Politics

By John L. Turner

Situated a mile east of Orient Point, the eastern tip of the North Fork and separated from it by Plum Gut, lies Plum Island, an 822-acre pork-chop shaped island that is owned by you and me (being the federal taxpayers that we are). 

The island’s most well-known feature is the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), situated in the northwestern corner of the property, but Plum Island is so much more. On the western edge lays the Plum Island lighthouse which was built in 1869 to warn mariners of the treacherous currents of Plum Gut. On the east there’s the brooding presence of Fort Terry, a relict of the Spanish-American War, with scattered evidence in the form of barracks, gun batteries, and the tiny tracks of a toy gauge railroad once used to move cannon shells from storage to those concrete batteries. (The cannons never fired except during drills).

And there’s the stuff that excites naturalists:

■ The largest seal haul-out site in southern New England located at the eastern tip of the island where throngs of harbor and grey seals swim along the rocky coastline or bask, like fat sausages, on the off-shore rocks that punctuate the surface of the water.

■ The more than 225 different bird species, one-quarter of all the species found in North America, that breed here (like the bank swallows that excavate burrows in the bluff face on the south side of the island), or pass through on their seasonal migratory journeys, or overwinter.

■ Dozens of rare plants, like ladies’-tresses orchids, blackjack oak, and scotch lovage that flourish in the forests, thickets, meadows, and shorelines of Plum Island.

■ A large freshwater pond in the southwestern section of the island that adds visual delight and biological diversity to the island. 

■ And, of course, the ubiquitous beach plums that gave the island its name!

For the past decade a struggle has ensued to make right what many individuals, organizations of all sorts (including the more than 120-member Preserve Plum Island Coalition), and many public officials consider a significant wrong — Congress’s order to sell Plum Island to the highest bidder, forever losing it as a public space. 

This ill-conceived path of auctioning the island was set in motion by a half-page paragraph buried in a several thousand- page bill to fund government agencies in 2009. Fortunately, this struggle has been won — the wrong has been righted — as language included in the recently adopted 2021 budget bill for the federal government, repeals the requirement that the General Services Administration sell the island. 

Thank you to Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Senators Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and members of Congress Lee Zeldin,Tom Suozzi, Rosa DeLauro and Joe Courtney!

Thanks is also due to New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright who sponsored legislation that was signed into law creating a Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle area in the waters surrounding Plum Island.

While this victory is a vital and necessary step to ultimately protect Plum Island, it is a temporary and incomplete one since the island can still be sold to a private party through the normal federal land disposition process if no government agency at the federal, state, or local level steps up to take title to the island. 

The Coalition’s next task, then, is to ensure that a federal agency such as the National Park Service (National Monument?), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (National Wildlife Refuge?) or the state of New York (New York State Park Preserve?) expresses a willingness to accept stewardship of this magnificent island, since they get first dibs to the island if they want it. A key enticement toward this end is the $18.9 million commitment in the budget to clean up the few contaminated spots on the island.

Why the sale in the first place? Since 1956 PIADC has been conducting top level research on highly communicable animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease. To this end, several years ago staff developed a vaccine for this highly contagious disease that holds great promise in controlling the disease globally.

Despite this successful research, Congress determined the facility was obsolete and should be replaced, approving the construction of a new state-of-the-art facility, known as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be located on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. NBAF is complete and will soon be fully operational so as a result PIADC is no longer needed; PIADC is expected to transfer all operations to Kansas and close for good in 2023.

Plum Island is a rare place — a remarkable asset that holds the promise of enriching Long Islanders’ lives —your family’s lives, if we can keep it in public ownership. The Preserve Plum Island Coalition, with the input from hundreds of Long Islanders, has painted a vision for the island … so, imagine throwing binoculars, a camera, and a packed lunch enough for you and your family into your backpack and participating in this realized vision by:

— Taking a ferry across to the island, debarking to orient your island adventure by visiting a museum interpreting the cultural and natural riches and fascinating history of the island before you wander, for countless hours, to experience the wild wonders of the island. A most worthwhile stop is the island’s eastern tip where, through a wildlife blind, you enjoy watching dozens of bobbing grey and harbor seals dotting the water amidst the many partially submerged boulders.

— Standing on the edge of the large, tree-edged pond, watching basking turtles and birds and dragonflies flitting over the surface.

-Birdwatching on the wooded trails and bluff tops to view songbirds, shorebirds, ospreys and other birds-of-prey, swallows, sea ducks and so many other species. Perhaps you’ll see a peregrine falcon zipping by during fall migration, sending flocks of shorebirds scurrying away as fast as their streamlined wings can take them.

— Strolling along the island’s eight miles of undisturbed coastline, with the beauty of eastern Long Island before you, offering distant views of Great Gull, Little Gull and Gardiner’s Islands, Montauk Point, and the Connecticut and Rhode Island coastlines.

— Lodging at the Plum Island lighthouse, converted into a Bed & Breakfast and enjoying a glass of wine as the sun sets over Plum Gut and Orient Point.

— Learning about the role Fort Terry played in protecting the United States and the port of New York as your explore the many parts of the fort — the barracks where soldiers stayed, the gun batteries that once housed the cannons angled skyward to repel a foreign attack.

— At the end of day, if you don’t stay over, taking the ferry back to the mainland of the North Fork, tired after many miles of hiking in the salt air of the East End stopping at a North Fork restaurant to share a chat among friends and family about what you’ve learned relating to this fascinating place.

This legislation has given Plum Island (based on the above perhaps we should call it Treasure Island!) a second chance and an opportunity for us to achieve this vision. But this law is only the first step. We need to take the vital second step of new ownership and management in the public interest if all of the above adventures are to become realities. We collectively need to tell those elected officials who represent us, and who can make a difference in determining the island’s fate, that we want Plum Island protected in perpetuity and the opportunity for its many wonders to become interwoven into the fabric of life on Long Island. 

Go to www.preserveplumisland.org to learn more about the Coalition, receive updates, and what you can do to help.

John Turner is the spokesperson for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition.

For the first time, people could choose to complete the U.S. Census online, by phone, or by mail. Stock photo

By Iryna Shkurhan

The 2020 Census couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. 

I was one of the half million people employed by the U.S. Census Bureau this year enlisted in the follow-up operation for non-respondents. When I applied to be an enumerator in Suffolk county in January, I couldn’t imagine that I would be going door to door in the midst of a pandemic. 

Iryna Shkurhan

When Census Day came April 1, enumerators were set to start visiting the homes of millions of non-respondents, but in person operations were postponed indefinitely as many states entered lockdowns. Around the same, the bureau formed an outreach and ad campaign to encourage Americans to respond online for the first time, or by phone or mail.

When drafting the Constitution, the nation’s founders mandated a count of the populace to be held every decade, starting in the 1790s, with the main goal of getting a count of every single person living in the United States. Included was questions on age, sex, race, relationship in the household and home ownership form data that paints a picture of who makes up the country. 

This information is crucial to determine congressional representation and allocating hundreds of billions in federal funding, for education, hospitals, roads and healthcare. The data that will directly affect the resources that communities across the country will receive for the next decade. For a government to represent people and fairly fund its programs, it has to know how many people there are and where they live, making the census initiative crucial for democracy. 

Enumerators typically work in their communities because their familiarity with the area helps in locating homes and also establishes trust and mutual understanding with respondents. Still, the questions are personal, and not everyone wants to share that information with a stranger. 

I always let people know that they had the option to refuse a question, if they were not comfortable answering. The question that mattered most was how many people lived in a household, which was used for the population count. The other questions had their own importance, but less so. 

I was issued a badge, a preprogrammed iPhone 8 and a messenger bag filled with various information sheets and a clipboard. In past decades the clipboard would’ve gotten more use. 

But this is the first year that the Census Bureau was collecting data digitally, allowing people to respond online, and enumerators to use mobile apps to record data. Enumerators no longer had to just record information with a pen and paper on their clipboards.

With the unpredictability of the pandemic, no one knew when and if in-person operations would continue, but in August I received a phone call asking if I would be willing to work for 4-8 weeks depending on when the count would be completed. I began working in the Stony Brook area less than ten minutes from my home. The number of cases I was assigned ranged from 20 to 70, depending on how many hours of availability I entered. Some days when I would work eight hours, I was assigned up to 80 nonresponse follow up cases. 

While on duty I imagined how different it must have been to be an enumerator ten years ago, before technology made the role much simpler. Now all I had to do was click on an assigned case and the GPS would direct me there. If a resident was home and willing to respond, the questions and answer options would pop up in the correct order on my screen. I never had to write anything more than a case number on paper. The apps on the issued iPhone were used to report for work, view assignments, track hours and mileage, and navigate to households.

The biggest challenge I ran into was a reluctance to answer. In the 20 hours of virtual training, I was taught the appropriate response for almost every type of reason a person is hesitant to share information, whether it’s privacy concerns, or distrust of the government. But many people were set in their decision and refused to cooperate, with many disputing my attempts at easing their fears and persuading them to cooperate. 

Enumerators also had a list of addresses to stay away from, which were marked as dangerous. These cases were marked with a caution sign on the map and signified that the resident was hostile, or violent in some way to an enumerator. In some cases, people were physically threatened and yelled at, and we were discouraged from attempting these homes alone. 

I witnessed a polar difference between the people who were happy to answer any questions and viewed it as a civic duty and those who avoided us at all costs and slammed the door in my face. I understood that people’s attitudes to their personal data was shifting, but living in a polarized county where the census became politicized didn’t help. With disinformation about the census floating around, explaining the purpose of the census, and the importance of each question, became a main part of my job. 

Another challenge was the technical difficulties that came with digital collection being implemented for the first time. Issues were bound to come up during the transition, but there were times where mid interview, the phone would crash, and I would have to restart all over. Other times my cases wouldn’t load, or I was sent to homes that were already visited by a dozen enumerators, with residents not hiding their annoyance. 

The sense of urgency was made apparent by higher ups as they offered incentives to work overtime and on weekends, when people were more likely to be home. Several bonuses were offered for working more than forty hours a week, and working Sundays and nights came with a higher pay rate. Initially, we had to request permission for overtime, but within a week that was scrapped. We were encouraged to work as much as possible to ensure everyone was counted. 

Once Setauket and neighboring regions were fully completed, I was sent out farther east to Riverhead, then farther to Orient and Mattituck. After the entirety of Suffolk County was counted, enumerators were offered to drive to other states, as far as Alabama to help complete the counting efforts there. 

One overnight shift was set aside to count the homeless population, which the pandemic made harder to account for. The Census was also forced to come up with new ways to count college students, who many towns depend on to get the adequate funding. 

In the few weeks I worked as an enumerator, there were difficult days but also rewarding ones. A certain satisfaction came with finally getting to interview a household that kept reappearing on my case list. With each case I closed, we came closer to reaching the goal. Little acts of kindness like some people offering to put their masks on, or a chair to sit on and a drink on a hot day, went a long way. 

Iryna Shkurhan is a junior at Stony Brook University majoring in political science, with a minor in journalism. She is an incoming editorial intern for TBR News Media.

Steven Klipstein, who taught at Suffolk County Community College for 49 years, is also the academic lead for the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. Photo from SCCC

Stony Brook resident Steven Klipstein may be retired from his college post, but it seems hard to stop him from teaching.

Klipstein spent one year shy of five decades at Suffolk County Community College, where he taught in the English department, though he is much more widely known for his course on the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany during World War II. 

Steven Klipstein continues as the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding at SCCC despite being retired. Photo from SCCC

He talks with a soft urgency about his passions, whether it’s teaching, his time as adviser to the college newspaper, or his work with the college’s Holocaust center, which is now called the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding. For those students who knew him, that demeanor bled into his lectures, especially in the Holocaust class. He has taught that course for well over 30 years, and even now after he is a professor emeritus at SCCC, he still tries to teach young people about the massacre of over 6 million Jews.

And as people of the Jewish faith reach the end of Hanukkah this year and looking back to last year where New York was the site of multiple anti-Semitic attacks at the end of the Jewish holiday, such understanding becomes ever more important.

“At least New York mandates a day in high school, a mention of the Holocaust, so at least most New York kids know that it happened,” he said. “But most of the country doesn’t, so they have no idea what it is.”

It’s because the point Klipstein makes is while too many people see the Holocaust as a distant event, a pothole in the historical timeline, the reality is that it was not some kind of aberration, but the culmination of years of anti-Semitism both in Europe and in America. The U.S., while touting its role in defeating the Third Reich, was also the home to much of the time’s leading anti-Semites, such as Henry Ford, who in 1938 received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.

But even closer to home, Long Island was one of the few places to have a real Nazi element in its backyard. In 1935, Camp Siegfried, a Nazi youth camp, opened in Yaphank. Though back then it may have seemed more like a camp to celebrate German heritage, even with the young men in brown shirts marching down roads named Hitler Street with arms outstretched in the classic Nazi salute. Klipstein talked about that camp, among other topics, in a recent six-hour American Heroes Channel documentary, “Hitler’s Empire.”

Although it is common knowledge today, Klipstein said it took decades for a common understanding of those events to take root, both in Germany and in the U.S. But now, he said, he’s seeing some of that understanding slip away.

Though occasionally he received critical glances from students about some point in his lectures, he has never encountered a Holocaust denier in his academic history. Still they are out there. The professor emeritus cited a tale told by Ruth Minsky Senderowicz, a Holocaust survivor from Commack, who has said a denier called to get her to say her story — of her mother being taken from her at the Lodz Ghetto in Poland and the daughter being sent to Auschwitz — was a lie.

“It takes a lot of courage to fight them, because they’re not really scholars, they’re provocateurs,” Klipstein said.  

Though the issue is now in getting more students to volunteer to learn about those horrific events. He continues to teach the Holocaust class, but said his lecture is down to small numbers. He stressed how important it is for people to not only learn about those days in the death camps but come to see the world differently through that understanding.

“I think for a lot of students, it’s eye opening,” he said. “And if you’re in tune to it, you learn and you will think about it in different philosophical terms than what you’ve been thinking before about the nature of the world and humanity — the Holocaust can can’t help but make you face those realities.”

Legacy at SCCC

The venerable educator got started at 25 years old, back when academia was coming into its own in Suffolk. Stony Brook University was growing at a rapid rate, and places like SCCC were attracting new blood into its ranks. Klipstein had a good interview and “got lucky,” and was hired on the spot.

That hire would come to bite a few campus administrators in the proverbial butts later down the line. Years later, when he was assistant head of the English department, effectively also the head of the college’s journalism department, he said the campus newspaper, The Compass, was “moribund,” effectively on the brink of death. He came in after there was a reported brawl inside the paper’s office.

“I told the other administrators that something’s got to be done, and they said, ‘Well, OK, do it,’” Klipstein said.

Cutting out the rougher parts of the staff, and just with two or three young people, he revitalized the paper. With the help of new editorial staff, they were putting out a good-sized, 20-page campus newspaper that won awards from the likes of Newsday. The paper also did not shy from getting involved in campus controversy. They went after administrators for nepotism in hiring family members for dead-end jobs or highlighting discrepancies with the college budget.

“It was really kind of enervating and exciting being the troublemakers on campus,” he said. “And we embarrassed them more than once, you know, which I confess that I loved.”

While administration couldn’t fire Klipstein as a tenured professor, he said it would regularly threaten his position as adviser to the paper. He would hold that position at the paper for 13 years.

Of his near 50-years at Suffolk, there are several things that Klipstein said he takes pride in. The paper, for one, was an act of helping to build something from effectively nothing. Though now that he’s stepped back from a full-time role in academia, the professor can’t help but see what he called a decline of people’s appreciation for arts or culture, which breaks down into a decline in appreciation for history or even today’s current events.

“A lot of our problems come from the fact that we have completely denuded the liberal arts,” he said. “I said, so many times, it’s going to start creeping into our politics — we are going to elect someone who is just basically from image, no substance, just image. And that person is going to get us into a lot of trouble. I swear I said it so many times, it was coming out of my ears, and sure enough, there he is.”

Though Suffolk has not cut any of its liberal arts programs, he said there has been a steady decline in the number of students taking those kinds of classes. Less degrees are requiring liberal arts classes as well. He points to places like Stony Brook University which in 2018 suspended admission into its theater arts, comparative literature and cinema arts programs.. The backlash led to the then-College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sacha Kopp stepping down.

“A university can’t do that, that’s not thinking in the long run … that basically what students really need to learn, more than anything, is how to critically think,” Klipstein said. “I think without the ability to think, without the ability to understand the classic structure of your society, both politically and culturally, you lose what you have.”

Editor’s note: The author of this article was a student of Klipstein when the educator still taught full time at SCCC.

Rich Schaffer, chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, said he has long seen Suffolk as “a purple district,” despite Republican wins within the county.

This, he said, was made evident by the final polling results that were released at last after weeks of absentee vote counting. President Donald Trump (R) won Suffolk County by just a little over 200 ballots, a far cry from just four years ago when Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton with 46,619 more votes in 2016.

Rich Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, said current polling numbers prove the area is more purple than people realize. Photo from Suffolk Democrats

Suffolk “is more of a get-even county in terms of both the registration numbers as well as the enthusiasm, so most races are competitive,” Schaffer said during a phone interview postelection. “And that was just proven by the results that came out.”

Still, Democrats suffered several defeats for both state offices and for congressional seats.  

The Republicans also flipped the 3rd state Senatorial District seat held by Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood). Northport Democrat Michael Marcantonio lost the 12th District Assembly race against Republican Keith Brown by a little over 2,000 votes.

Yet there were some victories in there as well. State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) held onto his seat against a strong challenge from current Town of Huntington board member Ed Smyth (R). Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a 28-year member of the Assembly, held out over the long weeks of absentee-vote counting for a 6,825-vote win over Republican Michael Ross.

Schaffer said the much greater turnout not just in Suffolk but nationwide also expressed people’s interest in candidates. He said though some candidates have yet to confirm they will be running again in 2022, people such as Laura Ahearn, who ran against Republican Anthony Palumbo for SD1, and Jackie Gordon, who lost her race for Congressional District 2 while winning Suffolk, have good shots if they continue their political careers. He added Gordon has an especially good shot if CD2 becomes redistricted to become exclusively Suffolk-based based on census results.

Though Biden has already been certified as the winner of the election, Trump supporters and the president himself continue to call the results fraudulent. Schaffer said such a thing is ludicrous.

“I mean, I’m the first guy to say, if you can show us widespread fraud, then I’m on board with making sure that it’s not the case,” he said. “But, again, it’s just been this flailing and throwing things against the wall to see what sticks at it.” 

Schaffer sees Democrats in Suffolk as a kind of coalition that is trying to support suburban values. Republicans, he said, have spent the past year painting their opposing party as such things like anti-police. As Republicans pushed the bail reform bill passed in the 2019 budget as a major part of their campaigns, Schaffer said Democrats in the city hurt their suburban or rural colleagues by not having discussions about it prior to its passing.

“The trick for us is to continue to push our agenda out here and make sure people understand that we’re not in lockstep with New York City Democrats,” he said. “The approach needs to be that we’re talking about what it means to the quality of life in the suburbs, and whether or not it’s something that people out here support, as opposed to what the party is advancing.”

He said that Long Island Democrats need to join up and form a kind of “suburban working group,” not as a rebuff to the party, but as a way of making their thoughts and voices heard.

“Just as the city representatives flex their muscles, the suburban representatives do the same. They need to all stick together,” he said.

At the heart of Suffolk Democrats’ woes is trying to create a coalition between the moderate and more progressive ends of the left. Some progressives have expressed their displeasure with the greater party over what they feel is their views being stifled.

Schaffer said just like any other part of the party, their views are accounted for, but what’s also required is compromise. He added that progressives need to stop demonizing people who don’t fully support their policy positions.

“They present their opinions, they can present their views, they can talk about legislation, but they also have to understand that politics is compromise,” he said. “Those that want to say all our views aren’t being listened to, so we’re going to just take our ball and go home, need to rethink that strategy.”

For 2021, Schaffer said there are multiple important local races, including a special election for Town of Brookhaven as well as Suffolk Legislature seats. 

Schaffer said the committee is going forward with Setauket community advocate Jonathan Kornreich as their nominee for Brookhaven Council District 1, as long as nothing changes in the time between now and election.

Otherwise, with races such as county Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) up for election this year, it will be about maintaining incumbent seats.

“We’re excited about our incumbents — we think they’ve done a good job locally,” he said. “We’re looking forward to put them out there again for reelection.”

Despite the loss of the presidential election, and with just 18 months on the job, Suffolk County Republican Party Chairman Jesse Garcia is instead looking at big local wins.

Suffolk Republican Committee Chairman Jesse Garcia, center, said the party had big wins in Suffolk despite losses on the federal level. Photo from Suffolk Republicans

The party held onto longtime Republican state Senate seats previously held by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who’s retiring this year, and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who vacated his seat earlier in 2020. Despite a blue wave in 2018 that saw the GOP hold over the state Senate wane, this year Republican Alexis Weik, of Sayville, defeated state Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), making Suffolk County a solid wall of red against a mostly blue Nassau County and New York City.

People “responded to our message of taking back New York State from one-party rule, and raised the voices of Long Island in Albany,” Garcia said in a phone interview a few days after the majority of absentee ballots were counted. All races in Suffolk have now been officially called.

Garcia came into the position in April 2019 from his previous post as chairman of the Brookhaven Town Republican Committee. The Suffolk post was previously held by John Jay LaValle, who had been ardent in his support for President Donald Trump (R) in 2016.

The retirement of multiple high-level Republicans in Suffolk, including LaValle and Flanagan as well as U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY2), brought a new urgency to this election beyond the politicking of a presidential election year, even if 2020 wasn’t one of the most divisive elections in recent memory.

Trump squeaked out a win in Suffolk County by just a little over 200 ballots, with 49.40% of the vote compared to Democrat Joe Biden’s 49.37%. This is compared to 2016 when Trump carried Suffolk by close to 47,000 votes. 

Still, Garcia praised the county’s steadfast support of Republicans. Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) defeated Democrat Laura Ahearn for LaValle’s seat, and St. James Republican Mario Mattera defeated Democrat Mike Siderakis to pick up where Flanagan left off. 

As for Congress,, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) held an over-36,000 vote lead against Democrat Nancy Goroff by the time all absentee votes were counted. Republican Andrew Garbarino, of Sayville, defeated Democrat Jackie Gordon for King’s seat, though more votes went blue on the Suffolk side of the district.

Garcia also cited a victory when voters rejected Suffolk County’s proposition 1, which would have increased the terms of legislators from two years to four, something he called “an incumbency protection program.”

Despite Biden’s win on the national stage having been upstaged by Trump’s continued unverified claims that the election was stolen in key states, the campaign has presented little to no evidence of widespread voter fraud — although a Nov. 18 Reuters/Ipsos poll reported nearly half of Republicans nationally say the election was stolen because of voter fraud. 

The Republican chairman said changes to this year’s election process due to the pandemic were as a result of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) “weaponizing a pandemic for his political purposes,” and that the governor used COVID-19 as a way to “scare voters away from the polling places.”  Garcia blamed the governor for moving back the dates of primaries, though Republicans only hosted one primary this year, that being for the 2nd Congressional District held in June.

The chairman also brought up his share of claims of impropriety in the past election, though he did not cite any specific examples of widespread fraud. He said there was a lack of checking to confirm who people were when requesting an absentee ballot and cited the example of a Water Mill man who was indicted by District Attorney Tim Sini (D) for allegedly requesting two mail-in ballots for his deceased mother.

“I know that there are a number of other questionable applications that we hope are under investigation, because that’s what fair and transparent elections are all about,” he said.

Despite their wins, the Republicans still remain a minority in both houses of the state Legislature. Garcia said the Democrats who hold seats in the suburban parts of New York are going to need to “deal with choosing to vote for Long Island taxpayers, against their party and against the governor … or they’re going to join with our delegation to fight for more school aid, the repeal of the catch-and-release bail reform act.” 

As for the near future, the Suffolk County Republican head is looking forward to 2021. Early next year, the Town of Brookhaven will be holding a special election to replace Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who is leaving to become a state Supreme Court judge. Garcia said they have been doing interviews for candidates and will be announcing their pick as soon as the town supervisor announces a date for that vote.

On the Suffolk side, a large number of seats are coming up for vote once again. Democrats in the county Legislature hold a single-member majority against their GOP counterparts.

“We’re going to look to flip the Suffolk County Legislature into the government into the Republican column the first time since 2005,” Garcia said.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright and her aide Jenn Martin were at Saturday’s PJS/T Chamber Santa event handing out hot chocolate packets and hand sanitizer. Photo by Kyle Barr

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) could be seen as the maverick of the Town Board. Of the five other councilmembers and the supervisor, she is the only Democrat. Beyond that, she was the first Black person elected to the board in the town’s history.

And by next year, Cartright will move on to the New York State Supreme Court. In a Zoom interview with TBR News Media, the councilwoman said that while she will try to remain involved in the community, it will no longer be in an official capacity. 

“It has really given me a different perspective on what governance of a municipality truly means.”

— Valerie Cartright

Cartright said she was tapped to run for Supreme Court justice this year after the results of the state Senate District 1 primary. After she was asked, she took some time to think about the move.

“It was clear to me that, you know, based on all of my experience as an attorney — I’ve been a civil rights attorney for 17 years or so now — and I’ve been fighting for fairness and equity within our judicial system during that time,” she said. “Those have always been paramount concerns for me. So it was a natural progression to some degree.” 

Based on all counted ballots, Cartright received the most votes of all Suffolk supreme court candidates, though voters did have little choice to which justices were on the ballot due to cross party endorsements. Justices serve for 14-year terms, and though she still intends to live in Port Jefferson Station, by the nature of her office, she will have little to no involvement in politics. Instead, she said her focus on the bench will be toward justice within the legal system.

“When you’re in court, it’s the last-mile marker of the justice system — you’ve tried everything else,” she said. “I’ve found some of the judges that I’ve sat before or have come before that they were not listening to both sides of the argument — they were not giving people their day in court as I would have liked.”

It’s been an interesting seven years on the Town Board, ones which included initiatives to revitalize Port Jefferson Station and combat homelessness in the area, environmental issues and water-quality issues with local bays and harbors, and the ever-present contest between developers and those looking to preserve land. And then 2020 came along with all the issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the spark of protests that ran all across the country plus the backlash to those protests. Council District 1 has been home to a multitude of rallies and protests from both sides.

Cartright said the key has been to listen and become intimate with the various local groups in her area. CD 1 is home to a diverse population in areas like Port Jefferson Station and Terryville, as well as the more opulent areas on the North Shore. It maintains several unique historic areas in Setauket and Stony Brook, various civic groups and chambers of commerce. It also contains four independent incorporated villages, all with their own small forms of government.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, right. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The varying levels of municipal and civic groups make it a challenge for anybody looking to get their feet wet in governing, but Cartright called it “a pleasure” getting to know all the different organizations and governing bodies. Being able to see things from both a macro and micro level, one thing she looked toward was taking small ideas and introducing them to the town on a wider basis. 

“It has really given me a different perspective on what governance of a municipality truly means,” she said. 

As the lone Democrat on the board, Cartright has had no other option than work with her Republican counterparts. While she said that the board has frequently worked together despite politics, Cartright has often enough been a lone voice of dissent on several issues. Just recently, at a December Town Board meeting, she and Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) went back and forth over plans to add parking meters at several town parks and beaches. The board passed that impending change, where Cartright also voted “yes.”

The upcoming Supreme Court justice said it has long been an effort to increase transparency. Such efforts include a community connection campaign, where she pulls information relevant to the district and sends it in an email blast to community members. She also lauded her roundtable discussions she’s had with civic and chamber leaders, as well as the town planning and law departments, as well as her own office to discuss pending applications for new development.

“I know there are times when I don’t vote the way that some of my community wants me to vote, but all of those votes, all those decisions that I make, are informed decisions,” she said. “And they’re done based on all of the community input that I can receive.” 

It is something she hopes the next person to represent CD1 will continue. She said the three biggest issues coming up for whomever takes over the seat are going to maintain diversity representation so that “the board has a diverse body representing the community itself, the town itself.” 

The second big issue would be the landfill, which the town plans to close by 2024. Capping the landfill will represent a big blow to town finances and will likely mean a new kind of waste crisis for the entirety of Long Island. The other aspect to that is the environmental impact, as the town is now considering putting in a new ashfill site at the landfill, which some groups have opposed. Whoever takes over her seat, she said, will need to consider all sides and help build consensus.

“We need to push outside of what is customary, so that we can actually help those that are being impacted by these things like food insecurity and homelessness.”

— Valerie Cartright

The third issue, she said, is going to be quality of life. Especially because of the pandemic, more and more people are experiencing food insecurity. Lines at food pantries and soup kitchens are increasing, which are only exacerbated by an ongoing homelessness crisis in the area.

“I think that we need to do more and we need to be creative,” she said. “And we need to push outside of what is customary, so that we can actually help those that are being impacted by these things like food insecurity and homelessness.”

What happens now, she said, is a transition phase for her office. She is developing a comprehensive list of what’s going on with her staff, while bringing in all the local civic, chamber and governing groups to compile that info on all large projects.

“What is going to happen is when the new elected official steps into office, there’s going to be community organizations and individuals that are already going to be armed with what needs to move forward — so the community will be able to hold [the new councilperson] accountable as to some of these initiatives,” she said.

Photo from Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli

The United States is still feeling the friction of the recent presidential election between President Donald J. Trump and President Elect Joseph R. Biden.  Since the founding of this republic, our major presidential leaders and their followers fiercely fought to attain the presidency.  As this is a period of division, unfortunately there have been many examples of resentment that has been seen by our leaders.

Eisenhower and Truman ride together on inauguration day 1953. Photo from Library of Congress

Years ago, the same tactics were used with the Election of 1800 between President John Adams, Vice President Thomas Jefferson, and Aaron Burr.  While Adams and Jefferson were two key Founding Fathers that liked each other personally, they shared different views over the direction of the government.  Although they worked together in the first administration of President George Washington and when Adams became President in 1797 and Jefferson the Vice President, these leaders marked the earliest establishment of the political parties, especially during the election process.

During his presidency, Adams had a difficult time governing this young nation.  Always a respected figure, Adams was not an overly warm leader that was situated between the icons of the Father of the Nation in Washington and the writer of the Declaration of Independence in Jefferson.  He desperately held onto the policy of neutrality and enforce the controversial laws of the Alien and Sedition Acts.  His Vice President Jefferson was completely opposed to any actions that limited the civil liberties of Americans.  Allied with James Madison, Jefferson sought the nullification of Adam’s legislation through the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.   Adams was a one term President that left the officer after Jefferson and Burr received more votes in this election.  At this point there were no running mates and Adams was forced out of the White House.  It did not help Adams that powerful members like that of Alexander Hamilton criticized his presidential actions and openly wondered about his mental stability.  Although Hamilton and Jefferson were competitive political opponents, Hamilton believed that Burr was unable to be trusted, and he pushed the election towards his rival in Jefferson.  On the day of the inauguration, Adams refused to attend this transfer of power, and instead, he went home in disgust.

By the early part of the 1820’s, there was a different sense of leadership that was taking root in America after the last of the Revolutionary Era Presidents in James Monroe left office.  By 1824, there was a major political battle that lasted more than four years between the ferocity of Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams to complete for the presidency.  These men could not have been any different with Adams being the son of a former President that was very well educated, worldly, and astute within politics and foreign affairs.  He opposed the iron will of Jackson who would be the first President that was born West of the Appalachian Mountains, served as a kid during the Revolutionary War, was a noted Indian fighter, plantation owner, self-educated lawyer, and a major general that secured the historic victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.  For most of his life Jackson demonstrated little restraint within his resentment towards the Native-Americans, British, and the aristocratic power of the Northeast and leaders like that of Adams whom he believed were the privileged class of Americans that ruled this nation.

For many people, Adams was a known political figure, and many older leaders, including Jefferson, were worried that Jackson was a threat to the democratic practices of this nation.  They saw him as an erratic leader that partook in pistol duels and a man that was more than willing to carry out his physical threats. The Election of 1824 was led by Jackson, but he did not hold the majority of the popular vote, and this contest was pushed back to Congress to decide who be the next President.  While Jackson expected to gain an imminent victory, Speaker of the House Henry Clay sought to use his influence to make a political bargain with maneuvering the gain a secretary of state position within the next administration.

Clay told Jackson who was ahead in the polls that if he was given this powerful post, he held enough clout to ensure his victory in congress.  Jackson immediately refused this scheme, Clay offered the same deal to Adams who had far fewer votes.  Adams accepted Clay’s proposal, and this propelled him to take over the presidency from James Monroe.  For two elections in 1824 and again in 1828, both Adams and Jackson openly battled each other during this decade.  Like that of Trump and Biden, they were both from opposite backgrounds, and they publicly criticized each other.  As we most recently observed Trump calling Biden “Sleepy Joe” and Biden claiming that Trump was a “Clown,” this personal mudslinging has always been a negative tool for candidates to utilize.  Adams claimed that Jackson’s mother was a prostitute and Jackson stated as a foreign minister that Adams procured young girls to partake in sexual favors for Russian leaders.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was a promising local political figure from the state of Illinois.  He only served one term during the height of the US-Mexico War, where he opposed President James K. Polk’s rationale to go to war. Lincoln demanded proof that “American blood was shed on American soil” at the start of this war between America and Mexico.   After his brief stint as a representative, Lincoln was a savvy lawyer that served several terms in the Illinois Senate.  He gained national prominence in 1858 during his senate campaign against Stephen Douglas, where he became the face of the Republican Party, and a known threat against the institution of slavery in the South.

Lincoln openly suggested that there were far too many compromises over slavery and that it should not expand into the new western territories and states.   In a series of debates within Illinois, Lincoln showcased himself as a Republican leader that clearly expressed his will to oppose this southern form of labor.  Even as Lincoln lost this election, he rose to national prominence and was a dominant Republican to replace President Buchanan who refused to run for a second term in 1860.  There were written stories in the papers that Lincoln was motivated to intermingle the races and that he lacked intelligence through his country folk manner to lead this country.

By gaining a sectional victory that saw him win most of the populated states in the Northeast and Midwest, Lincoln won the presidency, and the South began to secede.  But President Elect Lincoln had no constitutional authority to oppose the divisive actions of the South and this crisis for more than five months were still left within the inept hands of Buchanan.  Always the lawyer, Lincoln must have surely bit his own tongue during his first meeting with Buchanan who did nothing to halt the Confederacy from being created by Jefferson Davis.  Like that of Franklin D. Roosevelt who had to wait to take over the presidency in 1933 during the height of the Great Depression, Lincoln watched southern states leave the country during an extremely perilous time.

When Lincoln finally left Springfield, Illinois in March of 1861, there were already death threats that were made against him, and Pinkerton detectives quickly moved him out of Baltimore under a disguise and into the capital.  During his first term, he had to endure the military failures of generals like that of George B. McClellan that was prodded to fight the Confederates.  He agonized over the severe casualties of Americans that were killed at Shiloh, Antietam, and Gettysburg.  And personally, his own family’s death of his second son Willie from typhoid fever in 1862.

The North grew tired from the massive casualties of the fighting, the financial costs, and the unwillingness of the outnumbered and outgunned southerners to surrender.  Once Lincoln understood that General Ulysses S. Grant would not oppose him as President in 1864, he promoted this combat figure to command the northern armies.  It was a pivotal time for Lincoln who needed to gain major battlefield successes to prove to the northern public that his leadership would eventually defeat the South.  As Confederate General Jubal Early operated outside of Washington D.C., close enough to see the capital dome, and McClellan being nominated to lead the Democratic Party, the months leading to this election were bleak.  Even the South politically and financially opposed the re-election of Lincoln, by secretly sending money to northern Democrats in Congress that maneuvered to defeat the President.  Many of politicians that served in Lincoln’s cabinet were convinced that he was an outgoing figure.  But coupled with the tenacity of Grant, General William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, Lincoln held on in 1864, to regain a second term, and persistently gain the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse some six months later.

And in 1953, as former Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower and outgoing President Harry S. Truman both drove together to the inauguration, these men had little fondness towards each other.  As they were both Mid-western men that came from poor families, these were the only two similarities between these powerful leaders.  While Eisenhower was the leader of the massive military forces against Hitler during World War II, Truman was a captain in the field artillery during World War I.  Eisenhower was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, Truman never graduated from high school.  Whereas Eisenhower was an outstanding athlete that was well liked, Truman never shied away from expressing controversial views.  Truman ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs to end the war in the Pacific and Eisenhower was opposed to use of this weapon against a beaten enemy.  While it seemed that Eisenhower’s popularity had endless bounds, it was believed that Truman would lose his re-election to Thomas Dewey in 1948.  As Truman won this election, the newspapers did not bother to wait until all of votes for this contest was counted, as they incorrectly printed main titles “Dewey Defeat’s Truman.”

After many years of downplaying any suggestions that he would run for presidency, Eisenhower finally accepted the Republican nomination to oppose Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson.  Always armed with his trademark grin “Ike” quickly realized that running for office was no easy task.  He openly opposed the last several years of Truman’s leadership that he deemed corrupt and weak against the communists.  But he had to answer questions about his running mate Richard M. Nixon’s own illegitimate use of campaign funds and his lack of support for General George C. Marshall who was vehemently attacked as being weak against communism by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  And while Truman was leaving the office, he refused to be quiet against the presence of Eisenhower.  Truman openly called Eisenhower a Republican “Stooge” who had no original views of his own and was a “Puppet” of this party’s political and business leaders.

Ike still had to deny the rumors that he was unfaithful towards his wife Mamie during World War II with his beautiful Irish driver Kay Summersby.  For a moment, it was believed that Eisenhower was going to bring this military member of his family back to the states after the war and divorce his wife over the extreme objections of Marshall.  When he finally won the presidency and he met with Truman during the transitional period, Eisenhower stated to the President that he could not believe that the media continued to write about his relationship with Summersby. Truman responded that he would be lucky if that was all the media covered about him as a leader of this nation. While Eisenhower led the greatest invasion that the world had ever known at Normandy in 1944, Truman told him that the presidency was not the army, and he wished him good luck in trying to get members of Congress and politicians to support his directives.  It did not take long for Eisenhower to understand the true magnitude of the presidency with dealing with the escalation of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the fears of Americans over the communist strength of launching Sputnik.  And there were the complexities of integration through the Brown vs. Board of Education Ruling in 1954 and the massive use of civil disobedience that was widely promoted by Martin Luther King during Eisenhower’s two terms.

President John F. Kennedy meets with outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1960, there was a noticeable division in the air through the rise of an extremely younger John F. Kennedy towards the presidency and the stepping down of Eisenhoer.  There was also the presence of Nixon, who was the Republican hope of defeating Kennedy.  While he was a two term Vice President, it took some time for Eisenhower to finally endorse his former running mate.  Eisenhower was always seen as a likeable figure that was able to communicate with others through politics, the military, and athletics. He openly wondered how Nixon was able to go through life without having one single friend.

This was an interesting time, as Eisenhower did not believe that Kennedy was prepared for the White House, whom he still considered a “boy” to replace him in office.   But he was not pleased in supporting Nixon to be his Republican replacement.  Eisenhower resented the claims by Kennedy that our country grew weaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War under his tenure.  He believed that Kennedy presented inaccurate estimates that the communists had an increasing “missile gap” against the United States.  This senior President also stated that Kennedy had virtually no experience and that he was politically being protected to enhance an untruthful image.  JFK openly battled against the questions of being too young at forty-three years old, his lack of time in Congress, and the hatred that he faced for being a Catholic.

Like that of Lincoln, Kennedy was able to utilize his considerable speaking talents within the 1960 presidential debates.  Television was a new way of personifying these two key leaders.  Nixon suffered from the flu, refused wear make-up, and the close-ups did not make him look appealing to Americans, as he did not shave and was openly sweating.  JFK was a capable speaker, showed charisma, and masterfully answered the questions that was presented to him.  Although Nixon did not look healthy compared to the tan of Kennedy, many people do not realize that JFK suffered from the severity of Addison’s Disease.   And he also had poor bone structure and the re-occurring back injuries that he sustained from PT-109 during World War II in the Pacific.   It was estimated that 90% of Americans owned televisions in the nation and that seventy million citizens sat down in their homes to watch these candidates verbally spar against each other.

There was an interesting dynamic that is noticed between the personalities of Kennedy, Nixon, and the outgoing Eisenhower.  Both Eisenhower and Nixon came from poor backgrounds, but they had no similarities within their personalities, and in eight years as President and Vice President they were never close.  Kennedy spoke of a newer generation taking the helm from older leaders like that of Eisenhower, but people were drawn to the attributes of both men.  Eisenhower was a trusted figure that led this nation during times of war and peace and while Kennedy was extremely wealthy, both him and his older brother Joseph served with distinction during World War II.  And JFK was envied by both men and women.  Male voters saw a presidential candidate that had a beautiful wife, a young family, and descended from immense wealth.  Female voters ascertained that JFK was one of the most handsome leaders to ever run for the presidency.  And there was Nixon with his minimal personality and outwardly cold demeanor that did not endear him to many Americans.

The victory of Kennedy over Nixon was the passing of a new torch from the trustfulness of Eisenhower to the different ideas of JFK.  On that cold January day in 1961, Kennedy addressed the abilities of the nation, the emergence of a new generation of leaders, and the vision of rapid economic, racial, political, and military changes that were in store for this nation and world during this decade.  But the concerns that Eisenhower presented over the judgment of Kennedy were apparent during the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961.  After this debacle that embarrassed the leadership of Kennedy to both the American public and to the Soviet Union, Eisenhower met with him.  The pictures of these two leaders at Camp David presented the teacher in Eisenhower speaking with the younger pupil in Kennedy.  And while both men spoke out against each other during the Election of 1960, they cared deeply about this nation during times of crisis.

With Biden creating his cabinet, gaining the approval to see national security reports, and preparing to be the President of the United States, his poor relationship with Trump, is not unusual.  Hopefully, there will be some common ground between these two opposite leaders for the good of America.   And while this upcoming inauguration will surely be different due to the restraints of Covid-19, may this transition of power go smoothly, to ensure the vital national tradition of leadership changes that has been consistent since the days of President George Washington.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

Englebright/Palumbo/Mattera Claim Victory in Respective Races

Lee Zeldin. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

*This post has been updated to include updated information about other area races.

With the number of absentee ballots counted so far, the GOP commissioner of the bipartisan Suffolk County Board of Elections told TBR News Media that U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-NY1) reelection over Democratic challenger Nancy Goroff is “mathematically certain.”

“I expect to certify the race in about a week — with the results showing Congressman Zeldin won by almost 50,000 votes,” BOE Commissioner Nick LaLota said in an email statement. The incumbent congressional representative had a lead of over 60,000 votes by the end of in-person vote counting Nov. 3. Absentee ballot counting began Nov. 16.

While Goroff and her election staff said on Election Day they had to wait for the results of in-person voting, Zeldin released a statement that night declaring victory. In it he also thanked Goroff for the race.

“As America enters its next chapter, I am confident we will defeat the coronavirus and continue growing our economy,” the incumbent said in that Nov. 3 statement. 

Zeldin’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for any kind of new statement based on the commissioner’s election call.

A representative from Goroff’s campaign said they are waiting for additional absentee ballots to be counted before putting out any kind of statement.

In other local races, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was confident that mail-in ballots would make a difference in the 2020 race for his seat in the 4th Assembly District, and he was right.

On Dec. 2, LaLota confirmed that Englebright was reelected and that official ballot counts would be available shortly.

The assemblyman said it was good to have the ballot count finished.

“This election was unique because fully one-third of the vote came in through mail ballots and was not included in the initial election night tally,” he said. “It was, however, worth waiting for.  The final count was a solid affirmation. I’m grateful that the voters gave me the opportunity to continue representing them in the Assembly. And there is much work to be done in the new year. Until then, please everyone, be safe this holiday season and we will come out of this stronger.”

In person voting showed Englebright behind Nov. 4 with 47.44% of the votes, compared to his challenger Republican Michael Ross who had 51.88% of the votes. At the time, there were nearly 18,000 absentee ballots that still needed to be counted in the district.

Ross did not release a statement by press time.

At the same time, victory was declared by current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), who defeated Democratic opponent Laura Ahearn to take Senate District 1. The seat had been held by Republican Ken LaValle for over 40 years.

“As our new Senator, I will work hard every day to continue the legacy of retiring State Sen. Ken LaValle and build upon his strong record of protecting the environment, supporting our schools, and fighting for taxpayers,” Palumbo said in a statement. “Thank you for putting your trust in me. I am proud and truly grateful to have the opportunity to continue serving our Long Island communities in the New York State Legislature.”

In a statement, Ahearn congratulated Palumbo for his win and said she would “work with him for the betterment of our communities during these difficult times.”

“I am very proud of the work we all did together as we were just 2.7% points away from flipping this seat, by far the closest this race has been in decades,” Ahearn said in a statement. “For now, I look forward to spending the holiday season with my family, who have been through so much during this remarkable time to run for public office. And of course, there is still much work to be done as we continue to help those who need it most.

In Senate District 2, Mario Mattera succeeded Senator John Flanagan (R). Mattera beat out Democrat and former state trooper Michael Siderakis, of Nesconset.

“Now that the counting is complete, we are ready to work together to bring the voice of all who live in our community to our state government and make sure that the needs of our families are met,” Mattera said in a statement. “The time has come to put Long Island first, and I look forward to getting to Albany to fight for our hardworking families.”

This story was amended to add a statement from Laura Ahearn.

Suffolk County Legislator William "Doc" Spencer. File photo

A Suffolk County legislator has asked for the removal of one of his colleagues from the three committees he serves on in the Legislature.

Legislator Rob Trotta

Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) requested that Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) be removed from the Public Safety, Health and Ways & Means committees, during the Nov. 12 Public Safety committee meeting, according to a press release from Trotta’s office.

The request comes after the Oct. 20 arrest of Spencer, 53. According to police, the legislator was in a county-issued vehicle when officers arrested him. Police said he allegedly planned to meet a prostitute in the parking lot of a Goodwill store in Elwood to trade sex for the pills, which were reportedly oxycodone, a legal form of an opioid. The arrest was part of an undercover operation.

Spencer also serves on the county’s opioid task force.

“It is not about my personal feelings for Doc Spencer, but it is about upholding the integrity of the office of a legislator and the perception the taxpayers have of him and the office,” Trotta said.

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said Spencer had a handgun on him when he was arrested and had a permit for the gun. He handed it over after his arraignment. Trotta said such an action could have put police in danger.

“Spencer’s illegal behavior could have jeopardized the safety of the officers involved, given the fact he was carrying a handgun,” he said. “Officers have a split second in which to make a decision when they come upon a scene with a gun involved. It could have ended very differently.”

The decision to remove a legislator from a committee is up to presiding officer Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue). Calarco said at this point in time there are two legislators who are facing felony charges. Rudy Sunderman (R-Mastic Beach) is also facing charges after being indicted in July 2019 for alleged perjury, ethics violations and other offenses in connection with his work as the former district manager of the Centereach Fire District that continued after he became legislator in 2018.

The presiding officer said both legislators believe their charges are not appropriate. Just like he hasn’t removed Sunderman from his committees, he said, he will not be removing Spencer.

“I think it’s important for me to treat every legislator equally,” Calarco said. “So, I have not and will not be removing Legislator Spencer from his committee assignments for the remainder of the year.”

He said it was important for both men to have the opportunity to make their cases in court and have the judicial process unfold. However, Calarco said while Spencer remains on the committees, he is no longer chair of the Health committee. He also no longer serves as vice chair of the Ways & Means committee.

The DA has charged Spencer with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree, a class B felony, and criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree, a class B felony. He was arraigned Oct. 21 at the John P. Cohalan Jr. Courthouse in Central Islip. Spencer is due back in court on Feb. 26. If convicted of the top count, he could face a maximum of up to nine years in prison.

In addition to his legislative duties, Spencer runs a private practice, Long Island Otolaryngology & Pediatric Airway in Huntington. After his arrests, Huntington Hospital temporarily suspended his privileges pending further investigation.

Spencer is not required to step down as legislator, according to county law. A representative from Spencer’s office did not return requests for statements about his arrest and Trotta’s announcement.

Stock photo

Despite Election Day being Nov. 3, local races have a week or more to settle on the final count.

Suffolk County Republican Board of Elections commissioner, Nick LaLota, said via email they hope counting will be finished before Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, though there is no way to know when everything will be finalized.

Republican candidates took leads in every local state and congressional race based on in-person ballots as the BOE started its absentee ballot count Nov. 16. Election experts have repeatedly said on average more Democrats used absentee ballots than Republicans did, though races will largely depend on unaffiliated voters. 

With that said, it will still be hard going for many Democrats in a few of the most hotly contested races. The U.S. Congressional District 1 race between U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and his Democratic opponent Nancy Goroff still remains out, though Zeldin currently holds a 65,120-vote lead. There are still over 89,000 absentee ballots left in that race, but Goroff would need to reportedly take all non-GOP registered votes in order to gain the upper hand.

A similar challenge is there in the New York State Senate District 1 race for Democrat Laura Ahearn, who has a steep uphill climb against her challenger, current Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). Ahearn is down by 18,736 from in-person polling, and there are over 42,000 absentee ballots left to count, and she will need many votes outside the two main parties to gain the seat.

The race for State Senate District 2 between Republican Mario Mattera and Democrat Mike Siderakis is heavily favoring red, as there is a 35,109 difference in votes favoring Mattera with less than 43,000 votes to count. 

The State Assembly District 2 race between Democrat Laura Jens-Smith and Republican Jodi Giglio is likely to go in favor of the GOP. With a 14,355 difference and just under 17,000 absentee ballots to count, Giglio has all but cinched her new position. Jens-Smith has previously told TBR News Media she knows she has very little chance of victory.

Some elections are closer than others, such as State Assembly District 4. Many residents reported surprise in messages to TBR News Media at longtime Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s (D-Setauket) deficit of votes compared to his Republican opponent Michael Ross of 1,966. That race currently has 17,909 absentee ballots left to count.

However, there are a few confirmed elections. State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), with his lead of 23,419 with in-person ballots, is so far ahead of his young Democratic opponent Dylan Rice even the over-17,000 absentee ballots could not make a dent in the District 8 race.

On Nov, 17, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) said his opponent George Santos called him to concede. In a statement, Santos credited grassroots supporters and donors for the close race.

“I am proud that we gained the support of every PBA and first responder organization that endorsed this cycle,” Santos said.

Santos said there may be more announcements in the near future regarding his next steps.

“I would like to congratulate Congressman Tom Suozzi,” Santos said. “We wish him well going forward for the benefit of our district and constituents.”

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) declared victory Nov. 18 against his Republican opponent Ed Smyth. This came after votes absentee votes already counted in both Nassau and Suffolk put him over the edge.

“I am humbled to be reelected by the residents of the 5th Senate District and I thank them for their support,” Gaughran said in a statement. “During my first term in office, I worked tirelessly on behalf of Long Islanders and I am proud to have delivered real results — from a permanent property tax cap to support for small businesses navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. I will keep fighting for my constituents, for Long Island, and for all of New York State and I thank the voters for giving me the opportunity to continue to serve them.”

Above, is a breakdown of where each race stands with in-person votes as at Nov. 18 plus the number of absentee ballots left as last reported on Nov. 16 (from the Suffolk County Board of Elections).

Current vote totals are as of the morning of Nov. 18

Congress

NY1

Lee Zeldin (R): 176,323 Votes – 61.31%

Nancy Goroff (D): 111,203 Votes – 38.67%

Absentee Ballots: 89,401

NY3

Tom Suozzi (D): 46,112 Votes – 46.65%

George Santos (R): 52,117 Votes – 52.72%

Absentee Ballots: 34,902

New York State Senate

SD1

Laura Ahearn (D): 55,557 Votes – 42.78%

Anthony Palumbo (R): 74,293 Votes – 57.20%

Absentee Ballots: 42,550

SD2

Mario Mattera (R): 79,762 Votes – 64.10%

Mike Siderakis (D): 44,653 Votes – 35.88%

Absentee Ballots: 42,781

SD5

Jim Gaughran (D): 27,132 Votes – 43.51%

Ed Smyth (R): 34,575 Votes – 55.44%

Absentee Ballots: 21,276

New York State Assembly

AD2

Jodi Giglio (R): 34,290 Votes – 62.39%

Laura Jens-Smith (D): 19,935 Votes – 36.27%

Absentee Ballots: 16,979

AD4

Michael Ross (R): 22,966 Votes – 51.88%

Steve Englebright (D): 21,000 Votes – 47.44%

Absentee Ballots: 17,909

AD8

Mike Fitzpatrick (R): 39,937 Votes – 70.73%

Dylan Rice (D): 16,518 Votes – 29.26%

Absentee Ballots: 17,227

AD10

Steve Stern (D): 24,141 Votes – 49.93%

Jamie Silvestri (R): 24,197 Votes – 50.05%

Absentee Ballots: 18,529

AD12

Keith Brown (R): 30,638 Votes – 57.20%

Michael Marcantonio (D): 22,908 Votes – 42.77%

Absentee Ballots: 15,906