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Campaign

John Zollo is looking to unseat Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio. Photo from John Zollo

A Smithtown political institution has a new challenger, as John Zollo announced he’s throwing his hat into the ring for the upcoming race for town supervisor, a position currently held by 39-year incumbent Pat Vecchio (R).

Zollo, a Smithtown resident, has spent his life on Long Island, and graduated from the Commack school district in 1977 — a year before Vecchio first took office. He has experience working in town government, serving as Smithtown town attorney for 12 years, from 1992 to 2002, and then from 2013 to 2014.

“I’m running because I believe some things need to change in Smithtown,” Zollo said in a phone interview. “And I have a big sense of community.”

The 57-year-old is certainly involved in many aspects of the town, serving as president for the Rotary Club of Smithtown Sunrise, a member of the Smithtown and Nesconset chambers of commerce, a committee member of  Smithtown Historical Society, and a board member of the Suffolk County Bar Association, to name a few. Zollo has also lent his voice to the community, singing the national anthem for several Long Island Ducks baseball games, and dozens of judicial robing ceremonies for newly sworn in judges on Long Island.

“I am involved in a lot of stuff, sometimes too much,” Zollo said with a laugh, adding he enjoys contributing to his community in any way he can.

And he has already planned to continue that trend into his campaign, asking for anyone who attended his first campaign event April 26 to donate whatever change they had for Red Nose Day.

Zollo said his main concern in Smithtown government is the lack of transparency and communication on issues, and both are important topics he’d like to address if given the chance to lead.

“I have learned a lot of people get very frustrated with government,” he said. “Too many people get involved with government for the wrong reasons. My wife says I’m Don Quixote riding the Smithtown bull. I believe you can’t just yell from the sidelines when you see something going wrong.”

One recent example of miscommunication Zollo used was the land deal that fell through with the Smithtown school district and Southern Land Company earlier this year. Many residents were unhappy with the plan to develop an apartment complex at the district administration building on New York Avenue, and the town and district seemed to be on different pages as the plan moved forward. By last month the deal had collapsed.

“There should’ve been more of a dialogue with the school, the residents and the town,” Zollo said. “If you have dialogue you get something that works, it doesn’t mean everyone will be happy but it’ll work.”

The candidate said he wants the town to have more work sessions with an agenda, and more conversations that happen in front of the town, so residents can understand the government’s train of thought when making decisions.

“You shouldn’t have to hide anything from people,” Zollo said. “People should know what’s going on in their government. The government right now is being run in secret, by emails, and there is no dialogue in work sessions, no exchange of ideas.”

Zollo said while Vecchio has served a great deal to his community, he believes it’s time for new blood to take over.

Co-CEO of East Setauket-based investment firm connected to major money behind Trump administration

 

A large group of political protesters paraded along busy Route 25A in East Setauket March 24, aiming their outcry not just at the administration in Washington, D.C., but a reclusive hedge fund billionaire by the name of Robert Mercer residing in their own backyard.

Mercer, the co-CEO of an East Setauket-based investment firm and resident of Head of the Harbor, has been under the spotlight for being the money behind President Donald Trump’s (R) administration, maintaining a major influence on the White House’s agenda, including its strict immigration policies.

Mercer, a major backer of the far-right Breitbart News, reportedly contributed nearly $13.5 million to the Trump campaign and, along with his daughter Rebekah, played a part in securing the leadership positions of chief strategist Steve Bannon and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway.

Regarding Mercer as the administration’s puppeteer-in-chief, protesters assembled to bring public attention to the local family’s power in the White House and the influence “dark money” has had in America.

“I think we’ve reached a worrisome point in our history that a single individual can have the kind of influence that Robert Mercer has, simply because he has a huge amount of money,” Setauket resident John Robinson said. “I think he’s an extremely dangerous individual with worrisome views. He just wants government to not be around so people like him and companies like his can plunder to their heart’s content.”

The short march, made up of several protest groups including the North Country Peace Group, began at the CVS shopping center and landed at the bottom of the hill where Mercer’s Renaissance Technologies sits. Leading the march were local residents wearing paper cutout masks of Trump, Bannon and U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), each strung up like puppets and controlled by a resident in a grim reaper outfit, representing Mercer.

Equipped with signs reading “Mercer $ Bought Trump We Pay the Price” and “Resist Mercer,” Long Island residents stood in front of the investment firm’s office and participated in a mock debate with the faux-political figures. The topics ranged from Mercer’s denial of climate change to Zeldin’s stance on the now-pulled American Health Care Act.

Sue McMahon, a member of the grassroots coalition Building Bridges in Brookhaven, had only recently learned about Mercer’s heavy involvement in Trump’s presidency and his close proximity and participated in the march to expose him.

“I’m very concerned we have a person like this among us who holds the power of the Republican Party,” McMahon said.

She said she’s particularly troubled by the administration’s overwhelming ignorance of environmental issues, its emphasis on money and the extreme views of Breitbart News.

“This is not the America I grew up with, this is not what I want,”she said. “I’m not normally a protester, but I believe we all have to stand up now.”

Paul Hart, a Stony Brook resident, said he was there to support democracy.

The American people have lost representative government because campaign contributions are now controlled by the rich, he said, and it’s hard to think about the needs of constituents when they don’t contribute in a way that’s beneficial to a politician’s re-election.

“The average person has absolutely no voice in politics anymore,” Hart said. “Bbefore, we had a little bit, but now, we’re being swept aside.

One protester referred to Mercer as one small part of a larger picture, and expressed concern over a growing alt-right movement throughout the country that prefers an authoritarian government that runs like a business.

“I guess that’s what Trump is all about,” said Port Jefferson resident Jordan Helin. “But we’re seeing what the country looks like when it’s being run like a business, [and it’s scary].”

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and member, said her organization has held previous actions against Renaissance Technologies, and was among the first grassroots groups on Long island to take notice of how entrenched in the White House Mercer and his family are. According to her, Rebekah Mercer is in many ways more powerful than her father.

“We cannot take the focus off [Rebekah Mercer] right now, because she’s become a powerful force in this whole issue of money in politics, buying candidates, everything we see in our government,” she said.

Since Robert Mercer is local and lives in our community, she added, it’s time that we showed our strength and our voice regarding what this money is doing to our country.

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Whether you voted for Donald Trump or not, you have to agree that he is responsible for a positive outcome from his campaign and his election. He has animated the population he serves. It is no secret that Americans have, as a country, been largely apolitical. When I have traveled to other countries, especially when I first began, I have consistently been impressed by and even envied how much politics and current events were a part of the daily conversations among the people I was visiting. But that was not so in the United States. Throughout my academic life, in high school and college, there were almost no political clubs, and those that did exist had few members who were regarded as a little odd for their political passions. I have not found many people who were deeply interested in our government, its processes, its politics and its politicians. Indeed, spot person-in-the-street interviews regularly revealed that most respondents did not know who held which office beyond that of the president and perhaps the governor.

Not any longer.

Imagine my surprise when the 4-year-old son of a friend came home from nursery school and announced his opinion of President Trump, complete with reasons. A 13-year-old I met knows the name of the Environmental Protection Agency chief (Scott Pruitt), and a 15-year-old announced that she wants to register as a Republican as soon as her age allows so she can help decide who the party’s next candidate might be. These are not just youngsters parroting what their parents are saying. In some cases the youngsters disagree with their parents. How do they know to do that? They are now surrounded by news, whether on television, with blasts on their iPhones, from talking to each other in class or hearing many adults offering different opinions. Wherever all of us go, to a doctor’s appointment, to a casual restaurant, in and out of stores (with the exception so far of supermarkets), there is a television turned on and we hear the latest comments from both parties, outrageous or not. The media are having a field day reporting quotables. And the public is deluged. Kids, remember, are part of the public.

How long can you be at a dinner party before the talk turns to politics? When you wake up in the morning and switch on the radio or the TV, don’t you expect to hear the latest quote from Donald Trump? The president has managed to dominate world news so provocatively that his is the most well-known name on the planet.

I think what has happened is a good thing. An informed and engaged public is necessary for a democracy to exist. Our Founding Fathers said as much. The United States has had a dismal voting record at the polls during election season for scores of years. Less than half of those eligible actually vote here compared with other, newer democracies where voters may risk their lives in order to cast their votes. We, living in a nation that is the symbol of democracy, are too complacent to be bothered voting or too cynical to think that our vote might matter.

So I am delighted to see young people talking about politics and asking how government works. And we in the news business are validated by the sight of grown-ups arguing government policies on street corners. Let’s get everybody involved, even if it takes incredible, unprecedented comments and actions to stir us up. I came of age in the Vietnam era when marches and, yes, riots in opposition to government policy toppled a sitting president and eventually stopped the war.

The good news is we don’t have to riot. We don’t even have to march. All we have to do is go to the polls and vote. And if we don’t get what We the People want, we do it again the next time until we get the public servants we wish to represent us. An informed and engaged populace is a beautiful thing.

Firefighters place caps over hearts in memory of those lost during the Setauket Fire District's 9/11 Memorial Commemoration Sept. 11th. Photo by Greg Catalano,

On the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, we reminisce about how on that day, and for so many days that followed, we felt united as a country. A persistent theme when discussing the events is that the aftermath of the attacks brought us closer together as a nation. Our editorial staff would argue that 15 years removed means we still reside in the aftermath, and the legacy of 9/11 is still being written.

If we continue to splinter along party and racial lines, ties that bound us together in a time of horrible tragedy will simply be forgotten.

There was evidence that immediately following the events, we grew closer as a nation. Stories proliferated about long lines of blood donors, American flags flew everywhere — on front porches and cars — people took the time to help one another and civility ruled the day. And as we observed memorial events throughout the past weekend, communities still came together in harmony and with pride.

The initial feelings of solidarity as a reaction to the horrific events were real. However, we would hope that 15 years later, this feeling of unity would continue to apply to more issues.

After visiting classrooms and speaking with teachers, some of whom are now educating children who were born after that day in 2001 or are too young to remember it, the theme of unity struck a chord with them as well.

Our editorial staff wonders how America right now must look to those same students. They can turn on the news and witness divisiveness in an unfathomably ugly election season or see an NFL player being both heavily criticized and highly praised for kneeling during the national anthem. Do we still seem united?

While we feel a sense of togetherness on the anniversary of that day, as we recall the tremendous loss of innocents, or remember those who risked their lives to save others and think of those out there fighting to protect this country, there is still an overwhelming sense that we are growing further and further apart.

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President announces candidacy against Valerie Cartright

Above, far right, Ed Garboski testifies before the town board. He has announced he is running for the seat held by Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. File photo

Ed Garboski will be taking a leave from his role as civic president as he works to unseat Councilwoman Valerie Cartright in the fall.

Garboski, of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, announced his run against one-term incumbent Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) for Brookhaven Town Board’s 1st District at the civic’s meeting on Wednesday night — opening up much debate.

The association’s bylaws do not contain a provision for taking a leave of absence, which originally created a tricky situation for the membership during the discussion. The room was divided — and at times argumentative — over whether Garboski should resign his position as he runs for political office on the Republican and Conservative tickets.

Faith Cardone said she felt it would be a conflict of interest for him to remain the president while running a political campaign for the Town Board.

Garboski said he had wanted to take a leave of absence, largely because he foresees having less time to fulfill his presidential duties, but was limited because of the bylaws’ shortcoming. He pushed back, however, when some called for his resignation, including fellow civic executive board member Joan Nickeson.

Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. File photo
Councilwoman Valerie Cartright. File photo

“I don’t think that I need to resign as of right now,” he said. “Where’s the conflict [of interest]?”

Other members also spoke up against Garboski remaining in his civic position.

“I don’t want to insult your integrity, Ed,” Gerard Maxim said, but having Garboski serve as president while also running for Town Board “makes it awkward for us.”

There were, however, voices of support in the audience.

Kevin Spence, a Comsewogue library board member, said there is no ethical problem before Election Day.

“I don’t see where this is a conflict until he gets elected.”

After some back and forth, Garboski relented somewhat, saying, “if this is such a big problem … if it’s that important to this membership here that I step down, I’ll step down.”

But instead, another library board member, Rich Meyer, made a motion for civic members to vote on granting Garboski a leave of absence starting in August and ending after the election, overriding the bylaws.

The members unanimously approved the motion for his leave.

Once Garboski departs in August, Vice President Diane Lenihan-Guidice will step into his shoes, including running the civic meetings for the months he is away.

Cartright, who is running for a second term on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence lines, said in a statement she and Garboski “will continue to work together to address community concerns. As a sitting elected representative, I firmly believe government always comes before politics.”

She said if re-elected she would “address the needs and ideas of the community and advocate for an informative and transparent local government.”