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Councilwoman

Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The Town of Smithtown’s decision to shut down the Smithtown Animal Shelter’s Facebook page is the latest controversy to bombard the already problem-plagued center.

Smithtown resident John Urbancik openly criticized town councilmembers’ decision to take down the shelter’s Facebook page earlier this month at the Nov. 7 town board meeting.

“Before you took down the page, you weren’t promoting the animals,” Urbancik said at the board meeting. “Put it back up and promote the animals. If you want the animals out of there, you need to promote them.”

Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said the site has been temporarily taken offline alleging that public commenters harassed and cyberbullied town employes by claiming they had failed to provide adequate care for the shelter’s animals.

Shelter dog Dinah was recently adopted. Photo from George Speakman

“It was destroying the self-esteem of the staff who work there every day,” she said. “It’s been shattered with this negativity. It’s hurting our adoption success. It’s hurting the animals. It’s a few people who start these rumors that go all over about the shelter, but they aren’t thinking about the animals.”

Over the last two years, the Smithtown Animal Shelter has been plagued by a series of problems. Former director James Beatty resigned in May 2015, after more than 30 years running the shelter, following months of accusations by Smithtown residents of his animal neglect and cruelty. He was replaced by Rocky Point resident Sue Hansen, who was fired by the town in July 2017 on charges of incompetence and mismanagement which led to a deterioration of the animals’ living conditions.

Urbancik said in a telephone interview with TBR News Media Nov. 10 that the shutdown of the shelter’s Facebook page wasn’t over harassment or bullying, but rather a calculated effort to silence public outcry. He claimed the shelter’s dogs are being neglected, citing they are being left locked inside unclean kennels.

Urbancik has started several Facebook pages of his own to draw attention to his problems with operation of the shelter including “Smithtown Animal Shelter needs a director” with more than 700 followers and “Remove Public Safety from Smithtown Animal Shelter” with more than 70 followers as of time of this publication.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter Facebook page comments, Urbancik’s social media posts, along with others made by animal activists concerned over conditions at the Smithtown shelter, caught the attention of New Jersey resident George Speakman.

The self-professed dog lover traveled more than two and a half hours Nov. 12 after hearing rumors the shelters’ vet was operating without anesthesia and all dogs in the shelter would be euthanized by December.

“I saw the Facebook page before it went down; it was one of the main reasons I decided to travel up to New York to take a look — I wanted to see for myself,” Speakman said. “If it was the way it was described on Facebook, I would have sat outside that shelter and protested.”

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals.”

— George Speakman 

Upon arriving, he said he met with the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Susan Zollo, and a kennel attendant.

“I told them about the stories I had heard, and for my own peace of mind, asked if I can look around and see the shelter,” he said. “She was more than happy to accommodate me.”

Speakman said he toured the facility and took a video recording of the kennels and dog park before deciding to adopt Dinah, a female bull terrier and corgi mix who has been a long-term resident of the shelter.

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals,” he said, saying he would highly recommend local residents visit themselves. “They bend over backwards for them.”

Smithtown resident Vicki Feuerstein, a volunteer of the shelter since it was under Beatty’s leadership, said there have been positive changes in recent months at the shelter with proactive leadership and the remaining staff responsible and dedicated to their jobs.

“You have the backbone to make it a really good shelter,” she said.

Feuerstein admitted there is still room for improvement as dogs are spending too much time in their kennels, largely due to a shortage of kennel staff.

“I would love to see more kennel staff, that really affects the life of the dogs,” she said. “ Also, an animal behaviorist.”

Councilwoman Inzerillo admitted the town only has two full-time employees at the shelter, after recent efforts to clean house of troublesome employees. She said there have been conversations with supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) about hiring two additional kennel staff members once he takes office. In addition, Inzerillo said the town has started extensive renovations to improve the dated shelter.

“We are focusing on moving forward,” she said. “We can’t focus on the negativity. I encourage residents to go and visit the place.”

Darryl St. George at a RAP Week press conference earlier this month. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Huntington Democrats are looking to heal a party rift by working together to push towards securing the town supervisor seat up for grabs this November.

Centerport resident Darryl St. George has put out a call for his followers to support Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D) in her campaign for Huntington Town Supervisor. Edwards beat St. George in the Sept. 12 primary, 3,482 votes to 1,664 votes, to win the Democrat line in the general election.

The political hopeful said he was initially disappointed by his loss but with time to reflect has put it in perspective.

“It was the first primary for a Democratic town supervisor and 1,600 people came out to vote for us,” St. George said. “It was still a loss, but it was a win in that sense. We got that many people to come out and be involved in the process.”

Huntington Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards. File photo by Rohma Abbas

St. George said he has sat down with Edwards to talk over the key issues that came up in the primaries and their campaign platforms. They were able to find some common ground, according to the challenger, who said they were in agreement on the need for term limits for elected officials, campaign finance reform, a comprehensive review of the town’s master plan with environmental considerations, and aggressively attacking the problem of heroin/opiate addiction.

“I am able to go back to my supporters and say, ‘This is the candidate we need to get behind,’” St. George said. “In my view, I will do everything I can to help her win as I believe she is the best person for the job in this race right now.”

Edwards will face competition from the Republican candidate, current State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci, Nov. 7.

Both Democrats agreed that the voter turnout for the Sept. 12 primary was disappointing. There were only 5,000 registered Democrats who cast their ballot for town supervisor candidate out of the more than 50,000 party members registered to vote in the Town of Huntington.

“A long-term project for me as a veteran and a history teacher is to do everything I can to get more people involved in the political process,” St. George said. “We can’t continue to accept low voter turnout as a reality.”

“In my view, I will do everything I can to help [Tracey Edwards] win as I believe she is the best person for the job in this race right now.”

— Darryl St. George

The Northport High School teacher said he hopes to hold a meeting with young leaders sometime in October to discuss what role they play in the politics, how they can get more involved and have a voice in local issues.

His strong belief that active participation is key to the democratic process is part of what inspired St. George to get involved in politics. He first contemplated running for a seat on Huntington town board in 2015, before declaring in February 2017 he would be launching a campaign for town supervisor — months before Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) announced he would not be seeking re-election.

St. George’s decision spurred what will be remembered, at least by many voters, as the first Democratic primary for Huntington Town Supervisor.

“I have a profound sense of gratitude for all the people that came out and participated in this historic event in the town, which includes Tracey’s supporters,” the political hopeful said. “But a special thank you to my supporters, I’ve come to see them as an extended family.”

While St. George said he did not have any specific plans for the future, residents may still see and hear his name.

“I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to stay involved and do what I can to fight for what I believe in,” he said.

Councilwoman Lynne Nowick smiles. Photo from Lynne Nowick

Smithtown Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) has been serving the public for more than 20 years, and she has no intention of slowing down.

The incumbent is looking for another term on the town board this fall, and said she wants to build on the successes of her two-decade long tenure.

“My heart is in it,” Nowick, a life-long St. James resident said in a phone interview. “I feel I am the best candidate because I have been working on this town for 22 years, and I will continue to work for this town.”

At the Smithtown Republican convention last month however, things did not go according to plan for the GOP town board incumbents, as chairman Bill Ellis led the way for three new challengers to get support from the party over Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Nowick and Councilman Tom McCarthy.

At the meeting Nowick said losing the nomination from the party would not deter her and she would “see them at the primary this September.” She said she preferred not to comment on the party division during the interview, saying she wanted to focus on her job.

She said her experience working in government for many years is a strong asset for her.

“I have a good rapport and relationships with county officials, as I worked with them for 17 years, and I feel that’s important to be able to work with them,” she said, referring to the years she served as a Suffolk County legislator for the 13th district.

During her tenure as a county official, Nowick said she was able to preserve properties and open space in Smithtown, including areas in Head of the Harbor, St. James and near the Nissequogue River. She said she was also able to secure funding for a sewer study project in Smithtown, and was instrumental in creating the first family concert series in Suffolk County, which was held in Smithtown.

“That was a shot in the arm for the community,” Nowick said. “It helped the town flourish by bringing families to the downtown area. That is downtown revitalization at its finest.”

Nowick added she was proud of the work she did focusing on keeping young kids safe and healthy.

She banned the sale of cough suppressants to young people, as well as the sale and possession of salvia, a psychoactive plant. She also worked to get a safety label put on energy drinks to warn consumers about the health risks, and created a drug take-back program in Smithtown.

“I was always trying to take care of the young people,” she said. “I believe parents aren’t always aware of the dangers.”

In terms of the success she’s had while serving as a town board member, the councilwoman said she’s proud of the town’s financial stability.

“We can brag about the fact that we have the gold standard on bond ratings with a AAA,” she said. “We’ve managed to maintain almost the lowest amount of debt per capita in Suffolk County, and our fund balances are strong and stable.”

She also highlighted the fact that Smithtown residents experienced a tax decrease this year, and there is expected to be no tax increase in 2018.

For the future, Nowick wants to continue to build on the sewer projects for the town, as well as improve infrastructure like the sidewalk project on Lake Avenue in St. James.

Vecchio praised Nowick’s efforts serving the town.

“She has been a diligent and dedicated councilwoman who has complete knowledge of all the issues that confront the town and she is an influential voice in meeting the issues,” he said in an email.

Old friend gets third organ transplant with councilwoman’s help

Tom D’Antonio and Jane Bonner spend time after a successful kidney transplant surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Photo from Bonner

A Brookhaven Town Councilwoman was elected in 2007 to serve the community. On April 26, she took the idea of public service to a whole new level.

Tom D’Antonio and Jane Bonner spend time after a successful kidney transplant surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Photo from Bonner
Tom D’Antonio and Jane Bonner spend time after a successful kidney transplant surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Photo from Bonner

Jane Bonner, councilwoman for Brookhaven’s second district, and Tom D’Antonio have known each other for almost 40 years. Bonner said she became friends with D’Antonio’s younger brother Steven in her seventh grade Spanish class at Middleville Junior High School in the Northport-East Northport school district, which has since closed, and the families have stayed in touch ever since. D’Antonio was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was 10 years old. He said the disease has “wreaked havoc” on his kidneys over the years. The 57-year-old EMT has a medical history that most would consider unlucky. He wouldn’t agree.

“I’m living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” D’Antonio said.

He has had three successful kidney transplants and a pancreas transplant, and survived an acute coronary thrombosis, which was a 100 percent blood clot-blockage in a vessel of his heart in 2012.

The flip side to the hard luck of requiring three kidney transplant surgeries is the fact that three times, D’Antonio had a willing and able donor who was also a match. The first time was in June 1988 when his then girlfriend Cheryl, who he has been married to for 27 years now, stepped up and donated D’Antonio a healthy kidney. He said at the time, doctors told him the chances of his girlfriend being a match were one in a million.

In 1999, he underwent a pancreas transplant, which he said at the time was somewhat experimental. The result was the formerly insulin-dependent diabetic was essentially cured. But by 2002, the diabetes had done damage to his wife’s former kidney. This time, D’Antonio’s sister stepped up. She wasn’t an option in 1988 because she had just given birth.

Everything was fine until October 2012 when the blockage caused his heart to stop for about 14 minutes while he was riding the Long Island Rail Road one day. An EMT riding the train performed CPR to resuscitate D’Antonio. Luckily, the incident occurred near the Mineola train station, which is about five minutes walking distance from Winthrop University Hospital. Doctors told him they thought he’d have brain damage if he survived the ordeal, emphasis on “if.”

D’Antonio’s brain was okay, but the heart stoppage caused damage to his sister’s kidney. He was back in a familiar position. For a third time he needed a family member or close friend to step up and offer an organ that would save his life.

‘Once I make up my mind, I’m pretty steadfast and determined. I’m a big believer in God having a plan.’ — Jane Bonner

According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list every month, and 13 people die every day waiting for a kidney transplant. According to the Living Kidney Donors Network, more than 80,000 people are currently on the waiting list, where most people remain for more than five years waiting for a life-saving donation while on dialysis.

D’Antonio found himself in need of a kidney with his options exhausted. In October 2015, Bonner invited D’Antonio and his wife to meet her and her husband, John Sandusky, to join them and some friends at the Huntington Lighthouse Festival in Huntington Harbor. Bonner and Sandusky sailed their boat from Mount Sinai, while the D’Antonios took the short trip by boat from their home in Eaton’s Neck.

“We almost didn’t stop — we didn’t want to intrude,” D’Antonio said about that October day. He revealed to Bonner he was in need of a kidney once again, and told her that a family member who might have been an option was not going to work out.

Tom D’Antonio, his wife Cheryl and Jane Bonner sail on the open seas, which is where Bonner first told D’Antonio she’d like to donate her kidney. Photo from Bonner
Tom D’Antonio, his wife Cheryl and Jane Bonner sail on the open seas, which is where Bonner first told D’Antonio she’d like to donate her kidney. Photo from Bonner

“I said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Bonner said. Taken aback, D’Antonio suggested Bonner should think it over and maybe discuss it with her husband and family.

“John!” D’Antonio said Bonner called out to her husband across the boat. “I’m going to give Tommy a kidney!”

That was all the discussion the Bonners needed, which D’Antonio said was apropos of their relationship.

“Once I make up my mind, I’m pretty steadfast and determined,” Bonner said. “I’m a big believer in God having a plan.”

On April 26, Bonner donated her left kidney to D’Antonio in what she called a “minor surgery” at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

As that master plan has played out since, Bonner said doctors discovered two precancerous polyps that were about two years away from manifesting into colon cancer during the litany of tests she had to undergo in preparation for the donation.

D’Antonio said he’s not sure what his outlook would have been if Bonner hadn’t offered to help.

‘I’m living proof that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’
— Tom D’Antonio

“I know that right now I wouldn’t be feeling as good as I’m feeling,” he said. “I was to the point, the week of and the week before the surgery, if I walked a block I’d have to stop and rest. It’s like a slow, miserable, downward spiral.”

Bonner has since shared news about the transplant on social media using the hashtag #ShareTheSpare, and plans to advocate for programs like the Kidney Paired Donation Pilot Program, which is managed by the United Network for Organ Sharing and is an option for patients with a living donor who is not a match.

“It’s more dangerous to drive to work every day than it is to live with one kidney,” Bonner said. “There’s no greater gift to give than the gift of life.”

Bonner, who missed just eight days of work, has been hesitant and uncomfortable with the baskets, flowers and cards she’s received since the surgery.

“There’s like this common element that runs through people who do that,” D’Antonio said. “They’re all like ‘it’s a no brainer.’ Clearly it’s more than that. That’s the thing that’s hard to express in words — how that makes you feel.”

D’Antonio shared what he said to Bonner in response to that hesitancy to accept thanks or praise.

“Get used to it.”

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Jane Bonner discuses previous terms and goals for another two years, if re-elected. Photo by Elana Glowatz

After four terms in Brookhaven Town, Councilwoman Jane Bonner isn’t ready to stop.

“The longer I’m at it, the more I realize that more needs to be done,” Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said.

The veteran politician is looking to be re-elected to a fifth term with the hopes of working on that “more.”

“Every year you’re in office, it’s like peeling back an onion layer,” she said. “I’m finishing up my eighth year in January, and the longer I’m at it the more in-depth issues can be resolved.”

Bonner faces a challenge from Democrat Andrew Berger, but Berger did not return requests for an interview.

Bonner explained that when she was first elected, she did the “quick, sexy things. You make a little splash so people know you’re serious.” But now she’s rolling up her sleeves and delving into the grittier projects.

In her time at Town Hall, Bonner has helped establish a neighborhood watch group in Mount Sinai, pushed to revitalize downtown Rocky Point, spearheaded sidewalk projects on major streets like North Country Road and Shore Road, and helped complete the Route 25A corridor study, a project Bonner said she is most proud of.

“We’ve delineated a true downtown for Rocky Point,” Bonner said of the study, which now serves as a guideline for development along the busy artery from Mount Sinai to Wading River. The study allows for some development in downtown areas, “but it will never look like Middle Country Road, and I think that’s a good thing. Development will happen in the areas where there’s already development; it won’t sprawl out.”

Bonner also lent a hand in Shoreham, to help locate a new solar energy farm. With that property, which will be used to set up solar panels, according to the councilwoman, about $1 million — in payments in lieu of taxes — will go to the local school district over the next 20 years.

The incumbent has also worked to protect open space — the town is in the midst of acquiring the wooded Cordwood Landing property in Miller Place — and to beautify the area, going after derelict houses and storefronts.

“I felt like Rocky Point and Sound Beach and everything up north were like the stepchildren — that’s why I ran for office,” Bonner said. “I stamp my feet and get my stuff done. We’re making Brookhaven better every day by improving the appearance of it and … it improves the quality of life for the residents in the community.”

If re-elected, Bonner said she will continue to work on the projects she’s put into motion, like using $1.3 million in federal funding to clean up Friendship Beach in Rocky Point and pushing for more funds to repair the town’s jetty in Mount Sinai Harbor. That dilapidated jetty represents a hazard to boaters and allows the harbor to fill with sand, but a $10 million repair project — of which $6 million is already set aside, Bonner said —will help keep recreation and business in the inlet.

“We work very, very hard to show people that we are a very, very constituent-driven office,” Bonner said. “I send out newsletters to let the community that I represent know the projects that are going on. There’s something to do every day and the longer you’re at it, the more you see needs to be fixed, and the longer you’re at it, the more things that you can get done.”