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Year in Review: Suffolk Closeup

COURTESY IMAGE Janus, the Roman God of transitions.

Among the major events in Suffolk in 2018 was the midterm election which saw Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the two-term incumbent in the lst Congressional District, which includes Shelter Island, win re-election, but not by the margins he had won by before.

Also, Suffolk Legislator Monica Martinez of Brentwood became the first woman ever elected to represent Suffolk County in the State Senate.

In Suffolk, and throughout the nation, there was heavy voter turn-out.

Mr. Zeldin was opposed by Democrat Perry Gershon of East Hampton, who waged a strong, well-organized campaign. A newcomer to politics, Mr. Gershon received 46 percent of the lst C.D. vote, doing better against Mr. Zeldin than previous challengers.

There was a free press issue during the race which received wide attention.

In an unprecedented incident in Suffolk County history, journalists were kicked out of a political event, a “kickoff” rally for Mr. Zeldin. Pat Biancaniello, editor of Smithtown Matters, described in an editorial how she was “invited to attend the rally by the Zeldin campaign and was credentialed by the Zeldin campaign.

“Upon arrival I was told to go anywhere I wanted to take photos, again by the Zeldin campaign. I stood in the same spot, with my credentials plainly in sight, for roughly an hour and a half before, out of the blue, I was told to leave without an explanation. I was forced to climb over a rope to get to the path leading to a door —one woman sneered and said ‘bye bye’ as I walked past. Once out the door and in a backyard area, I was mocked by a group of people.

“A man, upset that I was taking photos, smacked my camera and I was told by security to leave the premises. All the while I was wearing the press badge supplied by the Zeldin campaign and telling everyone I was an invited press person.”

Mr. Zeldin apologized and the Press Club of Long Island issued a statement declaring that although “we appreciate” Mr. Zeldin’s apology “we do not believe” the two journalists “should have been removed from the event in the first place. We see this most recent incident as part of a larger pattern of mistreatment of the press.” The club, one of the largest chapters of the national Society of Professional Journalists, linked it to President Trump calling the press the “enemy of the people.”

The year 2018 saw a misguided lawsuit brought against the county’s landmark Farmland Preservation Program. The lawsuit filed by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society was supported by a state Supreme Court justice but the state’s Appellate Division overturned that ruling.

The program, begun in 1974, was conceived by Suffolk County Executive John V. N. Klein and based on the then new idea of purchase of development rights. Farmers are paid the difference between the value of their land in agriculture and what they could get for it if they sold it for development. In return, the land is kept in agriculture in perpetuity. It has been a key to keeping Suffolk a top agricultural county in New York State and much of it green. The Pine Barrens Society challenged the allowing of “structures” on preserved farmland, as permitted by amendments to the program approved by the Suffolk Legislature.

Legislator Al Krupski(D-Cutchogue), a fourth-generation Suffolk farmer, said: “There is great diversity in agriculture, and not everyone understands what is needed to operate a productive farm or agricultural operation … Different farming techniques, new technology and methods are emerging, along with the opportunities they present. Infrastructure needs may change. We need to adapt to accommodate these changes if we want to preserve agriculture and farming.”

And the state’s highest court, its Court of Appeals, has just rebuffed the Pine Barrens Society in its request for an appeal to it. “Great news!” said Lisa Clare Kombrink, who handled the case for the Riverhead-based law firm of Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley and Quartararo, retained by the county to challenge the lawsuit. A partner in the firm, she has a specialty in farmland preservation as former Southampton Town attorney. Indeed, great news!

The year 2018 saw a continuation of opposition to the use of plastics in Suffolk. On Independence Day, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) joined with environmentalists and the county’s Single Use Plastic Reduction Task Force in calling for Suffolk to “declare independence” from plastic straws.

Said Ms. Hahn: “In Suffolk County, which boasts some of America’s most beautiful beaches, a thousand miles of shoreline, and waterways teaming with marine life, the innocuous plastic straw has become a tangible threat to the county’s tourist-driven economy, littering our beaches with debris and threatening turtles, birds and other marine life.”

This attack on plastics in Suffolk has included restrictions on single-use plastic bags and a first-in-the-nation law barring the sale in Suffolk of baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers and other products used by children that contain the plasticizing agent Bisophenol-A, acronymed BPA. Research has found BPA to be a cause of cancer and other maladies and especially toxic to the very young.