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covid-19 recovery

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo spoke to TBR News Media about his first month in Albany, and what his plans are for the rest of the year. Photo from Palumbo

State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) has been in his new role for a little over a month now, and has made it clear that before anything gets done on his laundry list of things to do, COVID-19 recovery is the first battle. 

When the former state assemblyman and legislator announced he would be running for former state Sen. Ken LaValle’s (R-Port Jefferson) seat, he had some big shoes to fill. 

“This is not necessarily my first rodeo,” Palumbo said, adding that his new role is nearly two-and-a-half sizes larger than his previous district. 

Palumbo’s former Assembly 2nd District — now led by Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) — runs across the North Shore from Fishers Island all the way to Mount Sinai. He was first elected in 2013 with a 57% vote. His new District 1 spans across the whole East End, beginning near Port Jefferson all the way out to Montauk. 

And since he took office in January, he’s been busy, he said. This past week, he helped secure about 650 vaccines at Peconic Landing in Greenport — one of the hardest hit nursing homes on Long Island at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Palumbo said that in less than three hours, 300 residents were given their first shot in hopes to combat the virus. 

“The immediate goal is COVID,” he said. “It’s getting us back to business and safely opening back up.”

Palumbo said in order to get there, the biggest solution is obtaining and distributing vaccines, which New York State has been ridiculed for. 

“Micromanaging the distribution of the vaccines has been a disaster,” he said. “And unfortunately, this is how it began. The governor [Andrew Cuomo (D)] had strict guidelines, and that was really the hiccup.”

Palumbo said he has been “highly critical of the government” especially after being able to distribute the vaccines to the seniors in Greenport, with the help of Stony Brook University Hospital. 

“A prime example is what [we did at Peconic Landing],” he said. “Then, the hospital said they can quadruple their vaccines if they have the opportunity.”

And Palumbo wants to look to ask the federal government for help. 

“We have the capability to do this,” he said. “Unfortunately, we were slower than most states because of the executive orders control in the government. It needs to loosen up more.”

The vaccine wins at Peconic Landing last week brought him back to reality, he said. 

“This affects people’s lives,” he said, “And as elected officials, this is what we’re supposed to be doing — facilitating.”

Passionate about rolling out the vaccine to everyone who wants it, Palumbo said it has been frustrating. 

“We knew the vaccine was coming for months,” he said. “We had time to prepare.”

He criticized Cuomo’s plan. Palumbo said that since other states, like Florida, have been open, they are doing OK in terms of COVID-positive numbers and deaths.

“What are we doing?” he said. “We really need to get back to work.”

Palumbo added that not only was the distribution an issue in terms of acquiring vaccines, but obtaining them has been a nightmare for his constituents, too. 

“We don’t have a website that works when we knew early on people were going to frantically go to it,” he said.

And once the vaccine rollout is complete, Palumbo said things can go back to ways they were. 

“Big-box stores haven’t been closed for a day throughout the pandemic,” he said. “But [around] 95% of other businesses can’t open.”

He mentioned that one of those industries is hospitality on Long Island. 

“Hospitality is the number one revenue for the city and state,” he said. “With them being closed, it’s killing us. We’re losing billions in revenue.”

But while conquering COVID is the primary goal, Palumbo has other plans that he wants to accomplish within his new role as state senator. 

“We have a lot of issues that are continuing,” he said. “They’re not on the backburner — they’re a close second.”

Palumbo noted that his district “has more coastline than any other district.” As a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee, he said he knows the importance of clean drinking water and runoff in his district — especially out on the East End — and plans to keep working toward them. 

A former prosecutor, he said he will continue monitoring issues within law enforcement throughout his term, and also wants to make sure young people stay on the Island. 

“People are fleeing the state in droves,” he said. “And we’re probably going to lose two congressional seats because of it.”

Photo from Jim Lennon

By Daniel Dunaief

Kevin O’Connor, CEO of BNB Bank, is focused on the bread and butter businesses of his bank and of the communities he serves: small businesses.

O’Connor ensured that BNB,  with its Bridgehampton National Bank branches, dove headfirst into the first Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, from the federal government in the first round, lending over $1 billion to more than 4,000 businesses. That is in addition to the $400 million Dime Bancorp, which plans to merge with BNB later this year, loaned to small businesses.

In the second round, O’Connor expects about 30 to 40% of the businesses that received loans in the first round will apply for additional funding.

In addition, O’Connor expects that customers who are seeking a second round of PPP will likely return to the bank they used in the first round, in part because businesses will be applying for a second draw on a loan, rather than for a new loan.

“We’re hoping that makes the paperwork easier,” he said.

So far, about 10% of the businesses that borrowed through the PPP have asked for forgiveness on their loan. Most of the businesses that sought forgiveness received it, especially if they used it for the anticipated purposes.

O’Connor is eager to see these small businesses, whom he lauded for their contributions to the areas they serve, survive the ongoing hardship created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time that a vaccine offers hope, these small businesses remain in perilous condition, as the percentage of positive tests continues to climb and hospitals handle an increase in patients.

Small businesses “don’t have a unified voice,” said O’Connor. The BNB chief executive called these small businesses the “lifeblood” of the communities.

The PPP program presents an opportunity for BNB to provide funding to a range of customers.

The success of the program led non-customers who were friends of customers to seek out financial support for their struggling businesses from BNB.

O’Connor said BNB hopes to expand their interactions with these new customers into full-service relationships, providing a range of other banking products.

No Red Microphones

O’Connor said BNB has focused in recent years on enhancing the product knowledge from their employees.

“We trained our people better on our technology so they can better explain it,” O’Connor said. “Branch managers weren’t using the mobile app. How can they sell it if they weren’t using it themselves?”

While the technology hasn’t changed, it has become better for customers because bankers can explain it better.

During the pandemic, O’Connor has made numerous efforts to reach out to bank employees, hosting conference calls and zoom calls. O’Connor urged bank employees to keep their cameras on during those calls. In smaller meetings, he also asked his coworkers to unmute their phones, to enable an open dialog among the staff.

“If I see red microphones, I ask [that employees] turn them on. We’re talking here. This is a conversation,” he said.


While he led the bank during the pandemic, O’Connor also experienced COVID firsthand, when he contracted the virus. He said his children were worried about him, but that his case was “pretty mild.”

The virus “makes you recognize that we’re a part of something bigger, whether we’re talking about PPP or worry about trying to keep the lights on in your building,” he said.

While some people are receiving the vaccine, O’Connor said he wasn’t comfortable requiring everyone to receive shots.

“I’d be hard-pressed to do that,” he said. When it is his turn to get a shot, O’Connor said he would take the vaccine.

While the vaccine has given him reason for optimism, he said the bank has been cautious in the last few weeks with its staff.

“We’ve sent a lot of our employees home,” O’Connor said. “We’re back to a skeleton crew in Hauppauge. We’re monitoring our branches” amid an uptick in cases.

O’Connor and other bank executives are looking at the total number of branches the bank may need in the future. The company has continued to generate business in its branches, although some are “busier than others. We’re going to continue to look at that.”

The Chief Executive described branches as “outposts” in the community, and believed that the branch decisions would be an “evolutionary process.” 

O’Connor said the virus may lead employees to a better awareness of the needs of their coworkers.

“You may come to work every day, but another man or woman isn’t there. They may have an underlying health issue and don’t want to talk about it. You’d like to think it’s making better people of us. At some point, people who can, should do and people who can’t, let’s take care of them,” O’Connor said.


O’Connor said the combination with Dime is a true merger of equals. The top executives from the two banks represent a 50/50 split with Dime.

“I feel comfortable that the culture will come together,” O’Connor said. “We will be a unique bank. There’s nothing like this. It’s truly Long Island-based.”

O’Connor said the bankers at both institutions have a “passion for what we do.”

And he respects entrepreneurs and small business owners, many of whom have pivoted to other products or modes of delivery for their products.

“So many [small business owners] have made so many sacrifices,” he said.