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Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright

The Suffolk Plaza shopping center that once housed a Waldbaum’s in South Setauket sits half empty, a far cry from where it was just a decade ago. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Town of Brookhaven has proposed a new zoning that officials said could revitalize vacant or underutilized shopping centers or other structures throughout the town.

At their Dec. 3 meeting, the town voted unanimously to adopt a new floating zoning code called Commercial Redevelopment District, which would allow developers to apply for permission to redevelop aging property into a combination of retail and apartment space.

The old section of the Mt. Sinai Shopping Center that housed the King Kullen has sat empty for months, and is just one of several empty former big box stores on the North Shore. Photo by Kyle Barr

“What we’re looking to do is to stimulate the revitalization of abandoned vacant and underutilized commercial shopping centers, bowling alleys and health clubs,” said town Planning Commissioner Beth Reilly. 

She added that this new zoning will “encourage flexibility in sight and architectural design, encourage redevelopment that blends residential, commercial, cultural and institutional uses, and encourage redevelopment that’s walkable, affordable, accessible and distinctive in the town.”

Site requirements would be a 5-acre minimum for such commercial centers and sites that have been previously used but then demolished. It permits uses for all zonings except such things as heavy industrial and auto uses. There would be no setbacks for nonresidential uses, but a 25-foot minimum setback for residential use and 50-foot maximum height.

The special zoning is meant to be kept free of big-box stores and is restricted to anything less than 40,000 square feet of space for commercial properties. Also, the zoning incentivizes certain kinds of development through allowing for increases in density, such as being near the Long Island Rail Road or if a business owner  uses green technology.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) restated that Long Island does not need new development “as much as we need to develop what we have that has fallen into disrepair.”

The proposal did receive a letter of support from the Port Jefferson Station hub study committee. President of the PJS/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Dzvonar, said she was in support, and that she thinks it will create downtown-type areas in places that might not have that sort of downtown already.

“It will encourage commercial property owners to update and revitalize their establishments, which will entice additional local businesses … instead of leaving their locations vacant to become blighted,” she said.

Mitch Pally, a Stony Brook resident and CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute, said the new zoning should benefit developers. 

“Long Islanders no longer have large tracts of land,” he said. “We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way. The ability to know from the code what you can do, and what you’re going to be able to get, allows for better financing opportunities.”

The Town Board left the issue open for comment until Dec. 17. The Three Village Civic Association sent the town a letter Dec. 12 signed by the civic’s land use chair, Herb Mones, with some critiques of the proposed law, saying the language of what was considered vacant or underutilized was unclear, and that the CRD will incentivize some property owners to neglect their structures to get access to the new “generous terms afforded by the new zoning.” 

“We must now redevelop — reuse what we already used, whether it’s been a good way or a bad way.”

— Mitch Pally

The letter also criticized the height allowance under the code, calling it “too high for most hamlets” in the town. The letter also shared the civic’s anxieties of increased density.

“Considering that there were only two speakers at the public hearing on Dec 3, both representing commercial interests, and no community leaders or members of the civic community participating on such an important proposal, we believe that this new zoning legislation to create a new zoning code for commercial property in the Town of Brookhaven would benefit from more input of Brookhaven’s civic community,” Mones wrote in his letter.

The change also repeals the town’s previous Blight to Light code. That code was passed in 2010 under previous Supervisor Mark Lesko (D), which in a similar vein to the current code was designed to remediate blighted properties by incentivizing development through a scoring system. Based on how a developer scored, they could receive incentives such as building permit refunds and an expedited review process.

Officials said that system had issues, and that the code had only been used twice, once in a Coram redevelopment project, and again with Jefferson Meadows, a project designed for Port Jefferson Station that was never built. That planned 96-apartment building met opposition from residents almost a decade ago. The Port Times Record reported at the time that residents disapproved of Blight to Light’s self-scoring system and that such projects did not conform to the Port Jefferson Station hamlet study. 

“This has been a long time coming,” said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station). “Port Jeff Station has a number of abandoned vacant and underutilized properties, and the Blight to Light code was not necessarily addressing that, so we’re hoping that this code can now create a different mechanism to address these types of properties.”

Unlike Blight to Light, there is not a special permit, but applicants would have to come to the Town Board to seek approval. There is also a time limit on these approvals, and they are taken away if the developer does not make good on trying to build.

“This puts the power in the Town Board level,” Reilly said.

The town is holding its next meeting Dec. 17 where a follow-up public hearing is scheduled.

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

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

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

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

— Valerie Cartright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Valerie Cartright

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

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

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

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

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The planned site for a new office building in Port Jefferson station includes a single building and an empty lot. Photo from Google Maps

Port Jefferson Station, even despite the pandemic, is building up.

Design plans for the new 31,000 square foot medical office building in Port Jefferson Station. Photo from TOB meeting

Brookhaven approved two applications Sept. 17, one for a new 31,000 square feet office building where an existing retail shop stands, and another to add an additional  structure to an existing medical park, both in Port Jefferson Station.

Applicants from S.W.M LLC, whose principal officer is named as Wayne Rampone Jr., the vice president and co-owner of the Ramp Motors dealership in Port Jefferson Station, were granted a change of zoning on the currently empty 2.3 acre parcel located at 43 Jayne Boulevard. The previous zoning was J-2 Business and B-1 Residential, and is now J-4 Business, allowing for the construction of a $4 million two story, 31,342 square foot medical office building at the site.

Site plans show a frontage of evergreens facing the road, and 165 parking stalls to complement the new structure. The planned building is across the street from Neptune Pools and borders Smith Point Fence to the north and the Fairfield apartment complex to the west. 

The other project, one from the M&R Stony Brook medical park located at the corner of Route 112 and Birchwood Drive, was granted a request to revise covenants to extend the second floor space of one existing medical building and create a whole new 20,485 square foot building on the southwest corner of the property. That new building is planned for vacant land that was at one point planned for a bank of a much smaller footprint. Estimated cost for construction is $15 million.

The property is bordered by the Sagamore Hills condominium complex directly to the south.

Developers for both projects went in front of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association July 29 during the group’s first in-person meeting in months, held outside the PJS/T chamber train car at the corner of Routes 112 and 347. The civic released letters of no objection for both projects to the town board.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) asked the applicant to be reminded of the 30-foot buffer along the western end of the property, where they will eventually plant evergreens as a screen between the new building and Fairfield residents. Attorney for both proposed developments Timothy Shea Jr., of the Hauppauge-based CertilmanBalin law firm, said he had no objection to the requirement.

Lifeguards at West Meadow Beach made a quick save of one of the North Shore's most beautiful local hawks. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Lifeguards at West Meadow Beach recently proved their willingness to protect any living thing in distress.

Town of Brookhaven said in a release that lifeguards stationed at West Meadow Beach spotted a large bird in the water that appeared to be in distress. As the lifeguards approached, they realized the bird was not a waterfowl, as originally suspected, but a much larger Osprey that had become entangled in thick fishing line with a weighted sinker. The bird could not fly and was on the verge of drowning as it panicked to stay afloat in the water. 

Town lifeguards maneuvered a rescue surfboard underneath the bird, which allowed its head to remain above water and provide it with something firm to grasp. Brookhaven’s Environmental Educator, Nicole Pocchiare, was called to the scene to aid in the rescue and was able to get the bird into a box for transport to the Middle Island Save the Animals Foundation location with the help of lifeguards on duty. The veterinarian at STAR handled the large, taloned bird while clearing the wire, flushing the wound and checking for injuries. The bird was released back near his nest at West Meadow Beach after being cleared by the veterinarian. 

“I commend the lifeguards for their quick action to save this beautiful bird’s life,” said Brookhaven town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “Please remember not to leave fishing line, lures, or wire on the beach or in the water. Litter and debris pose a threat to the health and safety of wildlife and marine life that call our beaches home.”

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) was also impressed by the lifeguards’ quick thinking.

“Thank you to the lifeguards who came to the rescue of this osprey,” Cartwright said. “I am impressed by their quick thinking and ingenuity. Osprey are a valued part of the West Meadow Beach ecosystem, and I appreciate that these lifeguards went above and beyond to save the life of this important species. I also want to extend my thanks to our Environmental Educator, Nicole Pocchiare, and those at STAR for playing a part in this rescue. I encourage everyone to use fishing line recovery receptacles to properly dispose of this material that can cause devastating consequences to our cherished wildlife.”

 

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

By George Hoffman

George Hoffman

With the likely election of Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) to the New York State Supreme Court as a justice in the 10th District this November, it will mean that residents of Council District 1 will be choosing a new town councilperson at the beginning of next year.

Before prospective candidates come forward, I thought it might be worthwhile to suggest a list of attributes that our next councilperson should possess.

1. Be active in community affairs.

Our new councilperson should be someone who is involved in the local community. Council District 1 has numerous and active community organizations from civic groups, historical societies, chambers of commerce, volunteer fire and rescue companies, youth athletic leagues and school and library boards.

Having a background in local civic affairs means that our new councilperson knows who the community leaders are and what’s important to the community.

2. Have a nonpartisan attitude.                                                                                                                                      

Our new councilperson should be someone who builds relationships with the others rather than stirs up partisan conflict. Town government deals mostly with the delivery of services like garbage pickup, road repair, snow removal, maintaining the parks and town facilities. Most issues of the Town Board are nonpolitical and should not be used for scoring partisan points. New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia famously said, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up garbage.”

3. Makes friends not waves.

Though we are currently living in very partisan times, Americans continually tell pollsters that they want their elected officials to work together rather than fight amongst themselves and get nothing done. Our next councilperson should leave their party registration at the door of town hall and build relationships with their colleagues on the board and in town government to make our town a better place.

4. Understand the importance of our history, harbors and open spaces.

The Town of Brookhaven was first established on the shores of Setauket Harbor, 365 years ago. The people who live here are coastal people and want their leaders to protect this legacy. They also are proud of the role our ancestors played in early American history, helping Gen. George Washington and his armies overcome the British forces. Protecting the historic Washington Spy Trail, what we now call NYS Route 25A, is central to that history.

5. Be fiscally prudent.

Though some in our area are very well off financially, most of us are holding our own in an area that has a very high cost of living. Our next councilperson needs a sense of prudence when deciding how much town government can spend in providing necessary services to its residents. Now with the challenge of dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, town government will have to restructure itself and learn to do more with less. Something much easier said than done. Our next councilperson will need a sense of balance in making tough fiscal choices in the next budget process.

But more importantly, our next councilperson needs to care about our town and community, and always put their interests ahead of party and self.

George Hoffman is active in civic affairs and currently serves as vice president of the Three Village Civic Association and is one of the founders of Setauket Harbor Task Force. He recently was co-chair of the Town of Brookhaven Citizens Advisory Committee for the Route 25A corridor. Hoffman has worked as a chief of staff in three of Suffolk’s biggest towns and served as a district director for a local congressman.

TBR News Media invites community members to submit their thoughts on what qualities they believe the next councilperson should possess. Submissions can be emailed to [email protected]

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

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) announced her nomination for New York State Supreme Court justice in the 10th District, which covers both Nassau and Suffolk counties. She has been cross-endorsed by both parties, and is almost guaranteed a seat on the bench come November.

The slate of judicial nominees was made at the Democratic Party judicial convention earlier this month. Cartright made the announcement official.

“The principles of fairness and equality under the law have been the foundation on which I built my career —first as a trial attorney and then as a town councilwoman,” she said in a statement. “My experience as an attorney, a community advocate and a legislator drafting laws and policy with community involvement uniquely positions me for judgeship.”

Cartright has been the lone Democrat on the majority Republican Brookhaven Town Board for the past six-and-a-half years. She has also been the only person of color on that board in that same time.

Rich Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic Committee chairman, said in a statement the committee was “proud to present this diverse slate of distinguished jurists that includes a candidate of Councilwoman Cartright’s caliber and experience.”

A number of nominees have been cross-endorsed by both major parties, and are almost guaranteed their seats. The Republicans had their judicial convention early this week. Cartright  — along with Kathy Gail Bergmann, a Suffolk County Family Court judge; Tim Mazzei, state Supreme Court justice; and Derrick Robinson, an acting county court judge — have all been cross-endorsed. Justice seats are on a 14-year term.

Before running for town councilperson, Cartwright had spent years as a civil rights attorney at the Law Offices of Frederick K. Brewington. She also is an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College.

In the past few months, the councilwoman ran for the Democratic nod for the New York State Senate 1st District seat that has long been held by state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). She came in second place in that race with a vote tally of 6,569 compared to her Port Jeff opponent Laura Ahearn’s final number of 8,427 votes.

State Supreme Court nominees names will be on ballots come election time Nov. 3. If her seat is left vacant after that, the Brookhaven Town District 1 seat would need to be put up for vote in a special election to finish off the remaining three years of Cartright’s term.

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.