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.

06/21/12 6:00am
06/21/2012 6:00 AM

While it was a positive turn of events to see Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter issue a public apology to Councilwoman Jodi Giglio before this week’s Town Board meeting, it was also a reminder that our town supervisor can be his own worst enemy.

In this very space, it’s been written that if Mr. Walter truly believes he’s the man who can help revitalize Main Street, get the town’s finances in order and finally bring development to the Enterprise Park at Calverton, he’s got to keep his anger and arrogance in check. Enough with the shouting and the threatening of town officials. If he can’t control himself, voters will sense he’s unstable, and he will be bounced from office.

In this week’s cover story, Councilman George Gabrielsen called Mr. Walter’s behavior “unprofessional” and “over the top,” even calling for a reprimand if Mr. Walter didn’t apologize to his colleague. Councilman John Dunleavy said the supervisor’s behavior was “out of line.”

It doesn’t really matter whether Ms. Giglio was pushing to have Mr. Walter’s friend and political adviser Anthony Coates banned from Town Hall, which she denies. Nothing merits a verbal assault, especially in a professional setting like Riverhead Town Hall.

Mr. Walter is not the first, nor will he be the last, government executive who faces constant challenges, even from fellow party members and elected leaders. A board with members who disagree and keep one another in check is a healthy board. We as taxpayers shouldn’t want it any other way. He needs to learn how to handle it when he doesn’t get his way.

When Mr. Gabrielsen called on the supervisor to apologize to Ms. Giglio, it may have seemed as if Mr. Gabrielsen were piling on Mr. Walter. But really, Mr. Gabrielsen was helping the supervisor by acknowledging that, left unresolved, such a matter could come to a head again soon. And that would be bad for the town and for Mr. Walter. With the apology, we hope, the board can now move on in a professional matter.

Mr. Walter is doing a fine job as supervisor. But as a representative of this town, if he blows his top and embarrasses himself and his office again, it should be the people of Riverhead he apologizes to.

And who knows how understanding they’ll be.

04/05/12 6:00am
04/05/2012 6:00 AM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Virginia Lammers of South Jamesport (left) and Helga Guthy of Wading River at Tuesday's Town Board meeting.

Agree with them or not, Riverhead Town Board members are justified in approving two special use permits that will allow the controversial 42,000-square-foot Village at Jamesport project to move ahead as planned on Main Road.

The board was tasked with determining whether or not proposed special uses met a set of criteria under the town code. At the heart of the matter was whether such uses would offer a net benefit to the surrounding area and the town as a whole. And while opponents have argued that the project’s additional office, retail and restaurant space would hurt other businesses in a hamlet already beset by vacant storefronts, Town Board members thought otherwise. That’s their call — and there are reasonable arguments for it.

[Click here for coverage of the town board's permit approval]

For instance, are vacancies in the hamlet absolutely the result of a down economy, as opponents claim? Maybe, but there’s no way to prove it. Other factors could be at work. Many people driving through Jamesport’s hamlet center don’t realize there’s free parking at the community center on South Jamesport Avenue, despite a small sign saying so. It’s also hard to tell there’s some parking behind the small string of shops on the north side of Main Road. So what do many of these people do? Perhaps they head to the next, more developed hamlet with more parking and slower traffic — like Mattituck or Southold. It can be scary having to cross Main Road in Jamesport, especially with a child in tow.

As Councilman George Gabrielsen said this week, the Village at Jamesport, with its extra parking and people, could be a boon to area businesses by providing a clear, open place to park and allowing shoppers and employees to visit different types of businesses without having to cross a street. Medical and professional offices typically have more employees than most retail stores, which, without the special uses, are all that’s allowed at the site. A wider variety of businesses also means more people to shop locally, eat at a deli or pizzeria or visit a farm stand — and at varying hours. The board’s condition that the Village offer cross-access easement to the east was a good call to ensure a steady flow of shoppers between the new development and the existing hamlet center.

At 2,000 square feet each, and maxing out at 50 seats, the approval of so-called bistros raises a lot of questions — and there’s much to be skeptical and even worried about. But having two more restaurants won’t necessarily hurt other local eateries. What if Jamesport were to become a restaurant row-type destination? As Councilman James Wooten said at Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting, having restaurants on every corner seems to work fine in Huntington Village. That’s because that’s where many people in the surrounding areas go to eat. The restaurants are a destination in themselves.

The argument that Jamesport’s becoming such a destination would hurt Riverhead’s downtown revitalization efforts is also not watertight. Having two restaurant-rich hamlets in a large town with many residents, neighboring residents and visitors is certainly not a surefire recipe for failure.

So maybe a destination like the Village at Jamesport is the answer to the beleaguered hamlet’s woes and won’t necessarily make things worse. This is what Town Board members believe. Maybe they’re wrong. But they were charged with making a determination, a judgment call on special uses under the law, and they did. The alternative is that the developer builds only retail at the site — and under current zoning, he’s allowed to build just as big a building without restaurants and office spaces. Having a mix of businesses seems like a better bet.