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Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

With a Congress that fails to do its job, a Supreme Court that has become increasingly politicized and a president who can only pursue his legislative agenda by bypassing the legislature, we have effectively compromised our federal government. “Checks and balances” have been replaced with bounced checks and a political game of seesaw — one wherein achieving compromise is near impossible. Lobbyists have procured tremendous power as the American people have all but ignored the huge significance of local and state elections.

So let’s break down some numbers. Back in 2014 voter turnout in New York was only 28.8 percent. We were not just electing a governor but also filling all 27 of our congressional seats. That same year, roughly 6,730 miles away the Afghan government held its election. People risked their lives going to the polls. Throughout their nation the Taliban led attacks on polling stations. Voters ran the risk of having their finger removed if they were found by the Taliban and identified as a voter. So what was their turnout? 58 percent. That’s right folks. In a nation where you could literally be dismembered for voting, they achieved a turnout rate 29.2 percent greater than our own here in New York. So what’s our excuse? Fear of parking tickets? We can do better.

This issue isn’t just isolated to New York. All across the nation we ignore the importance of our local and state government. Why? It’s extremely boring. You don’t see Martin Sheen or Kevin Spacey going around accepting acting roles as a county treasurer or state assemblyman. Media has romanticized the presidency. We’ve made it our central focus to the point where all other offices fall to the wayside.

To understand the significance of state government, look no further than the collapse of every major world superpower from the Egyptians to the Romans, to the Ottomans, to the Soviets. What makes us different isn’t the fact that we have a democracy: 123 countries have democracy. What makes us different is our unique system of federalism. Now I know what you’re thinking. “This is the most boring thing I’ve ever read. Please make it stop.” No, I can’t. It’s just too important.

So I’m sure somewhere deep in your subconscious you’re asking yourself, “If federalism is so great, why doesn’t everybody use it?” That’s a great question. Just look to our friends in the European Union. They’re attempting what I call reverse federalism. They’re struggling to achieve the unity that our system has had for over 200 years.

Our founders were brilliant in that they had the foresight to create a centralized government to unify us financially, militarily and culturally. Europe has had literally thousands of years of internal strife that makes genuine friendship difficult for many of its member states (e.g., thanks a lot, Germany). Just imagine how difficult the job of our government would be if suddenly California decided it wanted to opt-out of the dollar in exchange for its own currency.

Europe, try as they may, will likely be unable to recreate what we have here. Our union was forged during our revolution and with each conflict that followed (with the uncomfortable exception of the Civil War).

Federalism ensures the survival of this great American experiment because the likelihood of 50 self-sufficient states collapsing simultaneously is slim to none. We have to remind our politicians that our power does not come from the top but from the bottom. If our federal government fails in the task of governing, their gridlock should not deter the whole union. Unfortunately, there is yet a political party that has seriously adopted this policy in the 21st century.

We don’t need big government or small government. We need smart government. For example, in terms of health care, one size doesn’t fit all. The health care needs of New Yorkers will be different than the health care needs of Floridians (well actually most Floridians are New Yorkers so this might not be the best example, but you get my point). We shouldn’t pretend each state is the same. Nor should we pretend that the federal government can pass a budget let alone manage a national health care system (e.g., the genius who built HealthCare.gov). Surely, the best hope for America is one that has been there all along. So this election vote not from the top down but from the bottom up.

IN SHORT:

Trump Notes: Civility cannot exist when Americans confuse bigotry with bluntness. We aren’t perceived as weak because our military isn’t big enough. We’re perceived as weak because we’ve allowed our sacred institution of democracy to become a warm-up act for the Kardashians. This vitriol incites violence. Now more than ever we need national conversations, not national disagreements.

In brighter news: I’m a Jew who gave up pizza for lent. If that doesn’t make America great, I’m not sure what will. Looking forward to writing more. Share your thoughts with me at MJT[at]TBRNewspapers[dot]com.

Michael Tessler is the Special Projects Manager for TBR News Media, a founder and former political consultant for the Continuum Group firm, and the former President of the International Youth Congress.

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The Kings Park community can now expect more than $41 million in capital projects to give facilities within their school district a much needed upgrade. File photo

Kings Park schools are getting a face-lift.

On Tuesday, Dec. 8, community residents approved a capital project bond referendum totaling $41,422,515. The final vote was 1,331 yes, 499 no.

The board of education and Superintendent of Schools Timothy Eagen extended their appreciation to all those who participated in this vote.

“This bond is exactly what our facilities and grounds need to rebuild a foundation of pride in Kings Park,” Eagen said in a statement. “I am very thankful that the community has been so supportive of this project. Our infrastructure is in desperate need of updating.”

The results of the vote demonstrate that community residents value the quality education Kings Park provides to its students and the importance of maintaining and renovating district facilities for the benefit of students, staff and the community.

With the approved project, all six buildings within the district would see building improvements, including roof replacements, bathroom renovations and door and hardware replacements, as well as asphalt and pavement upgrades as necessary.

Plans also call for auditorium upgrades, gymnasium renovations and the creation of a multipurpose athletic field and accompanying concession stand/comfort station at Kings Park High School. Additional high school renovations include upgrading the library to provide for 21st century student research and learning needs and resurfacing and upgrading the high school track.

The full listing of projects can be found on the district’s website, www.kpcsd.k12.ny.us.

“On behalf of the BOE, I thank everyone who voted,” said board President Pam DeFord. “I would also like to thank the entire Facilities Committee and Dr. Eagen for the effort and time they dedicated to this project. From the beginning, taking on this bond project was a community effort. Many community members worked collaboratively to assess the needs of our district, keeping in mind the needs of our students as well as watching the cost factor for all residents. It was wonderful to have the community support the work of the committee. As we start ‘rebuilding our Kings Park pride,’ we should all be reminded of this great community. As you may have heard before, ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ and together, that is exactly what we are doing in our community. ”

The district said that it looks forward to the community’s future involvement as the plans and projects proposed in the approved bond become a reality.

Harborfields Superintendent Diana Todaro. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Harborfields school district residents voted in favor of $11.7 million in districtwide capital improvements while also mowing down a $1.9 million plan to add turf fields.

The proposals were presented to the public in two separate propositions in a referendum vote held on Tuesday. 

Proposition No. 1, the districtwide upgrades, received 1,248 yes votes and 573 no votes, while Proposition No. 2 for the turf garnered 629 yes votes and 1,177 no votes.

In an email, Harborfields Superintendent Diana Todaro thanked the community for voting.

“I also thank all residents who took the time over the course of the past several months to attend our public meetings and offer their input,” Todaro said in a statement. “We will continue to update the community on the progress of the capital improvement work that was approved.”

The first proposition involves approximately $11.7 million in upgrades to all school buildings in the district. These upgrades include infrastructure repairs, classroom reorganization and athletic facilities improvements, according to a district statement.

This bond contains work to renovate bathrooms and replace damaged doors. It will also upgrade some science labs and completely transform the wellness center into a multimedia production computer lab with a new, bigger wellness center reconfigured in other rooms.

Specifically for the high school, the auditorium and gym will be upgraded and certain athletic fields will be reconstructed with natural grass. Permanent visitor bleachers will be added to the football field and the locker rooms will be renovated and reconfigured.

At Oldfield Middle School, the science labs and family and consumer science room will be renovated as well as athletic fields and tennis courts. The locker rooms will also be reconfigured and renovated. Certain bathrooms in the school will be upgraded and an outside masonry would be appointed. The gymnasium floor will be refinished and the bleachers replaced. The lighting systems in the school’s auditorium will also be upgraded.

At Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School, upgrades will include the installation of a new gym floor, replacement of curtains and risers in the multipurpose room, renovation of student bathroom and the creation of a multi-sensory learning lab. Outdated playground equipment will be replaced and the western parking area would be renovated and drainage improved.

Also, Washington Drive Primary School’s parking area will be expanded.

The second proposition for turf fields was dependent on the approval of the first and would have included a transition to a synthetic turf field at the high school and using an alternative fill, such as Nike infill, instead of crumb rubber.

Harborfields High School. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Next week, voters in Harborfields school district will head to the polls to decide yea or nay on two propositions totaling $13.6 million in capital improvements bonds ranging from room renovations, classroom upgrades, a new field at the high school and more.

Residents of the district will vote on the projects from 2 to 9 p.m. at Oldfield Middle School on Tuesday, Oct. 27. There will be two propositions presented for a vote. Proposition No. 1 pitches about $11.7 million in upgrades, encompasses infrastructure repairs, classroom reorganization and athletic facilities improvements, according to a district statement. If approved, bathrooms would be renovated, and damaged doors replaced. Some science labs would also be upgraded. The existing wellness center —which the district’s physical education classes and athletes use — would be transformed into a multimedia production computer lab, and a new, larger wellness center would be built by reconfiguring other rooms.

Also under that proposition, the district would upgrade the high school auditorium and gym. It would reconstruct certain athletic fields with natural grass. Permanent visitor bleachers would be added to the football field, four tennis courts would be renovated and a new wrestling room would be created.

Over at Oldfield Middle School, the science labs and the family and consumer science room would be renovated. Middle school fields and tennis courts would be upgraded and the locker rooms would be reconfigured and renovated.

Certain bathrooms in the school would be upgraded and outside masonry would be repointed. The gymnasium floor would be refinished and the bleachers would be replaced. The lighting system in the school’s auditorium would also be upgraded.

The first proposition also includes improvements for Thomas J. Lahey Elementary School and Washington Drive Primary School.

At the elementary school, upgrades include the installation of a new gym floor, replacement of curtains and risers in the multipurpose room, renovation of student bathrooms and the creation of a multi-sensory learning lab.

Outdated playground equipment would be replaced and the western parking area would be renovated and drainage to that area improved. The parking area would be expanded at the primary school.

Proposition No. 2, valued at about $1.9 million, is dependent on the passage of Proposition No. 1 and would include a transition to a synthetic turf field at the high school and using an alternative fill, such as Nike infill, instead of crumb rubber.

“The proposed capital improvement bond referendum addresses improvements to our instructional spaces and athletic facilities,” Superintendent Diana Todaro said, in an email statement. “The improvements would enhance opportunities for our students and community.”

About two years ago, Harborfields voters rejected plans for synthetic turf, which was the subject of a referendum.

“It is important for the community to understand that Proposition No. 2 is very different from the field proposition that was presented to the community two years ago,” said school board President Dr. Thomas McDonagh in a statement. “The field we are now proposing uses an alternative fill and addresses the concerns that residents had at the time.”

At a public forum earlier this month, residents offered mixed opinions on the propositions.

Many used the phrase “wants versus needs” when describing the difference between the propositions. Some residents said they felt the first represents genuine needs of the district, but Proposition No. 2 includes nothing crucial to the immediate needs of the district.

Chris Kelly, a Greenlawn resident, said he thinks both propositions are important to help Harborfields improve.

“It appears we are long overdue for upgrades,” Kelly said. “I really appreciate all the work that has been done for this and I will definitely be voting for it. The things on these propositions are very important, and I hope that this is just the beginning of a big turning point for this school to reach new heights.”

McDonagh said he supports both propositions.

“I am fully in favor of all the projects contained in proposition one and two,” he said.

The first proposition would carry an increase to taxpayers of approximately $76.20 per year, or $6.35 a month, for a home with an assessed value of $4,000, according to a district statement. The increase for the second proposition would be $13.08, per year if approved.

Victoria Espinoza contributed reporting.

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Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown Town Board candidates vying for a Republican spot on the ballot in November learned their fate on Tuesday as the Suffolk County Board of Elections tallied up the remaining absentee ballots, but there were no surprises.

As reported last week, Councilman Bob Creighton (R) came in third place out of three candidates seeking the Republican line in November’s general election, while the other two, incumbent Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) and challenger Lisa Inzerillo came in first and second, respectively. Those results stood by Tuesday evening, but perhaps in a more disappointing fashion, as Creighton’s 1,306 vote tallies came in just 82 votes behind Inzerillo’s 1,388, the county Board of Elections said. Wehrheim led the pack with 1,830 votes.

In the initial aftermath of the primary vote earlier this month, Wehrheim had collected 40.49 percent of the vote — 1,673 total votes — and Inzerillo earned 31.27 percent, or 1,292 total votes. Creighton, who has served on the Town Board since 2008, came in close behind Inzerillo with 27.81 percent — 1,149 votes. In an interview after the primary election and before the absentee ballots had been counted, Creighton told Times Beacon Record Newspapers that he did not expect absentee votes to push him over the edge.

“There are still some … absentee ballots to count, but I have no illusions about that,” Creighton said in a previous interview. “I lost, period.”

Inzerillo and Wehrheim will appear on November’s ballot as Republicans, and Creighton will still run for re-election, but on the Conservative, Independent and Reform party lines.

Both Creighton’s and Wehrheim’s seats on the board will be up for a vote come November, with the incumbents facing off against Inzerillo and Democrat Larry Vetter, who announced his candidacy earlier this year. The winners will join incumbents not up for re-election, Supervisor Pat Vecchio, Councilman Tom McCarthy and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick — all Republicans.

Election turnout reaches highest in years

Port Jefferson Treasurer Don Pearce and Village Clerk Bob Juliano as they tallied the 2015 election results. File photo by Elana Glowatz

The “unity” slate cleaned up in the Port Jefferson Village election Tuesday night, with Mayor Margot Garant and Trustee Larry LaPointe securing additional terms on the board of trustees and newcomer Stan Loucks winning his first.

Garant, who will start her fourth term this summer, beat out challenger Dave Forgione, a 15-year resident and the owner of a billing and accounting business in upper Port, with 1,162 votes to his 753.

“I’m just really elated that the people are entrusting and allowing me to continue to do the work that we do for the village,” Garant said about her win in a phone interview Wednesday. “Super psyched.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Forgione said he was “humbled” by the support he received from the community.

“I’d like to congratulate Margot on her victory and wish her all the success in her upcoming term,” he said.

Forgione would not say whether he would run for village board again in the future, after experiencing a busy campaign season this time around.

“At this point I’m just trying to get my life back in order,” he said with a laugh.

There were two trustee seats up for election — LaPointe’s and that of Trustee Adrienne Kessel, who did not run for another term. The three candidates ran at-large for those spots.

Loucks, a longtime volunteer at the Port Jefferson Country Club and a retired athletics teacher and administrator in Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, garnered the most support of any candidate vying any seat, with 1,205 votes. LaPointe came in second out of the trustee candidates, with 1,160 votes, and secured a third term on the board. In third place was challenger Matthew Franco, a 10-year village resident and a pediatric occupational therapist for Nassau BOCES, who fell short with 822 votes.

LaPointe emphasized in a phone interview Wednesday morning “just how gratified and grateful I am to my friends and neighbors for coming out to support the unity team.”

Loucks is looking forward to getting to work.

“I’m just flabbergasted at the outpouring of support,” Loucks said Wednesday, speaking in a phone interview of his gratitude to his supporters. “I was blown away by the results last night.”

When reached by phone Wednesday, Franco congratulated LaPointe and Loucks and said he hopes they take it to heart that 40 percent of voters cast ballots for him.

“Don’t dismiss the minority,” he said. “There’s 40 percent of this population of the village that wants change.”

Franco said he would run again for the village board in the future.

“I am preparing for next year,” he said.

Village Justice Peter Graham ran unopposed for re-election and was also returned to his role, receiving 1,031 votes.

Resident turnout for the election was high, especially compared to recent years.

As the Village Center buzzed with activity 10 minutes before the polls closed, Village Clerk Bob Juliano said the building had been busy all day. He noted that in previous years, the crowd usually died down in the last hour of voting, but that did not happen this year.

Counting absentee ballots, almost 2,000 Port Jefferson residents voted in the election — about double the number who turned out to the polls last year. And the voter turnout was dismal in the two years prior to that: In 2013 there were 84 voters total, and in 2012 there were close to 150 who cast ballots.

Port Jefferson Village code enforcement officer Lt. John Borrero said, as the 69 absentee votes were being tallied at the end of the night, “I’ve never seen an election so crowded.”

Republican Party establishes new Hispanic alliance

Latinos congregate at Xavier Palacios’ law office in Huntington Station last year to watch President Barack Obama announcing executive orders on immigration. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Republicans are vying for the votes of Suffolk’s Latinos.

The county GOP committee announced in a press release last week that for the first time in its history, it would create a Hispanic alliance tasked with registering Latino voters and recruiting potential candidates to run for office.

“For far too long, the political left has taken the Hispanic community for granted and recent polls indicate a growing frustration with the [Democratic] Party’s lack of family values and understanding of small business,” GOP chairman John Jay LaValle said in the statement.

Republicans are seeking to tap into a growing Latino electorate in Suffolk County, the statement said.

According to Nick LaLota, the Republican commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Latinos comprise about 7.8 percent of Suffolk County’s 907,000 total registered voters this year. That’s up from 5.82 percent in 2006, he said.

When drawing up the figures, BOE officials analyzed the last names of voters to determine which individuals have “Hispanic-oriented” names, LaLota said. And while it’s not an “exact science,” it gives officials an idea of the growth of the population.

Two Hispanic Republicans — Brookhaven’s Jose Nunez and Victoria Serpa of Islip — will co-chair the Suffolk County Republican Hispanic Alliance, LaValle said. When reached this week, Nunez said there was a great opportunity for the Republicans to attract Hispanic voters, who traditionally lean Democratic.

“We believe that they have the same core values — family, business,” he said. “They’re very conservative. There’s a lot of religion.”

But as far as Suffolk County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer is concerned, the Republicans are late to the party. He noted the Democrats have backed several Hispanic individuals who were elected.

“It’s about time,” Schaffer said. “We welcome them to finally recognizing that the Hispanic population is an important part of our county.”

Nunez said the GOP’s new alliance would also serve an educational purpose — engaging Latino voters in a political dialogue and perhaps dispelling fears of the political process that some may have learned in their native countries.

It’s “smart” for Republicans to be reaching out to Hispanic voters, according to Xavier Palacios, a Huntington resident, school board member and co-founder of the Friends of Huntington Station Latin Quarter — a group established to revitalize Huntington Station through business development, mentorship, vocational training and other programs. The No. 1 issue on the minds of Hispanics, Palacios said, is immigration reform, and Republicans need to address the issue head-on if they’re going to attract Latino voters.

“I think it can no longer be the hot potato,” he said. “A solution to real immigration reform needs to be had.”

Not everyone thinks that Latinos care most about the immigration issue. Nunez said there are many Latinos out there who feel people should arrive and settle in the country through legal channels. He also said immigration was a federal issue, not a local one.

Other issues on the local level are of importance to Latinos too. Palacios said Republicans and Democrats would be smart to focus on economic issues, as many Latinos are staggered in professions or can’t afford college. Immigrants come here to fulfill the American Dream, something that appears to be becoming more challenging.

“Folks nowadays, in my view, are losing that dream,” he said.

Library members in Port Jefferson and Comsewogue approved the two districts’ proposed budgets on Tuesday. Stock photo

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson library district members approved both institutions’ 2015-16 budgets on Tuesday. The Port Jefferson Free Library budget passed with 106 votes in favor and nine against. Comsewogue Public Library’s budget passed with 104 votes in favor and 19 against.

The Port Jefferson budget, which totals $4.33 million, will increase annual taxes by about $10.80 for the average village resident. The budget includes a $107,000 transfer to the library’s capital fund for facility improvements, as the library nears the finish line on forming a strategic plan for how the institution will serve members in the future. That plan includes improving the facilities and considers possible uses for an adjacent residential property on Thompson Street that the library recently purchased.

In Comsewogue, annual taxes will increase by about $11 for the average resident under the approved $5.58 million budget.

The Comsewogue district residents also elected a new trustee, Corinne DeStefano, with 116 votes. The candidate, who ran unopposed for a five-year term, is the wife of Comsewogue school board Trustee Robert DeStefano. A lifelong resident of the district, she works in quality assurance for software corporation CA Technologies.