09/12/13 2:00pm
09/12/2013 2:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Tim Bishop at a debate in Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Tim Bishop at a debate in Riverhead.

A congressional ethics report has recommended further investigations into allegations Rep. Tim Bishop violated House rules and federal law last year, saying there was a “substantial reason” to believe Mr. Bishop broke federal campaign finance rules.

The report, released Wednesday by the Office of Congressional Ethics, found there was reason to believe that Mr. Bishop helped a constituent get permits to hold a fireworks show, then had his staff ask the man for a campaign contribution as a quid pro quo.

The probe also found that Mr. Bishop’s campaign committee may have misreported a $5,000 contribution from the constituent’s company that broke the $2,500 per election limit.

“There is a substantial reason to believe that Representative Bishop sought a campaign contribution because of or in connection with an official act in violation of House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law,” according to the 117-page report.

The Office of Congressional Ethics has advised the House Committee on Ethics to further review the allegations.

Mr. Bishop has denied the allegations; his lawyers filed a response to the probe that called the allegations “deeply flawed.”

“The report released today confirms that the allegations made against me last summer were politically orchestrated and I am confident that the ongoing review of this matter will show that I acted in good faith to assist a constituent in need,” Mr. Bishop said in a statement.

Mr. Bishop allegedly helped Eric Semler, a Sagaponack hedge fund manager, get the necessary permits to hold a fireworks display for his son’s bar mitzvah on May 26, 2012, according to email evidence in the report.

After the permits were believed to be cleared, Mr. Bishop wrote an email to a close friend, Robert Sillerman, asking him to ask Mr. Semler for a contribution.

“We are all set with Eric Semler,” the email from Mr. Bishop detailed in the report states. “Hey, would you be willing to reach out to him to ask for a contribution? If he donates before June 26, he and his wife can each do 5 large – if it is after June 26, they can each do a max of 2500.”

Mr. Bishop’s response says that Mr. Semler was under no pressure to give a contribution, notes that Mr. Bishop did not personally contact him about a donation, and noted that Mr. Semler said in an interview in the report that he made the contribution because Rep. Bishop is a “stellar politician.”

The report also states that Mr. Bishops campaign misreported a $5,000 contribution from Mr. Semler’s company TCS Capital Management LLC as being two $2,500 from Mr. Semler and his wife. The campaign also reported the date of the contribution as June 26, not July 9 when the contribution was actually received, the report states.

Mr. Bishop’s attorneys said in his response that while the finding allege the campaign misreported the contribution, the re-election campaign “took reasonable steps” including hiring a FEC compliance official to report the contribution correctly.

House Committee on Ethics said in a statement that it will “continue to gather information necessary to complete its review” of the allegations against Mr. Bishop.

psquire@timesreview.com

07/20/13 8:00am
07/20/2013 8:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop announces his new bill to lift the congressional mandate to sell Plum Island.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop announces his new bill to lift the congressional mandate to sell Plum Island.

In a strong showing of bipartisanship and environmental activism, a coalition of pols and tree huggers gathered on a rocky beach overlooking Plum Island in sweltering heat Tuesday morning to support Congressman Tim Bishop’s “Save, Don’t Sell Plum Island Act of 2013.” It was an all-around love fest.

Later that same day, the Southampton Democrat filed his new bill in the House of Representatives in Washington. Which is where the love fest, no doubt, will come to a crashing end, given the economic and political forces that stand in the way.

In his favor, Mr. Bishop does boast co-sponsorship from colleagues from Connecticut and Staten Island, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) plans to co-sponsor in the Senate. And, according to the congressman, New York’s two U.S. senators, Democrats Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have expressed support for the legislation, which could be key given Mr. Schumer’s new-found political clout following his recent inauguration and immigration coups.

But make no mistake, it will be a long, hard and possibly impossible road from sponsorship to passage. There’s a great deal of money at stake as the feds pursue the sale of Plum Island to help offset the $1.2 billion price tag for the proposed National Bio-and-Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan. (The Bishop bill simply unhooks the sale of Plum Island from the development of NBAF.) Never mind that it makes no sense to relocate our nation’s animal disease research and prevention efforts from an isolated island off the East Coast to the middle of cattle country. Visions of dollar signs do dance in the heads of the bureaucrats from Homeland Security and General Services, who propose selling the 840-acre island at public auction so it can be developed, they speculate, with 500 luxury homes. Yes, I know, it’s a ridiculous idea, but that’s what could happen if something doesn’t give. And, hopefully, the first thing to give will be the Southold Town Board’s rezoning of the property to take residential development out of the equation. That, in itself, will make the sale of Plum Island much less attractive to any private investor who faces the tens of millions of dollars in environmental mitigation that’s likely to follow.

My personal first choice for the property, if the Plum Island lab’s mission eventually is moved to Kansas, would be to have it become a National Wildlife Refuge. But if that’s not in the cards, how’s this for an idea with an obvious local precedent?: Have the feds gift the island to Southold Town, just as the feds gifted the Grumman property in Calverton to the Town of Riverhead back in the mid-1990s. Yes, I know, the situations aren’t entirely analogous — largely because Grumman paid Riverhead $1.3 million a year in lieu of taxes and Plum Island doesn’t pay Southold a cent — but wouldn’t you rather have the fate of our neighbor to the immediate east in the hands of the town council instead of the mooks in Washington?

And Tim Bishop can start this ball rolling by renaming his new bill the “Gift, Don’t Sell Plum Island Act of 2013.”

tgustavson@timesreview.com

07/16/13 3:16pm
07/16/2013 3:16 PM

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop announces his new bill to lift the congressional mandate to sell Plum Island.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D- Southampton) Tuesday announced the introduction of “Save, don’t sell Plum Island,” a bill designed to overturn the 2008 congressional mandate for the federal government to sell the island, for decades the home of an animal disease research laboratory, at public auction.

The bipartisan legislation would help prevent non-research development on the 840-acre island, preserving what Mr. Bishop called a biodiversity “treasure.”

The federal General Services Administration recently released an environmental impact statement supporting construction of up to 500 dwellings on the island, which in addition to animal disease center is home to an abandoned military installation.

The congressman was joined at a morning press conference on the beach in Orient by state Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Southold Supervisor Scott Russell and representatives of several environmental groups, including the Group for the East End, the Nature Conservancy and Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Connecticut Democratic Congressmen Joe Courtney and Rep. Michael Grimm, a Staten Island Republican, have signed on as cosponsors. Companion legislation is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Democrat Richard Blumenthal.

Its purpose is to reverse the 2008 bill requiring the island’s sale to help finance a new $1.2 billion animal disease research center in Manhattan, Kan.

Mr. Bishop’s bill contends cleanup costs from past island activities, including the operation of Fort Terry, a WWI-era Army base, coupled with Southold’s pending island zoning prohibiting new development, would dramatically reduce the island’s commercial value.

Mr. Bishop said the Kansas research facility would “duplicate many of the research functions currently served well by other research facilities, including Plum Island,” and would be unaffordable given the nation’s budget constraints.

According to Mr. Bishop’s bill, the Plum Island facility has been well maintained.

He added that more than $23 million in federal funds have been invested in laboratory upgrades since January 2012, with additional significant expenditures likely in the future.

“If the federal government did not already own Plum Island, it would be seeking to purchase it for conservation,” Mr. Bishop said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

06/25/13 8:00am
06/25/2013 8:00 AM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Congressman Tim Bishop discussing various issues with members of the Times/Review Newsgroup’s editorial board Monday.

Immigration reform and its anticipated effect on the local agricultural work force was among the many topics discussed during a Times/Review editorial board meeting with Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) Monday morning.

“Currently the [immigration] system, from almost every vantage point, is broken on Eastern Long Island,” Mr. Bishop said. “It has to do with access to a work force that our economy demands.”

About 60 percent of local farm workers are undocumented, Mr. Bishop said. Nationally, the number is 75 percent.

The congressman said he supports a comprehensive immigration reform bill pending on Capitol Hill.

“It would fix the visa system for farm workers,” he said. “The workers would basically have the status they need to come here and work.”

But the prospects for Congress passing such sweeping legislation are uncertain at best, the congressman added.

“It is the right thing to do and the Senate has worked very hard at it,” Mr. Bishop said. On the other hand, he said chances that a bill will make it through the House of Representatives “grow dimmer every day.”

If the bill dies in the Senate, the congressman said he would support a piece-by-piece approach to solve individual concerns, such as the workforce problems the agricultural market faces.

Other topics of discussion included increased boarder protection (the interview occurred before news broke that the Senate had approved such a bill), the recently defeated farm bill, and the Common Core program designed to set minimum education standards across the country. The Common Core effort is aimed at ensuring that high school graduates are fully prepared either to continue their education in college or find employment.

While saying the implementation of the Common Core standards has been “chaotic,” he praised states for coming together to press the issue.

“I think it’s admirable and it shows real leadership on the part of the governors,” Mr. Bishop said.

It’s less of an issue in New York, which has high education standards, he added, but in some states “it’s a sea change.”

cmiller@timesreview.com

05/07/13 11:00am
05/07/2013 11:00 AM

FILE PHOTO | An aerial view of Rabbit Lane in East Marion following Superstorm Sandy.

State officials will be available Wednesday to assist victims of Superstorm Sandy looking to apply for recovery and aid that the federal government approved last week.

Representatives with the New York State Department of Financial Services’ Mobile Command Center will provide free help to homeowners and business owners at Southold Town Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We fought hard for the federal aid Long Island deserves to recover from this devastating storm, and I urge those affected to apply for the support you need for your home or business,” Congressman Tim Bishop said in a release. “Attending this session is not a requirement to access aid, however it will be especially useful for senior citizens and others who are not as comfortable using computer-based forms.”

Those impacted by the storm may also apply for recovery assistance online using this link.

cmurray@timesreview.com

05/02/13 12:00pm
05/02/2013 12:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Eastern Concrete workers prepare Sandra Ciricione’s Oaks Avenue home in Flanders for a new foundation Friday.

Aquebogue resident Cecily Jaffe is finally regaining some sense of normalcy. She returned to her house three weeks ago, but is stilling trying to make it feel like home.

“I just got my bed two days ago,” she said.

Hurricane Sandy caused $100,000 worth of damage to her Harbor Road home. Floodwaters also swept away half of her belongings, including furniture, family photos and other items she said could never be replaced. Ms. Jaffe, who owns Cecily’s Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck, is now in the process of rebuilding her life in the cottage she’s called home for decades.

Like many homeowners with insurance, Ms. Jaffe did not receive federal grant money for reconstruction. She was only eligible to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency grant money for temporary housing. In the interim, Ms. Jaffe was forced to wait weeks for her insurance check, causing construction delays. She moved five times to different area hotels and apartments before work was completed on her home.

“I’m still living as if I have to move tomorrow,” she said.

North Fork Sandy victims received a low amount of federal aid in comparison to other areas in Suffolk County. According to the FEMA, 564 households in Riverhead Town received $111,000 in federal aid, for an average of $197 per affected household. In Southold Town, 451 households received $366,000 from FEMA, or $811 on average per household. In comparison, Lindenhurst’s 4,000 eligible homeowners received more than $22 million, averaging out to $5,500 per household.

In all, more than $73.5 million in FEMA funding was provided to homeowners in Suffolk County to mitigate storm damage. Less than one percent of that was awarded to the North Fork, according to FEMA figures.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Cecily Jaffe hangs a print by North Fork artist Rob White from her Love Lane Gallery in Mattituck.

FEMA aid was awarded on a case-by-case basis, said FEMA regional director for Suffolk County, John Mills. The amount awarded to individual homeowners varied according to the severity of the damage and whether the homeowner had flood insurance, he said. No aid is provided for a person’s second home.

A spokesman for Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said Mr. Bishop’s office has been inundated with calls from homeowners who have been struggling to pay household bills since Sandy, with many requesting assistance with mortgage modifications or forbearance, which is an agreement between a borrower and lender that delays foreclosure

Greenport resident Jean Eckhardt’s Pipes Cove area home needed $15,000 in repairs after wind damaged the roof and floodwaters poured into the basement.

“I was the first person in line when I heard FEMA officials were going to be at Town Hall,” she said. “They only gave me a little.”

Ms. Eckhardt, who did not have flood insurance, received $1,500 in federal aid.

Her homeowner’s insurance covered some of the expenses, but she needed to pay for the majority of the reconstruction herself, she said.

“I had to eat most of it,” Ms. Eckhardt said. “I was hoping for more, but I am grateful for what I got.”

Sandy victims now face another costly consequence of the storm. Many North Folk homeowners will need to raise their houses — or face rising flood insurance premiums.

FEMA now requires homeowners who receive federal funding to rebuild their homes in accordance to the National Flood Insurance Program.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Cecily Jaffe moved back to her Sandy-ravaged Aquebogue home just two weeks ago.

“There are so many laws coming out that people are not being made aware of,” said Flanders resident Dhonna Goodale.

Ms. Goodale, her husband and two young children were displaced for three months after the storm. The family received no FEMA assistance, footing the bill for home repairs before finally receiving an insurance check six weeks ago, she said.

“There were fish swimming in our basement,” she said of the family’s experience during Sandy. “Now, during high tide the water floods our driveway.”

The Goodales are now wondering what to do next at the 135-acre estate.

“Should we raise the house? Should we move it? We don’t have a clue what do right now,” she said. “We need answers [from the federal government].”

Flanders resident Sandra Cirincione is in the process of raising her house in the Bayview Pines neighborhood without any FEMA assistance.

Seven inches of floodwater poured into her first floor during Sandy, she said.

“No one told me I needed to raise my home,” Ms. Cirincione said. “I decided to do it anyway. I never want to go through this again. You learn a few things when things like this happen.”

Flood insurance covered much of her home’s interior reconstruction, but that work has come to a halt until the raising work is completed.

She’s living at a friend’s house in Westhampton and hoping to return to Flanders by mid-summer.

Mr. Bishop’s office is working to inform homeowners about programs available for raising their homes. The office has a full-time caseworker to help those affected by Sandy to access relief and benefits. Anyone in need of such assistance can call (631) 289-6500.

cmurray@timesreview.com

01/03/13 4:52pm
01/03/2013 4:52 PM

TIM KELLY PHOTO | A ferry on its way to New London passes near the Plum Island animal disease research lab.

Although Kansas officials paint a rosy picture on the progress of a planned billion-dollar animal disease research lab to replace Plum Island, Congressman Tim Bishop says that optimism is misplaced.

On Wednesday Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback joined members of that state’s congressional delegation in saying that the agreement by the City of Manhattan, Kansas, to transfer title to 46 acres to the Department of Homeland Security signals the federal government’s commitment to build the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facity (NBAF).

The governor’s statement is more about public relations than public policy, said Oliver Longwell, Congressman Bishop’s spokesman.

“It’s an effort to create a sense of inevitability about the construction in Kansas that does not exist,” Mr. Longwell said. “The future of that facility has yet to be determined.”

Mr. Bishop has long opposed closing the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and replacing it with the Kansas lab, calling the proposed NBAF a unnecessary pork barrel project.

In its own risk assessment, the Department of Homeland Security said there’s close to a 70 percent chance of an accidental release of the foot-and-mouth disease virus during the NBAF’s anticipated 50 years of operation at that the resulting economic impacts on a facility in the heart of cattle country could reach $50 billion. The National Research Council, an advisory group affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences, has said the federal government has underestimated the risk.

Mr. Longwell noted that Congress has not funded the $1.14 billion project beyond an initial allocation of $90 million. President Obama is expected to release his spending outline for the next federal fiscal year in February, Mr. Longwell said.