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Assemblyman Steve Englebright

Suffolk County Legislator Steven Englebright presents Margo Arceri with a Woman of Distinction proclamation at the May 7 th General Meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature. Photo from Legislator Steven Englebright’s office

Suffolk County Legislators are asked to name a Woman of Distinction from their district to commemorate Women’s History Month in March. The award recognizes women who demonstrate leadership qualities and involvement in and commitment to their communities.

This year’s honorees were recognized at a luncheon at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge on May 7. Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffery announced the women’s names at the Legislature’s General Meeting earlier that day.

When asked to choose a Woman of Distinction for Legislative District 5, the first person who came to Legislator Steven Englebright’s (D-Setauket) mind was Margo Arceri. The legislator said Arceri’s interest in preserving the Three Village area’s history and sense of place is apparent in her volunteer work and business ventures. He values how she has kept the history and true tales of Kate Wheeler Strong, an early female historian, and Revolutionary War spy Anna Smith Strong alive. Englebright also recognizes that Arceri’s work and volunteer efforts, as well as her role as president of the Strong’s Neck Civic Association, further educates residents and area visitors about the importance of Setauket Harbor from a historical perspective as well as from a natural history, water chemistry and overall ecological health perspective.

After the General Meeting, Arceri thanked the Suffolk County Legislature members and Legislator Englebright. “The Legislature has always inspired me,” she said. “To be able to carry on the history of our community in some small capacity is truly an honor. I have always felt that the community is our museum and everywhere you turn is an artifact. One of the most important parts of that museum are the docents … the people of this community who keep our history and our heritage alive for generations to come.”

Growing up in Strong’s Neck, Arceri knew historian Kate Wheeler Strong (1879-1977), the great-great-granddaughter of Anna Smith Strong. Kate’s great-great-grandmother was believed to have strategically hung her laundry on a clothesline to send messages to her fellow Setauket spies, who were part of the Culper Spy Ring, during the Revolutionary War. 

The honoree, a former vice president and past secretary of the Three Village Historical Society, continues to volunteer with the society. In 2023, she facilitated a $300,000 Suffolk County JumpSMART grant for TVHS.

In conjunction with the historical society, she created Tri-Spy Tours, where participants follow the footsteps of the Culper Spy Ring by walking, biking and/or kayaking through Setauket. Her entrepreneurship with Tri-Spy Tours fostered an even greater appreciation for local history. It inspired her to create the annual Culper Spy Day, now hosted by the Three Village Historical Society. The event features a self-guided tour where attendees visit various structures and museums in the area to learn how the Setauket spies assisted General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

She has frequently volunteered during the Setauket Harbor Task Force’s Annual Harbor Day. One of TBR News Media’s 2017 People of the Year, she is the executive producer of the television series “Redcoats and Petticoats.” Arceri is also an active member of St. James R.C. Church, serving as the parish point person to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Center, a lector, healing minister and capitol campaign committee member.

Caption: Suffolk County Legislator Steven Englebright presents Margo Arceri with a Woman of Distinction proclamation at the May 7th General Meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature. Photo from Legislator Steven Englebright’s office

The Roe Tavern, above, as it looked circa 1960. Photo from Art Billadello

An important structure in local history will be visible to the public once again.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Town of Brookhaven Councilperson Jonathan Kornreich, Roe Tavern owner Art Billadello and town Supervisor Ed Romaine met recently to discuss plans for the former public house.

The Roe Tavern, built circa 1703, will be moved near its original location on town-owned property on Route 25A in East Setauket. General George Washington slept at the public house on April 22, 1790. During his trip, many people believe he came to thank the Culper Spy Ring members based in Setauket.

Brookhaven’s Town Board voted unanimously to approve the purchase of the tavern from current owner Art Billadello at its July 21 meeting. The cost will be $800,000, and the town will fund the purchase with a state Dormitory Authority grant.

In a phone interview, state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he has been working on acquiring the funds for the move for two decades. The hope is that the former tavern will be open to the public for tours once it’s moved and renovated.

Billadello, who has owned the house since 2000 and is a Revolutionary War reenactor and history lecturer, will return to live in the house when it’s completed and will serve as a curator. According to Billadello, while the Roe Tavern is being renovated, he will live in another town-owned house.

At the July 21 town board meeting, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said of the tavern, “I think it will be a tremendous part of the historic district and somewhat of an attraction.”

Englebright agreed and added that the spies helped save the revolution and exposed Benedict Arnold.

“After the revolution was over, Washington didn’t forget. He came back,” the assemblyman said. “The most poignant moment in Long Island’s history.”

He said the trip was a long one for the general. 

“He spent four days to get here and go back to what was then the capital of our nation, which was in New York City, on muddy roads and difficult to travel,” Englebright said. 

The Culper Spy Ring gained recognition nationwide in 2014 with the AMC series “Turn; Washington Spies.” Major Benjamin Tallmadge organized the ring led by Setauket residents Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend.

A historic marker currently marks the spot where the public house once stood on North Country Road west of Bayview Avenue. Selah Strong built the house, and after his death, it was sold to the Woodhull family, who turned around and sold it to Capt. Austin Roe. It was Roe who converted the structure into a tavern. The Culper spy became known as the Long Island Paul Revere.

The Roe Tavern circa 1900. Photo by Robert S. Feather and from Art Billadello

According to a September 2021 article  in The Village Times Herald by historian Beverly C. Tyler, “Five gentlemen and a lady — The Culper Spy Ring,” Roe would go undetected as a spy during his 110-mile round trips to Manhattan due to being a tavern owner. While in the city, he would purchase supplies, providing him cover while he delivered spy messages written in code or invisible ink. He would receive the information from Robert Townsend and return it to Abraham Woodhull.

The Roe Tavern was moved half a mile from its original location in 1936 by the owner at the time, Wallace Irwin. Billadello said Irwin thought the state would turn Route 25A into a thruway when it acquired the roadway. The house needed to be moved in sections.

While Billadello always appreciated the tavern and its history, he never imagined he would buy the house one day when one of the previous owners, Tom Cooper, was selling it. He called Billadello, but with the home sitting on more than 7 acres of property, there was no way he could afford it due to the taxes. When the owner after Cooper put the house up for sale, now on 1.17 acres, Billadello went to look at the home that was starting to deteriorate. He decided to buy it, despite him and his family living in a newly-built house, and it took a few years before he, his wife and children could move in.

As for the people who didn’t understand why he would buy the house, he would say to them, “You see it now. I see what it’s going to look like in the future. It’s a diamond in the rough to me.”

While Billadello and his family stayed in their previous home a few more years before moving into the Roe Tavern, asbestos was removed from the pipes in the basement. A new kitchen was constructed, and an electrician and plumber updated the wiring and plumbing.

Soon after Billadello bought the tavern, Englebright asked him what he was going to do with it. He told the assemblyman that he may not fully be able to restore it, but he promised he would never sell it to a private buyer. Billadello said he always wanted it to be accessible to the public one day. 

Englebright said while the contract will soon be finalized, it will take a significant amount of time to move and renovate the tavern. Therefore a completion date is currently undetermined.

“A strategy will have to be worked out to choreograph all of the experts and the moving parts of this project,” Englebright said.

Renovating the structure will involve carpenters who have experience with historic buildings and moving the home will require considering what power lines are along the travel route, according to Englebright. How to avoid or navigate those lines will also need to be determined.

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. speaks at the 2019 Sandy Hook Promise Gala. Photo from Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office

By Donna Deedy

People are calling for reform after the recent onslaught of mass shootings that included an elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 young children and two teachers were gunned down in their classroom with an automatic assault rifle.

“We’re seeing an absolute epidemic and the loss and slaughter of innocence and it has to stop,” said New York State Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket). Corporate greed, he said, has mixed into a movement that has become very confused. “People are identifying with weapons.”

Englebright pointed out Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) response to the latest school tragedy. According to a June 6 press release, she “signed a landmark legislative package to immediately strengthen the state’s gun laws, close critical loopholes exposed by shooters in Buffalo and Uvalde and protect New Yorkers from the scourge of gun violence.”

What exactly can a person do to reverse the gun violence epidemic that is plaguing the nation?  

The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise has outlined a comprehensive response to that very question. Founded by some of the parents whose first graders were murdered in their Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the group has taken a holistic approach to the situation and they say they are leading out of love. Their programs combine community awareness and mental health research with effective prevention strategies, while separately advocating for sensible, bipartisan gun safety policies. 

“Take your heartache, your fear, your anger and sadness, and channel them into action,” said Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, co-founders and CEOs of Sandy Hook Promise, who each lost a son in the Newtown tragedy. “We must take action today and every day until this epidemic of violence ends.”

So far, more than 14 million people and 23,000 schools nationwide have participated in Sandy Hook Promise programs, according to their website, which has led to 115,000 anonymous tips and reportedly resulted in 321 confirmed lives saved with crisis interventions.

Here in Suffolk County, Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. (D) launched Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs initiative in 2018, his first year in office. 

“After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I made school safety a priority for the Sheriff’s Office,” Toulon said.

Over the last few years, county officers have trained more than 30,000 students, teachers and staff with Sandy Hook’s methods. Miller Place, East Islip, Central Islip, Lindenhurst and Bridgehampton are a few school districts that have participated in the program.

Toulon said he’s proud to have partnered with the Sandy Hook foundation and encourages more people to participate in its lifesaving movement. 

“Now, more than ever, programs like Sandy Hook Promise are needed as school threats are on the rise,” he said.

TBR News Media reached out to few school districts in our circulation area for comments on their programs. Through their public relations firm, Smithtown Central School District preferred not participate in the story but it posts position papers on mental health and social and emotional learning on the district’s website. Three Village said it is not affiliated with Sandy Hook Promise. We did not receive a response to follow-up questions about their programs before press deadlines. 

Sandy Hook Promise encourages anyone interested in pursuing community support for its programs to become a “promise leader” by registering on its website. 

Here’s a brief overview of Sandy Hook Promise programs:

There are four distinct programs developed by educators with expertise in curriculum development. All of it is accessible in person or online via Sandy Hook Promise’s Learning Center at no cost. Their award-winning programs include lesson plans, activities, games and discussion guides. Anyone who registers on the group’s website, www.sandyhookpromise.org, can access the charity’s free digital library that includes training sessions. The Start with Hello and Say Something programs both fall under the umbrella of the organization’s Know the Signs program. 

Start with Hello 

Start with Hello teaches children and youth how to minimize social isolation and empathize with others to create a more socially inclusive and connected culture. That lesson is explained in three steps: 1. See someone alone; 2. Reach out and help; 3. Start with Hello. 

Say Something

Experts say that people who are at risk of hurting themselves or others often show warning signs before they carry out an act of violence. Sandy Hook Promises trains middle school and high school students to spot these signs and do something about it. This program also follows a three-step approach: 1. Recognize the signs of someone at risk, especially on social media; 2. Act immediately and take it seriously; 3. Learn how to intervene by telling a trusted adult or by using the program’s anonymous reporting system. 

Say Something Anonymous Reporting System

The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System can be used when students see classmates who are at risk of harming themselves or others. It requires additional training for school district personnel and local law enforcement. It is reportedly the only anonymous reporting system in the U.S. that offers training along with a mobile app, a website and a hotline — exclusively for schools. 

The charity also runs its National Crisis Center that operates 24/7, 365 days a year. Experienced crisis counselors trained in suicide prevention, crisis management and mental health support respond to the tips. 

So far more than 120 school districts participate in this program, along with the states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina. A webform is available for schools and agencies interested in registering for access to this system. 

SAVE Promise Club

Students interested in starting a club or leading a committee within an existing club receive, at no cost, tools from Sandy Hook Promise, so they can plan activities that promote kindness and inclusiveness to instill the value of looking out for one another in their community. The club, called Students Against Violence Everywhere, is supported by a contract with U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe & Supportive Schools and can be accessed from the government’s website:  safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/resources. The initiative reinforces the key messages of the Start with Hello and Say Something programs.  

Gun safety policies

The mission of Sandy Hook Promise is to end school shootings and create a culture change that prevents violence and other harmful acts that hurt children. It advocates what it calls sensible, bipartisan gun safety policies to support that goal. They’ve created a sister organization, called an action fund, that works to pass legislation that advances school safety, mental health and gun violence prevention issues. 

“We believe in protecting the second amendment,” said Aimee Thunberg, Sandy Hook Promise’s media contact. “But we support policies that promote safe gun ownership to keep our children and communities safe.”

The group supports the bipartisan background check legislation that recently passed in the House of Representatives, but still needs Senate attention. The organization also supports extreme risk protection orders, or red-flag laws, that allows family and law enforcement to seek the court’s help to temporarily separate people in crisis from firearms. New York State’s red-flag law was implemented in August 2019 with roughly 160 weapons seized in Suffolk County, more than any other county in the state.  The organization also advocates bans on assault-style weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines to prevent more mass shootings.

Anyone who wants to, can get involved to help the Sandy Hook mission. In addition to programs for parents, students, teachers and other youth organizations, Sandy Hook Promise welcomes volunteers to help showcase their programs at community events to build better awareness. 

Otherwise, in response to the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Sandy Hook Promise has compiled a list of very specific things people can do to help end gun violence. It’s available at www.sandyhookpromise.org/blog/gun-violence/what-you-can-do-right-now-to-help-end-gun-violence. 

“Our key message is that gun violence is preventable, and we have actions that every individual can take in their family, community, schools and with politicians,” said Nicole Hockley in a recent blog post.  “Don’t back away. Be part of the solution.”

TBR News Media asks readers who have participated in Sandy Hook Promise programs to email us at [email protected] and let us know about your experience.

State and local elected officials joined Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine at the Stony Brook Train Station June 7. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the late morning hours of June 7, people gathered at the Stony Brook train station but not to board a train. They were there to call out the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Long Island Rail Road for not getting on board with modernizing the Port Jefferson Branch line.

Steve Englebright at podium. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) asked state and local officials to join him at a press conference at the station to urge the MTA and the LIRR to extend electrification on the Port Jefferson Branch. In addition to the elected officials in attendance, civic, chamber, business and environmental leaders were also on hand to show their support.

Many in attendance have vocalized the need for years, including during a December 2019 press conference at the train station. However, plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

East of Huntington the 24 miles or so of railroad tracks are not electrified, and the LIRR uses dual-mode trains that can switch from electric to diesel.

Those in attendance addressed concerns such as air pollution from the diesel trains and traffic congestion from residents driving south to take trains on the Ronkonkoma Branch. They also said electrification would benefit the area, including efficient experiences for passengers, more business drawn to the area, increased enrollment at Stony Brook University and real estate values increasing. 

Romaine said the Port Jeff Branch was the busiest line of the LIRR. He called diesel fuel “some of the most polluting fuel that we have.” He added that Suffolk County and Brookhaven “have been shortchanged by the MTA.”

He said that with the passage of President Joe Biden’s (D) $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill and more than $10 billion estimated to go to the MTA, it was time for Suffolk County residents to see improvements on the railroad

“That is supposed to help rebuild our infrastructure,” the supervisor said. “We’re asking for a 20th-century technology — electrification. Diesel is a 19th-century technology. We haven’t even asked for 21st-century technology.”

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) also called for infrastructure money to be spent in the area. Regarding North Shore residents traveling to stations along the Ronkonkoma Branch, he said everyone needed to come together to ensure that those in the area could drive to a nearby station without changing trains to get to New York City. He added with a feasibility study that was started in the 1980s, the time had come for change.

“We need to make sure that we’re here for the commuters,” Mattera said. “Mass transit is so important for our future, and MTA shortchanges us all the time.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said when the Climate Leadership and Community Protection legislation was passed on the state level in 2019, it included the call for electrification across all sectors — transportation, residential, commercial and more. He said the same year the legislation passed, the MTA purchased 55 diesel engines.

“Maybe they haven’t figured it out yet but diesels are, as the supervisor indicated, antique technology, and we need to move toward technology that doesn’t pollute the air,” Englebright said.

State Sen. Mario Mattera. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) said that the diesel engines not only are harmful to air quality, but also when they arrive at a station the vibration can be felt in nearby neighborhoods. Kornreich said there are people in Port Jefferson Station who “have to listen to the sound of diesel throbbing all night.”

Mitch Pally, CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute and a former MTA board member, called on the state Climate Action Council to mandate the MTA to have responsibility in electrifying train lines across Long Island.

“Only in that way will the mass transit system that we have not only transport our people, but do it in an environmentally sensitive manner,” Pally said.

Anthony Figliola, who is running in the Republican primary for Congressional District 1, said after the press conference he was encouraged by the bipartisan support. He added that Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) is also supportive of electrification.

Figliola and Charlie Lefkowitz, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, were part of the North Shore Business Alliance formed in 2017 that worked on a feasibility study for electrification of the branch.  The MTA included $4 million in their five-year 2015-19 capital plan to pay for a feasibility study on electrification of the Port Jefferson Branch

Figliola said if elected to Congress he will be committed “to helping fund this critical economic development and environmental project.”

“The next step is for the MTA to complete the study,” he said. “My hope is the MTA will think twice before spending any additional dollars on more diesel trains.”

Maria Hoffman, above center, receives a proclamation from the Town of Brookhaven from Supervisor Ed Romaine, left, and Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich at the Three Village Community Trust gala last year. Below, Maria spending time on the water. Photo by Patricia Paladines

The Three Village community is mourning the passing of Maria Hoffman, who was chief of staff to New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright for nearly three decades.

Maria Hoffman enjoys some time on the water. Photo from George Hoffman

According to her husband, George Hoffman, the Setauket resident died April 29 of metastatic breast cancer, which she bravely battled on and off since being first diagnosed in 2010.

Maria and George married in 2009 in Frank Melville Memorial Park. It was the second marriage for both. “When Maria and I married, I moved to Setauket from the South Shore,” he said. “She was Assemblyman Englebright’s chief of staff and had an extensive network of friends and colleagues. She loved the Three Village community and was involved with every aspect of it. I always tell people that she gave me an express ticket to the front of the line with all of the leaders of the Three Village community.” 

In a November 2019 Village Times Herald article, Maria shared advice for a successful relationship: “We also make time for things that are important, whether it’s walking or in the summertime boating — being on a sailboat. We make time to balance all the busyness.”

Born on Oct. 14, 1958, Maria was a 40-year resident of the Three Village community. A graduate of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, where she received a Human Ecology degree, Maria was familiar with busyness. In addition to being Englebright’s chief of staff, she was also an avid photographer of landscapes and wildlife, a writer, beekeeper, birder, sailor, naturalist, a co-founder of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and a lover of wolves, whales, elephants and bees.

She was an illustrator of field guides on seashores, wetlands and woodlands. In a collaborative effort with Stony Brook University’s Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences, her illustrations can be seen in “A Field Guide to Long Island’s Woodlands,” “A Field Guide to Long Island’s Freshwater Wetlands” and “A Field Guide to Long Island’s Seashore.”

Maria was also a wonderful, helpful friend and frequent contributor to The Village Times Herald. Whenever a reporter was unavailable to cover a local event that she attended, she would always be willing to send in her own photos. Her nature photography also appeared in the Arts & Lifestyle section of TBR News Media papers.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, left, and Maria Hoffman, center. Photo by Patricia Paladines

Colleagues and friends honor Maria

Englebright and Maria’s working relationship goes back to when he was director of the Museum of Long Island Natural Sciences in the 1960s. He secured a state grant to develop a water resources curriculum for Long Island schools, he said, and Maria interviewed for a position to help develop the curriculum. Englebright said she was a standout due to her photography, illustrating and writing skills. Once the project was completed Maria continued to work with the museum and Englebright. For the museum, she illustrated public education pamphlets, booklets and newsletters and also would write.

“I had the great, good fortune of being able to hire her, and I was able to retain her,” he said. “She was extraordinarily productive in public service in the preelected office capacity, too.”

Maria continued to work with Englebright when he became county legislator and then assemblyman, and he said even though she wasn’t originally from the Three Village area she made a point to learn about the community when he was running for legislator.

“She began to realize what a wonderful part of Long Island we live in, and she really enjoyed learning about the legislative reach of the office, and it opened a new vista of capability of serving,” he said.

Englebright added that Maria’s skills were based “on how she cared for everyone she met.” He said he will miss how genuine she was, and that many related to her which enhanced everything his office was involved in.

“It’s not possible to replace her,” he said. “Certainly, we can continue to do the work that she invested so much of her life into, as long as we remember and honor the work that she has done.” 

Laurie Vetere, chair of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, described Maria as “an integral and founding member” of the task force, along with George.

“She loved taking pictures of the harbor and its marine life and waterfowl which were compiled into our annual calendar that we gave as a thank-you to our donors,” she said. “Her photography was stunning. She also loved going out on the water at daybreak to do the water testing that we do for Save the Sound, and she would spend hours the night before calibrating the scientific equipment that we utilized. She was one of our most ardent volunteers and she was an activist who lived her life trying to protect the environment both locally and around the world.”

In November, Three Village Community Trust honored Maria at its annual Fall Fundraising Gala at the Old Field Club. TVCT recognized her contributions as an artist, photographer and naturalist, and called her “everybody’s best friend.”

TVCT president Herb Mones said Maria touched countless people during her lifetime

“It was heartwarming to see so many people come together on that evening to honor Maria,” Mones said of the gala. “It was a who’s who of elected officials, community leaders, friends and neighbors that praised Maria as a unique figure in guiding, directing and helping in ‘all things Three Villages.’ Maria never wanted the spotlight on herself — but, thankfully on that night, Maria lit up the room. She was involved in everything and anything that touched our community — historical preservation, open space protection, environmental issues. There was no issue too large or small that Maria wasn’t part of — and always with a smile on her face. Her involvement was done with a quiet style and grace, and while her voice was soft and light — her influence was great. Anyone who enjoys West Meadow Beach, the Greenway, the cultural, historical and art institutions in the area — they all need to give thanks to Maria’s legacy.”

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich also commented on Maria’s influence on the community. 

“She was a beautiful and gentle person, humble and kind and wise and funny, and her life touched so many in the community who were lucky enough to know her,” he said. “She gathered beauty through her eyes and through the lens of her camera, and shared kindness and compassion to everyone she met. Although she has taken her last breath in this world, her warmth remains. Goodbye, Maria — you are loved, and you will be missed.”

Patricia Paladines, naturalist and environmentalist, said sometimes, while Maria was waiting for treatment at Sloan Kettering, she would text her photos of fish swimming around the waiting room fish tank. Paladines described her as “a beautiful sprite, friend to all.”

Photo by Robert Reuter

She said she had texted Maria after the TVCT gala: “Thank you for all you have preserved in this community because you were sensitive to its beauty and historical importance. Sleep well dear friend knowing you are loved and appreciated by so many.” 

“I repeat now, ‘Sleep well dear friend knowing you are loved and appreciated by so many.’” 

Paladines’ husband, Carl Safina, author and environmentalist, also remembered Maria fondly.

“In the forty-plus years that I knew Maria, she was always devoted to helping other people do their best work in the world,” he said. “She never wanted the credit that was due her. But a lot of good work by many people would not have been as good if Maria hadn’t laid the foundation and built the frame.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn remembered Maria for her community as well as worldly contributions.

“In spirit, Maria was a photographer, who intently focused on capturing the essence of a moment while ensuring her presence wasn’t a distraction from it,” she said. “In life, Maria was a humble leader who embraced the approach she used behind the camera throughout her professional career to serve her neighbors and improve our community. Maria’s compassion for all creatures from the bees, which she tended, to the advocacy for the protection of elephants and elimination of big game hunting in Africa. She approached all things with a quiet tenacity and gentle hand. Maria will leave a legacy of friendship and generosity that will be cherished by all those whose lives she touched.”

An outdoor gathering for Maria’s friends and colleagues is being planned for Saturday, May 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Three Village Community Trust grounds at The Bruce House, 148 Main St., Setauket. Attendees are welcome to share their stories about Maria.

This week, TBR News Media sat down with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) for an exclusive interview to discuss the life and legacy of the late Suffolk County Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma), a former police officer who served in the Legislature from 2009 until he died at age 75 in 2020.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photo from Englebright’s Facebook page

Reflecting upon his memory of Muratore, Englebright said, “I found him to be very straightforward and honorable, a person whose door was always open, who was willing to listen. We had a warm and cordial professional relationship that was based upon our respect for public service. I came to regard him very highly and he is much missed. He was a very positive part of the world of local governance.”

Addressing Muratore’s personable style of governing, Englebright believes Suffolk residents have benefited from the example left behind by Muratore. “He came across as sincere,” the assemblyman said, adding, “He made people feel they were being listened to, and he had a personal interest in what they had to say. I think it was all authentic, I think he was an authentically good person. For someone with that profile to be in public office was a double benefit for the community because they had someone who they could trust.”

Englebright additionally acknowledged the moral foundation which guided Muratore. The assemblyman believes residents can learn from this example. “I think that he is remembered for being a part of a vibrant community and that leadership takes its form sometimes in subtle ways,” Englebright said, adding, “He was not a flamboyant man, but he left an indelible impression because he was a genuinely good man. I think that’s the lesson: That goodness in the way you react to and interact with others can translate into an awful lot of good for the community if you care really about it, and he obviously did.”

For our full coverage of the park renaming event, click here.

Industrial dredging vessels such as this were used to remove sand from the Belle Terre coastline, wiping out large sections of territory. This drove residents of the area to incorporate as a village in 1931. File photo from Pixabay

Nearly six decades ago, the residents of Port Jefferson made a pivotal decision: to incorporate as a village.

On a snowy day Dec. 7, 1962, villagers voted 689-361 in favor of incorporation. After court challenges, the vote was made official in April 1963.

Philip Griffith, co-editor of Port Jefferson Historical Society’s newsletter, said the incorporation of Port Jeff had been under discussion as early as 1960.

“At that time, Port Jefferson was part of the Town of Brookhaven,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “They were concerned that things happening in Brookhaven were being done independently of the residents of Port Jefferson. A lot of people were starting to feel, ‘Why don’t we incorporate as Belle Terre had done.’ Then we can make our own decisions, we can raise our own money through taxation and we can use those tax monies locally.” He added, “Instead of relying on representatives of the Town of Brookhaven, we would have our own elected representatives, all of whom would be residents of the village.”

While there were many proponents of incorporation, Griffith said there were also persuasive arguments made in opposition: “The main arguments against were people having a fear of leaving Brookhaven and not having the ability to raise sufficient finances to carry a village.” He added that opponents of incorporation were mainly driven by fear: “Fear of something that’s new, fear of change, fear of losing the umbrella of Brookhaven — and the fear of going on out your own.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photo from Englebright’s Facebook page

Legacy of Belle Terre

This week, TBR News Media sat down with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who shared his perspective of the legacy of incorporation in Port Jefferson and beyond. 

One of the first village incorporations in the area was Belle Terre, a coastal community preyed upon by industrial dredgers. In the early 1920s, hydraulic sand miners dredged large swaths of Belle Terre’s coastline to support the growing concrete industry which helped in the expansion of New York City.

“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island,” Englebright said. “It was very threatening to the people who had homes and dreams of continuing to live in those homes and pass those homes on to their children. They lived in fear of having the sandy grounds under their homes sandblasted away.”

“The sand had to come from somewhere and it came in the 1920s and ’30s mostly from the North Shore of Long Island.” — Steve Englebright

Endangered by the sand miners right in their backyards, the residents of Belle Terre were advised to incorporate. 

“The relationship with the town had become fraught because the town was basically trading against the best interests of the people who lived where the resources were extractable,” the assemblyman said. “It was clear that sand dredging was a real threat to the quality of life for these North Shore communities.” He added, “It wasn’t just Brookhaven that was trading against the best interests of the North Shore residents, but all of the towns were doing this.”

After its successful incorporation in 1931, mining in Belle Terre had stopped altogether. 

The incorporation movement 

Port Jefferson accommodated a prosperous shipbuilding industry from the 1790s until the 1920s. After it wound down, the residents of the area were left with little choice but to adapt to the changing circumstances. 

With the construction of a new power plant between 1948 and 1960, villagers were motivated to incorporate to draw from this as a revenue stream. “They said if they incorporated as a village, they would be able to draw some revenue from that industrial facility and it would only be fair because they were hosting that facility and it served all of the town,” Englebright said. “They rationalized that it would be reasonable to draw the tax benefits from the imposition of such a heavily industrialized facility because it served for improving the quality of life for the village, most particularly the school district.”

This is the first story of a series on the incorporation of the Village of Port Jefferson. If you would like to contribute to this continuing series, please email [email protected]. 

Correction: In the original version of this story, it was reported: “The first village incorporation in the area was Belle Terre.” This statement is historically incorrect as Old Field had incorporated in 1927, four years before the incorporation of Belle Terre in 1931.

By Heidi Sutton

This past Saturday, members of the community gathered at St. George’s Manor Cemetery in Setauket to pay tribute to Judge Selah Strong with the unveiling of a commemorative graveside plaque. Margo Arceri, owner of Tri-Spy Tours, dedicated the bronze marker which honors the judge’s contributions to the local community, 205 years after his death.

“Strong was one of the first patriots in the community. He was best friends with Culper Spy Caleb Brewster … During the  Battle of Long Island, he was arrested by the British for assisting the Continental Army. After the war, he had a long and illustrious career in public service. The Strong family wanted him to be recognized for his efforts during the Revolutionary War and after. It was a great honor to place the marker for them,” said Arceri after the ceremony. “This is an important moment in our community’s history and for the Strong family.”

The event was attended by representatives of the Three Village Historical Society including President Steve Healy, Director of Education Donna Smith and historian Beverly C. Tyler; members of the Anna Smith Strong chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution; and several descendants of Selah Strong. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, and Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara M. Russell were also in attendance.

Selah Strong is buried in a family plot next to his first wife, Anna Smith Strong, the only female member of George Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, known for her famed clothesline.

“It’s always been a bit of a shame that not too many people payed attention to Selah because they were so interested in Anna and her story, but actually he did an awful lot,” said John (Jack) Temple Strong Jr., Selah Strong’s great-great-great grandson, who had the honor of unveiling the plaque.

Supervisor Romaine agreed. “Born on Christmas Day, 1737, died on the Fourth of July, 1815, he packed into his life things … we see of a man who was dedicated to his community, someone that at the tender age of 26 was elected Town Trustee and would wind up spending 35 years in office, most of them, certainly from 1780 on, as President of the Trustees, which is the equivalent of Supervisor,” he said.

Selah Strong also served as Suffolk County Treasurer, judge for the Court of Common Pleas, and was a New York State Senator for four years. “This is a man who served his community … I am here to pay my respects to someone that paved the way because as we look around today, a lot of what we have over the last 200 years would not be here if not for men of this caliber,” added Supervisor Romaine.

“When we think about patriotism we think about Selah Strong, Anna Smith Strong and the personal sacrifice, the amount of risks that they took for their country — true patriots,” said Raymond Brewster Strong III, Selah Strong’s 6th generation grandson who made the trip from Houston, Texas, to attend the ceremony. “[George] Washington’s motto was ‘deeds, not words’ and when you think about Selah Strong’s [accomplishments], those are true deeds, not words.”

“The Strong family continues as tradition bearers, and Tri-Spy Tours and the Three Village Historical Society are also important parts of passing to the next generation a sense of place and a sense of continuum,” said Assemblyman Englebright. “I am just honored to be here to bear witness to this wonderful occasion. This is altogether a respectful moment that should be remembered, as Selah Strong should be remembered.”

*Editors note — St. George’s Manor Cemetery is a private cemetery still owned by the Strong family.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

The Three Village Chamber of Commerce welcomed Koeppel Dental Group (A Dental 365 Company), Druthers Coffee and Jersey Mike’s Subs to the community with a celebratory ribbon cutting on April 5. All three businesses are located in Stony Brook Square at 1113 North Country Road in Stony Brook. 

The event was attended by New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Kim Bryant from Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn’s office,  Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich and members of the chamber. 

“The Three Village Chamber of Commerce is working to beat back the economic impact of COVID-19 by helping new businesses open and existing businesses safely reopen. As someone who knows just how difficult it is to start a small business, I applaud the entrepreneurs behind Druthers Coffee, Koeppel Dental Group, and Jersey Mike’s Subs for opening their doors here in Three Village,” said Councilman Kornreich in a statement. 

“Main Street America’s Small Business Day took place on April 13, and I’m optimistic that we will see more growth and opportunity across the First Council District,” he added.

Photo from Pixabay

By Leah Chiappino

News of the COVID-19 vaccine was met with immense excitement and demand after the pandemic ravaged for almost a year with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. 

Excitement stifled among New Yorkers, many say, as the distribution of the vaccine supply in New York state has been filled with supply issues, appointment cancellations and an online portal that is difficult to navigate.

Distribution began with health care workers in December (Phase 1a) and on Jan. 11 (Phase 1b) expanded to other frontline workers such as teachers and police officers, along with anyone ages 65 and older. 

This seems to have been when the demand surged out of control. Long Islanders have been trying to access the portal to make an appointment only to find available appointments to be both miles and months away, leaving residents to consistently call the New York State hotline, hoping for a cancelation and appointment to open up — a process especially challenging for elderly residents. As of Feb. 8, the state has received 2,808,825 vaccinations and administered 2,228,567. On Long Island, 82% of the vaccine doses distributed have been used. There are about 7 million eligible residents throughout the state. 

On Feb. 15, those with certain comorbidities and underlying conditions will be eligible to sign up for appointments.

“The entirety of our week seven allocation was delivered to providers yesterday and already New York has administered 90% of its first doses while prioritizing fairness and equity,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. “Week after week we exhaust our vaccine supply and are basically left waiting for the next week’s delivery. This is not unique to New York. It’s happening in states across the nation because the previous administration grossly mismanaged and politicized the vaccine distribution process from the beginning by not ordering enough vaccines from manufacturers. With new leadership in Washington, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight but we must manage our expectations. Production of the vaccine alone will take six to nine months. In the meantime, we will continue to distribute the supply we do get quickly and fairly as we have from the start.”

To try to find out the best way to go forward, TBR News Media spoke with a bipartisan group of local elected officials to ask what we can hope for in the future, where they think the biggest problems are in the distribution chain and whether or not they have received the vaccine.

File photo by Kevin Redding

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) 

“We need to make it easier, not harder, for New Yorkers to get the coronavirus vaccine who want it,” Zeldin said in a statement. “New York’s rollout has been an unmitigated disaster: Unused coronavirus vaccines sitting in freezers for weeks, doses ending up in the trash, local health departments overwhelmed with vaccine demand, thousands of appointments canceled, New Yorkers showing up to appointments only to be turned away and more. While these drug companies need to continue ramping up the production and distribution of vaccines, the state needs to ramp up its strategy, rules and communications.”

“While I believe vaccine distribution should be prioritized to those who need it most — the elderly, frontline workers and more — as soon as the doctors say it’s my turn, I won’t hesitate to get it.”

When asked about the state health department lacking vaccine supply from the federal government he said, “Drug companies need to continue ramping up production and distribution, but when these vaccines get to states around the country, they need to be put into people’s arms effectively and efficiently, not thrown in the trash.”  


File photo of Jane Bonner

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point)

Bonner said that the issue with the distribution is at the federal level. “President Biden [D] said throughout the entire campaign that he had a plan [for vaccine rollout] and clearly he doesn’t,” she said. “Never make campaign promises that you can’t keep.”

Bonner has been working with her elderly constituents to try and guide them to the New York State website, or to the hotline.

“Seniors have lost so much throughout this pandemic,” she said. “They really need to be able to socialize and go out again. We need to work together for our seniors, and to get the schools and businesses open.”

Bonner has not yet received the vaccine, as she wants elderly people to receive it before she does.


File photo by Kevin Redding

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai)

Anker has sent letters to Cuomo, as well as U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) seeking answers for the failures in the vaccine rollout.

In a letter to the governor dated Jan. 11, Anker conveyed the frustrations of senior citizens and  essential workers trying to get appointments immediately after the  Phase 1b distribution, only to find out they were already booked

“As the Suffolk County chairwoman of both the health and seniors committees, I am writing to acknowledge my frustration and concerns regarding the disbursement of the COVID-19 vaccine in the county,” she wrote. “With my district having one of the largest senior populations in Suffolk County, I offer the suggestion of providing accessible locations, including community on-site availability, to our senior communities who are more at risk of COVID-19. While I appreciate the many Suffolk County staff members doing their best to facilitate the vaccination process and the patience and cooperation of the residents eagerly awaiting their turn in getting inoculated, I ask that a more cohesive process be implemented as soon as possible as we move forward in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Anker wrote to Cuomo again Feb. 3. “Since the county is not able to provide vaccinations to our senior citizens under New York State executive order 202.91, it would be helpful to have a comprehensive list that outlines all locations, including pharmacies and other vaccination sites,” she said. “Without this information, we as elected officials cannot provide our constituents, in particular our senior citizens who may not have the ability to register online, with accurate information and guidance about how and where to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Anker also stated in the letter the Suffolk County Disabilities Advisory Board advised her that accommodations were not being made for disabled people at state-run vaccination sites. For instance, the New York State COVID-19 vaccine form, which patients are required to fill out before receiving the vaccine, does not have a braille version nor is it compatible with screen reading software for the blind. Anker also reached out to Schumer and Gillibrand on Feb. 3. expressing concern with the limited federal supply of the vaccine being distributed to the county.

“Currently, the vaccinations that are available are a mere fraction of what our constituents need, and the current climate is getting more desperate. Increasing vaccinations are not only the best way to combat the pandemic, but paramount to keeping our large population of seniors and others healthy,” the letter read.

“I say I’m like a dog with a bone,” Anker said. “I will not let this go until I’m assured that this process is fixed. I don’t want to wait a week. I don’t want to wait a month. I know that we may not have the vaccines right now, I understand that,but while we’re waiting fix the process.”

She said she has been working with local pharmacies to try and get them a supply of vaccines, as well as local senior communities to figure out their vaccination plans.

Anker has not yet received the vaccine but said that she “probably will” once she is eligible.


Leg. Nick Caracappa

County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden)

“I believe I share the same view as many residents of Suffolk County in that the initial rollout of the vaccine was a disaster, with the short supply and limited venues of distribution,” he said in a statement. “Recently, this office has aligned with other county, town and state officials in demanding that the governor stops ignoring the needs of Suffolk County. Additionally, I’d love to see the New York State health commissioner and local government agencies collaborate to expedite supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to our frontline workers, essential workers and vulnerable senior citizens.”

“The time is now to get our residents a sufficient supply of the vaccine to combat this deadly virus once and for all,” he added. “I encourage all those who are eligible for the vaccine to sign up as quickly as possible. Although I haven’t received the vaccine to date, I intend on doing so once I qualify in accordance with New York State guidance.”

When asked to expand on what he meant by the governor “ignoring the needs of Suffolk County,” as well as how specifically the state health department and local governments could collaborate, he said, “The governor should have sent more doses to Suffolk County and more specifically to Brookhaven Town. County and town agencies have the venues available to provide ample locations to receive these much-needed vaccinations and easing the overcrowding we are experiencing at the limited locations currently available. We should work collectively with the state, county and town to arrange for these vaccines to be expedited and administered to those who need them. We all knew this vaccine was coming but the preparation to distribute was completely mishandled.”


Steve Englebright

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket)

“New York’s vaccination rollout and its online system for determining eligibility and booking appointments has resulted in a great deal of anger and frustration for residents anxious to get vaccines for their parents or themselves,” Englebright said in a statement. “We need to have a simple, more user-friendly system for signing up online for  vaccines.  A universal preregistration system where eligibility can be approved, and appointments allotted as doses arrive would save us all a lot of time and angst.”

Although he has yet to be vaccinated, he knows the importance of getting it to Long Island seniors. 

“It makes little sense for residents of retirement communities to make appointments and travel separately to mass vaccination centers when medical teams can bring vaccines to them. For seniors who have their homes in the community and, soon, residents with comorbidities, there should be pop-up vaccine centers run by hospitals or the County Department of Health at local libraries and senior citizen centers. Elected officials on the state, county and town levels could help get the word out to their local communities.”


Photo from Kara Hahn

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket)

Hahn shared constituents frustrations regarding the New York State online registration system and expressed regret that she is limited in what she can do to reform it as a county legislator. She called the process of seniors trying again and again to get an appointment without success as “dehumanizing.”

“I feel their pain,” she said.

Hahn has been working with the county to establish distribution locations within the community for when supply is more abundant.

She has not received the vaccine, as she is not yet eligible but said she will when she is.


Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R)

Wehrheim said that he signed a letter to the governor Jan. 14, in coordination with the Suffolk County Supervisors Association asking that essential town workers be vaccinated. He said that a lot of town workers were exposed to COVID-19 in recent weeks and he was concerned, but if they were still quarantined when the storm hit, town workers would still be quarantined.

“The majority of our employees still are not included in any vaccine schedule as of today, endangering our abilities to provide essential services like senior meal delivery, animal shelter staffing, duties of the town clerk and the functions of our building departments,” the letter read. “Should these workers be included in a phase in the near future … allow us to help the process by setting up vaccination sites in each of our towns and by including municipal workers in the next phase of vaccine rollout to ensure that our essential services are not disrupted.”

Wehrheim said that he had not yet heard back from the governor. He also has not personally received the vaccine.

Smithtown Town spokeswoman, Nicole Garguilo, said the town has received approval from the county to use Nesconset and Branch Brook elementary schools as vaccine distribution sites as supply becomes more widely available. “If the county doesn’t get the number of vaccines from the state that they require, they’re not going to greenlight any other vaccine distribution sites,” she said.

Another roadblock is the fact the site needs to be staffed with certified vaccinators, a process that takes four-to-six weeks. While the site must be supervised by a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or a licensed physician, pharmacists, midwives, EMTs, medical students, podiatrists, dentists, dental hygienists and students in medical studies programs can get certified to give the vaccine, pursuant to New York State guidelines.

Garguilo said the town is working on partnering with a private pharmacy or hospital in order to streamline the vaccine process. The town’s priority would be to get vaccinations for teachers, as well as seniors in assisted living communities who live on a fixed income and are generally not technically savvy.

“That would make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time,” she said. You would give the schools everything they need to get back to in-person learning and you would help the people who have those who are in that high-riskcategory that have suffered the most through this pandemic,” she said. Ideally, they would have “targeted vaccine weeks” in which they would focus on vaccinating the schools, and the senior population, one at a time.


Mario Mattera. File photo

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James)

Mattera said the “whole” problem with the vaccine distribution is a lack of federal supply being delivered to the state. “Every CVS, every Walgreens, every pharmacy, just like with the flu shot, could go and get the supplies and give it, our residents could go right around the corner from their home to go and make this easy … the problem is the federal government releasing as many [vaccines] as they can.”

When asked what he thinks the realistic timeline for the vaccine to be widely available is, Mattera said, “I really wish I could answer that. If I had the crystal ball, I guess I would be a hero. I just really feel the more companies that the FDA approves … there’s going to be more that’s going to be distributed out there.”

He is specifically optimistic for the Johnston & Johnson vaccine, which will be administered in a single dose. He also said that he has not personally received the vaccine, as he “wants everyone else to go” first. He emphasized the importance of following social distancing measures and wearing a mask to continue to curb the spread of the virus.


File photo

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga)

Trotta said the state should have granted eligibility to a smaller population, such as those 85 years old and over, studied the backlog, and then opened it up to other groups such as teachers.  Cuomo “created the panic,” he said. Trotta added the state was “giving people the hope that they’re going to get [the vaccine], and in doing so “clogged the system up.”

“Anybody with common sense would never do that,” he said.

Trotta has not yet received the vaccine because he is not yet eligible, but he was able to secure his parents an appointment at Jones Beach after spending hours on the computer attempting to secure one.

“Everyone was very nice,” he said. “The National Guard’s running it. It went very smoothly, and it could have all been like that if they would have just opened it up slower.”


Steve Stern. Photo from Stern’s office

State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) 

“The COVID-19 vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel and our best hope for recovery from the pandemic for our health standpoint and for our economic recovery,” Stern said in a statement. “I share the frustration that my neighbors feel about the scarcity of vaccines, difficulty securing appointments and a hard-to-navigate system. New York has been receiving 250,000 vaccines a week for the entire state, which has 19 million residents, seven million of whom are eligible under current CDC guidelines. This is clearly inadequate and totally unacceptable. Our new administration in Washington is actively working to procure and produce more vaccines, vials, syringes and to develop logistical support to enable the states to vaccinate at least 150 million Americans by the end of March. Our office has been working with our partners in state government to ensure that we receive our fair share of vaccines and that residents are kept informed about how they are vaccinated when they are eligible. I have not received the COVID vaccine and like my neighbors, will wait until it is my turn. It is in all of our interests to have as many of our neighbors vaccinated as soon as possible to bring an end to the pandemic.”


File photo

County Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills)

“Suffolk County is ready with the infrastructure and personnel necessary to help vaccinate the public,” she said in statement. “The problem we’re facing now is that we don’t have enough vaccines. Recognizing that demand is clearly outpacing supply, I will continue to advocate for increased supply from the state and federal governments so we can reach our goal of vaccinating 75% of our eligible residents as soon as possible.”

Berland said she is “neither eligible for, nor has she received, the vaccine.”




File photo by Alex Petroski

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport)

“What we’ve seen so far has been problematic,” Gaughran said. “The biggest issue is twofold: One is the lack of supply coming out from Washington, and what I think made it even worse was that the state was told it was going to get a supply that it never got; and two, the rollout itself, including at the state level, has been problematic.”

He acknowledged that there have been issues with the state website crashing, and appointments being made when there was a lack of supply. 

“It’s been a mess, but I believe it’s going to get significantly better,” he said “I think you’re going to see an addition to the large state-run sites, large county-run sites. Eventually it will be distributed even more on a community-by-community basis.” He is hopeful that the senior population can be vaccinated within “the next month or so.”

Gaughran added he has pushed for additional community pop-up distribution sites, as well as a plan to vaccinate seniors that are “shuttered in their homes.” He also acknowledged seniors are having difficulty navigating the vaccine website and there needs to be a solution to make it more accessible. He said that he worries that once the vaccine becomes more widely available, people are going to be making cancelations to try and get an earlier appointment which could create a “bureaucratic nightmare,” and feels as though there needs to be a system in place to prevent that from happening.  

The state senator said that he has not yet received the vaccine, as he is not a member of any occupational group that is eligible, nor is he over 65. 

“I’m waiting for millions of other people to get the vaccine before it’s my turn,” he said. “But once it is, I’m going to sign up.”

File photo

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) 

Spencer said that his office has been getting calls from seniors, who are having trouble getting on the phone, or going on the computer to make an appointment. 

“For seniors that may be less tech savvy, to go online and make the appointment is not so easy for them,” he said. “My wife was able to do it for her parents, but she had to do it, they would never have been able to do it. Sometimes the website is down, sometimes the hotline is down, so I think that that’s probably one of the biggest things is expanding that infrastructure once you’re actually doing the vaccines. I think this is almost as much as an IT job as it is a health department job.”

Spencer stressed the importance of making sure the vaccine is going into underserved areas, not only in the United States but around the world. 

“I believe there’s a lot of nationalism that’s going on right now. People are like, ‘We’ve got to get enough vaccines for people in our country,’ and I can understand that, but there’s definitely been some reports that if we don’t vaccinate in a lot of our third-world countries, it will become  not only a humanitarian crisis, but it’s an economic crisis too.”

Spencer is focused on ensuring that vaccines get to communities of color hard hit by the pandemic. 

“If we don’t get enough vaccinations in areas where there are Hispanic and African American populations, where they may be in close quarters there’s less opportunity for social distancing, we’re not going to be able to control the virus as effectively,” he said. He added that he is advocating to place vaccine sites in communities like Brentwood, Huntington Station, Central Islip and Gordon Heights that are walkable.

Spencer has not yet received the vaccine but will do so once he has “the opportunity.”