01/24/13 7:59am
01/24/2013 7:59 AM

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In less than two short decades, the North Fork has seen Grumman Corporation’s fighter jet assembly and testing facility in Calverton shut down; North Fork Bank’s acquisition by Capital One Bank, which later closed its Mattituck headquarters; Mattituck Aviation — globally famous for its airplane engine overhauls — purchased by a Chinese company and relocated; and an announcement that the Plum Island Animal Disease Center would be shuttered in favor of a new facility in Kansas.

In 2008, in the face of cost-cutting measures included in a proposed congressional budget, it also appeared the area would lose an additional 1,000 nearby jobs at Brookhaven National Lab — at least until Congressman Tim Bishop stepped in and fought to keep those jobs here. Meanwhile, economic development at the former Grumman site, now called the Enterprise Park at Calverton, has been largely stagnant.

It’s clear that the greatest threat to our region, its real estate market and the families who live here is the continued loss of well-paid jobs. That’s why the North Fork needs a facility like the NextGen Integrated Air Traffic Control Facility, a campus comprising 250,000 square feet of buildings that would generate some 800 highly technical and well-paid permanent local jobs, as well as hundreds of construction jobs over a 10-year building period. Riverhead Town officials agreed last week to submit an application to bring the project to town land at EPCAL.

Frankly, the people of the North Fork and adjacent areas need the facility more than those in Islip Town, Nassau County and even Selden, where residents are more easily able to commute to New York City and other points west, where more vibrant industrial economies exist and quality jobs are more readily available. While it’s understandable that Mr. Bishop doesn’t want to choose sides among constituents in his vast district, he should recognize this great threat to the region and push for sites on, or closer to, the East End. While the FAA coming to town-owned land at EPCAL would be best for Riverhead taxpayers in particular, any land in the area will do — even property near Westhampton’s Gabreski Airport or privately held land at the EPCAL site.

It is regrettable, as Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy pointed out last week, that the town has arrived late to the party in making a pitch for this facility. Now, we can only hope the delay doesn’t hurt the town’s chances of getting it.

The News-Review has supported Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter’s efforts to create an economic generator at EPCAL by subdividing the property and selling off the land to individual companies. But this FAA facility is a potential game changer, just as other projects might be as they are proposed for the site. Mr. Walter will need to adjust his vision for EPCAL accordingly. Yes, as Mr. Walter has said, thinking about Long Island as a whole has its benefits — but it’s a big island, and things that benefit Westbury or Lindenhurst or Islip Town can actually worsen our precarious situation on the East End. And that, it could be argued, could do even greater damage to the island as a whole.

12/07/12 10:00am
12/07/2012 10:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Riverhead police speaking to a Hispanic bicyclist on West Main Street in downtown Riverhead in 2009.

Lost in much of the recent discussion about how to bridge the divide between the Riverhead Police Department and the town’s Hispanic community is the actual goal. Readers have bemoaned a society that bends over backward to help undocumented immigrants. But let’s be clear: That’s not what police experts and officials are advocating.

The goal is not to cater to minorities but to be a more effective police force. Investigations in Hispanic neighborhoods, experts say, could be greatly aided by officers who can communicate with the people who live and work there.

Imagine a scenario in which a Hispanic woman wishes to report a crime but can’t explain the situation quickly or clearly enough to a responding officer. This scenario is not purely hypothetical. In the town police department today you can see Hispanics struggle to communicate with police, and vice versa. You can also see officers frustrated by a language barrier that prevents them from doing the best job they can and want to do.

Experts and officials say the town would be better served, and safer, if such lines of communication could be opened. Residents could communicate effectively with officers to alert them to dangerous people in the community or tip them off to potential crimes before they happen. And officers would have the added opportunity to develop sources within those communities that could prove invaluable in catching criminals.

READ THE DEC. 6 NEWS-REVIEW COVER STORY

Current popular police theory holds that departments should reflect their community. Nowhere is this better seen than in the New York Police Department, which includes hundreds of minority officers — more than half the force now — who are able to connect and forge relationships with minority neighborhoods.

According to 2010 census data, nearly 14 percent of Riverhead town is Hispanic, a major jump of more than 77 percent from 10 years earlier. And that data does not include those who didn’t volunteer information for the census. There is no way of knowing how many of those Hispanic residents speak only Spanish, but the Hispanic population is growing and slowly integrating.

Our immigrant population boom is just beginning, and that integration won’t happen overnight. But Riverhead’s public schools already include a higher percentage of minorities than is found in the general population, signifying that population shift. There are dozens of English as a Second Language classes in our public schools, libraries and churches, with hundreds of students.

Yet some people seem convinced that, unlike immigrants past, from Germans and Irish to Italians and Poles, this generation of immigrants refuses to assimilate and will not learn English. The critics fail to see that real integration takes time and that, until it does happen, it’s dangerous to ignore a growing population.

Having people who are able to connect with the Hispanic population, experts say, opens up a wealth of knowledge for police officers to pull from. It’s these bonds between diverse areas and police officers that make the whole community safer, not just minority neighborhoods.

No one — not experts or town officials or police administrators — is suggesting the town hire less competent officers. The latest police recruits hired Tuesday are, by all accounts, upstanding and exemplary.

But just as some value a university cop’s experience on the job, others value language skills.

That’s one reason the Suffolk County Police and police departments across the country are now seeking more Spanish-speaking officers. Fluency in a language spoken by an underserved population is a valuable skill, just like a war hero’s skills acquired in battle, and not in any way a crutch.

SPECIAL REPORT, FEB 10: In diverse area, Riverhead police force remains overwhelmingly white

08/23/12 6:00am
08/23/2012 6:00 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Ed Romaine goes about his lawmaking business at a recent Suffolk County Legislature meeting in Riverhead.

A quick glance at the Suffolk County legislative district map reveals that only one representative’s territory stretches all the way from the North to the South shore.

It’s a very narrow line, but at that one point, from Wading River to Center Moriches, one legislator represents residents from Long Island Sound to Moriches Bay.

That legislator is our very own representative, Ed Romaine, who lives in Center Moriches.

So for the past six-plus years, the North Fork has been represented in the county Legislature by a South Shore resident from Brookhaven Town.

This hasn’t been an issue … so far. Mr. Romaine has worked tirelessly since his 2006 swearing-in and has been an effective legislator for his entire district. He’s made land preservation and public transportation — important topics on the North Fork — two of his signature issues.

Mr. Romaine has done us good, and this newspaper has supported him with an endorsement in each of his four campaigns.

Now Mr. Romaine is considering a run for the soon-to-be vacant Brookhaven Town supervisor seat. If he receives his party’s nomination, he’ll have a good shot at beating likely Democratic nominee Brian Beedenbender.

What we fear is that the North Fork could soon be represented by someone with no real connection to this area; someone who wouldn’t work quite as hard as Mr. Romaine has to make sure we’re represented effectively in Suffolk County.

Even more troubling is the fact that the new county redistricting plans, which don’t go into effect until 2014, have already been finalized, so any hope that the district could be redrawn to better serve the North Fork is lost.

The current district lines have never made any sense, apart from the fact that they were drawn in a way that enabled Mr. Romaine to represent the East End all these years.

It seems more logical that Center Moriches share a district with Moriches and East Moriches than with Greenport. It also would appear to make more sense for Wading River and Shoreham to share a district than the current arrangement, which aligns Wading River with the likes of Peconic and matches Shoreham with Coram. While that latter scenario certainly rhymes, it is without reason since Wading River and Shoreham currently share a school district.

These district boundaries didn’t bother us so much last election, when they enabled Mr. Romaine to continue representing us in the Legislature, but the possibility of a change on the horizon highlights just how oddly the county jigsaw pieces fit.

Should Mr. Romaine move on to Brookhaven Town government, we hope whoever replaces him pays as much attention to the needs of residents on the North Fork as he or she does to those in Brookhaven.

Council district gerrymandering doesn’t hurt so much when you’re represented well, but our communities could be facing years of being overlooked and underserved if our next legislator’s focus leans toward another spot on the map.

08/16/12 6:00am
08/16/2012 6:00 AM

SUFFOLK TIMES ARCHIVES | Revelers sing and dance at the first-ever Polish Town Fair in 1975.

“There was dancing in the streets, in the rain and in the puddles.”

That was the lead sentence in our August 1975 story on the very first Polish Town Fair. It was estimated that “thousands” flocked to Pulaski Street that rainy day, downing plate after plate of kielbasa, pierogies and golabki. Many purchased T-shirts that read “Poland” and “Polish Power.”

“Even the Italians and the Englishmen were swaying about and tapping their feet to the polka music which came vibrating through loudspeakers,” we wrote.

The fair, which has for 38 years held its claim as one of the most fun-filled events of summer in Riverhead, returns again this weekend. Tens of thousands more people will come out to celebrate.

So how did the Polish Town Fair come about?

The fair was born in 1975 as a way for the Polish Town Civic Association to raise funds, according to the organization’s website. Some folks suggested a parade. Others called for a polka ball. One idea shone brighter than the rest: “We’ll have a street fair,” the website quotes one unidentified member as suggesting. “Like the ones they have in Poland. It will be a true Polish event.”

That year’s one-day festival, held on Aug. 16, was directed by Al Barbanel, who served as chairman of the fair committee. The date was chosen to coincide with the feast day of the Assumption of Mary — a holiday celebrated by Catholics in Poland and other countries to honor the day the Virgin Mary ascended into Heaven following her death.

Only 50 booths were set up for the inaugural Polish Town Fair. We estimated in our coverage that had organizers set up seven more booths serving Polish pastries that year, those would have sold out, too.

But fair organizers weren’t caught by surprise in 1975.

Former Riverhead tax receiver Irene Pendzick, who helped organize the first event, warned the Town Board a few weeks before the fair that it was growing into something bigger than they’d imagined.

“At first we didn’t plan a major event,” she told the board. “But it’s turning out to look like quite a fair.”

It was. It still is.

Our very first Polish Town Fair story ended with a hopeful wish from the author. It’s something many local folks have repeated in the years since.

“Here’s hoping for a sunny Polish Festival next year,” she wrote. “And more great eats.”

08/09/12 4:00am
08/09/2012 4:00 AM

Some things make too much sense not to be pursued.

Manorville resident Clare Bennett’s request this week to have Manorville ambulances instead of Riverhead ambulances respond to calls on her Oakwood Drive block and the immediate neighborhood is one of them.

Such a change would affect about 60 families that live at the edge of town and find themselves in the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance district, even though they’re much closer to Manorville Community Ambulance headquarters. And we’re talking light-years closer, considering what’s at stake.

The Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance headquarters on Osborn Avenue is 10.2 miles from Oakwood Drive, while the Manorville ambulance headquarters on South Street is 3.75 miles from Oakwood. It’s actually surprising it’s taken this long for folks in these communities to speak out.

Ms. Bennett begged Riverhead Town Board members for help Tuesday, saying that she had to wait quite a while (40 minutes, a number Riverhead ambulance officials found hard to fathom) for an ambulance to arrive at her home for three separate medical emergencies in recent years. Each time she had to wait, even while knowing a row of shiny Manorville Community Ambulance vehicles stood ready just a few minutes away.

The situation is unacceptable. But because Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance is funded by a tax base that’s entirely in Riverhead Town and Manorville Community Ambulance is funded by a tax base that’s entirely in Brookhaven Town, Supervisor Sean Walter explained to Ms. Bennett on Tuesday, the only way Manorville ambulances could be allowed to respond to a Riverhead Town address would be for Riverhead to contract with Manorville for ambulance services.

But he also said the board would do what it could to make that happen and that he personally would contact Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko to get the ball rolling.

So often, requests like these — residents’ imploring local officials to try to fix blatant problems with school, fire or other taxing districts — are dismissed as being impossible to achieve. So Mr. Walter’s response was encouraging.

Ms. Bennett also made it clear her request has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the work of Riverhead volunteers. Riverhead ambulance officials should not take the Manorville resident’s request as a slight and, in response, try to jealously protect their “territory,” which is known to happen from time to time among proud emergency responders.

Should town officials in Riverhead and Brookhaven not act, Ms. Bennett vowed to circulate a petition among her neighbors, whom she said support her. This is a serious situation with a logical solution. It should not have to come to residents needing to petition en masse.

08/02/12 6:00am
08/02/2012 6:00 AM

In an email to supporters Tuesday, congressional hopeful Randy Altschuler said new polling numbers show he has a four-point lead over Congressman Tim Bishop.

When asked for a response, the Bishop camp produced a recent poll that shows Mr. Bishop leading by 24 points. They also dismissed Mr. Altschuler’s poll as having been conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, a company that a New York Times blog labeled “biased and inaccurate.”

[Click here for the news story]

Mr. Altschuler’s camp then fired back, charging that the poll Mr. Bishop’s people touted had been performed by a political action committee that functions like “an arm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

The moral of this story: Don’t believe polling data.

One particularly telling part of Tuesday’s exchange was a claim by Mr. Bishop’s people that the Altschuler campaign has paid more than $50,000 in the past year, including nearly $17,000 in April, to McLaughlin & Associates, an international polling and research firm. “That’s a real polling company,” said Bobby Pierce, communications director for Bishop for Congress.

According to Mr. Pierce, the Altschuler campaign has to date released no polling data from McLaughlin & Associates.

One could conclude that after McLaughlin produced results that Mr. Altschuler’s people didn’t want to share, they hired Pulse to tell a different tale.

While we understand the value of being able to tell people that your guy’s ahead in hopes that undecided voters will gravitate toward the “winning” side, it seems incredibly wasteful to spend campaign funds for information that provides no real insight into how you’re actually doing. That’s like a business hiring a focus group stacked only with people they already know like their product. Sure, the group’s report will boost your ego, but will the information help you grow?

Here’s a piece of advice for the two campaigns: Stop wasting money on bogus polls. Spend that money instead on telling people how you really feel.

This is a key election and it comes at a critical time for our nation. Our economy has not recovered. The housing market remains sluggish. Unemployment is still high. Foreign tensions continue to escalate.

What’s Tim Bishop doing about this? What would Randy Altschuler do differently?

We’re happy to hear you’re both popular. Now tell us what we need to know.

07/26/12 6:00am
07/26/2012 6:00 AM

Asked why he failed to support marriage equality when the bill failed in the state Senate three years ago, North Fork Senator Ken LaValle told a Times/Review reporter that his decision was a reflection of what his constituents wanted.

“What I have heard from a lot of people is that we are just not ready for it,” the Republican from Port Jefferson said. “It could happen someday in the future, but just not right now.”

The future began a year ago this week, as gay and lesbian couples were finally allowed to marry in New York State. Citing reasons similar to those he gave in 2009, Mr. LaValle voted against last year’s bill, too. Local Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) also voted no on marriage equality.

Now a full year has passed and we ask Mr. LaValle, Mr. Losquadro and anyone else opposed to gay marriage just how their lives have been negatively affected by the 49 same-sex couples who have applied for marriage licenses on the North Fork in these past 12 months.

We suspect their lives haven’t changed much at all.

Here’s what has changed:

At least 98 of their neighbors (many more could have applied for licenses elsewhere) have been able to exercise a right so many of us take for granted. These same-sex couples have finally been given the same basic rights the state affords any of us.

They’ve been able to share in the joys and benefits of marriage. The pains, too.

Equality. Finally.

But there’s still work to be done.

One year later, 30 states still ban all forms of marriage not involving one man and one woman, and just five other states have comprehensive laws providing marriage equality like New York’s.

The Defense of Marriage Act still stands in the way of marriage equality for all Americans, despite many current active attempts to repeal the federal law.

Marriage equality in New York is a bright, shining example of how government can enact change for the good of its people. We hope the rest of America is watching. We hope they’re ready for it.

07/19/12 6:00am
07/19/2012 6:00 AM

After 15 years of searching for land and enough cash to build a YMCA recreational facility in Riverhead Town, it appears the Peconic YMCA has found a permanent home in Calverton.

The local nonprofit is partnering with the town, which will convey town land at the Enterprise Park at Calverton for the group to build the facility — should the measure be approved by the Town Board next month.

This is all happening with the backing and direct involvement of the larger YMCA of Long Island organization.

Peconic YMCA volunteers, Long Island YMCA and the donors who have pledged over $6 million toward this project should be applauded, not only for their steadfast drive to build such a place for Riverhead families to enjoy but also for their sensitivity to the needs and concerns of various communities that didn’t want such a facility in their backyards.

In recent years, when neighborhoods and civics rose up against Y proposals — such as at Tuthills Lane in Aquebogue or across from Vineyard Caterers on Main Road — the YMCA backed off, eventually. The Y did so in both instances on its own accord; no one forced the Y to start looking elsewhere. This is a clear sign that, all along, YMCA officials meant what they were saying: that they wanted to be a partner in the community, not an adversary. Somewhat lost in these battles was the fact that a YMCA built in the right location is good for any town and community. It offers health and wellness opportunities for seniors with its pool, and offers young families through child care and summer camp services. It gives young people a safe place to work, meet and socialize.

And that’s what will be coming to Calverton. This is a big win for the town, and well worth the land it’s giving up.

The Riverhead Town Board recognizes this as well. Since all the board members are in agreement, Supervisor Sean Walter said this week that he’d like to approve the measure at the Town Board’s first meeting in August. Here’s hoping that this time, nothing gets in the way.