In an effort to influence the upcoming state budget, Republican officials in the New York State Legislature joined policy advocates at the Perry B. Duryea State Office Building in Hauppauge Thursday, Dec. 15.
The officials called the press event to raise public awareness about the lack of child care services on Long Island, hoping to pressure Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), who is preparing the state budget for the 2024 fiscal year.
Child care on Long Island “is not a problem, it’s a crisis,” said Dean Murray, state Sen.-elect (R-East Patchogue), who organized the event. “We are at a crisis level on Long Island when it comes to child care, and there is no simple solution.”
Murray regarded the issues associated with child care as threefold. For him, the state government can remedy the problem by addressing its affordability, availability and accessibility.
While Murray applauded Hochul and the Legislature for targeting the issue in last year’s budget, he said the changes do not adequately account for regional economic differences throughout the state.
“The cost of living here on Long Island does not compare to areas upstate,” he said, “So when you have a statewide standard, it simply isn’t fair to regions like Long Island.”
He added that the child care is underfunded, arguing, “We need to do what we can as a government to help to create more availability, helping to build more facilities, helping to encourage employers to offer on-site child care.”
The state senator-elect regarded child care service as “a profession, not a job.” However, he said these professionals are often underpaid.
“Can you think of a job that’s more important than caring for our kids?” he said. “This is a professional job. [The workers] need to be treated as such, and they need to be compensated as such.”
State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) explained the problem similarly. He detailed the underinvestment in child care personnel, saying the incentive is to pursue other industries.
“The people right now with child care are leaving because they’re getting other jobs,” Mattera said. “They’re getting better [paying] jobs even in McDonald’s. That’s a problem.” He added, “They are watching our kids and protecting our children, but they’re not getting paid properly.”
Mattera also addressed the need for more child care training programs. If child care is to be a profession, he said these service providers deserve similar specialized teaching to those of other fields.
“We need to educate,” the state senator said. “We need to make sure [institutions] like Suffolk Community College, a perfect example, have some kind of a course … to have qualified people watching our children.”
Jennifer Rojas, executive director of the Commack-based Child Care Council of Suffolk, discussed the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the child care industry. While these essential services remained operational throughout the public health emergency, the industry has struggled since.
“When everything shut down in March of 2020, child care remained open because we knew how important it was for our essential workers to continue to work,” she said. “Unfortunately, our industry is in a crisis. … It’s expensive for parents, and the workforce is making poverty wages.”
She added, “It’s because you cannot raise the cost on parents in order to pay your staff more, so we’re stuck in this bubble where providers are not able to pay their staff and, therefore, not able to recruit.”
Without sufficient staff, Rojas said some child care programs are cutting back resources and, in some instances, shutting down altogether. “This is a crisis like we have never seen in this industry, and it’s always been an industry that has operated on razor-thin margins,” she added.
State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) echoed Rojas’ sentiments about the crippling effects of COVID-19 on child care service providers. To Giglio, the lockdowns generated conditions where child care was less necessary for parents.
“Because the moms couldn’t go to work and everybody was expected to stay home, a lot of these facilities closed down,” she said. “It costs a lot because your payroll is not going down and you’re still turning the lights on every day.”
Also in attendance was Ryan Stanton, executive director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, who emphasized the inordinate expenses associated with child care and the need for state support.
“In both Nassau and Suffolk counties, the cost of care is about $30,000 a year,” he said. “That is more than going to the State University of New York for an entire year. You have working families struggling to make ends meet. In order to go to work, [they] must have care in many instances. And we’re asking them to pay for a college tuition bill or more.”
Giglio, a member of the state Assembly’s Labor and Economic Development committees, suggested funding child care to remediate labor shortages, viewing such an investment as an economic development tool.
“We have warehouses out there that are full of materials, waiting to be delivered to customers, and those items are not getting delivered because they don’t have the drivers,” she said. “We need to get people back to work. Employers are looking for workers, and parents are looking for a better life for their families.”
Concluding the press conference, Murray outlined some possible solutions. He recommended removing the statewide eligibility standard to resolve the regional economic differences between Long Island and the rest of the state.
“Because of our economic diversity here, [the statewide standard] doesn’t serve Long Island like it should,” the state senator-elect said. “Rather than a statewide eligibility level, we should break it into the 10 regional economic development council regions.”
With different standards for different regions, Murray maintained that Long Islanders could qualify for additional state aid for child care, reflective of their higher cost of living. “This is a fairer way, especially for Long Island families,” he said.
Murray said another way to improve the issue is through employer-based on-site child care. He offered that expanding these benefits could assist working families and employers alike.
Speaking to employers directly, he said, “If you offer on-site child care as a benefit to your employees, I guarantee you that will put you above your competition in the game of recruitment,” adding, “What we want to do is incentivize that.”
Lastly, he suggested exploring any changes in state regulations that may be holding up the construction of new child care facilities. “We also need to sit down and look at whether or not there are regulations slowing down the building of health care facilities,” Murray said.
He added, “Let me be very clear: We will never change any regulations that deal with the health, the safety or the well-being of the children. But we should take a look at the regulations otherwise and see if they are slowing them down.”
Hochul is expected to release her proposed FY 2024 budget next month.
TBR News Media isn’t endorsing anyone in the race for state Senate in the 2nd District because the editorial staff feels both candidates are equally qualified.
While it may be difficult for a newspaper to choose who to endorse in this race, it’s a win for voters. Whichever candidate succeeds, we will have someone who is qualified and committed to doing the best for New York state and the 2nd District.
Berland has decades of political experience behind her, and it’s evident her experiences with the Town of Huntington and Suffolk County will be an asset in Albany if she wins.
Mattera has learned a great deal during this two-year term as senator. He has quickly evolved from a freshman senator to a knowledgeable elected official. We are confident that he will stand by his promise that he will not be working to change New York State’s abortion legislation, and if gubernatorial candidate Zeldin wins, we will hold Mattera to his word that he will not work to reverse those laws in the state.
How changing political boundaries can have real consequences for voters and their representatives
Redistricting is shaking up this election season.
Redistricting is the process by which new political boundaries are drawn to reflect the changes in populations across regions and states. New congressional districts, as well as state Senate and Assembly districts, are redrawn by state Legislatures every 10 years to accord with the most recent U.S. Census results.
‘Government at its worst.’
— Mario Mattera
This year, a cloud of uncertainty was placed over the electoral process when the state Court of Appeals blocked the New York State Legislature’s plans for redrawn district maps. The majority 4-3 decision sent the responsibility for redrawing the lines to an out-of-state independent commission.
State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James), whose District 2 was altered significantly under the new lines, accused the majority in the state Legislature of attempting to gerrymander his district.
“What happened was — and I’m going to say this — the Democrats went in and gerrymandered the lines in the Senate and the congressional lines,” he said.
Unlike the district lines for the state Assembly, which Mattera suggested were worked out through a series of compromises between party leaders, the state Senate could not find a working agreement for new lines. The state senator also said that the lines could have been revised before they went to court, but the majority objected, hoping to win a favorable opinion for its unfair district maps.
“The judges ruled it gerrymandering, so it went to an outside commission called Special Masters, out of Pennsylvania, and it cost the taxpayers money to do this,” he said.
Mattera expressed frustration at the process, which he said wasted time and taxpayer dollars unnecessarily. He called the recent redistricting process “government at its worst.”
‘I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines.’ — Jodi Giglio
New boundaries, altered communities
Under the new district maps, people in communities throughout Long Island will see major changes this year in their political representation. Mattera, whose district currently includes Setauket, Stony Brook and Old Field, will no longer represent those areas after this year.
“Even though, as a Republican, I wasn’t getting the best results out of Setauket and Stony Brook, I still loved my district,” he said. “I did very well in knowing the people and getting to know everybody, and now I’ve lost all of the Township of Brookhaven.”
Mattera is not alone in losing a significant portion of his current constituency. State leaders all across the Island have had their district lines redrawn as well.
“Southold in its entirety has been taken away from Assembly District 2 and has been placed in Assembly District 1,” said state Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead), who represents the 2nd District.
Despite losing Southold, Giglio is not disappointed by the changes in her district. She considered the redrawing of the Assembly lines a product of bipartisan negotiations and was glad to pick up new constituencies elsewhere.
“I’m never disappointed when the process is done fairly and when it’s done by a bipartisan group that is drawing the lines,” she said, adding, “I was pleased to pick up many people in the 2nd Assembly District and will continue to work for the people of Southold as I have grown very close to them.”
‘It’s a fact of life.’
— Helmut Norpoth
Redistricting, past and future
Helmut Norpoth, professor in the Department of Political Science at Stony Brook University, detailed the long history of partisan squabbles over district lines. He said gerrymandering has existed since at least the early 19th century.
The word “gerrymander” was created after the infamous Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, a Founding Father and later vice president who first employed the tactic to create bizarrely shaped state senate districts. Norpoth said gerrymandering has been around “forever” and that “it’s a fact of life” whenever district maps are redrawn.
Norpoth and two of his students recently submitted a proposal to the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission. Their work is centered around making district maps fairer and elections more competitive.
“One of the requirements that we followed in our proposal is to keep communities intact and minimize any splitting of a natural community into different districts,” Norpoth said. Districts “have to be contiguous, they have to be compact. They have to be as competitive as possible, so that the balance can give both parties a chance.” He added, “There are so many different angles that you have to abide by. It’s sort of a magic act to put it all together.”
‘It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts.’ — Robert Kelly
While there are so many variables considered while drawing district lines, supercomputing may help to speed up and simplify the process. Robert Kelly, professor in the Department of Computer Science at SBU, focuses on automated redistricting, which uses a mathematical formulation to generate district lines based on a wide range of constraints.
“That allows us to look at, for a given state, what the constraints are in redistricting, whether they be constraints by the state constitution, state laws or constraints given by federal court rulings,” he said. “With that, we can formulate a way to evaluate the quality of the given redistricting plan and then we can try to optimize that result.”
While advancements in computer programming and supercomputing are helping researchers improve redistricting models, Kelly acknowledged that they can also be used for nefarious purposes.
“It’s becoming clear that it’s easier to draw unfair districts,” he said. “The conclusion would be that with the availability of so much digital data that allows you to predict the voting patterns of individual voters and allows you to manipulate these district boundaries, it is creating a situation where more and more states are creating district boundaries that favor the political party that happens to be in power in the given state.”
With so much controversy today surrounding redistricting, it is questionable whether the problems of partisan gerrymandering will ever go away. Despite considerable effort by researchers like Norpoth and Kelly, conflict over district boundaries may be a feature inherent to any system that requires those lines to be redrawn.
When asked whether the redistricting process could ever become fairer, Kelly said, “Yes, I believe it could be more fair. … But would I predict that would ever happen? I would not bet on it.”
On Saturday, April 23, public officials gathered to formally rename the 107-acre Farmingville Hills County Park after the late Suffolk Legislator Tom Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma); it will be known as Thomas Muratore County Park.
The ceremony was hosted by county Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), majority leader of the Legislature. Caracappa succeeded the late legislator by special election less than two months after Muratore’s untimely death on Sept. 8, 2020. Caracappa also sponsored legislation to rename the park in Muratore’s honor.
“Tom Muratore had a special way about him,” Caracappa said. “He knew how to touch us and mentor us and just be a good friend to us. Anyone who knew Tom knew of his passion for serving his community, his constituents and the residents of Suffolk County. Whether it was talking about politics, talking about his family or talking about the way the Yankees either won or lost, he had a passion that was unmistakable.”
The event included elected leaders from the town, county and state governments. First among these speakers was County Executive Steve Bellone (D), who emphasized Muratore’s unique ability to bring competing parties and interests together.
“You have people from all walks of life here, people from all across the political spectrum, and I think that speaks volumes about who Tom Muratore was,” Bellone said. “He was always the utmost gentleman and would work with you. There was a way about him that I think was an example and a model for all of us to look at about how we should govern.” The county executive added, “This man was a true public servant his entire life and we need to honor public servants like that. We need more of the way that he conducted himself in public life.”
Discussing what it means to rename the county park after Muratore, Bellone said, “It’s an honor to be here today to be able to help name this park in his name so that forevermore, as we move from here, this will be a place where a man of great honor and a great public servant is remembered always in this county.”
County Legislature presiding officer, Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), acknowledged Muratore’s record of public service and his example of quality leadership throughout the county.
“I got to know Tom when I joined the Legislature in 2014,” he said. “He was truly a mentor to me. He always had my back, never afraid to tell me when I was doing something right or wrong. No matter what role he took, whether it be in government, as a police officer or serving our county … he continued to serve.” McCaffrey added, “He didn’t just serve, he served well.”
Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, commended Muratore for the human touch that he put on his work in county government. “Tom was always invested in you,” Richberg said. “It didn’t matter when it was, he was always walking around, talking to everyone, finding out how their family was doing, what was going on in their personal lives.” The minority leader added, “He really wanted to know how you were doing. Beyond the politics, it was always about you.”
Town of Brookhaven Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden) spoke of his experience serving for three years as Muratore’s chief of staff. LaValle said Muratore made little distinction between his public and private responsibilities, treating his staff as though they were family.
“You weren’t employed by Tom Muratore,” LaValle said. “You may have worked for Tom, but when you worked for Tom, you were part of his family and that’s how he always treated us.” Reflecting upon Muratore’s passing, the councilman added, “It hit us all hard because it was like losing your uncle or your dad. He always was around for us no matter what it was. It wasn’t just about government for Tom. It was about you as a person and about your family and how you were doing. It was never about Tom.”
County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) complimented Muratore’s legislative philosophy. According to her, his leadership was defined by his love of his community.
“Tom operated and governed from a base of love,” Kennedy said. “He loved the organizations, he loved the people that he was with. He was a good human being and I know right now that he is sitting in the palms of God’s hands.”
County Comptroller John Kennedy Jr. (R) spoke of Muratore’s effectiveness as a labor leader. Kennedy believed that Muratore’s style of representation included both a sense of urgency as well as a sincere conviction and passion for the work he performed.
“Always, always he was about our workforce and about the integrity of our county. He truly embraced that concept of service,” the comptroller said.
County Clerk Judy Pascale (R) used her memorial address to recite a quote from the late American poet, Maya Angelou. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” Pascale said, adding, “Tommy, you always made us feel very special. Rest in peace, brother.”
State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) suggested Muratore brought to county government a commonsense outlook and an approach guided by practical wisdom.
“It was commonsense government, that’s what it was when you were with Tom Muratore,” Mattera said. “He cared about a decent wage, a decent health care [plan], a decent pension for all, so that we can live here on the Island.” Sharing his expectations for the park, the state senator added, “We have 107 acres here and when anybody walks these 107 acres at Tom Muratore Park, you’re always going to remember this name. This is an absolutely beautiful park and to have a name like Tom Muratore, I am just blessed to say I knew him.”
State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) emphasized Muratore’s authenticity. “Every time he would talk to you, he was never texting or doing anything like that,” Smith said. “He would be in the moment. I think more of us should live in the moment and genuinely care about each other.” The assemblyman also highlighted Muratore’s creative strategies to solve problems and get work done. “And I really appreciate that kind of relentless attitude. I just loved that about Tom and about how he always wanted to go to bat for people.”
Michael Wentz, founder and president of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, presented Muratore’s wife Linda with a proclamation that the chamber had prepared with Sachem Public Library of Holbrook. It reads: “On behalf of the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, we present this proclamation in recognition of Thomas Muratore, whose never-ending support of his community and local businesses will forever live on, and be remembered for generations to come.”
The presentations were concluded with a short speech prepared by Linda Muratore, who used her time to honor Caracappa’s mother, the late county Legislator Rose Caracappa: “I don’t know if Legislator Caracappa knows, but Tom was very fond of his mom, Legislator Rose Caracappa. Every time he saw her name on a building, he said, ‘That must be the greatest honor.’” Linda Muratore added, “Today his dream has come true because of all of you. Thank you again for honoring my husband. I truly know that it was his honor to serve all of you.”
On Friday, Nov. 19, state Senator Mario Mattera (R-St. James), New York State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R- Holbrook) and Suffolk County Legislator Nick Caracappa (R-Selden) joined together to host a special Long Island Job Fair at Suffolk County Community College.
From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. people from across the county visited the Babylon Student Center and spoke with representatives from dozens of different employers face-to-face.
Booths adorned names from all categories of jobs such as the U.S Army, Sportime Tennis Academy, and even Finishing Trades Institute of NY, Painters & Allied Trades. Representatives were able to answer questions to interested visitors, in hopes that it would spark an interest.
The atmosphere was energetic, and the stream of potential employees didn’t cease until the job fair was close to ending.
According to Mattera, the job fair was for those who lost their jobs from the recent government mandates, the COVID-19 pandemic and to help boost the economy.
“Without labor, our economy fails,” he said. “Our goal here is to make sure they, especially the people who lost their jobs, come here and maybe find a new career.”
Caracappa remarked how the turnout for the job fair was outstanding and showed the need from both sides for employment opportunities.
“We made this free,” he said. “We didn’t charge vendors, we’re not charging the community to come here. This is all about opportunity for both sides.”
Suffolk County Republican lawmakers joined together last week calling on Democratic leaders in Albany to repeal the state’s cashless bail law. They argue that it has led to an uptick in violent crime.
Spearheaded by U.S. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) — who is also the GOP’s potential nominee for governor in 2022 — he said that while on the campaign trail, he hears from people across both political parties who agree that bail reform needs to change.
“Many areas of the state that I’ve been to support repealing cashless bail,” Zeldin said during a press conference on Wednesday, Nov. 10. “They share stories about how cashless bail has eroded public safety.”
He added that the “red wave” that hit Suffolk County — including the success of newly elected Republican District Attorney Ray Tierney, could help send a message to majority Democrats to repeal the bail reform law.
“Too many New Yorkers have already witnessed the ramifications of this dangerous law first-hand, and on Election Day 2021 they made it abundantly clear that they have had enough,” Zeldin said. “This fatally flawed law undermines New York’s men and women in blue, their morale, their efforts and, most importantly, their authority. In the courtroom, it rips away judges’ judicial discretion, ties their hands and forces them to ignore prior convictions and the risk of repeat offenders. Instead of handcuffing criminals, this misguided law handcuffs justice, and every day New Yorkers are the ones paying the price.”
Tierney interjected and said that a package of newly enacted or proposed Democratic bills, including those that reform parole and would expunge many misdemeanor convictions and lower-level felonies, fail to keep the public safe.
“We are here to say these laws do not keep us safer,” Tierney said. “And we need to repeal some of these laws and start to think about the victims and the victims’ families when we consider criminal justice reform.”
He added that during the most-recent election, he and his GOP colleagues saw that bail reform and criminal justice were huge issues that needed to be tackled.
“We saw suddenly our elected officials coming to the realization that bail reform and criminal justice reform did not keep us safe and it was not an effective law,” he said.
Zeldin and Tierney were joined by members of the state Senate and Assembly. Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) congratulated Tierney on his recent win.
“I’m so excited that the people spoke,” Mattera said. “They wanted to make sure we have the right people in place to keep our residents safe.”
Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said that bail reform “needs to change — it’s dangerous.”
“The people have spoken,” he added. “They finally remember the victims who have been forgotten by the two majorities.”
Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) agreed that victims and witnesses are currently not safe.
“It’s not right what happened, we need to repeal it,” she said. “Repeat offenders need to be behind bars and judges need that jurisdiction back.”
Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) rallied with health care workers to boycott Gov. Kathy Hochul’s (D) vaccination deadline, Sept. 27.
Zeldin, who is campaigning for governor, joined other elected officials outside the state building in Hauppauge Monday just hours before health care workers were required to get the COVID-19 vaccine by midnight or risk losing their jobs.
On Monday night, Hochul signed an executive order to significantly expand the eligible workforce and allow additional health care workers to administer COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
According to the mandate, if health care workers do not receive at least one dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines by the end of day Monday — without a medical exemption or having previously filed for a religious exemption — they will forfeit their jobs.
The congressman has been vocal over the mandates, locally and nationally.
“Our health care workers were nothing short of heroic the past 18 months,” Zeldin said. “We shouldn’t be firing these essential workers. We should be thanking them for all they’ve done for our communities.”
Zeldin was calling on Hochul to work with medical facilities and the state’s health care workers to “implement a more reasonable policy that does not violate personal freedoms, fire health care workers who helped us through the pandemic’s worst days, and cause chaos and staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes.”
Hochul stated this week that to fill the vacancies in hospitals, she plans to bring in the National Guard and other out-of-state health care workers to replace those who refuse to get vaccinated.
“You’re either vaccinated and can keep your job, or you’re out on the street,” said Zeldin, who is vaccinated.
State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) said he was angered when health care employees were given limited ability to negotiate the vaccine mandate through their unions.
“This isn’t a state of emergency, like a hurricane,” he said. “This is a state of emergency that people get fired, and not going to have unemployment insurance. I am a union leader. This is a disgrace to all Americans.”
According to the state Department of Labor, unvaccinated workers who are terminated from their jobs will not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. A new Republican-led bill introduced in Albany would restore those jobless benefits.
On Tuesday, the state released data noting the percentage of hospital staff receiving at least one dose was 92% (as of Monday evening) based on preliminary self-reported data. The percentage of fully vaccinated was 85% as of Monday evening, up from 84% on Sept. 22 and 77% on Aug. 24.
“This new information shows that holding firm on the vaccine mandate for health care workers is simply the right thing to do to protect our vulnerable family members and loved ones from COVID-19,” Hochul said in a statement. “I am pleased to see that health care workers are getting vaccinated to keep New Yorkers safe, and I am continuing to monitor developments and ready to take action to alleviate potential staffing shortage situations in our health care systems.”
Long Island’s three health care providers have already implemented the mandate and are taking action.
Northwell Health, the state’s largest private employer and health care provider — and which includes Port Jefferson’s Mather Hospital and Huntington Hospital — previously notified all unvaccinated team members that they are no longer in compliance with New York State’s mandate to vaccinate all health care workers by the Sept. 27 deadline.
“Northwell regrets losing any employee under such circumstances, but as health care professionals and members of the largest health care provider in the state, we understand our unique responsibility to protect the health of our patients and each other,” Northwell said in a statement. “We owe it to our staff, our patients and the communities we serve to be 100% vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Catholic Health Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Jason Golbin said in a statement that the provider is “incredibly proud of our staff’s dedication to protecting the health and safety of Long Islanders during the COVID-19 pandemic and are grateful for their heroic efforts over the last 18 months.”
He added, “In keeping with our commitment to ensuring the health and safety of our patients, visitors, medical staff and employees, we are complying with the New York State vaccine mandate for all health care workers.”
Golbin said that as of Tuesday, Sept. 28, the vast majority of staff is fully vaccinated with only a few hundred people furloughed from across six hospitals, three nursing facilities, home health care, hospice and other physician practices.
Stony Brook University officials added Stony Brook medicine has been preparing for New York State’s mandate all healthcare workers get at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by the deadline.
As of 8 p.m. on Sept. 28, 94.07% of Stony Brook University Hospital employees have been vaccinated, and this number continues to increase, 134 Stony Brook University Hospital employees are being placed on suspension without pay and will be scheduled to meet with Labor Relations representatives to discuss their circumstances. While awaiting this meeting, they can use vacation or holiday time off. If they continue to elect not to receive the vaccine, they will be terminated in accordance with the NYS DOH order.
Less than 1% of the hospital’s total employee population are in a probationary employment period and while they are currently suspended without pay, they are still eligible to be vaccinated before their terminations are processed and could still return to work.
Officials said these numbers are fluid and are expecting further declines.
State Sen. Mario Mattera’s (R-St. James) life looks a whole lot different than it did last year.
The decision to run for senator in November 2020 was one that he had to make quickly. During a recent visit to the TBR News Media offices, he said he remembers when Jesse Garcia, chairman of the Suffolk County Republican Committee, gave him a call March 26 last year asking if he wanted to run for New York State Senate. He had to make his decision in 24 hours.
Mattera said he was surprised to be asked to run for the Senate because he thought there was a possibility he would be asked to run for a more local office. Garcia told him, “You get along with everybody, so you will work on both sides of the fence.”
Mattera, who describes himself as “an elected official and not a politician,” agreed as he has friends on both sides of the political aisle. He said he wasn’t going to stop working with those he has met along the way who care about labor and people.
“I have friends on the other side and I’m not going to ruin that relationship, because politics gets ugly,” he said. “I’m not that way. I’m the bare bones, let’s get the job done, roll your sleeves up and let’s work together and get it done.”
Mattera represents the 2nd District, which includes Smithtown and parts of Brookhaven and Huntington. He is a former Suffolk County Water Authority board member and has been a business agent with the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters with Plumbers Local #200 for more than four decades.
A Smithtown resident for more than 50 years, he moved from Nesconset to St. James in 1996 where he lives with his wife, Terry, and his two daughters Jessica and Jayme.
The state senator serves as the chief Republican on the Consumer Protection Committee, as well as the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee. He is also a member of the Labor and Transportation standing committees.
The last few months the new senator has been researching and working on a few crucial local matters.
Like most elected officials, Mattera has been dealing with COVID-19 issues. The senator said he is proud of the work his staff has done in making sure residents found vaccination appointments.
“Our office was amazing at finding out who had [the vaccines],” he said. “They were going on social media to find out where the vaccines were being held and working with the veterans hospitals.”
Regarding schools, Mattera said he believes all children need to return to school five days a week in person in the fall. He pointed to districts such as Three Village and Hauppauge for successfully providing the option this past academic year. He added he feels it will be important to have staff on hand to provide emotional support for students, as returning after a long period of virtual or hybrid learning may be difficult for some children.
“Mental health is very serious,” he said. “You have no idea what happened during this time with certain children with what they went through being home. That’s what I’m concerned about, and we need to make sure we’re staffed properly for this and be prepared.”
Mattera said he is looking for his district to have the best sewage treatment plant. He has been working with state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) to find a good solution for Smithtown and the surrounding area. While there has been talk about Gyrodyne LLC., which owns the Flowerfield property in St. James, having a proposed sewage treatment plant and the potential for sewer lines from Lake Avenue in St. James to be hooked up to it, nothing has been promised by Gyrodyne and Mattera said he doesn’t believe this is the best solution.
The pipes that were put down at Lake Avenue can be hooked up to the north or south, and he said there are other potential locations for a sewage treatment plant that could be beneficial not only to St. James but other parts of Smithtown, especially the Route 25 corridor.
He said it’s important to avoid problems such as brown tide and negatively affecting the shellfish and wildlife. One of the concerns of residents and environmentalists in both Smithtown and Brookhaven is the effect a sewage plant on the Gyrodyne property would have on Stony Brook Harbor
“Let’s compromise,” he said. “Let’s find the right location that we’re going to replenish the aquifer, not that we’re going to keep on dumping any kind of discharge from a sewage treatment plant that’s going to be going out to the ocean 3 miles, and it’s going to be going up and dumping out into the Sound anymore.”
He pointed to Nassau County that has big sewage problems, he said, because they didn’t plan properly and discharge dumps both into the ocean and Sound and the need to avoid such problems in the area.
As for Lake Avenue, he said a revitalization project first started when former state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) was able to secure $3.9 million of state funds to put down dry sewer lines. However, the town has not received the funds yet due to procedures stalling during the pandemic.
He said he’s been working on getting Smithtown the $3.9 million as soon as possible. Mattera said despite being a freshman senator he’s not afraid to keep asking.
“I will not stop until the town receives that money,” he said, adding just a signature is needed.
He also pointed to the roadwork done on Route 25A from Nicolls to Port Jefferson being severely needed and called some local roads “a disaster.” He and his chief of staff recently checked out the road near St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown and recorded cars avoiding the potholes. He said many constituents have called in complaining about the flat tires that they have gotten. On the day of the TBR interview, roadwork was scheduled for that area but had to be delayed due to rain.
“That shouldn’t be an emergency situation that we call DOT up,” he said. “It should be something that, in other words, guess what guys, you should be looking at all of our roads and saying this is a necessity for all of us.”
The Brookhaven landfill will be closed in 2024, and Mattera said he is concerned as many in the district are affected by this. He said one option that’s been brought up for dealing with the garbage is incinerator plants and sending the ash out, but it’s not feasible due to environmental reasons.
“We need to fix this problem now,” he said.
He’s conduct research and sat down with a waste disposal business to talk about the possibility of packaging garbage in boxed railroad cars out east. They would then go directly to a site in Pennsylvania or Ohio.
“The only solution right now, and I’ve done my research, is to have a facility like this,” he said.
He is currently looking at how it would affect the community, the jobs such a facility would create and how it would affect the area it is potentially going to in another state.
“In the meantime, we are protecting our environment in a way here,” he said. “Are we protecting it somewhere else? That’s the only thing that I’m lost about.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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 forvaccines.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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 becomenot 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.”
Republican elected officials gathered at a press conference in Hauppauge Thursday, Jan. 14, calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) on the state’s failed vaccine rollout.
State senators, including Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), demanded that Cuomo implement a plan to fix issues that have arisen since the vaccine was authorized to be distributed.
Senior citizen and West Babylon resident, Anna Foley, shared her experience of how difficult it has been to obtain the vaccine, which she has still not received.
“I’m 83 years old, fighting two types of cancer and other underlying medical problems,” she said. “I can’t seem to get anyone to help. I have looked at the New York State website, called pharmacies, doctors, hospitals, and I even tried my union to see if I can get any information, to no avail.”
Foley mentioned the difficulties senior citizens are facing while trying to make an appointment for the vaccine, saying that most people ages 80 and over are not computer savvy, and the locations where the vaccine is administered are too far to drive to.
Mattera pointed out how the federal government still has not released the new vaccine to pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS, giving residents fewer options of locations where they can receive the vaccine.
In his plea to the governor, Mattera said, “Get the vaccine here and get more locations. Right now, there are four locations, and do you know what they say? They say, ‘We don’t know what to do, we can’t help you.’ It’s unacceptable.”
The partial and full closings of businesses, mandated by Cuomo, were intended to combat rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. However, Palumbo said even though businesses are partially closed, the cases are still increasing.
“The Legislature needs to get involved, we need to get control back,” he said. “We need to get those vaccinations out, and as quickly as possible — not throw them in the garbage.”
Many of the politicians also discussed the bill Cuomo signed into law June 17, which would allow every pharmacist in New York state to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. State Assemblyman Doug Smith (R-Holbrook) demanded to know why the bill has not been put into full force.
“Now we’re in January, governor, where is your plan?” Smith said. “Why is every single pharmacy in the state of New York not able to administer this vaccine?”