05/13/14 5:00pm


When I was a boy camping with my family at Wildwood State Park in Wading River, deer ticks were unknown. As a Boy Scout involved in intensive hiking and camping all over this region, neither I nor anyone I knew was ever bitten by a deer tick.

But now Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a huge problem for all of us. Suffolk County was a hotspot for Lyme when it first emerged in the 1970s and it still is, but it’s now just one of many hotspots across the U.S., indeed the world.

We’ve been struck by an epidemic. (more…)

11/15/13 10:30am

The results of Election 2013 in Suffolk County had many meanings.

The defeat of East Hampton Councilman Dominick Stanzione, charged repeatedly by the Quiet Skies Coalition with being the “puppet” of aviation interests at East Hampton Airport, illustrates the fate of politicians who link themselves with obnoxious activities. The East Hampton Airport has become the biggest noisemaker on the East End. The helicopter traffic between the field and Manhattan has been especially onerous. The choppers have been flying loud and low over Shelter Island and the rest of the East End.

The Wainscott-based Quiet Skies Coalition described the election as a “referendum” on the airport, and voters did defeat what it described as the “airport special interests and their puppet Stanzione.” Still, despite the defeat of Republican Stanzione, who has been the board’s “liaison” with the airport, the aviation interests also have clout within the East Hampton Democratic Party. Democrats, who will now have a Town Board majority, should realize that they, too, will be on the receiving end of voter wrath if Democratic officials side with the “airport special interests.”

In Brookhaven Town, the resounding victory of Ed Romaine for town supervisor, bringing other Republican candidates along with him, was a testament to one of the finest public officials I’ve covered.

Mr. Romaine achieved victory after victory in his runs for the Suffolk Legislature in a district that has included Shelter Island and much of the East End. His overwhelming win last week in Brookhaven, Suffolk’s biggest town, larger than Nassau County, reaffirmed his position as a top Long Island official.

Then there was the landslide defeat of Chris Nuzzi for the Suffolk Legislature seat held by Jay Schneiderman. In the campaign’s last days, Republican Nuzzi sent out a mailer titled “Independence Matters,” featuring a photo of him and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor with a Thiele statement praising Mr. Nuzzi.

It seemed odd, considering that Mr. Thiele is the Independence Party chairman of Southampton Town, which is part of the district, and Mr. Schneiderman ran on the Independence Party ticket. Both Messrs. Thiele and Schneiderman earlier switched from the GOP to join the Independence Party. Mr. Schneiderman is the only Independence Party member on the Suffolk Legislature and Mr. Thiele the only Independence Party member in the State Legislature.

Was Mr. Thiele really endorsing GOPer Nuzzi and not fellow Independence Party member Schneiderman? Mr. Thiele had to take to the phone in a “robocall” to voters after the Nuzzi mailer was out to make clear he was, in fact, strongly supporting Mr. Schneiderman, not Mr. Nuzzi. He emphasized that Mr. Schneiderman “has been an effective” legislator, praised various things Mr. Schneiderman has done and concluded that “together we can protect the East End.”

But it was not just the mailer that Mr. Schneiderman described as an “intentionally false representation” by Mr. Nuzzi. On Mr. Nuzzi’s “Elect Chris Nuzzi Suffolk County Legislator” website was a page labeled “Endorsements.” Under a line reading “Councilman Nuzzi is proud to be officially endorsed” by “the following” was a photo of Mr. Nuzzi, again with Assemblyman Thiele and also State Senator Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson. Said Mr. Schneiderman: “Ken LaValle is supporting no one in this race.”

As to others who “officially endorsed” Mr. Nuzzi, the page presented letters from the Southampton Town Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and Suffolk County Police Conference. But a click on the letters and a download of them showed both dated 2009 — when Mr. Nuzzi ran for councilman.

There has been talk of Mr. Nuzzi running for Suffolk Legislature in 2015 if he lost to Mr. Schneiderman this year. In 2015 Mr. Schneiderman, after six two-year terms, would be prevented by county legislative term-limits from running again. Mr. Nuzzi’s slogan in this campaign was “Independence, Experience, Integrity.”

Considering the issue of his purported endorsements, will Mr. Nuzzi use the last word in a second run in 2015?

05/21/13 7:58am


President Barack Obama got it right and wrong last week when he stated, “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.”

He was right in declaring it was “outrageous” for the IRS to target conservative organizations for tough tax treatment. But he was incorrect in saying “it is contrary to our traditions.” The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has for decades gone after organizations and individuals that take stands in conflict with the federal government at the time. This has been a tradition — an outrageous tradition. I know first hand, since I was a target of the IRS for something I wrote.

My story later, but first, for those looking for a history of the misuse of the IRS by politicians, look no further than longtime New York Times investigative reporter David Burnham’s 1991 book, “A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power.” Burnham relates how President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely “set the stage for the use of the tax agency for political purposes by most subsequent presidents.” Mr. Burnham writes about how a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, banker Andrew Mellon, was a special IRS target under FDR. During the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, he recounts, the focus of the IRS’s efforts “at political control” were civil rights organizations and those against the U.S. engaging in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s “enemies list” and his scheme to use the IRS against those on it is what the current IRS scandal is being most compared to.

History Professor John A. Andrew III in his 2002 book, “Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon,” focuses further on this tradition. He tells how John F. Kennedy administration’s “Ideological Organizations Project” investigated, intimidated and challenged the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups including the John Birch Society. Then, with a turn of the White House to the right with Nixon came investigations, he writes, of such entities as the Jerry Rubin Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Corporate Responsibility.

During the Reagan administration, I had my own experience with the IRS, ostensibly because of a book I wrote. “Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam?” involved reporting from what was then a war zone in Nicaragua and in Florida, where I interviewed leaders of the contras who were working with the CIA to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government I also reported from Honduras, being set up as a tarmac for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. The book warned against a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua. It was published in 1985 and soon after I was hit with the IRS coming to my house for a “field audit.”

The investigator sat on one side of our dining room table and on the other side was me and my accountant, Peter Berger of Shelter Island. What would be an all-day event started with the investigator asking me to detail how much my family spent on food each week and then, slowly, methodically, going through other expenses. Then he went through income. He obviously was seeking to determine on this fishing expedition whether income exceeded expenses. He went through receipts for business expenses including restaurant receipts, asking who I ate with. He sorted through receipts for office supplies. By mid-afternoon, he had gotten nowhere. At that point, having been hours together, a somewhat weird relationship had been formed. And he began to tell me how his dream in college was to become a journalist. He expanded on that, and then asked: “Have you ever faced retaliation?”

“What do you think this is?” I responded.

He was taken back — insisting my name had come up “at random.”

In the end, all he did was trim some of what was listed as business use of my home phone. Was I being retaliated against for the book I had written? One would never know. Recently, I ran into accountant Berger, now retired, and he commented about how that day at my house was the strangest IRS audit he had ever been involved in.

The IRS has been beyond reform. Mr. Burnham writes in his aptly titled, “A Law Unto Itself,” that a “political imperative of not messing with the IRS” has become “close to being a law of nature almost as unbending as the force of gravity.” It is “rarely examined by Congress.”

President Obama announced later in the week that the acting commissioner of the IRS was asked and agreed to tender his resignation as a result of the scandal. That’s a small start.

Far more important is somehow ending the tradition of IRS political tyranny.

04/17/13 5:00pm


The exhibit now at the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead is a chilling and disturbing presentation on racism toward African-Americans.  “Hidden and Forbidden: Art and Objects of Intolerance, Evolving Depictions of Blacks in America,” begins with a section on “Slavery” and ends with “Black Movements in America.”

The story of racism is not just history — in the U.S. or on Long Island.

ERASE Racism has in recent years been a leading group documenting and challenging racism here. The mission of Long Island’s chapter is “to expose forms of racial discrimination and advocate for laws and policies that help eliminate racial disparities, particularly in the areas of housing, community development, public education and health.”  Currently on its website — eraseracismny.org — is a map depicting in colors how the racial and ethnic make-up of most Long Island communities differ sharply.

Most are overwhelmingly white. And then there are the areas where African-Americans and Latinos are concentrated. In Suffolk County these include North Amityville, Wyandanch, Brentwood, Central Islip, Gordon Heights and Riverhead.

A caption for the chart reads: “Despite a 35 percent increase of people of color on Long Island from 2000 to 2010, levels of segregation remain extremely high, according to ERASE Racism’s new demographic analysis.” That analysis concludes: “Long Island is one of the most racially segregated regions in the country.”

ERASE Racism says that on Long Island “even the most affluent black and Hispanic homeowners are segregated into majority black and Hispanic communities with high concentrations of poverty.” It finds that a key is “steering” by real estate agents — agents who “would not show, sell, or rent” minorities “homes in mostly white areas” even when “they could, in fact, have afforded those homes.” This steering is illegal.

There are some who say with Barack Obama the president of the United States, we live in a “post-racial time.” That, unfortunately, isn’t true.
The exhibition at the Historical Society’s section on slavery includes ledger books listing the sale of slaves. “American economic foundations were built on free labor of enslaved Africans,” notes the program for the exhibit. Next is a section on “Jim Crow,” about restrictions designed to “instill the inferiority” of blacks to whites and establish “segregated and separate facilities” for blacks that “were often neglected, deplorable and inferior.”

Then there is a section titled “Characterizations.” The program speaks of the portrayal of blacks in “popular culture” as “cannibalistic savages, hypersexual deviants, childlike buffoons, obedient servants, self-loathing victims, and menaces to society.” Hideous artifacts are displayed.

“Homegrown Terrorists: the Ku Klux Klan” is a section on the hate group that includes a KKK robe and a newspaper article about a KKK leader speaking in Quogue.

“Exploits” is a section on black “caricatures” being used in the names of products and advertising of them —“Uncle Tom, the Picaninny, Mammy Coon, Tragic Mulatto.”

Then there’s “Black Movements in America” and how, “as a result of public discourse, civil disobedience” and, notably, the civil rights movement, change came through “laws, policies and practices.”

The exhibit was curated by Georgette Grier-Key, director and chief curator of the Eastville Community Historical Society in Sag Harbor, Hofstra University’s Oral History Programming Director David Byer-Tyre, and Kathryn Curran, executive director of the Suffolk Historical Society.

It will be running through June 1. Dr. Grier-Key says the exhibit offers “a conceptual framework of images and objects that are often hidden because of fear and perceived perception” and that it is through “historical retrospect that this part of American history is viewed, shared, taught, learned and spoken.”

There is a quote featured on the cover of the program by Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

04/12/13 10:20am


What’s new in the system of arbitration that sets police salaries is more money is now involved.

“The people of Suffolk County can’t afford this,” declared Suffolk County Legislator Joseph Rizzo in 1996 after arbitration — provided under New York State’s Taylor Law — raised the base salary of senior patrol officers in the Suffolk County Police Department from $59,540 to $70,658.

Today, says former Suffolk Legislator Bill Jones — a leader on Long Island these days  challenging the arbitration process setting police pay — the average base salary of patrol officers not only in the county department but on town and village forces is $100,000. Then, he notes, there is 50 percent in “added benefits.”

The system is “going to bankrupt us if they continue at this pace,” complained Mr. Rizzo 17 years ago.  The police unions, he said then, sought pay increases regardless of a municipality’s ability to pay. They strategized that they need not settle through negotiations knowing “we’ll get it from the arbitrator.”

Mr. Jones, at a forum on the arbitration process for police pay that he organized last month in Sag Harbor, called the system “unfair,” accused the police unions of being “arrogant” and said that nothing less than “tyranny” is involved. There’s a “giveaway mentality” among the state arbitrators, he said, with several taking the position that because municipalities “have a limitless ability to tax they have a limitless ability to pay.” Meanwhile, with police salaries having skyrocketed, “only crumbs are left” for other governmental services.

In Suffolk, in between Mr. Rizzo’s attack on the system in the ‘90s and Mr. Jones’ challenge now, was Steve Levy, county executive from 2004 through 2011.  As the head of county government, he blasted the arbitration system in setting police pay and attacked the political clout of police unions, accusing them of manipulating governments by using their endorsements as a weapon. It became a veritable war between Mr. Levy and Suffolk police unions.

At the issue’s center is the Taylor Law, its proper name the Public Employees Fair Employment Act. It’s called the Taylor Law for George Taylor, a professor of industrial research appointed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to chair a commission that developed the 1967 law. Its aim was — and is — to provide a way to resolve contract disputes for public employees while banning their right to strike. If negotiations don’t work out, binding arbitration kicks in.

But, as Mr. Jones protested at the forum, for police unions, there are “negotiations in name only.” Sometimes there is a settlement because, said Mr. Jones, public officials “fear going to arbitration knowing this is a rigged system.” The police unions are more than eager for arbitration, he said, since there’ve been decades of “incredible giveaways” under the process.

In it the union selects one arbitrator, the municipality selects another and the third is agreed upon by both parties. Not only is there an absence of concern, complained Mr. Jones, about the financial impact on the affected municipality, but the arbitrators routinely allow “whipsaw” to take place, or increasing salaries in one municipality because of higher police pay in a neighboring jurisdiction. And then, when it comes time to set police pay again in the latter jurisdiction, they order a jump based on these increases. This “spiral goes on and on,” insisted Mr. Jones.

Mr. Jones, of Shinnecock Hills, has experience on the county, village and town levels. As well as being a Suffolk legislator, he was a lobbyist for Suffolk government in Albany for five years. He was a Sag Harbor Village trustee. He retired last year as Southampton Town’s director of human services.

“Clearly there needs to be a change,” he maintains, most importantly involving some sort of pay limit linked to a municipality’s “ability to pay.” Mr. Jones emphasizes that “I am not alone in this” and that the problem has been “going on for decades.” If it weren’t for the “dysfunctional” condition of New York State government and the power of the police unions, there would have been change, he says.

Police union leaders defend the system. The Taylor Law, they have noted, provides that arbitrators consider “hazards of employment” and arduous and dangerous police work calls for ample pay.

And so the cycle continues.