09/12/13 8:00am
09/12/2013 8:00 AM
TIM GANNON PHOTO | Hundreds marched down Park Road in Reeves Park Monday night, joined by uniformed members of the Riverhead Fire Department, the Wading River Boy Scouts troop and other groups, to pay their respects to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Hundreds marched down Park Road in Reeves Park Monday night, joined by uniformed members of the Riverhead Fire Department, the Wading River Boy Scouts troop and other groups, to pay their respects to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Our country was changed forever on Sept. 11, 2001, and the fallout from the events of that terrible day has yielded nothing glorious except the inspiring deeds of individuals in service to others.

We’ve witnessed the courage, selflessness and nobility of the victims and their families; of the soldiers who later fought and died for their comrades and their country; and, perhaps above all, of the emergency responders of that day — and every day.

Perhaps one of the greater goods to come out of the terrorist attacks 12 years ago is the evolution of Sept. 11 as a sort of de facto holiday on which we remember and honor the work of police, firefighters and ambulance workers in communities throughout the U.S. During Sept. 11 every year, TV, newspapers and social media abound with tributes and thanks to these brave men and women. God knows they deserve it.

But for far too long, their sacrifices had gone largely overlooked, except in the cases of tragedy or uniquely heroic acts. Our emergency responders perform heroic acts each and every day. Waking up in the middle of the night to respond to a fire alarm or an accident is a heroic act. Sacrificing time with relatives — sometimes missing out on birthday parties or ballgames — is a heroic act. And the support and understanding of first responders’ spouses and children are acts of sacrifice and heroism as well.

Sept. 11 has become a day to remember these sacrifices and tip our hats to those who work to protect the rest of us from fire, accidents, violence and health hazards. For these reasons, The Suffolk Times supports the call for making Sept. 11 a national holiday.

As Veterans Day and Memorial Day honor all American members of the Armed Forces, past and present, Sept. 11, a day marred by great loss and tragedy, can and should be turned into something similarly grand: an official day to honor those who died on that day or in its aftermath, along with all those still fighting terrorism abroad and those continuing to serve as everyday heroes in their own communities.

09/05/13 8:00am
09/05/2013 8:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | (L-R) Anthony Coates, John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio at Monday's debate.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | (L-R) Anthony Coates, John Dunleavy and Jodi Giglio at the Aug. 26 debate.

Americans often complain of entrenched elected leaders, party machines and the overall political powers-that-be joining forces to give a Heisman Trophy-style stiff-arm to the electorate when it comes to who gets into public office — and who stays there.

Political primaries are one tool the public has to take a bit of that power back, because regular citizens — at least in New York, citizens registered with parties — get to choose who runs for office on a given party line.

Locally, party nominations up for grabs on primary day, Tuesday, Sept. 10, include the Democratic pick for Riverhead Town supervisor and Republican and Independence party nods for two open council seats.

While party leaders and incumbent candidates may hate primaries, it’s hard to argue against the positives they bring to the political process.

This year’s primary races have given voters a unique opportunity to get to know candidates they might not otherwise have heard much from — or about — until now.

And the dialogue during the races, including at the Aug. 26 primary debates, has pushed some real issues in Riverhead Town to the forefront. These include zoning and planning matters, and whether the town is headed in the right direction, in terms of development. Other questions concern the role of the Industrial Development Agency and whether it should exist at all. The idea of term limits is also something that seemed to be gaining traction based on some pretty hearty applause at the downtown debates.

As far as endorsements go, politically independent newspapers like the News-Review don’t typically endorse candidates in party primaries. The paper is in no position to say who would be the better Republican or better Democrat. That’s up to the club: registered party members.

But we do hope we’ve provided enough coverage and opportunity for readers to get to know these candidates, so that they can make an informed choice.

09/02/13 8:46am
09/02/2013 8:46 AM
One of the things the British get right is leaving the long weekends that begin and end summer without names weighed down with significance.

Over there they’re called “bank holidays,” a generic term simply meaning a long weekend with Monday off.

We insist on calling the summer kickoff Memorial Day, which has recovered some of its original meaning because many of us remember Americans for their service and sacrifice in the misguided wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By remembering them, our thoughts turn again to the veterans of World War II, Vietnam, Korea and the first Gulf War. So better Memorial Day than a “bank holiday.”

But Labor Day long ago lost its original meaning.

The first Monday in September was earmarked Labor Day as an election year appeasement by President Grover Cleveland. During the Great Depression of 1893, a strike by Pullman railroad car workers in Chicago went national and took 12,000 federal troops to break it. The leaders went to federal prison and the group spearheading the strike, the American Railway Union, was disbanded and most of the other industrial workers’ unions were done in.

But protests still boiled, and soon after the bloody end of the strike, Congress passed legislation and President Cleveland signed Labor Day into law to cool things off. It wasn’t looked at as just a paid holiday, but as a sort of victory, and, as one labor leader said, a day when workers’ “rights and wrongs would be discussed.”

It was an early example of something created out of a need for good PR that has since died along with the once-essential movement that produced it.

Unions went into hibernation after the Pullman strike, but roared back during the Great Depression II beginning in 1929. Organization and collective bargaining thrived for several generations, contributing to one of history’s triumphs: the rapid and extensive expansion of the American middle class. In the 1950s, 50 percent of American workers held union cards. Today, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 11.8 percent of workers are unionized.

With fast food and big box workers beginning to make noise about organizing for better pay, it’s important to remember that most of the employees aren’t kids but people trying to support families. The U.S. Labor Department found the median age of fast food employees is over 28 and those working in Lowe’s, Wal-Mart and other big boxes is over 30.

There’s no time, really, to reflect on summer’s passing because Labor Day is in many ways the opening gun for another race, to get the kids ready for school — and to face the shopping that requires.

It should be a time to remember what the day was named for, and to understand what it took to achieve the quality of life we all have.

Labor Day

08/30/13 7:00am
08/30/2013 7:00 AM

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | Friends set up a memorial on Route 58 for hit-and-run victim Kristina Tfelt a few days after her death.

It should go without saying that tough drunk driving laws have prevented countless deaths here and across the United States. But there are also the laws of unintended consequences.

Local and state law enforcement officers and prosecutors have come to notice a loophole in state penal law when it comes to prosecuting drivers in fatal hit-and-run accidents. It’s a hole that lets real criminals off on lighter sentences, creating another set of victims in the form of surviving family members left to cope not only with the loss of a loved one but also with the feeling that justice had never been served.

As things stand, there’s actually an incentive for drivers who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol to flee serious accidents rather than stay on scene and, say, call 911 for immediate help. That’s because standing by could lead to much harsher charges. Heading home — or hiding out — gives a driver time to sober up. And self-preservation can be a powerful emotion in an emergency.

The state Senate has supported legislation that would impose harsher penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal crash. These penalties can be just as harsh as the same vehicular manslaughter laws someone could face if he or she were found to have been driving drunk during such a crash. But the bill stalled in the state Assembly in the last legislative session.

It’s being said that Albany lawmakers are concerned that some people, who may or may not be drunk, could end up being punished too severely for panicking and fleeing the scene of an accident. And safeguards to prevent decent people from serving long prison sentences should be addressed in any changes to the law. But such concerns are no excuse to do nothing.

Certainly, lawmakers could agree that rewarding drunken people for fleeing crash scenes — even in non-serious accidents, which can be quite pricey for victims — is a problem that must be dealt with. While stiffer penalties may not deter such incidents, there are real issues of justice at hand.

08/22/13 8:00am
08/22/2013 8:00 AM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO  |  County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county's fiscal situation.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, center, listens to a 2012 presentation on the county’s fiscal situation.

Suffolk County’s plan to merge the elected comptroller and treasurer positions into one job with one staff is supposed to save more than $800,000 annually. Democratic County Executive Steve Bellone, now with the overwhelming support of the county Legislature, has been pushing the measure, saying it would eliminate duplicative jobs.

The consolidation proposal goes to voters countywide through a referendum on Election Day, when it will likely pass. (Who wouldn’t vote to trim county jobs?)

But current county Treasurer Angie Carpenter, who is running for re-election in November to a position that’s likely to be eliminated, has screamed foul. She calls this a cynical, purely political move meant only to allow Republican Comptroller Joseph Sawicki, expected to be appointed as interim chief financial officer, to sidestep his expiring term limits and be able to run for that new position in 2014. Ms. Carpenter, a Republican, has also argued that consolidating the positions would rob the county of necessary checks and balances when it comes to fiscal matters — although, last we looked, those checks and balances haven’t worked so well in recent years in Suffolk County, which faces massive budget deficits.

It’s entirely possible that revenge politics are involved, as Ms. Carpenter — Mr. Bellone’s Republican rival in the 2011 race for county executive — has alleged. But pundits could also speculate that Mr. Bellone is trying to prevent Mr. Sawicki — county government’s one elected Republican outside the Legislature — from challenging his re-election bid. Either way, so what? No matter the motivation, a good idea is a good idea. Keep in mind that Suffolk is the only county in the state that still has two fiscal positions; this consolidation should have been done years ago. If the politics are finally right for such a move, the opportunity should be taken.

08/15/13 8:00am

TIM GANNON PHOTO |  The site of the future Costco in Riverhead earlier this summer where developers cleared the land up to neighbor’s property lines.

Sure, people like stores. But here’s why residents are so skeptical of companies and developers.

Take The Shops at Riverhead on Route 58, a shopping center that will have a Costco Wholesale as its anchor tenant. The developers have been back and forth with the town, asking for more and more concessions. First they asked the Town Board to change its zoning to allow a gas station — or else, they threatened, Costco wouldn’t be coming. The board allowed it. Now the developers are before the ZBA to try to get a variance to make the fuel pump area brighter, circumventing dark skies laws. They’re also asking the ZBA to allow light poles that are taller than permitted, so they can build fewer of them. As part of a proposed “deal” for fewer light posts, the developers are offering to expand a planned buffer between the shopping center and its next-door neighbors — this after getting the OK to clear-cut the entire site for no good reason.

The town should reject these requests, no matter what “promises” the developers make in return. They simply can’t be trusted. These proposals are all about saving money, never about being good neighbors or trying to do the right thing by people.

Then we have Allied Building Products of New Jersey, which recently received Industrial Development Agency tax breaks to come to Calverton, never mind that the company’s representative spun a shaky story about being wooed by an industrial park in the works in Westhampton.

The Allied Building Supply rep, David Doran, told the IDA at its July 8 meeting that “there would be a possible 15-year double tax abatement” available to them at the Hamptons Business District. What he didn’t tell the IDA was that they hadn’t even applied for those tax breaks, which are available through the Suffolk County IDA, which later told the News-Review it was not working with Allied. Mr. Doran also told the IDA that the Westhampton site Allied was considering was represented by Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, a Melville real estate firm. But a representative of that firm told the paper July 17 that Allied had considered the Westhampton site, but “backed out” a year ago to pursue the Calverton site.

Residents must urge their elected leaders to stand up to such businesspeople, not open their arms, and taxpayers’ wallets, for them.

08/08/13 6:00am
08/08/2013 6:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO  |  Lorenza Leal, 28, and her son, Juan Basurto, 7, at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead last month where she volunteers. Ms. Leal is from Guerrero, Mexico, and speaks an ancient language called Mixteco.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Lorenza Leal, 28, and her son, Juan Basurto, 7, at the North Fork Spanish Apostolate in Riverhead last month where she volunteers. Ms. Leal is from Guerrero, Mexico, and speaks an ancient language called Mixteco.

Hispanic immigrants are often spoken of in broad, general terms and assigned dehumanizing labels.

They’re dismissed as Mexicans, South Americans or “illegals,” among other things, even though it’s well known that immigrants living in Riverhead and elsewhere in the U.S. come from a wide range of South and Central American countries. Many are living here illegally. But many are not.

This week’s story on the Mixteco-speaking people who call the Riverhead area home serves as a real-life example of the stark cultural and ethnic differences that exist in just one country, Mexico, where native people have been living for thousands of years and still live today, using ancient languages for which alphabets have only recently been created.

The struggle and perseverance of the Mixtec people, who also face discrimination in their own country, should be admired. As Lorenza Leal tells the News-Review, she believes it’s important that her American-born children — all U.S. citizens — learn the value of hard work and not take for granted the comforts of life in this country, especially given her own struggles and those of her ancestors.

In other words, strive for success but always remember where you came from.

Sound familiar?

Family-oriented citizens who value individual responsibility and believe in the American Dream should welcome immigrants like Ms. Leal. Yet every day, human beings simply struggling to survive are being scapegoated. They’re vilified and harassed — or worse — all actions that divert attention from the real problem: the lack of a fair and functional immigration system in the United States.

If politicians in Washington could put their ideologies aside, people willing to move here to work could do so while living comfortable lives and contributing to our local economies.

Reform could also make it harder for criminals to find their way here.

Congress should get to work on the immigration issue soon after its return to Capitol Hill in September. Reaching a reasonable solution would be a win-win for the economy and humanity.

07/04/13 8:00am
07/04/2013 8:00 AM

GRANT PARPAN PHOTO | The American flag that hangs in the Times/Review office in Mattituck.

As the country celebrates Independence Day, we should recall those important phrases near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men” — and that should read “people” — “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We try to, and do, live up to those lofty sentiments, but not always. The belief in those self-evident truths makes this country great, but we’re not perfect and neither is our nation. Ever since a small group of brave men put their names, and in no small measure their lives, on the line in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July, 1776, we have endorsed by action or silence many legal roadblocks raised to deny or repress the fundamental rights of huge swaths of Americans — women, African-Americans, the developmentally disabled, gays and lesbians.

So it’s quite fitting that the landmark Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act — the law barring the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states — comes so close to the July Fourth holiday.

The court’s decision marks another chapter in the USA’s 337-year quest toward fulfilling the bold statement that all of us are created, and continue to be, equal.

None of this country’s greatest achievements have come easily.

The Founding Fathers were just the first of many brave men and women who’ve taken a stand against such oppression. They were followed by abolitionists like Sojourner Truth, who was born into slavery in New York and later gave hope to so many as a preacher. Newspaper editor William Lloyd Garrison came under constant attack for his published opinions against slavery. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for women’s rights long before the term “feminism” arose.

Two notable names in the gay rights movement include Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold public office in the U.S., who was later assassinated; and Larry Kramer, founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, now the largest private group in the world helping people living with AIDS.

The fight for equal rights and opportunity continues in all these movements, here and elsewhere.

In this region there are groups such as the Long Island GLBT Services network, a nonprofit umbrella association of five nonprofits that work to end homophobia on Long Island. The association, which includes the East End Gay Organization, not only advocates for civil rights and equality, but strives to provide “a home and safe space for the GLBT community.”

The Long Island GLBT Services is making major progress on the East End as it prepares this month to open the region’s first center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender East Enders — with a focus on youth — in Sag Harbor.

Civil rights and federal benefits are important, but confidence, personal security and societal acceptance are key if the promise to uphold the right to pursue happiness for all Americans is to be fulfilled. For the most part, this all starts with us, far away from D.C., in our schools, parks and businesses, where all people should be not just tolerated, but accepted and embraced.