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Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright

Laura Ahearn. Photo from campaign

Following tallies of absentee ballots that were completed yesterday by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Laura Ahearn and Laura Jens-Smith both won their Democractic primaries.

Ahearn, a crime-victim advocate, will run in November against Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) for the seat being vacated by longtime New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who announced he is retiring after the end of this year.

The executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victim’s Center, defeated Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Southampton Town Board member Tommy John Schiavoni, Suffolk Community College student Skyler Johnson and nurse Nora Higgins.

“I would like to thank my voters for their support, and the other participants in this race for their hard work and determination to advance our shared values,” Ahearn said in a statement. “I look forward to the election in November, where everyone involved in this primary effort can work together and send a forward-thinking, pro-choice woman to represent this seat in Albany for the first time in its history.”

In a post on her candidacy Facebook page, Cartright, who received the second-most number of votes, conceded the race and thanked voters for their support. 

“The results are in and the Democratic candidate chosen is not the one we hoped for … my fight for our community is outside the bounds of any one election,” she said. “Our efforts will not cease. We will be steadfast until every goal is achieved. I will continue to fight for each of you as a Brookhaven councilwoman.”

Schiavoni, a Southampton town councilman, received the third-most number of votes.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to seek such an office and offer my skills and experience to the people of senate district 1,” he said. “Our democracy survives only with effort and is dependent upon the participation of thoughtful men and women voting, caring and resisting the complacency that leaves the responsibility of governing to others.”

Johnson, a young Mount Sinai resident and recent graduate of Suffolk County Community College, gained 12 percent of the total votes.

“I don’t consider this a loss,” he said in a statement. “I was able to set the stage for a number of issues in this primary election.”

Jens-Smith will be vying for the Second District State Assembly seat being vacated by Palumbo, she will face Republican challenger Jodi Giglio. She won by over 50 percent of the votes against her opponent, Sound Beach resident Will Schleisner.

“I want to thank the people of the Second district who have humbled me with their support, this pandemic election hasn’t been easy—but folks rose to the occasion, and turned out in huge numbers…now we set our sights toward November,” she said in a statement.

On his campaign Facebook, Schleisner congratulated Jens-Smith and said he will join the campaign of Steve Polgar to compete for Assembly District 3.

New York State Senator – 1st District (Democratic)

Laura Ahearn – 34% – 2,360 in person votes – absentee ballot 6,059 – total votes 8,419 

Valerie Cartright – 27% – 2,120 in person votes – absentee ballot 4,442 – total votes 6,562

Thomas Schiavoni – 24% – 1,812 in person votes – absentee ballot 4,006 – total votes 5818 

Skyler Johnson – 12% – 945 in person votes – absentee ballot 1,882 – total votes 2,827 

Nora Higgins – 4% – 356 in person votes – absentee votes 596 – total votes 952

New York State Assembly – 2nd District (Democratic)

Laura M. Jens-Smith – 77.99% – 1,772 in person votes – absentee ballots 4,645 votes – total votes 6,147

William Schleisner – 22.01% – 500 in person votes – absentee ballots – 1,475- total votes 1,975

 

From left, Skyler Johnson, Laura Ahearn, Valerie Cartright, Tommy John Schiavoni are running for the Democratic nod for the state Senate District 1 seat. Campaign photos

With a June 23 date for the New York State primary fast approaching, TBR News Media hosted an online debate to hear directly from those Democrats running for the District 1 State Senate seat. 

The position has been held for the past 40 years by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). At the beginning of the year, LaValle announced this year would be his last in the Senate.

Yet even before the venerable senator made his announcement, Democratic contenders were lining up for the seat. By late January, five Dems were in the race. Meanwhile, the Republicans have already settled on their front-runner, state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). 

Candidates 19-year-old activist Skyler Johnson, Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, founder of Parents for Megan’s Law Laura Ahearn and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) all responded to TBR’s requests for a debate. Nora Higgins, a Ridge resident and the regional coordinator of the Public Employees Federation, did not respond to multiple requests for her availability in the debate.

With the number of cases of COVID-19 in New York dropping, and with the reopening process happening, how would you like to see Long Island continue to reopen, while still putting in safeguards to prevent a resurgence?

Many candidates called the fact the state allowed big-box stores to stay open was unfair while small businesses were forced to close and lose out on several months of business. 

Cartright said she and her fellow members of the town board have decried the state’s unequal practices of forcing small businesses to remain closed for months while stores like Walmart or Target stayed open. She touted the town’s small business reopening task force made up of local business leaders to look at this issue.

“As we move forward [in reopening], we find gaps, we find things that are not necessarily equitable,” Cartright said. “We have been on calls for the past four months each day talking about how we can best service our constituency — we cannot stop that process now.”

Johnson said the virus spread because of people not being able to call in sick for work or leave their jobs, especially if they might lose health insurance. He called for the passage of the New York Health Act, which would allow universal health coverage for residents.

“We need more places where business owners can reach out to, to keep themselves, their employees and their customers safe,” he said.

Ahearn said the state needs to ensure it’s not limiting small businesses, and called for further tax incentives beyond the federal stimulus money given to small shops to ensure they can continue. 

“Small businesses are really struggling out there,” Ahearn said. “If Walmart is open, and people are buying tchotchke, why couldn’t they go to local stores and buy that tchotchke?”

Schiavoni, a former teacher for almost 30 years, also said New York needs to “unify” the health care systems, including hospitals and walk-in clinics, and said New York State will need to lobby the federal government for additional financial relief for local municipalities. With 34 school districts in Senate District 1, many could very well lose close to 20 percent of state aid, which means cuts that could be “absolutely staggering.”

“Which means we’re cutting jobs when we really shouldn’t,” he said.

With the ongoing protests, and with bills recently passed in the state Legislature with most already signed by the governor, what is your opinion of protester calls for reform, and what more should state and local governments do to bridge the divide of race relations on Long Island?

Johnson said he helped organize two separate protests, one in Port Jefferson Station and another in Stony Brook, which he said he was “very proud of.” 

He called for more police reform than the bills passed in the Legislature. As a proponent of what is called “defunding the police,” he said it is more about taking money given to departments and investing it into communities. He also called for demilitarizing departments, citing Los Angeles police just recently having been forced to get rid of their grenade launchers.

“We need to be passing reforms on every level to reform police departments,” Johnson said. “We need to pass reforms that combat if a black and a white man are arrested, the black man will likely receive a harsher sentence.”

Schiavoni said that Suffolk has “great police officers who need to be lauded,” and those people need to be leaders to get rid of racist elements in the ranks.

“Those officers that shouldn’t be in the ranks, let’s face it, they kill people,” Schiavoni said. 

He said the state needs to alter the way police are trained and led, and also enfranchise the people of the community to help police their own communities. 

Cartright said the killing of George Floyd was just the inciting incident that “helped open the eyes of people to what’s been happening to black and brown people for centuries.”

When looking at the bills that passed the state Legislature, she cited that many of the bills had been on the docket for years “with no traction.” Before she became a councilwoman, she had been working as one of those looking to “push the needle” toward reform.

Cartright added that it’s on the state and people to make sure local governments are not circumventing this newly passed legislation, and that this is “just the beginning.”

Ahearn said as the person who runs Suffolk’s Crime Victims Center, she deals with local police on a day-to-day basis and sees the “overwhelming majority of our law enforcement officers are great cops,” including public safety and police, but the state “needs to weed out the bad ones, because they are literally killing people in our community.” 

She said she supports the ongoing protests that will eventually lead to the end of structural racism not only in police but in health care, housing and much more.

She said the terminology of “defunding” police is wrong, but the state should restructure to allow for de-escalation training and community outreach.

Many young graduates may be looking at a job market similar to those graduating in 2008. What have we learned since then, and how do we make Long Island more affordable to help both young and old consider staying?

Ahearn said she is a strong proponent of transit-based housing, especially citing the county’s work on the Ronkonkoma Hub project, adding that a general need to make investments in infrastructure to help generate funds as both local governments and states have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

“Our young people, our millennials just can’t afford to live here because they don’t have the good, high-paying jobs that are going to give them the income they need,” Ahearn said. 

Cartright said it will take the revitalization of communities to create “additional options for housing.” She said it’s difficult to convince people to step past the initial NIMBYism thought to consider affordable housing options in their communities. She cited her work with the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hub study for an example of looking at transit-based development, and how it will require sewers before revitalization occurs.

The state, she said, should shift the system that allows young people to buy homes, especially since student loan debt is taken into account when applying for a mortgage, and add more incentives to incorporate affordable components in new developments.

Schiavoni cited his work with Southampton Town creating affordable housing complexes. He said it will require new rezoning laws to allow for mixed-use structures. 

He also mentioned the five East End towns’ Community Preservation Fund, which creates a transfer of some money sales of new homes over $400,000 toward a pool of affordable housing funds.

“These are the kind of innovative ideas we need to employ to keep our people here,” he said. 

Johnson said that, as someone who just recently graduated from Suffolk County Community College, very few young people who when they graduate say they will buy a house and remain on Long Island, but instead say they will leave. 

“I’ve spoken to people in the district who have not only been here for years, but families have been for years, who are saying they need to leave Long Island as soon as possible,” he said.

He said his plan includes taking vacant or derelict homes that go through the demolition process in towns and instead remake and use them to house people. He said he would create a lottery system for these homes, where those would be responsible for certain costs based on their income.

Sen. LaValle has been a proponent of the electrification of the Long Island Rail Road. Where do you stand on electrification and how would you go forward with a plan for a study?

Sound Beach resident Emily Marciano, right, with her son Dontae participated in a protest in Rocky Point June 12. Photo by Kyle Barr

In light of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis and the subsequent protests locally and nationwide, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) hosted a virtual forum June 11 to discuss race and policing on Long Island. Speakers included civil rights activists, law enforcement reform experts, NAACP and New York Civil Liberties Union leaders, also local attorneys. 

Exploring the Blue Line: A Real Discussion on the Reality of Race, a more than two-hour discussion touched on a number of topics including needed policy changes, police reform on Long Island and what must continue to be done in order to make meaningful change. 

Tracey Edwards, NAACP Long Island regional director, said systemic racism goes beyond the police system. 

“We have entrenched policies and practices that have been in place to either harm a group as a whole or in part, intentionally or not,” she said. “This is the structure that treats race differently.”

“When we look at the police, we don’t see ourselves, we see others.”

— Jose Perez

It is a real problem that is not going away, she added. 

“You have Larry Kudlow, who is the top economic person for the country who stood in front of a microphone and said we do not have any institutional or systemic issues,” she said. “If we first have to convince those that are in power that there is a problem — our issues are far broader than we thought.”

Despite New York State recently voting to institute several police reform policies, including the repeal of Civil Rights Law 50-a which prevented people from accessing service records of police, Edwards said there is more work to be done. 

“We’re just getting started, this is just one piece of the issue,” said the NAACP Long Island regional director. “It is going to take a lot to fix a lot of the issues we face — it’s going to take a lot to fix a lot of the issues we face. On Long Island it runs deep.”

The panelists discussed the demographics of Long Island police officers. 

Jose Perez, deputy general counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, a New York-based national civil rights organization, said people of color including African Americans make up a small percentage of officers in both Nassau and Suffolk counties. 

A 2016 study done by the NYCLU, dubbed “Behind the Badge,” found that people of color in Suffolk accounted for 13 percent of the police department. Out of the 136 individuals in upper ranks, only five were people of color. In Nassau, people of color make up 18 percent of the department, a total of 70 officers “in addition to the 326 white sworn personnel.” Of the 47 personnel who held positions other than detective, only three were people of color.

“When we look at the police, we don’t see ourselves, we see others,” Perez said. “That contributes to the overall policing impact on people of color.”

Frederick Brewington, a civil rights attorney from Hempstead, said the structure in departments makes it difficult for people of color to move up the ladder as well. 

“Even though there may be a small percentage that make it into the ranks of a police department, those individuals are likely to never get to the ranks above sergeant,” he said. “Even those that get to that level or above, their longevity is usually not very long. Their culture is one that is not welcoming to individuals who may be people of color, particular African Americans.” 

The disparities have trickled down to other areas of the criminal justice system. 

Derrick Magwood and Larry Flowers, attorneys and members of the Amistad Long Island Black Bar Association, said there are very few attorneys of color in local courthouses. 

“In Nassau, there are maybe five or six [attorneys] in criminal defense and two at the district attorney’s office,’’ Flowers said. 

In Suffolk, there four of five attorneys but both Magwood and Flowers said they haven’t seen an attorney of color in the DA’s office. In district court, there are currently two African American judges but none in county court. 

Edwards also brought up how these disparities are seen in public education on the Island. 

“Long Island, out of 642 schools, 61 percent do not have a single black teacher,” she said. “That’s 212,000 children who will never interact with a black teacher from kindergarten to 12th grade. That’s not just an impact on black children, that’s an impact on all children.”

“The reason why police struggle with dealing with the systemic issues is because they don’t have the background education.”

— Frederick Brewington

Perez spoke on overt police bias, which “can be formed by what they have experienced, or what they have been taught.” He added, “They feel like they could get away with it based on their privilege, uniform and color of their skin. It is important we understand this reality and we have to address it head on.” 

Brewington said it comes down to inadequate training. 

“The reason why police struggle with dealing with the systemic issues is because they don’t have the background education,” he said. 

The civil rights attorney said he believes they are asked to do a job they are not equipped to do. 

“Six months of training at the [Police] Academy, when someone goes to be a doctor, psychologist or social worker, it takes them a minimum of four years,” Brewington said. “Then they are given a gun and told to go out and enforce — not help, but enforce.”

Other panelists agreed that six months at the academy is not enough and called for a minimum of two years. 

In terms of additional police reform and policy changes, individuals mentioned increasing body-camera funding at the county, village and town levels. The need for some type of automatic penalty if an officer is found tampering with his or her body camera, yearly mental health evaluations for officers, an outside investigator to step in when it comes to cases of police brutality and misconduct, better cultural sensitivity and diversity training, and civilian review boards.

“We have to stay the course — we need to coalesce and act together,” Perez said. “This struggle will not be won individually. Every individual coming together becomes a force to be reckoned with.”

Several hundred protesters stood along Nesconset Highway in Stony Brook June 7 to protest police violence and racism after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Sunday marks nearly a week of constant protests all across Long Island. Photo by Mike Reilly

George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis two weeks ago spurred nationwide protests and renewed conversations on police brutality and systemic racism in this country. TBR News Media reached out to prominent leaders in the black community to get their perspective on what needs to change and what immediate actions can be taken as we move forward. Here’s what they had to say.

Al Jordan. Photo from Stony Brook University

Al Jordan, clinical associate professor at Stony Brook Medicine and former dean for Student and Minority Affairs: 

We will need to work on life after the protests end, that’s when the hard work really starts. We will really need to see change in policy and in laws, not just on the national level but the local level as well. 

Voter registration — getting more people to vote — is the most immediate change we can work on right now. It will take educating people, including family, friends and community members. It means engaging with people, it’s tough work but people can listen and be persuaded. Some may not, but it is another effective way of change. 

You look at the segregation on Long Island, whether it’s in housing or in school districts, the racial, social and economic disparities — it feeds into the larger issue. 

When it comes to training police officers, it has to begin with the individual person. What’s on their mind, how do they feel? Act on that framework. You also have to change the people who run things and who are at the top. 

I’m optimistic, I believe in people. I see it in the young people, something that’s different from what I and others were doing in the 1960s. They have been able to bridge the gap, that cultural divide, and been able to find that common ground. 

It has given me a lot of hope, seeing these young people like my own grandchildren engaging in these positive activities and important discussions. 

Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon. Photo by Kevin Redding

Errol Toulon Jr. (D), Suffolk County sheriff: 

All law enforcement need to reevaluate how they train their officers and how they operate. I don’t know how an officer with 18 prior complaints was allowed to continue to interact with the public. 

Unfortunately, due to this recent incident and others like it, mistrust toward law enforcement is at an all-time high. We need to work together to regain that trust. 

It’s having a conversation with them. It starts by talking to them and hearing their concerns, answering their questions and hopefully giving them a good understanding of what we do. 

99 percent of police officers who come to work to serve and protect are good men and women. But those who do wrong need to be held accountable. Supervisors need to be held accountable as well. 

Whether it is additional training or suspension it needs to be addressed immediately. 

One thing departments and agencies can do is increase cultural awareness and diversity training. A lot of times these teachings end once they leave the door of the academy. We have to make sure that officers remain engaged with the black and minority communities. We must have respect for each other. 

Another thing is making sure we are talking to our staff — monitoring their emotional and mental well being. 

[On Monday, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office announced the creation of a community advisory board to give residents an opportunity to meet regularly with the sheriff and staff and discuss concerns. The board will consist of five people from East End townships and five from the western towns in Suffolk. Members will serve for a one-year term.

“Current events have demonstrated that people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds are frustrated with law enforcement, and they have some legitimate reasons to feel this way,” Toulon said in a release.]

Elaine Gross speaks about race at ERASE Racism forum. Photo by Kyle Barr

Elaine Gross, president of Syosset-based nonprofit ERASE Racism: 

There’s currently conversation changing police policy, there’s a legislative package up in Albany that will be voted on soon. I’m pleased to hear that. 

But we also need to have a conversation on how we got to where we are. There is structural racism. 

On Long Island, due to segregation in school districts,, we know public school education looks very different in terms of the resources for black and minority students compared to white students. 

This is a disparity that gets lost — people are not aware of it or just don’t want to talk about it. An education policy needs to be made a priority, and that means increasing the percentage of educators of color in the classroom — that includes Black, Latinx and Asian teachers. We have seen the benefits of students in a diverse learning environment.  

In addition to the package up in Albany, we need an independent prosecutor, not someone who works closely with the police department. We have seen so many cases where so little happens and no charges brought down [on officers accused of misconduct]. It sort of goes away. We need to continue to strengthen race crime measures and increase body cams in law enforcement. 

I’ve had forums with high school students in the past on structural racism, and I believe students are beginning to have a better understanding of what’s happening in the world and are more open to it than adults. I look to the students and young people to carry the movement forward. 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. Photo by Phil Corso

Valerie Cartright, Brookhaven Town councilwoman (D-Port Jefferson Station): 

It is clear that there is a movement happening, people are stepping up and saying, “Enough is enough.” 

For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the George Floyd incident showed white people in this country what it is like to be black in America. Now our voices are being heard. 

There is legislation being passed in New York State that I support that is moving us in the right direction, but it is only scratching the surface. It is a good first step. We need to acknowledge these injustices and take immediate action. 

We should have already had access to disciplinary records of officers — this information should have been made public. Also, we need to change the police culture. We need to make sure police officers feel comfortable in speaking out against bad officers. We have to have strong whistleblower protection. 

I have represented [as an attorney] police officers who have spoken up about their comrades and they often face retaliation for violating or going against the brotherhood. 

The majority of police officers are good people but if we don’t get rid of hate, racism and discrimination in these departments then we are never going to change the system. 

I’m asking everybody to join in this movement, so we can be heard as one voice.

People in Port Jefferson line up to eat at Prohibition Kitchen, doing their best to stay six feet apart. Photo by Kyle Barr

After two months of shutdown, area businesses were given the go-ahead to restart operations when Suffolk County reached Phase One of the state’s reopening process. It is the first of four phases as state officials slowly lift restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

For many storefronts, it is the first step on the path to recovery. Here’s how things are going for a few retailers in Port Jefferson. 

Renee Goldfarb, owner of Origin of Era boutique in Port Jefferson, said it’s been a delicate balance of making sure they are operating safely and trying to make some revenue again. For select retailers like hers, they are limited as of now to only curbside pickup. 

“We’ve encouraged our customers to check out our online store and if they like a certain item they can email, and we’ll have it ready for them at the door,” she said. “It’s been difficult because we are very hands on, we want the customer to be able to try on a piece but we’re limited on what we can do.”

Goldfarb hopes owners can eventually make up for some of their losses. But she also took issue with how the state handled big retailers remaining open.  

“Do I think it was implemented the right way? I don’t think so,” she said. “I understand Walmart and Target sell essential products, but people were also able to buy nonessential items. That completely puts mom-and-pop shops at a disadvantage. They should have closed that area off [to customers during the shutdown].”

Abby Buller, who runs the Village Boutique in Port Jefferson, said sales have been slow the first few days open. On Memorial Day weekend, a time when the businesses thrive with the influx of people, Buller said she only saw about six people walking the streets. 

“There was no one on the streets, why should they come to a town where they can’t go shopping. This is a shopping and eating town,” she said. “The bars are closed; the restaurants are only allowing pickup. Right now, there is no reason for the Connecticut people to come and take the ferry — there’s nothing to do once you get here.”

With eight weeks of no income coming in, the boutique owner is glad she can start bringing in some sales. She was also frustrated with how the state handled the initial shutdown restrictions and agreed with Goldfarb.. 

“What they’ve done to small businesses is ridiculous,” she said. “From the beginning they allowed Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s to sell nonessential products,” Buller said. “The fact that they were allowed to stay open during this time and make more money is disgusting, small businesses have been suffering.” 

Brookhaven officials have spoken out on the issue. 

“I am very concerned about the prospects for the future of our small businesses,” said Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), at a recent press conference. “We need to be safe and we need to be smart, but we don’t need rules that work against mom-and-pop businesses when there’s no reason to do that. I ask the governor and county executive to take action now and help our small businesses and downtowns fully reopen again.”

The comments came after recommendations from the town’s post-COVID-19 task force looking at economic recovery. Members of the committee said the state’s plan has favored big box stores.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) had similar sentiments. 

“We are asking the state to take a different approach when reopening businesses and use a more objective standard, such as the square footage recommendation made by the town a few weeks ago,” she said. “This will place our small businesses on more equal footing with the other larger and big box businesses.”

With Phase Two close by, owners will have to continue to obey social distancing guidelines. Retailers will be required to limit capacity. Patrons and workers are also required to wear masks.

Mary Joy Pipe, the president of the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce and owner of East End Shirt Company is trying to make the best of their current situation as they look towards phase two. 

“Sales have been near zero, though we’ve had some customers,” she said. “But it’s important right now to be open, present and let people know we’re here.”

Going into phase two, Pipe will be changing the interior of the store to meet social distancing guidelines. Masks and the use of hand sanitizers will be required. 

“I think many of us look forward to starting a on a new page, looking back is painful,” she said. “We’re grateful to the community, they’ve had us in their minds and we feel that.”

In addition, once Phase Two begins, Goldfarb may implement an appointment-only model where up to six people can be in the store at a given time. She is also considering private shopping experiences. 

“My store is 700 square feet, we’re in a confined space. I’ll be requiring customers to wear masks until I feel it is comfortable to stop,” Goldfarb said. “I may lose customers but it’s our responsibility to be safe.”

Katrina Denning, Erica Kutzing and Jenny Luca are the three in charge of Brookhaven’s new TNR task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

A new pilot trap, neuter and release program will look to stem the tide of the growing feral cat population in the Town of Brookhaven. Such has been the efforts of local animal activists who for months have advocated for official help in what seemed an insurmountable problem. 

Erica Kutzing, a Sound Beach resident and vice president of North Shore-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said she and others believe it will allow for better outcomes and success rates for feral cats. 

Strong Island Animal Rescue joined with local animal activists and Brookhaven town to set up the new task force. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It meant a lot to us to help solve this real issue,” she said. 

Kutzing, Katrina Denning, founder of the Jacob’s Hope Rescue, and Jenny Luca, among others attended a number of Town Board meetings from October to December 2019, discussing the need for Brookhaven to provide more assistance to local animal rescue groups in the ongoing feral cat crisis. 

“The TNR [Trap-Neuter-Return] program at that time was broken and needed to be fixed,” Kutzing said. 

At the end of December, the trio were given the opportunity to meet with Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and Town Board members to talk about the status of the program. In two separate meetings, animal rescue advocates discussed ways they could improve the program and ease the burden on local rescue groups.

After some weeks of negotiations, town officials agreed to put the trio in charge of the task force. The town also decided to increase the original program’s budget from $40,000 to $60,000, began a partnership with Medford-based veterinary clinic Long Island Spay & Neuter, and will pay professional trappers to help capture feral cats. 

The pilot program was officially announced at the March 12 board meeting, classified as a “Program for the Public Good,” thereby qualifying it for coverage under the town’s public good insurance. 

“We are moving in a direction to reduce the population of feral cats — we believe the best way to deal with this issue is to work with nonprofits, who are extremely committed people,” Romaine said. “Limiting the population is the right thing to do for the community.” 

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said the feral cat population on Long Island has been increasing drastically over the years, with a significant amount being located in Council District 1. 

“The town was able to develop the pilot program with significant community input from the rescue organizations,” she said in a statement. “We are anticipating success of the pilot program and we appreciate the community groups working collaboratively with the town.”

Denning said they were pleasantly surprised that town officials put them in charge and supported their ideas. She expects to see improved results once the program is set up, especially with Dr. John Berger, a veterinarian at Long Island Spay & Neuter, in place to perform the procedures.

“The way it was done before was just not working,” she said. “We needed someone who was skilled with dealing with a high volume of feral cats. Dr. Berger is trained to do a large number of surgeries.”

In turn, Denning said it will allow them to get more cats fixed and treated than before. 

“We will be doing clinics and specifically have a block of time where Dr. Berger can deal with a mass quantity at once,” she said. “We will be able to treat 20-30 cats and deal with entire colonies.”

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

In addition, the group will come up with a list of approved trappers who will “go out and capture these feral cats instead of the homeowners who are not as experienced,” Denning said. “We will be paying them for their work and incentivize them to go out more, now they don’t need to spend their own money on supplies.”

Luca, who has been an independent rescuer for the past 10 years, said the new program will allow them to do more in helping feral cats. 

“Cats are on every block on Long Island — we were very limited in what we could do before,” she said. 

Luca said with added support they will be able to use funds to buy new equipment like drop traps to ensure they’ll be able to capture more feral cats. 

Another aspect of the program is public education. 

“Educating people is huge — we are looking for individuals/volunteers who are interested in learning what we do and help us, it would be great,” Luca said.

Kutzing said surgery appointments will be twice a month at the clinics and they expect the program to be up and running sometime in April. 

In the meantime, the trio is excited for
the opportunity.

“It is incredible what we’ve been able to do,” Kutzing said. “It has been such a rewarding experience.”

Chairperson Jennifer Martin presents a proclamation to Hon. Derrick J. Robinson. Photo from the Town of Brookhaven

The Town of Brookhaven’s Black History Commission hosted its 29th Annual Black History Month celebration on Feb. 7 at Town Hall. 

This year’s program included presentation of academic achievement awards to more than 77 top African-American high school seniors from 14 school districts who achieved a cumulative grade point average of 90 or higher.   

The commission also recognized its honoree and keynote speaker, Derrick J. Robinson, acting Suffolk County Court judge presiding over Drug Court and Mental Health Court. He is also president-elect of the Suffolk County Bar Association. 

The theme of this year’s Black History Month celebration was African Americans and the Vote. The evening included musical performances by the Brookhaven NAACP, the Faith Baptist Church Choir and Taylor Niles, as well as a dance performance by Eugenia Woods. 

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie M. Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), the first woman of African American descent to serve on the Town Board, also serves as the Town Board Liaison to the Town’s Black History Commission. 

The Black History Commission’s next event is the 6th Annual Juneteenth Celebration June 20.

Northville Industries is located on Beach Street in Port Jefferson, where barges full of oil come to dock and unload the fuel, which is pumped through pipelines to a location in East Setauket and then to Holtsville. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has renewed leases on two entities in Port Jefferson Harbor, but one of those operations has local environmentalists a little concerned.

The Town voted unanimously Jan. 30 to renew the lease for the Port Jefferson/Setauket Yacht Club (which is more known as simply the Port Jefferson Yacht Club) as well as the Melville-headquartered Northville Industries for use in its underwater and uplands properties on the eastern end of the harbor. The licensee has operated in that location since 1975, according to Town attorney Annette Eaderesto.

The yacht club’s lease has gone up to $35,100 for 20 years with a 3 percent annual increase. The club’s land includes around .892 acre underwater and 2.723 acres upland, including the club facilities.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation.”

— George Hoffman

Northville’s operation has oil being brought in on ship or barge to the Port Jeff terminal, where it is shipped via either of two 16-inch pipelines up to its storage farm in East Setauket before moving on to a Holtsville terminal via a 12-inch pipeline, according to the company’s website. 

The oil transport company’s lease now increases to $77,322 based on a new appraisal, which includes around $40K for the underwater portion and around $37K for the upland portion. The company has agreed to pay slightly more than what the upland portion was appraised for. The 20-year term is set to increase annually by 3 percent. The company has had the lease since 1975, and the Town attorney said the company has not had any claims against the town.

George Hoffman, the co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, said he had several concerns over the company’s continued engagement with the harbor. His group has been doing more and more testing of the Port Jefferson harbor in the past two years, having just finished the second season of testing. He asked for strict liability regarding the oil transport company.

“Oil transport is inherently a dirty operation,” he said. “There’s always tiny spills, no matter how hard they work there is always going to be problems.”

Eaderesto said Northville does not post a bond in case of any ruptures, and any spills are handled by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Miller Marine Services, a regional company with a site right next to the oil transport company, is there for immediate response. 

Steven Ripp, the chief operating officer of NIC Holding Corp., the parent company of Northville, denied there has been any leaking or spills into the harbor from their operations, further arguing the company would be able to contain any major spills into the immediate area of their operations on the harbor’s east end.

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon,” he said. “If there is a spillage whatsoever, we have to immediately report it to DEC and take swift action.”

Northville has been previously cited by the DEC. In 1987, Northville notified the DEC of a gasoline leak at its East Setauket site of approximately 1.2 million gallons that had leaked into the ground over a 10-year period. That gasoline had penetrated into the ground and reached the water table 100 feet below the surface. 

The company had settled with the DEC for a $25 million cleanup plan after the spill. In 2006, after a long and complicated cleanup process, the DEC reported Northville had completed all remediation.

In a later interview, Hoffman said he came away from the public hearing with more concerns, not less, especially concerning the overall health of the Port Jefferson Harbor and the age of the pipelines running over into East Setauket.

“This is going to be potentially 30 years — I didn’t feel comfortable about that,” he said.

When asked, the general manager at Northville, Peter St. Germaine, did not relate anything about the age of the pipe, instead saying it is frequently inspected by the state. 

“There are never any minor spills, not even a gallon.”

— Steven Ripp

A spokesperson for the state DEC said the agency inspects the facilities for petroleum bulk storage and major oil storage facility regulations. Recent inspections were performed in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2018. The DEC also conducts a review of the facility license renewal application, testing of certain tanks and secondary containment areas, and groundwater results from 12 monitoring wells at the East Setauket location, as well as two monitoring wells at the Beach Street site. The wells are sampled every six months.

Eaderesto said the town is able to back out of any lease at any time should the need arise. 

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he is aware of the need for attention paid to Port Jefferson Harbor, especially considering the effluent from both Stony Brook University and Port Jeff treatment plants flows into the harbor as well.

Ripp said the location received hundreds of barges of oil a year, and through their pipelines run hundreds of millions of gallons, “safely” every year. 

“It is a critical facility for the Town of Brookhaven,” he added.

Northville isn’t the only industrial company to work close to the harbor. Along Beach Street in Port Jeff the Tilcon quarry is constantly operating with heavy moving equipment. The area also includes the LIPA power station to the north of both operations.   

Romaine said his concern was the location and that the lease would conflict with plans of a joint venture of Ørsted and Eversource to make Port Jeff a hub for planned wind turbines off the coast of Montauk. However, the town attorney said the lease is just an extension of a lease that has been in effect for several years.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she had initial concerns regarding community comments and ensuring proper liability coverage, but those concerns had been assuaged by the town law department, and she thanked the company for, “being a good licensee over the years.”

Both leases for upland and underwater land were set to expire April 30, 2020. The new license terms go 20 years with the availability of two 5-year extension options for the town.

Brookhaven resident and avid hunter John German speaks to the Town and DEC about the need for more places to hunt. Photo by Kyle Barr

With villages like Belle Terre and Port Jefferson taking steps in handling the issue of deer in their municipalities, Town of Brookhaven representatives say there’s things they can do at the Town level to stop the scourge of deer and their impact on the local environment.

At a forum hosted by Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) and representatives of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, residents were split on how to handle the overwhelming deer population, but no one questioned whether their impact has been felt far and wide, whether it’s from them simply eating people’s gardens or the mass depletion of saplings and bushes in Long Island forests.

Leslie Lupo, left, a biologist for the state DEC, and DEC spokesperson Aphrodite Montalvo speaks on Deer. Photo by Kyle Barr

“We have not played an active role in respect to deer management,” Cartright said. “It is an issue within our Town, and we can’t rely solely on our villages. So, it’s a question of how can we work with the villages, or how we can do something on our own.”

Leslie Lupo, a big game wildlife biologist for the DEC, said that, despite some misconceptions, deer do very well living in a suburban landscape such as Long Island, especially since they have no natural predators. They are polygamous and have short gestation periods, which means, unchecked, their population continues to grow.

“No management means more and more deer,” Lupo said.

Despite residents’ constant complaints of deer eating plants and vegetables at people’s homes and gardens, deer have had an even more major impact on Long Island’s forests and biodiversity, the biologist said. Many of the saplings in forests have been eaten by deer, and their favoring of ground plants has meant the loss of habitat for some songbird species. 

“They are a huge changer of their own habitat,” she added. “Deer will just eat everything here and move on to the next property.”

Cartright said the forum was an example of one of the first steps the DEC provides in its deer management guide, originally published in 2012, in starting to make change. Over the last several years, the deer issue has ballooned into near-crisis proportions. While state officials said they cannot give estimates of the number of deer on Long Island, due to migration and other mitigating factors, the total number of deer shot and tagged by hunters in Suffolk County is around 3,200-3,400 in the last five years.

Multiple North Shore villages have gotten ahead of towns in dealing directly with the deer issue. Belle Terre, for example, has been allowing residents to bring in hunters onto their properties as long as they conform to state laws regarding setbacks from other properties. Belle Terre Mayor Bob Sandak said this has already made a significant impact in the village’s deer population.

What More Can Be Done?

With the need to reduce deer population clear, the two major schools of thoughts are to either encourage recreational hunting or professional culls or by surgical or chemical sterilization. Lupo favored hunting, citing mixed-at-best results from sterilization initiatives.

Lupo called recreational hunting the most utilized tool for the DEC and said it is “safe and effective” with a large bowhunting culture on Long Island. Even with nonlethal alternatives, she suggested it would be more effective combined with lethal removal.

Both Lupo and several hunters who came to the Jan. 30 meeting said, despite areas which have been opened up with cooperative agreements with the DEC, there are many parts of the Island where they are restricted from hunting. 

Not all municipal lands allow access. While the setback for bowhunters between properties was changed from 500 feet in 2012 to 150 feet a few years later, hunters said there are only a few public properties on which they can actually hunt. The archery season, which runs from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31, is much longer than the shotgun season, which only runs from Jan. 4 to Jan. 31 and requires a Town permit or landowner consent form. The DEC’s tagging system essentially allows for “an unlimited harvest of deer,” Lupo said. “The harvest has been increasing and increasing to go along with our increased population.”

Though DEC officials said some harvest years are better than others, and some are worse than others since various conditions can impact harvest rates, such as weather.

John German, of the Brookhaven hamlet and an avid hunter, said that, despite there being a large hunting crowd, the number of deer does not seem to have stymied. He and other hunters complained about Town-owned lands in which they are unable to hunt. 

“There’s more deer now than there ever was,” German said.

Some called for the Town when it buys land for municipal purposes to allow hunters on that property, but Cartright said the majority of space the Town acquires is small and not conducive to hunting.

Lupo said that residents or the Town could start organizing hunts and allow residents to interact with them to allay fears, but other residents strongly supported sterilization initiatives, including Elaine Maas, a board member of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, who pointed to data from Hastings-on-Hudson and its chemical contraceptive program, which from 2014 to 2018 sterilized about 60 deer, which the city described as about 75 percent of the population. 

Maas also said she has had issues with hunters on a neighboring property for years and described being “confined” in her own home during hunting season.

Surgical sterilization can cost as much as $1,000 per deer, while chemical sterilization can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000. At minimum, 75-90 percent of females would need to be treated to see some effect. Lupo also said another issue is that, in an uncontrolled setting, deer often migrate to and away from some areas, meaning that some chemical sterilization techniques that require multiple treatments become that much harder.

“Maybe it will prove to be more beneficial in the future,” she said.

Cartright said the next step is to get the rest of the Town council on board. While the board could form a committee in the future, there’s a few “low hanging fruit,” including doing a survey and speaking with villages and her fellow board members. She also mentioned changing Town code regarding fencing to make more residents able to buy higher barriers on property.

This post has been amended Feb. 13 to correct Lupo’s comment on managing deer, also to change “incubation period” to “gestation period” and add context to another of Lupo’s quotes.

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Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) with Irving Roth. Photo by Peter DiLauro

Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) has been a Brookhaven Town councilwoman for the past six years, but now she is looking a little higher, the New York State Senate District 1 seat. That position is now an open battleground since 44-year Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced earlier this month he would not be seeking reelection.

Cartright said she had been asked numerous times by people in and out of the Democratic Party to run for higher office but had not considered it until LaValle made his announcement.

“He had a significant impact on the region,” she said. “For the past 44 years he has worked hard to take care of District 1.”

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

With the change two years ago of the Democrats taking control of both the Assembly and Senate, she said the person who comes into the seat should have the ability to deliver for the district. As someone who sees herself as having worked hard on community issues at a town level, taking that mentality up to Albany will allow her a greater access to resources to help people at home.

Cartright said there are several issues that she sees as very important which she’s worked on  with the Brookhaven board to attack at the Town level, including water quality and protecting a sole-source aquifer and improving the quality of state roads. 

Another is moving away from fossil fuels, for which she said electrification of the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Jefferson line is a must.

Having been a civil rights attorney before joining the Town board in 2013, she congratulated the legislature for working on a number of items to address equity, including health care, voting rights, education and criminal justice, though there is “more work to be done.” 

She cited the need for New York to crack down on prescription drug pricing, with some drugs costing a few hundred dollars in Canada but several thousand in the U.S. She said New York needs to hold drug companies to task and to set limits.

She added she is an advocate for allowing paid gestational surrogates in New York, which is one of the few states that still bans the practice. As a survivor of breast cancer, she said she was once forced to consider a surrogate as an option, before she overcame the disease and had her first child.

In terms of housing and affordability, Long Island has suffered under sky-high housing prices and rents. Cartright said there is a need for “smart growth,” along with an increased acquisition of open space at multiple levels of government, to mitigate the impact to Long Island’s sole-source aquifer. She said there is a need for a complete restructure of property taxes and called for a study on the property tax structure.

Though the state is currently controlled by Democrats in both the Assembly and the Senate, things could always swing in the opposite direction, and like LaValle and his fellow Republicans found themselves in 2018, suddenly Democrats could become the minority. Cartright said that should the situation change, she has already proven she can work alongside Republicans being the only Democrat on the Town board.

She is not the only Democrat seeking the nomination. Other contenders for the seat include Parents for Megan’s Law founder and Port Jeff resident Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student and Mount Sinai resident Skyler Johnson and Tommy John Schiavoni, a Southampton Town board member. The Suffolk County Republican Party has named state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) as its front-runner.

Though she said she has respect for all the other Democratic contenders, she feels she is in the best position to take her message to Albany, with the most legislative experience over her contemporaries.

“I know it’s a crowded race, with some formidable candidates,” she said. “But I’m putting my best foot forward … I look forward to serving my [area] and the whole of District 1 on the state level,” she said.