Tags Posts tagged with "Kara Hahn"

Kara Hahn

The Suffolk County School Bus Safety Program has drawn criticism from Republicans within the county government. Stock photo

The Suffolk County School Bus Safety Program has drawn scrutiny from Republican county officials targeting the program for alleged mismanagement.

Enacted unanimously by the county Legislature in 2021, this traffic safety program uses cameras attached near the stop arm of school buses to enforce the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law. The county has partnered with Virginia-based BusPatrol to operate the program.

Under state law, offenders caught passing buses while the stop arm is extended receive a $250 fine. The county code states, “net proceeds of any penalty … shall be expended for programs related to improving traffic safety and/or school district safety in Suffolk County.”

County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) recently announced his office is conducting an audit of the School Bus Safety program. He stated the program had captured his attention when numerous residents complained about receiving potentially erroneous violations.

“My interest in any program is always that a program is being operated as the laws that adopted it … sought to have it operate,” Kennedy said. “How is the revenue that’s being collected from the program being allocated? Is it being done under the terms of the contract? Is the vendor fulfilling all of their requirements?” 

He added, “That’s the audit function, and it is universal across the board.”

Legislative purpose

Marykate Guilfoyle, a spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), summarized the motive for developing the program in the first place.

“The goal of the School Bus Safety program is to protect children as they get on and off the bus and to reduce the number of drivers illegally passing stopped school buses, which endangers the lives of students,” Guilfoyle said in an email. “The program is completely violator funded, and county proceeds are used to support public safety, traffic safety and school safety initiatives.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) defended the School Bus Safety program. She said her office’s most frequent complaints are related to roadway safety and other traffic concerns.

“Red light cameras and school bus cameras are a way to prevent death and injuries without needing a paid police officer at every intersection and following every bus,” she said. “It’s a very efficient way for providing the consequence for breaking the rules of the road.”

Before the program took effect, Hahn added, few violators ever got caught. Today, they receive a fine, incentivizing better roadway behavior and creating a safer traffic environment.

“Now people have to change their behavior to no longer do the illegal action that puts people’s lives at risk,” the county legislator said. 

Questions over potential misapplication

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said the School Bus Safety program is one of the few measures for which he wishes he could rescind his “yes” vote. He said the Legislature was misled when the program was pitched.

Figures obtained by Trotta indicate the program grossed $23 million last year, with $13 million retained by the county and the outstanding $10 million collected by the vendor. Kennedy estimated the county government netted approximately $11 million.

“We don’t have all the net revenue,” Kennedy said. “That’s been another consequence of the hack” against the county government in September. For more on this ransomware event, see story, “Suffolk County cyberattack offers a window into the dangers of the digital age,” Nov. 17, also TBR News Media website.

By statute, the net proceeds generated by the School Bus Safety program must support various educational programs related to school bus and traffic safety. Asked how the revenue is being spent, an administration official said the 2022 revenue figures are still being finalized.

Guilfoyle, however, cited specific examples of how the revenue supports countywide traffic education initiatives: “Examples of the county’s efforts include dedicating more than $1 million to school districts and $125,000 in [public service announcements] during the back-to-school months to educate drivers on the state law surrounding stopping for buses.”

Trotta viewed the school bus program as a lucrative moneymaker for the county and vendor rather than a measure promoting bus safety. He said the law is applied unfairly, ticketing busy multilane corridors in the same manner as residential neighborhoods.

“I’ve checked with all the school districts, and kids aren’t crossing major thoroughfares,” Trotta said. “I’m all for giving a ticket to someone who passes a school bus on a residential avenue because it’s dangerous. I’m not at all for 1,000 people on Jericho Turnpike getting tickets.”

While the county code imposes rigid reporting requirements regarding expenditures of revenues generated from the program, Kennedy said he has yet to see any reports to date.

Competing perspectives

Following an initial spike when programs such as this are first instituted, Hahn said offenses start to wane “because people begin to change their behaviors — they stop at red lights because they’re afraid of getting a ticket.” 

In time, the legislator added, drivers throughout Suffolk “will no longer go around stopped school buses,” but “if they choose to break the law, they will get tickets.”

Trotta said he is pushing to repeal the School Bus Safety program altogether. “The reality is it’s a sham, and it’s not what we were told it was going to be,” he said.

While Kennedy acknowledged the importance of traffic safety, he held that the audit is to determine whether the program is administered correctly.

“I never want to see somebody blowing a stopped school bus sign — it’s just heinous,” the county comptroller said. “But if [the program] is not being operated in a fair and proper and consistent manner by the school bus drivers and the vendor … then it’s a problem.”

Kennedy expects the audit to be finalized by the second quarter of 2023.

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) has held elective office continuously since 1983. Englebright’s long tenure now comes to a close. 

In a tight state election for District 4 last month, Englebright narrowly lost to his Republican Party challenger Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson). In an exit interview, the outgoing assemblyman reflected upon his pathway into government, the legislative victories throughout that time and the meaning of public service.

The road to politics

Growing up, the young Englebright spent much of his time in libraries. He found refuge in books, which satiated his curiosity and “compelling interest in how things worked.” He also nourished a lifelong fascination with history through those hours devoted to learning.

Leading up to his first run for office, Englebright said he was deeply disturbed by the environmental degradation characteristic of those times. The “almost daily reports” of overdevelopment and sprawl, oil spills and drinking water contamination, each had left a deep and abiding impression on him.

‘The proper role of government is to protect the people who sent you.’ — Steve Englebright

He was teaching geology at Stony Brook University when he began considering public life. “I realized that drinking water was the first limiting factor for the continued well-being of this Island, and I was not really seeing any meaningful public policy growing out of the reports of chaos,” he said.

The late professor Hugh Cleland, from the SBU Department of History, would prove to be the catalyst behind Englebright’s ascent to politics. Cleland sat down with him at the campus student union. For several hours, the two discussed a possible bid for a Suffolk County legislative seat.

“This was a really serious and credible and well thought-out request that he was making,” Englebright said. “So I didn’t just wave it off. I gave it some thought and, sure enough, I found myself saying, ‘What’s next?’” 

After that meeting, Englebright decided to run and was elected to the county Legislature in 1983. He won election after election for the next four decades.

County Legislature

Upon entering the county Legislature, Englebright simultaneously confronted an array of environmental dilemmas. He described the defunct Long Island Lighting Company, the precursor to today’s Long Island Power Authority, as “at that time wanting to build a small galaxy of nuclear power plants on Long Island.” He stressed that the utility company was favoring its shareholder interests at the residents’ expense. 

Englebright successfully championed, along with a grassroots movement of LILCO ratepayers, against the construction of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant and other nuclear plants to follow. Their resistance efforts were grounded primarily in the risks associated with evacuation.

Another major policy issue during his early political career was the protection of groundwater and surface waters in Suffolk County. “I pushed successfully for the largest county-level open space program in the nation,” he said. He was one of the earliest critics against sprawl. 

As a county legislator, he initiated the first plastics ban in the nation. Though ahead of his time on the issue, he admitted that not enough has been done elsewhere to counteract the problem, which he said “has exploded into a worldwide catastrophe.”

He sponsored legislation excising a small fee on hotel and motel rooms, considering the measure as a fee on tourists allowing for their continued enjoyment of the area through reinvestment into the county’s most attractive destinations.

“If you wonder why county Legislator [Kara] Hahn [D-Setauket] is able to have some discretion to provide funding to Gallery North or the Reboli Center, that funding is coming from the hotel/motel room fee,” he said.

State Assembly

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket). Photo from North Island Photography and Films

As a state assemblyman, Englebright quickly picked up where he left off, building upon and expanding his county policies at the state level. Among his earliest actions was the Long Island Pine Barrens Protection Act, a state law ensuring the preservation of the Pine Barrens as open space.

He sponsored some of the original laws in New York state related to solar power and other renewables. “In my first year in the state Legislature, I was successfully pushing for legislation that had paved the way for the electronic age,” he said.

Englebright added that the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was the most crucial legislation he ever sponsored. This ambitious law aims to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 85% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Englebright also successfully led a statewide ban on purse seining, a highly efficient fishing technique responsible for the depletion of menhaden, or bunker, in New York’s surrounding waters.

“The marine world all depends on having this abundant fish at the base of the food chain,” the assemblyman said. Purse seining allowed large-scale fishing operations to collect “whole schools of menhaden, millions and millions of fish.”

One of the fondest moments throughout his tenure happened just last summer. On a boat trip off the coast of Montauk Point during early morning hours, the sun rising off the horizon line, he witnessed entire schools of menhaden beneath the water.

“The sea was boiling with fish,” he said. “Menhaden, they were back by the billions.”

Reminiscent of his earliest years in libraries, historic preservation would be a significant point of emphasis for Englebright. “I’m very proud of the many properties that are preserved, the historic sites.” Such sites either preserved or to be preserved include Patriots Rock and Roe Tavern in Setauket and William Tooker House in Port Jefferson, among many others.

Even in his final days in office, Englebright made historic breakthroughs. Though his reelection bid was unsuccessful, Englebright rejoiced in yet another major victory for environmental sustainability. Last month, New Yorkers overwhelmingly approved a recent $4.2 billion environmental bond act, a multiyear investment in clean water, air, wildlife and the environment.

Reflections from his community

During his extended time in political service, Englebright has worked alongside countless public representatives at all levels of government. He maintained “they’re not all scoundrels,” adding that many were “superb public servants.”

In a series of written statements and phone interviews, several public representatives and close Englebright associates and friends had an opportunity to weigh in on his legacy of service and commitment to his community. 

Englebright “proved himself to be an environmental pioneer, a champion for the causes and concerns of his constituents and an unflinching fighter for the communities he served,” Hahn said. “For those of us who served in elected office with him during his tenure, irrespective of political persuasion or level of government, Steve proved himself to be a friend and mentor who embodied the role of effective leadership in the lives of those we represent.”

 As recently as Dec. 6, the Three Village Community Trust honored the assemblyman by renaming the Greenway trail as The Steve Englebright Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway.

Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant commented on the characteristics that set Englebright apart from other politicians. She said his scientific background and wide-ranging interests added depth to his political persona.

 “He’s a unique legislator in that he’s so well rounded in those other areas and that he’s not just focused on the hard line of the law,” she said. “He’s involved with his community, he’s approachable, he’s caring, he’s kind. He’s a very unique representative, and we’re going to miss him sorely.”

 Like Englebright, Port Jefferson village trustee Rebecca Kassay worked in environmental advocacy before entering government. She discussed Englebright’s ongoing extended producer responsibility legislation, which would require producers of packaging materials, rather than taxpayers, to be responsible for managing post-consumer packaging material waste.

 “This can be a step toward addressing a multitude of waste management, environmental and financial issues facing municipalities and individuals,” Kassay said. “I hope to see the assemblyman’s colleagues and successor continue advocating for policies with long-term solutions,” adding, “Englebright is the type of commonsense representative we’d like to see more of in government.”

 In a joint statement, George Hoffman and Laurie Vetere of the Setauket Harbor Task Force reflected upon Englebright’s importance to local harbors.

 “In his time as our state representative, Steve Englebright never forgot the importance of the harbor,” they said. “Assemblyman Englebright found ways to secure needed dollars from Albany to help the task force in its mission of protecting water quality and the sustainability of Setauket and Port Jefferson harbors.” 

Joan Nickeson, community liaison of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce, credited Englebright for the continued flourishment of her area. She said the hotel/motel tax he sponsored had enabled the chamber to conduct its annual summer concert series at the Train Car Park.

 “Assemblyman Englebright has continued to be a friend of the chamber by supporting our local businesses and attending our ribbon-cutting ceremonies,” she said.

 Within those 40 years, countless other acts and initiatives have come to fruition with Englebright’s assistance. Reflecting on his time in public service, he outlined his political doctrine.

 “The proper role of government is to protect the people who sent you,” he said. “If you keep your eye on the prize, you can achieve things for the people who invested their trust in you.” 

 On the role of the public representative, he added, “Use the office as a bully pulpit, speak truth to power, identify things that are wrong and right them, and treat the office as an opportunity to do good.”

 For wielding his office as a force of good for four decades, TBR News Media dedicates Steve Englebright as honorary 2022 Person of the Year.

File photo
By Bruce Miller

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is receiving $10 billion for infrastructure improvements from the federal government, and we along the Port Jefferson line need a small part of this money for better services.

Bruce Miller, above. File photo from the Port Jefferson village website

As a former Port Jeff Village trustee, I spoke with the former Long Island Rail Road president, Phil Eng, and the LIRR executive planning and technical staff about this issue. They presented plans of their own: double tracking, bridge expansion and reconstruction, electrification and the possibility of battery-powered trains.

My sense of all of this: The LIRR plans are so grandiose and unrealistic that there were no plans at all, just a convenient excuse to do nothing. Rather than bells and whistles, we need a simple upgrade to some form of electric service.

Commuters all along the North Shore are taking the Ronkonkoma line. Some residents even drive to Huntington or Hicksville for decent transit.

Due to inadequate services, our local commuters sit in 10 to 20 miles of unnecessary traffic to get to an electric rail. The pollution generated along the Port Jeff line from diesel requires us to either transfer — often in inclement weather — or “commute to the commute.” This is unacceptable and very ungreen.

LIRR’s logic is to deprive the North Shore of commuters and then argue against electrification due to insufficient ridership. Because of this, we are among the farthest commuters away from New York City, paying among the highest fares, with the shabbiest service.

For decades, LIRR has demonstrated a profound disregard for our local communities. Most travelers islandwide have had electrical service for a generation … or three! The fact that we haven’t joined them should say a lot about LIRR’s priorities and its feelings for its North Shore travelers.

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) have advocated for moving the Port Jefferson train station west to the 120-acre Lawrence Aviation property.

The Village of Port Jefferson needs to engage with Englebright and Hahn to negotiate an adequate tract of land with the LIRR west of Routes 25A and 112. The advantage of this is great.

It would eliminate the Main Street grade crossing and its resultant traffic. It would free up rail yards east of the existing station for a swap of land and subsequent incorporation into Port Jefferson Village. In addition, the freeing up of the existing station property could be used for parkland and recreation.

This is urgent. Decisions on that $10 billion windfall are being made now. The opportunity to electrify the line will not come for another generation. 

Bruce Miller served as Port Jefferson Village trustee from 2014-2022.

Public officials gathered at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Monday, July 25, to announce the opening of grant applications for programs targeting the opioid crisis.

The first round of program funding, which will total up to $25 million, is made available through an approximately $180 million settlement Suffolk is expected to receive “in litigation recovery dollars” over the next 18 years between the county and various manufacturers and distributors.

Last year, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) convened a joint legislative and executive task force to assess proper responses and coordinate efforts to counteract the opioid epidemic throughout the county.

A report prepared by the opioid task force suggests that the available funds target “prevention, harm reduction, treatment and recovery,” according to Bellone.

“These are the categories in which we will see the most significant gaps in programs and services and the greatest potential return on investment with respect to combating the opioid epidemic,” the county executive said. 

‘The decisions that were made really created the dramatic rise in opioid overdoses.’ —Sarah Anker

The task force’s report also recommends a process through which organizations and institutions can apply for the available funding. Starting this week and running through Aug. 22, an opioid grant application is available on the county’s website.

The program is open to public, private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations. “If you’re an agency or organization in this opioid fight and you have a proposal that will help, especially in the areas outlined in the report, then we want to hear from you,” Bellone said.

Also in attendance were several members of the Suffolk County Legislature. Presiding Officer Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), a member of the opioid task force, stated that he and his colleagues in the Legislature are committed to making the best use of these resources as possible.

“This money came with a cost and that cost was lives,” McCaffrey said. “Although we can never get those lives back again, we can … use this money to make sure that others don’t have to suffer and that we [don’t] lose more lives.”

The presiding officer spoke of the ways in which opioids affect communities and the toll they take on families. “Every one of us here knows somebody that has been affected, whether that person has passed away or went to treatment and is still in recovery,” he said, adding, “The scourge that this has caused for the families … you would not want to wish this on any family that’s out there.”

This is a disease, and I still see a system that doesn’t recognize it as such.’ — Kara Hahn

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), chair of the opioid committee, advanced several reasons to combat the opioid epidemic aggressively. She recalled the decades of drug profiteering, failed policies and the absence of federal oversight, which all contributed to a steady rise in opioid-related deaths nationwide.

“The decisions that were made really created the dramatic rise in opioid overdoses,” she said. “There are so many companies and people that created this tsunami of death and now we are here to pick up the pieces.”

Anker referred to the $180 million made available to the county as “a drop in the bucket” compared to the billions in profits generated by those who have exploited opioid users in recent decades. While this money will catalyze the county’s efforts to rectify these past failures, she acknowledged that there remains much more work to be done.

“We’re going to use these funds for opioid addiction, prevention and helping those who are in treatment, but I implore the folks here listening to this press event to take an active role in helping those who have succumbed to addiction,” Anker said.

Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), chair of the health committee, offered her own unique perspective on addiction, having witnessed its effects firsthand before joining the county Legislature.

“As a nurse for 30 years, as someone who has worked in an addiction facility on top of that for 10 years, I have lived the pain and have lived the death,” she said.

Kennedy acknowledged the contributions of those who initiated the lawsuit that made these funds available. While this money cannot compensate for the destruction of life and the carnage inflicted upon the community, she offered that this is a positive step in honoring those who are now lost to this disease.

“It’s not perfect, it’s not a lot, but if we didn’t sue, we would have nothing,” she said, adding that counteracting “addiction is a bipartisan effort.”

Another powerful voice for this cause is Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). She said she is familiar with the plight of opioid addiction, having witnessed the degradation of families and communities personally.

“This is a disease, and I still see a system that doesn’t recognize it as such,” Hahn said. “The disease model of addiction, trauma-informed practices, and recognizing what individuals go through when they face addiction is incredibly important.” She added, “We all have to work together, work strong, work hard and double down on our efforts.”

Applications for opioid grant funding will be open until Aug. 22 and can be accessed at: ce.suffolkcountyny.gov/opioidgrantsapplication

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Maker Faire Long Island returned to Port Jefferson village on Saturday, June 11, at the Village Center.

Maker Faire LI is an annual festival held by the Long Island Explorium, a science and engineering museum based in Port Jeff. Its purpose is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education by way of innovations and crafts of people throughout the region and country. 

Angeline Judex, executive director of the Explorium, discussed the surprising success of the event after its two-year pause. “We’re really happy with this event,” she said. “It has turned out really well — much better than we actually expected.”

Proceeds from the event will support the Explorium’s various educational programs. The goal of these programs is to enliven STEM through activities that are engaging and fun. Judex said the Explorium hopes to inspire young people and nourish a lifelong pursuit of STEM. 

“It’s really important for children to be inspired and excited about STEM at an early age,” Judex said, adding, “We focus on enriching and inspiring children from K-6 so that they get excited about STEM because this is the future.” She added, “We want to support the next generation of leaders and scientists who are going to be inspired to solve some of the challenges in the environments we live in.”

Hundreds of makers gathered at Harborfront Park to showcase their own unique contributions to the field. Sejal Mehra, one of the presenters at the festival, displayed what she has coined “engineering art.” Her works integrate aspects of collage, engineering and sustainability studies under a common discipline.

“I create ‘engineering art,’ which is made from recycling old computer and electronic parts or plastic that would have otherwise ended up in the trash to show the beauty of STEM,” she said. “I’m on a mission to change the face of STEM through art.”

Makers such as Mehra offer the necessary guidance for young people to pursue STEM. Through their example of creativity and ingenuity, young people are challenged to change the world themselves.  

“I think it’s really important to have programs like this one to help inspire young minds into a lifelong pursuit of STEM because you never know when or how something is going to spark their love for STEM,” Mehra said. “It is also great for young minds to be inspired by young adults like myself because we were just in their shoes and can help motivate them to pursue STEM. Without programs like this, the amount of exposure to the field and its vast possibilities and intersections would not be possible.”

Mehra’s artwork is currently for sale and can be purchased through her website or by contacting her via email or Instagram.

Joining Judex was a group of public officials who offered their support for the museum in its mission to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a geologist by profession, spoke of the importance of Maker Faire in encouraging young minds to tackle the impending challenges of environmental degradation.

“The purpose of bringing us all together is to enhance this community, to imagine possibilities for all of the people who live here and visit here, and to use our imagination just a little bit,” he said. “One of the things that’s very important is the narrative and theme that are interwoven around protecting the environment. We’re situated here in beautiful Port Jefferson on the edge of the harbor, and it is a beautiful place to remember the importance of sustainability.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) was also present for the event. She thanked the Explorium for providing these services and enriching the community.

“I am pleased to be here to support Maker Faire Long Island once again, to support the Explorium, and encourage children and our residents to explore, to innovate, to use their imagination and encourage ingenuity,” she said. “Thank you for all you do to encourage that in children right here in our own backyard.”

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) recognized Judex for the work she put into making this annual tradition successful once again and for championing STEM and motivating young people.

“I want to thank you not only for the work you did to bring this event together, but for the work you do all year long to create a fun place for kids to do science, to teach kids, to make it accessible to everybody, to bring science to places where maybe it isn’t, and to find new places to suddenly discover science,” the councilmember said.

Kathianne Snaden, Village of Port Jefferson deputy mayor, thanked the many entities that helped make this event possible once again.

“To all of the volunteers, to all of the makers, to the attendees, to our code department, our parks department and our highway department, without all of you coming together to make an event like this happen, we just couldn’t do it,” she said. “To the Explorium for providing cutting-edge technology, programming and hands-on learning for our children, it is just unmatched in this area.”

Village trustee Rebecca Kassay and her husband volunteered as traffic guards during the event. She called it “a pleasure directing parking.”

“As my husband and I stand and direct parking, we look at the children leaving this event and I asked them, ‘What have you made today?’” the trustee said. “Their faces light up and they show me something they’ve made, whether it’s a magnet, whether it’s a whirligig, whether it’s lip balm.” She continued, “It is so important to empower these young people with the gift of demystifying what is in the world around them.”

Englebright concluded the remarks with an anecdote. When the assemblyman was just 14 years old, his science teacher at the time recommended he attend a junior curator program at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. His decision to heed that advice would reshape the course of his life.

“I became a junior curator and it changed my life,” he said. “The Explorium, this children’s museum, I believe is going to change an awful lot of young people’s lives. Now here I am — with white hair — some years later, and I can tell you of the importance of your programs and the worthiness of everything that you do.”

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), at podium, with Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), left, and Bellone, right. Photo by Raymond Janis

In what is typically a quiet spot in the woods of Shoreham, elected county officials and community leaders gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 10.

The North Shore rails-to-trails project was first introduced some five decades ago when a young woman at the time wrote a letter to the editor advocating for the conversion of an old rail line into a bike path. After decades of planning, the path, which links Mount Sinai to Wading River and everything in between, is finally complete.

Bikers celebrate the opening of the North Shore Rail Trail.
Photo by Raymond Janis

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) headlined the event. He spoke of the immense willpower on the part of the parties involved in making this dream a reality.

“You know any time a project is on the drawing boards for 50 years and you’re actually at the ribbon cutting, that’s a great day,” he said. 

In March 2020, the county completed its updated master plan for hiking and biking, which called for 1,200 miles of new bike infrastructure, according to Bellone. At full build-out, the plan would put 84% of county residents within a half-mile radius of a biking facility. The opening of the North Shore Rail Trail, he suggested, is an important first step to executing the master plan.

“This opening today really goes a long way toward kicking off that next effort — and we don’t want all of that to take another 50 years,” the county executive said. “That’s the kind of transformative investment we need to be making to keep our region prosperous and growing and attracting and retaining young people.” 

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) spearheaded much of this project through the various levels of government and into completion. During that process, Anker said her office overcame a number of obstacles before getting to the finish line. 

“We understood as a community we needed this,” she said. “My number one priority in making sure this happened was, and still continues to be, public safety — making sure our residents, especially our kids, have a safe place to ride their bikes.” 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), prepares to cut the ribbon, surrounded by county Legislators, state and local officials, and leaders from throughout the community. Photo by Raymond Janis

For Anker, the trail offers a number of benefits to local residents, providing bikers with an open space to pursue their hobby while mitigating safety concerns about bikers sharing public roads with drivers. Additionally, the trail will encourage more residents to use their bikes to get around, limiting traffic congestion and air pollution from cars.

“I know someone that lives in Rocky Point,” Anker said. “He takes his bike on the trail now to get to his job in Mount Sinai … that’s what this trail is all about.”

Joining Anker was her colleague in the county Legislature, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). Hahn said trails like these can help to band neighboring communities together, establishing a sense of cohesion throughout the area.

“Between this one and the Port Jeff Station-East Setauket Greenway Trail, we can get from 25A in Setauket all the way to Shoreham-Wading River safely,” she said. “Suffolk County’s roads have consistently fallen on a national list of the most dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians. This is the kind of vision we need to turn that around.”

New York State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) delivering her remarks during the events. Photo by Raymond Janis

State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) suggested that at a time when tax dollars are leaving Long Island communities, the opening of this bike path is also a symbolic victory for the community members and their representatives.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to spend taxpayer money than to invest it in something that is a free, recreational and healthy activity for not only the residents of Suffolk County, but for all of New York,” she said.

Town of Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro (R) detailed the many logistical hurdles that the Highway Department had to overcome to make this project possible. 

“There are over 30 road crossings and all of them are town roads,” he said. “We had to work very closely on making sure that the design of that provided for safe passage for our bikers and walkers.” He added, “I live about a third of a mile away and rode my bike here [today]. I ride here with my kids all the time and it is a fantastic addition to our community.”

Anker ended with one final reflection before the official ribbon cutting, placing the trail in historical context. “The original idea came about 50 years ago at a Sound Beach Civic [Association] meeting and also a young girl in 1974, who wrote a letter to the editor,” the county legislator said. “It did take a while, but we did it.”

Pixabay photo

With the cost of food spiraling out of control, public officials are scrambling for answers. 

A May report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates food prices have climbed 10.8% since April 2021, the highest 12-month increase in over four decades. The surge in food prices nationwide is being driven by a number of factors occurring both domestically and abroad.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major international exporters of grain, including corn, wheat and soy, among other staples. The price of these products has surged exponentially due to the war, affecting markets globally. 

“Food prices in the United States are going up because the oil to deliver the food, the cost of fertilizer, and the cost of planting and harvesting are all going up,” Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, said in a phone interview. “All of that has to do with inflation, it has to do with oil and gas, and it has to do with the war in Ukraine.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) addressed growing concerns over food prices. He said that the state Legislature has recently passed legislation that eliminates the fuel tax. This, coupled with actions at the county level, may help offset increases in food prices. 

“The main thing that we’ve been able to do in this recently passed state budget is to remove — at least temporarily for the rest of this year — the 16-cent state tax on fuel,” he said. “When you live around here, for most people, you need a car to get your food, so these escalating costs are related.” He added, “We’ve also authorized in the state budget the commissioner of agriculture to sharpen his pencils to see what he can do to bring more food to market.”

The Suffolk County Legislature has also suspended its tax on fuel, effective June 1. State and county measures combined, Englebright said residents are now seeing a 26-cent reduction per gallon of gasoline. 

‘It’s very important that we focus now on funneling the money that we have in the state budget into these communities, not only to help the business owners, but to help the residents survive through this process and through this inflation.’ — Jodi Giglio

Despite the elimination of these fuel taxes, prices nationwide continue to swell. State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said local residents are being hit particularly hard due to the already high cost of living on Long Island. 

“We pay the highest taxes and the highest utility rates here on Long Island,” she said. “It’s very important that we focus now on funneling the money that we have in the state budget into these communities, not only to help the business owners, but to help the residents survive through this process and through this inflation.”

The recently enacted state budget will offer residents some relief in the form of direct cash payments through the New York School Tax Relief Program (STAR). Giglio said she and her colleagues in Albany appropriated an additional $2.2 billion in the state budget and expedited the delivery of these checks to help residents deal with inflation and rising costs. 

“The $2.2 billion is for homeowner tax rebate checks,” she said, adding. “It’s a one-time check for STAR-eligible homeowners, and it’s for individuals and for families. New Yorkers are going to start getting these checks right away and they should be hitting within the next couple of weeks.”

This is tough. We’re in a really tough place with food prices, and families at the poverty level are suffering the most. — Kara Hahn

Elevated food costs will detrimentally impact food pantries as well. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) expressed concerns that rising food costs will only compound the existing problem of food insecurity, making it even harder to feed those in need.

“Food insecurity has been a growing problem on Long Island,” she said. “We support a number of food pantries across Suffolk County. I’ve been part of supporting Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, trying to make sure that there is not food waste.” She added, “This is tough. We’re in a really tough place with food prices, and families at the poverty level are suffering the most.”

‘People will inevitably try to make their anguish heard and understood, and one way to do that is at the ballot box.’ — Steve Englebright

Midterm elections loom large as Long Islanders consider ways to get food on the table. At the current rate, food expenses will be at the top of the priority list for a sizable voting bloc. Englebright acknowledges that if food prices are not alleviated soon, there may be significant electoral consequences at all levels of government this November. 

“People will inevitably try to make their anguish heard and understood, and one way to do that is at the ballot box,” he said. “That is a possibility but I hope that the sense of urgency does not require that people use that as the only way to have a sense of empowerment, and optimism in the hope that we’re able to use the instruments of government, limited as they may be, to help offset some of these costs and give people a chance to put food on the table.”

Cantor reiterated these sentiments. He suggests voters are much more likely to vote for the opposition during times of great tribulation. “The reality is that when people are angry, hungry and can’t work, they usually vote the incumbents out,” he said. “When everything you touch costs more than you make, that gets you very angry and very upset. The poor and the middle class are going to get hurt the most.”

by -
0 1142
A sketch from Suffolk County depicts the Route 25A and Nicolls Road intersection and surrounding area.

Early in 2020, Suffolk County was ready to ease residents’ concerns about the northwestern section of Nicolls Road.

Then, the pandemic hit. Roadwork that county officials had been planning for several years and projected would be completed by the end of 2020 was put on hold due to COVID-19. A recurrent issue for travelers on Nicolls Road has been drivers weaving quickly to the left lane when coming from eastbound Route 25A to make a left onto Lower Sheep Pasture Road while others are making a left onto Nicolls from Route 25A driving south.

Now the work is beginning.

At a February 2020 Three Village Civic Association meeting, William Hillman, Suffolk County Department of Public Works chief engineer, said it would be “a relatively simple project.” The road work will include removing the slip ramp on Route 25A approaching Nicolls and bringing a right-turn lane up to the signal. The only time drivers in the right-turn lane will stop is when those making a left from the westbound side of Route 25A have the green arrow.

According to a recent letter to residents from the county Department of Public Works, the project will also consist of installation of drainage, curb, sidewalk, guide rail, milling, asphalt resurfacing, traffic signal work, pavement striping and grass seeding. 

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said, in a recent phone interview, it was good to hear that the work will begin as it will make the roadway safer for drivers and pedestrians.

“It’s always hard to live through infrastructure improvements, but ultimately it’ll make it safer there,” she said.

Hahn said the county doesn’t anticipate any problems with the new light at the turning lane as those approaching from the west and turning right will have the green most of the time.

“Every other moment in that lane you should be able to turn right without a problem,” she said.

Hahn said the sidewalk to be added on the west side of the road, combined with pedestrians no longer having to cross the wide slip ramp, will diminish dangerous conditions. The sidewalk on the west side of Nicolls will run from the North entrance of Stony Brook University to Route 25A. Hahn added currently it is safer to cross at Lower Sheep Pasture than at the northwest corner of the intersection.

According to county officials, crews have begun preliminary work, and the project should be completed by the end of the summer. Hahn added the estimated project cost is $1.2 million.

Stock photo

To end 2021, the Suffolk County Legislature voted to approve Legislator Kara Hahn’s (D-Setauket) plan to increase access to fentanyl test strips in an effort to reduce overdose deaths. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, Suffolk County experienced 337 opioid overdose deaths in 2020. The data for 2021 is unavailable.

Signed by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) Dec. 28, the bill came just days following a warning from the national Drug Enforcement Administration that, during 2021 alone, it had seized enough fentanyl to give a lethal dose to every American.

In response, the Legislature approved a plan to make fentanyl detection strips more readily available to residents, thus helping to prevent overdoses. 

Through the legislation, the Suffolk County Department of Health Services will soon be required to include fentanyl test strips with naloxone kits distributed during department trainings on how to use the opioid antidote. Increasing access to fentanyl detection strips will enable recipients to test drug doses for the presence of this deadly synthetic substance prior to using the drugs tested.

“Opioids kill, that is why I pushed for the county to become certified to provide naloxone trainings that put this life-saving antidote in more hands; fentanyl kills, that is why I am pushing for increased access to test strips, which will give this life-saving tool greater reach,” Hahn said.  “Allowing users the ability to know if they are about to put a drug in their body that also contains fentanyl will save lives and begin to reduce the increasing overdose deaths devastating our community.”

In a statement, the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence commended Hahn and the county government for addressing the realities of the dual pandemic of the opioid crisis, fueled by fear and anxieties of COVID-19.

“The distribution of fentanyl test strips and continued widespread distribution of naloxone (Narcan) meets this public health challenge head on with the sole and primary objective of saving lives in Suffolk County,” said Steve Chassman, LICADD executive director. “Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures to aid so many individuals and families struggling with opioid use disorder.”

Deaths attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that according to the Nation Institutes of Health is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, have been steadily rising since 2013. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids were nearly 12 times higher in 2019 than in 2013,” the last year for which complete data is available. The agency goes on to report “provisional drug overdose death counts through May 2020 suggest an acceleration of overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The link between fentanyl and increasing overdose deaths also concerned the DEA, which in September issued its first Public Safety Alert in six years to warn the public about the alarming increase in the availability and lethality of fake prescription pills in the United States that often contain deadly doses of fentanyl. 

In its advisory, the DEA reported it had “determined that four out of 10 DEA-tested fentanyl-laced, fake prescription pills contain at least 2 milligrams of fentanyl — an amount that is considered to be a lethal dose.”

“What we are offering through this new policy is a harm reduction strategy,” Hahn added.  “Addiction is a disease that must not be allowed to become a death sentence, which, as more and more fentanyl has been released into our communities, it has become for many who might otherwise have recovered if given a chance.”

On Nov. 17, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021.

This is an increase of 28.5% from the 78,056 deaths during the same period the year before. NCHS also reported that 64% of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, an almost 50% jump from the prior year. 

Local municipalities are already starting to utilize the new testing strips and have been in contact with the county to retrieve them. 

According to Fred Leute, chief of Port Jefferson’s code enforcement, the village has ordered the new fentanyl testing strips through the county “but it takes a bit of time to get,” he said, noting that they are in possession of the basic kit that was provided previously through the DOHS.

“All of our personnel are fully trained,” he added. “They glove up with the plastic gloves so they don’t touch anything on scene.”

By Rita J. Egan and Julianne Mosher

Election night, Nov. 2, found many Democratic candidates gathering at the IBEW Local 25 union hall in Hauppauge, while Republicans attended a get together at Stereo Garden in Patchogue. The Hauppauge event was a more somber one as some Democrats in the county lost their seats, while other races were close ones.

Rich Schaffer, who heads up the Suffolk County Democratic Committee, said Tuesday night’s results spoke more about what was happening on the national level than about the candidates.

“This was just, as you see, a big wave that took out some really good elected officials, and if you were a challenger, you had even a steeper row to hoe as opposed to an easy time, like we’ve normally been able to do,” he said.

While candidates and supporters eagerly awaited the results of in-person votes, the final tallies may not be known in some races for a few weeks due to the Suffolk County Board of Elections still needing to count absentee ballots. Results are as of the morning of Nov. 3.

Suffolk County district attorney

The race between county District Attorney Tim Sini (D) and prosecutor Ray Tierney, who ran on the Republican and Conservative lines, was a contentious one. At the forefront, Tierney questioned whether Sini has been as tough on crime as the DA himself has said, especially regarding the MS-13 gang.

At the end of the night, Tierney emerged the winner with 154,569 votes (57.34%). Sini garnered 114,943 (42.64%). Sini was first elected to the position in 2017.

“I am proud and humbled to stand before you here today,” Tierney said during his victory speech. “Despite being running against an incumbent, despite not having a lot of money in the beginning, despite not having the support of a lot of institutions — not for one day did I feel like an underdog, because of you guys.”

Tierney added his goal is to “fight every day to keep the citizens of Suffolk County safe.”

“I will reach out into the community to develop relationships so we can all have faith in our district attorney’s office,” he said.

Suffolk County sheriff

Errol Toulon Jr. (D) has been county sheriff since 2017 and was seeking his second term this election season. His opponent, William Amato, who ran on the Republican ticket, was not actively campaigning.

At the end of the night, Toulon was declared the winner with 142,510 (54.28%). Amato received 119,947 (45.69%).

Toulon Tuesday night was overwhelmed as he thanked those in attendance at the union hall.

“I do want to thank all of you for your constant support, not just your support now, but over the last four years of talking to me and encouraging me during some difficult circumstances in taking over the sheriff’s office, and I hope to do a better job over the next four years than I did over the last four years,” Toulon said. 

Suffolk County legislators

County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden) won his seat for the 4th Legislative District with 8,748 votes (71.52%). Caracappa took on the role during a special election in 2020 following the death of Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma). The incumbent’s opponent, Dawn Sharrock, on the Democratic ticket, had a total of 3,476 votes (28.42%).

“I’m looking forward to​​ making real changes,” Caracappa said. “All the families here work hard and they deserve this victory — not just for the Republicans, this is for everybody. It’s a victory for Suffolk County — it’s a victory for the hardworking middle class.”

Sharrock said Tuesday night she sees herself running for office again.

“I honestly feel like I’ve learned so much,” she said. “I’ve grown so much. I’ve learned even just so much about myself. It’s been an experience that I’m so glad I was able to have. I’ve been surrounded by so many wonderful people, so many people who have supported me, never doubting my ability. It’s inspiring, and it’s uplifting. I have two daughters, a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, and they’re so inspired by my journey and that means so much.”

Caracappa said he hopes that Sharrock continues to serve her community.

“It’s not easy to do that,” he said. “I respect anybody who wants to make positive change.”

The race in the county’s 5th District, which includes the Three Village Area and Port Jefferson, is a tight one. County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) was in the lead with 7,582 votes (50.25%). Salvatore Isabella, who ran on the Republican ticket and did not actively campaign, had 7,508 votes (49.75%).

The night was a nail-biter for Hahn, who is up for her sixth term.

“I am cautiously optimistic that once all the votes are counted, voters will return me to office and I’ll be honored to continue to serve my community,” Hahn said in a statement Wednesday morning. “I look forward to continuing my work to protect our Long Island way of life and make a difference for our working families.”

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was seeking her sixth term in office. The incumbent trailed with 7,141 votes (42.10%). Town of Brookhaven employee Brendan Sweeney won the race with 8,329 votes (49.11%). The newcomer ran on the Republican ticket. Conservative candidate Anthony DeSimone garnered 1,488 votes (8.77%).

Sweeney declared victory during Tuesday night’s event.

“It feels so good,” he said. “The voters spoke. They want change for this county and now with me and the rest of the newly elected legislators, we can do what’s best for the people.”

Anker said she was hoping to continue as she has many projects she would like to complete.

“I’ll continue to do something to stay in the area of helping people, that’s my goal, my priority, and I appreciate all those people that came out to vote,” she said. “But this was, I think, a national tsunami.”

The legislator added her 6th District is a Republican area, and it has always been an uphill battle for her.

“I’m just very fortunate to have served as long as I have, over 10 years, and do all the projects and initiatives that I have,” she said.

In the 12th District which includes parts of the Town of Smithtown, Lake Grove, Lake Ronkonkoma and Centereach, county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) won her fourth term in office with 12,629 votes (74.57%). Her opponent Mike Siderakis, who ran unsuccessfully for state senator against Mario Mattera (R-St. James) last year, stopped actively campaigning this summer. Siderakis obtained 4,301 votes (25.40%).

Kennedy said during her victory speech at Stereo Garden that the win proves how well the party works together.

“We work hard, we have good values and we stand together as a team,” she said.

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) garnered 10,896 votes (53.09%) and won his fifth term in office. Also on the ballot were Democrat Kevin Mulholland, who didn’t actively campaign, and won 4,693 votes (22.87%), and Michael Simonelli on the Conservative ticket, who campaigned but didn’t debate Trotta this election season. Simonelli had 4,932 votes (24.03%).

The district includes parts of Smithtown as well as Fort Salonga and portions of Commack and East Northport.

Trotta in an email statement said, “I am thrilled and honored that the people of the 13th Legislative District did not pay attention to the outright lies made by the police unions, of which my Conservative opponent was the treasurer, and [the people] voted for me based upon my record of fighting for the taxpayers, working for fiscal stability and helping my constituents.”

The 18th District, which sits in the Town of Huntington, included candidates Mark Cuthbertson (D), currently serving as Huntington Town councilman, and Stephanie Bontempi, a newcomer to the political field. The two decided to vie for the seat after county Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) decided not to run this year. He is currently facing charges for allegedly trading oxycodone for sex.

Bontempi emerged the winner with 11,419 votes (53.89%), while Cuthbertson 9,765 votes (46.08%).

“Today is a new day for Suffolk County,” she said. “With this victory, we readily flipped the balance of power in the Legislature. We changed the list of priorities. Our neighbors and the community have chosen accountability, transparency and integrity. They’ve chosen a peer over an insider. I cannot wait to get started in working with my new colleagues.”

Cuthbertson said he never says never, but he doesn’t see himself going back to town politics currently. He said he was glad he ran for county legislator.

“We laid it all out there, and I’m at peace with how much we did,” he said.

Town of Brookhaven

Incumbent Donna Lent (R) faced Ira Costell (D) running for town clerk of the Town of Brookhaven. Lent, who is serving her second term as town clerk, has managed day-to-day operations such as issuing death certificates and handicap parking permits, while land-use applications are filed within the office.

Costell has taken leadership roles in environmental causes such as the Suffolk County Watershed Protection Advisory Committee and served as chair of the county’s Pine Barrens Review Commission. He has been passionate about the fight against opioid addiction and prescription drug abuse.

Lent won her seat with 54,318 votes (67.91%), while Costell had 25,642 (32.06%).

Town of Smithtown

Incumbent Ed Wehrheim (R) faced Democrat and newcomer to the political field Maria Scheuring in the race for Smithtown supervisor. The incumbent has been a part of town government for nearly 50 years. He won his first term as supervisor in 2017 after beating out Patrick Vecchio (R) who served in the position for nearly four decades.

Scheuring, an attorney, grew up in the Bronx, and moved to Smithtown in 2006 where she has a private practice dealing in matters from guardianship to visiting clients in nursing homes to looking over music contracts.

Smithtown residents voted back in Wehrheim Nov. 2. The incumbent had 20,446 votes (75.01%), while Scheuring garnered 6,806 (24.97%).

In an email statement, Wehrheim said he was humble and grateful for the support.

“Our first election cycle we set out to talk with the people in the community,” he said. “We didn’t preach or promise. We simply asked, ‘What do you want from your local leaders?’ We then devoted these past four years to delivering for the community. We didn’t kick the can and wait for help when COVID-19 inflicted its wrath upon us. We looked at every obstacle as an opportunity. I believe that the voting public visually and physically sees what we’ve accomplished in a short period of time: the parks, athletic fields, community entertainment, downtown improvements. They want more and we are eager to deliver.”

Scheuring said Tuesday night she learned a lot during the campaign and just how complicated it can be. The newcomer to the political field said she is interested in seeking office in the future, and she said regarding a position such as town supervisor the issues aren’t Democratic or Republican.

“It’s more, ‘Do we think this is the best for the town?’” she said.

Town of Smithtown councilmembers, Lynne Nowick (R) and Tom McCarthy (R), regained their seats with 19.833 votes (37.46%) for Nowick and 19,753 votes (37.31%) for McCarthy. Democratic candidates, Dylan Rice and Marc Etts, did not actively campaign and received 6,965 (13.16%) and 6,378 votes (12.05%) respectively.

Nowick thanked voters for putting their trust in her in an email statement.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Town Board to keep Smithtown the alluring town that it is,” she said. “Quality of life in Smithtown is the highest priority. We will all continue to preserve our beautiful parks, beaches, golf courses and clean up any eyesores to keep Smithtown beautiful.”

McCarthy said in an email statement the voters sent a loud and clear message, and “it was a great night, not just for us but for all of Long Island.”

“I am extremely grateful to the Smithtown voters for their continued support and am eager to devote these next four years to delivering for the constituency,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of some big improvements coming to Smithtown, with a timeline to sewering Smithtown in place, a shovel in the ground in Kings Park, slated for January and St. James has never looked so good. We’re going to finish what we started and then some, creating an ideal community for our young professionals, families and seniors to call home indefinitely.”

Vincent Puleo ran unopposed for town clerk, and Robert Murphy was also the lone name on the ballot for superintendent of highways.

Town of Huntington

Two councilmen and a newcomer were on the ballots for Town of Huntington supervisor after current town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) decided not to seek reelection. Councilmen Ed Smyth (R) and Eugene Cook, who ran as a third-party Independent candidate, gained 25,409 (56.34%) and 1,746 (3.87%) votes, respectively.

Democratic candidate Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of nonprofit Health & Welfare Council of Long Island, had 17,940 votes (39.78%).

With councilmen Cuthbertson running for county legislator and Smyth running for town supervisor, two seats were up for grabs on the Town Board. Candidates David Bennardo and Sal Ferro ran on the Republican and Conservative party lines, while Joseph Schramm and Jennifer Hebert ran on the Democratic ticket. Bennardo and Ferro emerged the winners with 26,669 (30.46%) and 25,206 (28.79%), respectively. Hebert had 18,335 votes (20.94%) and Schramm 17,328 (19.79%).

Andre Sorrentino beat out incumbent Kevin Orelli for superintendent of highways with 25,565 votes (56.69%). Orelli garnered 19,524 (43.29%).