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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.

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People are scared.

You hear it walking down the aisle in the supermarket. You hear it in chatting with co-workers. You hear it with your relatives at the dinner table or over the phone. With the threat of war looming, everybody everywhere wants to know: Will we be safe? What’s going to happen next?

After President Donald Trump (R) ordered the assassination of the Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani last Friday, Jan. 3, the world has been reeling in a vortex of panic and debilitating fear. Iran has said there will be retaliation, and the president has said he will respond to the response.

That rhetoric has escalated, with Iran canceling all hopes of a nuclear deal and Iraq moving to remove all U.S. troops from its country. Meanwhile, Trump has said he would even consider bombing cultural sites in Iran as a response — something the International Criminal Court has called a war crime in the past. 

As Iran held a funeral for the slain general, with many thousands of mourners in the streets shouting “death to America,” the Pentagon has asked amphibious forces to be ready to support ground-based operations in that country.

War, huh, what is it good for?

The nation’s armed forces stand ready and, for what seems like only an eye blink from the last war, young men and women may yet again be asked to serve overseas.

One of our reporters encountered a young recent high school graduate at the checkout register in a local grocery store who recently signed up to serve in the military. What was his opinion of the situation? He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” After a pause, he added, “We do what we have to do.”

In June of last year, CBS TV’s “60 Minutes” ran an interview by Lesley Stahl with 99-year-old Ben Ferencz, the last living prosecutor of the Nuremberg trials. He was also at the head of establishing the International Criminal Court at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Ferencz fought in World War II and had seen some of the bloodiest battles of the Western Front, including the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. During the interview with “60 Minutes,” he gave a very specific opinion on war.

“War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people,” he said. “All wars, and all decent people.”

Whatever your opinion, whether Suleimani had to die to protect American lives, or whether the U.S. has committed itself pointlessly to another potential war in the Middle East, the common feeling is anxiety. 

We at TBR News Media feel the best way to live in such times is to ultimately stay informed. We ask people not to jump to conclusions. Take the time read the news and watch TV with a critical eye. Avoid posting rumors, propaganda or unverified info to Facebook and other social media sites. 

Perhaps something worse than being uninformed is misinformed, or to be purposefully led astray. Rely on facts that are verifiable to its original source. Consider the opinions of people with first-hand accounts, or named reliable sources with expertise. Some people like using fact-checking sites such as Snopes.com. We also suggest reading Glenn Kessler’s fact-checking blog in the Washington Post, both of whom are largely known for being nonpartisan.

Please, to all our readers, stay informed, stay aware and stay safe.

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Three days after President Donald Trump (R) declared a national emergency to build a wall on the United States-Mexico border, protesters in Port Jefferson Station held aloft a large sheet with four words painted on it, “Trump is the emergency.”

The North Shore Peace Group, a local activist organization, galvanized close to 50 people to protest Feb. 18, despite cold winter winds, about Trump’s Feb. 15 announcement he would declare a national emergency in order to build 234 miles of physical barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border. The total funds freed up from the national emergency and other measure will equal up to $8 billion, more than the originally proposed $5.7 million Trump had previously asked from Congress. 

Trump is “actually giving a demonstration of how a unilateral president — an imperial presidency is emerging — he’s now overriding Congress’ constitutional mandate to control the purse strings,” said peace group member Bill McNulty.

Standing at the corner of state routes 112 and 347, which has been dubbed by other left-leaning activists as Resistance Corner, the protesters chanted and asked passing cars to honk in support.

Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson resident and peace group member, said there are other national issues which are better suited for the moniker “national emergency.”

“With all the things that could be an emergency, think about all the people every day who die from gun violence.” Gordon said. “Down at the border people need help. Instead it’s a wall that people will either tunnel under — they
already have — or find a way to go over.” 

Some activists said the president calling the ongoing illegal migration across the southern border a national emergency opens up the doors for future presidents to declare national emergencies for agenda items. While activist Rosemary Maffei said this could mean, in the case of a Democratic president, national emergencies to deal with gun violence or climate change, it could also set precedent for a Republican president could call national disasters on practically any agenda.

McNulty said the ongoing illicit immigration across the southern border is due to the past and continuing foreign policy of the U.S.

“Our policies in Central and South America have caused the destabilization of country after country, including overriding democratic elections,” McNulty said. “Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, these are the very countries that have been negatively impacted by American intervention.”

The peace group has hosted many pop-up protests in Port Jefferson and the Three Village area since the inauguration of the 45th president, enough to lose count. Gordon said she expects they will host many more in the future.

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

Not to be outdone by the uprising of left-leaning activists who have made their displeasure known across the United States since President Donald Trump’s (R) inauguration, supporters of the president congregated March 4 to present a united front in backing Trump.

A group called Main Street Patriots organized the rallies, titled the Spirit of America Rally, which took place in 32 states and Washington D.C. The only rally held in New York took place outside of the H. Lee Dennison Suffolk County Executive office in Hauppauge and was organized and promoted in part by the Conservative Society for Action, a Patchogue-based group founded in 2008 whose website says has about 900 members.

“We need to stand united with our president who wants to do something to fix America,” a website set up to promote the Suffolk County event stated as part of its mission.

Judy Pepenella, a Patchogue resident and the national coordinator for the CSA, said she tried her best to spread the news of the rally on social media. She estimated about 350 to 400 people attended the Hauppauge rally.

“Spirit of America is the spirit of the Constitution, the spirit of the rule of law, the spirit of the goals and the directives and the original intent of the founding fathers,” Pepernella said, explaining how her group got involved. “We do stand behind our president — some people, more, some people less. But he won, we want to give him a chance.”

The rally came as the heat was being turned up on Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who multiple news outlets reported last week had meetings with a Russian Ambassador despite Session’s testimony during his confirmation hearing he had no contact with Russian officials during the campaign. Rallies, protests and contentious town hall meetings featuring activists opposing Trump’s agenda and policies have taken place across the U.S. in recent weeks.

Pepernella said the group’s mission is not to blindly defend all of Trump’s policies or words, or her congressman — U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s (R-Shirley) — for that matter, but she said it’s refreshing to hear a politician “call a spade a spade.” Zeldin has publicly supported Trump for months.

“Just because [Trump] said so doesn’t mean it’s right,” she said. “If it doesn’t work with the Constitution; if it infringes on a person’s rights; if it’s going to hurt somebody socially, economically and a person in need … he’s going to hear from us. It’s not a just ‘we blindly support the president’ — we support the president’s goals and his platform and mission statement to make America great again.”

Pepernella, who said she has yet to hear anything from Trump that would cause her to raise an eyebrow so far in his presidency, attributed outrage of Trump’s words and actions to people not being used to a New Yorker telling it like it is.

“We are all New Yorkers, and there’s a problem with New Yorkers, and I say that as a native New Yorker,” she said. “We have a bit of a tenacity and a bit of a brazen, ballsy-ass attitude — forgive my French — but that’s what we have. Donald Trump was born in Queens. He’s born and raised here. He’s a New Yorker and we can sometimes say things that are not perfectly correct, but that’s who we are. It doesn’t bother me. I have no problem with his rhetoric.”

Port Jefferson resident Keith Debaun shared his motivation behind attending the event.

“Clearly I’m here not to support Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I’m here to support Donald Trump because he’s facing a lot of resistance, and I’m here to oppose that resistance.”

Dix Hills resident and attorney Mike Dyckman also explained his reason for attending.

“I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, and I’m an American,” he said. “I don’t like what’s happening whether it’s Republican or Democrat — we have to be together as a nation and I don’t like what’s going on right now on the left. They’re not listening to anybody. They’ve got all of these shout-down sessions when the representatives are going back to talk to their constituents. It looks like a lot of it is staged, whether they’re paid for it or not. If that doesn’t stop, what’s going to happen is we’re going to not get anything done in the country.”

Pepernella addressed some constituent’s complaints that Zeldin has not been available enough and hasn’t met with many local residents who have invited him to events, saying the congressman who came before him wasn’t any better.

“I know for a fact people have gotten in to see him [Zeldin],” she said. “When it was Tim Bishop’s (D-Southampton) office, you’d go in, they had a sign in sheet, you put your name… and why you’re there. If you were lucky you got a response. I didn’t get a response when I went in the office because I was asking for specific things. I [did] get one meeting with Tim Bishop. When he found out it was me, he never met with me again.”

Flyers with information about the CSA were passed out during the rally with a clear statement of the group’s mission going forward.

“The Conservative Society for Action believes it’s time for a return to fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, free markets and honest government,” it said. “We cannot afford to sit this one out. We will be silent no more. Please join us in our fight for the future of this country. Freedom isn’t free. Get involved while there’s still time.”