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Steve Bellone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latoya Bazmore and Devon Toney, co-founders of All Included ’N’ Treated (A.I.N.T.), near Ross Memorial Park in Brentwood. Photo by Raymond Janis

After serving out a 17-year state prison sentence, Devon Toney returned to society unprepared for the challenges ahead.

Toney described parole as just another pressurized situation in a string of high-pressure environments that he has experienced since childhood. Parole, he said, only aggravated his post-traumatic stress disorder, stymying any opportunities for upward growth. 

He soon entered the shelter system in Suffolk County, traveling between homeless shelters and health care facilities, his most recent stay at The Linkage Center in Huntington. Eventually, feeling suffocated in the shelters and unable to sleep among strangers, he left that system for a life on the streets. By night, he slept in train stations, bus stations, dugouts and public parks. By day, he stole, often reselling juices and water just to get by. 

Without adequate resources and a lack of attention, Toney said those experiencing homelessness “have to steal,” that life on the streets “causes clean people — healthy people — to become addicts because that’s all they’re around.”

Toney remains homeless to the present day, currently residing near Ross Memorial Park in Brentwood. His story is one of countless examples of how easily one can become homeless after giving up on shelter, falling through the cracks with few opportunities to rise above these dire circumstances.

‘It’s probably one of the most difficult and complex moral and legal issues that I deal with.’

— Jonathan Kornreich

A startling trend

Mike Giuffrida, associate director of the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, a nonprofit that works throughout Long Island to determine better strategies and policies to address homelessness, said he has noticed a recent trend of others fleeing from shelters.

“Although emergency shelter is available to the majority of people who present as having nowhere else to go, we are seeing an increased rate of individuals who are presenting as unsheltered and are living on the street,” he said.

Motivating this shelter shock, Giuffrida sees two principal factors: “The greatest commonality of people that experience homelessness is … significant trauma, likely throughout the majority — if not all — of their lives,” he said. The second factor is the structure of the shelter system, which is constrained by strict guidelines from New York State and “can be retraumatizing for people or the shelter settings do not meet their needs.”

An aversion to communal living is commonplace among those requesting emergency shelter. In addition, occupants of these shelters are often asked to give up considerable portions of their income for shelter payments. “They pay, in some cases, almost all of their income in order to stay in that undesirable location,” Giuffrida said. 

Clusters of homeless encampments can be found in areas throughout Suffolk County. Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) says there are likely dozens of individuals experiencing homelessness in his council district alone, concentrated primarily in Port Jefferson Station. 

Kornreich complained about how he is limited in his capacity to help, saying he wishes that he could do more. “It’s probably one of the most difficult and complex moral and legal issues that I deal with,” he said. “The Town of Brookhaven doesn’t have any functions with respect to social services or enforcement, but because this is an area of concern to me, I try to identify people who might be in need of services and try to either talk to people myself or put them in touch with services.” 

Those services are provided through the Suffolk County Department of Social Services. In an emailed statement, a spokesperson affiliated with DSS outlined the array of options that are available through the department.

“The Suffolk County Department of Social Services offers temporary housing assistance, in shelter settings, to eligible individuals and families experiencing homelessness,” the spokesperson said. “We contract with nonprofit agencies that provide case management services to each client based on their individual needs, with a focus on housing support. Services may include referrals to community agencies, mental health programs, as well as medical services. These services, with the support and encouragement of shelter staff, work in concert to transition those experiencing homelessness to appropriate permanent housing resources.”

In an interview, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide economic challenges have only exacerbated the conditions of homelessness throughout the county. Despite external barriers, he holds that there is room for improvement.

“More could always be done, of course,” he said. “We are — as I’ve said many times before — coming out of COVID and grappling with impacts and effects that we’re going to be dealing with for years to come and that we don’t fully understand yet.” He added, “The Department of Social Services has, throughout COVID, and as we’ve started to move out of that now, worked very hard to fulfill its mission and will continue to do that.”

‘The frustrating part is that we are limited… We are limited in forcing a person to get medical treatment.’

— Sarah Anker

Accepting services: A two-way street

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) detailed the decades-long history of homelessness in Coram. She argues that it is closely tied to other pressing matters facing county government: public safety, access to health care, the opioid epidemic and inadequate compensation for social workers. 

The county legislator also blamed stringent state guidelines that handicap DSS’s outreach efforts. “The frustrating part is that we are limited,” Anker said. “We are limited in forcing a person to get medical treatment.”

Legislator Nick Caracappa (C-Selden), the majority leader of the county Legislature, voiced similar frustrations. He said he is concerned by the growing number of people that reject services from DSS.

“Even though you offer them help, you offer them shelter, and you offer them medical [assistance], they often turn it down,” he said. “They’d rather be out in the cold, alone, in the dark — whatever it is — than seek help. And that’s concerning.”

Emily Murphy, a licensed social worker who wrote a thesis paper investigating homelessness in Port Jefferson Station, said another significant problem is the lack of assistance for undocumented immigrants, whose immigration status bars them from applying for services.

“It’s not a DSS decision, but it comes from higher up, that if you don’t have documentation you can’t receive SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits or shelter,” Murphy said.

This changes during the colder months, according to Murphy, as shelters open their doors to all. Murphy also observed how a lack of political mobilization hampers the homeless community from receiving adequate government representation.

“That was the main thing,” Murphy said, referring to the homeless population. “It was a voice that was so often unheard and unlistened to.”

The gradual downward slope

Joel Blau, professor emeritus of the School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, has followed trends in homelessness for decades. He attributes rising homelessness in the United States since the 1970s to the stagnation of wages across that time frame coupled with the rising cost of housing.

“The notion of somebody with a high school education maintaining a decent standard of living is becoming ever more elusive,” he said. “Housing prices, particularly in cities, have escalated a lot, so unless you have two professionals in the family or one person who makes a lot of money, it’s increasingly difficult to get decent housing.” 

Today, a growing number of people are just one step away from losing their homes. “Whether it be an accident or an illness or the loss of a job, all of a sudden they’re plummeting downward and onto the street,” he said.

Evaluating long-term projections of homelessness, Blau said there have been “periods where it plateaus and periods where it gets worse.” On the whole, he said, “the general trend is downward.”

Blau believes the way to remedy the issue is to change the ways in which society is organized. “It would require social housing, decommodifying it so that housing is a right, not something sold for profit,” he said. “And that’s probably, under the present political circumstances, a bridge too far.” In other words, problems associated with homelessness in this country have grown for many years and are likely to continue.

‘We need to let them know that we love and we care about them.’ — Devon Toney

Resurrection: A reason to hope

Toney has partnered with Latoya Bazmore, also of Brentwood, to create A.I.N.T. (All Included ’N’ Treated), a grassroots organization to combat homelessness in the community. 

Toney said his primary goal is to access adequate housing. After that, he intends to galvanize his peers in the community, serving as a beacon for those who are also going through the struggle of homelessness. As someone who has experienced homelessness firsthand and who can relate to the plight, Toney believes he is uniquely situated to be an agent of change and a force of good.

“I need to be the one that interacts with these gang members, these addicts … they need somebody to articulate things to them,” he said. “We need to comfort them. We need to let them know that we love and we care about them.”

To learn more about the A.I.N.T. project, please visit the AIN’T (all included N Treated) Facebook page or visit the group on Instagram: @all.included.and.treated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County legislator discusses major initiatives coming out of her office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is working on several projects, from bike trails to erosion education programs and more. Photo courtesy Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) is at the forefront of several initiatives at the county level. In an exclusive interview with Anker, she opened up about her positions on public campaign finance, the North Shore Rail Trail, coastal erosion and more.

For those who do not know you, can you describe your background?

My background is that I’m a mother of three children and have been a Mount Sinai resident for 25 years. I’ve lived in Middle Island and in Coram, and I’m very familiar with this area and my legislative district. I worked at different ad agencies, did some independent contracting work and at some of the local shops in Patchogue. Then I took off for a handful of years to raise my kids. 

When my youngest was born, the New York State Health Department put out a cancer map showing that our area had a high frequency of cancer, particularly breast cancer, and my grandmother had just passed away from breast cancer. I decided to start a non-for-profit, the Community Health and Environment Coalition, around 2003. And this was basically to advocate to the state to come and do an investigation, tell us what we need to know, why we had these numbers and where these numbers were coming from. 

Eventually, they came back to the community and did testing, but unfortunately, they left more questions than answers. We continue to investigate and try to understand the causes of cancer.

I got a job working as the chief of staff for [Councilwoman] Connie Kepert [D-Middle Island] at the Town of Brookhaven. She pulled me in and then they got a $4.5 million grant for solar programs. Working with Connie, we started the programs and then I was promoted to be in charge of creating an energy department at the Town of Brookhaven. I left that position to run for this position.

I ran for office and have been elected seven times. I’m term limited, so I can’t run anymore. I’m a Democrat but fairly conservative — moderate and in the middle. I find the common denominator and I focus on that. I don’t go too far left or too far right, and I’m here to represent my constituents and to kind of settle the storm when there are issues out there. My top priority is public safety and the safety of my residents. I did that for my kids and my family. I do that now for my constituents.

How did your most recent project, the North Shore Rail Trail, come to fruition?

That one was very challenging. I had to overcome some major obstacles and challenges along the way. 

The three main challenges were getting the county exec on board. The former one was not supportive; the current one, Steve Bellone [D], supported it. I also had to get the energy folks from LIPA on board. I had worked a lot with them while running the energy program at the Town of Brookhaven and we had a good professional relationship. 

That worked because they were open to the idea of LIPA having this as a wonderful public relations project. The third one was getting the community on board. The ability to see this through stemmed from the fact that there had been fatalities related to people attempting to ride their bikes, jog or run along our local highways. Because all of those concerns and challenges were in place, it was time to move forward.

Hopefully, and I stress this, people need to use common sense and they need to take responsibility for their safety when they cross the intersections. But this provides a safe place for people to be able to recreate. 

Can you discuss the work you are doing related to coastal erosion?

Erosion is a huge issue. I was meeting constituents and I was on Culross Drive in Rocky Point and as I walked up to a house, I noticed that their neighbor’s house had fallen off the cliff — literally, it was down the cliff. This was 10 or 11 years ago.

I found that a lot of constituents in my area are part of beach associations. Miller Place, Sound Beach, Rocky Point — these are private beach communities, so they don’t qualify for federal funding. I’m using the resources we do have to educate them on certain seagrasses, different brick structures, just give them ideas to try to address it. 

Unfortunately, if one addresses it and this person doesn’t and this person doesn’t, then it creates issues for the people that do. So I’m trying to see if we can get everyone on board to address the erosion issue. We’ll do what we can.

Public campaign finance has been an ongoing dispute between the county executive and the Legislature. Can you elaborate on your stance regarding the public campaign finance program that was repealed last week?

I support funding campaign finance reform. I support it. It’s a program that was started last year. We put money into it and it’s a shame that we couldn’t try it out. We do pilot programs all the time and I would have hoped that they could have at least done that. 

It was a project that the former presiding officer, Rob Calarco [D-Patchogue], had advocated for. He worked for a long time on it. I respect him and the amount of effort that he put into that. I would have preferred to at least give it a shot and see where it was going.

If it wasn’t doing well or there were some issues or problems with it, we could have always changed it. I voted to have another way to finance campaigns. Any large organization that has a lot of money can create very, very challenging campaigns for any individual — and I’ve been there personally. 

What is it about the communities that you represent that makes them so distinctive and unique?

I think that we have a lot of folks who understand how important it is to take an active role in their community. We have a lot of folks that participate in projects and events and activities that continue to inspire the people around them. Like the butterfly effect or a ripple in a stream, it just keeps going and I see that in my community.

Right now, in this complicated political climate, we need to understand that we all have something in common and we can all be part of addressing issues and accomplishing our goals by working together collaboratively. I’ve seen that and I do that, and I think that — whether it’s unique to us or not — it’s something that’s important that is happening in our district. 

We get what we put into our community. And right now, the people that have contributed to and who have improved our community, I’m really honored and privileged to work with those folks. 

Whether it’s Bobby Woods with the North Shore Youth Council or Bea Ruberto from the Sound Beach Civic Association, you really see who the true heroes are within your community when you work with them. And I feel very honored to have the ability to be part of what they are trying to create, which is a place that we can call home.

Photo from Steve Bellone's Flickr page

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) held a press conference in Hauppauge on Friday, June 17, in support of public campaign finance for county offices. 

Under a 2017 statute, a public campaign finance fund was created to use revenues generated by Jake’s 58 casino. The program, which is set to begin during the 2023 election cycle, is now meeting stiff opposition from the Republican majority in the county Legislature, which favors using those funds for public safety initiatives. 

Under pressure to repeal the law, Bellone explained the intent of this experimental program, saying its basis is to maintain “the people’s faith and trust in government.”

‘For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences.’

— Steve Bellone

Bellone defended the public campaign finance law, claiming that it achieves two goals: Empowering ordinary citizens to run for public office and weakening the power of special interests and party leaders. He suggests the law preserves the integrity of the electoral process and strengthens democracy.

“For too long, the power of the people has been drowned out by those other stakeholders, has been overwhelmed by them, and that has real consequences,” he said. “It has consequences for taxpayers because you get a less efficient government, a government that is not necessarily focused on solving problems for the citizens it represents but focused more on those other stakeholders, those special interests.”

The county executive emphasized that the campaign finance program is not financed through tax dollars. Rather, it is supported through revenues collected from Jake’s 58 casino, which Suffolk Regional Off-Track Betting purchased last year for $120 million. “I can’t think of a better way that we can utilize those dollars,” he said.

Compared to the multibillion dollar annual county budget, Bellone added that this fund is negligible. For this reason, he advocates using this small portion of public revenue to invest in the political process.

“We spend public monies every day with the intent of benefiting the public, whether it’s on housing or on water quality or a host of other issues,” he said. “We’re talking about a little relative to the county’s $3.5 billion budget — it’s virtually nothing. Let’s spend that small portion on our democracy.”

Jason Richberg (D-West Babylon), minority leader of the county Legislature, joined Bellone in defending the program. Richberg primarily objected to the repeal efforts on the grounds that the program has not even been tested, arguing Republicans in the Legislature should give it a chance before tearing it down.

“Time and time again, we hear in the Legislature that we’re putting good money after bad,’” he said. “There’s funding. We have a plan. Run it and let’s critique it after it runs.” He continued, “Let’s let it go through and if you don’t want to join, then don’t join.”

Mercy Smith, executive director of the Suffolk County Campaign Finance Board, reiterated these points. She highlighted the program’s voluntary nature, saying that individuals can opt out if they do not want to partake in it. She also said the program encourages grassroots campaigning, a departure from the current practice of soliciting large contributions from special interest groups.

“The program is really designed to optimize the potential of all Suffolk County residents who have the desire and the gumption and the ability to persevere and want to run for office,” she said.

Smith said that the program holds participants to a high standard, promoting transparency in the public disclosure of their campaign finances. Participants are asked to be fully fiscally responsible, to adhere to conservation and expenditure limits, to comply with the board’s oversight and audit procedures, and to commit to the program’s spending limits.

Additionally, the program does not discriminate on the basis of party, incumbency status or any other criteria. “This program is for teachers, it’s for first responders, police officers, it’s for business owners,” she said. “This program is for anyone who wants to participate and become a public servant and make our government in Suffolk County better.”

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said the purpose of public campaign finance both in Suffolk and around the country is to place voters at the core of the political process.

“The whole purpose of the campaign finance program, a matching fund program, is to center the voters in our government process,” she said. “Not special interests, not people who can write outsized checks, but the everyday residents of Suffolk County.” She added, “This system is set up to do exactly that, using specially designated funds, not taxpayer money, to encourage candidates to invite the voters into the system.”

A vote to repeal the program is scheduled for Wednesday. Republicans control the county Legislature with an 11-7 majority. A two-thirds majority of the Legislature, or 12 votes, would be required to override a veto from the county Executive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public officials gathered before a room of vets at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University for a Memorial Day service Friday, May 27.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) gave the keynote address for the event. He continued the theme raised during his State of the County address a week earlier, invoking the example of the Greatest Generation as a model for Americans today.

“I can’t help but think that it’s just at the moment when we see our World War II veterans unfortunately slowly, but inevitably, fade into history, that 80 years later we now see war raging in Europe,” he said. “It’s so important that we never forget what they did.”

For Bellone, American veterans should be honored not only for their service abroad but for the work they perform for communities after they return from the battlefield. 

“It’s what veterans always do — they come home after fighting for our country and they build and they strengthen our community,” the county executive said, adding, “To all our veterans who have served, you all have picked up the baton of service. From the Revolutionary War right up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American veterans have served and have sacrificed.”

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) was also in attendance. Saying that he was inspired by Bellone’s address, the councilmember commented on the need for policymakers to temper their power to wage war and monitor their decisions that threaten peace. 

Without memory of the great global conflicts of the 20th century, leaders today may be less cautious in their use of force.

“Maybe people now who are making decisions, who didn’t live through it, maybe they don’t have the same reluctance to engage in war and the same urgency to avoid it,” Kornreich said. “Especially right now, with all of the conflicts that are going on, that’s a very good lesson. I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of those who have died in war than to try to fight for peace.”

— Photos courtesy of Long Island State Veterans Home

By Raymond Janis 

At the Shea Theatre, Suffolk County Community College Ammerman campus, County Executive Steve Bellone (D) delivered his State of the County address May 18.

The county executive started his speech with a moment of silence to honor the lives lost in the Buffalo gun tragedy. 

“We continue to grieve for those who were lost, for the Buffalo community and, most importantly, for the families that have been directly impacted by this incomprehensible act of hate,” he said. “We must speak out against hateful rhetoric that is contrary to the American creed and stand up for what we do believe. This requires that we continue to celebrate our diversity here and recognize it for what it is — a strength.”

County legislators onstage during the event, above. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

COVID-19 recovery

The county executive acknowledged the many challenges of leading the administration through the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “In March of 2020, life as we knew it shut down,” he said. “The world came to a halt and Suffolk County was at the epicenter of the COVID-19 global pandemic in our state and in our nation.”

Bellone reported that the county has lost over 4,400 residents to the virus. As normalcy slowly returns, he said that the pandemic has taught valuable lessons.

“One of the clearest takeaways for me is the importance of public service,” he said. “During this county’s darkest hour, our employees did it all. While much of the rest of the world was on lockdown, county employees ensured critical operations did not stop.” He added, “It is fitting that this year’s State of the County is here at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman campus as this was the location for one of our first mass-vaccination sites.”

Human resources 

One of Bellone’s points of emphasis during the address was the need for greater human resources personnel in county government. Despite its size, Bellone said that the county government still operates without a fully functional human resources department. 

“Human resources, to the extent that it has existed in this government, has been done on an ad hoc basis,” the county executive said. “Commissioners or department heads who are not human resource professionals perform these functions when a problem occurs or a crisis arises.”

Bellone considers this no way to run an organization, especially one as large and impactful to the lives of residents as the Suffolk County government. He likened human resources to military supply units.

“Operating departments without effective human resources is like the military trying to operate without its supply units,” he said, adding, “You can have the best fighting force in the world, but if those support units are ineffective, the mission will be undermined.” 

Through the addition of the latest HR software and new organizational practices, he suggested the county can save $18 million per year in payroll operation costs alone. 

Investing in the future

The county executive called the Long Island Rail Road a critical asset. “Nearly two centuries after its tracks were laid, that initial investment is still reaping extraordinary returns for the region,” he said. 

Bellone said the county is taking two significant leaps forward with both the East Side Access and Third Track projects. 

The county executive announced a new project called the Midway Crossing, which proposes to create two new public facilities which have long been under consideration: the Long Island Convention Center and a north terminal at MacArthur Airport. 

“It is crazy that a region of our size and significance, of nearly 3 million people, with incredible innovation and natural assets, adjacent to the largest and most important city in the nation, has no convention center,” he said. “A convention center would bring thousands of people and businesses to our region every year from other parts of the country, importantly bringing new dollars into our local economy.”

In a grand plan, Bellone envisions this convention center will be connected to both a new state-of-the-art north airport terminal at MacArthur Airport and to the main line of the LIRR. 

“The convention center attendees would conveniently and easily fly in and out of MacArthur Airport, and if a flight wasn’t available they would still have the ability to take the train from either JFK or LaGuardia,” he said. “Every great region must have a great regional airport and no one can deny that Long Island is one of the great regions in the nation.”

Bellone also foresees other opportunities to integrate the regional economy along the Ronkonkoma Branch line of the LIRR. He proposes relocating the “wholly underutilized” Yaphank station to create the Brookhaven National Laboratory Station, “effectively connecting this global institution to MacArthur Airport and the larger innovation ecosystem in the region by mass transit.”

Environmental quality

County Executive Steve Bellone, above, delivers the State of the County address. Photo from Bellone’s Flickr page

The county executive highlighted some of the environmental initiatives that his administration is working on. He said this region is currently on the front lines of the battle against climate change.

“As an island, we know that we are on the front lines of climate change,” Bellone said. “By taking action, we are not only helping to protect our region in the future, but we are creating economic opportunities in the near term as well.”

He also discussed the need for more charging stations as drivers throughout the county continue to transition to electric vehicles. He announced that two-dozen public libraries in each of the 10 towns in the county have partnered with the administration in the development of a charge-sharing network.

Suffolk County has also emerged as one of the centers of the offshore wind industry in the region, according to Bellone. “This is an industry that will have a more than $12 billion economic impact on New York,” he said. “Suffolk County is well positioned to benefit from the new supply chains and the creation of approximately 7,000 new jobs.”

The county has also reached out to businesses and collaborated with local colleges to establish workforce training programs that will prepare residents for these new jobs. 

Opioid crisis

Exacerbated by the pandemic, ending the opioid epidemic remains near the top of Bellone’s list of priorities. He said opioids have wreaked havoc upon the county, causing horrific damage for users and their families.

“After years of steady progress, the pandemic created unprecedented circumstances of fear, isolation and anxiety that led to an increase in overdoses — 374 confirmed [fatal] cases last year alone,” he said. 

“If we want to be part of the solution, then we need to do what the Greatest Generation did: Put our heads down and build. Build our families first and then do our part to build stronger communities.” — Steve Bellone

The Greatest Generation

Bellone concluded his address on a positive note. With war again raging in Europe, the county executive reminded the audience of the example of the Greatest Generation.

“The attack on Ukraine is the kind of naked aggression against a sovereign nation in Europe that we have not witnessed since the end of World War II,” he said. “The images and the videos that we see coming out of Ukraine are absolutely devastating and heartbreaking.” He added, “I don’t think that it is any coincidence that after more than 75 years of peace in Europe, forged by the sacrifices of American veterans, that we’re seeing this kind of aggression happen just as this Greatest Generation slowly, but inevitably, fades into history.”

Bellone said it is important to honor the legacy of the Greatest Generation as these Americans had laid the foundation for a future of peace. “They won the war and then they came home and built a better future for all of us,” he said. “If we want to be part of the solution, then we need to do what the Greatest Generation did: Put our heads down and build. Build our families first and then do our part to build stronger communities.” 

New Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harris sworn in this week by County Executive Steve Bellone. Photo from SCPD

As of this week, the new Suffolk County police commissioner is officially on board. 

On Tuesday, Jan. 11, former NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison was sworn in by County Executive Steve Bellone (D) at the Police Academy in Brentwood. 

The law enforcement veteran retired after a 30-year career with the NYPD and replaces Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart, who resigned in May for a job as head of security at Hofstra University.

Bellone also swore in Suffolk’s new Chief of Department Robert Waring, who was promoted from chief of patrol. 

Vincent Pelliccio with Acting Commissioner Stuart Cameron in 2019. Photo from SCPD

The Suffolk County Police Department is mourning the loss of an active officer, Vincent Pelliccio, who died in a motor vehicle crash Nov. 8.

The 30-year-old was off-duty and driving his 2021 Jeep northbound on Nicolls Road, near West Road, in Selden when his vehicle left the roadway and crashed in the median. He was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

Pelliccio was a 3rd Precinct officer and a member of the department since December 2014. A 2011 graduate of Connetquot High School, he started his professional career as a teacher, but decided to pursue his dream and follow in his retired NYPD detective father’s footsteps. 

Upon graduating the police academy, he was assigned to the 3rd Precinct as a uniformed patrol officer and became a plain clothes officer in the 3rd Precinct Gang Task Force in March 2019. Pelliccio also served his fellow law enforcement officers as a Police Benevolent Association delegate.

In 2019, Pelliccio was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Award, which recognizes members of service who have overcome serious injury, disease or disability and have returned to work, for overcoming his battle with testicular cancer. 

Photo from SCPD

Diagnosed in September 2017 at age 26, he went through both radiation and chemotherapy treatments, fighting to get back to health to return to work. According to the SCPD, even when he was too sick to report for duty, he was constantly in contact with his colleagues and friends at the SCPD, expressing his desire to help and return to his sector in Central Islip. He returned to full duty in March 2018.

 “Officer Pelliccio was a dedicated member of the 3rd Precinct who overcame personal adversity to continue serving the people of Suffolk County,” Inspector John Rowan said. “His perseverance and unwavering commitment to his calling as a police officer is inspirational. Vinny will be missed but not forgotten by this command.”

In addition to a departmental recognition, Pelliccio was named Cop of the Month in April 2020 with Police Officer Anthony Devincenzo for the arrest of a violent gang member and drug dealer in September 2019. 

While monitoring a known drug and gang location in North Bay Shore, the officers witnessed the gang member in front of a business and found marijuana on the sidewalk near where he was. Upon approaching the subject, he fled officers into a hair salon with multiple civilians. During a violent struggle, Pelliccio deployed his Taser and the subject was taken into custody, where he was found to be in possession of multiple weapons and narcotics.

“Vinny was an extremely dedicated young man who loved being a police officer and was always eager to perform and excel in his law enforcement duties,” Sergeant Philip Dluginski said. “He fully embraced the police culture and loved spending time with his blue family both during and outside of work. He will be sorely missed by all his friends and co-workers, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and fiancée at this time.”

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) expressed his sympathy for the SCPD’s loss. 

“I had the pleasure of meeting Officer Pelliccio when he was honored for his outstanding work in keeping our communities safe,” he said. “An exemplary law enforcement professional and relentless fighter who returned to work full duty after winning a battle with cancer, Officer Pelliccio’s tragic passing has shaken our entire police family.”

Pelliccio, who resided in Port Jefferson Station at the time of his death, is survived by his parents, Tony and Angela, his sister, Niki, and his fiancée, Danielle Trotta.