04/09/13 4:30pm

REPORTER FILE PHOTO | A representative of the United States Postal Service will be at Town Hall Wednesday at 6 p.m. to hear resident’s concerns about mail service.

If you’re among those Islanders who have experienced difficulty getting your mail or being able to order merchandise over the Internet without difficulty, a representative of the United States Postal Service will be at Town Hall Wednesday at 6 p.m. Filling out the panel will be   a representative from Congressman Tim Bishop’s office and Town Councilman Peter Reich to hear your complaints and offer help.

The meeting resulted after numerous residents said they were failing to receive all their mail and had experienced cancelled insurance policies, expired drivers licenses and vehicle registrations and communications from government agencies including the Social Security Administration, Medicare and the Internal Revenue Service.

Others said packages were being sent to Sag Harbor, East Hampton and Southampton rather than to Shelter Island Post Offices. And still others saw mail being sent to the wrong Shelter Island Post Office.

Despite repeated efforts to correct the problem, so-called “self-correcting” databases have compounded the issue for some Islanders.

09/27/12 12:00pm
Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, Randy Altschuler, Tim Bishop, Congress

xBARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall on Peconic Avenue in Riverhead is modeled after the Ford Theater in Washington D.C.

The first of a pair of 90-minute Times/Review Newsgroup co-sponsored debates between Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Republican challenger Randy Altschuler of St. James is set for 7 p.m. tonight in downtown Riverhead.

Suffolk Times editor Tim Kelly will moderate the debate at Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead. Vail-Leavitt will seat up to 250 people on a first-come, first-served basis. Audience members will have an opportunity to submit questions for the candidates at both debates.

The first 45 minutes of the debate will focus specifically on health care reform, Mr. Kelly said, and then be opened to general questions.

The second debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15, at Bridgehampton School. The first 45 minutes of that debate will focus on jobs and the economy.

The Bridgehampton debate will be moderated by Joe Shaw, executive editor for The Press News Group, publishers of the Southampton Press, Southampton Press Western Edition and Easthampton Press newspapers, as well as 27east.com.

“We’re very excited to be working together to give the public more than sound bites to make a decision in this important race,” Mr. Shaw said of the partnership with Times/Review. “Our goal is to allow the candidates to more fully explore the complicated issues and give voters an opportunity to cast an informed vote.”

Both debates will be free and open to the public.

“With so much at stake, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of this race,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’re proud to be teaming up with our South Fork counterparts, The Press News Group, to bring the candidates and the issues to light.”

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12/03/11 9:35am

Election 2011 is over and on eastern Long Island, the activity has already begun in what will surely be the mostly hotly fought contest here in 2012: the race for the First District seat in Congress.

Democrat Tim Bishop of Southampton was first elected in 2002 to represent the five East End towns, all of Brookhaven and part of Smithtown in Congress. Competing aggressively to be the GOP candidate to oppose him are Randy Altschuler of St. James and George Demos of Ronkonkoma, who has roots on Shelter Island.

Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle and Suffolk Conservative Chairman Ed Walsh, along with several GOP town leaders and all the Conservative town leaders in the lst C.D., have already announced their backing of Mr. Altschuler to take on Mr. Bishop again.

Mr. Altschuler lost very narrowly to Mr. Bishop last year. It took weeks but, after errors were found in the reporting of votes, a recount and tallying of absentee ballots, the incumbent won by 593 votes out of 196,039 cast — the closest congressional race in the U.S. in 2010. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put Mr. Bishop on its endangered list for 2012.

Mr. Demos, who tried to be the GOP nominee in 2010, is pushing hard again to be the candidate. An attorney, he has been zeroing in on a sensitive area for Mr. Altschuler: outsourcing.

Mr. Altschuler’s greatest vulnerability last year was a business he founded, through which he made millions. It outsources jobs to India and other foreign countries. Mr. Bishop made it the major election issue. Mr. Demos recently blasted Mr. Altschuler “for lamenting the loss of American jobs after personally exporting thousands of those jobs to India … Randy Altschuler demonstrated once and for all why he has zero credibility as a candidate for U.S. Congress.”

Mr. Bishop, former Southampton College provost, has kept it up on outsourcing. In Congress this year, he sought, as his office describes it, “to prevent the federal government from contracting with companies that outsource American jobs.” His move was defeated by House Republicans.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bishop could have something else to worry about on Election Day — protest votes against any incumbent in Congress.

A New York Times/CBS poll in October found, as the Times put it in its headline: “Americans’ Approval of Congress Drops to Single Digits.” Only 9 percent of respondents approved “the way Congress is handling its job.” Some 84 percent disapproved. (Seven percent wasn’t sure.) It was the lowest approval rating for Congress ever recorded in the poll’s history.

Both Democratic and GOP incumbents are being blamed.

Helping lower Americans’ opinion recently was a “60 Minutes” story that revealed former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now Democratic minority leader, and current House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and other members of Congress took advantage of insider information to buy stock that benefited from congressional action or inaction. Being in Congress is a “venture opportunity … to enrich yourself, your friends, and your family,” said Peter Schweizer on “60 Minutes.” He’s the author of a new book, “Throw Them All Out.”

Making the rounds on the Internet in recent times has been this suggestion: “Members of Congress should be compelled to wear uniforms like NASCAR drivers so we could identify their sponsors.” And the posting: “Now I understand! The English language has some wonderfully anthropomorphic collective nouns for various groups of animals. We are all familiar with a herd of cows, a flock of chickens, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese … Now consider a group of baboons. They are the loudest, most dangerous, most obnoxious, most viciously aggressive and least intelligent of all primates. And what is the proper collective noun for a group of baboons? Believe it or not — a congress. I guess that pretty much explains the things that come out of Washington!”

This low opinion of the Congress isn’t new. Mark Twain a century ago wrote that “there is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress.” And Will Rogers said: “The country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”

With Congress having gone to its lowest point in citizen satisfaction, how will this play out nationally and in Suffolk in Election 2012?

02/02/11 1:28pm

A brilliant and shocking documentary was presented at a special screening at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor this weekend. The message of “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” is that the conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff for fraud and conspiracy was not a unique case — his crimes are symptomatic of how the U.S. government functions. It has become dominated by corporate interests, for sale to those who ply politicians with money.

In a question-and-answer session after the showing, this area’s representative in Washington, Congressman Tim Bishop, acknowledged that the documentary was an “accurate portrayal of the corruption of the senior leadership” of Congress in the early and middle 2000s.

Still, “we should not generalize,” he said. Congress would “never have passed cap-and-trade or financial regulatory reform” last year “if we were captive to special interests.” However, “there is no question that money has a corrosive influence in how Congress does business” and “my fear,” said Mr. Bishop, “is that “recent actions will make it worse.”

He’s especially concerned about the recent 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case holding that corporate funding of “electioneering communication” cannot be limited.

The writer and director of the new documentary, Alex Gibney, earlier created the similarly hard-hitting documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.”

As Mr. Gibney says, in an interview shown before the documentary aired, Mr. Abramoff “was not a bad apple” but constitutes “spectacular evidence” of a “rotten barrel.” Our government has turned to a “system of legalized bribery,” says Mr. Gibney, “and we have to stop it or we’re done.”

The showing Saturday was free, made possible by the Sunlight Foundation and the organization Fix Congress First. It included, after the screening, the hour-long questioning of Mr. Bishop and a community discussion. Attendance was high and comments strong.

Scandal in Washington is not new, but what Mr. Gibney has put together is a crystal-clear picture of the corrupt, wide-reaching “pay-to-play” system that has taken hold. He documents this through startling disclosures by those who have manipulated government with dollars as well as the politicians on the receiving end, information from investigating authors and journalists exposing the outrageous arrangement, and evidence including emails and taped conversations.

The film reveals that Mr. Abramoff was involved in right-wing Republican politics for decades — with Karl Rove and Ralph Reed among others. They reached their peak under the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Abramoff was jailed in 2006 for defrauding Indian tribes and paying off politicians. He partnered with former House GOP Leader Tom DeLay, now facing jail himself for campaign finance fraud. The Abramoff-Rove-Reed cabal’s goal: massive government deregulation which it achieved — leading, shows the documentary, to the national financial collapse.

“How does it make you feel? … What can we do?” the event’s moderator, Michael Clarjen-Arconada, asked Mr. Bishop after the two-hour documentary ended. Mr. Bishop pointed to “public financing of campaigns … going a long, long way in getting the influence of big money out of Congressional elections.” And there needs to be “a serious public education campaign” about the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case and other developments increasing corporate influence on government.

Among comments from audience members, retired New York City Police Lieutenant Larry Darcey of Sag Harbor said “corporate powers own our government” and “if the grass roots don’t change this, it will never change.”

Lisa Votino-Tarrant, a 31-year-old from Southampton, noted that “we need to break the cycle” but asked, “How can this be done” when it takes so much money to run for public office. “How are young people like me to get into public service without selling our souls?”

The two non-partisan foundations that sponsored the event outline on their websites — sunlightfoundation.com and fixcongressfirst.org — numerous steps to make “government transparent and accountable.” These include campaign reform through a Constitutional amendment and many citizen projects both national and local. “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” will be in movie theatres and on TV. See it to understand why it is urgent that action be taken.

12/10/10 6:58pm

ROBERT O'ROURK FILE PHOTO | Incumbent Tim Bishop defeated Randy Altschuler by nearly 600 votes, according to the Bishop campaign.

The final vote count in the 1st District race for Congress shows incumbent Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) defeated Republican challenger Randy Altschuler by 592 votes, according to the Bishop campaign.

The final tally saw Mr. Bishop receive 98,316 votes to 97,723 counted for the St. James businessman.

Mr. Bishop won by just .3 percent of the total vote.

Editor’s note: Below is Wednesday’s coverage of Mr. Altschuler’s concession:

Republican challenger Randy Altschuler conceded Wednesday morning in his bid to unseat Democratic Congressman Tim Bishop, who will go on to a fifth two-year term in Washington -— the first time in more than 30 years that an East End congressman will have served more than four terms.

The announcement came with Mr. Bishop (D-Southampton) ahead of the St. James businessman by 263 votes in the First District race after a long process that saw both campaigns battle it out in courts for more than a month after Election Day.

“After consulting with my family and campaign staff, I am ending my campaign and offering congratulations to Congressman Tim Bishop on his victory,” Mr. Altschuler said in a press release.

He continued: “Although Newsday, the New York Times and the Bishop campaign have all called for a hand recount of all the ballots cast on Election Day, I will not support such an action as I feel its cost will place an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers of Suffolk County.”

With Mr. Bishop up consistently by about 250 votes during the count of 11,500 absentee ballots, and the number of contested ballots being whittled down by the day — through either concessions or a judge’s orders — Mr. Altschuler’s chances for a turnaround were fading.

Counting of the remaining ballots by the Suffolk County Board of Elections was expected to begin after Mr. Altschuler formally withdrew his pending ballot challenges, with certification of Mr. Bishop’s win to follow.

Mr. Altschuler thanked his supporters and the voters of Suffolk County. “You proved that every vote does count and why it is so important that all Americans participate in our electoral process.”

“I entered this race because I was worried about the future of our nation. The problems America faces are many and will not be easily solved. I plan to stay active in politics and continue to speak out on the issues that affect the residents of Suffolk County, our state and our nation. Those issues include high taxes, runaway spending and an ever-growing deficit. I intend to play an active role in building the Republican and Conservative Party voices in both Suffolk County and New York State.”