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H. Lee Dennison Building

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Legislator Nick Caracappa shake hands during signing ceremony. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

A countywide housing initiative recently got a bit sweeter for veterans and people with disabilities.

Public officials, veterans and disability advocates together with community members gathered Friday, June 9, at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, where Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) ceremonially signed two landmark pieces of legislation.

U.S. Census Bureau data indicates Suffolk County is home to over 56,000 veterans, the highest concentration of any county across New York state and among the highest in the nation. The census also indicates that 6.1% of the county’s 1.5 million residents are with a disability under 65.

Under the new local laws passed unanimously by the Suffolk County Legislature last December and signed officially by Bellone in January, funds and housing units will now be set aside to accommodate veterans and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“We are committed to, in this county, making sure that everyone in our community is included,” Bellone said during the recent ceremony.

Legislator Leslie Kennedy speaks during the signing ceremony event. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

The two bipartisan legislative packages were introduced by Majority Leader Nick Caracappa (C-Selden) and Legislators Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) and Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), among others.

Caracappa, who chairs the county’s Veterans & Consumer Affairs Committee, noted the sizable veteran and disabled populations, suggesting the county is pursuing a proper course for these historically underserved communities.

“We have far too many veterans on our streets [who are] homeless,” he said. “We have far too many individuals, family members, neighbors, friends with disabilities who are willing, able, ready for a life of independence and dignity.”

Kennedy decried the lack of initiative across all levels of government in supporting these demographics. “We would be nowhere without our veterans, and we have done so little to assist them as life goes on,” she said. “This is us moving forward.”

The county legislator added, “For those with impaired abilities, they deserve to live on their own.”

Trish Calandra of Wading River, in an emotional address, shared the story of her two children with autism, who are both now living on their own.

“To see them living this great life was something I really needed to help others achieve,” she said. “There’s still more to do. We need to get this across this state. We need to get this across this country. We have so many people who need assistance and need help.”

At podium, Tom Ronayne, director of Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

Tom Ronayne, director of Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency, celebrated the legislation, noting that Suffolk County has “set the bar high.”

“For the people who are most directly affected by what is happening here today, their lives are changed profoundly,” he said. “They can lay down and go to sleep knowing that they have a safe, affordable place to live and that tomorrow will not challenge them in the ways that yesterday may have.”

He concluded, “Welcome to Suffolk County because this is how we do it here.”

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was joined by several county legislators on Tuesday, June 13, at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, signing legislation that will fortify 12-year term limits for county offices.

Although term limits have existed in Suffolk County since 1993, the original statute was ambiguous. This new law, which was passed unanimously by the county Legislature last month, will cement 12-year terms for the offices of executive, legislator and comptroller. 

Bellone considered this a much-needed measure that has received “overwhelming support” from the public and that reaffirms the original intent of the 1993 law.

“People really believe and understand that there is a value in turning over the people who are in office, that after a period of years — 12 years in this case — it’s time to give someone else an opportunity,” he said. “If there is a time limit in office, there’s more likely to be a focus on what’s in the interest of people rather than maintaining themselves in that office.”

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) discusses the legislative intent of the 1993 term limit law. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

The 1993 law was poorly written, offering a loophole for those eager to circumvent its legislative intent, allowing officials to bypass its 12-year cap after a break in service. Bellone said this new law closes that loophole, establishing a fixed-term limit of 12 total years for each respective office.

“This Legislature has made it clear in this action today that they want to limit government, that they want to limit the time that someone can serve,” the county executive said. “Our experience here in Suffolk County is that that is absolutely a good thing.”

Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) shared why this law will benefit voters. By creating more turnover in county government, the term limits will make room for new blood and fresh ideas.

“I’ve served in the Legislature for a little bit over eight years now,” he said. “I have seen some come and go and said, ‘I hate to see them go.’ But you know what? Someone takes their place and we have an input of different ideas and different personalities, and I think it’s been positive.”

Suffolk County Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport), at podium, sponsored this legislation. Photo from Steve Bellone’s Flickr page

Legislator Stephanie Bontempi (R-Centerport) sponsored this legislation. Elected for the first time in 2021, Bontempi views the term limits as a motivating influence, creating a fixed window of time for her to deliver results for her constituents.

“There will be no more sitting idly, languishing over decisions for decades,” she said. “I want to actually produce results.” The legislator added, “It just simply is good government — new ideas, new candidates.”

The law will make one final pit stop before it is formally enacted. County voters will weigh in on the matter in a referendum this November. Both the county executive and the legislators present urged Suffolk County residents to ratify this legislation.

On Saturday, June 12, elected officials from Suffolk and Nassau counties, along with union leaders, paid respect to local transportation workers who lost their lives to COVID-19.

Family members and friends of the 21 public transportation workers who succumbed to the virus were on hand for a dedication of a memorial garden to their loved ones on the east side of the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge.

The garden features a stone with all of the workers’ names and five American white dogwood trees donated by the Bridgehampton High School’s Future Farmers of America under the direction of Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who chairs the Legislature’s transportation working group, led the event.

The committee initiated the idea to salute the workers with the memorial. Fleming said with families not being able to properly mourn during the pandemic due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was important to take time out to remember the workers.

She said the concept of essential workers evolved over the past 15 months, from frontline workers such as police officers, firefighters and health professionals to educators, grocery store workers and more.

“Our public transportation workers ensured that each of these essential employees got to his or her workplace,” Fleming said. “Our bus drivers, and our train operators and our transportation workers literally kept our society moving and our economy afloat. We owe them a debt of gratitude that we cannot fully express.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) thanked labor leaders for working with the county during a difficult time.

“You have done so much to lead, to represent these essential workers and to work with us,” he said. It was “in an environment in which none of us had a playbook on how to deal with this, how to handle this.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran (D) said the families do not grieve alone.

“When people come and see these beautiful trees they’re going to ask questions, are going to want to know what happened here — why is this here?” she said. “People will know about your loved one’s sacrifice, and we’ll know about their lives. The fact that they were out there when so many other people were afraid, getting the doctors and nurses, getting the grocery store workers, getting home care workers to where they had to go. It was selfless work.”

Among the speakers were the Rev. Shaju Devassy, associate pastor of Church of St. Barnabas the Apostle in Bellmore; the Rev. Charles Coverdale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Riverhead; Debra Hagan, Transport Workers Union Local 252 president; Daniel Kane Jr., Teamsters Local 202 president; Anthony Simon, SMART Transportation Division general chairman; and Bill DeCarlo, national vice president/legislative director of Transportation Communications Union/IAM.

The Hauppauge High School Chamber Choir sang “A Parting Blessing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Lt. Sean Murtha of the Suffolk County Police Department Emerald Society Pipes and Drums played “Amazing Grace.”

Hagan said the workers left their homes every day knowing the risks they were taking, trying their best to protect themselves with masks, hand sanitizer and keeping their distance from others.

“They made that sacrifice, because the communities needed them to get on those buses and do their job,” she said. “It’s so important that we never forget that every morning they got up, and they left their home, kissed their loved ones goodbye. And unfortunately for many, sacrificed the ultimate sacrifice of contracting COVID and leaving us on this Earth. We’re not going to forget. Each and every one of your family members holds a very special part in our hearts. Their co-workers are never going to forget the camaraderie.”

Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Julianne Mosher & Kimberly Brown

Parents, students and school districts had a confusing week with mask mandates for kids pre-K through 12 needing clarification from the governor. 

On Friday, June 4, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said an announcement was coming to drop in-school mask mandates for children. But shortly after, the state Department of Health’s announcement didn’t align with what he said. 

Health officials said they had not yet received an OK from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and on Monday, Cuomo announced the CDC would not be changing guidance for wearing masks, therefore they are still required inside schools. 

According to Cuomo, school districts can lift the requirement that students must wear masks outdoors. The state’s guidance on mask use indoors remains in place, but school districts may choose to no longer require masks outdoors, for example during recess. This change aligns with guidance relating to summer camps, where even unvaccinated campers are not required to wear masks outdoors. 

“Children wear masks in school inside, and when they’re outside of the school building in recess, etc., it’s hot, they’re running around, but they’re outside, there is no mandate for masks outside. We’ll leave that up to the local school districts,” Cuomo said Monday. 

This came just days after rallies were hosted across Long Island, demanding that the governor “unmask our kids.”

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and upset parents gathered Wednesday, June 2, outside the H. Lee Dennison building in Hauppauge to demand a mask-free environment for children in schools and camps. 

“This is the right decision for children across New York, who have sacrificed so much throughout the pandemic and suffered emotionally, physically and mentally from lockdowns and remote learning,” Zeldin said at the rally.

The week before, May 26, Andrew Giuliani (R) — another contender for Cuomo’s seat in 2022 and son of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) —  stopped by the same spot to show his support for the same cause. 

These rallies were put together by parents and advocacy groups who hoped to influence Cuomo’s decision to lift the mandate. 

“It’s a parent’s right to take care of their children the best way they feel fit,” said Mike Hathaway from Long Island Loud Majority, a conservative organization. “Not the government, not for political pull, and not for control.”

Moms for Liberty, an advocacy group from Suffolk County that focuses on unifying America while educating and empowering parents to defend their parental rights, has been working to get the mask mandate lifted in New York. 

A member of the group, Barbara Abboud, said her children, among many others, have been suffering in school, whether that be academic, mental or physical.

“Everyone here today knows what’s at stake,” she said. “It’s more than just unmasking our children, it’s about getting our basic freedoms back.”

Zeldin also discussed his animosity with the prior COVID-19 restrictions, where businesses were forced to close at earlier hours to prevent the spread of the virus.

“There was a time when they said you couldn’t go to the gym after 10 [p.m.] because, apparently, that spreads COVID,” Zeldin said. “However, if you go at 8:30 with a whole group of people, that would mitigate the spread.”

Cuomo said virtually all restrictions can be lifted once 70% of New Yorkers aged 18 and older have received the first dose of the vaccine.

County Executive Steve Bellone stands outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge where a new vaccine rollout will begin in a couple of weeks. Photo by Kimberly Brown

By Kimberly Brown

A new COVID-19 vaccination site finally opened at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, where the vaccine’s mass distribution will be given out to hundreds of residents in the upcoming weeks.

The latest expansion will help Long Island recover from the consistent 4% positivity rate that surged to a height of 12% during the second spike of the coronavirus outbreak in February.

“The numbers have declined since, but they are not declining any further at this point,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said March 24. “We have undoubtedly hit a plateau and are stubbornly maintaining this approximate 4% positivity rate.”

Predicting the positivity rate would drop down to 1% by March, Bellone said his predictions did not happen. The hospitals are still hovering around 400 COVID patients and even with vaccine quantities increasing, officials are continuing to see the positivity rate at a steady level.

According to Bellone, the reason for the consistently high percentage in COVID cases is due to warm spring weather creating an overall eagerness to leave quarantine, making opportunities for locals to catch the virus.

“The fact that many people are getting vaccinated and that spring is here, people are rightly feeling optimistic and positive,” Bellone said. “That is leading to more people coming out, which is a positive thing, but we do need to be cognizant of the fact that the virus is not gone and that there are still risks.”

So far, the county has vaccinated more than 400,000 residents with at least their first dose, but expects to see a rapid increase in vaccination supply in the upcoming weeks. 

Despite the positive outcome of Suffolk County opening up its latest mass vaccination site, other areas on the Island, such as the Twin Forks, remain some distance away from distribution points. Bellone said he is aware of the problem. 

“We’ve gone to great lengths to get to every corner of the county,” he said. “We even took a plane to Fishers Island to make sure we can get residents, who are isolated, the vaccine.” 

On a spring-like Saturday afternoon, local residents from all walks of life took time out of their day to rally in support of the Asian community.

The south side of the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge on Saturday, March 27, was filled with hundreds decrying recent hate crimes against Asians in the country. Many held signs featuring messages such as “Stop Hate Spread Love,” “End Racist Violence,” “Make Racism Wrong Again,” “Hate Is A Virus, Love Is The Vaccine” and more.

The rally was organized by Suffolk County Human Services. The event featured speeches from representatives of civil rights organizations and elected officials, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) and Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini (D).

Bellone said he was glad it was a sunny and warm day, but it would be a beautiful one even if it was raining.

“It’s a beautiful day because we are all gathered together as one, as Americans from all backgrounds, to stand up and speak together in one voice to say that hatred and intolerance is unacceptable,” the county executive said. “We will not accept it here in Suffolk County. We will not accept it anywhere in this country.”

Bellone said anyone who attempts a hate crime in the county would be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“We are gathered here today, one another in solidarity, to fight against these vicious brutal acts of violence that we have seen many of our brothers and sisters — our fellow Americans in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community — have been subjected to, verbal assault and physical violence,” he said. “And we are here to say today that this is unacceptable. We will never tolerate acts of hate like this here in Suffolk County.”

Zeldin, who has been criticized for not supporting in the House a resolution condemning anti-Asian hate related to the COVID-19 pandemic, received criticism at the rally, including from state Sen. John Liu (D-Flushing). The state senator said he was happy to see U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY3) there who voted in favor of the legislation.

“Not every Congress member you will hear from today, voted for it,” he said. “People want to be held accountable. I’m in office, I expect you to hold me accountable. I may not be his constituent, but I’m going to hold Congressman Zeldin accountable for voting ‘no.’”

“We need everybody who says they support us to actually support us,” Liu said.

When Zeldin spoke at the podium his wife, Diana, who is Asian American, stood by his side. Some of the people in attendance at first jeered when he began to talk.

Zeldin said the rally wasn’t a partisan political one.

“We all have to stand together in these moments to come together and rally against the violence when you are targeting someone because of their religion or their color of their skin, or where they come from,” he said. “Every American, and especially as we are reminded in this crowd of people who love our community and our country, who come here for the American Dream to pursue hope and opportunity. All of you are here not just for this flag but for community, and for each other to make a difference.”

Also, speaking at the event was Shaorui Li, president of the Asian American Association of Greater Stony Brook. The East Setauket resident was born in China and immigrated here more than 20 years ago.

During her speech, she said since last year there has been a 150% increase of crimes against Asian Americans.

“Why are Asians being treated this way?” Li asked the crowd.

In a phone interview the day after she said, “I wanted them to think, because we’ve been too quiet.”

Li said she was touched to see people from all ethnic backgrounds at the event as well as various elected officials from the area.

“I said to everyone, not only Asians, but African Americans and Latino Americans, I wanted to ask them to be with us together because in the past there have been different opinions. But this definitely shows how being minorities being together, we can get the support we need,” she said.



Members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America held a press conference in Hauppauge June 1 before the illumination of the H. Lee Dennison building to commemorate Gun Violence Awareness Day. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Suffolk County is showing its support for a national movement using light.

On June 1, the H. Lee Dennison Suffolk County headquarters building in Hauppauge was illuminated in orange — the color adopted by activists working to reduce gun violence. The illumination will last until June 5 and began the night before Suffolk County’s Gun Violence Awareness Day. The event was designated to honor the lives of gun violence victims through legislation cosponsored by county legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville).

The H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge illuminated in orange to commemorate Gun Violence Awareness Day. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Before the initial illumination June 1, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America gathered in the building’s lobby for a press conference. Hahn said orange was chosen by high school students in Chicago in 2013 after their friend was murdered because they knew hunters wear orange to prevent being shot by others.

The legislator talked about the day of the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 when she returned home after visiting with her daughter’s kindergarten class and heard the news. Hahn said the tragedy inspired her to author legislation requiring Suffolk County law enforcement agencies to cross reference the names and addresses of suspects transported to Stony Brook University’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program with the county’s pistol license registration. She said the bipartisan legislature unanimously passed the piece of legislation in 2013.

“There is no reason this country can’t have stronger laws,” she said. “We can have the 2nd Amendment, and we can have stronger laws that protect our children.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn addresses attendees at a Gun Violence Awareness Day event in Hauppauge June 1. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Moms Demand Action advocate Gemma Saylor discussed the importance of speaking up.

“We all have a voice, and we must use it,” she said. “We have a voice, and we can use it to provide comfort to grieving families. We have a voice, and we can use it to raise awareness about the enormous number of lives taken by gun violence every single year, every single day.”

Shenee Johnson, of Queens, and Paul Guttenberg, of Commack, were in attendance to share their stories of losing loved ones to gun violence. In 2010, Johnson’s 17-year-old son, Kedrick Morrow, was shot and killed at a party. She said while she feels it was once believed gun violence only happened in certain neighborhoods, unfortunately tragedies like Sandy Hook and Parkland have made Americans realize otherwise, and the victims’ families have become one in the fight against gun violence.

“We are the vanguards, we’re on the frontline, and we’re going to do everything we can,” she said, adding no parent should be fearful when dropping his or her child off at school.

“This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

— Paul Guttenberg

Guttenberg’s niece Jaime was killed during the Parkland shooting Feb. 14 when a shot from the killer’s AR-15 rifle severed her spinal cord. He detailed the depth of emotion he felt the day of the shooting. At first, Guttenberg said he had hoped his niece had left her phone in a backpack when he first received news his nephew arrived home safe and sound, but his brother and sister-in-law hadn’t heard from Jaime. Later that hope turned into despair when he received the news she was one of the victims who was fatally shot.

“How could this have happened,” he said. “I remember hearing about mass shootings on the news, but you never think you’ll be so affected until you are. This can happen to anyone and anywhere. This could happen here to us, and it already happened to me.”

Guttenberg has spoken at a number of rallies on Long island, and his brother Fred, Jaime’s father, has become an activist for stricter gun legislation.

“Jaime’s murder is now a national tragedy, but for my family it is deeply personal and unsettling,“ Guttenberg said. “We are strong. We are resolute, and we will make Jaime’s memory a blessing.”

Not to be outdone by the uprising of left-leaning activists who have made their displeasure known across the United States since President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration, supporters of the president congregated March 4 to present a united front in backing Trump.

A group called Main Street Patriots organized the rallies, titled the Spirit of America Rally, which took place in 32 states and Washington D.C. The only rally held in New York took place outside of the H. Lee Dennison Suffolk County Executive office in Hauppauge and was organized and promoted in part by the Conservative Society for Action, a Patchogue-based group founded in 2008 whose website says has about 900 members.

“We need to stand united with our president who wants to do something to fix America,” a website set up to promote the Suffolk County event stated as part of its mission.

Judy Pepenella, a Patchogue resident and the national coordinator for the CSA, said she tried her best to spread the news of the rally on social media. She estimated about 350 to 400 people attended the Hauppauge rally.

“Spirit of America is the spirit of the Constitution, the spirit of the rule of law, the spirit of the goals and the directives and the original intent of the founding fathers,” Pepernella said, explaining how her group got involved. “We do stand behind our president — some people, more, some people less. But he won, we want to give him a chance.”

The rally came as the heat was being turned up on Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who multiple news outlets reported last week had meetings with a Russian Ambassador despite Session’s testimony during his confirmation hearing he had no contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Rallies, protests and contentious town hall meetings featuring activists opposing Trump’s agenda and policies have taken place across the U.S. in recent weeks.

Pepernella said the group’s mission is not to blindly defend all of Trump’s policies or words, or her congressman — U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) — for that matter, but she said it’s refreshing to hear a politician “call a spade a spade.” Zeldin has publicly supported Trump for months.

“Just because [Trump] said so doesn’t mean it’s right,” she said. “If it doesn’t work with the Constitution; if it infringes on a person’s rights; if it’s going to hurt somebody socially, economically and a person in need … he’s going to hear from us. It’s not a just ‘we blindly support the president’ — we support the president’s goals and his platform and mission statement to make America great again.”

Pepernella, who said she has yet to hear anything from Trump that would cause her to raise an eyebrow so far in his presidency, attributed outrage of Trump’s words and actions to people not being used to a New Yorker telling it like it is.

“We are all New Yorkers, and there’s a problem with New Yorkers, and I say that as a native New Yorker,” she said. “We have a bit of a tenacity and a bit of a brazen, ballsy-ass attitude — forgive my French — but that’s what we have. Donald Trump was born in Queens. He’s born and raised here. He’s a New Yorker and we can sometimes say things that are not perfectly correct, but that’s who we are. It doesn’t bother me. I have no problem with his rhetoric.”

Port Jefferson resident Keith Debaun shared his motivation behind attending the event.

“Clearly I’m here not to support Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I’m here to support Donald Trump because he’s facing a lot of resistance, and I’m here to oppose that resistance.”

Dix Hills resident and attorney Mike Dyckman also explained his reason for attending.

“I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, and I’m an American,” he said. “I don’t like what’s happening whether it’s Republican or Democrat — we have to be together as a nation and I don’t like what’s going on right now on the left. They’re not listening to anybody. They’ve got all of these shout-down sessions when the representatives are going back to talk to their constituents. It looks like a lot of it is staged, whether they’re paid for it or not. If that doesn’t stop, what’s going to happen is we’re going to not get anything done in the country.”

Pepernella addressed some constituent’s complaints that Zeldin has not been available enough and hasn’t met with many local residents who have invited him to events, saying the congressman who came before him wasn’t any better.

“I know for a fact people have gotten in to see him [Zeldin],” she said. “When it was Tim Bishop’s (D-Southampton) office, you’d go in, they had a sign in sheet, you put your name… and why you’re there. If you were lucky you got a response. I didn’t get a response when I went in the office because I was asking for specific things. I [did] get one meeting with Tim Bishop. When he found out it was me, he never met with me again.”

Flyers with information about the CSA were passed out during the rally with a clear statement of the group’s mission going forward.

“The Conservative Society for Action believes it’s time for a return to fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, free markets and honest government,” it said. “We cannot afford to sit this one out. We will be silent no more. Please join us in our fight for the future of this country. Freedom isn’t free. Get involved while there’s still time.”