipartisan letter he signed requesting a budget increase specifically for NIH research. What Zeldin does not tell you is that when the actual budget came to a vote on July 25, 2019, he voted against it. His own voting record proves that Zeldin did not vote to increase NIH appropriations, or increased funding for Stony Brook.

But Zeldin’s biggest deception of all is that he is has listened and knows what his constituents need for their health care. Again, the facts belie that. Zeldin’s last public town hall was in April 2017, before his vote to repeal the ACA. He has not held one since then. He has no idea what his constituents want or need!

Town halls are meant to be open to all constituents who want to attend. There should be no prescreening of questions or questioners (to exclude critics) or else it is not really a true town hall. I know this from first-hand experience.

I have held five open town halls since last September, and I will hold five more before the end of June. I take questions from Democrats, Republicans — whoever attends and wants to ask a question. As a matter of fact, I take each and every question asked of me and I give truthful, fact-based answers. There is no prescreening and no spin at my town halls.

People on Long Island deserve a representative who will listen to them when they speak out about health care. I want to see universal health care for everyone — and I believe we can do it with the ACA supercharged with a public option. We need to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices to achieve true pricing reforms. This November, we have a chance to give NY-1 a representative who will fight for us in Washington and tell us the truth here at home.

Perry Gershon is a national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s 1st District, he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a master’s in business administration from the University of California, Berkeley.

SD1 Democratic candidate Tommy John Schiavoni has recently made efforts to court voters on the North Shore in Brookhaven end of the district. Photo from campaign

By Leah Chiappino

A third-generation Sag Harbor resident and Democrat, Tommy John Schiavoni spent his career as an educator and school board member before being elected to the Southampton town board in 2017. Looking to expand his impact, he is now running to secure the Democratic nomination for New York State Senate District 1, a seat vacated when 44-year Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced in January he would not be seeking reelection. 

Last month, the candidate officially established a campaign office in Port Jefferson. 

Schiavoni applauded LaValle’s long tenure in public service and pledged to continue his legacy if elected. 

“We need to have a critical mass of Long Island senators in the majority so Long Islanders can have more of a say in state government.”

— Tommy John Schiavoni

“His legacy, particularly when it comes to the environment, is going to be felt in the 1st Senate district for years to come,’ he said. “I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he served his community. He was a friend and a supporter of education and I certainly would work with Senator LaValle in the future transition.” 

Schiavoni comes from a large family that has owned a plumbing business for three generations. He began working alongside them during summers at age 12, an experience he said taught him strong work ethic, respect for community service and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, he decided the plumbing business was not for him and was fueled by his passion for history and government to go into teaching. 

“I was the kid that would sit and watch the conventions in the summertime and route for particular candidates,” he said.

Schiavoni worked his way through college, earning a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Cortland, before securing a position as a social studies teacher at Center Moriches High School, which he held until his retirement in 2018. While teaching, Schiavoni went on to earn his master’s degree at Stony Brook University. He served on Sag Harbor school board from 2014 to 2017, and a legislative liaison to the board as Southampton town board member. These positions sent him to Albany to lobby for funding to East End schools. 

 “This background for me in school governance is an important part of my commitment to education and why I believe I am now ready to serve as senator,” he said. I went to public schools and I taught in public schools. I believe in public education as the great equalizer of our society.”

The Southampton Town Board member began his political career in 2008, serving on various land-use broads and as a Village of North Haven trustee, an experience that he believes he can take with him in dealing with the politics of Albany. 

Aside from local education, Schiavoni said he feels as though environmental issues, specifically regulating tick-borne illnesses, are of great importance. 

 “New York State really needs to be putting resources into researching why they are happening and the human effects of tick-borne illnesses,” he said. “It affects everyone, it’s affecting our health care, and last year the state still dropped funding to $9 million. That number needs to be a lot bigger.” 

When it comes to education at the college level, Schiavoni believes that the SUNY system is providing an “excellent education” to its students and is for expanding the income qualifications for the Excelsior program, which provides free college tuition to families making less than $125,000 a year, if students agree to work in New York for the same amount of time in which they were receiving the scholarship.  

“I like the idea of incentivizing people to stay in New York,” he said. “If you get your education in New York and your education is arguably paid for by the taxpayers of New York, staying here for five years is appropriate”

In terms of health care, Schiavoni sees the need to cut costs and supports the recent state Medicare expansion. He is eager to see what the governor has on the table from his recent task force to expand health care further. 

The candidate sees affordable housing as a multifaceted problem. In the Town of Southampton, he voted to provide low-cost housing in multiple locations and looks to expand those options. He is in favor of a 5 percent transfer tax to create shared equity programs, where people can split the cost of buying a house with a public fund and can choose to buy full ownership over time. When the house is sold, half of the profit goes to the seller and half will roll over back into the fund. 

He is also for expanding and electrifying the Long Island Rail Road, while placing affordable housing near the train stations so people can get from place to place without having to drive. He proposes placing additional siding on the tracks, so more trains can run.

Through all these policies, Schiavoni also stressed fiscal responsibility. As a liaison to the comptroller’s office in Southampton town, the candidate boasted about the AAA Bond rating the town recently earned. 

“That kind of fiscal responsibility is necessary in government,” he said. “We need to have big ideas, but we also need to pay for them in a manner that can be sustained in perpetuity.”

He is also in favor of reforming cash bail, citing that it is discriminatory to low-income people, but feels Class D and E felonies should have bail set by a judge. 

“We can get people back to court in other ways that are not cash bail,” he said. “When those who cannot afford bail are sitting in jail, the recidivism rate actually rises because they are not able to get ahead, spend time with their families, and it costs the states, county and towns, money.”

Schiavoni said that electing a Democrat from the East End of Long Island is even more vital since the party took the majority in both state Assembly and Senate. 

“As much as political parties are important in Albany, regions are important,” he said. “We need to have a critical mass of Long Island senators in the majority so Long Islanders can have more of a say in state government.”

Schiavoni’s path to the nomination is far from linear. Parents for Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student Skyler Johnson and Valerie Cartright, a Brookhaven town councilwoman are all vying for the nomination. The Suffolk County Republican Party named state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) as its front-runner.

“We have some really great qualified candidates,” Schiavoni said. “I think contested elections are good for democracy. This is a big district that spans 68 miles from Belle Terre to Montauk Point. I’m going to get out there and bring my message to the people. As an elected official in a number of different areas, I know that I have a lot to offer.”

The state and local primary elections are taking place June 23, and the winner of the Democratic primary will face Palumbo on election day, Nov. 3.

For more profiles of Democrats running for state SD1, visit TBRnewsmedia.com.

Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, left, has recently made public his criticism of state Sen. Jim Gaughran. Lupinacci photo from Town of Huntington website; Gaughran photos New York Senate website

By Julianne Mosher

A statement released by Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) last week attacked the stances of state Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) on the new bail reform and Long Island Power Authority, saying that “reasonable people can see political pandering in an election year for what it is: cheap, divisive and unproductive.”

Titled “Lupinacci to Gaughran: Do Your Homework and Stop Misleading Our Residents for Political Gain,” the release was published by Lauren Lembo, Lupinacci’s public information officer on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

“The supervisor doesn’t typically feel the need to call out political grandstanding, but he draws a line when it comes to the public being misled,” Lembo said.

His statements delve into several issues the community is facing and claim that Gaughran’s “yes” vote on the bail law is misleading Huntington residents for political gain.

“After Senator Jim Gaughran voted for the ill-conceived and not very well thought out ‘criminal justice reform’ package, which made our neighborhoods less safe, eliminated a judge’s discretion to help keep dangerous people off the streets, created a revolving door for repeat offenders, and mandated victims’ addresses and contact information be shared with defendants, the senator has ramped up his political pandering in an effort to sweep this disastrous failure under the rug,” the statement said. 

Lupinacci also voiced his concern of the continuing discussion over the Northport-East Northport school district residents, where he claims Gaughran instilled fear into the town’s residents with incorrect facts. 

“Pandering to the fears of Northport-East Northport school district residents, the senator waved a New York State DEC permit review report for the Northport power plant at the cameras during his press conference on January 24, but he didn’t have his facts straight when he tried to scare residents into thinking the plant was in severe violation of state and federal air pollution standards,” the statement read. “In fact, he had his facts so wrong that not only did LIPA call him out on his staff’s inability to understand the meaning of words in the DEC document describing the entire New York metro area — and not just the Northport plant.”

The state senator was quick to fire back.

“Instead of fighting LIPA’s reckless assault against taxpayers, Supervisor Lupinacci spent the last two years focused on sexual assault allegations against himself,” he said, referring to Lupinacci’s current civil suit with his former aide, Brian Finnegan, who accused the supervisor of sexually assaulting him during a trip to Albany.

Gaughran was also behind a bill in Albany that reinforces reporting requirements in certain cases of sexual harassment or human rights revelations. The senator was motivated by Huntington’s former public safety director being forced to resign after sending an inappropriate email about a female employee. Before the resignation, there were complaints by councilmembers that Lupinacci withheld that information, when it should have been reported initially.

“It’s shameful he’s more concerned with protecting himself, and now his political cronies, than the town he was elected to lead,” Gaughran added. “This sounds a lot like a statement coming from a supervisor making excuses who is about to cave in to LIPA to bankrupt our taxpayers and devastate our schools.”

Brookhaven Town officials, with Supervisor Ed Romaine at the microphone, join local representatives from the state and nearby townships to protest the LIRR’s planned fare hike. Photo from TOB

Local and state officials, along with citizen advocates voiced a collective message to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and New York City during a press conference at Ronkonkoma train station on March 2: “Stop shortchanging Long Island.” 

The group called on the MTA to abandon its plan for a systemwide 4 percent fare increase in 2021 for Long Island Rail Road customers, including those in Nassau and Suffolk counties. The decision was a part of the NYC Outer Borough Rail Discount plan which offers an up to 20 percent discount for city riders. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well.”

— Ed Smyth

“Long Island is not the cash cow for New York City,” said Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven Town supervisor. “This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

Romaine said a typical Ronkonkoma LIRR commuter who purchases a monthly parking pass, monthly train ticket and unlimited ride Metrocard would have to pay $7,224 annually. 

“The MTA has not made the capital investments it should on Long island — what about our riders?” Romaine said. 

The supervisor added that Long Island has already been shortchanged regarding electrification, as there is no electrification east of Huntington and none past the Ronkonkoma station.

The discounts were mandated by the state Legislature as a condition of its approval of congestion pricing legislation, which would create new tolls for drivers in Manhattan to help fund the authority’s $51.5 billion capital program. The plan will go into effect in May of this year. 

Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) also took issue with the MTA’s decision. 

“We had the congestion pricing vote, which I voted against it,” he said. “This is completely counterintuitive to the folks using the trains. Congestion pricing was meant to get individuals to start using public transportation and not use their vehicles.”

He added that the MTA has billions of dollars of subsidies from the state and federal government. 

“This is a New York City problem — we should not bear the brunt of it,” he said. “Mayor [Bill] de Blasio [D] should pay for this — they are overwhelmingly serviced [by the MTA].”

The MTA board is made up of 21 stakeholders appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), including people recommended by unions and municipalities such as the city and surrounding counties. Kevin Law represents Suffolk County, and was nominated by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). The other Long Island representative, David Mack, represents Nassau.

Despite their differences, officials continued to agree with the planned change at a Feb. 26 board meeting, saying they expect the up to 20 percent discount to entice Queens and Brooklyn commuters to use the LIRR if they live far from a subway line.

MTA officials say this is a pilot program up to one year’s duration. 

However, on Long Island, other local officials voiced their displeasures. 

“This is unconscionable, this is a handout to the city at the expense of Long Island.”

— Ed Romaine

Ed Smyth (R), Huntington Town councilman, said commuters will essentially be paying for their ticket and for somebody in NYC. 

“Everything is being pushed out to Long Island in terms of expenses and it won’t be long until you’re expected to buy them a coffee and a bagel as well,” he said. 

Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), Brookhaven Town councilman, said the MTA plan would negatively affect the progress they’ve made to bring transit-oriented development to the area. 

“On a town level, this is something we’ve been working on for years,” he said. “The Tritec [Ronkonkoma Hub] development is an example of that. It will make it easier for Long islanders to get into the city. With these fee increases it will make it harder for them to afford to live here and ride here.”

Palumbo added he will be writing a letter to Cuomo in the coming days and will ask Long Island representatives from both political parties to sign it. The assemblyman is hopeful the plan can be changed before the NYS budget deadline next month. 

“Hopefully he can see it, and this can be fixed on April 1 — I’m just hoping that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears,” he said. 

Advocates say businesses asking applicants if they’re convicted felons often leaves them jobless. Stock photo

A piece of legislation that would restrict employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications could be voted on by Suffolk lawmakers in the near future.

At a county Legislature meeting earlier this month, legislators said that they had reached a bipartisan agreement on “Ban the Box” legislation and plan to present the bill at a later date. 

County Legislator Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) along with Legislators Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) plan on making amendments on the bill. 

“People makes mistakes in their lives, I’m sure each of you have made mistakes.”

— Melissa Bennett

More than 20 people came out in support of the bill at a Feb. 11 meeting. Those who spoke agreed that it would allow former convicts the ability to become better contributing members of a community while helping them rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“I would like applaud the Legislature for making progress in supporting fair hiring practices in Suffolk County — it’s about time,” said Serena Liguori, executive director of New Hour, a Long Island nonprofit organization advocacy group that supports women, mothers and children impacted by incarceration. “We have worked with more than a thousand women across the county who have convictions. Most of them need employment when they come home.” 

The executive director of the nonprofit said she hopes a potential passage of the legislation could lead to making strides around other issues. 

Besides employment, “many of the women we help talk about housing and the lack of it, [and] transportation,” Liguori said. 

Melissa Bennett, Huntington resident, said she believed individuals deserved a second chance. 

“People makes mistakes in their lives, I’m sure each of you have made mistakes,” she said. “We’re human, it happens. Without banning the box, you are essentially [putting people] in a box.”

Elizabeth Justesen, community outreach director of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, also stressed the need to eliminate the application question. 

“Last year this bill lost by one vote,” she said. “For those who came out here every month [to the Legislature] it was a blow. We sat in disbelief in the Legislature’s inability to vote on human dignity.”

The community outreach director pointed out that one in three people have a criminal record in the U.S. Other advocates of such legislation, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) have also made the claim in the past, though according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but less have actually been convicted. 

Though Justesen said with Suffolk County’s numbers of people on parole, people with convictions have it harder than it needs to be.

“In Suffolk County … with the largest parole population in the state, how can we expect them to get up on their feet and reintegrate to our communities if they cannot work,” Justesen said. “The time has come to do what is right and give people the chance to interview.” 

Supporters have contended the ban would give applicants a chance to explain their crimes, in turn increasing their chance of getting hired, reducing crime and the number of repeat offenders being sent back to jail. More than 150 municipalities and 33 states in the U.S. have implemented “Ban the Box” laws. 

Gonzalez spoke on the future of the legislation. 

“We have been fighting the fight on this bill for a very long time, and we have been continuing to come together to iron out our differences,” he said. “We all felt that we needed to get this thing put in. … I think we are headed in the right direction on this issue.” 

Local business owners are concerned about what the legislation could mean for them. The Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers encouraged members to voice their opinions on the issue. 

“It is imperative that you know what your elected officials are voting on and have a chance to share your concerns before additional regulations are forced on you which ultimately might make it harder to operate a business here in Suffolk County and New York state,” the organization said in an email. 

Last year, county legislators voted 9-8 against the measure. Lawmakers were concerned about putting too much onus on the employers. The previous version of the bill required employers to wait until after an initial interview to inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

At the time, Berland did not support some of the requirements. The legislator said she didn’t think people who have a criminal record should get more benefits than others, noting that people with no criminal records do not learn why they were passed over for a job.

Legislators and residents are worried about how possible development in St. James and Stony Brook will affect traffic and water quality, while others are in favor. Photo from The Northwind Group website

Elected officials and residents are weighing in on proposed and possible developments along the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook.

While the development of Gyrodyne — which would include subdividing its 75-acre land for a hotel, assisted living facility, offices and sewage plant — has been a hot topic of conversation on both sides of the town line, many are also keeping their eyes on the sites of the International Baptist Church in Stony Brook and BB & GG Farms and Nursery in St. James.

On The Northwind Group website, under the proposed developments tab, is listed a 55-and-over community called Stony Brook Meadows that will stand on approximately 12 acres of property.

According to the website, it “will address a need for housing for a valued regional resource and at the same time, help to alleviate various housing concerns.”

On its site, Northwind said the development will result in little or no impact on local streets and, as far as the economic impact, the property is currently not taxed due it being occupied by a religious institution, and “the redevelopment will result in increased tax dollars for the Town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State.” The website also claims it will provide much-needed jobs during the construction phase, and any new community residents will support local businesses.

In the Town of Brookhaven’s Route 25A — Three Village Area: Visioning Report, the International Baptist Church was cited as an ideal spot for an assisted living facility due to residents not driving and staff members coming and going at various hours. In order for the development to go ahead, a zoning variation would be needed from the town.

As for BB & GG, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed legislation in October that gave the county Legislature the go ahead to appraise the land for possible county purchase under the Drinking Water Protection Program. According to the resolution, an application was made by William Borella for the property to be considered for inclusion in the Suffolk County Farmland Purchase of Development Rights Program, which was approved by the Legislature in July. County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said the farm is currently in the appraisal status.

“Kara is exactly in the right direction by putting the resolution forward, and I strongly support both the concept of protecting this part of our historic North Shore and all of the national and local treasures that are found there.”

— Steve Englebright

Resolution Proposed

At its Feb. 11 general meeting, the county Legislature tabled a resolution to study a segment of road in the vicinity of the Smithtown and Brookhaven border. The resolution, introduced by Hahn, would allow the county to analyze the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook to determine the regional impacts associated with proposed and planned development projects in this area. It would also identify vacant and preserved parcels as well as existing zoning, amongst other criteria. The resolution will be voted on at a future Legislature general meeting. The next general meeting, March 3, will be held in Riverhead.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has addressed the Smithtown Planning Board at past public meetings about the downfalls of development along the corridor, said in a phone interview that the stretch of road in the area was recognized by the state in the early 1970s for its historic importance and a number of structures along or right off the route are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Englebright said nearby Stony Brook Harbor is the last unspoiled harbor in the vicinity. He added it has been sheltered by the Head of the Harbor village and wise land-use policies, and the proposed county legislation is important to reconcile some of the issues in the area.

“Kara is exactly in the right direction by putting the resolution forward, and I strongly support both the concept of protecting this part of our historic North Shore and all of the national and local treasures that are found there,” Englebright said.

Hahn said there needs to be real discussions in Smithtown, because while she understands development is needed, she said there needs to be smart planning.

“There’s just a lot of availability in an area that is bucolic and historic, and it would be wonderful if there could be a check on development,” she said.

The county legislator added, regarding the sewage treatment plant that is planned for the Gyrodyne property, that other spots may be more beneficial to many areas of the town. The property is located on the northern part of Smithtown. Currently, plans are to hook up Lake Avenue businesses to the sewage plant. She said there is a lot of state money for downtown development if it is done properly, and if a sewage plant would be positioned centrally, it can not only benefit St. James, but also Nesconset, Smithtown and Jericho Turnpike to get businesses off antiquated cesspools and hooked up to sewers.

“It’s shortsighted to propose a project that would only address one downtown, when properly placed it could help several, and spur economic development, help water quality, and help out development where it should be in our downtowns and by our transportation zones,” Hahn said.

“We take our responsibility as stewards extremely seriously. This plan has been a long time in the making. We have worked closely with the Town of Smithtown to accomplish their goals.”

— Richard Smith

Gyrodyne the Catalyst for Controversy

At the Legislature meeting, residents spoke for and against the resolution. Richard Smith, a member of the Gyrodyne board of trustees and mayor of Nissequogue, asked legislators to vote “no” when it came to the resolution.

Smith said he and the Gyrodyne board have worked with the Smithtown Planning Department to fulfill the requirements of the town, which he said has done comprehensive studies of what the community needs for their downtown areas.

He said the company has worked more than three years on a “smart plan” and added that Gyrodyne would have the right to subdivide more extensively than they have, but chose now to. There will be a 200-foot setback from Route 25A, and he said he feels the sewage treatment plan will protect the groundwater and Stony Brook Harbor. He also cited the benefits of the tax revenues to the town and county as well as the St. James Fire Department.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who is more concerned with this area than myself and my colleagues on the board,” Smith said. “We take our responsibility as stewards extremely seriously. This plan has been a long time in the making. We have worked closely with the Town of Smithtown to accomplish their goals.”

Recently, the civic group We Are Nesconset changed its name to We Are Smithtown to address all development issues in the town instead of just in their hamlet. The civic group originally worked to oppose a boutique hotel near the Watermill Inn on Route 347 and the proposed Nesconset development The Preserve at Smithtown.

“Our focus currently is Gyrodyne and its effect on the environment, especially given what’s going on with Grumman Aerospace,” Phyllis Hart, vice president of the group, said, referring to the so-called Grumman plume in Bethpage.

In a recent email to members to explain the name change, the group called the Nesconset projects and Gyrodyne a “terrible trio” of projects. The group said the three, as well as other developments, were “all but dead until 2018, when the town council “decided to prioritize development at all costs.”

Hart said the civic group asked the town to place a moratorium on any new building until Smithtown’s master plan is complete.

However, Smithtown’s public information officer, Nicole Garguilo, said in an email that a moratorium on development before the master plan is completed would be a reckless decision.

“The financial ramifications that a moratorium on development would have, not just on the town’s fiscal stability but on the taxpaying residents and small business owners, would be catastrophic,” she said. “Demanding a moratorium on development makes for a great press soundbite … but there’s not a planner or engineering professional on the Island that would make a recommendation like this and for good reason.”

Garguilo said a moratorium would not only hurt developers but homeowners and small business owners. She said a moratorium could also cause a rush to the town’s building and planning departments to submit site plans before it takes effect.

“The answer here is balance and moderation, as well as removing outdated ordinances and loopholes in the town’s existing master plan, to avoid unwanted types of development,” she said. “All of which we are currently doing.”

Gerry Duff, a 30-year resident of Stony Brook who lives on Stony Brook Road, said he recently joined the Three Village Civic Association due to his concerns about the proposed development at Gyrodyne and talk of others in the area. He said the congestion at the end of Stony Brook Road around rush hour, which he said starts around 3:30 p.m., backs up to the Stony Brook University entrance. He added he and others feel that Smithtown will receive the tax benefits of developments such as Gyrodyne, while Stony Brook will inherit the headaches.

“[Smithtown has] blinders on, and they look at one project at a time,” he said. “They’re looking at Gyrodyne for example. They’re not looking at the fact that 100 feet to the left and 100 feet to the right are two more developments going on. All of this should be taken into consideration, because all of this is going to add to the traffic and the congestion and the pollution.”

The 2020 U.S. Census could be pivotal for New York, which could potentially lose one or two U.S. reps from a general loss of population. Stock photo

It’s a once-in-a-decade request, and this year’s census could determine just how much local schools, governments and nonprofits get in aid from the federal government. Not to mention, this year’s count could determine if New York could be sending one or two less U.S. representatives to Washington out of its current total of 27.

It has enough officials worried that New York State is funneling money around to different counties to get people to fill in the survey. Suffolk County is expected to receive $1.019 million toward its efforts. Officials have called for additional funds toward the census in this year’s budget, though most don’t expect the money to materialize before the census starts rolling in mid-March. New York State has made $20 million available of a total of $60 million to go toward engagement efforts in local municipalities. $15 million is going to the state’s 62 counties. 

“It’s the principle that we count, and we should be counted.”

— Martha Maffei

This year, galvanizing the populace to take the census has become a phenomenon, with players at the state, county and local level putting a heavy emphasis on this year’s survey. On the line, advocates say, is a correct political representation on a federal level as well as $675 billion annually in federal funds for prioritizing road work, school aid, grants and Medicaid funding.

Due to the 2010 census, New York lost two congressional seats, and some have said this year’s count could lose the state one or two more. Local groups, both small and large, have the task of energizing enough people to gain an accurate headcount. 

Like herding cats, that’s much easier said than done

Suffolk County Complete Count Committee was created in 2019 in part by the nonprofits Health & Welfare Council of Long Island and Long Island Community Foundation to generate engagement for those efforts.

Rebecca Sanin, president of HWCLI, said they have around 300 groups, including nonprofits, religious organizations, business organizations and governments, participating at least to some degree in outreach among 11 subcommittees. The nonprofit has also established guidebooks and graphics for everyone from immigrant leaders to hospitals to senior citizens.

“We’re really trying to build momentum, where the end is a 10-year funding impact to our region,” Sanin said. 

The committee has become a hub for joining up the disparate groups looking to promote the census. The state has its own CCC, and other counties have been encouraged to create their own committees. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was named to the New York State Complete Count Committee by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

“Suffolk County is not only the largest suburban county in the state of New York, but we have the fourth largest and hardest-to-count populations in New York state,” Bellone said during a 2019 meeting with the Suffolk Complete Count Committee. Approximately 40 percent of county residents live in hard-to-count areas, he said.

People will start to see this year’s census mailed out in mid-March, and the census process continues for the next several months. Stock photo

County officials have hosted census job fairs this year and last, with positions paying $17 to $23 an hour.

Governments at both county and town level have started putting notices of the census in official emails and releases. Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had been drafted to partner with the complete count committee. She said the town is working on a project with the tax receiver’s office to send out a reminder in the midyear tax receipts that goes out to every household in Brookhaven. They have also started to include information about the census in town programs hosted this year and had representatives from the census table at town events.

“Undercounting of communities can have a domino or ripple effect on community projects and issues for years to come,” the councilwoman said in an email. “A complete and accurate count of your community can result in improved infrastructure and schools, better community health and programs and much more.”

Steven Collins, who works for the U.S. Department of Commerce as a partnership specialist for the census in Suffolk, said the big game changer this year is the now-four different ways residents are going to be able to respond to the census. People can now respond over the internet, over the phone or using the usual mailed in paper survey. The fourth way is when all other options are exhausted, and when census operators have tried to reach an individual by several other means, an enumerator will knock on one’s door. 

Though not all see the incentivized online component as a good thing. Sanin said there are many who have a general distrust of putting information online, due to the many examples of private companies being hacked to get access to a user’s personal data. There is also a large digital divide, and many still do not have easy access or understanding how to use the online component.

Despite the online component, census promotion still requires boots on
the ground

Stony Brook University has been active in trying to get students signed up for the count but have also started concerted efforts to encourage indigenous groups, especially those living on Long Island’s South Fork, to sign on for the census.

Despite how seriously census takers have been in requesting surveys, that still has not stopped multiple areas coming back with low response rates, some barely above 50 percent. 

In Suffolk County presentations to the complete count committee, some communities are shown as much harder to count than others. While much of the North Shore shows a response rate of 70 percent or better, a large area in Huntington and Huntington Station, with sizable minority populations, have a response rate of 60 percent, at worst. 

At www.censushardtocountmaps2020.usa, researchers have used previous census data to track which areas showed lower census participation.

In Brookhaven, one area with low turnout happens to be around the hamlets of Ridge and Upton and in Selden and Centereach, especially in the area along Route 112 that has a previous response rate of only 60 to 65 percent.

There are portions of Long Island with much worse representation. There are certain parts of West Babylon with a response rate as low as 0 to 60 percent.

SEPA Mujer, a nonprofit immigrants rights advocacy group, has chapters in several of the areas that show low response rates, including Riverhead, Huntington Station and Patchogue. Martha Maffei, the executive director of the nonprofit, said they have formed coalitions at two of their three chapters specifically to energize the community for the census. Many of their organizers and members have advocated for local immigrants to take the census which comes with the task of convincing the immigrant community the information will not be used against them by immigration enforcement.

“It’s the principle that we count, and we should be counted,” Maffei said.

Usually, she said, organizers take the tack of arguing that filling out the census will mean more funding for their school districts and how it will offer them better political representation. 

The complete count committee has organized 13 total groups on the immigration subcommittee who have all pledged to move through these communities. The issue, she said, is money, compounded with the amount of ground these volunteers have to cover, with only the some $1 million to be spread amongst all of Suffolk.

“Fear nurtures an undercount, and an undercount nurtures our continued inequity.”

— Rebecca Sanin

Still, she’s optimistic these hard-to-count areas will be more active than 2010. 

The census is meant to track everyone, including those undocumented immigrants, in order to get a full understanding of total population, but in 2019 the potential for a citizenship question to appear on the census created a tornado of partisan bickering, with opponents saying such a citizenship question would specifically target Latino groups and incentivize them to not respond to the census, thereby limiting the political capital such groups could wield. Officials said the pro-citizenship question was needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965, designed to help blacks overcome legal barriers to voting during the Jim Crow era.

In November of last year, The New York Times reported on disclosures from the White House hinting that Republican strategists had political reasons for encouraging a citizenship question, that it would increase Republican influence and political power once totals for the census were drawn by undercounting residents in largely Democratic areas.

Judges ruled the question illegal under Title 13, which states the government can only use data from the census for statistical purposes. Collins reiterated there will be no citizenship question on this year’s census, and all information is kept extremely confidential and secure. 

Yet the idea still lingers in the minds of some residents, and it is something census advocates said they have had to work around.

Sanin and Maffei said the citizenship question has undoubtedly had a cooling effect toward the census, though to what extent is hard to gauge. 

“We feel we are going from one attack to another,” Maffei said. “There is a lot of trauma in this community.” 

The general distrust in government and in government systems is high, and trying to encourage people “living in the shadows,” as Sanin put it, is where much of the past year’s efforts have gone.

“Fear nurtures an undercount, and an undercount nurtures our continued inequity,” she said.