Village Beacon Record

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

Suffolk County is looking to tackle a pressing environmental issue on Long Island with the creation of a Regional Recycling Assessment Task Force. 

The legislation, sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), was passed at the end of 2019. The task force going into 2020 will lok to address the recycling burden found throughout the county. 

Hahn said towns and villages throughout the county are struggling to handle the increased recycling burden. 

“Recycling and waste management is a global problem not just a regional one,” she said. 

Since China’s 2018 decision to ban the import of most plastics and other materials used by its recycling processors, a number of municipalities have altered programs and in cases have reduced or eliminated recycling. 

Hahn said currently recycling in Suffolk County is handled through a patchwork of programs. 

“We need to come together to help each other, and come up with ideas and encourage other solutions,” the legislator said. 

In Brookhaven as a result of the market crash and the town’s recycling contractor, Green Stream Recycling voiding its contract, the town has switched from single-stream to dual-stream recycling and has asked residents to drop glass off at 21 points in the town instead of picking it up at curbside. 

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven town supervisor, said he applauds Hahn’s and others efforts to solve the current recycling issue. 

“It is a very good idea, we have to do something to solve the solid waste crisis in the near future,” he said.

Romaine said with current plans to close the landfill in 2024, and there being no market to send glass, only compounds the issue the town and municipalities face.  

“I wish the DEC would be more involved but I’m glad someone is looking into realistic solutions to this problem. We look forward to participating [in the task force],” the supervisor said. 

Similarly Smithtown was also affected by the departure of Green Stream Recycling, as it had a recycling contract with Brookhaven. Smithtown had an agreement to sell all its recyclables through Green Stream for a $180,000 annual profit. In January 2019, Smithtown residents were told to separate their recyclables when the town switched back to dual-stream recycling. 

Hahn, the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, plans to put together a 17-member advisory group made up of municipal recycling professionals, county agencies and environmental advocates. Members have not been officially announced and meetings are scheduled to begin sometime later this year. 

The task force’s aim would be to review existing recycling programs, develop strategies for increasing the efficiency of recycling regionally, and to develop mechanisms to encourage the streamlining of the local recycling process.  

Hahn stressed the continuation of educating the public on the benefits of recycling and reducing plastic waste in their everyday lives. 

The 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, which took effect in January 2018, has been successful — with reports showing a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. Hahn also sponsored a bill that would create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that took effect last month. In addition, the Styrofoam bill bars businesses from using items such as cups, trays and containers that are made from polystyrene, as well as ban retail stores from selling those products. It will require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products. 

“They go hand in hand — the success has been apparent in reducing plastic waste in the county,” she said. “I’m hoping we can work with Brookhaven and other municipalities in finding a way to properly handle this and do the right thing for residents.”

But Have ‘Only Scratched the Surface’

Maria Francavilla, left, and Lisa Principe speak about their daughters' experiences Jan. 31. Photo by Kyle Barr

Two mothers, one from Farmingville and the other from Merrick, may live on different parts of Long Island, but both had very similar experiences, watching their daughters abused in sex trafficking schemes that saw men use drugs to keep their children captive.

Photos of Maria Francavilla’s and Lisa Principe’s daughters. Photo by Kyle Barr

Lisa Principe and Maria Francavilla spoke of their experiences Jan. 31 at a Suffolk County Police Department press conference in Yaphank to round off National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. 

Principe said her daughter, Jenna, went to school at Wellington C. Mepham High School in Bellmore. She said her daughter fell in love with a man who ended up taking advantage of her in the extreme. She was gang raped at only 19 years old, as her “initiation.” She was kept in motels with a number of other girls as her pimps used her addiction to drugs to keep her under control. She would spend time in and out of jail, but as soon as she got out the traffickers were there to pick her up and bring her back into the fold. 

“They took her soul,” Principe said. Even after the men keeping her were arrested, Jenna would later die at 27 from an overdose at home. 

Though her hardship remains, she said she hopes new initiatives from the police will help combat the slew of sex trafficking cases happening all across the Island, targeting potential victims on the internet, in public places or even around schools.  

Jennifer Hernandez, the executive director of the nonprofit Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island, which provides trauma services for victims of human trafficking and other abuse, said they have worked with more than 160 victims of trafficking just this past year.

“Most of which were born and raised right here on Long Island — in Suffolk County.” she said.

Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said the biggest misconception about sex trafficking is that it’s men piling people, mostly immigrants, into the back of trucks and taking them away. Modern sex trafficking happens to people of all walks, immigrants and native-born Long Islanders. Traffickers take vulnerable people, mostly young women, and use a combination of drugs, violence and other emotional manipulation to control these women. There’s no single place, police said, whether rich or poor, that sex trafficking isn’t happening. The epidemic is tied to the opioid crisis that still rages in communities across the Island.

Since October of 2017, the police’s human trafficking unit has leveraged 417 charges against individuals, with 186 she said were specifically related to sex trafficking. The police has interacted with and identified over 220 women involved with trafficking since the beginning of the initiative, with the youngest one being only 12 years old.

Still with those numbers, Detective Lt. Frank Messana, the commanding officer of the department’s human trafficking unit, said they have “only scratched the surface.”

On Jan. 25, Kings Park man and alleged Bloods gang member Abiodun “Abi” Adeleke was sentenced to 25 years in prison for multiple counts of sex trafficking. He allegedly participated in this ring from 2014-18.

Last year, Sound Beach man Raymond Rodio III was arrested for allegedly hosting a sex trafficking ring at his parent’s house on Lower Rocky Point Road. Police and the county district attorney said he had preyed on more than 20 women over several years, most from Suffolk, with many floating in and out from the man’s basement apartment as his parent’s home located in a relatively middle-class neighborhood.

Lt. Frank Messana of the police’s human trafficking unit speaks alongside commissioner Geraldine Hart. Photo by Kyle Barr

Rodio’s investigation originally began in 2018 when an officer witnessed a suspected victim of trafficking in the alleged perpetrator’s car during a traffic stop. Hart said such awareness and education, for not only police officers but the general public, is doing much of the job of finding and arresting sex traffickers.

In October 2017, police first piloted its human trafficking program, which then became permanent in 2018. The commissioner said in the year prior to the unit being formed, there hadn’t been any examples of sex trafficking arrests.

In 2019, the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office started a human trafficking unit to work inside the county jails. Undersheriff Kevin Catalina said the team of officers look to identify human trafficking victims within the jail. While women are in jail for a stint, officers can get them to “open up.” Many, he said, could not even identify they were victims of trafficking, instead thinking these people were their “boyfriends.”

Francavilla had a similar experience to Principe. Her daughter, Tori, fell in with the wrong people early out of high school. She described it got to the point that her daughter was, “handcuffed to a bed and kept captive.”

She would eventually help put the perpetrator away but, like Jenna, the opioid addiction followed her even after her traumatic experiences. She died when she was 24.

Police said a person is at-risk or is already a victim of trafficking if they start to show behavior of chronically running away from home or having a history of unstable housing, demonstrates inability to regularly attend school or work, exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, signs of drug or alcohol addiction, inconsistencies in their stories, inappropriate dress, a mention of a pimp, “daddy” or being “in the life,” suspected engaging in prostitution, history of pregnancies, abortions or sexually transmitted diseases, and looking as if they worked excessively long hours.

Identifying such a person, a resident should call 911 in an emergency, or contact Suffolk County Crime Stoppers at 800-220-TIPS (8477). 

People can find more information and resources at the ECLI at www.empowerli.org.

For more information about Suffolk County’s public information initiative, visit https://scatili.org/

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The house where Raymond Rodio III allegedly committed acts of sex trafficking. Photo by Kyle Barr

A Sound Beach man who was arrested last year for sex trafficking pled guilty Feb. 4. He is set to be sentenced in March and faces what could be more than nine years in prison.

The Suffolk County district attorney announced Raymond Rodio III pled guilty to several counts of sex trafficking, selling drugs and several counts of promoting prostitution. 

Police and prosecutors said Rodio had been conducting a human trafficking operation in the basement apartment of his parent’s house located on Lower Rocky Point Road in Sound Beach, in which police said they identified more than 20 victims who had been moved through that house. Rodio engaged in drug sales, including heroin and crack cocaine, and used those drugs to keep better control of his victims, which he pimped out in motels around Long Island.

“This is an individual who clearly had no regard for the women he victimized, subjecting them to exploitation, fear and humiliation,” District Attorney Tim Sini (D) said after the defense’s guilty plea was read out. “It is our hope that this guilty plea delivers justice for the many survivors of Rodio’s scheme.”

Police also said Rodio would keep women in that basement for an extended period of time, forcing them to use a bucket as a toilet since there was no bathroom in the apartment. The Sound Beach man would post advertisements on websites, including Backpage and Craigslist, promoting prostitution by the victims and would keep either a large percentage or all of the profits of their prostitution.

Rodio’s attorney is listed as Scott Gross, a Garden City-based criminal defense attorney. Gross did not return calls for request for comment.

Police originally started investigating Rodio after a Suffolk County police officer noticed a suspected victim of trafficking in his car during a routine traffic stop in August 2018. The man was later arrested in March 2019 after an investigation found a score of other victims.

Rodio is scheduled to be sentenced by Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen March 9. The court promised the defendant a 9½-year with five years of postrelease supervision on the top count. He will also be required to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison.

Rocky Point senior Jimmy Curley (l) runs 3200 meters along with Comsewogue’s Joe Fazio and Kings Park’s Jonathan Englehardt at SCCC Feb. 1. Bill Landon photo

The Mount Sinai Mustangs were the class of the field in the Suffolk County small school championship Feb. 1, sitting atop the leader-board to win the team championship with 66 points at Suffolk County Community College.

Kings Park finished 7th overall just ahead of Comsewogue High School. Shoreham-Wading River junior Blake Wehr placed 2nd in the high jump event clearing 6’ 4” landing the Wildcats 12th in the team standings.

Mount Sinai High School. File photo by Barbara Donlon

Mount Sinai parents will begin to see portions of the school district’s 2020-21 proposed budget figures in the next few months. At a Jan. 15 board of education meeting, district officials unveiled 12 percent of the budget, which included central administration, insurance, central printing, BOCES, transportation, technology and debt services among others. 

The tentative total budget figure for 2020-21 looks to be $61,009,700, a slight increase from last year’s number. 

Board of education/central administration costs would be increasing by $19,000 in the upcoming school year. 

Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the chunk of that increase would go into costs for an additional budget vote and cover the translation of all documents/public notices into Spanish. That would cost the district $14,000. 

“It is a state mandate that hit us and other districts this year,” he said. “Any election/public notices has to be translated into Spanish. The state says we have to do this, but they are not giving us any money to do this.”

Another mandate that will be implemented is the addition of a data protection officer in response to a number of school districts experiencing hacks last year. 

Purchasing cost will increase by $2,050 in 2020-21 due to the district utilizing a co-op organization that assists in securing materials and supplies. 

“We have been using Educational Data Services — they do a lot — they work with vendors and we don’t have to do the bidding,” Brosdal said. “In the long run it will save us money.”

Technology will see an increase of over $65,000, in part due to the district getting rid of antiquated equipment as well as adding sets of laptops, replacement items like projector lamps, printer repairs, iPads and smart board parts. 

Tax Anticipation Notes for 2020-21 are estimated at 3 percent. Debt services would decrease by over $6,000. Central printing, insurance, BOCES administration will increase collectively by $22,000. 

The next budget meeting will be Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. Topics discussed will be pupil personnel services, building principals, instructional and adult ed/driver’s ed. 

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Farhbach, at 99 pounds, puts down his SWR opponent where his team won 47-24. Photo from Mel Jacoby

Syracuse, here they come, and not for the first time.

The Mount Sinai wrestling team after their win against SWR. Photo from Mel Jacoby

On Saturday, Jan. 25, Mount Sinai wrestlers beat Shoreham-Wading River in the finals of the Suffolk County Division II championship 47-24 to advance to the New York State Division II wrestling championship in Syracuse. Mount Sinai won an earlier match against Shoreham-Wading River in the regular season.  

The seniors again dazzled the capacity crowd by scoring pins at their respective weights. They were led by seniors Matt Campo at 170 pounds (34-2), Joe Goodrich at 182 pounds (35-0), Mike O’Brien at 138 pounds (33-4) and Adham Shata at 195 pounds (34-3), who each won their match.  

Taking charge at the lower weights was Brayden Fahrbach at 99 pounds, who won by a pin, while Derrek Menechino, Jack Tyrell and Brenden Goodrich all reversed earlier losses against Shoreham-Wading River to score decisive wins.   

Contributing to the team effort were middle weights Ryan Shanian at 145 pounds and Tristan Nardi at 160 pounds, who each won their matches.  

On the SWR side, the team ends league play with 7-6-1 and 19-4-1 overall.

This was the third year in a row that Mustang wrestlers won the Suffolk County Division II championship.  

Mount Sinai will advance to Syracuse for the New York State Dual Meet Championship at the SRC Arena Feb. 1, where they will defend their New York State title, which they have won the past two years.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

In a Q&A with TBR News Media, Carol Gomes, interim chief executive officer at Stony Brook University Hospital, discusses a variety of topics including patient safety, quality control and curbing infections. Here is what she had to say. 

1. Being the interim chief executive officer at the hospital, how important is patient safety and  quality control to the day-to-day operations?

Stony Brook Medicine physicians and staff are committed to providing high-quality, safe patient care.

SBU Hospital CEO Carol Gomes discusses what the hospital is doing to reduce infection potential. Photo from SBU Hospital

Quality and patient safety is priority number one, and we focus on safe patient care every day. The Stony Brook Medicine team convenes a safety huddle that is part of the day-to-day operations in every area, which includes critical leaders from all over the hospital.

We start the day with approximately 35 care team members from nursing leadership, physician leadership and operational leadership who report on important safety or quality opportunities.  Our huddles are highly structured meetings that allow the hospital to focus on process changes with direct follow-up. This drives accountability to help ensure that adequate safety measures are in place for our patients at all times. 

2. Interim SBU President Michael Bernstein mentioned to us that you were making an effort to curb infections at the hospital among other things. Could you discuss some of the initiatives you’ve been implementing to improve in that area?

Stony Brook University Hospital has three primary strategic quality priorities — clinical outcomes, patient safety and the patient experience.

Proactively, Stony Brook works to provide safe and effective care to every patient via our patient safety work groups. These groups analyze processes, review relevant data and implement process changes to enhance patient safety and prevent patient harm.

The vast majority of projects and improvement efforts are aimed at reducing hospital associated infections. There are teams that implement best practices for CLABSI, or central line associated bloodstream infections; hand hygiene; CAUTI, or catheter-associated urinary tract infections; C. diff, or Clostridium difficile infections; SSI, or surgical site infections; and sepsis. 

Working groups incorporate real-time data to implement best practices to ensure hospital units continue to drive improvement efforts in achieving patient safety goals.

3. In general could you talk about the threat of infections to patients at hospitals? Most people view hospitals as a place of recovery and necessarily don’t think of other germs, sick people around them. Can you speak on that and the challenges you and others face?

As a matter of standard practice, the hospital adheres to rigorous infection control guidelines every day to ensure a clean environment for patients, staff and visitors. These practices are especially important during the flu season.

Being within the close quarters of a hospital, there is an increased incidence of transmission for infections. Many patients have recent surgical wounds, IVs and other catheters placing them at higher risk of infection. These risks may be enhanced by the acquisition of an infection from a visitor.

Family members and other visitors who suspect they may have the flu or other viruses are advised to not visit the hospital.

To lessen the spread of the flu virus, hand hygiene and attention to reducing the effects of droplets from respiratory illnesses such as the flu can enhance patient safety.

Hand washing prevents infection. It is one of the most important actions each of us can implement before and after every encounter with a patient.

The goal is to minimize that transmission while the patient is in the hospital.

4. Other practices/guidelines at the hospital?

The flu virus most commonly spreads from an infected person to others. It’s important to stay home while you’re sick, not visit people in the hospital and to limit close contact with others.

Visitors should wash their hands before entering a patient room and after seeing a patient, whether or not there is patient contact. 

As added protection, patients who have been identified as having infections are isolated appropriately from other patients in order to prevent accidental spread.

Therefore, if a patient has the flu or flulike symptoms, the hospital will place them in respiratory isolation. Likewise, a patient with measles or chicken pox is kept in appropriate isolation.

Visitors may be asked to wear masks on certain units.

5. How do patient safety grades affect how the hospital looks to improve
its quality? 

Stony Brook University Hospital supports the public availability of quality and safety information about hospitals. We are constantly looking for ways to improve and ensure the highest quality of care.

There is a wide variation of quality reports with different methodologies and results.

Clinical outcomes define our success as a hospital. Better clinical outcomes means we’re taking better care of our patients. Stony Brook Medicine initiated a major initiative to improve clinical outcomes. We have multidisciplinary groups improving outcomes in the following areas:

  Increasing our time educating patients prior to their discharge in order to prevent hospital readmissions.

  Improving the care of our patients receiving surgery to reduce postoperative complications.

  Enhancing the diagnosis and care of patients with diabetes.

  Improving the speed of diagnosis and treatment of sepsis.

In short, great effort is expended in identifying opportunities for improvement with a detailed and focused approach on enhancing patient outcomes.

Stock photo

While the risk from the new deadly coronavirus that has closed cities in China remains low in New York, Long Island hospitals, including Stony Brook, are working with the New York Department of Health to prepare in case it makes its way to the New York area.

The respiratory virus, which originated at a seafood market in Wuhan Province in China during contact between humans and an animal that reportedly could have been a snake, has claimed the lives of 132 people as of Jan. 29. The virus has spread to three states, with single cases in Seattle, Washington, and Chicago, Illinois, and two cases in California.

The reported deaths from the virus are all in China, although people have also tested positive for coronavirus in countries including Australia, Canada, France, Japan and Vietnam, among others.

As of earlier this week, New York State had sent samples for nine people to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for testing. Four samples tested negative, while the state is awaiting results for the other five.

A Q&A with  Susan Donelan, Medical Director of Health Care Epidemiology, Stony Brook University Hospital, About the New Coronavirus

1. Is the outbreak plan for this new coronavirus any different than the plan for SARS or MERS at Stony Brook?

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new virus that causes respiratory illness in people and can spread from person to person, shares a lot of similarities to other coronaviruses we have seen such as SARS and MERS-CoV. At Stony Brook Medicine, our teams are incorporating best practices from the Pandemic Influenza Plan. These practices are especially important during the flu season.

2. Is everyone in the emergency room taking a history on admission, particularly for people presenting with respiratory infections and a fever, that includes questions about travel to China?

As a matter of standard practice for many years, the hospital has asked all patients with any influenza-like illness [ILI] about recent travel history and is well versed in obtaining this information. Additionally, regardless of the presence or absence of travel, any patient presenting with an ILI immediately will be given a surgical mask to place over the nose and mouth, in order to limit the spread of any respiratory pathogen they may be harboring.

3. How much space could Stony Brook make available if the hospital needed to isolate people who might have this virus?

Stony Brook Medicine has already performed a walk-through of our facility to identify where patients could be cohorted if there were suspicions for this illness, and should they need hospitalization. As per the [CDC], people confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV infection, who do not need to be hospitalized, can receive care at home.

4. What is the current recommended treatment plan if someone either has or is suspected to have this virus?

Currently, there is no vaccine available to protect against 2019-nCoV and no specific antiviral treatment is recommended for the infection. People infected with 2019-nCoV should receive supportive care to help relieve symptoms.

“These five individuals remain in isolation as their samples are tested at CDC,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. “While the risk for New Yorkers is currently low, we are still working to keep everyone informed, prepared and safe.”

China has been working to contain the virus by enforcing lockdowns in cities like Wuhan. Indeed, an unnamed Stony Brook scientist, who was visiting his family, has been unable to leave China to return to Long Island. Through a spokeswoman, Stony Brook said it is grateful for the help of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the State Department and the university community in trying to bring him home.

When he returns to the United States, the professor will remain in quarantine until he could no longer be a carrier for the virus. 

Area hospitals, meanwhile, are watching carefully for any signs of coronavirus.

“There are procedure plans in place in every hospital,” said Dr. Bettina Fries, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine at Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine. “There is always a concern when these outbreaks are announced.”

At this point, however, the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak an emergency. The CDC has classified the new coronavirus threat level as “low.”

The coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, is in the same family as sudden acute respiratory syndrome and the Middle East respiratory syndrome. The initial mortality rate from the current coronavirus is lower than the 10 percent rate for SARS, which spread in 2002, or the 30 to 35 percent rate from MERS, which started in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The timing of the virus is challenging because the symptoms are similar to those for the flu, which has become more prevalent in New York and around the country this winter. Coronavirus symptoms, according to the CDC, include coughing, fever and shortness of breath.

While airports like John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens are screening people who arrive from Wuhan, efforts to determine whether they may be carrying the virus could be limited, in part because the incubation period could be as long as two weeks, during which time an infected person could be contagious.

Infectious disease experts suggested practicing the kind of hygiene that would reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu. This includes: washing hands for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer and maintaining a distance of about 3 feet from anyone who has the sniffles or appears to be battling a cold. Infectious disease experts also suggest cutting back on handshakes, especially with people who appear to be battling a cold.

“If you have immunocompromised people, they should be extra careful,” Fries said, adding that the CDC, which has been regularly updating its web page, www.cdc.gov, has been working tirelessly with national and state health officials to coordinate a response to this virus, wherever it hits.

“The New York State Department of Health and the CDC need to be praised for all the work” they are doing, she said. “They have a task force that doesn’t do anything else but prepare for patients coming from outbreak areas.”

Scientists around the world have also been working to develop a vaccine for this new virus. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, researchers anticipate developing such a vaccine in as little as three months, which is considerably shorter than the 20 months it took to develop a vaccine for the SARS virus. The Post, however, suggested that the development of a vaccine would require testing before it received approval.

Fries said the concern about the coronavirus comes less with the current death toll than it does with the effect as it continues to spread.

“It’s important to see how far it spreads and what the real mortality is,” which is tough to track because the outbreak is still at the beginning and scientists and public health officials are still processing new information, she added.

Incumbent New York State Assembly 2nd District Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo speaks at TBR News Media during the 2014 election cycle. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By David Luces and Kyle Barr

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) announced he would be looking for a step up in Albany, as he’s now seeking the hotly contested State Senate District 1 seat. 

The seat has opened up since 44-year incumbent Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced he was not seeking reelection
in November.

“It is apparent that the one party rule up in Albany is not working for those here on Long Island,” Palumbo said as to the reason he decided to run. “They have been instituting a progressive left agenda that is contrary to the way of the life here in SD1.”

Palumbo, 49, whose Assembly 2nd District runs along the North Shore from Fishers Island all the way to Mount Sinai, was first elected in 2013 with 57 percent of the vote and has easily retained that seat in the next three elections by large margins.

Suffolk County Republican Committee chairman, Jesse Garcia, was enthused to see Palumbo moving in as the Republican front-runner. 

“For the people of Senate District 1, this is great news,” Garcia said. “Anthony’s record is second to none.”

Though the seven-year legislator is moving from what has been considered a safe seat into what could be a fiercely contested race, Garcia said he wasn’t concerned.

“He is giving up a safe seat and is answering to a higher calling,” the Republican chairman said. “He will listen to the people and has the experience to lead SD1.”

Palumbo, a former prosecutor, will have to take on whoever comes out on top of a Democratic primary that sees well-known names like Laura Ahearn, Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident, and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). Also running for the Democratic ticket is Skyler Johnson, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident, and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town Board member.

In a prior interview with TBR News Media, Palumbo said he originally had reservations about seeking the higher office. One was the age of his children, one 12 and the other 15. The other was his current leadership position in the Assembly.

“It was a big decision for my family and I, but it is important that we hold onto Senate District 1,” the assemblyman said.

Garcia said this race is one of the big ones of the Republican Party trying to wrest back control of the State Senate from the Democrats.

Two items, he said, are at the highest importance in his run. One is bail reform, which Republicans across the island have called for the law’s removal.

“There was need for tweaking of criminal reform, but this goes beyond safe or smart,” he said. “The new discovery reform also went too far. It will cost millions of dollars in unfunded mandates.” 

Palumbo added he wants to focus on taxes and bringing in more jobs to the district. 

“The county is losing people in droves — I want to do what’s right for the district — I want my kids to be able to live here.”

Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania is also where Kobe Bryant went to school. Photo from Google Maps

By Benji Dunaief

People sometimes ask, “Where did you grow up?”

I grew up in Lower Merion, an unassuming quiet suburb about 20-30 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I attended the local public schools, including Lower Merion High School, or just “LM” for short. Most would probably agree that LM is an above average public school, but they’d also probably agree that it’s not particularly extraordinary, except for one reason. Kobe Bryant went to Lower Merion High School.

Benji Dunaief

My freshman year coincided with the opening of LM’s brand new school building. The old building had been there for over 100 years, and the district had decided to start anew. On my first tour of the new school when I was still an eighth grader, one feature stood out to me above the rest – the soon-to-be-named Kobe Bryant Gymnasium. The gym, paid for in part by a substantial donation from Kobe, was to be a testament to the storied history of Lower Merion sports over the century since the school’s founding.

Of course, that history is heavily punctuated by Bryant’s own legacy. The perimeter of the gym is plastered with murals of Kobe in LM jerseys, his name is scrawled in massive cursive over the entrance and a glass case housing memorabilia from Kobe’s LM career is located just outside the gym. A very well-vacuumed LM embroidered rug was placed at the foot of the case, and my friends and I used to joke that its real purpose was for students to pay respects by bowing down to the “Kobe shrine.”

A few months into my freshman year, LM planned a gym dedication ceremony for the ages. The ceremony was scheduled to coincide with a matchup between the Lakers and the Sixers in Philly, so that Kobe would already be in town. The black-tie event featured a performance from popular local rapper Chiddy Bang, and a myriad of celebrities were in attendance, including several members of the Philadelphia Phillies who showed up to support Kobe, and nearly the entire Lakers team came too. Tickets for students and community members were in the hundreds of dollars.

I’m not going to lie, when I first saw everything, I thought it was way over the top. I thought he was just another celebrity personality in the middle of a big publicity stunt. But then I heard the stories from old teachers who had taught him way back when. Stories about how friendly and eager he was to learn — he still kept in touch with his English teacher. Stories from former classmates and students who had seen him in the halls — always smiling and laughing — or had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him — he always made time to talk with alumn. Then I joined the basketball team, the Aces, (to film games and create video highlights and definitely NOT to play) and saw how he still guided and influenced that team 18 years after he took his last fadeaway in the maroon and white. He aided the team both physically, by gifting crates upon crates of his branded warm-up attire, jackets, and sneakers (even creating special “Aces Edition” Kobe’s), and spiritually, by frequently tweeting to support the Aces and inviting them to his basketball camps. His relationship with head coach Gregg Downer remained strong, and the two frequently talked. Kobe called Downer the most influential coach in his entire career. Studying Downer’s gritty, give-everything-you-got coaching philosophy, it’s not hard to see that helping to shape the scrappy and relentless style of play Kobe became famous for.

Most high schools have notable alumni. For example, Cheltenham High School, which is just on the other side of town, has an insane number of famous alumni, including Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, 15-time Grammy Award winner Michael Brecker, and rapper Lil Dicky. But you would probably not have first associated those people with Cheltenham. When I’m out somewhere wearing Lower Merion apparel, whether in Europe, Canada, Chicago or Los Angeles, people will recognize the name, and it’s usually followed by a “huh, Kobe.”

Kobe Bryant isn’t just an alum of Lower Merion. Kobe Bryant took an active role in shaping the culture and the ideals of Lower Merion and he simultaneously allowed himself to become shaped by it, to the point where there was hardly a way to separate one from the other. Kobe Bryant made Lower Merion his own.

When people ask me “Where did you grow up?” I say, “Lower Merion, I went to Kobe Bryant’s high school.”

Benji Dunaief is director of TBR News Media produced films “One Life to Give” and its sequel, “Traitor: A Culper Spy Story.”