Port Times Record

From left, Steve Henaghan is still active marching for LGBT rights; Leah Gustavson is a regular participant in Long Island’s historical martial arts scene; David Kilmnick is the president of the LGBT Network on LI.

For several weeks in a row people of all races have crowded the streets of Huntington, sidewalk to sidewalk, calling for an end to prejudice.

A 1991 front page of Newsday along with the one of the original tank tops for the first LGBT pride parade in Huntington. Photo by Kyle Barr

Those same streets in Huntington village have held other marches, but one started just under 30 years ago still holds unique significance today. Go back to June 9, 1991, the sky was open blue while the sun blazed down on people who also marched through Huntington against prejudice. It was a time of oversized glasses, poofy hair and tees tucked into jeans. Many marched with rainbow flags in their hands and pride on their faces, but some also reportedly marched with bags over their heads. It wasn’t a fashion statement, it was a way to hide their identities during a time when many people in the LGBT community would be retaliated against at the workplace or even at home. 

About 800 people stood between close to 3,000, according to what journalists wrote at the time. Most cheered for the marchers, but others screamed at them, warning of eternal damnation and holding signs reading, among other expletives, “Kill Yourself.” SWAT teams lined the surrounding roofs because there had been threats of violence toward the marchers.

It was June 10, 1991, when the first Long Island LGBT-led parade strode through Huntington. Marchers shouted “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” That parade would be a landmark day for the LGBTQ community on Long Island, but for the people who marched, it meant much more than that.

“It was the proudest day of my entire life,” said Leah Gustavson, a Rocky Point resident and one of the original members of the committee who established the parade. “I felt like we started something, stuck to it and got to an end goal.”

That parade took place 24 years before the U.S. Supreme Court gave gay people the right to marry. It was 29 years before the court confirmed it was unconstitutional for businesses to discriminate against people on the basis of sex, a huge boon to the LGBTQ community, which has long experienced discrimination when applying for jobs and in the workplace.

But getting it together would take months of backbreaking effort destroying barriers, including taking a Long Island town to federal court to win their right to assemble.

Today, as protests and marches have broken out at every corner of the U.S., the memories of the struggle to have voices heard three decades ago adds a new perspective for those advocating for an end to prejudice. It’s a glimpse of how far Long Island has come and how far it might still have to go.

Beginnings of the March

The Lesbian/Gay Pride and Freedom Committee was established after June, nominally known as pride month, in 1990. It was after the group had attended other major pride celebrations that year, including the New York City pride parade as well as one earlier in March on St. Patrick’s Day, where members of an Irish gay and lesbian protest group led a parade before the main parade could start.

A few members of the local gay and lesbian community were having meetings at a gathering place near Stony Brook University. The school had an active LGBT scene with a school club found in the basement of the old Union building on campus. It was in a space that was once a closet, something that became an oft-used joke in the small burgeoning community. 

No one who was there remembers who exactly brought up the idea, but everyone who was in that room one spring day remembers the conversation about pride parades and the simple question, why wasn’t there one on Long Island? Why didn’t they try to start one, because, after all, how hard could it be?

In that small group of likeminded people, what would become the 10-member Long Island Pride and Freedom Committee was born. Gustavson related that gung ho attitidue to a sense of ”ignorant optimism,” something that can be a powerful force, especially for people who know things need to change, and that now is the time to do it.

She, and other original members of the committee, said coming together to plan this march was a way for many of these people who have long felt marginalized on Long Island to finally show they have a voice. Even still, numerous people on the committee would only publicly go by their first name, knowing they could be retaliated against in the workplace.

“We knew we were not necessarily welcome by people, but the point wasn’t to be welcomed, we were demanding that we would have equality.”

— Steve Henaghan

Those who were there look back on it as a time that was not nearly as fraught and violent as previous decades, but there still was massive underlying prejudice toward the gay community. Steve Henaghan, of Mastic, was another of the original committee members trying to get the parade started. In the 1980s, he and other gay/lesbian rights activists helped create a political action committee called Citizens for Equal Rights PAC to raise money for candidates that would support issues of equality. 

“At that time very few would come forward and say they were supporting our issues,” Henaghan said. “In 1988 and ’91 we were making inroads politically especially within the Democratic Party.”

The committee approached several places throughout the Island to hold their march. In March of ’91 they received rejections from multiple towns and villages on the Island, including both the Village of Port Jefferson and Village of Northport. 

The Record, one of a few Port Jefferson area newspapers at that time, wrote about the village board rejecting the application, saying trustees felt the committee was not “locally based,” citing that it was based in Upton, though committee members argued that was simply their mailing address. 

The Port Jeff mayor at the time, Harold Sheprow, was cited as referencing the controversy of that year’s gay rights group in the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Trustees argued a Sunday march would hurt businesses, create congestion and open up the village to having to host other marches. Trustee William Glass Jr. was quoted at the time as saying, “This is political with a ‘P.’”

Henaghan could not help but laugh at hearing that quote read to him again.

“It didn’t surprise us we were rejected, it angered us,” Henaghan said. “We knew we were not necessarily welcome by people, but the point wasn’t to be welcomed, we were demanding that we would have equality.”

Northport rejected the parade for similar reasons, especially citing it was policy to only permit “community based organizations” to schedule parades. 

David Kilmnick was one of the original members of the LGPF Committee who now is president of the nonprofit LGBT Network, an association of nonprofits that looks to support the LGBT community on Long Island. He said if the committee didn’t end up securing a march route and permit, they were willing to do one anyway somewhere on Long Island, even if it potentially meant being arrested.

“We were told we would be arrested, we didn’t care,” he said. “It was our right to be able to do this. We were being flat out discriminated against because of our sexual orientation.”

With a number of rejections under their belts. LGPFC members knew they had to settle on one place, and that place was going to be Huntington.

Taking a Town to Court

The committee worked with police on creating a route through the town. Their original path was longer, about 1½ miles, but in speaking with Inspector Alden Berry of the Suffolk County Police Department, the group determined on a newer, shorter route that reduced the overtime cost for officers, closed only one lane of traffic and offered more protection to those demonstrating. By April 12, 1991, that route was approved by police and sent to Huntington.The group had already sent a request to the Huntington Highway Department. While they had confirmation the request was received, they didn’t hear back until after they sent out the notice of the parade route. 

Huntington Highway Superintendent William Naughton, a Democrat, responded to the marchers with a letter the same day they sent in the revised route. The language used in the letter would become the basis for further legal action, one that would bring in the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

From left, Steve Henaghan is still active marching for LGBT rights; Leah Gustavson is a regular participant in Long Island’s historical martial arts scene; David Kilmnick is the president of the LGBT Network on LI.

Along with citing overtime costs for the highway department and police, it said those looking to hold parades in the town should instead ask to be included in separate parades. It also read that, “Requests from several groups have been made in the past to hold additional parades, but my policy has always been to approve the traditional parades only.”

“We saw that as blatant discrimination, and we had the right just like every other group to have a march or parade,” said Kilmnick.

March planners got in contact with the New York Civil Liberties Union, which in turn picked out several attorneys to work on the issue. Two local attorneys were picked to lead the effort.

Mitchell Gittin, who is now an East Setauket resident and attorney with the Hauppauge-based Fitzgerald Law Firm, was then a volunteer on the legal committee of the NYCLU Suffolk Branch. He was tapped to lead the litigation effort alongside fellow attorney Joel Kupferman, who described himself as having been just recently out of law school back in early ’91.

“We tried to negotiate with them and asked them why they were so concerned and their reasons for denying the permit,” Kupferman said. At the time he was also a resident in Huntington. “[Huntington attorneys] said people get drunk and destroy property in these parades. I I told them we’ll concede that as soon as you stop having St. Patty’s Day parades — they were ridiculous concerns.”

The attorneys quickly noticed the language of the highway superintendent’s letter was not concurrent with basic tenets of the U.S. Constitution. Outright denying a march in line with the First Amendment because it was not one of those “traditional parades” did not stand up to scrutiny.

“That’s what was so gratifying with the case, because frankly the law was on our side,” Gittin said. “The other side didn’t have any kind of legal counterargument, you can put restrictions on gatherings … there was no reason from a logistical perspective the pride parade would have been more burdensome than any other parade — it really did come down really to discrimination.” 

The attorneys sent a letter to the town May 9, but did not receive a response. Both the committee and Town of Huntington would end up in court. 

The deadline of June 9 for the parade was fast approaching. In early June, both sides appeared in front of U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler. Instead of a protracted back and forth, after just a few hours in court, the town agreed to grant the group a permit for the march.

Though the group did experience pushback from local elected officials there were a few that showed support, even if in small ways. New York State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport) was a Suffolk County legislator back in 1991. He said the LGPFC approached his office after being rejected by the Huntington highway superintendent. He told the assembled people that he was giving them approval to use his office’s parking lot as the end point for their parade.

“Back then there were a lot of officials who were afraid to take a stand,” he said. 

Gitten said that recalling the case gives him a unique sense of pride. 

“I look back on it, and not that it was a heroic thing, it was a lawyer job, I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “It feels nice as a lawyer to look and having been part of a movement and part of a wave that’s still going on.” 

The Day Of

The parade itself would be just three quarters of a mile, a short jaunt made by many pedestrians today in what is normally glowing nights on the town in historic Huntington village, or at least it was prepandemic. For the people at the march, it would be an experience none of them would ever forget.

The committee members took up positions at the head of the column. Moving up along Gerard Street, they marched down New York Avenue then turned east onto Main Street. Above them, marchers could see the hints of helmets and glint of rifles in the sunlight. SWAT snipers had been positioned on rooftops to watch over them, as there had been several threats of violence.

That was when the marchers saw the true extent of the crowds. Newsday reported at the time 3,000 people came out to see those in the parade. It was more than they expected, and surprisingly many were shouting support. Of course, there were many community members shouting at them, saying they would “go to hell” for what they were doing. Before it became well known thanks to the show “Game of Thrones,” those marching found use in shouting “shame, shame” at those heckling their procession.

“Our adrenaline was flowing so hard and strong and then we turned the corner, that’s where the protesters were,” Henaghan said. “It was like electricity was running through our bodies, we were so charged. You realize at that moment, you are not standing down, you are going to stand up. It was one of the greatest days of our lives,”

“In 30 years I will never forget that day, that day was a victory for all of Long Island.”

— David Kilmnick

There was a general sense of both exhilaration and apprehension. This was uncharted territory for them, despite participating in other pride parades. This one was theirs, and they had to own it.

“People would call it a parade, but it was a march,” Kilmnick said. “We didn’t have the pageantry, we marched down New York Avenue and had a rally in the back of Huntington Town Hall … In 30 years I will never forget that day, that day was a victory for all of Long Island.”

When they finally reached the end, the emotions of the day were overflowing. 

“The relief was palpable,” Gustavson said. “People were hugging each other and cheering … A lot of people came to celebrate with us. Some of them were not gay, but a lot of them were. It was a party in the best sense of the word, it was celebratory.”

Douglas Futuyma, Stony Brook professor emeritus of evolutionary biology,  was convinced to speak at the 1991 march in back of the town hall building. The professor has long been known on campus as an openly gay man, unafraid to talk about it in front of students when it came up. When it came time to speak at the rally, he wanted to talk about things beyond the biology of it, that gays and lesbians did not simply choose to be so, they were born that way. He spoke of Huntington’s native son Walt Whitman, and how that poet spoke to the quick of “humankind’s exploratory and vibrant spirit.” It was the fundamental question of human rights.

“It was certainly exhilarating, despite the heckling or harassment,” he said. “It was as it should have been, a celebration.”

Today and the Future

This month, the annual pride event was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead the LGBT Network held an online pride event June 14 featuring multiple celebrities and other local elected and civic leaders as speakers. 

It’s been a roller coaster ride for the past 30 years with the annual pride parade. Gustavson left the committee after the third year. Henaghan stood on for several years before leaving as well. He came back on in the early 2000s, but again left the committee to its own devices. 

The pride parade came under the auspices of the LGBT Network in its later years, and because of lagging participation a celebration was held instead of a parade in Huntington’s Heckscher Park. In 2017, the parade moved to Long Beach, and Kilmnick said the parade picked up steam once again. The LGBT Network president said last year an estimated 30,000 people participated. The biggest change from just a few decades ago, he said, is the number of young, school-age people coming out to march and support the annual parade. 

SBU evolutionary biology professor Douglas Futuyma spoke at the first LI pride parade in ‘91. Photo from SBU

“In ’93, so many kids were being bullied in school, afraid to come to the parade,” he said. “We didn’t have any student groups that marched in that parade. Now they make up more than 50 percent of that parade.”

This year, the parade was set to move to Jones Beach after a dispute with Long Beach over a $70,000 fee the LGBT Network said other organizations did not have to pay for similar events. Leaders of the parade are hoping for a renewed involvement come 2021, which will be the 31st pride parade and its true 30-year anniversary.

But the fight for equality is not one lane for just one group of people. Those who spoke about their experience with the first pride parade all identified with those marching against police brutality and racism today. 

Gustavson said things changed for the better in the past three decades, such as general awareness along with much more acceptance at the grade school level, but some things have not progressed nearly enough. For white gay people, she said things are “a lot better.” For gay people of color, trans people and especially trans people of color, there are way too many problems with prejudice both on the governmental and societal levels.

“It was as it should have been, a celebration.”

— Douglas Futuyma

“I don’t want to see violence, I never want to see violence,” she said. “But there are times when that’s what gets people talking and thinking and there are always people who will never understand why riots happen and why they destroy their own sh**. They will never understand that, and it’s passionate. When you’re passionate and you’re screaming because you’re afraid for your life, that it doesn’t really matter so much what gets ruined as far as ‘things’ go. Things are things. We’re fighting for our lives here, we’re fighting for our sanity, we’re fighting for our ability to walk in society without fear of being beaten to death because you’re a ‘fag,’ or because you’re Black.”

Henaghan, despite saying he has occasional bouts with pessimism, does believe the world is heading in the right direction. His partner for 23 years became his husband eight years ago, just a year after the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision. For the people marching in the streets today, he said many of those who spoke out against that march in ’91 are the same people or the ideological descendants of those who verbally harassed them 30 years ago.

“Many people will not let go of that hate they have, whether it’s for people of color, gays or lesbians, trans people, there are many people in our society they will not let go of that hate,” Henagan said. “They will fight you to the end. We still won’t stand for it.”

Ward Melville third baseman Brady Doran rips one deep. Baseball could be coming back this summer. Photo by Bill Landon

Beginning July 6, certain youth sports will be allowed to restart in regions of the state that are in Phase 3 of reopening. Long Island entered Phase 3 June 24. 

Baseball, softball, gymnastics, field hockey, cross country, soccer, noncontact lacrosse, doubles tennis, rafting, paintball, water polo and swimming will be allowed to begin games and competitions. 

Locally, a number of sports leagues have plans to resume play next month. Town of Brookhaven baseball is tentatively set to begin its summer season on July 13. 

“We are excited to announce that we are planning on beginning our summer season the week of July 13. The plan would include an abbreviated season, ending approximately Aug. 23 (including playoffs),” a statement on the town’s website reads. “We are extremely thrilled and fortunate to have the opportunity of having a summer season for the kids. Please understand that there will have to be some accommodations and sacrifices made by teams in order to get a legitimate summer season played.”

In addition, the 2020 Varsity Wood Bat Tournament in Brookhaven will run through July 8-12 at Moriches Complex. High school baseball teams from the North Shore will be participating in the competition including the Newfield Wolverines and Centereach Cougars (Middle Country), Northport Tigers, Ward Melville Patriots, Kings Park Kingsmen, Port Jefferson Royals, Miller Place Panthers and the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats.  

Social distancing will be enforced at all sporting events, and the state mandates the events limit spectators to two individuals per athlete.

The level of risk for each sport has been determined by the New York State Department of Health’s interim guidance for sports and recreation during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“These guidelines apply to nonprofessional and noncollegiate sports and recreation activities (e.g. youth sports), inclusive of indoor and outdoor sports and recreation, as well as organized and nonorganized sports and recreation,” the document stated.

Sports that are deemed “high risk” will not be allowed to resume games July 6. Those include football, wrestling, ice hockey, rugby, basketball, contact lacrosse, volleyball, also competitive cheer and dance.

“Participants in higher risk sports and recreation activities may only partake in individual or distanced group training and organized no/low-contact group training,” according to the state’s guidelines.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn file photo

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was pleased that the county legislature passed the Child Protective Transformation Act this week.

Created after the death of eight-year old Thomas Valva, who died in his father’s garage from hypothermia, the package of six bills creates new measures to strengthen the child protective system, the improve oversight and to institute safeguards to protect children.

“This will ensure that [Child Protective Services] never operates the same way again,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “What happened to Thomas Valva can never happen again.”

The transformation act, which passed in the legislature June 23, puts in place measures to make sure the CPS is operating as efficiently and effectively as possible, Bellone suggested.

Bellone thanked Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman and Deborah Thivierge, the Founder of the Elija School and the Elija farm for their help in this effort.

As for the viral figures, the numbers continue to remain within a safe range for the county.

The number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours was 50, bringing the total to 41,151. The percentage of people who tested positive for the coronavirus was 0.9 percent.

The number of people with the antibody to the virus stands at 18,513.

Hospitalizations declined by three to 85, while the number of people in Intensive Care Unit beds declined by one to 25.

Hospital occupancy overall was at 69 percent, while the percent of occupied ICU beds was at 59 percent.

In the last day, 14 people have been discharged from hospitals in the county.

The number of deaths from complications related to COVID-19 increased by 2 to 1,974.

The county distributed 25,000 pieces of personal protective equipment in the last day.

Separately, the county is canceling the movies scheduled for the rest of this week because of a problem with the equipment that needs repair. The county hopes to have those movies back up and running by next week.

Elwood Superintendent Ken Bossert. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Earlier on in the still-ongoing pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) spoke of his intentions to remake the lagging parts of society. In early May, the governor announced a new committee to “reimagine” education in New York state. He tapped the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to serve as just one of several “experts and stakeholders” for the initiative and named numerous people throughout the state to serve on the committee.

But since that was announced May 8, little has been heard from the committee. Among its 19 members, two are from Long Island, including Martin Palermo, a chemistry teacher at William Floyd High School who was designated a Master Teacher by New York State in 2016, and Jackie Duodu-Burbridge, of Copiague, who was described as a parent in a state release, but also ran unsuccessfully on the Working Families Party ticket for the Suffolk County 15th District seat vacated by former Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

Palermo, who is currently working on a doctorate of chemical education at Stony Brook University, was unable to respond to requests for comment by press time about what kinds of discussions were going on in the committee. Duodu-Burbridge could not be reached for comment.

How involved is the Gates foundation? It’s hard to tell, but the organization did tell the Washington Post in a statement it is recommending experts and contributing its own insights into how technology can enhance learning.

For some school district officials, these calls instead brought forth shivers of memories from a little less than a decade ago, with the advent of standardized testing and Common Core where teachers’ evaluations depended on how well their students scored. The Gates foundation played a major part in crafting that initiative.

Some district officials worried it would be an attempt to make distance learning more standard going forward, even when the pandemic has died down. Cuomo since clarified the position that distance or online learning could “never replace in-person learning with a teacher,” yet school officials have remained skeptical for a number of reasons, with many still feeling the governor is emphasizing replacing in-person learning.  

Ken Bossert, the superintendent of the Elwood school district, a former head of the Port Jefferson School District and past president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said he did not believe there is any need to reimagine education. 

“A lot of educators heard that and winced a little bit because there is this false perception that what we were doing pre-pandemic wasn’t in the best interest of students,” he said. “I don’t think school districts need to be reimagined, I think they need to be revised — I think there is always room for improvement.”

Comsewogue school district has a long history of actively decrying Common Core and New York State’s attempts at standardized testing. Former Superintendent Joe Rella, who passed earlier this year, was a major opponent of the 2012 implementation of Common Core, writing a letter to New York State against its implementation in 2013. He was at the forefront of a rally hosted later that year which gathered support from thousands of residents.

The district later implemented problem-based learning initiatives as a response to those earlier state standardizations, and has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools’ Commission on Elementary and Secondary Schools.

Comsewogue Superintendent Jennifer Quinn said the district is still waiting to see what comes out of the committee, especially since there has been little news since it was created. 

“Each district has different populations, I don’t know if it will be one size fits all,” Quinn said. “I would like to see support for helping us with lower class sizes. All these social-distancing technologies, it’s very expensive. If we were going to come back to school, it’s very difficult to keep young kids apart.” 

She added that the focus the committee has on online, technology-based learning and shared classrooms over the internet presents itself a huge, new problem. The pandemic has only exacerbated inequalities among some communities and districts on Long Island. Some districts have access to computers or Chromebook laptops they simply hand out to students. Others don’t have anything like that. Not to mention there is a wide disparity between households that have multiple devices that can access the internet and those that have few or none.

School districts are already internally trying to find ways to promote more technology in and out of the classroom, especially since the question of how schools will come back in the fall is still to be decided. Mount Sinai school board president, Robert Sweeney, has been on the board for the past nine years. He said the district has in the past dealt with issues over Common Core with creating its own agencies, books and instructions in-house when the state wasn’t offering much in the way of aid for teachers on the new material.

The district will be using a successful allocation under the Smart Schools Bond Act to bolster their internal networks, potentially increasing the school’s online options.

“How much technology can we get into the hands of our students, what can we do with classroom-based technology, what can we do with technology to our students at home?” Sweeney said. “Let’s take it out of these difficult times and put it into the new normal.” 

Bossert was recently named to the New York State Education Department’s Regional Reopening Schools Task Force. He said a subcommittee of that group is specifically looking at tackling that lack of access to technology. 

But in the end, he said such a reimagining committee should not be handled by the governor’s office.

“The governor should empower the state Education Department to work with the 700 school districts of the state,” Bossert said. “I’m not sure it should be a function of the governor’s office.”

Stock photo

Numbers included are from those who went to the polls Tuesday and those who voted early. Due to the abundance of absentee ballots requested by Long Islanders a final tally of votes won’t be completed until July 1.

So far, results have shown close primaries for Democrats in both the U.S. District 1 Congressional seat and for the New York State Senate District 1 position. Perry Gershon leads for the congressional position with just 166 votes over the person currently in second place Nancy Goroff.

Laura Ahearn leads the pack of Dems with a total of 2,360 votes, a little more than 200 than the person in second place, Valerie Cartright.

Other races are not so close. U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3) leads with over 20 percent more than the next candidate.

Laura Jens-Smith has a near 50 point lead over fellow Democrat William Schleisner, with both seeking the New York State Assembly District 2 seat held by Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk).

U.S. Congress – 1st District (Democratic)

Perry Gershon – 33.5% – 5,166 votes

Nancy Goroff – 34.37% – 5,002 votes

Bridget Fleming – 27.91% – 4,062 votes

Gregory Fischer – 2.21% – 322 votes

U.S. Congress – 3rd District (Democratic)

Thomas Suozzi – 58.93% – 8,374 votes

Melanie D’Arrigo – 32.7% – 4,646 votes

Michael Weinstock – 8.37% – 1,189 votes

New York State Senator – 1st District (Democratic)

Laura Ahearn – 31.08% – 2,360 votes

Valerie Cartright – 27.92% – 2,120 votes

Thomas Schiavoni – 23.86% – 1,812 votes

Skyler Johnson – 12.45% – 945 votes

Nora Higgins – 4.69% – 356 votes

New York State Assembly – 2nd District (Democratic)

Laura M. Jens-Smith – 77.99% – 1,772 votes

William Schleisner – 22.01% – 500 votes

The Smithtown School District received nearly four times as many votes for this year's school budget compared to last years. File photo

By Odeya Rosenband

School districts across Suffolk County have seen a sizable increase in voter turnout for their 2020-21 budget elections, in comparison with previous years.

2019 Budget Vote Tallies

SWR: 1,458

Rocky Point: 916

Miller Place: 783

Mount Sinai:1,381

Port Jeff: 719

Comsewogue: 812

Middle Country: 2,058

Three Village: 2,087

Smithtown: 2,776

2020 Budget Vote Tallies SWR: 2,947 (+1,458)

Rocky Point: 2,913 (+1,997)

Miller Place: 3,016 (+2,233)

Mount Sinai:2,965 (+1,584)

Port Jeff: 1,387 (+668)

Comsewogue: 3,349 (+2,537)

Middle Country: 7,639 (+5,581)

Three Village: 9231 (+7,244)

Smithtown: 11,071 (+8,293)

Notably, as opposed to in-person, all voting was conducted through a mail-in ballot this year due to the threat of COVID-19. This process made voting more readily accessible to all community members, who have largely been under stay-at-home orders as the county remained in Phase 2 at the time of the elections.

Among North Shore school districts covered by TBR News Media, the Hauppauge school district witnessed the most significant change, receiving nearly five times more voters than they did last year. Like every district, Hauppauge’s budget passed but is expecting possible cuts in state aid later in the year. This anticipation is another factor that helps to explain the increased voter turnout, as this upcoming school year’s budget is highly sensitive. 

Kenneth Bossert, superintendent of Elwood school district, noted that despite the increase in voters, the ratio of people who supported the budget to those who didn’t remained similar between the two years. “Most budgets that stay under the tax cap pass,” he said. Voter turnout in Elwood increased by 253 percent from last year, with 3,985 total voters. 

Not only has voting been made more accessible this year due to the mail-in format, but the fact that more people are at home suggests that people have more time to think about their local districts. With districts trying to formulate accommodations for the next year, keeping in mind the ever-changing nature of health protocols, district heads have routinely called this year’s school budgets more crucial than normal. 

In terms of the number of new voters, Smithtown Central School District displayed the greatest difference with 8,295 more people voting than just last year. Interim Superintendent Russell Stewart said that, “The support [voters] have given us during this budget season [will] allow us to continue to offer the best education possible to our students.”

The collective increase in voter turnout for the North Shore school districts’ 2020-21 budgets — by more than threefold overall — indicates that mail-in ballots have been more successful than the previous in-person voting. 

It is a unique comparison this year to other political votes nationwide, which have also had to contend with limitations from the pandemic. While votes were still being tallied Wednesday, June 24 for the 2020 state and local primaries, turnout is expected to be lower than in similar primaries in 2018. The number of polling places on Long Island have been consolidated, and instead of absentee ballots sent directly to homes, voting forms had to be requested and sent in before deadline the night of June 23.

In 2018, the most contentious primary for the area was for the Democratic Party contender for the U.S. Congressional District 1 seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1). Two years ago the total number of votes equaled 20,331. While votes were still being tallied by press time, the number of total votes for people who voted in person is  nearly 5,000 less than last election, according to data from the Suffolk County Board of Elections. Full results will not be known until after July 1 when all mailed-in votes are counted.

As of press time, Perry Gershon is currently leading for the Congressional District 1 seat. Laura Ahearn is also currently leading for the New York State Senate District 1 seat by a few hundred votes over Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station).

Suffolk County demonstrates new denitrifying septic systems installed in county resident's homes. Photo from Suffolk County executive’s office

Republican and Democratic congressmen from Long Island are promoting a bill that would cancel the taxable status placed on grants for prototype denitrifying septic systems in Suffolk County and offer relief to those who received those grants. 

Both U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) are promoting legislation that would essentially reverse the U.S. Internal Revenue Service’s ruling that grants for the experimental septic systems were taxable, despite Suffolk County and other local officials saying there was precedent for such grants on home-based environmental devices being tax free.

“Cesspools and septic systems have been identified as the largest single cause of degraded water quality on Long Island,” Suozzi said in a statement. “This bill may not sound exciting, but it has a real impact on real people’s lives and pocketbooks.”

The IRS ruling came down in January of this year after Suffolk County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) asked the IRS for such a decision. The comptroller sent tax bills to homeowners who had taken up such grants in 2019, saying the county should have constructed the program to make sure that the feds would tax the contractors, not those who received the grants. County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said in a statement that “the notion that Suffolk County homeowners would be taxed for participating in a water quality program that will make their water cleaner simply defies all logic.”

Zeldin said they have to protect taxpayers.

“This program’s goals are laudable, but we must ensure people can actually use the program to achieve those goals. While all levels of government work to find a solution, due to the urgency of this situation, we are running the gamut on every option, including this legislation to provide immediate relief,” he said in a release.

The bill would also retroactively allow people who received the grants to amend their 2019 tax returns for grants received in the same year.

The legislation is expected to be included within a larger congressional infrastructure package that will be voted on within the next few weeks.

Stock photo

Suffolk County has moved to Phase 3 of its economic reopening following a prolonged lockdown from COVID-19, as restaurants can offer limited seating dining and nail salons and tattoo parlors can reopen.

Additionally, the number of people that can gather together increased to 25 from 10.

For personal care and indoor dining, the maximum capacity is half of the pre-viral levels. Employees must be tested every two weeks at these establishments.

“It’s another huge step for all of us,” County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on his daily conference call with reporters.

The viral numbers in the county continued to remain well below guidelines and limits.

The number of people testing positive for the virus was 45, bringing the total to 41,101.

The number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus declined by one through the 24 hour period ending on June 22, bringing that total to 88.

The number of people in the Intensive Care Unit with complications related to the virus decreased by two to 26.

The percent of hospital beds occupied was 64, while the percent of ICU beds in use was 60 percent.

The number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by two to 1,972.

Suffolk County distributed an additional 15,000 personal protective equipment in the last day, with much of that going to the police department and nursing homes.

Separately, Suffolk County is continuing its movie series, which kicked off this past weekend with the showing of “Jaws” on the 45th anniversary of the shark film’s debut.

Reservations are open starting today for “ET The Extra-Terrestrial,” which will be shown next Wednesday, July 1. Upcoming movies include “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Addams Family.”

Residents interested in seeing the free movies at the Smithpoint County Park can get tickets at suffolkcountyny.gov/driveinmovieseries.com.

After Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) indicated recently that Phase 4 reopening would exclude malls, movie theaters and gyms, Bellone said he is continuing to communicate with the state about these limits.

Bellone said he believes malls “can reopen with a limited capacity and requiring face coverings.” After looking at the Phase 3 data, he expects the state may reevaluate those guidelines to see what else can be reopened.

Officials celebrate the installation of a denitrifying septic system in Nesconset in 2015. Photo from Bellone’s office

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) has made two proposals to the legislators that he believes will protect taxpayers and environmental programs in the wake of the economic effects of COVID-19.

He would like to use two existing tax stabilization funds to mitigate the budgetary impact of the virus.

These proposals, which he would like to add as a referendum for voters in November, would “protect taxpayers and essential employees and 100 percent protect environmental programs,” Bellone said on his daily conference call with reporters. “Any legislator who votes no on this legislation is only making layoffs more likely to occur.”

He urged legislators to give taxpayers the option of voting for these proposals, which he suggests will protect taxpayers, employees and environmental programs.

In addition, Bellone said he appreciated the efforts of U.S. Reps Tom Suozzi (D-NY-3) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) to reverse the effect of an Internal Revenue Service ruling that taxes homeowners who participate in a septic improvement program, which was designed to protect Suffolk County’s waterways.

Suffolk County residents “care about clean water,” Bellone said. “These individuals should not be liable to pay taxes on grant money that never even touches their hands.”

The county executive applauded people who move beyond earlier versions of wastewater treatment systems, which, he said, “degraded” water quality and represented a mounting threat.

Separately, the county has no plans to provide any fireworks for the 4th of July celebration. Belone said some local municipalities have considered such an option.

Amid concerns about the illegal use of fireworks, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the police have made two arrests to date and will be providing a public service announcement regarding fireworks and the dangers involved.

Residents who see or hear illegal fireworks, which can lead to injuries, fires or cause other damage, can call crime stoppers at (800) 220-TIPS.

“We want people to enjoy themselves,” Bellone said. “These fireworks are dangerous. The best thing you can do is to leave fireworks to the experts.”

As the county prepares to move into Phase 3 of its reopening tomorrow, Bellone called the continued reopening, which is occurring two weeks after the start of Phase 2, a “big milestone for us.”

Bellone will continue to monitor the viral figures that come out of upstate New York, where several counties are entering phase 4, to get an indication of whether the next phase of reopening could begin two weeks from now.

Viral Numbers

Even as other states, such as Florida, Texas and Arizona are encountering a surge in cases and hospitalizations, Suffolk County continues to move down the infection curve.

In the last 24 hours, an additional 46 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. That is a positive rate of 1.3 percent among those tested, which is above recent trends but still well below rates during the worst of the pandemic on Long Island. The number of people who have tested positive for the virus is now 41,056.

The number of people who have tested positive for antibodies to the virus stands at 18,188. These are people who didn’t have a COVID-19 positive result, but whose bodies have produced antibodies.

Hospitalizations declined by one to 89. People with COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Unit increased by one to 28.

Hospital capacity remained well below guidelines, with hospital beds and ICU beds at 63 percent and 60 percent capacity, respectively.

An additional six people were discharged from the hospital over the previous day.

Meanwhile, the number of people who died from complications related to COVID-19 increased by five to 1,970. During each of the previous four days, one person died each day from the virus.

The county distributed 4,000 pieces of personal protective equipment over the previous day.

Annemarie Lopez holds a police pin for her brother Christie Masone, an officer who died in the line of duty June 22. Photo by Kyle Barr

Crowds numbering in the several hundreds rallied at the corner of Route 112 and 347 in Port Jefferson Station June 22 calling for people to support police. It was a counterpoint to the over 100 protests all across Long Island calling for an end to police violence for the past several weeks.

People waved thin blue line flags and held signs supporting police reading “back the blue” and “respect and honor our law enforcement.”

The pro-police rally came three weeks after a protest against police violence in the same location, which some local progressive activists have called “resistance corner.” Some came with flags, signs or hats supporting President Donald Trump (R). Most people in the crowd at the June 22 rally were not wearing face masks, compared to other recent protests where the majority were wearing some kind of face covering.

Suffolk County Police officers stood at both sides of the protest line and entrance to the small park, and others milled about the crowd, with many people thanking them for their service. Most cars passing by honked in support, though there was a small number of counter protesters holding signs supporting Black Lives Matter on the other side of Route 347. Towards the start of the rally a woman pulled to the side of the road and got out of her car, cursing at the people standing on the sidewalk who responded with expletives of their own before a cop came by to tell her to get back in her car.

People at the rally said police have become disrespected since the start of the nationwide protests after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody. Though they admitted what the police did in that situation was wrong, when one officer leaned his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes until EMTs arrived, they said most cops want to do good.

Annemarie Lopez, of Port Jefferson, said she was at the rally in remembrance of her brother, Christie Masone along with his partner Norman Cerullo who were shot and killed in the line of duty in 1978.

“There are good cops and bad cops, but these are people putting their lives on the line,” Lopez said.

Others said the calls for police budgets to be cut will ultimately make the Island less safe.

“Cops are being treated unfairly — this will be detrimental to our safety, we don’t need cuts to police,” said Maria Leonette, a nurse at Stony Brook University Hospital.

The Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association had a large presence, sporting a trailer which handed out water to people during the hot June afternoon.

PBA President Noel DiGerolamo saw it as an incredible turnout that showed a “humbling support for the men and women of law enforcement. The silent majority isn’t silent anymore.”

At the height of the rally, the crowds gathered under the trees in the center of the park to hear people speak, including former chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Party John Jay LaValle, who was introduced as a spokesperson for Trump.

One of the two main organizers for the rally, Jonathan Stuart of Manorville, said “I could not let the broad stroke of social justice, virtue signaling and cancel culture paint all the police in the shot of the heinous death of George Floyd,” adding, “Is every person who puts on their bullet proof vest, turn their radio on, holster their pistol, shine their badge and kiss their family goodbye a murderer? No. Racist? No.”