Rashed Mian

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Rashed Mian has been covering local news for the Long Island Press since 2011. He graduated from Hofstra University in 2010 where he studied print journalism. Rashed, the staff's multimedia reporter, covers daily news for the web, shoots/edits feature videos and writes about civil liberties. He loves Afghan food and sports. Rashed is also a caffeine freak. Email: rmian@longislandpress.com. Twitter: rashedmian

Why an Army Captain Is Suing Obama

August 4, 2015 "On his birthday, the President listens to a prayer during a phone call with pastors." (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Last week, Nathan Michael Smith, a U.S. Army Captain, sued his commander-in-chief, President Barack Obama, claiming that the war against ISIS is illegal because Congress has yet to authorize it.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Smith, stationed at the command hub in Kuwait at the center of the battle against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, argues that the Obama administration has been fighting an illegal war since Aug. 8, 2014, therefore violating Smith’s oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”

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Smith, who joined the Army in 2010, cites the Vietnam War-inspired 1973 War Powers Resolution stipulating that the president has up to 60 days to involve armed forces in a conflict before ceasing military action if Congress does not act within 30 days.

“The President did not get Congress’s approval for his war against ISIS in Iraq or Syria within the sixty days, but he also did not terminate the war,” Smith’s suit states. “The war is therefore illegal.”

This is not the first time the legality of Obama’s unauthorized war has been scrutinized.

Several members of Congress have criticized their colleagues for failing to hold a single vote on the war and have also questioned Obama’s own legal interpretation claiming existing law permits him to fight ISIS.

Since the White House began bombing ISIS positions in Iraq—and later in Syria—in August 2014, the administration has presented both the 2001 and 2002 authorizations to use military force to justify its war on the so-called Islamic State. But critics say both versions are outdated and overbroad.

The 2001 AUMF, for example, was enacted shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to give then-President George W. Bush the power to target those responsible for killing nearly 3,000 Americans on US soil—meaning al Qaeda. The 2002 AUMF essentially authorized the US to go to war with Iraq.

In fact, Obama’s own National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, sent a letter to then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in 2014 characterizing the 2002 authorization as “outdated” and called for it to be repealed.

As the war has dragged on, the military has bombed ISIS targets while Obama has also deployed troops to Syria, which contradicts his past statements that he would not put soldiers on the ground in the battle-scarred region.

The president has not only used the 2001 AUMF to legalize unauthorized wars but also to justify drone strikes across the Middle East and Africa. The highest profile case involved a drone strike that killed a US citizen in Yemen who had become a radical cleric. That targeted strike also killed Samir Khan, former Westbury, L.I., resident who had  become editor of al Qaeda’s propaganda magazine. The so-called drone memo approving the strike, which the administration fought in court to keep secret, revealed that the cleric was the intended target, not the editor.

Although Smith is now suing Obama, the Army captain said in a letter accompanying the suit that he “was ready for action” after the president ordered air strikes against ISIS in 2014.

“In my opinion,” Smith wrote, “the operation is justified both militarily and morally. This is what I signed up to be part of when I joined the military.”

Capt. Smith holds the so-called Islamic State in contempt.

“They are an army of butchers,” he said. “Their savagery is sickening.”

Smith comes from a family with three generations of military officers, but he says he grew concerned once people back home began questioning the legality of the war. In his suit, he wrote, “I began to wonder, ‘Is this the Administration’s war, or is it America’s war?’”

Given the lack of action from elected officials, Smith says he hopes that the court will order the president to get proper authority from Congress to fight ISIS.

The suit was reportedly inspired by an article published last August in The Atlantic by Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman that suggested US soldiers have the legal standing to challenge a war they deem illegitimate.

“Existing case-law establishes that individual soldiers can go to court if they are ordered into a combat zone to fight a war that they believe is unconstitutional,” Ackerman wrote.

In an Op-Ed for The New York Times published last week, Ackerman doubled down on his claim and backed the suit brought by Smith, whom he’s serving as a consultant in the case.

“My aim is simply to insist that Captain Smith is right to believe that the federal courts provide the proper forum for relieving him, and other conscientious soldiers, of the terrible dilemma posed by their oaths of office,” he wrote.

For his part, Obama proposed his own AUMF in February 2014 that would sunset after three years. But Congress still has not voted on it. And when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif), a critic of Congress’ refusal to vote on the war, proposed a measure that would have forced his colleagues to hold a vote on the AUMF’s merits, it failed.

Now Smith believes it is his duty to force the White House and Congress to act.

“The Constitution tells us that Congress is supposed to answer that question,” he wrote. “But Congress is AWOL.”

(Featured photo credit: White House/Pete Souza)

How A Long Island Couple’s Journey to Help Syrian Refugees Changed Their Life

As they soared over the Greek island of Lesbos, Colin and Latifa Woodhouse of Great Neck peered through the plane’s tiny window and were struck by the sight of life preservers strewn along the shore of the Aegean Sea—which, as the legend goes, bears the name of an Amazonian Queen swallowed up by the sprawling body of water.

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It wasn’t until they landed that the Woodhouses truly began to comprehend the enormity of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe. Yet here they were, 5,000 miles from home, ready to take on the greatest migration of people since World War II.

“Wow,” Colin recalled as the plane made its final approach, “this is big time.”

Like the overcrowded dinghies making the treacherous four-mile trip from Turkey to Lesbos, the discarded life preservers tell the tale of countless lives lost, dreams shattered, children literally ripped from the arms of desperate parents by a ferocious sea that even a Queen of the Amazons was ill-fit to conquer. But for those fortunate to survive the perilous crossing, these life preservers tell a story of hope, perseverance and a future free of fear of bloodshed.

In late January, the Woodhouses—Colin a financial advisor and Latifa a retired New York City school teacher and college professor—made the decision to put their own lives on hold and instead donate their time to helping war-stricken refugees seeking a better life in Europe. The couple was not alone: their daughter Alexandra and friend Diane Lombardi, a doctor, also joined in the cause.

The Woodhouses echo migrants and organizations on the ground that say they need all the help they can get dealing with this historic refugee crisis.

The flow of refugees was initially so overwhelming that Europe was caught flat-footed. According to the International Rescue Committee, 60 million people are displaced worldwide, which is the equivalent the entire population of Italy fleeing their homes. Twelve million of those displaced are from war-ravaged Syria, which has been upended by a five-year-old civil war and the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Half are children. Like the three-year-old whose body washed ashore on a Turkish beach after his boat overcrowded with refugees had capsized in the Aegean. The photo of his drowned tiny corpse became an iconic image of the ongoing catastrophe.

Syrians aren’t the only migrants seeking asylum in Europe or the United States, however. Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, South Sudanese and Nigerians have also absconded from their homelands. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in March that since 2015 more than one million refugees have crossed into Greece.


“I had never seen hell, but tonight, it was worse than hell. I thought I died. But I’m alive, I’m alive.”


While the European Union and Turkey reached a deal this February to stem the flow of migrants to Greece, much to the dismay of human rights organization, the United States’ response has been largely relegated to providing humanitarian aid on the ground and in Syria, to the tune of $5.1 billion since the conflict started in March 2011.

American politicians turned the refugee crisis into a political hot potato last year when more than two dozen US governors said they’d refuse to welcome any Syrians, the majority of whom are Muslim, into their respective states. Still, the Obama administration stuck to its plan to admit 10,000 refugees, a tiny fraction of the millions escaping bloodshed, beheadings, rape, sexual slavery, immolation and countless other atrocities. The country that has been most welcoming to refugees has been Germany, which has accepted more than a million migrants.

Colin, for one, is profoundly disappointed in how the US government has responded to hordes of people escaping violence.

“We’re a country that was founded as being a safe haven from persecution,” Colin says. “That’s at the very core of the principles of this country, and to turn away an extremely vulnerable population is not only against our legal obligations, but it’s immoral.”

The challenge facing Greece is much more complicated because refugees are using the economically strapped nation as a springboard to countries with better job prospects. They have no desire to stay there. At its height last year, 5,000 refugees were arriving in Greece each day.

For the Woodhouses, traveling to Lesbos was a no-brainer even though there were plenty of nonprofit organizations already in Greece with the bandwidth to respond to such a calamity. When the Woodhouses boarded their plane on Jan. 24, they had little clue just how much they were needed.

What began as a simple humanitarian mission quickly evolved into a spiritual exploration in which the couple met strangers that would become life-long friends, not crazed terrorists, and discovered how the simplest of deeds can be met with boundless expressions of gratitude. For every person they helped, there was an entire family waiting to say thanks. And with each passing day their commitment to the cause never waned, despite periods of disappointment that they could not do more.

Here is the story of their journey.

AFGHAN HILL

The Woodhouse family from Great Neck traveled to Lesbos, Greece to provide assistance to Syrian refugees in January. From left to right: Alexandra Woodhouse, Latifa Woodhouse and Colin Woodhouse. (Photo credit: Latifa Woodhouse/Facebook)
The Woodhouse family from Great Neck traveled to Lesbos, Greece to provide assistance to Syrian refugees in January. From left to right: Alexandra Woodhouse, Latifa Woodhouse and Colin Woodhouse. (Photo credit: Latifa Woodhouse/Facebook)

If a photo could speak, the image of a rain-soaked young Afghan girl pressed up against a chain-link fence during a deluge would cry out in pain.

“That was the breaking point for me,” Colin tells the Press from inside the couple’s Great Neck home, recalling the moment he felt inspired to act.

Instead of wrestling to remove the heart-wrenching image from their minds, the Woodhouses decided to use it as motivation.

Looking at the refugees, Latifa saw her own family, who had fled political persecution following the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan and were granted asylum in the US.

“Being a daughter of refugees and going through that with [the] Russian invasion, I knew first hand what it was like,” says Latifa, who met Colin in Afghanistan, where he was teaching at Kabul University.

This crisis was personal.

So they began to make preparations to fly to Lesbos. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock, where Latifa is a member of the board of trustees, approved a $200,000 crisis grant to be split evenly between the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Syrian Medical Staff in Syria. The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has separately contributed $600,000 to grassroots partners on the ground providing humanitarian aid. The Woodhouses on their own were able to raise $16,000 that they used to deliver aid to refugees in Lesbos.


“It’s a fundamental human right that people who are victims of persecution are able to flee their country and enjoy asylum.”


Armed with the $16,000 they raised to assist for the relief effort and 250 pounds of Patagonia jackets to hand-deliver to frostbitten and weary migrants, the Woodhouses landed in Lesbos. On average, the mercury in Lesbos typically hovers around 50 degrees in January. But the day after they arrived it was “shockingly cold” on the Greek island, Colin recalls. Smoke billowed over the camp as refugees burnt wood inside their tents to stay warm.

Even the Woodhouses couldn’t escape the elements, with winds whipping through their hotel room, sending a shiver through their bodies.

With little access to heat—a luxury in Lesbos—the Woodhouses turned to humanitarian work to warm their hearts.

What they saw when they took stock of the flood of arrivals was extraordinary.

Scores of volunteers would greet refugees as they came ashore, oftentimes offering blankets or a new pair of socks. Many of the incoming dinghies, meant to comfortably hold about 25 passengers, would be brimming with up to 80 people. Those who arrived safely would be directed to a fleet of buses destined for Camp Moria, where the Greek government was stationed to register newly arriving migrants.

“We can die in our country or we can die to find safe sanctuary,” Colin says, describing the mindset of those embarking on the dangerous journey to Europe.

If safely crossing the Aegean was not taxing enough, refugees would face yet another obstacle as they came ashore: a debilitating language barrier.

Latifa, who speaks Farsi, Pashtun and a little broken Arabic, realized her language skills could be a useful tool to help jittery refugees.

At one point she spotted a dazed and confused 10-year-old Afghan girl wrapped in a blanket.

“We thought, ‘Is she alive or is she dead?’” Latifa recalls.

When Lombardi, the doctor, approached the girl, all she could offer was an inaudible mumble. Latifa attempted to speak to the girl in Farsi. It worked.

“Khala Jaan,” the girl told Latifa, meaning “Dear Aunt”—a term of endearment.

Finally able to connect with someone, the girl opened up.

“We read in books about hell, what hell is like,” she told Latifa. “I had never seen hell, but tonight, it was worse than hell. I thought I died. But I’m alive. I’m alive.”

The number of people unable to communicate with volunteers because of the lack of translators highlighted just how difficult it was for refugees to continue their journey. If they couldn’t get even basic instructions, Latifa wondered, what were they supposed to do?

Then Latifa realized she could be the voice for war-weary refugees who otherwise would not be able to get a word across.

At one point she came upon an Iraqi family who had been shuttled to the camp by UN representatives who left them with scant instruction about what to do next.

“Why are you sitting here?” she asked the family in their native tongue.

The family, one woman explained, had been brought to the camp but were not advised about what to do next. She told Latifa about her sister-in-law’s husband who was slaughtered and all the things they had to leave behind.

“We had a house,” the woman said through her tears. “We had everything.”

While Latifa was honing her translating skills, Colin and volunteers from other countries were busy building trenches and alleyways to improve the flow of traffic in the camp. The volunteers may have had their own difficulties communicating but once Colin produced a hammer, everyone seemed to know what to do.

Colin quickly observed that refugees at Afghan Hill needed wider steps to make access to the medical tent easier. He and other volunteers working on the project dubbed it, “Stairs to Europe.” Colin solved the lack of lighting by going to the local hardware store and purchasing some solar lights, which he helped install.

“There was this communication of two guys that can handle a tool,” he says.

If translating or building new steps wasn’t possible, the Woodhouses found other ways to contribute. The money they raised helped pay for food, clothes, bus tickets and ambulance rides from Athens to Macedonia.

Or they’d do little things to lift up the spirits of children by handing out stuffed animals or soccer balls.

“We felt pretty good because we were able to get people on their way,” Colin says.

Jillian Tuck, senior program leader for Rights at Risk at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a nonsecretarian global human rights group, said the organization launched a refugee crisis fund almost immediately after the crisis began to unfold, raising $600,000. The money would be funneled out to the UUSC’s partners that operate in the impacted area. The UUSC is currently funding about nine organizations there.

“It’s a fundamental human right that people who are victims of persecution are able to flee their country and enjoy asylum,” Tuck says.

SNOWY GRAVE

In the wake of the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people, more than half of the governors in the US reacted angrily at President Obama’s proposal to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, even said orphans under the age of five weren’t welcome in the Garden State.

In his letter to Obama, U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), questioned the vetting process that refugees undergo.

“The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have shown the extent of ISIS’s brutality and ability to conduct a major attack in the West,” King wrote. “There is no denying that the current process through which the United States screens and admits Syrian refugees presents ISIS with an opportunity to transport operatives to carry out attacks in the United States.”

The hysteria over ISIS fighters potentially masquerading as Syrian refugees led to a since-debunked social media-stoked rumor alleging that the Catholic Church’s humanitarian arm was in the process of building a “tent city” in Amityville to house refugees. At the time there were no applications to bring these refugees to Nassau or Suffolk counties, according to Catholic Charities.

What the Woodhouses observed on the ground in Lesbos is very different from the suggestions ricocheting through cable news and the Internet.

A family they met in Greece recently called Latifa via the popular messaging app WhatsApp to update the couple on their progress: They had made it to Germany. But the family wanted more, Latifa says. They want to come to America.

Given the rise of Islamophobia in America, which some Muslim rights groups have linked to xenophobic comments uttered during this presidential election season, Latifa told the family that the time wasn’t right. She wishes it were.

“Why can’t we open our hearts and our minds?” Latifa says. “I met at least 1,500 to 2,000 people personally. I talked to them, engaged with them. None of them had any sign of being a terrorist or being ISIS or being whatever this creepy Donald Trump is talking about.”

“They are desperate for their lives,” she says.

Now home for about two months, Colin says he’s disappointed by the European Union’s recent agreement with Turkey to empower authorities in Greece to return refugees arriving there back to Turkey.

“To say Turkey is a safe place for refugees is cynical at best and murderous at worst,” Colin exclaims.

Colin is not alone in expressing bitter disappointment about the Europeans’ response.

“In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have willfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia, on the human right’s groups website.

Thinking back to their own journey, the Woodhouses remembered a young Afghan named Jaweed, whom Latifa first met at Camp Moria, after primal cries thundering out of his tiny body alerted her to his presence.

Jaweed had slogged through brutally cold temperatures in the mountains abutting Iran and Iraq. As his family waded through the snow, Jaweed’s unprotected hands had developed severe frostbite. By the time he made it to Camp Moria, each hand was the size of a watermelon.

As Latifa comforted the family, Colin grabbed the boy and rushed him to a nearby clinic, where doctors gave him drugs to numb the pain. Eventually he was taken to volunteer-run refugee site called Camp Pikpa, where people with serious maladies can get special care.

It was at Camp Pikpa where Jaweed’s family finally had the chance to bid a formal farewell to his grandmother, who had frozen to death in the mountains. Unable to carry her body the whole way, they buried her in the snow and continued their struggle to survive.

As for Jaweed, the Woodhouses are not sure what happened to him. One day they went to the camp only to learn that his family had taken him. Apparently the boy’s father was worried that a surgeon would amputate Jaweed’s hands.

But with the help of social media, they discovered that a boy matching Jaweed’s description had been admitted to a Doctors Without Borders facility in Athens.

Many of the refugees they met along the way shared similar stories of survival or heartbreak. Some said they had no choice to but to flee violence. And now many had dreams of making it to Germany.

But the most ambitious request the Woodhouses kept getting they could not fulfill.

One refugee after another would ask them: “Could you take us to America?”

They had to leave them behind. Now back on LI, the Woodhouses say they’re committed to continuing their work, which includes help establishing a network of translators to help bridge the communication gap at refugee camps. And they can hope that one day they can give the refugees a better answer.

“We are strengthened as a nation by the people we open our hearts to and our borders to,” Colin says. “And that’s what’s made America great.”

Study Finds Arab Youth Overwhelmingly Reject ISIS

Five days after the Dec. 2, 2015 terror attack that killed 14 people and injured several dozen in San Bernardino, Calif., Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump issued his now infamous statement calling for the ban of all Muslims traveling to the United States.

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In Trump’s words, the complete ban of Muslims would continue until “our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

But Trump isn’t the only candidate vying for the Republican nomination who has proposed controversial policies aimed at Muslims. After the horrific Brussel bombings in March killed 32 people in a coordinated assault on Belgium’s transportation network, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said law enforcement in the United States should “patrol and secure” so-called Muslim neighborhoods in order to prevent radicalization. Cruz’s proposal was met with stiff criticism from New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton, who, ironically, inherited a police force that conducted widespread surveillance of Muslim Americans in the city and Long Island after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. By the department’s own admission, the NYPD operation, which also included New Jersey, did not lead to a single criminal investigation.

But even before blood was shed in San Bernardino and in Brussels or in Paris—where 130 people died in a wave of bombings and shootings last November—American elected officials had been adamant about not permitting Syrian refugees into the country despite the United States’ already rigorous refugee resettlement process—protocols that could take up to 18 to 24 months to complete before an applicant is allowed into the country.

The concern is that Islamic State-inspired terrorists could hit American cities just as they’ve done to Brussels, Paris and even Istanbul, which has been on the receiving end of extremist attacks in recent months. But a new report called the “Arab Youth Survey” may allay some fears about whether the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s message is resonating with Muslim youth.

Published earlier this month by Dubai-based public relations firm ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, the study found that the overwhelming majority of Arab youth reject ISIS’ message and its tactics. The survey drew responses from hundreds of young Arab men and women from 16 countries in the Middle East. Syria, however, was not included in the report due to its ongoing civil war and the multi-national coalition’s counterattack on ISIS.

More than 75 percent of those polled said they were concerned about the rise of ISIS, and another 76 percent said they do not believe the group will succeed in establishing a caliphate in the region. Another 78 percent rejected the group outright, according to the survey. And half of those surveyed said they believe ISIS is the preeminent issue facing the Middle East, followed by terrorism and unemployment.

The lack of jobs in the region is seen by those polled as the top recruitment tool for ISIS. With one in four 15- to 24-year-olds unemployed, the Arab world boasts the highest youth unemployment rate in the world. Only 44 percent of youth workers believe there are good job opportunities where they live. Not surprisingly, residents of war-torn Yemen and Libya appeared the most pessimistic about jobs, with only 16 and 22 percent, respectively, stating they believe good jobs are available to them.

When respondents were asked if they would eventually support ISIS if the group weren’t so violent, the vast majority, 78 percent, said they wouldn’t.

“Most heartening is how little appeal extremist groups like Daesh (ISIS) actually have among young people,” the survey’s authors wrote. “The group’s savage tactics and twisted interpretation of Islam are roundly rejected by the overwhelming majority of young Arabs.”

In the report, Hassan Hassan, a resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, in Washington, D.C., said that ISIS “exploits existing problems.”

He divided sympathizers of ISIS or Daesh, as it’s also known, into three categories: radical Muslims, religious novices who have been “brainwashed,” and those who have been “disillusioned” by the political process in their home country.

“Many people in the region may reject Daesh due to its extreme tactics, but the issue remains that the group exploits existing problems,” Hassan said. “It did not simply invent the problems the responders identified as factors. Daesh, put another way, is a symptom of a growing disease that needs to be tackled, and not just the disease itself.”

Hassan also rejected the notion that military might alone could solve the world’s ISIS problem.

“The organization thrives on political, economic, social and religious failures,” he said. “Daesh may weaken and disappear, but the underlying sickness will remain, and similar groups will emerge if that sickness is not addressed. The survey’s findings should be a reminder to everyone that Daesh did not simply materialize out of thin air.”

(Photo: Iraqi boys in 2003 giving peace sign. Credit: Christiaan Briggs)

Game of Thrones Recap: The Red Woman Revealed

Beware of spoilers

There you have it folks, Jon Snow is dead. Well, for at least one more episode.

While we assumed most of the Monday Morning Quarterbacking would be devoted to Jon’s ostensible demise, it was Melisandre that captivated Sunday night’s audience with the reveal that the Red Woman is much older than all of Westeros’ false kings (and Queens) combined.

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But the Lord of Light priestess’ shocker was just one of the many captivating scenes in a packed hour that effectively set the stage for the much-ballyhooed sixth season, which for the first time won’t be anchored by George R.R. Martin’s book the series is based on.

Here’s your LIP GOT recap and some takeaways from Episode 1, The Red Woman:

The Game of Thrones show-runners did not waste any time bringing Kit Harrington back into the fold. The premiere started where Season 5 left off, with Jon Snow’s body lying in a pool of his own blood. This time Jon was all alone.

There was the omnipresent snowfall at Castle Black mixed in with the heartbreaking howls from Ghost, Jon’s now ownerless direwolf. First on the scene was Davos, who quickly instructed those loyal to Jon to whisk his body away. The few men by Davos’ side barricaded themselves inside a room at Castle Black, where they seem also to be standing guard next to Jon’s body.

If he’s not buried or turned into ashes anytime soon, then it makes it exceedingly likely that fan predictions of he-who-knows-nothing’s rebirth will indeed come to fruition. We expect Jon will be lying in a state of repose for some time to build anticipation for his assumed reincarnation, if it ever does come.

This brings us to Melisandre, who many have predicted would be the one to bring our dear Jon back from the dead before the frozen zombies get a hold of him. But with Stannis confirmed dead (we think), it seems the once over-confident Melisandre has lost her swagger. Clearly deflated by Stannis’ overwhelming defeat at the hands of the treacherous Boltons, the fire-loving clairvoyant is shocked by Jon’s murder, telling Davos that the flames showed Jon fighting at Winterfell.

Perhaps losing confidence in her own beloved deity, we get the premiere’s most compelling reveal: that Melisandre uses her power—perhaps thanks to her supernatural necklace or that well-placed potion—to hide the fact that she is extremely old—perhaps even centuries old. As if she feels like her one true God has betrayed her, The Lord of Light’s sultry enforcer in Westeros morphs into a sagging senior shell of her supernatural self. All she could muster is a slow climb into bed, beside a raging fire.

The premiere also offered some hopeful moments, none more inspiring than Brienne’s rescue of Sansa Stark, who GOT fans will remember, fled the Boltons with the help of the man formerly known as Theon. But their legs were no match for human-tormenting Ramsay’s hounds and horse-backed goons. Before Sansa could be taken into captivity yet again, Brienne and a newly confident Podrick emerged from the forest to finally deliver on one of her oaths.

After one of those beautifully choreographed GOT battle scenes, it was Brienne and Podrick who emerged victorious, ending with Brienne pledging her life to Sansa, an offering the hardened Stark girl gracefully accepts. Sansa’s rescue is indeed significant because we know the restless Boltons require her help to unite the North. With many families in the North still loyal to the Starks, it could embolden others to join ranks around Sansa if she can successfully rally the northerners to her side. Watch out, Boltons!

As for Brienne, it is surprising that she made her long-sought recovery of Sansa one episode into the season after failing miserably to find Catelyn Stark’s eldest daughter. Be that as it may, the twist does move the plot along and gives us a small measure of hope that Sansa will take all of those gross injustices that have befallen her and her family and use it to dish out a healthy helping of revenge.

Back where winter is an afterthought and fire-breathing dragons are once again shrieking across the sky, Daenerys is having a tough go of it. The Mother of Dragons, who fled a Sons of the Harpy uprising in Meereen atop one of her ill-tempered dragons at the end of the last season, was dumped in Dothraki territory, where she was taken captive. A chained Daenerys is demeaned repeatedly by a pair of captors discussing how they’d have her way with her in private.

Of course, little do they know that Daenerys was once the wife of a Khal. Faced with the brutal realization that she could become a Dothraki sex slave, Daenerys reveals this powerful piece of information, which as it turns out, means that no man can sleep with the wife of a dead Khal. But Daenerys’ reprieve is short-lived, as she’s told she’ll be thrown in some walled community of other Khal widows, which sounds like cold comfort at best.

Danenery’s tenuous predicament would make us a little more uncomfortable if she didn’t have a trio of dragons that could save her at any moment. Nothing’s guaranteed, but it would make for one hell of a rescue op.

Meanwhile, our favorite GOT pair, Tyrion and Varys are making their way around a deserted Meereen as they plan their next move. Tyrion, it seems, is primed to take over the leadership role left vacant by Daenerys’ absence. But it won’t be easy, as evidenced by the upheaval inspired by the Sons of Harpy and the burning of Daenerys’ fleet of ships. Good luck, Tyrion.

Back in Lannister land, it seems like we’re finally seeing a softer side of Cersei. Told that a Dornish ship is entering the port, Cersei perks up, happy to see her daughter, Myrcella, once again. But the best Jamie could do is return to King’s Landing with their daughter’s dead body.

Remarkably, Cersei blames her daughter’s death not on Jamie but on the evil witch who predicted that three of her children would perish. We all know how much Cersei loves her children, but in Myrcella she found something she didn’t know she was capable of creating: a person with a heart of gold, and not the kind the Lannisters are used to. Jamie and Cersei’s embrace after she concedes that Myrcella’s death was predetermined would be endearing if it wasn’t for that whole incest thing.

But don’t be fooled by Cersei’s newfound motherly touch. With Dorne now without its king thanks to Ellaria’s coup, war with the Lannisters seems to be on the horizon.

Before you go, here’s a preview of Episode 2:

(Photo credit: HBO)

The Americans: Cold War Life Is Complicated on the Home Front

The-Americans
Keri Russell and Matthew Rys play KGB spies in FX's "The Americans." (Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

We’re almost a third of the way through the fourth season on FX of The Americans, aka cable television’s most under-appreciated show—looking at you, Emmys—and we can’t help but cringe at how, for so many people, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings included, everything appears to be spiraling out of control.

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We knew that life at the Jennings house in suburban D.C. was going to get even more complicated now that Paige knows her parents’ dirty little secret. If the prior three seasons were about preparing for the inevitability that someone close to them would discover that they’re KGB spies, then what’s happening now is an even broader look at the Cold War implications for all those involved.

Gone is Nina—executed for being a traitor. Once she was locked up in a Soviet prison for turning her back on the motherland, it became apparent that her turbulent life would end in excruciating agony. But the bullet to the head was a shockingly expedient way for her life—and heartbreaking story—to end.

Her death could have far-reaching ramifications, however. None bigger, perhaps, than Oleg’s own future act of betrayal. Already devastated by the loss of his brother on the battlefield during the Soviet Union’s covert war in Afghanistan, Oleg could go running to frenemy and intelligence-rival Stan Beeman, the only person in America he identifies with, and eventually spill his guts to the FBI. If Oleg himself feels abandoned by his own country—spurred by Nina’s execution and his brother’s untimely death—then he may be extremely motivated to show his government that love runs deeper than patriotism.

Meanwhile, Stan has his own problems. On the prowl for an FBI mole, Stan, the agency’s spy hunter, is suspicious of Martha. After months of striking out in his mission to capture an elusive KGB duo (the Jennings, of course), it appears he’s primed for a big win. Martha is worried that the walls of justice are closing in around her, and that she may meet the same fate as Nina, minus an extrajudicial execution. Things are not looking good for Martha, however you slice it.

Considering Philip’s agony that Martha’s cover is in danger of being blown, it appears that he may have to resolve the problem himself. Philip’s love for Elizabeth is undeniable, but there’s something about Martha that changed him. Maybe it’s her innocence, or the way she accepted him into her life despite his many faults. Martha, in some way, represents all of us: diehard fans—Americans fans—who can’t help but root for Philip and Elizabeth despite the trail of innocent blood they leave in their wake. You get the feeling that Martha knows Clark (Philip’s alias) is dangerous but she loves him anyway, which makes what seems to be her impending doom that much harder to take. Maybe the Russians will choose to intervene and pull Martha out, never to be seen on American soil again. But why risk it when it’s easier to silence the problem? Unfortunately for Philip, it appears this will be his cross to bear.

It’s amazing how much the Jennings can juggle. Not only do they have to deal with Martha’s tenuous situation at the FBI and their own near-death experience, but now there’s the nagging problem of Pastor Tim, whom Paige mistakenly entrusted with her parents’ long-held secret identity. Now Paige feels responsible, but she’s unsure if she’s capable of living a life of lies. While it’s easier to predict Oleg and Martha’s future, Paige’s narrative arc is cloudier. Her fate could hinge on Pastor Tim and his wife. One wrong step on the pastor’s part could send her away, sparking her transformation from suburban teen to second generation Soviet spy, which could then put Elizabeth and Philip on a collision course. Elizabeth, of course, is more amenable to Paige continuing the family business, but what about Philip? If Martha’s expected demise is not enough to push him away, then maybe his daughter’s following the Jennings’ KGB career path is.

(Photo credit: The Americans/Facebook)

How Long Island Voted On Primary Night

In her victory speech Tuesday night in New York City, Hillary Clinton thanked New York for giving her a decisive win, but she may have well been extending her gratitude to the suburbs surrounding Manhattan, Long Island especially.

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While the former U.S. Secretary of State under President Obama may have won convincingly over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)—58-42 percent, to be exact—Clinton actually lost the majority of the counties in the state. But she performed extremely well in the five boroughs, several western New York cities, and in Nassau and Suffolk counties, where she carried a combined 58 percent of the vote.

As for the Republican presidential primary, Donald Trump thoroughly dominated runner-up Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) across the Empire State, winning everywhere except the place where his home bares his name—Manhattan.

On Long Island, the Republican race wasn’t even close. On a night when the hometown Mets crushed their opponent by 10 runs, Trump won LI in a landslide, capturing 68 percent and 72 percent of the vote in Nassau and Suffolk, respectively, with Kasich coming in a distant second in both counties. There’s not much to say about Cruz’s performance. If anything, the Texas senator learned that it’s difficult to grovel for votes after insulting an entire state and its so-called “values.”

Now that Long Islanders have broken from their collective primary fever, it seems a good time to take a closer look at the results and see how the candidates fared.

Democrats

In Nassau, more than 113,000 Democrats hit the polls Tuesday, with Clinton garnering the majority of the votes. The former U.S. Senator from New York grabbed 62-percent of the vote in Nassau and dominated Sanders in the affluent communities dotting the North Shore’s Gold Coast, garnering 65 percent in the Congressional district currently represented by outgoing Rep. Steve Israel, a fellow Democrat who appeared with Clinton on the stump.

Sanders competed admirably on the South Shore, but even his performance there wasn’t good enough to break Clinton’s stranglehold on the Island. Clinton won all five Congressional districts in the region. Turnout was 30 percent in both counties.

Republicans

Simply put: Trump dominated. He grabbed 72 percent of the vote in Suffolk and 68 percent in Nassau—both counties in which he held events ahead of Tuesday’s primary. Kasich, the runner-up, won about 20 percent of the vote and Cruz couldn’t even crack single digits. Turnout for Republicans was about 30 percent in Nassau and 32 percent in Suffolk.

Overall, Trump won the most votes on Long Island with more than 136,000 ballots cast in his favor, with Clinton coming in second with nearly 121,000 votes and Sanders in third. The race for the Democratic nomination was more hotly contested. As a comparison, Kasich, who garnered the second-most GOP votes, ended the night with barely 40,000 votes as opposed to the 83,000-plus in Sanders’ favor. Long Island Democrats cast about 10,000 more votes than did Republicans on Tuesday.

So as Trump and Clinton continue their pursuit to be their party’s nominee, they can look back and thank Long Island for propelling them ever-so closer to the nomination.

(Photo credit: Barbara Kinney for Hillary for America/Flickr)

Hillary Clinton Holds Off Sanders to Win New York Democratic Primary

Photo credit: Adam Schultz/Flickr

Pragmatism prevailed over idealism in New York’s Democratic primary race, with voters choosing establishment favorite Hillary Clinton over insurgent candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the spunky career politician who has given voice to thousands of young voters enamored with his calls for a political revolution.

This win puts New York’s former U.S. Senator another step closer toward making American history as the first woman elected president. But she still has a long way to go before Election Day arrives in November.

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The former U.S. Secretary of State in the Obama administration avoided an embarrassing defeat in her adopted state, where she was considered a double-digit favorite coming into Tuesday’s contest. Clinton’s victory also blunts Sanders’ momentum, as the Brooklyn native has come out on top in the previous seven out of eight primaries and caucuses.

The major networks predicted Clinton the winner about 45 minutes after the polls closed.

A total of 247 pledged delegates were up for grabs in the state. New York divvies up its delegates proportionally—meaning both candidates will earn a share of them. Even without a landslide victory, Clinton still enjoys a clear path to the nomination, with New York voters making her ascension even more likely. Before the primary, Clinton had 244 more pledged delegates than Sanders, according to the Associated Press estimates.

Clinton took the stage at Sheraton in Times Square to a loud ovation Tuesday night.

She thanked New York for sticking by her side during and promised to return the favor. Clinton also appeared to turn her attention toward the general election.

“To all those that supported Sen. Sanders: There’s much more that unites us than divides us,” Clinton said.

“The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch and victory is in sight,” a smiling Clinton added, prompting loud cheers from the boisterous crowd in Manhattan.

Sanders left New York early Tuesday to campaign in Pennsylvania and headed home to Vermont as the results were coming in.

The contest between Clinton and Sanders heated up once the pair began campaigning heavily in New York, with Clinton lashing out at Sanders for siding with gun manufacturers over families of gun-death victims who wanted to sue them as well as his inability to express how he’d break up the big banks. She also criticized his lack of foreign policy chops. Sanders, meanwhile, continued to attack Clinton for her ties to Wall Street and refusal to release transcripts of paid speeches to Goldman Sachs employees that netted her $675,000. He also called her out for being a late-comer to the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

As she put it recently, “It’s easy to diagnose our problems. It’s a lot harder to solve them.”

A once polite contest between two veteran Democratic politicians became just as contentious as the fight for the GOP nomination, minus the high-school insults, xenophobia and party in-fighting.

Their animosity toward one another became apparent last Thursday in New York City when the pair engaged in their eighth debate, their most combative verbal contest yet, where they sparred on virtually every issue. The “Brooklyn Brawl,” as some media outlets termed the debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yards, focused heavily on Wall Street malfeasance and the power of the gun lobby, and which of the two would be more effective at policing the two.

At the end of the day, it was Clinton’s pragmatic approach and her broad-based appeal among Democrats, particularly Baby Boomers and African Americans, that won out over the more vocal and unabashed Sanders crowd.

Clinton demonstrated her unique ability to connect personally with voters as she criss-crossed the state. In her only public campaign stop on Long Island, the former two-time U.S. Senator from New York was surrounded by families of victim’s of gun violence, including the daughter of the principal killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings. Voters at the event in Port Washington said they valued Clinton’s experience and thought she’d be the strongest candidate to take on whomever the Republicans nominate.

The chance to elect the first woman president also weighed heavily on some voters.

Clinton made an effort to reach out to African Americans, who have thus far favored her over Sanders by a wide margin in other parts of the country.

The Clinton machine also showed its might, eliciting the help of well-known surrogates to stump for her on Long Island, including former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), who survived a gunshot to the head at a campaign appearance in 2011, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. Former President Bill Clinton and the couple’s daughter Chelsea were also called upon last weekend to appeal to Long Island voters.

Sanders never stepped foot on Long Island proper but held several raucous events in New York City, where he was greeted by tens of thousands of supporters. His campaign said that Sanders’ rally last Sunday in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park was the largest of his campaign.

Political observers thought Sanders would do well to follow the blueprint former Democratic governor hopeful Zephyr Teachout used two years ago to put a scare into Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And to some extent he did, by calling for a nationwide ban on fracking, the controversial natural gas drilling technique that Teachout had railed against during her failed primary battle against Cuomo.

Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, also unleashed venom on Wall Street and repeated calls for a political revolution that would give Sanders the bully pulpit he’d need to create the kind of change he’s proposing.

Several polls have shown Clinton and Sanders in a virtual tie nationally, but for Sanders it may be too little too late. The Democrats hold their national convention in July in Philadelphia. To win the nomination, a candidate needs 2,383 delegates, including pledged and superdelegates, who can support either one. As of April 19, Clinton had 1,758 and Sanders had 1,076.

While party leadership may consider Clinton’s win a perfect time for Democrats to come together, Sanders’ ability to raise large sums of money through small, individual donations means he’s in it for the long run—as he’s promised.

The primary battle will remain on the East Coast for another week, as Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island open their polls, before it heads toward California—another state rich in delegates, 546 to be exact.

(Photo credit: Adam Schultz/Hillary for America on Flickr)

Donald Trump Wins NY Republican Primary

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks at Grumman Studios in Bethpage on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 (Long Island Press photo)

Hometown kid Donald Trump towered over his Republican rivals in the New York primary Tuesday, bolstering his lead as the GOP presidential front-runner and snapping a string of losses in smaller states that threatened to derail his anti-establishment campaign.

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The real estate mogul and ex-reality TV star’s victory was not unexpected, with various polls predicting that Trump would drub his closest rival, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and distant challenger, Ohio Gov. John Kasich. The only question was how wide the margin would be. A dominant showing by Trump could land him all 95 Republican delegates up for grabs in the state.

The Associated Press projected Trump the winner just as polls closed at 9 p.m.

“This has been an incredible evening, it’s been an incredible day and week,” Trump told his supporters at Trump Towers in Manhattan, emerging to the sound of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

“We don’t have much of a race anymore,” Trump said, adding, “It’s really nice to win the delegates with the votes.”

After the hotly contested primary shifted from Wisconsin to New York two weeks ago, there was no question it’d be an uphill climb for two of the contestants not named Trump.

On Long Island, Trump garnered endorsements from Republican political bosses in Nassau and Suffolk counties and from Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. The Republican delegate-leader attracted 12,000 people at a rally in Bethpage earlier this month and about 1,100 people at a smaller venue in Patchogue last week. Both events sparked outrage, with hundreds of demonstrators condemning Trump for anti-immigrant remarks, dubbing him a fascist and likening him to Hitler.

Trump, who grew up in wealthy Jamaica Estates, questioned his competitors’ sincerity as they stumped for votes in New York City, Long Island, the state capital and in upstate towns. He also trumpeted his New York roots. Trump lavished praise on the Sept. 11, 2001 “first responders” and talked about the horrors of that day. He decried Cruz for making his comment disparaging “New York values” and dismissed Kasich’s continued presence in the race.

Kasich appeared at two cable-TV town hall events in Nassau and Suffolk, but Cruz never made it to the Island, instead dispatching his wife Heidi to drum up support in Bellmore, Mineola and Melville. But Cruz wouldn’t be where he is in the race without the support of one prominent Long Islander, billionaire Renaissance Technologies hedge-fund operator Robert Mercer, who gave $11 million to a super PAC supporting the Texas Republican last year and hosted him at his exclusive Owl’s Nest estate in Head of the Harbor in Suffolk.

The tough-talking Trump was not without flubs, especially in the final stretch. While recalling the World Trade Center attacks nearly 15 years ago, Trump mistakenly referred to 9/11 as “7-Eleven,” which for any other candidate in the field would likely prove disastrous. But Trump’s campaign seems to be made of Teflon. He’s withstood tough criticism for his perceived xenophobic views on immigrants, especially Mexicans and Muslims. One of the more fascinating phenomena of this race is that the more establishment Republicans and the media challenge his statements, the more his supporters seem to embrace him.

When protesters infiltrate his rowdy speeches, they’re often jeered and heckled by the pro-Trump crowd as the candidate himself yells, “Get ‘em outta here!” Or when Trump laments what he perceives to be a “rigged” political system that serves to prop up party elites, his fans show bitter contempt for party big wigs who they feel have demonstrated little regard for their hardships, particularly since the Great Recession of 2008.

Despite calls to ban all Muslims from entering the US, his lack of empathy for Syrian refugees, and his incendiary remarks about Mexican immigrants, Trump has built up a healthy delegate lead, while seasoned Republican politicians competing for the nomination have failed miserably at fostering similar enthusiasm.

Yet there’s no guarantee that Trump can secure the nomination at the GOP’s July convention in Cleveland. Failure on Trump’s part to grab the 1,237 delegates he needs to become the party’s nominee could trigger a contested floor fight that could rip the party apart and make way for another candidate, perhaps Cruz or Kasich, to get the nod instead. If Trump is denied what he says is his due, he’s already predicted there would be riots at the convention.

Trump launched his campaign last June in true Trump fashion. With the Trump Tower lobby filled with spectators, he waved triumphantly to the crowd as he dramatically descended an escalator with his super model wife Melania in tow and then delivered a bombastic speech that gave birth to his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and launched his chief campaign issue, building a giant wall that would prevent Mexicans from crossing the southern border and into the United States—and making Mexico pay for it.

At the time, many political observers saw Trump’s White House bid as some sort of marketing ploy to enhance his brand or a way for Trump to massage his massive ego.

Ten months later, Trump has built a strong base of supporters who are on the verge of giving him the nomination. New York has spoken. But a slew of other primary battles in states where Trump’s appeal may be less pronounced await.

For Once, Long Island Catches Presidential Primary Fever

John Kasich
Ohio Gov. John Kasich leaves an MSNBC-hosted town hall event in Jericho on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2016. Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

To appreciate just how bizarre it is that New York votes could prove crucial to deciding each party’s nominee in the presidential primary, consider what happened at an MSNBC-hosted town hall for John Kasich last week in Jericho.

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Seated a stone’s throw from the network’s cozy set inside historic Milleridge Inn was Jane Baum of Huntington, a proud “liberal Democrat” and Hillary Clinton supporter who would never consider voting for the Republican Ohio governor, even if New York’s closed primary voting rules allowed it.

Yet she decided to come out for the event anyway for the rare opportunity to see a presidential candidate stump for votes—an experience that New Englanders know well in the Granite State.

“I feel like I’m in living in New Hampshire right now,” Baum smiled.

She wasn’t the only Long Islander enjoying the presidential election-year frenzy. Some voters observing the primary fight from afar even sounded like seasoned operatives, offering armchair analyses.

“I think it’s a total crapshoot,” said Baum’s partner, Todd Kupferman, referring to the GOP’s national nominating convention to be held July in Cleveland.

Several rows behind them was retiree Audrey Schorr of Woodmere, who admitted to tuning into Fox News to stay on top of the primary season.

“I watch Greta, Bill, Megyn…” said Schorr, rattling off the conservative news channel’s weeknight lineup, as if they were her own children. She was attending the town hall with her son.

Now pulling for Kasich, who was about to go toe-to-toe with MSNBC mainstay Chris Matthews, Schorr said she admired Ben Carson, the retired brain surgeon who finally dropped out of the primary race after failing to make a dent. She was also a fan of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose delegate count remarkably has him still in third place despite his dropping out of the race more than a month ago after a humiliating home-state defeat. Schorr had nothing but kind words to say about Kasich.

“He’s utterly charming,” she said.

For Republican voters like Schorr, this presidential primary has been like a real-life Game of Thrones, with an abundance of Oval Office suitors careening toward the nomination.

At one point last year, 18 Republicans were competing for the nomination. Now only three remain—as reality TV star and real estate mogul Donald Trump leads both U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Kasich in the delegate count. An impressive showing in New York on April 19 could swing Trump’s seemingly narrow path to securing the 1,237 delegates he needs for the nomination.

Hillary Clinton Long Island
Hillary Clinton surrounded by family members of victim’s of gun violence during an event in Port Washington. Photo credit: By Michael Davidson for Hillary for America/Flickr

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Clinton has a 244-delegate advantage over U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) going into Tuesday, not counting 400-plus super delegates who are expected to support her at the convention, at least on the first ballot. A win in New York could give Clinton a stranglehold on the nomination and provide much-needed momentum going into similar voting states like Rhode Island and Connecticut. But a surprise Sanders victory would give the self-proclaimed Democratic socialist eight wins in the last nine primaries or caucuses and set the stage for a bitter battle all the way to the party’s July convention.


“Normally New York is just the ATM on the political circuit.”


For many New Yorkers, this is the political equivalent of a 100-year storm. Usually at this point in the primary season, both parties are on the verge of coalescing around one candidate if they haven’t done so already. But this time, New York’s vote could swing the pendulum irreversibly in favor of the two leading contenders.

“In terms of presidential primaries, I don’t remember seeing this kind of activity and this kind of frenzied pace,” said Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, a Clinton supporter.

On Long Island alone, Clinton, former President Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, have all made public appearances since the primary calendar turned from Wisconsin to New York two weeks ago. Sanders has not held an event on LI, preferring large rallies in liberal New York City, but his wife, Jane, did attend a canvassing effort with supporters in Farmingdale last week.

Jacobs said he couldn’t recall a presidential primary in which Democratic candidates actively campaigned on the Island.

On the other side of the aisle, Trump has held two events on LI, one of which attracted 12,000 supporters at Grumman Studios in Bethpage. Kasich engaged in two cable-TV town halls in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, giving voters an opportunity to more closely scrutinize the candidates. Cruz, who has been dogged by his off-putting “New York values” comment, has not stepped foot on the Island, but his wife, Heidi, campaigned in Mineola, Melville and Bellmore—although Ted made a few appearances in New York City.

For comparison, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee in 2012, won all 95 delegates in New York without actually coming to the state because his main competitor at the time, ex-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), had already ended his campaign.

All five presidential candidates have been all over New York City and they’ve made an effort to criss-cross the entire state.

“Normally New York is just the ATM on the political circuit,” said Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg.

The political climate is different this time around, however.

“New Yorkers get to feel a little bit like how voters in Iowa and New Hampshire feel,” he added. “We actually get to see and feel the candidates.”

Greenberg told the story of his 18-year-old daughter attending a Sanders rally at the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany on the same day she saw Trump speak at the Times Union Center arena in the state capital. The week before that she turned out for a Clinton event.

“I think that’s really cool for New Yorkers,” Greenberg said. “For my daughter and for many others, it was a civics lesson. It was a chance to see history and to see the process in action. I think anytime we have that, that’s great.”

Some have pointed to the 1976 presidential primary, which came on the heels of President Richard Nixon’s resignation before he could get impeached in 1974, as the last time the New York primary mattered this much for both parties. Forty-years later, New York is back in play.

Leslie D. Feldman, a professor of political science at Hofstra University, considers the competitive primaries as a win for New York in general.

“This is the best thing that ever happened to New York because if we have the choice of Hillary Clinton or Trump, we get a president from New York, which is something that we haven’t had in decades,” Feldman said, noting that three of the five candidates have played up their New York roots.

“Doesn’t everyone in New York want a New York president?” she added.

Political observers have also speculated that primary fever could drive people to the polls, with Feldman predicting lines down the block.

In 2008, the last time both parties held presidential primaries, 36 percent of Democrats and 34 percent of Republicans turned out to vote in Nassau County. Turnout was significantly less in Suffolk, with roughly 19 percent of voters coming out for both parties.

Despite the political frenzy, Greenberg suspects turnout could fall short of 40 percent statewide, but he’s hoping for record turnouts.

No matter what happens, for two weeks New York was front and center in the political world, giving the rest of the nation a unique opportunity to see what it means for candidates to come face-to-face with voters here.

Just ask Kasich what’s it’s like to stump on LI. When the audience got a chance to challenge the Ohio governor directly at the MSNBC town hall, one skeptical voter was not buying the Ohio governor’s claims that he’s appealing to New York voters and questioned where the candidate was getting his information.

“Who told you that you’re all that popular?” the man said.

Only in New York.

New York Presidential Primary Voters’ Guide 2016

New York Primary
Presidential primary candidates are campaigning in New York ahead of the state's April 19 primary.

Long Island voters will head to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots in an unusually pivotal primary election in New York State that could tip the balance of the race in favor of the Democratic and Republican front-runners.

Currently entangled in a bitter and at times scurrilous race for the Republican nomination are real estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Dueling it out for the Democratic ticket are former Secretary of State and two-time U.S. Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist. As it stands, the convention delegate math favors Trump and Clinton, but both races are far from over.

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What’s remarkable is that New York voters can play such an important part in the process because by this point in previous primary seasons, the contest was essentially decided. This year’s race has already been unlike any in recent memory.

Take Trump’s campaign for starters. The former host of The Apprentice has said his share of incendiary comments. He’s pledged to ban an entire religious group from entering the country, employed a campaign manager who was arrested for grabbing a female reporter, openly discussed in a televised debate the size of his penis and said that women who had an abortion in a world where the procedure was illegal should be punished (before backtracking). Yet he is the Republican candidate leading the polls in New York.

Not to be outdone, Cruz, Trump’s closest rival, has talked about carpet-bombing ISIS, proposed that police conduct patrols of so-called Muslim communities and railed against “New York values.” So far, only two of his GOP colleagues have endorsed him: U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

Kasich, by contrast, has tried to portray himself as the adult in the bunch, but that’s hardly translated into success at the polls. Tellingly, a voter at an MSNBC-hosted town hall in Jericho the other day challenged Kasich, asking him, “Who told you that you’re all that popular?” The governor has only won his home state, which hosts the GOP convention in Cleveland this July, and he’s trailing Trump and Cruz in New York. In the battle for delegates, he is a distant fourth—he even trails Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who dropped out of the race more than a month ago.

Kasich is still trudging forward with the hope that neither Cruz nor Trump will reach the 1,237-delegate count necessary to clinch the nomination on the first ballot, giving party elites the chance to ignore the will of the people and pick who they want to be the GOP nominee. The downside is the risk that a floor fight—or worse—could split the party apart before November’s general election. But Kasich’s gamble has a better chance of paying off now that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), speaker of the House of Representatives, claimed he wouldn’t accept the party’s nomination if it came to that.

The race for the Democratic nomination has been less acrimonious, but that’s not to say that the two contestants aren’t digging in for a mud-slinging finish. Since the primary calendar shifted from Wisconsin to New York almost two weeks ago, Clinton and Sanders have traded their share of jabs, with the Senator from Vermont claiming Clinton is unqualified to be president because she voted in favor of the Iraq war, and Clinton hammering Sanders for his failure to clearly explain the specifics of his policy objectives and his opposition to the family members of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims being able to sue gun manufacturers. The pair also engaged in their most contentious debate yet Thursday in Brooklyn.

Clinton’s second campaign for the White House has also been dogged by questions about her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State and for giving private speeches to Goldman Sachs employees that netted her $675,000. The former first lady, chief diplomat and U.S. Senator has also had to deal with the suggestion that she’s untrustworthy. In a recent AP opinion poll, 55 percent rated her “unfavorable,” compared to 40 percent “favorable.” (For comparison’s sake, the AP poll found that Trump’s ratings were 69 percent “unfavorable” and 26 percent “favorable.)

Meanwhile, Sanders, who was pegged as a fringe candidate early on, has shown he has considerable staying power. He’s been able to outraise the seasoned Clinton political machine in recent months, with Sanders’ supporters pouring $44 million into his coffers in March alone—$15 million more than Clinton raised that same month. And he’s accomplished this while also railing against the influence of money in politics and the rise of super PACs—groups ostensibly unaffiliated with presidential campaigns that can spend unlimited amounts, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. But Sanders reportedly trails Clinton in New York by double-digits in the polls. His nuanced views on guns haven’t played too well in the Empire State, nor has his inability to explain how he’d actually break up the big banks and dispel concerns about his wavering support of Israel. All told, he’s provided his skeptics an opening to further question how his major policy proposals could ever be fulfilled.

So, here we are, Long Island. Two months have passed since the primaries officially got underway, and neither party has yet to coalesce around a single candidate. That’s why, for the first time in years, New York has a say in the matter. What say you, NY?


DEMOCRATS


Hillary Clinton

Photo credit: Adam Schultz/Flickr

Clinton adopted New York as her own after leaving the White House to begin her political career. New York elected Clinton to the U.S. Senate in 2000. Eight years later, she made her first bid for the White House but lost the primary to then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), who would later appoint his one-time rival as Secretary of State. Back on the trail again, Clinton must feel like she’s re-living a bad dream. Yet again, Clinton is facing off against a lesser-known candidate skilled at inspiring young people to engage in the political process. But this time her path to the nomination appears clearer. Clinton has touted her experience across all levels of government. She is campaigning to fight the gun lobby in order to pass “common sense” gun reform, address student loan debt, equal pay for women, build upon Obamacare and continue what she started internationally as the nation’s top diplomat. Clinton has received support from older middle-class Americans and minorities but has struggled to convince young people that she’d be their champion in the White House. Her supporters, however, believe Clinton has the experience needed to get the job done in Washington.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders Campaign photo

The way this campaign is unfolding, it doesn’t appear likely that Sanders will be satisfied with a moral victory. Sanders, who was born in Brooklyn to an immigrant father, has done what many people thought impossible: outraise a candidate who has spent decades developing a political machine. Sanders has won seven of the last eight primary contests leading up to New York’s April 19 vote, and he continues to attract hundreds, if not thousands, to his spirited campaign rallies. The former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and ex-Congressman, says his stance on several hot-button issues has remained the same throughout his political career. After serving 16 years in the House of Representatives, Sanders was elected in 2006 to the U.S. Senate, where he’s continued to fight for progressive causes. Sanders’ campaign has called for an end to institutional racism, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, reforming Wall Street, passing legislation that would essentially reverse the Citizens United decision, providing free public college to all Americans and transforming Obamacare into single-payer health insurance. Sanders has also pledged to protect the environment and reverse the negative effects of climate change. Despite his efforts, Sanders has been unable to crack Clinton’s solid support among African American voters, so he has relied upon the backing of white working class voters and Millennials.


REPUBLICANS


Donald Trump

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks at Grumman Studios in Bethpage on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 (Long Island Press photo)

We all knew he was an entertaining showman. But Trump has convinced his loyal supporters that he’s more than a reality TV star. The billionaire businessman has a tremendous following from voters who felt abandoned by the Republican Party and are dissatisfied with establishment politicians. The real estate mogul has made it tough at times to truly predict how he’d operate once in the White House. He was in favor of punishing women who underwent abortions if they were ruled illegal, but in response to a backlash of criticism he said he’d only punish the abortion providers. He said he’d bring back water-boarding torture of enemy combatants, but then said he wouldn’t force the military to break the law against war crimes. Where Trump has been consistent are his views on immigration. Trump wants to make it impossible for undocumented immigrants to enter America illegally by compelling Mexico to build a wall across the southern border. He is against allowing Syrian refugees from settling in the US. On top of that, he wants to ban all Muslims from coming into the country, and he has tossed around the controversial idea of placing all Muslims in a database. Trump has also called for trade reform with countries such as China, changing the tax code so businesses wouldn’t pay more than 15 percent of their income in taxes, while also eliminating federal taxes for anyone making less than $25,000 annually and repealing Obamacare. His detractors say he’s a modern day American fascist whose ill-conceived ideas would harm the country irreparably. His supporters, however, say he’s the only candidate with the guts to tell it like it is, bolster the military and strengthen the country at home and abroad. Or as his baseball cap puts it: “Make America great again.”

Ted Cruz

(Photo credit: Ted Cruz/Facebook)
(Photo credit: Ted Cruz/Facebook)

The U.S. Senator from Texas has billed himself as the only true Conservative in the race. Cruz, the son of a Cuban refugee father and an American mother, was elected to the Senate amid the Tea Party wave of November 2012, and he has been steadfast in his vision to defend the right to bear arms, to secure the Southern border and uphold “religious liberty.” Many voters may know Cruz as the guy who led a federal government shutdown in 2013 out of opposition to Obamacare, which even angered some of his Republican colleagues. He’s also called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) “a liar.” Cruz is unapologetic about rolling back the power of Uncle Sam and transferring it to individual states. Like Trump, Cruz’s campaign has not been without controversial comments. A star of Princeton University’s debate team when he was an undergraduate, Cruz said his plan to defeat the so-called Islamic State would be to “carpet bomb them into oblivion.” The term is used to describe indiscriminate attacks—which is outlawed by the Geneva Convention because it causes so many civilian casualties. “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark,” he added, “but we’re going to find out.” After the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Cruz suggested that authorities here “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods” to prevent radicalization, which also drew scrutiny and the ire of the Muslim American community. The Texas Senator believes that marriage is a union only between a man and a woman. As someone who is pro-life, he has advocated for defunding Planned Parenthood. He also wants to shrink the size of the federal government by eliminating the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce and Department of Housing and Urban Development.

John Kasich

John Kasich
Ohio Gov. John Kasich leaves an MSNBC-hosted town hall event in Jericho on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2016. Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

The Ohio governor is trailing so far behind delegate-leader Donald Trump that there’s no reasonable expectation he’ll win the Republican nomination outright. Kasich, however, has other plans. By remaining in the race, Kasich wants to prevent Trump from reaching the 1,237-delegate count required to win the nod, thereby forcing a contested convention in Cleveland. Once there, anything can happen, or so he hopes. Kasich is banking on establishment Republicans to support him on the convention floor once delegates become unbound after the first round of voting. But there’s no guarantee Cruz and Kasich will be able to impede Trump’s path to the nomination. So Kasich is reaching out to moderate voters uncomfortable with Trump’s blustery approach and Cruz’s uber-Conservative views. On abortion, he said he would want Ohio to defund Planned Parenthood. Kasich is running on his record as a Congressman and a governor, his current position. Kasich has talked about giving more power to states and has pledged, if elected, to send Congress a plan within the first 100 days of his presidency to balance the federal budget, cut taxes and spur job creation. He also loves to talk about “electability”—telling voters that he’s essentially a shoe-in to win his home state of Ohio—a crucial swing state—in the general election. Kasich would also repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that would lower costs without placing a burden on businesses.

Happy voting, LI!