07/20/14 8:00am
Columnist James Varney said recently that he believes intellectual diversity might not be welcome thing on Long Island's East End.

Columnist James Varney said recently that he believes intellectual diversity might not be welcome thing on Long Island’s East End.

I read with amazement the News-Review article about New Orleans columnist James Varney, who penned a column in his home paper about his negative experience after visiting Riverhead for a wedding.

Mr. Varney’s column in the Times-Picayune of New Orleans titled “The Long Island Internet Blues” indicates that while staying at the Hyatt East End in Riverhead, he was not able to access some conservative websites. He theorized that the hotel, by design, prevented him from doing so and allowed Internet access only to liberal-leaning web sites.

Mr. Varney did not stop there. He continued in his rant and went on to write that “in the big money enclaves of Long Island the concept of diversity may be revered. Intellectual diversity, on the other hand, not so much.”

Give me a break. As a card-carrying liberal Democrat and resident of Riverhead, I feel compelled to respond and defend Riverhead from this big fool from the Big Easy.

As the News-Review article correctly pointed out, there are far more registered Republicans in the Town of Riverhead than Democrats. Supervisor Sean Walter and the entire Town Board are Republicans. As far as Mr. Varney’s characterization of Riverhead as a “big money” enclave, I think most town residents, including myself, would be shocked to learn that we live in a big money enclave. The truth is that Riverhead is a working class community with a very diverse population that encourages and allows a wide range of political beliefs. In my humble opinion, it is a good place to live.

I understand that during his visit to Riverhead, Mr. Varney had some additional observations that supported his belief that Riverhead was a bastion of liberalism. On a visit to the aquarium he noted that most of the fish swam to the left. While driving around town, he thought there were just too many no-right-on-red signs. He was also shocked that he could not find a single citizen openly carrying a gun. My comments are — I hope, clearly — tongue-in-cheek, but illustrate the absurdity of some of what Mr. Varney writes about Riverhead.

I truly wonder what motivated him to target our little hamlet? Did he not have a good time during his visit? Was he disappointed that, unlike in New Orleans, he could not walk around town with an open container of alcohol? Was the Po’ Boy he got at the neighboring Subway not to his liking? Was he disappointed that, unlike New Orleans, Riverhead does not have a big gambling casino in the middle of town? I also question why being unable to access a specific website on a hotel computer was so important for a professional journalist in this age of smartphones and iPads.

I would like to respectfully suggest to Mr. Varney that he consider concentrating his criticisms and writings on his hometown of New Orleans. There appears to be plenty of fodder in the Big Easy to fill many columns. Earlier this month, nine people were shot on Bourbon Street after a gunfight between two men in the heart of the tourist district. In April of this year, the New Orleans Police Department entered into a consent agreement with the federal government that permits the Justice Department to monitor police activities in the city after a multi-year investigation concluded that the New Orleans Police Department engaged in a pattern of conduct that violated the Constitution and federal laws.

In conclusion, I think Mr. Varney owes the Town of Riverhead and its citizens an apology for falsely representing the values for which our community stands. Perhaps he would consider shipping us a large amount of crawfish for a good old-fashioned crawfish boil in the middle of town as a token of his sincerity.

R0815_JERRY-BILINKSKI_C1-150x150Jerry Bilinski is a case manager with a nonprofit group that advocates for incarcerated and mentally ill people. He lives in Riverhead.

06/02/14 10:00am
Protestors outside the Riverhead Post Office Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Jerry Bilinski, courtesy)

Protestors outside the Riverhead Post Office Saturday afternoon. (Credit: Jerry Bilinski, courtesy)

To the Editor:

On a visit to my local post office this Saturday, I was shocked to be confronted by a disturbing display on the sidewalk in front of the building.

Two protestors who said they were supporters of Libertarian politician  Lyndon Larouche had set up shop on the curb in front of the Riverhead Post Office. I have seen them before while driving around Suffolk County. However, I was still surprised by their appearance in the town where I live.

Apparently, they have been traveling around the county and setting up displays in front of post offices across Suffolk County. While they may be engaging in free speech on public property, and don’t appear to be violating any laws, I personally believe they are promoting a form of hate speech that harms our community.

One large sign they display prominently specifically portrays President Obama with a Hitler mustache superimposed across his face. I found this to be particularly troubling in that it associates the President of the United States with a heinous figure who facilitated the Holocaust. I think it crosses over the line and goes beyond just bad taste.

I approached the two people running the protest and politely asked them to please take down the photo of the President with the Hitler mustache. I let them know that I was a resident of Riverhead — they were not — and that this specific sign violated my sense of community standards.They were very polite, but refused.

When I invoked the connection to the Holocaust they replied that “Obama was engaging in a Holocaust right now all around the world.” That’s an absurd statement insulting not only to victims of the Holocaust, but also the memory of that event.

Now many people in the community would say just ignore this type of fringe group. I disagree.

Who in the community would say just ignore them if the Klu Klux Klan or a Neo-Nazi group started demonstrating in front of the Riverhead Post Office? I say its important to shine a light on their views and activities.

Hatred and ignorance needs to be confronted wherever and whenever it raises its ugly head. We should not be fooled by those espousing hateful views just because they are ordinary looking citizens and present themselves politely and in a non-threatening manner.

We should always be vigilant in not allowing hatred to creep into the mainstream culture here in America.

Besides being personally offended, I feel pain for my Jewish and African American friends in Riverhead who have to be exposed to this on a routine trip to the post office. Unfortunately, community apathy sometimes allows ugly and hateful messages to go unchallenged.

What can be done? How about a counter protest everywhere these people choose to set up shop? If they choose to return to Riverhead next week, I feel compelled put together a counter demonstration with the theme being “Free Speech, Not Hate Speech.”

I sincerely hope that like-minded residents here in Riverhead will join me.

Jerry Bilinski, Riverhead

03/13/14 11:36am
Credit: Flickr/Cave Canem

Credit: Flickr/Cave Canem

To the editor:

I am writing as a ‘Regular Joe’ taxpayer. I am just a middle class Suffolk County resident and taxpayer who is very troubled by the state of Suffolk County’s finances. Our county Legislature and County Executive Steve Bellone recently signed off on and approved multiple police contracts that will cost taxpayers $372 million through 2018. (more…)

01/26/14 10:00am
TIM GANNON PHOTO | This building, across the street from town hall, will be subject to a public hearing shortly.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | This building, across the street from town hall, will be subject to a public hearing shortly.

I have worked in the mental health and substance abuse field for nonprofit agencies for over a decade. I read with great concern that the Riverhead Town Board is considering granting a special permit to allow a sober home run by Mainstream Houses, a for-profit organization, in an existing house on East Main Street. (more…)

08/26/13 6:00am

MICHAEL WHITE PHOTO | The new Suffolk County jail facility in Yaphank.

When the plan to build a new Suffolk County county jail was first proposed about 10 years ago, the political and economic landscape in the county, as well as the nation as a whole, was dramatically different from what we have today. Even back then, when Suffolk County was running budget surpluses, opponents of the new jail project made good arguments that it was ill-conceived, from both budgetary and policy standpoints.

In retrospect, they were right.

Suffolk County is now facing budget deficits that may exceed $200 million in 2014. At the same time, county officials are considering moving forward with Phase II of the new jail in Yaphank, at an expected cost of $100 million, totally paid for by Suffolk taxpayers without any state or federal subsidies. It is madness.

During the past several years, analyses and studies by criminal justice experts have highlighted our flawed approach to crime and punishment nationwide. Accounting for population, the rates of incarceration in the United States are some of the highest in the world. This high rate of incarceration is largely created by our decades long “War on Drugs” and a get-tough-on-repeat-offenders strategy that mandated prison sentences for defendants regardless of the severity of their actual crimes. The result for states and other municipalities has been soaring expenditures for corrections and other related costs of criminal justice systems. These policies have had a crippling effect on state and local county budgets.

However, recent studies on a national level have indicated that this trend is being reversed. Most states have gotten smart about the cost of incarceration and the need to reduce jail populations through less costly alternatives. Even here in New York State, the prison population has decreased during the past few years, with state prisons being closed and costs statewide being reduced. In contrast, Suffolk County has been moving in the opposite direction, with more and more jail cells being built or proposed and increased numbers of people being incarcerated. It has to stop as soon as possible, or it will send this county into a fate similar to that of Nassau County, or worse, Detroit.

Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco has been pressing forward with a plan to reduce the inmate population through less costly alternatives to jail and diversions from incarceration that could eliminate the need for the $100 million Phase II of the new Yaphank jail. Suffolk County legislators and taxpayers should heed his call.

By expanding current jail diversion programs through the Probation Department and the courts, along with implementing new, cost-effective initiatives to divert low-level offenders from incarceration, we can significantly reduce the inmate population here in Suffolk County without jeopardizing public safety. These alternatives to incarceration programs can save taxpayers both the cost of expanding the Yaphank jail, as well as the annual increase in operating expenditures associated with running and staffing this new jail, which would include both hiring more correctional officers and increases in overtime pay.

Suffolk County needs to get in step with the rest of the nation and avoid the costs associated with high rates of incarceration.

Jerry Bilinski is a case manager with a non-profit group that advocates for incarcerated and mentally ill people. He lives in Riverhead.

09/27/12 6:00am

One of the great benefits of being an American is our freedom of engaging in free speech, especially in the area of political beliefs. It’s a right that we sometimes take for granted. We need only look to many other countries in the world to see how fortunate we are. Expressing a political belief can often lead to retaliation, imprisonment, torture and sometimes even death. Recent events in Syria and Libya illustrate this point — which brings me to the subject at hand: the theft of my Obama signs.

I am a supporter of President Obama and most of his agenda. Is he perfect? No. Even though I voted for him and supported his candidacy nearly four years ago, I am disappointed with some of the policies and positions he has taken after he was elected president. However, the nature of politics in America is that we have to choose the best candidate and sometimes compromise our own beliefs even if we personally don’t agree with every position and policy our candidate has taken, or failed to take or implement.

Be that as it may, I have elected to support President Obama in his efforts for a second term. I am deeply concerned about the Citizens United Decision and unlimited funds being poured into the election process in an effort to influence and perhaps hijack the political process from ordinary Americans such as myself. As such, I recently became more involved in President Obama’s local campaign and I agreed to place some Obama re-election signs on my front lawn.

I made a donation to the campaign to obtain these signs. Upon waking the following morning after putting them out, I discovered that all the signs had been removed. As a matter of principal, I called the police, who took a complaint. After all, these signs belong to me and were on my property when taken. At first I chalked up the sign thefts to a possible teen prank or isolated incident. I contacted the local Obama campaign person shortly thereafter and arranged to obtain some replacement signs. I placed them back on my lawn this past Sunday afternoon, along with a Congressman Bishop sign.

Unfortunately, when I awoke early Monday morning, the signs were missing once again. Now, I am not one of those paranoid conspirator types who believe tea party supporters or so-called Birthers are behind any and all anti-Obama incidents. However, I am now a little suspicious in this case as to the motivations of the culprits.

Is it just random vandalism? Or are some of my neighbors, who disagree with my political beliefs, sending a message? At this point in time do I just throw up my hands and give up or just bring in the signs after dark, as one of my friends suggested?

No. I will not compromise my right to express free speech, especially in the area of politics.

I decided to take the remaining Obama signs that I had, got out a ladder, hammer and some nails, and put the signs back up high on an old tree on my front lawn. For those who might have designs on again taking these signs, you will have to work for it! But please don’t cut down this old tree. As a sidebar, every time I have to replace the signs I am making a donation to the Obama campaign. In some twisted poetic justice, the perpetrators of the sign thefts are actually helping to fund the re-election of President Obama when they take these signs.

On another note, I would be remiss if I did not try and persuade those who are engaging in these seemingly innocent sign thefts that they are not just engaging in a tradition of political tomfoolery. On a daily basis, thousands of Americans are placing themselves in harm’s way in foreign lands to defend the rights that we have in America, including the right to express ourselves politically without fear of retaliation, arrest, torture or even death. Think about their sacrifices before you decide to steal, vandalize or take down the sign of a fellow American that expresses a political belief different from your own. We as Americans are better than that.

Jerry Bilinski lives near downtown Riverhead with his wife. He is a case manager in the nonprofit health care and human services field, assisting people with mental health disabilities.