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Politics

Laura Ahearn. Photo from campaign

Following tallies of absentee ballots that were completed yesterday by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Laura Ahearn and Laura Jens-Smith both won their Democractic primaries.

Ahearn, a crime-victim advocate, will run in November against Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) for the seat being vacated by longtime New York State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who announced he is retiring after the end of this year.

The executive director of Parents for Megan’s Law and the Crime Victim’s Center, defeated Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, Southampton Town Board member Tommy John Schiavoni, Suffolk Community College student Skyler Johnson and nurse Nora Higgins.

“I would like to thank my voters for their support, and the other participants in this race for their hard work and determination to advance our shared values,” Ahearn said in a statement. “I look forward to the election in November, where everyone involved in this primary effort can work together and send a forward-thinking, pro-choice woman to represent this seat in Albany for the first time in its history.”

In a post on her candidacy Facebook page, Cartright, who received the second-most number of votes, conceded the race and thanked voters for their support. 

“The results are in and the Democratic candidate chosen is not the one we hoped for … my fight for our community is outside the bounds of any one election,” she said. “Our efforts will not cease. We will be steadfast until every goal is achieved. I will continue to fight for each of you as a Brookhaven councilwoman.”

Schiavoni, a Southampton town councilman, received the third-most number of votes.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to seek such an office and offer my skills and experience to the people of senate district 1,” he said. “Our democracy survives only with effort and is dependent upon the participation of thoughtful men and women voting, caring and resisting the complacency that leaves the responsibility of governing to others.”

Johnson, a young Mount Sinai resident and recent graduate of Suffolk County Community College, gained 12 percent of the total votes.

“I don’t consider this a loss,” he said in a statement. “I was able to set the stage for a number of issues in this primary election.”

Jens-Smith will be vying for the Second District State Assembly seat being vacated by Palumbo, she will face Republican challenger Jodi Giglio. She won by over 50 percent of the votes against her opponent, Sound Beach resident Will Schleisner.

“I want to thank the people of the Second district who have humbled me with their support, this pandemic election hasn’t been easy—but folks rose to the occasion, and turned out in huge numbers…now we set our sights toward November,” she said in a statement.

On his campaign Facebook, Schleisner congratulated Jens-Smith and said he will join the campaign of Steve Polgar to compete for Assembly District 3.

New York State Senator – 1st District (Democratic)

Laura Ahearn – 34% – 2,360 in person votes – absentee ballot 6,059 – total votes 8,419 

Valerie Cartright – 27% – 2,120 in person votes – absentee ballot 4,442 – total votes 6,562

Thomas Schiavoni – 24% – 1,812 in person votes – absentee ballot 4,006 – total votes 5818 

Skyler Johnson – 12% – 945 in person votes – absentee ballot 1,882 – total votes 2,827 

Nora Higgins – 4% – 356 in person votes – absentee votes 596 – total votes 952

New York State Assembly – 2nd District (Democratic)

Laura M. Jens-Smith – 77.99% – 1,772 in person votes – absentee ballots 4,645 votes – total votes 6,147

William Schleisner – 22.01% – 500 in person votes – absentee ballots – 1,475- total votes 1,975

 

Nursing homes have become a hotbed of discussion over the large percentage of their residents who have died from COVID-19 while in New York facilities. Stock photo

When the initial COVID-19 surge occurred in New York State, nursing homes were the site of rampant infections and deaths. According to a New York State Department of Health report released earlier this week, the infection was spread by community transmission and asymptomatic staff members. 

The agency aimed to study the impact of the state’s March directive that nursing homes could not refuse admission or readmission to patients because of a confirmed or suspected coronavirus infection. The directive was meant to free up space in overcrowded hospitals as the pandemic intensified.

The number of nursing home staff reporting COVID-19 symptoms peaked March 16, 23 days prior to the peak of nursing home fatalities, which occurred April 8. 

“It is likely that thousands of employees who were infected in mid-March transmitted the virus unknowingly — through no fault of their own — while working, which then led to resident infection,” the report states. 

Critics of the directive argue that it allowed infected patients to return or come into these facilities and in turn spread the virus to other individuals. The findings of the study show 

37,500 workers — one in four of 158,000 nursing home workers — were infected with COVID-19 between March and early June. 

A number of elected officials took issue with the guidance given to nursing homes by the state. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) disputed claims that the state was simply following the federal government’s guidance. He said the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal regulator for nursing homes, had previously issued guidance stating that not only should nursing homes only accept patients for which they can care for, but that nursing homes should focus on “prompt detection, triage and isolation of potentially infectious residents.” 

Zeldin also called on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CMS to launch an investigation into New York State’s adherence to appropriate health and safety guidelines within nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

In a statement following the release of the NYSDOH report, Zeldin reiterated his stance. 

“An internal review by the State of New York is OK for them to initiate, but this is not a situation where the state is going to be able to objectively investigate itself,” he said. “These facilities should not have been required to accept patients who were diagnosed at the time with coronavirus, especially if they did not have the ability to protect the rest of their vulnerable population. It was also a fatal policy to prevent nursing homes from administering coronavirus tests to patients returning from hospitalization. Our seniors and their families deserve answers, and an independent investigation is clearly necessary.”

A statewide nursing home survey conducted by NYSDOH shows that between March 25 and May 8, a total of 6,326 COVID-19 hospital patients were admitted into 310 nursing homes. Of those facilities 252 already had either confirmed or suspected positive patients, confirmed or presumed fatalities or infected workers, prior to admission of someone with the coronavirus. 

Stephen Hanse, president and CEO of the New York State Health Facilities Association said at the onset of the pandemic, nursing homes and assisted living facilities were not the top priority. Bolstering hospital resources and ramping up hospital bed capacity were. 

“Policymakers now know that the men and women residing in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are the most at risk of infection from the COVID-19 virus,” Hanse said in a statement. “Consequently, it is essential that nursing homes and assisted living providers receive the full support and assistance from elected officials and policymakers to ensure they have the necessary resources to defeat this virus and safeguard their residents and staff.”

Local conservative group Setauket Patriots hosted what they called a Patriots Day Parade July 4 in place of the normal Fourth of July parade hosted by the Port Jefferson Fire Department. Photo by David Luces

A caravan of cars, motorcycles and other vehicles drove down Port Jefferson’s Main Street to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The Patriot Day Parade, which was hosted by the Setauket Patriots, a local conservative group based on social media, was put together fairly quickly as organizers were able to obtain the necessary permit and approval from the village within the past week.

Despite the local fire department’s decision to cancel its annual parade, the Setauket Patriots group previously stated it wanted the opportunity to do something to mark Independence Day. A representative from the group said the parade would not be a political event. The majority of people who lined the sidewalks waved American flags and wore red, white and blue. Though there were a handful of individuals in red MAGA hats and some participants who drove past with Trump 2020 and Thin Blue Line flags.

James and Flo McAvey of Port Jefferson, were a part of the crowd and were glad there was an event to commemorate the important American holiday.

“The village’s [annual] parade always has a big turnout, but I’m glad there is something going on to show patriotism toward America,” James McAvey said. “I know this was kind of last minute, I don’t think a lot of people knew about this. I think there could have been more spectators if they had more notice.”

Barry Issberner of Port Jefferson, said he thought the decision to not have the usual annual Fourth of July parade was a big mistake.

“I understand the concern, but to call off the whole Fourth of July parade because they were worried people weren’t smart enough to protect themselves was wrong,” he said. “I’m glad someone else picked it up and ran with it.”

Issberner was seen waving a big American flag throughout the parade, adding that it was important to be at the event.

“I wanted to come out and help celebrate the birth of America,” the Port Jeff resident said. “It’s important for the country to pull together. I thought the turnout was pretty good, we had a good amount of cars go by. For something that was last-minute organized, it got a good crowd to come out.”

Attendees and marchers during the annual Port Jefferson Fourth of July parade in 2019. File photo by Kyle Barr

*Update* Officials confirmed Thursday, July 2 the Port Jefferson Village board was issuing a permit for a car parade this Saturday after the permit was deemed complete by Village Administrator Joe Palumbo. 

Original Story:

After the Port Jefferson Fire Department announced it was canceling this year’s Fourth of July parade due to the ongoing pandemic, a local conservative group announced it would host its own parade to mark the standout American holiday. However, this new community-run parade has made some waves within the village because of the event’s political undertones.

The Setauket Patriots, a local right-wing social media group, established the event they called Patriot Day Parade which was advertised on Facebook. They invited local fire departments, floats, classic cars or anyone else looking to participate. Because of concerns with distancing, Village of Port Jefferson officials requested the parade take place in vehicles. The Setauket Patriots also advertised for people to wear masks.

“All politics aside, this is not a political event, all people are invited,” said a representative of the Setauket Patriots who asked not to be named so as to not be attacked on social media. “We should come together for the birth of our nation.”

The parade is scheduled to meet up at 10 a.m. at Railroad Avenue then start marching at 11. The Facebook event said it has been in contact with Suffolk County Police who will escort the parade and close all streets along the route, though police did not respond to requests for confirmation. The route will take it down Main Street, take a left on West Broadway and stop in front of Village Hall where it will disburse, according to Village Administrator Joe Palumbo.

The parade has at least partially been in response to a recent protest march held in Port Jefferson. The Setauket Patriots description of their parade on Facebook incorrectly states that the Village of Port Jefferson canceled the regular July 4 parade, as that event is instead handled annually by the fire department. The post points to the recent Black Lives Matter march held in Port Jefferson June 18, which village officials granted a permit for, as why a 4th of July parade should be hosted as well. That June protest was created by students at Stony Brook University, who submitted the permit application which was unanimously approved by the village board at its June 15 meeting.

The Setauket Patriots’ post said that march shut down Main Street for four hours, but a TBR News Media reporter who was on the scene said it only lasted for two, and after holding speeches at Village Hall the crowd quickly disbursed.

The Setauket Patriots also wrote that despite comments from detractors that the parade would be a rally for President Donald Trump (R), the march “is a July 4th Parade PERIOD.”

“It’s not a Trump rally, but anyone who attends is free to wave whatever flag they want because that’s what this country  is built on,” the post continued.

As of Tuesday, June 30, village officials said they have worked through the application with a Setauket Patriots representative. The group paid the application and safety fees attached to the permit application, which has been sent for review. Because the next official village meeting is scheduled for July 6, Palumbo said the village trustees and mayor are to be polled on the application, but no decision has been made as of time of reporting. Because July 4 is a federal holiday, the decision on the application must be made before that date.

In mid-June, the Port Jefferson Fire Department announced it would not be hosting its annual parade, and in a letter, Todd Stumpf, Port Jefferson Fire Department chief, cited COVID-19 concerns as why it was being canceled.

In May and early June, the village considered hosting its annual fireworks show at a later date than July 4, but by June 15 had canceled the show it usually hosts at East Beach, with officials citing safety needs and an inability for people to socially distance considering the numbers of crowds who usually come down for the annual display.

This post was updated July 1 with a comment from a Setauket Patriots representative.

People rallied in Ridge June 25 to decry the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

New York State Route 25, known as Middle Country Road, which crosses through several hamlets in the center of Brookhaven Town, has long gone without fixes to its cracked pavement and massive potholes. Civics, town officials and some state officials said the New York State Department of Transportation has reneged on promises to finally repair the broken asphalt this year.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, the president of the Middle Island Civic Association, calls on New York DOT to pave Middle Country Road, though the DOT claims it never had such plans. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I have been at many meetings over the years to pave Middle Country Road, and last year they did promise us it would be done,” said town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point). “The issue has not been addressed for so long, this roadway now requires complete reconstruction. And you know why? Because cheap is expensive in the long run.” 

The road runs parallel to its sister highway Route 25A, which just recently received repaving in Rocky Point. Route 25, on the other hand, has received only minor patches in the past several years, officials said.

Town of Brookhaven officials said the state DOT had promised it would repave the section of road from Mount Sinai-Coram Road to Wading River Hollow Road in Calverton by July. However, officials said recent word from the state said it likely would not happen this year.

At a press conference held in Ridge June 25, state and town officials stood alongside local civic representatives and members of local fire departments calling for the road to be repaved.

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said the road’s uneven surface can make cars swerve and cause accidents. It also greatly impacts ambulance drivers who may be carrying injured people in the back of their vehicles.

“I have been here since 1991, and I haven’t seen it be repaved since then,” Keiser said. 

State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk), whose district partially covers a section of the state highway, said he was copied in on an email with state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) that the construction company wished to do the road in a different order, starting with a part of the road in Nassau. The DOT is repaving Route 25B in the Town of North Hempstead and Route 107 in Oyster Bay as part of the state’s repaving project.

“My office got a response from DOT that they’ve had more complaints over in that direction in Nassau,” he said. “The only reason the complaints stopped here, which were more voluminous than anything in Nassau, is because we were told the construction was coming.”

Ridge Fire Department Chief Lou Keiser said Route 25 has not been repaved as long as he’s been in the district, since 1991. Photo by Kyle Barr

The press conference also brought in a measure of politics, even more emphasized during an election year. No local Democratic elected officials were there at the press conference. Members of the Town Board and local state Assembly members criticized the governor for what they called a dismissive attitude to the plight of local infrastructure.

Palumbo also referenced several state officials in Nassau who are seeking reelection this year for why construction was starting on that side of the Island. Palumbo is the Republican candidate looking to take the state Senate District 1 seat once LaValle vacates it at the end of the year.

In a statement, LaValle said, “My office has worked closely with the civics and constituents for well over a year in an attempt to fix the safety issues along this stretch of Route 25. We were given a commitment by DOT that repair and paving would begin this summer and completed in the 2020 calendar year. It is unacceptable that the DOT would do an about-face and put this project off for a year, especially in light of the fact that emergency vehicles cannot safely travel this stretch of road and driver safety is a major concern.”

In response, Stephen Canzoneri, a DOT spokesperson, said the resurfacing project on Route 25 has always been the end of 2021, though there will be spot repairs on the highway for this year.

“The resurfacing of Route 25 was never anticipated to be completed this year,” he said. “In addition, the department plans to make temporary repairs to sections of Route 25 ahead of this winter.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said residents have been contacting her office for years about the state of Middle Country Road. Photo by Kyle Barr

However, that directly contradicts comments sent to local officials last year. New York State DOT sent a letter April 8, 2019, to Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) which stated that the resurfacing project on Route 25 has been “accelerated to a bid opening in early 2020” with a going out to bid in March and a schedule to start construction in spring of 2020 for the described section of the highway. 

The letter was signed by DOT Regional Planning and Program Manager Glenn Murrell. Anker said in reaching out to DOT officials, there seems to have been a mix up on their end for why she and other officials were told it was in the pipe for 2020. She added this issue has been constantly on electives’ minds, with more than a few letters being sent to the DOT over the past several years. 

“I will continue to follow this intensely as this has been going on for a number of years,” she said. “Hopefully we can see the whole road done sometime soon.”

From left, Skyler Johnson, Laura Ahearn, Valerie Cartright, Tommy John Schiavoni are running for the Democratic nod for the state Senate District 1 seat. Campaign photos

With a June 23 date for the New York State primary fast approaching, TBR News Media hosted an online debate to hear directly from those Democrats running for the District 1 State Senate seat. 

The position has been held for the past 40 years by Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). At the beginning of the year, LaValle announced this year would be his last in the Senate.

Yet even before the venerable senator made his announcement, Democratic contenders were lining up for the seat. By late January, five Dems were in the race. Meanwhile, the Republicans have already settled on their front-runner, state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). 

Candidates 19-year-old activist Skyler Johnson, Southampton Town Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni, founder of Parents for Megan’s Law Laura Ahearn and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) all responded to TBR’s requests for a debate. Nora Higgins, a Ridge resident and the regional coordinator of the Public Employees Federation, did not respond to multiple requests for her availability in the debate.

With the number of cases of COVID-19 in New York dropping, and with the reopening process happening, how would you like to see Long Island continue to reopen, while still putting in safeguards to prevent a resurgence?

Many candidates called the fact the state allowed big-box stores to stay open was unfair while small businesses were forced to close and lose out on several months of business. 

Cartright said she and her fellow members of the town board have decried the state’s unequal practices of forcing small businesses to remain closed for months while stores like Walmart or Target stayed open. She touted the town’s small business reopening task force made up of local business leaders to look at this issue.

“As we move forward [in reopening], we find gaps, we find things that are not necessarily equitable,” Cartright said. “We have been on calls for the past four months each day talking about how we can best service our constituency — we cannot stop that process now.”

Johnson said the virus spread because of people not being able to call in sick for work or leave their jobs, especially if they might lose health insurance. He called for the passage of the New York Health Act, which would allow universal health coverage for residents.

“We need more places where business owners can reach out to, to keep themselves, their employees and their customers safe,” he said.

Ahearn said the state needs to ensure it’s not limiting small businesses, and called for further tax incentives beyond the federal stimulus money given to small shops to ensure they can continue. 

“Small businesses are really struggling out there,” Ahearn said. “If Walmart is open, and people are buying tchotchke, why couldn’t they go to local stores and buy that tchotchke?”

Schiavoni, a former teacher for almost 30 years, also said New York needs to “unify” the health care systems, including hospitals and walk-in clinics, and said New York State will need to lobby the federal government for additional financial relief for local municipalities. With 34 school districts in Senate District 1, many could very well lose close to 20 percent of state aid, which means cuts that could be “absolutely staggering.”

“Which means we’re cutting jobs when we really shouldn’t,” he said.

With the ongoing protests, and with bills recently passed in the state Legislature with most already signed by the governor, what is your opinion of protester calls for reform, and what more should state and local governments do to bridge the divide of race relations on Long Island?

Johnson said he helped organize two separate protests, one in Port Jefferson Station and another in Stony Brook, which he said he was “very proud of.” 

He called for more police reform than the bills passed in the Legislature. As a proponent of what is called “defunding the police,” he said it is more about taking money given to departments and investing it into communities. He also called for demilitarizing departments, citing Los Angeles police just recently having been forced to get rid of their grenade launchers.

“We need to be passing reforms on every level to reform police departments,” Johnson said. “We need to pass reforms that combat if a black and a white man are arrested, the black man will likely receive a harsher sentence.”

Schiavoni said that Suffolk has “great police officers who need to be lauded,” and those people need to be leaders to get rid of racist elements in the ranks.

“Those officers that shouldn’t be in the ranks, let’s face it, they kill people,” Schiavoni said. 

He said the state needs to alter the way police are trained and led, and also enfranchise the people of the community to help police their own communities. 

Cartright said the killing of George Floyd was just the inciting incident that “helped open the eyes of people to what’s been happening to black and brown people for centuries.”

When looking at the bills that passed the state Legislature, she cited that many of the bills had been on the docket for years “with no traction.” Before she became a councilwoman, she had been working as one of those looking to “push the needle” toward reform.

Cartright added that it’s on the state and people to make sure local governments are not circumventing this newly passed legislation, and that this is “just the beginning.”

Ahearn said as the person who runs Suffolk’s Crime Victims Center, she deals with local police on a day-to-day basis and sees the “overwhelming majority of our law enforcement officers are great cops,” including public safety and police, but the state “needs to weed out the bad ones, because they are literally killing people in our community.” 

She said she supports the ongoing protests that will eventually lead to the end of structural racism not only in police but in health care, housing and much more.

She said the terminology of “defunding” police is wrong, but the state should restructure to allow for de-escalation training and community outreach.

Many young graduates may be looking at a job market similar to those graduating in 2008. What have we learned since then, and how do we make Long Island more affordable to help both young and old consider staying?

Ahearn said she is a strong proponent of transit-based housing, especially citing the county’s work on the Ronkonkoma Hub project, adding that a general need to make investments in infrastructure to help generate funds as both local governments and states have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

“Our young people, our millennials just can’t afford to live here because they don’t have the good, high-paying jobs that are going to give them the income they need,” Ahearn said. 

Cartright said it will take the revitalization of communities to create “additional options for housing.” She said it’s difficult to convince people to step past the initial NIMBYism thought to consider affordable housing options in their communities. She cited her work with the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville hub study for an example of looking at transit-based development, and how it will require sewers before revitalization occurs.

The state, she said, should shift the system that allows young people to buy homes, especially since student loan debt is taken into account when applying for a mortgage, and add more incentives to incorporate affordable components in new developments.

Schiavoni cited his work with Southampton Town creating affordable housing complexes. He said it will require new rezoning laws to allow for mixed-use structures. 

He also mentioned the five East End towns’ Community Preservation Fund, which creates a transfer of some money sales of new homes over $400,000 toward a pool of affordable housing funds.

“These are the kind of innovative ideas we need to employ to keep our people here,” he said. 

Johnson said that, as someone who just recently graduated from Suffolk County Community College, very few young people who when they graduate say they will buy a house and remain on Long Island, but instead say they will leave. 

“I’ve spoken to people in the district who have not only been here for years, but families have been for years, who are saying they need to leave Long Island as soon as possible,” he said.

He said his plan includes taking vacant or derelict homes that go through the demolition process in towns and instead remake and use them to house people. He said he would create a lottery system for these homes, where those would be responsible for certain costs based on their income.

Sen. LaValle has been a proponent of the electrification of the Long Island Rail Road. Where do you stand on electrification and how would you go forward with a plan for a study?

State Sen. John Flanagan. File photo

On June 8, the New York State Senate voted to clear several police reform bills in the wake of Minneapolis man George Floyd, who was killed in police custody, and the massive wave of protests that have swept across New York, the city and Long Island. 

The bills ranged from a repeal of 50-a, a civil rights law that protected the personnel records of cops, firefighters and correction officers from public scrutiny, to banning the police’ use of chokeholds to restrain alleged perps.

Some bills received universal bipartisan support, while others were divided on party lines. Some votes stick out. All Long Island senators voted yes to bills that police must report the discharge of a service weapon immediately, and all voted yes to banning the use of chokeholds by police. Still, Republicans came together against a special office for investigating incidents of death of people when in police custody and against 50-a.

Sen. John Flanagan (R-Northport),, the senate minority leader, said in a statement that while there is no excuse for police brutality, the repeal of 50-a “denies due process for our law enforcement officers whose records already were available under a court’s discretion,” and provides “false accusations” made against officers.

It is not a reason to vilify and punish every man and woman in law enforcement who serves to protect and serve our communities in New York, nor should it be a reason to sow division,” he said in a statement.

Gaughran, a Democrat, voted yes to all reform bills.

Our nation is at a pivotal moment in its history and people on Long Island have taken to the streets to peacefully demand change,” Gaughran said in a statement. “This package of justice reform legislation is important to ensuring trust between the brave men and women of law enforcement and the communities they work tirelessly to keep safe.”

State Sen. Ken LaValle was one of only two senators to vote no on a bill that confirms the police are required to see to the medical or mental health needs of a person in custody.

LaValle’s office did not return requests for comment about his votes.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signed off on a majority of the bills so far, and has also signed an executive order mandating police all over the state come up with plans to overhaul their departments or face loss of state funding.

  • Senate Bill S.8496: repealing Civil Rights Law 50-a, which helped shield the records of law enforcement. With the repeal, citizens and groups can make Freedom of Information Law requests for those records, which will not reveal the private information of individuals.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted no.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.2574B: creating an Office of Special Investigation within the Department of Law, under the Attorney General, to investigate and potentially prosecute, if warranted, any incident of a person whose death was caused by a police officer or peace officer. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted no.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.3253B: clarifies that a person not under arrest or in custody of police has the right to record police activity and to maintain custody and control of that recording, and of any property or instruments used to record police activities. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.6670B: the bill, also called the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act,” prohibits the use of chokeholds by law enforcement and establishes the crime of aggravated strangulation as a Class-C felony. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.3595B: Establishes the Law Enforcement Misconduct Investigative Office within the Department of Law to review, study, audit and make recommendations regarding operations, policies, programs and practices of local law enforcement agencies. 
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted no.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.1830C: Also called the Police Statistics and Transparency Act, will require courts to compile and publish racial and other demographic data of all low level offenses, including misdemeanors and violations. The bill also requires police departments to submit annual reports on arrest-related deaths to be submitted to the Department of Criminal Justice Services, governor and legislature.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.8492: This legislation essentially gives an individual right of action when another person summons a police or peace officer on them without reason in cases when there was no reason to suspect a crime or when they were not presenting an imminent threat to person or property.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.6601A: The bill amends the Civil Rights Law by adding a new section that affirms New Yorkers’ right to medical and mental health attention while in police custody.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted no. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.8493: Creates a New York State Police Body-Worn Cameras Program which will direct state police officers with body-worn cameras that are to be used any time an officer conducts a patrol and prescribes mandated situations when the camera is to be turned on and recording.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.
  • Senate Bill S.2575B: This legislation, sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey, will require state and local law enforcement officers, as well as peace officers, to report, within six hours, when they discharge their weapon where a person could have been struck, whether they were on or off duty.
    • Sen. Ken LaValle (R) voted yes. 
    • Sen. John Flanagan (R) voted yes.
    • Sen. Jim Gaughran (D) voted yes.

SD1 Democratic candidate Tommy John Schiavoni has recently made efforts to court voters on the North Shore in Brookhaven end of the district. Photo from campaign

By Leah Chiappino

A third-generation Sag Harbor resident and Democrat, Tommy John Schiavoni spent his career as an educator and school board member before being elected to the Southampton town board in 2017. Looking to expand his impact, he is now running to secure the Democratic nomination for New York State Senate District 1, a seat vacated when 44-year Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) announced in January he would not be seeking reelection. 

Last month, the candidate officially established a campaign office in Port Jefferson. 

Schiavoni applauded LaValle’s long tenure in public service and pledged to continue his legacy if elected. 

“We need to have a critical mass of Long Island senators in the majority so Long Islanders can have more of a say in state government.”

— Tommy John Schiavoni

“His legacy, particularly when it comes to the environment, is going to be felt in the 1st Senate district for years to come,’ he said. “I didn’t agree with him on everything, but he served his community. He was a friend and a supporter of education and I certainly would work with Senator LaValle in the future transition.” 

Schiavoni comes from a large family that has owned a plumbing business for three generations. He began working alongside them during summers at age 12, an experience he said taught him strong work ethic, respect for community service and problem-solving skills. Ultimately, he decided the plumbing business was not for him and was fueled by his passion for history and government to go into teaching. 

“I was the kid that would sit and watch the conventions in the summertime and route for particular candidates,” he said.

Schiavoni worked his way through college, earning a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Cortland, before securing a position as a social studies teacher at Center Moriches High School, which he held until his retirement in 2018. While teaching, Schiavoni went on to earn his master’s degree at Stony Brook University. He served on Sag Harbor school board from 2014 to 2017, and a legislative liaison to the board as Southampton town board member. These positions sent him to Albany to lobby for funding to East End schools. 

 “This background for me in school governance is an important part of my commitment to education and why I believe I am now ready to serve as senator,” he said. I went to public schools and I taught in public schools. I believe in public education as the great equalizer of our society.”

The Southampton Town Board member began his political career in 2008, serving on various land-use broads and as a Village of North Haven trustee, an experience that he believes he can take with him in dealing with the politics of Albany. 

Aside from local education, Schiavoni said he feels as though environmental issues, specifically regulating tick-borne illnesses, are of great importance. 

 “New York State really needs to be putting resources into researching why they are happening and the human effects of tick-borne illnesses,” he said. “It affects everyone, it’s affecting our health care, and last year the state still dropped funding to $9 million. That number needs to be a lot bigger.” 

When it comes to education at the college level, Schiavoni believes that the SUNY system is providing an “excellent education” to its students and is for expanding the income qualifications for the Excelsior program, which provides free college tuition to families making less than $125,000 a year, if students agree to work in New York for the same amount of time in which they were receiving the scholarship.  

“I like the idea of incentivizing people to stay in New York,” he said. “If you get your education in New York and your education is arguably paid for by the taxpayers of New York, staying here for five years is appropriate”

In terms of health care, Schiavoni sees the need to cut costs and supports the recent state Medicare expansion. He is eager to see what the governor has on the table from his recent task force to expand health care further. 

The candidate sees affordable housing as a multifaceted problem. In the Town of Southampton, he voted to provide low-cost housing in multiple locations and looks to expand those options. He is in favor of a 5 percent transfer tax to create shared equity programs, where people can split the cost of buying a house with a public fund and can choose to buy full ownership over time. When the house is sold, half of the profit goes to the seller and half will roll over back into the fund. 

He is also for expanding and electrifying the Long Island Rail Road, while placing affordable housing near the train stations so people can get from place to place without having to drive. He proposes placing additional siding on the tracks, so more trains can run.

Through all these policies, Schiavoni also stressed fiscal responsibility. As a liaison to the comptroller’s office in Southampton town, the candidate boasted about the AAA Bond rating the town recently earned. 

“That kind of fiscal responsibility is necessary in government,” he said. “We need to have big ideas, but we also need to pay for them in a manner that can be sustained in perpetuity.”

He is also in favor of reforming cash bail, citing that it is discriminatory to low-income people, but feels Class D and E felonies should have bail set by a judge. 

“We can get people back to court in other ways that are not cash bail,” he said. “When those who cannot afford bail are sitting in jail, the recidivism rate actually rises because they are not able to get ahead, spend time with their families, and it costs the states, county and towns, money.”

Schiavoni said that electing a Democrat from the East End of Long Island is even more vital since the party took the majority in both state Assembly and Senate. 

“As much as political parties are important in Albany, regions are important,” he said. “We need to have a critical mass of Long Island senators in the majority so Long Islanders can have more of a say in state government.”

Schiavoni’s path to the nomination is far from linear. Parents for Megan’s Law founder Laura Ahearn, Suffolk County Community College student Skyler Johnson and Valerie Cartright, a Brookhaven town councilwoman are all vying for the nomination. The Suffolk County Republican Party named state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) as its front-runner.

“We have some really great qualified candidates,” Schiavoni said. “I think contested elections are good for democracy. This is a big district that spans 68 miles from Belle Terre to Montauk Point. I’m going to get out there and bring my message to the people. As an elected official in a number of different areas, I know that I have a lot to offer.”

The state and local primary elections are taking place June 23, and the winner of the Democratic primary will face Palumbo on election day, Nov. 3.

For more profiles of Democrats running for state SD1, visit TBRnewsmedia.com.

Advocates say businesses asking applicants if they’re convicted felons often leaves them jobless. Stock photo

A piece of legislation that would restrict employers from asking about criminal histories in job applications could be voted on by Suffolk lawmakers in the near future.

At a county Legislature meeting earlier this month, legislators said that they had reached a bipartisan agreement on “Ban the Box” legislation and plan to present the bill at a later date. 

County Legislator Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) along with Legislators Susan Berland (D-Dix Hills) and Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) plan on making amendments on the bill. 

“People makes mistakes in their lives, I’m sure each of you have made mistakes.”

— Melissa Bennett

More than 20 people came out in support of the bill at a Feb. 11 meeting. Those who spoke agreed that it would allow former convicts the ability to become better contributing members of a community while helping them rehabilitate and reacclimate into society. 

“I would like applaud the Legislature for making progress in supporting fair hiring practices in Suffolk County — it’s about time,” said Serena Liguori, executive director of New Hour, a Long Island nonprofit organization advocacy group that supports women, mothers and children impacted by incarceration. “We have worked with more than a thousand women across the county who have convictions. Most of them need employment when they come home.” 

The executive director of the nonprofit said she hopes a potential passage of the legislation could lead to making strides around other issues. 

Besides employment, “many of the women we help talk about housing and the lack of it, [and] transportation,” Liguori said. 

Melissa Bennett, Huntington resident, said she believed individuals deserved a second chance. 

“People makes mistakes in their lives, I’m sure each of you have made mistakes,” she said. “We’re human, it happens. Without banning the box, you are essentially [putting people] in a box.”

Elizabeth Justesen, community outreach director of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, also stressed the need to eliminate the application question. 

“Last year this bill lost by one vote,” she said. “For those who came out here every month [to the Legislature] it was a blow. We sat in disbelief in the Legislature’s inability to vote on human dignity.”

The community outreach director pointed out that one in three people have a criminal record in the U.S. Other advocates of such legislation, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) have also made the claim in the past, though according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking website, the FBI considers anyone who has been arrested on a felony to have a criminal record, even without a conviction. Effectively, one in three adults in the U.S. have a criminal record, but less have actually been convicted. 

Though Justesen said with Suffolk County’s numbers of people on parole, people with convictions have it harder than it needs to be.

“In Suffolk County … with the largest parole population in the state, how can we expect them to get up on their feet and reintegrate to our communities if they cannot work,” Justesen said. “The time has come to do what is right and give people the chance to interview.” 

Supporters have contended the ban would give applicants a chance to explain their crimes, in turn increasing their chance of getting hired, reducing crime and the number of repeat offenders being sent back to jail. More than 150 municipalities and 33 states in the U.S. have implemented “Ban the Box” laws. 

Gonzalez spoke on the future of the legislation. 

“We have been fighting the fight on this bill for a very long time, and we have been continuing to come together to iron out our differences,” he said. “We all felt that we needed to get this thing put in. … I think we are headed in the right direction on this issue.” 

Local business owners are concerned about what the legislation could mean for them. The Suffolk County Alliance of Chambers encouraged members to voice their opinions on the issue. 

“It is imperative that you know what your elected officials are voting on and have a chance to share your concerns before additional regulations are forced on you which ultimately might make it harder to operate a business here in Suffolk County and New York state,” the organization said in an email. 

Last year, county legislators voted 9-8 against the measure. Lawmakers were concerned about putting too much onus on the employers. The previous version of the bill required employers to wait until after an initial interview to inquire about an applicant’s arrest or conviction record, and disclose to applicants the reason why they were not hired. 

At the time, Berland did not support some of the requirements. The legislator said she didn’t think people who have a criminal record should get more benefits than others, noting that people with no criminal records do not learn why they were passed over for a job.

A throng of Trump supporters rallies in front of Roger’s Frigate Feb. 2 to support a banner the Village of Port Jefferson has said is against the code. Photo by Gerard Romano

For a village that has largely tried to stay out of the national political arena, said circus has come knocking in a big way the past few weeks. A banner stretched over the second floor above a premier Port Jeff shop takes the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” instead replaces “God” with “Trump,” hung to support the president during the impeachment trial.

A throng of Trump supporters rallies in front of Roger’s Frigate Feb. 2 to support a banner the Village of Port Jefferson has said is against the code. Photo by Courtney Biondo

More than a week after the owner of Roger’s Frigate building, George Wallis, hung the sign reading “In Trump We Trust,” well over 50 presidential supporters rallied in front of the ice cream and candy shop Feb. 2 to show their solidarity for the business and President Donald Trump (R). Village of Port Jefferson officials had ordered that the banner be removed, saying the owner did not even apply for a permit to hang the sign.

People at the rally came with large American and “Trump 2020” flags, and many heads were adorned with the red “Make America Great Again” caps. Several shouted slogans first heard during the 2016 campaign, such as “Build the Wall” and “Drain the Swamp.”

Supporters of the president took the village’s order to remove the banner as a sign of bias, with many saying such an act was suppressing free speech. Wallis even came down to stand alongside the protesters in support.

The rally was joined by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) who publicly showed support for the sign and assailed the village for its stance against it.

Village Attorney Brian Egan said the business could be fined up to $2,000 if they did not remove the sign five days after it received an order to remedy from the building and planning department. Though the owner could be fined for each day he keeps up the sign after those initial five, Egan said that would be determined by a village judge. He added the total of $2,000 has been thrown around too easily, and as of now they are ticketing it for the first five days, and then after another five days. 

“The goal of village code … is compliance, not punishment,” he said. 

Though Zeldin, in comments to the crowd, repeated the message the village was wrong to fine Wallis.

“How crazy is it you would have a small business owner put up a sign, and you have local elected officials fine that small business owner $2,000 a day just to say they support the president,” Zeldin said.

Village officials continued to maintain in the days before and since the rally that the order to remove had nothing to do with the message on the sign, instead that the owner had violated code. 

Wallis had hung the same exact sign back in January 2017, after Trump’s election into office. The village had ordered the sign down then as well, but it had been taken down within a few days of being put up. This time, the sign had been up since Jan. 21, but had been temporarily taken down Jan. 28 before being put back up the day before the rally. Despite the sign being briefly taken down, the village attorney said they would still have the ability to prosecute as if it were up continuously.

Roger Rutherford, the general manager of Roger’s Frigate, said he has no control over whether Wallis puts up signs on the building he owns, however he, “support[s] his right to freely express his support for our president.” 

Wallis’ intent, Rutherford said, had always been to remove the sign by the end of the impeachment trial, which was expected to end Wednesday after the U.S. Senate voted on party lines last Friday to hear no witnesses or receive any new evidence. Zeldin had been named to Trump’s legal defense team for the trial in the Senate.

The Roger’s Frigate manager said while he supports Wallis in his rights for free speech, he also understood the village’s position.

“I’m not going to knock the mayor — I believe she was showing her committed support that the law is handed down to the fullest,” he said.

Supporters of the sign have said that the village does not take the same stance with other signs in the village, pointing to banners hung by the village itself to advertise events like Paint Port Pink and the Charles Dickens Festival. 

Trustee Kathianne Snaden has said the village is not bound by the same requirements as businesses regarding banners or signs. 

A throng of Trump supporters rallies in front of Roger’s Frigate Feb. 2 to support a banner the Village of Port Jefferson has said is against the code. Photo by Courtney Biondo

“That would be the government asking the government for permission,” she said.

Zeldin also claimed the village board had some kind of bias against the president, that if the sign had said something negative about him than village officials would have supported it. 

“[They] would be paying for that sign if it was against the president,” the congressman said.

The mayor and trustees were largely disconcerted over Zeldin’s comment, saying he is using the national attention the sign has received to score political points.

“I think they’re using it as a platform,” Mayor Margot Garant said. “As an elected, that’s a real bad posture to do toward a local community and other local officials in that community.”

Snaden said she thinks Zeldin understands the village is attempting to enforce the code.

“He’s ignoring the real issue to make his own point,” she said. “He’s not a stupid man, and he’s not ignorant, he knows what the real issue is.”

Rebecca Kassay, who owns the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson along with her husband Andrew, said she had also before applied for a permit for a banner in Port Jeff, and saw the process as “rigorous.” She sees Wallis’ disregard for the code as unfair for the rest of the village’s shop owners.

“It’s in interest of fairness for all business owners,” she said. “Whatever side of the aisle you’re on, it’s creating a huge rift in our community, it’s making people say things online they would not say to one another’s faces … this is not a matter of free speech, it’s a matter of a sign.”

Other businesses have tried to stay out of the mess, but the national attention has also vicariously put the light on shops who want no part in the controversy.

The Port Jefferson Ice Cream Cafe, which is located on the other side of Main Street, posted to its business Facebook page, saying it had “received numerous calls and messages regarding this.”

“We respect everyone’s right to free speech as long as it does not infringe on others and follows the law and village codes,” the post further said. “This is not up to us to decide and is a matter for the village.”

Rutherford said he was sorry that another business had got mixed up in the controversy.

“It wasn’t our intention to affect any other businesses,” he said.

The sign was still up at the location by press time, but even with the assumption it will be taken down, officials are worried they could go through the same song and dance come the presidential election in November. 

“It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last,” Snaden said.