Tags Posts tagged with "Kara Hahn"

Kara Hahn

Photo from Pixabay

By Leah Chiappino

News of the COVID-19 vaccine was met with immense excitement and demand after the pandemic ravaged for almost a year with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. 

Excitement stifled among New Yorkers, many say, as the distribution of the vaccine supply in New York state has been filled with supply issues, appointment cancellations and an online portal that is difficult to navigate.

Distribution began with health care workers in December (Phase 1a) and on Jan. 11 (Phase 1b) expanded to other frontline workers such as teachers and police officers, along with anyone ages 65 and older. 

This seems to have been when the demand surged out of control. Long Islanders have been trying to access the portal to make an appointment only to find available appointments to be both miles and months away, leaving residents to consistently call the New York State hotline, hoping for a cancelation and appointment to open up — a process especially challenging for elderly residents. As of Feb. 8, the state has received 2,808,825 vaccinations and administered 2,228,567. On Long Island, 82% of the vaccine doses distributed have been used. There are about 7 million eligible residents throughout the state. 

On Feb. 15, those with certain comorbidities and underlying conditions will be eligible to sign up for appointments.

“The entirety of our week seven allocation was delivered to providers yesterday and already New York has administered 90% of its first doses while prioritizing fairness and equity,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a statement. “Week after week we exhaust our vaccine supply and are basically left waiting for the next week’s delivery. This is not unique to New York. It’s happening in states across the nation because the previous administration grossly mismanaged and politicized the vaccine distribution process from the beginning by not ordering enough vaccines from manufacturers. With new leadership in Washington, the light at the end of the tunnel is in sight but we must manage our expectations. Production of the vaccine alone will take six to nine months. In the meantime, we will continue to distribute the supply we do get quickly and fairly as we have from the start.”

To try to find out the best way to go forward, TBR News Media spoke with a bipartisan group of local elected officials to ask what we can hope for in the future, where they think the biggest problems are in the distribution chain and whether or not they have received the vaccine.

File photo by Kevin Redding

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) 

“We need to make it easier, not harder, for New Yorkers to get the coronavirus vaccine who want it,” Zeldin said in a statement. “New York’s rollout has been an unmitigated disaster: Unused coronavirus vaccines sitting in freezers for weeks, doses ending up in the trash, local health departments overwhelmed with vaccine demand, thousands of appointments canceled, New Yorkers showing up to appointments only to be turned away and more. While these drug companies need to continue ramping up the production and distribution of vaccines, the state needs to ramp up its strategy, rules and communications.”

“While I believe vaccine distribution should be prioritized to those who need it most — the elderly, frontline workers and more — as soon as the doctors say it’s my turn, I won’t hesitate to get it.”

When asked about the state health department lacking vaccine supply from the federal government he said, “Drug companies need to continue ramping up production and distribution, but when these vaccines get to states around the country, they need to be put into people’s arms effectively and efficiently, not thrown in the trash.”  

 

File photo of Jane Bonner

Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point)

Bonner said that the issue with the distribution is at the federal level. “President Biden [D] said throughout the entire campaign that he had a plan [for vaccine rollout] and clearly he doesn’t,” she said. “Never make campaign promises that you can’t keep.”

Bonner has been working with her elderly constituents to try and guide them to the New York State website, or to the hotline.

“Seniors have lost so much throughout this pandemic,” she said. “They really need to be able to socialize and go out again. We need to work together for our seniors, and to get the schools and businesses open.”

Bonner has not yet received the vaccine, as she wants elderly people to receive it before she does.

 

File photo by Kevin Redding

County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai)

Anker has sent letters to Cuomo, as well as U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) seeking answers for the failures in the vaccine rollout.

In a letter to the governor dated Jan. 11, Anker conveyed the frustrations of senior citizens and  essential workers trying to get appointments immediately after the  Phase 1b distribution, only to find out they were already booked

“As the Suffolk County chairwoman of both the health and seniors committees, I am writing to acknowledge my frustration and concerns regarding the disbursement of the COVID-19 vaccine in the county,” she wrote. “With my district having one of the largest senior populations in Suffolk County, I offer the suggestion of providing accessible locations, including community on-site availability, to our senior communities who are more at risk of COVID-19. While I appreciate the many Suffolk County staff members doing their best to facilitate the vaccination process and the patience and cooperation of the residents eagerly awaiting their turn in getting inoculated, I ask that a more cohesive process be implemented as soon as possible as we move forward in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Anker wrote to Cuomo again Feb. 3. “Since the county is not able to provide vaccinations to our senior citizens under New York State executive order 202.91, it would be helpful to have a comprehensive list that outlines all locations, including pharmacies and other vaccination sites,” she said. “Without this information, we as elected officials cannot provide our constituents, in particular our senior citizens who may not have the ability to register online, with accurate information and guidance about how and where to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.”

Anker also stated in the letter the Suffolk County Disabilities Advisory Board advised her that accommodations were not being made for disabled people at state-run vaccination sites. For instance, the New York State COVID-19 vaccine form, which patients are required to fill out before receiving the vaccine, does not have a braille version nor is it compatible with screen reading software for the blind. Anker also reached out to Schumer and Gillibrand on Feb. 3. expressing concern with the limited federal supply of the vaccine being distributed to the county.

“Currently, the vaccinations that are available are a mere fraction of what our constituents need, and the current climate is getting more desperate. Increasing vaccinations are not only the best way to combat the pandemic, but paramount to keeping our large population of seniors and others healthy,” the letter read.

“I say I’m like a dog with a bone,” Anker said. “I will not let this go until I’m assured that this process is fixed. I don’t want to wait a week. I don’t want to wait a month. I know that we may not have the vaccines right now, I understand that,but while we’re waiting fix the process.”

She said she has been working with local pharmacies to try and get them a supply of vaccines, as well as local senior communities to figure out their vaccination plans.

Anker has not yet received the vaccine but said that she “probably will” once she is eligible.

 

Leg. Nick Caracappa

County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden)

“I believe I share the same view as many residents of Suffolk County in that the initial rollout of the vaccine was a disaster, with the short supply and limited venues of distribution,” he said in a statement. “Recently, this office has aligned with other county, town and state officials in demanding that the governor stops ignoring the needs of Suffolk County. Additionally, I’d love to see the New York State health commissioner and local government agencies collaborate to expedite supply and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to our frontline workers, essential workers and vulnerable senior citizens.”

“The time is now to get our residents a sufficient supply of the vaccine to combat this deadly virus once and for all,” he added. “I encourage all those who are eligible for the vaccine to sign up as quickly as possible. Although I haven’t received the vaccine to date, I intend on doing so once I qualify in accordance with New York State guidance.”

When asked to expand on what he meant by the governor “ignoring the needs of Suffolk County,” as well as how specifically the state health department and local governments could collaborate, he said, “The governor should have sent more doses to Suffolk County and more specifically to Brookhaven Town. County and town agencies have the venues available to provide ample locations to receive these much-needed vaccinations and easing the overcrowding we are experiencing at the limited locations currently available. We should work collectively with the state, county and town to arrange for these vaccines to be expedited and administered to those who need them. We all knew this vaccine was coming but the preparation to distribute was completely mishandled.”

 

Steve Englebright

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket)

“New York’s vaccination rollout and its online system for determining eligibility and booking appointments has resulted in a great deal of anger and frustration for residents anxious to get vaccines for their parents or themselves,” Englebright said in a statement. “We need to have a simple, more user-friendly system for signing up online for  vaccines.  A universal preregistration system where eligibility can be approved, and appointments allotted as doses arrive would save us all a lot of time and angst.”

Although he has yet to be vaccinated, he knows the importance of getting it to Long Island seniors. 

“It makes little sense for residents of retirement communities to make appointments and travel separately to mass vaccination centers when medical teams can bring vaccines to them. For seniors who have their homes in the community and, soon, residents with comorbidities, there should be pop-up vaccine centers run by hospitals or the County Department of Health at local libraries and senior citizen centers. Elected officials on the state, county and town levels could help get the word out to their local communities.”

 

Photo from Kara Hahn

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket)

Hahn shared constituents frustrations regarding the New York State online registration system and expressed regret that she is limited in what she can do to reform it as a county legislator. She called the process of seniors trying again and again to get an appointment without success as “dehumanizing.”

“I feel their pain,” she said.

Hahn has been working with the county to establish distribution locations within the community for when supply is more abundant.

She has not received the vaccine, as she is not yet eligible but said she will when she is.

 

Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim. Photo from Nicole Garguilo

Smithtown Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R)

Wehrheim said that he signed a letter to the governor Jan. 14, in coordination with the Suffolk County Supervisors Association asking that essential town workers be vaccinated. He said that a lot of town workers were exposed to COVID-19 in recent weeks and he was concerned, but if they were still quarantined when the storm hit, town workers would still be quarantined.

“The majority of our employees still are not included in any vaccine schedule as of today, endangering our abilities to provide essential services like senior meal delivery, animal shelter staffing, duties of the town clerk and the functions of our building departments,” the letter read. “Should these workers be included in a phase in the near future … allow us to help the process by setting up vaccination sites in each of our towns and by including municipal workers in the next phase of vaccine rollout to ensure that our essential services are not disrupted.”

Wehrheim said that he had not yet heard back from the governor. He also has not personally received the vaccine.

Smithtown Town spokeswoman, Nicole Garguilo, said the town has received approval from the county to use Nesconset and Branch Brook elementary schools as vaccine distribution sites as supply becomes more widely available. “If the county doesn’t get the number of vaccines from the state that they require, they’re not going to greenlight any other vaccine distribution sites,” she said.

Another roadblock is the fact the site needs to be staffed with certified vaccinators, a process that takes four-to-six weeks. While the site must be supervised by a nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant or a licensed physician, pharmacists, midwives, EMTs, medical students, podiatrists, dentists, dental hygienists and students in medical studies programs can get certified to give the vaccine, pursuant to New York State guidelines.

Garguilo said the town is working on partnering with a private pharmacy or hospital in order to streamline the vaccine process. The town’s priority would be to get vaccinations for teachers, as well as seniors in assisted living communities who live on a fixed income and are generally not technically savvy.

“That would make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time,” she said. You would give the schools everything they need to get back to in-person learning and you would help the people who have those who are in that high-riskcategory that have suffered the most through this pandemic,” she said. Ideally, they would have “targeted vaccine weeks” in which they would focus on vaccinating the schools, and the senior population, one at a time.

 

Mario Mattera. File photo

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James)

Mattera said the “whole” problem with the vaccine distribution is a lack of federal supply being delivered to the state. “Every CVS, every Walgreens, every pharmacy, just like with the flu shot, could go and get the supplies and give it, our residents could go right around the corner from their home to go and make this easy … the problem is the federal government releasing as many [vaccines] as they can.”

When asked what he thinks the realistic timeline for the vaccine to be widely available is, Mattera said, “I really wish I could answer that. If I had the crystal ball, I guess I would be a hero. I just really feel the more companies that the FDA approves … there’s going to be more that’s going to be distributed out there.”

He is specifically optimistic for the Johnston & Johnson vaccine, which will be administered in a single dose. He also said that he has not personally received the vaccine, as he “wants everyone else to go” first. He emphasized the importance of following social distancing measures and wearing a mask to continue to curb the spread of the virus.

 

File photo

County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga)

Trotta said the state should have granted eligibility to a smaller population, such as those 85 years old and over, studied the backlog, and then opened it up to other groups such as teachers.  Cuomo “created the panic,” he said. Trotta added the state was “giving people the hope that they’re going to get [the vaccine], and in doing so “clogged the system up.”

“Anybody with common sense would never do that,” he said.

Trotta has not yet received the vaccine because he is not yet eligible, but he was able to secure his parents an appointment at Jones Beach after spending hours on the computer attempting to secure one.

“Everyone was very nice,” he said. “The National Guard’s running it. It went very smoothly, and it could have all been like that if they would have just opened it up slower.”

 

Steve Stern. Photo from Stern’s office

State Assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) 

“The COVID-19 vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel and our best hope for recovery from the pandemic for our health standpoint and for our economic recovery,” Stern said in a statement. “I share the frustration that my neighbors feel about the scarcity of vaccines, difficulty securing appointments and a hard-to-navigate system. New York has been receiving 250,000 vaccines a week for the entire state, which has 19 million residents, seven million of whom are eligible under current CDC guidelines. This is clearly inadequate and totally unacceptable. Our new administration in Washington is actively working to procure and produce more vaccines, vials, syringes and to develop logistical support to enable the states to vaccinate at least 150 million Americans by the end of March. Our office has been working with our partners in state government to ensure that we receive our fair share of vaccines and that residents are kept informed about how they are vaccinated when they are eligible. I have not received the COVID vaccine and like my neighbors, will wait until it is my turn. It is in all of our interests to have as many of our neighbors vaccinated as soon as possible to bring an end to the pandemic.”

 

File photo

County Legislator Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills)

“Suffolk County is ready with the infrastructure and personnel necessary to help vaccinate the public,” she said in statement. “The problem we’re facing now is that we don’t have enough vaccines. Recognizing that demand is clearly outpacing supply, I will continue to advocate for increased supply from the state and federal governments so we can reach our goal of vaccinating 75% of our eligible residents as soon as possible.”

Berland said she is “neither eligible for, nor has she received, the vaccine.”

 

 

 

File photo by Alex Petroski

State Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport)

“What we’ve seen so far has been problematic,” Gaughran said. “The biggest issue is twofold: One is the lack of supply coming out from Washington, and what I think made it even worse was that the state was told it was going to get a supply that it never got; and two, the rollout itself, including at the state level, has been problematic.”

He acknowledged that there have been issues with the state website crashing, and appointments being made when there was a lack of supply. 

“It’s been a mess, but I believe it’s going to get significantly better,” he said “I think you’re going to see an addition to the large state-run sites, large county-run sites. Eventually it will be distributed even more on a community-by-community basis.” He is hopeful that the senior population can be vaccinated within “the next month or so.”

Gaughran added he has pushed for additional community pop-up distribution sites, as well as a plan to vaccinate seniors that are “shuttered in their homes.” He also acknowledged seniors are having difficulty navigating the vaccine website and there needs to be a solution to make it more accessible. He said that he worries that once the vaccine becomes more widely available, people are going to be making cancelations to try and get an earlier appointment which could create a “bureaucratic nightmare,” and feels as though there needs to be a system in place to prevent that from happening.  

The state senator said that he has not yet received the vaccine, as he is not a member of any occupational group that is eligible, nor is he over 65. 

“I’m waiting for millions of other people to get the vaccine before it’s my turn,” he said. “But once it is, I’m going to sign up.”

File photo

County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) 

Spencer said that his office has been getting calls from seniors, who are having trouble getting on the phone, or going on the computer to make an appointment. 

“For seniors that may be less tech savvy, to go online and make the appointment is not so easy for them,” he said. “My wife was able to do it for her parents, but she had to do it, they would never have been able to do it. Sometimes the website is down, sometimes the hotline is down, so I think that that’s probably one of the biggest things is expanding that infrastructure once you’re actually doing the vaccines. I think this is almost as much as an IT job as it is a health department job.”

Spencer stressed the importance of making sure the vaccine is going into underserved areas, not only in the United States but around the world. 

“I believe there’s a lot of nationalism that’s going on right now. People are like, ‘We’ve got to get enough vaccines for people in our country,’ and I can understand that, but there’s definitely been some reports that if we don’t vaccinate in a lot of our third-world countries, it will become  not only a humanitarian crisis, but it’s an economic crisis too.”

Spencer is focused on ensuring that vaccines get to communities of color hard hit by the pandemic. 

“If we don’t get enough vaccinations in areas where there are Hispanic and African American populations, where they may be in close quarters there’s less opportunity for social distancing, we’re not going to be able to control the virus as effectively,” he said. He added that he is advocating to place vaccine sites in communities like Brentwood, Huntington Station, Central Islip and Gordon Heights that are walkable.

Spencer has not yet received the vaccine but will do so once he has “the opportunity.”

 

 

Photo from Kara Hahn

Before she gets to the long list of initiatives she wants to act on this year, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) said combating the coronavirus is priority number one. 

After just four weeks into the new year, the deputy presiding officer for the county Legislature said that while she has a lot of goals to accomplish before the end of 2021, COVID-19 is the biggest hurdle to overcome. 

“The most important thing that anyone can be working on right now is COVID response and recovery for residents, for businesses, for communities as a whole,” she said. “A lot of things have been kind of put on the backburner because of the need to focus on COVID.”

Hahn said that while the pandemic has been ongoing for nearly a year now, she keeps reminding the county Department of Health Services that notes need to be taken and research must continue. 

“We have to be looking at this not only in the now,” she said. “What are we learning from this? How can the next time this happens — because there will be a next time, it’s just a matter of when — how can we have learned from this?”

Hahn said in order to move forward, the virus and the issues it brought on throughout 2020, like food insecurity and evictions, will have to be addressed even after the vaccine. 

“Getting through this from a health perspective, and then recovering from it for every person’s financial impact, mental health … people are just going to start to hurt even more,” she said. “We haven’t seen the full repercussions.”

Hahn made it clear that while the county recovers from the aftermath of COVID-19, she keeps busy with some of her other plans to help the environment, reduce traffic and keep people safe on Long Island. 

Infrastructure 

Hahn is hoping that the federal government with disperse funding to county infrastructure projects, she said, and two of the most prominent projects in her district include the electrification of the Long Island Rail Road from Port Jefferson Station, and an overpass on Route 347 going over Nicolls Road. 

The decades-long debate about electrifying the LIRR has been discussed by many and will continue to be debated, along with the possibility of EPA Superfund site, the Lawrence Aviation property, to become a rail yard for electric trains. 

“So that if that happens, it is the most critical thing that could happen for my district from an infrastructure perspective,” she said. “Right now, the electric train stops at Huntington and the time it takes to get into Manhattan to Penn Station more than two hours.”

With the electrification, she said, 20 to 25 minutes will be cut off the journey, with no switches in Huntington.

“They can go a little bit faster, they are much more efficient in energy and obviously less polluting,” she added. “Once you cut off almost a half an hour from that trip, the property values around those stations go up significantly, just being within that kind of vicinity to Manhattan.”

Hahn said that electric trains could help students at Stony Brook University, revitalizing the downtown, and allowing students to live in the village, close enough to hop on a train to class. 

“You can create different things with an electric line that would make for better movement of people between Huntington and Stony Brook, Huntington and Port Jeff, or Port Jeff and Stony Brook,” she said. 

And that could help eliminate traffic on Nicolls Road. The overpass there, which has also been heavily discussed for years, is another project she’d like to see through.

“The intersection of Nicolls Road and 347 is incredibly unsafe,” Hahn said. “There are accidents there all the time. I’ve witnessed more than one in my lifetime.”

The overpass would be federally funded and wouldn’t be completed for many years, she said, but it would be critical in alleviating traffic that comes from the university and the hospital. 

“Having that intersection function better is critical to a number of regional objectives,” she said. “So, having those funds would be terrific.”

Retail recycling

As chair of the Environment, Parks & Agriculture Committee in the county Legislature, as well as chair of the Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee, Hahn hopes to see the launch of a recycling retail campaign called Reclaim Our Land.

“Every year the amount of land left to preserve and protect is smaller and smaller,” she said. 

So, in an effort to buy back land for greenery and parks, Hahn said the vision is to reclaim areas that have been built on and have abandoned. 

In terms of development, reclamation costs more than preservation, she said, so building on an empty acre is cheaper than buying a previously built building, demolishing and rebuilding something new. But now with constant bankruptcies and the fall of big-box stores, Hahn said the number of vacant buildings across Suffolk County, alone, is constantly increasing. 

“I’ve been noticing it in the last two years prepandemic, but COVID just really accelerated it,” she said. 

Bookstores, supermarkets and stores like Sears or JCPenney in the Smith Haven Mall have left huge spaces with nothing to fill.

“When JCPenney’s was going out of business, I thought, ‘This is great place to have some housing, have some maybe office space,’” Hahn said. “It’s large, it’s got parking, it’s got sewers, it’s got electric — it’s already there. There’s already a bus that goes to the university campus.”

With problems of students living in communities or causing issues with illegal housing, Hahn said there has been discussion on how to create a place that young people can live, that’s convenient and appealing.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could encourage these stores that have been vacant for a long time to be recycled into something the community needs?” she said. By creating affordable micro apartments for single, young people, it could help smaller shops and reduce traffic. 

“That’s what was so important to me about the recycling retail,” she said. “Let’s try to incentivize developers to recycle what already exists, so that we don’t have to build on the green space.”

Kara Hahn takes the oath of office as deputy presiding officer administered by County Clerk Judy Pascale on Jan. 4. Photos from Suffolk County Legislators

The Suffolk County Legislature has officially started its new session, with new lawmakers sworn in this week for the body’s 52nd organizational meeting Jan. 4. 

Legislator Nicholas Caracappa (R-Selden) took his ceremonial oath of office as a new lawmaker, while Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were reelected to their leadership posts.

Calarco, legislator for the 7th District, was reelected to lead the body for a second year as presiding officer in a bipartisan vote, and Hahn, who represents the 5th District, was reelected deputy presiding officer, also in a bipartisan vote. 

Rob Calarco takes the oath of office as presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

“Important projects await us in the coming year, and we will confront the challenges of 2021 the same way we did in 2020 —in a bipartisan fashion with a shared commitment to cooperation and finding common ground,” Calarco said in a statement. 

In his remarks, he reflected on the challenges of 2020 and pointed to legislative progress on diversity and inclusion, open space and farmland preservation, and updates to the county’s wastewater code. 

In 2021, Calarco looks forward to building out sewers in Patchogue, the Mastic Peninsula, Deer Park, Smithtown and Kings Park, which will help protect Suffolk County’s water and provide an economic boost to downtowns. Additionally, he said the Legislature will soon be presented with a plan to reinvent policing in Suffolk, as required by an executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

“The men and women of our law enforcement agencies work hard every day to do their jobs professionally and with a commitment to protecting all the residents of Suffolk County, yet we also know whole portions of our population fear the presence of police in their community, making officers’ jobs far more difficult,” he said. “We must put politics aside to ensure the plan addresses the root of those fears, and builds on the initiatives already underway to establish trust and confidence between our police and the communities they protect.”

Hahn intends to continue focusing on the global pandemic that has hit close to home.

“Looking ahead, 2021 will once again be a tough year, but with a vaccine there is now a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said in a statement. “We will focus our efforts on halting the spread of COVID-19, helping those in need, conquering our financial challenges and getting through this pandemic with as little heartache and pain as possible. There is hope on the horizon, and I know we will come back stronger than ever.”

After winning a special election in November, Caracappa will now represent the 4th District, filling the seat left by Republican Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) who passed suddenly in September. 

Nicholas Caracappa is sworn in as new legislator for Suffolk County’s 4th District. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

A lifelong resident of Selden, Caracappa was a 34-year employee of the Suffolk County Water Authority. He was president of the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, Local-393 for 14 years and previously served as a member of the union’s national executive board. 

He also served as a Middle Country school district board of education trustee for seven years and volunteered at Ground Zero. He said his goal is to keep his district’s quality of life at the forefront. 

“I am committed to the quality of life issues that make this community a great place for families to live, work and enjoy recreation,” he said in a statement. “My focus will be to eliminate wasteful spending, support our law enforcement, first responders and frontline health care workers, and protect our senior citizens, veterans and youth services.”

He added that he wants to continue enhancing Long Island’s environmental protection initiatives including critical water-quality measures and expanding the existing sewer studies in his district’s downtown regions. 

The Legislature’s Hauppauge auditorium is named after his late mother, Rose Caracappa.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was sworn in last year. Representing the 6th District, she said she looks forward to continuing and expanding on the important work she’s been doing for the community. Specifically, for 2021, her top priority is working with the health department, along with federal, state and local governments to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anker said she wants to prioritize public safety and plans to continue to work with the county’s Department of Public Works and the state’s Department of Transportation to monitor and create safer roads. 

As the chair of the county’s Health Committee and chair of the Heroin and Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, she also plans to continue to collaborate with panel members to monitor the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the opioid epidemic on Long Island.

“Together we have worked to protect the integrity of this great community by addressing issues and improving our quality of life,” Anker said. “This year, I will continue to be proactive in dealing with this current pandemic and prioritize issues including stabilizing county finances, fighting crime and the drug epidemic, addressing traffic safety and working to preserve what’s left of our precious open space.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Gloria Rocchio, Kara Hahn, Michael Ardolino, Charlie Lefkowitz and Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright at the Three Village Chamber of Commerce awards dinner. Photo from Three Village Chamber of Commerce

At its recent awards dinner, the Three Village Chamber of Commerce honored a familiar face in the community and the real estate world.

Charlie Lefkowitz, chamber president, and Ardolino with his Member of the Year award. Photo from Three Village Chamber of Commerce

The chamber’s Member of the Year award was given to Michael Ardolino, founder and owner of Team Ardolino/Realty Connect USA. The award is given to members who “go above and beyond to support the chamber and its mission,” according to a press release from the TVCC.

“The Three Village Chamber of Commerce and the community are truly appreciative for everything that Michael continues to do to make Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field a great place to live and work,” the chamber said in the release.

Ardolino, who lives in Setauket with his wife, said he was surprised and honored to receive the award.

“Being in the chamber as long as I have, enjoying everything I’ve been doing with the chamber for many years, to get that award was really special,” he said.

Ardolino said he remembers when he decided to join the chamber more than 20 years ago and was interviewed by Harold Pryor. The organization’s first president asked him why he should be accepted.

“I remember sitting down and saying, ‘Well, because I’m going to help you make it better than you have already started it to be,’” he said.

Through the years, Ardolino has served as the chamber’s president, president emeritus and is currently assisting secretary. He is the chair of the chamber Special Events Committee, a member of its Program and Membership Committee and the cofounder and current chair of the 3V Chamber Family BBQ. The event has been held for 20 years but this year was canceled due to the pandemic.

He is also the founder of the Three Village Electric Holiday Parade and sits on the boards of Gallery North and The Jazz Loft. For the last couple of years, he has been the co-chair of Three Village Industry Advisory Board, which works with the school district to provide job opportunities for Ward Melville High School students. Recently, he has been serving on the Town of Brookhaven Small Business Recovery Task Force.

“Being in the chamber as long as I have, enjoying everything I’ve been doing with the chamber for many years, to get that award was really special.”

— Michael Ardolino

During the pandemic, Ardolino organized a sign campaign with other local chamber businesses which raised funds to feed workers on the frontlines. The real estate agent said he appreciates his time with the chamber.

“The chamber is one of the strongest foundations of the Three Village area,” he said. “It’s a very special place we live, and the Three Village chamber here all these years helped it grow and be what it is today.”

On the same night that Ardolino won the Member of the Year award, Gloria Rocchio, president of The Ward Melville Heritage Organization, was presented with The Roy Dragotta Award, named after a past president.

“Rocchio exemplified the characteristics that Roy embodied,” the chamber press release read. “These include an outstanding commitment to and participation in the chamber, working tirelessly to recruit business and doing whatever she could support or advocate for local businesses.”

Rocchio said, like Ardolino, she was surprised to hear she was an award winner. She was proud to work with the chamber board members who she said are passionate when it comes to helping the business community.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) won The Harold Pryor Award for her “commitment to the Three Village community through faithful service,” according to the press release.

“I was incredibly humbled and honored to be presented with The Harold Pryor Award by the Three Village Chamber of Commerce,” Hahn said in an email. “Growing up in this community, and now raising my own family here, it is a true privilege to be able to support and serve its residents.”

Hahn also congratulated Ardolino and Rocchio for their awards and thanked the chamber “for all of the work that they have been doing to support our local businesses.”

Legislator Kara Hahn takes oath Jan. 2. Photo from Suffolk County Legislature

The new year has seen some shuffling around in the Suffolk County Legislature, and now Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) has been named deputy presiding officer.

Deputy presiding officer Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) was named presiding officer, along with Hahn’s new position, at the Legislature’s Jan. 2 meeting. This comes after previous presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), announced he would be resigning effective Jan. 15. He will be joining the Babylon Town Board.

Legislators Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) were the only two to vote “no” on the appointments.

“I have always touted this body’s ability to work in a bipartisan fashion to do the people’s business,” Calarco said at the meeting. “I am thankful to my Republican colleagues for their support today, as it shows that I am committed to working across the aisle with all of my colleagues to ensure we best serve all of the residents of Suffolk County.”

Hahn said she was grateful for the honor.

“I genuinely love my job as county legislator,” she said at the legislative meeting. She also addressed her colleagues. “We make a difference every day in people’s lives. … I look forward to working with all of you in 2020.”

The ceremony was also attended by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). 

Legislators are expected to vote on a special election for March 10 to replace Gregory. The outcome of that vote was not available by press time.

 

Kara Hahn in 2017 Photo by Desirée Keegan

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is seeking re-election for her fifth two-year term Nov. 5. Her Republican challenger, John McCormack, of Port Jefferson, is not actively campaigning and was not available for a debate with Hahn at the TBR News Media offices. Therefore, the legislator answered a few questions during a phone interview.

County finances

After receiving the county’s Office of Budget Review’s recent report, she said that even though there are still stresses on the budget, Suffolk is in a better place than it has been in past years.

The legislator said the proposed 2020 operating budget has no new fees and there is no pension amortization for the second straight year. The budget came in $4.8 million under the property tax cap.

“Of course, we’re overly reliant on the sales tax revenue and that was so low for so long, and we’re coming out of that,” she said. “When you are reliant on taxpayer dollars, you always feel pressured to be as tight as you can be, and you want to cut costs at every corner and, of course, we’re doing that.”

Hahn said she is aware that due to the county being reliant on sales tax, from which Suffolk receives approximately $1.6 billion, if a recession hits the county is not properly prepared.

She said a slight increase of the 3 percent hotel/motel tax, which is one of the lowest in the country, would help the budget and at the same time not deter anyone from visiting the area.

When it comes to stimulating the economy, she said it’s important to stay vigilant in the collection of sales tax. It was also helpful that the state allowed Suffolk to collect internet sales tax in 2019, she said, which generated about $10 million additional sales revenue this year and is expected to be $20 million in 2020. She said Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation, which oversees Jake’s 58 casino in Islandia, paid off its debt, and its revenue will contribute $25 million to the county budget in 2020.

“We’ve been getting some good revenue sources that have helped to take the pressure off and that’s important,” Hahn said.

Low-nitrogen septic systems

Hahn, chairwoman of the Environment, Planning & Agriculture Committee, has supported the rollout of new low-nitrogen septic systems in the county. The wastewater nitrogen content has a mandated maximum of 19 milligrams per liter.

“This is a long-term, multidecade effort as 360,000 residences are unsewered,” she said. “These homes have to either become sewered or get a new innovative on-site alternate wastewater system. That cannot happen in one year. That cannot happen in 10 years.”

She said to help with the rollout the county has created priority zones, including the Town of Brookhaven’s initiative where new construction within 500 feet of a waterway is required to install the systems. Grants, on both the county and state levels, have been made available for homeowners who choose to replace their cesspools with the new system.

She said it took years for the county’s health department to work on establishing the program to ensure the new systems would work as promised, adding the process for the program also included working with health and science experts along with those who work in the industry. She said she is proud of County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for sticking with the implementation despite the amount of time spent on the issue.

“He stepped up, and it’s happening,” she said. “It might be slow for people who are used to instant gratification but I’m shocked that we’re here where systems are being installed and people are beginning to recognize it, and we’re going to be seeing improvements in water quality because of it.”

Environment

When it comes to the 5-cent minimum fee for plastic bags in stores, Hahn said the program has been successful, with a 70 to 80 percent reduction in the use of the bags. She also sponsored a bill to create a plastic straw ban in restaurants that will take effect in January.

In addition to continuing work on the county’s Blueway Trail, which will create a water path for recreational boating opportunities along Suffolk rivers, lakes, canals and coastlines, she hopes to establish Blue Flag beaches in the county, which will be the first in the United States. The standard was created in Europe, where a beach that flies the Blue Flag has a higher standard when it comes to water quality.

Opioids

Hahn in 2012 sponsored legislation to provide Narcan in police cars. The last two years she has worked with Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence and Stony Brook University to create training for athletic coaches in county middle, junior and high schools to teach them about the signs and symptoms of all forms of addiction. Hahn said she hopes to expand the program to athletic leagues outside of schools and even make it available to dance instructors, music teachers and Scout leaders.

“So that they’re trained to know how to deal with things when they hear it or see it, and know how to help fight and how to prevent — really the key is to prevent addiction,” she said.

Forsythe Meadow County Park. Photo from Suffolk County

Soon a walk in the park could turn into park stewardship for interested Suffolk County residents thanks to a Ward Melville High School student’s love for a Stony Brook park.

East Setauket teen Jake Butkevich inspired a pilot park program in Suffolk County. Photo from Maryann Butkevich

Recently, county legislators approved a plan to create a parks stewardship pilot program that will be rolled out in 10 unstaffed Suffolk parks. The idea began when East Setauket resident Jake Butkevich, 17, approached Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) about volunteering in Forsythe Meadow County Park in Stony Brook.

Butkevich said in an email that he was inspired to propose a program after volunteering in the Adirondacks where he was assigned a trail to maintain. He chose Forsythe Meadow because he wanted to give back to his community.

“Nonstaffed parks like Forsythe Meadow are perfect for stewards to take care of,” he said. “Much of the work that I have done while taking care of this park throughout the fall of 2018 and this spring is menial like trimming back bushes and picking up fallen branches, both of which make walking the trails a much more enjoyable experience.”

Hahn, who sponsored the bill to create the stewardship program, said she’s excited about the program, and while Scout troops and other groups have adopted parks in the past, she said the new initiative will allow individuals to become park stewards.

Butkevich said he’s excited about the pilot program, and he was appreciative of Hahn working with him on the idea.

“I hope this program will be effective in keeping our county parks better maintained and inspiring young people like myself to give back to the community and to be passionate about the outdoors,” he said.

Hahn said she hopes neighbors of unstaffed parks will volunteer to walk it once a week, pick up small pieces of trash and report back to the county about trees that need to be trimmed, branches that have fallen or any kind of vandalism. She said stewards will enable the county to be more on top of what is going on at the unstaffed parks, and in turn staff workers can then be dispatched to mow grass or trim trees. The legislation doesn’t name specific parks, which allows for 10 stewards to work on a park they choose.

“It would give us real eyes on the park,” Hahn said.

According to Hahn’s office, there are more than 63,000 acres of county parkland.

The pilot program will run for one year to determine the program’s feasibility for possible expanded use within the county, and after the year is up, the parks department will make the decision about fully implementing and continuing the stewardship program.

In a statement, Philip Berdolt, commissioner of Suffolk County Parks and Recreation, said the program would help to engage residents in the conservation of local parklands.

“By becoming a steward of Suffolk County Parks’ green spaces, you will help ensure that our county’s natural resources are cared for and kept safe for future generations,” he said.

The bill now awaits County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) signature.

Both the East Setauket and Stony Brook Village Memorial Day parades May 27 featured something special this year.

At the end of the Stony Brook parade at Veterans Memorial Park and before the start of the East Setauket parade at Village Green, at the traditional memorial ceremonies, updated monuments were revealed with plaques to recognize the sacrifices made by the latest generations of American service members who served in the Cold War, Gulf wars and War on Terror. The Stony Brook plaque was funded by the Ward Melville Heritage Organization and Stony Brook University.

In 2018, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts located in Setauket, Stony Brook and Port Jefferson Station and the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University announced a two-phased effort to expand both memorials as well as the monuments at the East Setauket Veterans Memorial Park and along the Port Jefferson Harbor.

The Stony Brook and Setauket Village Green memorial stones were part of Phase I of the project. While the Village Green monument was ready in time for the ceremonies, a replica was installed at the Stony Brook site, according to Hahn, who said the completed plaque will arrive soon.

Phase II of the project will include renovating the East Setauket Veterans Memorial Park and the Port Jefferson Harbor sites. This phase is expected to be completed in time for Veterans Day, according to Hahn.

To prepare for the Memorial Day ceremony in Stony Brook, StoneGate Landscape Construction, owned by Chris Graf, cut back trees, cleaned out the underbrush, sprayed poison ivy, brought in two additional rocks to the site and planted trees. The services were provided by the company free of charge.

The Stony Brook parade and ceremony was sponsored by VFW East Setauket Post 3054 and American Legion Irving Hart Post 1766. The East Setauket parade was also organized by VFW Post 3054.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with other legislators propose plastic legislation. Photo by David Luces

By David Luces

County legislators are looking to restrict the sales of several plastics, some harmful to health and others harmful to the environment.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), along with members of the Legislature’s Single-Use Plastic Reduction Task Force announced four policy initiatives intended to reduce plastic and polystyrene waste in the county at a press conference Feb.13. 

“Today we announce policies that will come to define our county’s environmental legacy for generations to come,” Hahn said in a press release.

“Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.”

— Sarah Anker

Hahn and the task force have outlined regulations directed at local businesses and the county. One of the proposed bills focuses on polystyrene, banning it in food service products including plates, cups, containers and trays. It would require businesses in the county to use biodegradable products, though the bill would exempt items used to store uncooked eggs, raw meat, pork, fish, seafood and poultry. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classified styrene as a potential human carcinogen and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, polystyrene manufacturing process is the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste in the United States. 

“[Styrene has] recently been upgraded from a possible carcinogen to a probable carcinogen — a cancer causing chemical,” Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said. “Long Island has some of the highest cancer rates in the country.” 

Hahn said polystyrene and plastics are causing a waste management problem as well. 

“You see waste in waterways, on our beaches, on our roadways,” she said. 

A second bill would require single-use plastic beverage straws and stirrers to only be given in Suffolk County by request as a means of reducing plastic consumption. As an alternative to plastics, businesses would give customers biodegradable products, such as paper straws. There is an exception for those who have a disability or medical condition. 

Hahn and the task force also plan to prohibit the use of plastic products in all Suffolk County parks as part of their third initiative.  

Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) supports the proposed bills. 

“We see that these things are happening — I know with the plastic bag ban there was some push back,” he said. “But it is nice to be able to do something that will make a difference and that works.”

In conjunction, the task force proposed a requirement that all future contracts with concessionaires at county parks include a restriction on the use of plastic and nonbiodegradable cups, utensils and
beverage straws. 

Hahn and the task force advised the issue of waste produced by these products is a more urgent problem than some people realize, and the county needs to clean up its act. 

“We as a society as a whole need to continue to research and study this issue and product.”

— Kara Hahn

These bills are a continuation of Hahn’s and others countywide initiative to reduce single-use plastic straws. One project, called Strawless Suffolk, started in July 2018 and looked for 100 seaside restaurants in Bellport, Greenport, Huntington, Northport, Patchogue and Port Jefferson Village take a pledge to stop using plastic straws by Sept. 3, 2018.

Hahn cites some landfills on Long Island are almost at full capacity and said that it not just about recycling more, rather its reducing the use of plastic items and to reuse things.

“We as a society as a whole need to continue to research and study this issue and product,” she said.”

To further decrease the use of plastic products, a fourth initiative will call to replace existing water fountains with new ones designed to allow bottle filling at county facilities that have 10 or more employees and in county-owned parks that have water dispensers. 

“People will be less likely to use plastic water bottles and will be able to fill their own reusable bottle if they bring it with them to our county buildings, parks and beaches,” the Setauket legislator said.  

The two nonlocal laws in the initiatives package, the installation of water fountains in county facilities and the concessionaires requirement, could be passed as early as March 5, depending upon legislative discussion and a vote. The other two local laws that apply to businesses in the county will require a public hearing, but could end up as law as early as April 9. 

“Plastic waste has become a tangible threat to our $5.6 billion tourism-driven economy,” Hahn said. “We are Long Islanders, our identity is tied to the water.”

Mark Barden, a founder of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise, presents violence prevention strategies to a room full of Suffolk lawmakers and school officials during an Aug. 16 event at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue as Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. looks on. Photo by Alex Petroski

On Dec. 14, 2012, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut left more than 20 people dead, mostly first-graders, shocking the world and changing it permanently. Much of that change can be attributed to the efforts of those who were most personally impacted by the tragic events of that day.

Parents from Sandy Hook were invited to St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue Aug. 16 by Suffolk County Sheriff’s office to share details about four programs they’ve created aimed at preventing violence in schools to a room packed with Suffolk County school district superintendents, administrators and lawmakers.

Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit organization, was founded by parents including Mark Barden, a professional musician originally from Yonkers who had moved to Newtown in 2007 with his wife to raise their three kids. His son, Daniel, was seven years old  when he was killed during the tragedy.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life,” Barden said of his son.

He said Daniel was known for trying to connect with other kids he saw eating alone, for holding doors for strangers in public, and for picking up earthworms from the hot sidewalk and moving them to safety in the grass, among other instinctual acts of kindness he regularly displayed.

“It is very real and a very personal mission that I do this work to honor that kid, who we used to jokingly call ‘the caretaker of all living things,’ because that’s how he lived his life.”

— Mark Barden

“That’s how I’ve chosen to honor his life is through this work,” Barden said.

Sandy Hook Promise’s approach to carrying out its mission of preventing all gun-related deaths can be viewed as an extension of Daniel’s legacy of caring for those in need. Barden was joined Aug. 16 by two other members of the organization — Myra Leuci, national account manager, and Marykay Wishneski, national program coordinator — who detailed the initiatives the nonprofit pitches to school districts interested in improving their prevention strategies.

The four strategies , which fall under the nonprofit’s Know the Signs program, are taught to youth and adults free of charge in the hopes of fostering an environment that empowers everyone in the community to help identify and intervene when someone is at risk.

Say Something is an anonymous reporting system that teaches kids how to recognize warning signs, especially on social media, and gives them an outlet to get adults involved. Start With Hello is a training program that teaches students how to be more inclusive and connected to peers. Safety Assessment & Intervention program is geared toward adults and aims to teach them how to identify, assess and respond to threats of violence or at-risk behavior prior to a situation developing. The Signs of Suicide program teaches people how to identify and intervene to get help for those displaying signs of depression or suicidal behavior. The nonprofit offers in-person training for each program, though Say Something and Start With Hello are available to be downloaded and self-led by interested districts.

Since assuming office in January, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said he has made improving school safety and developing uniform, countywide approaches a top priority. Just a few weeks into his tenure, the country was rocked by the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed by a lone gunman.

“It’s an obligation that I feel I have as the Suffolk County Sheriff, to work with all of our partners, but I do feel I cannot stand on the sidelines and just watch,” Toulon said. “We really have to be proactive. Everyone from our police departments, our school administrators, everybody’s taking this banner on. Thankfully we’re all working together to really keep our communities and our children safe.”

Toulon has offered free safety assessments on a voluntary basis to interested districts. Suffolk Executive Steve Bellone (D) has taken several steps  already to improve schools’ safety including starting an initiative that allows interested districts to grant access to in-school security cameras to the police department, and securing funds for a mobile phone application for municipal workers and school district employees that can be activated and used in the event of an active shooter situation to notify law enforcement. Bellone announced new initiatives to increase police patrols in school buildings, assign additional officers to the SCPD’s Homeland Security Section and establish a text tip line to report troubling activities this month.

“We are educators, so partnering with law enforcement and those with the skilled lens of how to best ensure the safety of our students has been paramount,” said Ken Bossert, president of Suffolk County Superintendents Association who leads Elwood school district. “So the focus and attention that law enforcement has paid on our schools is just greatly appreciated.”

Representatives from districts across the North Shore attended the informational forum and expressed interest in implementing some or all of what Sandy Hook Promise has to offer, including Huntington Superintendent James Polansky and Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents.”

— Kara Hahn

“A lot of what we heard today I’m going to roll out just informationally to my administrative staff,” Polansky said, adding Huntington has taken up Toulon on his offer to assess building safety already. “We’re actually looking to pursue a lot of the initiatives Sandy Hook Promise has to offer.”

Casciano expressed a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great resource, and we’re very interested in pursuing it,” he said. “We’ll be making our contacts.”

Several attendees commended Toulon for embracing a leadership role on school safety, including Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini (D), who was among the wide array of lawmakers at the event along with the school officials.

“It shows that our sheriff has a pulse on the public safety worries of our parents,” said county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who is a licensed social worker. She called Toulon’s approach incredibly important. “It shows that he has the recognition that when you have a shooter at the door of a school, it’s too late, and this really needs to be about prevention. We cannot police this, we need to prevent this. And that’s what this is about.”

Bossert said superintendents in the county have been working to put together a uniform blueprint for school safety and are planning to roll it out later this month. For more information about Sandy Hook Promise, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.