Rashed Mian

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

Bernie Sanders’ Campaign Reaches Fever Pitch on Long Island

Bernie Sanders, once considered a long-shot, is now going toe-to-toe with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire and Iowa and has cut into her once-considerable lead nationally. (Photo credit: Bernie Sanders 2016)

As she sat by the counter with a smartphone to her ear and a website on her tablet generating a list of phone numbers, Eileen Gruber couldn’t help but think of her union-organizing father.

“He taught me to be active, he taught me to give back,” the Greenlawn resident says in between making phone calls at 30-year-old Joe Tronolone’s house in Islip, where a handful of people have gathered to drum up support for the insurgent presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “I want to show my kids the same thing.”

“I don’t like making phone calls,” she admits, “but I’m doing this.”

No one really likes cold-calling people who are about to sit down for dinner after a long day’s work, but Gruber and her fellow Sanders supporters, encouraged by recent poll numbers, are intent on helping out any way they can.

The last time Gruber was inspired to pick up a phone for a candidate was during then-Sen. Barack Obama’s historic run in 2008.

It was her daughter who initially encouraged her to explore Sanders’ positions. A little bit of research then turned into pro-Sanders posts on Facebook. Now she’s all-in as a volunteer.

For Gruber, it was Sanders’ plan to tackle soaring student loan interest rates that caught her eye.

Her 21-year-old daughter, who, ironically, is named Hilary—with one “L,” she reminds this reporter—recently graduated college and is holding down two jobs in order to pay off thousands of dollars in crushing student loan debt.

“My big fear,” Gruber says, “is I’ve got two kids, and I’m afraid they’re not going to have what I have.” Gruber says her daughter wants to be an art therapist, and Hilary won’t be compensated with a six-figure salary.

“She wants to help people,” Gruber says. “People like that should be encouraged, not discouraged.”

Thus, her support for the plucky Vermont senator.

Sanders, an independent who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has emerged as a real threat to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton’s bid. The self-proclaimed—and unapologetic—”Democratic socialist” has no problem attracting tens of thousands to his high-energy appearances as his anti-establishment, take-money-out-of-politics crusade continues to resonate with a segment of the American public fed up with Citizens United, the controversial 2010 US Supreme Court decision that gave rise to Super PACs—independent political groups that can donate heavily and anonymously to political campaigns.

“This great nation, and its government, belong to all of the people, and not to a handful of billionaires,” Sanders said in his campaign kickoff in May.

Sanders, the 74-year-old Brooklyn-born civil rights activist-turned-politician who eschews a teleprompter, hit his stride during the summer months, forcing Clinton to finally weigh in on issues fancied by progressive Democrats, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline, which she now says she opposes.

Clinton currently trails Sanders in New Hampshire and Iowa polling, and her once-considerable lead nationally has taken a hit, though she still holds a double-digit lead, according to various surveys. In the last quarter Sanders raised $26 million through mostly small individual donations, compared to the $28 million Clinton accumulated through her vast fundraising network. Sanders is fond of saying he doesn’t accept Super PAC money, a not-so-veiled shot at his main Democratic competitor and the robust field of Republican hopefuls who, in some cases, have raked in tens of millions from the likes of the Koch brothers and other deep-pocketed donors. (The $28 million figure does not include how much pro-Clinton Super PACs have raised for her.)

With a year to go before the 2016 election, many mainstream Democrats remain convinced that Sanders won’t win the nomination, let alone the White House.

“I do not believe that America’s voters are prepared to elect a socialist as president of the United States,” says Jay Jacobs, Nassau County Democratic chairman.

Sanders’ race may be more sustainable than seasoned political observers envisioned. Last week, for example, his campaign announced that it had reached its goal of getting one million individual donations at a quicker pace than both of Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Much of the credit for his successful first five months on the campaign trail goes to an army of grassroots volunteers who are essentially working for free on the ground and on the Internet. Inspired by his populist ideas, scores of people have taken to social media sites like Facebook and Reddit, the go-to place for young, politically minded people, to broadcast comical memes, Sanders-related articles and commentary. Meanwhile, talented computer programmers are creating stylish websites to coherently explain Sanders’ stance on issues like income inequality, mass incarceration, immigration and civil rights, while also designing flyers that can be handed out in mass. And this is all done with little or no collaboration with the official Sanders campaign.

These are also trying times for Clinton’s campaign, which has had to divert important resources to respond to incessant queries about a private server that stored government emails during her time as the nation’s chief diplomat. The former Secretary of State’s campaign is also on a mission to make their candidate more “likable” by having her appear on popular shows that could highlight other sides of her personality like this season’s premiere of Saturday Night Live, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, as well as on Lena Dunham’s new website.

“Politicians generally are not viewed as trustworthy,” says Jacobs, current member of the Democratic National Committee and the former head of the New York Democratic State Committee, who was critical of the mainstream media’s response to Clinton’s perceived email scandal. “I know her and I’ve been with her a number of times personally and privately, and I see who she is and the type of person she is, and that very often hasn’t come across.”

Sanders, at least for now, doesn’t have a “likability” problem. In fact, his supporters on Long Island—ranging from concerned parents to college students and disgruntled voters—believe he’s as authentic as any career politician can be.

“He’s not this smooth-talking guy,” says Tronolone, sitting in his Islip living room buzzing with Sanders’ supporters. “He’s an angry guy waving his arms around but people really like what he has to say.”

It’s people like him and Gruber who are stepping up to the plate to sell Sanders to skeptical observers.

Feelin’ the Bern


New Yorkers won’t get the chance to vote for a White House contender until next April’s primary, but there is a sense of urgency at Tronolone’s house on this Thursday in late September because of a pending state deadline that requires voters to register under the proper party affiliation by Oct. 9 in order for them to be eligible to vote in the primaries. The mission for the evening is clear: call as many unaffiliated voters as possible whose current party registration may make them agreeable to some of Sanders’ positions.

After a few minutes of instructions—and bites of spaghetti slathered in olive oil and minced garlic—the volunteers get down to business.

Tronolone takes the couch. Gruber finds a seat at a small counter in the kitchen and launches a browser that takes her to the site where she can access numbers to call. Larae Beale of East Meadow decides to make calls from a staircase leading to the second floor. Frank Imburgio of Dix Hills finds a spot at the dining table, which is filled with snacks and a delightful looking flatbread.

It’s not a conventional call center, but it’ll do. After all, Sanders’ grassroots pursuit of the Democratic nomination has been nothing if not eccentric.

At about 7:30 p.m., Gruber finally gets someone to bite.

“I was a registered independent, too,” she tells the man on the other end of the phone after her initial pitch, “probably for similar reasons as you, and I changed my registration because I really like [Sanders’] positions on income inequality and on college tuition.”

She directs him to appropriate websites with information on changing party affiliation.

“Thank you very much!” says Gruber, reminding him again about the Oct. 9 deadline. “That’s a week-and-a-half. Very important. Okay? Thank you!”

She celebrates by punching the air with her left hand and smiles.

“It matters to me,” Gruber says, looking around the room at the work she and the other volunteers are doing. “It matters to me a lot.”

Watching the scene unfold from across the dining room table is Imburgio, who says he first became mobilized at the beginning of summer, just around the time Sanders’ officially launched his campaign.

“Everything he has said I’ve always agreed with,” says Imburgio.

“The biggest thing by far is corporate funding, and Citizens United specifically,” he says, listing issues he’s concerned about. “The one percent not paying their fare share of taxes, corporate loopholes.”

Those gathered at Tronolone’s didn’t know one another prior to volunteering for Sanders’ campaign. Along with other LI Sanders supporters, they hand out pro-Sanders flyers at supermarkets and railroad stations, and communicate online through social media sites or a program called Slack, which reminds many users of AOL’s dial-up-era chat-rooms. Although the volunteers range in age from 25 to mid-50s, they have found common ground politically.

Tronolone hopes to one day see an end to corporate financing of elections. Sanders has said that if elected he’d only nominate Supreme Court justices willing to overturn Citizens United. But there’s so much more Tronolone says needs to be done.

“Income inequality is another thing, especially living here on Long Island,” he says from his couch. “You can see there’s some town where’s there’s unimaginable money and it’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe people live here in these houses,’ and then there’s places where it’s overrun with poverty.

“We’re unsustainable right now environmentally, economically,” Tronolone adds. “We’re headed toward a lot of catastrophes, and I feel that he’s the only one who’s really willing to take things on, to turn things around.”

Long Island supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in late September making phone calls to remind voters wishing to participate in next year's primaries to make sure they're registered by Oct. 9. Joe Tronolone (left) hosted the event,
Long Island supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in late September making phone calls to remind voters wishing to participate in next year’s primaries to make sure they’re registered by Oct. 9. Joe Tronolone (left) hosted the event,

Tronolone was among hundreds who went to Sanders’ New York City fundraiser at The Town Hall on Sept. 18. The Long Island contingent also included 34-year-old Sandra Garay Avila, who works for a medical billing company. She’s been following Sanders for about two years, she says.

Avila estimates that she’s spent about $400 of her own money to contribute to the campaign, whether its been through donations or the cost of printing flyers. She recently put in an order for 10,000 flyers aimed at appealing to Hispanic voters.

“It feels good at the end of the day when I do it,” she says, “because it is something that most of us are passionate about.”

Avila is worried about the future because of what she fears are similarities between this country and her family’s native El Salvador. About three decades ago, her parents’ home country was being run by just about a dozen families who combined owned 70 percent of the farm land, she says.

“When I look at this country now, I see it headed in the same direction, and it scares me because this is my country now, and this is the country my kids are going to live in and my grandkids,” Avila says.

Sanders’ brand of politics is also appealing to students on college campuses.

Michael Liuzzi, a 25-year-old Master’s student at Stony Brook University studying computer science, is not surprised at all with how well Sanders has performed up until now.

Liuzzi is a member of a Facebook group called “SBU Seawolves For Sanders.” Its members often gather on campus and encourage people to vote—whatever their political persuasion may be. Of course, they want people to vote for Sanders.

Liuzzi says the Internet has played a major role in organizing volunteer efforts.

“Bernie’s campaign is hyper technology-literate,” he says. “That’s sort of where he’s dominating in terms of organizing right now because he doesn’t have a big ground presence.”

“He’s getting a lot of people to do a lot of things for him for free,” Liuzzi adds. “And we love it.”

With awareness of Sanders’ campaigning growing, he has also opened himself up to more scrutiny. In July, Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is also running for the Democratic nomination, attended a Netroots Nation town hall-style meeting and were repeatedly interrupted by members of the Black Lives Matters movement who wanted to hear detailed answers on how they’d address racial issues.

“Black lives, of course, matter,” Sanders reportedly said. “I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and dignity, but if you don’t want me to be here, that’s O.K. I don’t want to out-scream people.”

Sanders’ campaign has recently been accused of squashing dissent when pro-Palestine activists carrying signs that borrowed a popular Sanders’ campaign phrase—“Will ya feel the Bern 4 Palestine??!”—were told to drop the signs or leave.

“We received a warm welcome from all surrounding Bernie supporters and rally participants, many of whom also were carrying signs,” the group, Boston Students for Justice in Palestine, wrote on Facebook. “Within minutes of arriving, we were approached by police and venue staff, and told that the Bernie Sanders’ campaign team asks that we take down our sign. To our knowledge, nobody else who were carrying signs were asked to do the same.”

A campaign spokesperson said in a statement to The Intercept that “what happened was a poor decision by a low-level staffer and doesn’t reflect campaign policy.”

There’s also the matter of gun control, one issue in which Clinton appears more eager than Sanders to tackle directly. The issue was once again brought to the fore when a gunman opened fire inside a community college in rural Oregon, killing nine people. In a speech in New Hampshire on Monday, Clinton called for universal background checks and said, if elected, she’d take action with or without Congress’ help.

Sanders’ own record on guns could prove problematic considering his progressive label. When he served in the House of Representatives, Sanders voted against the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, which passed anyway. Sanders’ take on guns may be shaped by the state he represents.

Vermont boasts nearly 1 million acres of federal and public land that’s open to hunting, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s website, which notes: “Hunting is a way of life here.” Sanders’ campaign released a statement Monday in which the senator called for a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole and a better-enforced instant background check system.

The first Democratic debate is scheduled for Oct. 13, to be broadcast from Nevada on CNN. It may give voters a clearer understanding of each candidate’s position. Despite his rising popularity in the early primary states, Sanders isn’t as well-known nationally as Clinton, who previously served as the country’s First Lady when Bill Clinton was presdient and later as a U.S. Senator in New York before becoming Secretary of State under President Obama, so he needs a strong performance to endear him to more Americans.

None of the Sanders’ supporters interviewed for this story were fervently anti-Clinton, but they said their passion for Sanders would make it difficult for them to vote for Clinton if the 67-year-old Democrat eventually gets the nod.

“I don’t know,’ says Gruber when asked how’d she vote if Clinton were on the Democratic ticket for president. “I think Bernie is going to get the nomination, to be honest with you. I really believe it. I think that the party base, the people who really do vote and care is not as conservative as everybody believes that we are.”

“I don’t think people hate Hillary,” says Liuzzi. “I think that they think she’ll do some of what needs to get done. I just think they think Bernie is a better choice.”

“Bernie gets by on his own strengths,” he adds, “without having to point out any of her glaring weaknesses.”

Forecasters: Hurricane Joaquin to Track Away from Long Island

Hurricane Joaquin Satellite
Image of Hurricane Joaquin taken by NOAA satellite. (Photo credit: NOAA)

Friday brought good news for Long Islanders as meteorologists were provided a clearer understanding of Hurricane Joaquin’s path—which, for the time being, does not include Long Island.

“The forecast models continue to indicate a track offshore of the United States east coast from the Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic states, and the threat of direct impacts from Joaquin in those areas is decreasing,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Locally, the Upton-based National Weather Service said on its Facebook page that the latest update “is still showing Hurricane Joaquin to be passing far offshore.”

8AM update is still showing Hurricane Joaquin to be passing far offshore.

Posted by US National Weather Service New York NY on Friday, October 2, 2015

But that doesn’t mean the region won’t be impacted by Joaquin, which is currently battering the Bahamas for a third consecutive day as a category 4 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.

“Even if Joaquin remains offshore, strong onshore winds associated with a frontal system will create minor to moderate coastal flooding along the coasts of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states through the weekend,” the National Hurricane Center said.

Extremely dangerous Hurricane Joaquin is moving slowly northwestward as it batters the Central Bahamas for a third day….

Posted by NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center on Friday, October 2, 2015

The Island is currently under a coastal flood advisory until 3 p.m. Friday and a high surf advisory until 6 p.m. Sunday, according to the weather service.

The forecast for Friday calls for up to a half an inch of rain and breezy conditions. Temperatures will remain in the mid-50s, forecasters said.

More wet weather is expected through the weekend, meteorologists said.

Forecasters in recent days had been hesitant to predict Joaquin’s path due to a number of atmospheric conditions, prompting officials in Nassau and Suffolk counties to urge residents to prepare for the worst. Both Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said it’d be prudent to err on the side of caution.

Local municipalities also instructed residents to be proactive by stocking up on non-perishable goods, batteries, gas for generators and vehicles, and other necessary supplies.

“Looks like our prayers have been answered and this hurricane will be moving offshore,” Bellone said Friday of his “prepare and pray” plan during a news conference at Robert Moses State Park.

He cautioned that although LI isn’t expected to get a direct hit, coastal flooding, beach erosion and strong winds are still expected this weekend.

Although Fire Island ferry companies are suspending service Sunday, Bellone said he has not ordered an evacuation of the barrier island.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a conference call with a reporters Friday afternoon welcomed the good news but said the state would continue to take a wait-and-see approach.

“We’re not getting complacent here because weather reports change,” Cuomo said. “I’ve been through too many of these situations where we had good news one minute and bad news the next. We are not accelerating our deployment, but we are not relaxed yet, either, especially in the larger facilities and especially downstate.”

-With Chuck Cannini

Long Islanders Urged to Prepare for Hurricane Joaquin

Hurricane Joaquin is expected to slam central Bahamas overnight. (Photo: NOAA)

With Hurricane Joaquin threatening the East Coast, Long Island officials began urging the public to prepare for the worst despite the storm’s uncertain path as it reached major hurricane status Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center upgraded Joaquin to a Category 4 hurricane with 130 mph sustained winds, terming it “extremely dangerous.” It was expected to batter the central Bahamas overnight. As for where Joaquin will hit next, meteorologists are grappling with major unknowns due to the myriad atmospheric conditions in play. The intensifying storm could make landfall in the Northeast or veer further into the Atlantic, sparing significant coastal damage.

“Right now we’re essentially in a ‘prepare and pray’ mode,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone told reporters during a press conference at police headquarters in Yaphank. “We’re gonna prepare for a worst-case scenario; we’re gonna pray that it does not unfold.”

Although the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane watch may not be issued for the East Coast until Friday at the earliest, the National Weather Service issued a coastal flood watch and high surf advisory through 6 a.m. Friday to start. Astronomically higher than usual tides are forecast to cause barrier beach erosion and flood coastal homes.

The message from officials in both Nassau and Suffolk counties is to stay informed, have go-kits ready for residents in low-lying areas, stock up on enough food and water that would last at least three days, gas up vehicles and generators, and heed evacuation warnings, if any are issued, so as not to put first responders unnecessarily in harm’s way.

“The county is prepared to respond,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said Thursday morning during a press conference at the Nassau County Office of Emergency Management in Bethpage.

The county executive expressed confidence in a rapid and efficient reaction if the storm strikes, noting that Nassau learned from Superstorm Sandy, which hit LI three years ago this month. He added that residents also have to play their part, because early preparation prior to Sandy “saved lives.”

Both Mangano and Bellone said their counties have more assets to help tackle the storm than they did during Sandy, touting dozens of high-axle vehicles used for flood rescues, portable traffic lights for blackouts and a slew of new emergency generators. One of the major issues in the early days following Sandy were the power outages that knocked out traffic lights, making roads very dangerous. An increase in portable traffic lights should help alleviate that problem, Mangano noted.

Local municipalities are also calling residents to be vigilant. Town of Hempstead said it’s preparing equipment for a potential storm and urged boaters to begin removing their vessels from marinas.

“It is critical for each and every one of us to formulate a hurricane preparedness plan, and to be ready when and if the storm arrives,” said Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray.

In Brookhaven Town, supervisor Ed Romaine informed residents that they should visit the town’s website for news and weather updates, and also to access its “Hurricane Survival Guide.”

Calling for the public to be proactive, Islip town officials not only cited Sandy’s aftermath, but also invoked the “unprecedented and unpredicted” storm in August 2014 that flooded neighborhoods with a record-setting 13 inches of rainfall, the most ever measured in a 24-hour period statewide.

If a major tropical storm does hit LI, it would be the first true test for PSEG Long Island since it took over for the Long Island Power Authority in January 2014 amid outrage over LIPA’s inadequate response to Sandy. The utility said it’s monitoring Hurricane Joaquin and is preparing for a potential deluge of rain and powerful wind gusts. Resources will be in place over the weekend to initiate electric service restoration “as soon as the storm passes,” PSEG LI said in a statement.

Officials remain concerned about LI’s Sandy-battered infrastructure. For example, construction is ongoing at Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant, which suffered a catastrophic failure during Sandy. Mangano said the county will use sandbags as an added layer of protection around the plant because a planned storm wall is still being built. Pumps have also been installed to keep pumping sewage away from people’s homes, the county executive said.

On the other side of the county line, Bellone expressed concern that the dunes on Fire Island have yet to be restored since they were flattened by Sandy, which puts coastal communities on the Great South Bay at risk of flooding. Fire Island Ferries, the largest boat service to the mostly car-free barrier island, said it plans to suspend service Sunday.

Meanwhile, without knowing where Joaquin will go next, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told all New Yorkers to get ready for the hurricane.

“Since we don’t know if the storm is downstate or upstate, you have to prepare statewide,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo reporters on a conference call Thursday.After Sandy,many upstate communities were devastated by severe flooding that left bridges impassable for days, if not weeks.

The governor said it’s too early to tell what major roads, if any, will be closed or whether mass transit will be shut down in New York City and on Long Island as it was during Irene and Sandy.

He added that maintenance crews are clearing problem areas in streams and conduits that have proven problematic in past storms, as emergency management offices are being activated statewide and are coordinating with utility agencies, “especially on Long Island.”

Cuomo said that experience with prior hurricanes have helped the state better prepare for tropical cyclones. But he cautioned that Mother Nature always finds a blind spot.

“You can’t be prepared for everything,” he warned.

One thing’s for sure, more rain is definitely heading toward LI, with heavy downfall expected Friday morning and possibly through the weekend along with strong winds.

Cops: DWI Charge In Fatal Motorcycle Crash

A 22-year-old Brentwood man was charged with driving while intoxicated following a crash that killed a motorcyclist in his hometown Sunday night, Suffolk County police said.

Anthony Brody-Santos was driving a 1999 Nissan Altima southbound on Washington Avenue just before 11:20 p.m., police said, when he crashed into a 2001 Honda motorcycle that was turning onto Clarke Street.

The motorcyclist, 47-year-old Jose Funes of Brentwood, was transported to Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, where he died from his injuries, police said.

Brody-Santos, who was not injured, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday at First District Court in Central Islip.

Both vehicles were impounded for safety checks. The investigation is continuing, police said. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is asked to call the Vehicular Crime Unit at 631-852-6555 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls are anonymous.

Bohemia Man, 58, Killed in Holbrook Motorcycle Crash

A 55-year-old Bohemia man was killed Sunday night in a motorcycle crash in Holbrook, Suffolk County police said.

Victor Cinelli was riding a 1989 Honda motorcycle westbound on Portion Road at 7:40 p.m., police said, when he was struck by a 1997 Toyota Avalon. The driver was attempting to make a left turn onto Holbrook Road when his car crashed into Cinelli’s motorcycle, according to police.

Cinelli was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The 58-year-old driver of the Toyota was hospitalized with neck and back injuries, police reported.

Both the Toyota and the motorcycle were impounded for safety checks, police said. The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information about the crash is asked to call the Sixth Squad at 631-854-8652.

Pope Francis Calls for Compassion in Historic Speech to Congress



Congress on Thursday got a lesson in morality and compassion from His Holiness but how long that message resonates once the pontiff leaves Capitol Hill is anyone’s guess.

Pope Francis, the shepherd of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, stood before members of Congress and offered an impassioned plea for lawmakers to unite in raising families out of extreme poverty and reciprocating the openness that immigrants in the past were met with, while reminding them of their duties to those they serve—“especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk.”

Francis, who made history as the first Pope to address a joint meeting of Congress, spoke passionately about a number of hot-button issues engulfing America today, including climate change and income inequality. Perhaps his most forceful plea came when he called for the “global abolition of the death penalty.”

“I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes,” Francis said.

The pontiff prefaced his death penalty remarks by talking about the world’s “responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” prompting sustained applause from lawmakers. His remarks appeared to be a veiled reference to abortion, but his quick transition to the death penalty left everything up to interpretation. Afterward, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) told the Press by phone that the overall consensus was that Francis was speaking about abortion.

The Pope, who remains very popular in the US and around the world, did not deviate from addressing poverty and the plight of immigrants–issues that have made him such a worldwide favorite, even among people who lost faith in the Catholic Church or never showed much interest in its teachings.

“I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty,” Francis said. “They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.”

On immigration, he spoke about how being a son of immigrants has influenced him. He likened the current Syrian refugee crisis to the movement northward of South and Central Americans fleeing gang violence and brutal drug wars.

Mentioning immigrant parents seeking a better life for their families, Francis said: “Is this not what we want for our own children?”

“We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation, to respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal,” the pontiff said. “We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

The Pope’s whirlwind US tour began Wednesday. He arrived in Washington D.C. to the type of pageantry and pomp that in retrospect does not represent the spirit he has embodied since his papacy began two years ago—as a champion of the poor and the marginalized. But with the palpable excitement that has engulfed the US since his long-awaited trip was announced, it’s difficult to imagine holding a more subdued celebration for a man so revered by millions worldwide.

From coast to coast, the Pope’s visit has drawn interest from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

At St. Peter of Alcantara Roman Catholic Church in Port Washington Thursday about a dozen people, mostly parishioners, eagerly peered at the television as they waited to hear Francis’ remarks.

They washed down bagels with coffee and listened to every word of newscasts covering the joint meeting of Congress. The media coverage gave the event the air of a Super Bowl pre-game show, replete with analyses and a breakdown of Francis’ brief period as the shepherd of the Catholic church.

The Pope makes a historic visit to New York City Friday and Lourdes Taglialatela, 50, of Medford, will be among thousands at Central Park in Manhattan seeking to catch a glimpse of Francis.

Taglialatela, the director of the parish social justice ministry at St. Peter of Alcantara, said she sees the face of Jesus Christ in Francis.

“He has breathed new hope and a new passion into the Church, into the Catholic Church, into the Christian faith,” she told the Press. “And I think he’s going to be a remarkable force in uniting the Church.”

“He is a man who is for the poor; his heart is for the poor,” she added. “That’s his plight. His plight is for justice for the poor, and that’s really our mandate as Christians: to reach out and take care of the poor.”

Taglialatela could hardly contain her elation over Francis’ pending visit. When someone poked her head into the room, she loudly exclaimed: “There’s coffee and bagels—and the Pope!”



The Francis viewing party was organized by Long Island Jobs with Justice, a workers’ rights and economic justice advocacy group based in Hauppauge.

Victoria Daza, 27, the immigrant rights organizer for the group, appreciates Francis’ encouraging nations to be more accepting of immigrants.

“I see it as more of a moral question,” Daza told the Press. “The fact of the matter is that if you are someone who values kindness, if you’re someone who values solidarity with those who are disenfranchised, then you cannot take a neutral stance on immigration because one of the most moral figures in our world is taking a stance on it.”

Daza can sympathize with families seeking a new life. Daza left Peru with her grandmother when she was six years old. They crossed the US border together while her mother was being held as a political prisoner. One year later, Daza’s mother was able to secure political asylum in the US, she said.

Seated in upholstered chairs in a semicircle facing the television, the group quietly watched Francis speak. Certain moments, like when Francis touched on family and faith, drew soft applause from some viewers.

Afterward they briefly answered questions about his address. The majority were impressed with Francis’ ability to raise important issues without preaching or waving a finger of discontent.

“He brings out the best even through his gestures,” said one woman. “He gives you many things to aspire to.”

Daza said she was moved by the Pope’s comments on abolishing the death penalty.

Another woman noted that his presence in America is important because the country is a “fire keg” right now.

“He’s unifying everybody,” offered Taglialatela.

Father Patrick Whitney, who’s been the priest at St. Peter of Alcantara Roman Catholic Church for nine years, reflected on Francis’ overall theme of compassion.

The pontiff, he said, delivered a message of encouragement and the importance of “talking to each other and really respecting each other, no matter what religious background or no religion…that there’s a dignity about every human being and we need to begin to respect each other.”

Parishioner Kathy McIntyre is hopeful Francis convinced people to be more tolerant of each other.

“There will be differences on every single issue,” she told the Press, “but the challenge is to find the common ground and make it better for society.”

With a potential federal government shutdown looming and an already vitriolic presidential race in full swing, the question is how lawmakers will use Francis’ message to better society.

“Just being there was exhilarating, very moving as a Catholic,” Rep. King told the Press by phone after the session ended with the pontiff. “But a majority of the Congress is not Catholic, and it just seemed to be that reaction through the entire hall. But I certainly was very moved by him just being there.”

King said the big takeaways were the moral issues the Pope raised, specifically about immigration and the environment.

“We do have to look at foreigners being the same as ourselves, and we have to realize that immigrants are good people,” said King, the former chairman of the House Homeland Security committee. “At the same time…I also believe that we have to find a way to control our borders, and we have to have a much better idea of who’s in the country and who’s not. Otherwise, why have passports and visas and everything else? But again, I think it’s important that when we debate these issues, we do it honestly, and we try not to demonize and not try to attack the other side or somehow dehumanize the immigrants that we’re talking about.”

The Congressman noted that Francis’ message appeared to resonate in Congress, but he’s not sure how long that will last, given the pressing issues rippling through the legislative body.

“I think it did among some, but already there’s talk about shutting the government down on our side, and I think some Democrats almost relish the thought of the government being shut down so that they could say that we’re morons,” he said. “But it did have some sort of calming effect anyway.”

Despite never having set foot on US soil before, Francis did not waste time ingratiating himself with his guests. He spoke about President Abraham Lincoln—”the guardian of liberty”—and Martin Luther King Jr., and his dream for a more inclusive America.

“The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States,” Francis told the lawmakers. “The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.”

The Pope’s America tour continues in New York. He’s scheduled to perform mass at Madison Square Garden and parade through Central Park, where more pomp and circumstance no doubt awaits.

Ben Carson’s Views on Electing a Muslim President Draw Rebuke

Muslim leaders gathered Wednesday in Mineola to denounce the prejudice they perceived in comments from Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, who said recently that he would not “advocate” for a Muslim in the White House.

Standing on the steps of Nassau County Supreme Court on a sun-splashed morning as Pope Francis made a historic speech on the White House lawn, this group of local Muslims called on politicians from all parties to engage in constructive dialogue amid a disturbing rise in Islamophobia nationwide.

Wednesday’s gathering came three days after GOP president candidate Ben Carson said on NBC’s Meet the Press: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

On Monday, Carson appeared to double down in a Facebook post to his nearly 4 million followers on the social media site.

“I could never support a candidate for President of the United States that was Muslim and had not renounced the central tenet of Islam: Sharia Law,” he said.

Carson went on to acknowledge that there are “many peaceful Muslims who do not adhere to these beliefs. But until these tenets are fully renounced…I cannot advocate any Muslim candidate for President.”

But on Tuesday, Carson seemingly gave his blessing to people of all faiths to run for president as long as they put the Constitution ahead of their beliefs.

CNN reported that fundraising dollars have “poured in” since the former brain surgeon first made his controversial remarks on television Sunday.

In Mineola on Wednesday, Ali Mirza of Elmont denounced Carson’s comments.

“Politicians should not use us as political footballs,” he said, referring to Carson, who’s now surging in Republican polls after the second GOP debate held last week.

“It is basically a political issue,” Mirza added. “Some people are using whatever they can in order to get attention in the media and to address a very limited group of voters within their party.”

“No religious test should ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” Mirza said, quoting the Constitution.

Carson isn’t the only GOP candidate who has drawn attention for his views on Islam. Donald Trump, who is leading in the polls, was criticized last week for placating a questioner at a New Hampshire event who, referring to Muslims, asked: “When can we get rid of them?”

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things,” Trump responded.

Long Island civil rights attorney Frederick Brewington, a Christian, stood alongside Muslim leaders Wednesday. He advised Trump and Carson to “stop being ignorant candidates.”

“Don’t remain silent on this issue because your silence bespeaks of your acceptance of this misinformation that is put out concerning our brothers and our sisters who are of the Muslim tradition,” Brewington said in a message to local officials.

“We are rich because of our diversity,” he added.

Carson’s comments drew a strong rebuke nationwide from Democrats and Muslim leaders. Other Republican candidates, like Ted Cruz (R-TX), Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, and Marco Rubio (R-FL), invoked the Constitution when asked if Muslims were fit to sit in the White House.

“The freedom of religion is a founding principle of our nation,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, in a statement. “For Ben Carson, Donald Trump, or any other Republican politician to suggest that someone of any faith is unfit for our office is out of touch with who we are as a people.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, called on Carson to withdraw from the race.

Mirza invited both the Nassau Republican and Democratic committees to meet with Muslim leaders to discuss community issues.

Both Carson’s and Trump’s comments come one week after a 14-year-old high school student in Texas was arrested for bringing in a clock he made at home which school officials mistook for a potential bomb. The arrest sparked an outpouring of support for the teen on social media–including an invitation from President Obama to bring his invention to the White House–and accusations of Islamophobia among school officials and police in Texas.

Meanwhile, national security hawks in Congress, such as Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), have criticized the president’s plan to welcome thousands of Syrian refugees into the country, citing security concerns. The majority of people fleeing war-torn Syria are Muslim.

Muslim Teen’s Arrest In Texas Over Homemade Clock Sparks Outrage

Mohamed Ahmed arrest
Mohamed Ahmed, 14, was arrested after school officials and law enforcement mistook a homemade clock for a bomb. (Photo credit: Twitter: Anil Dash)

The arrest of a 14-year-old Muslim high school student in Texas for bringing a homemade clock to class has sparked a national uproar about Islamophobia.

Mohamed Ahmed, an eighth grader at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, has an affinity for building electronic gadgets in his bedroom. He rose to fame overnight as social media erupted over his controversial arrest on Monday. By Wednesday afternoon, he’d been invited to meet President Obama at the White House–with the clock in hand.

Ahmed’s whirlwind ordeal began when he decided to bring it to school to impress his teachers. One science teacher complimented Ahmed but warned him not to show it to anyone else. Acting on his teacher’s advice, Ahmed left it in his schoolbag. But the clock’s alarm sounded during his sixth-period English class, prompting that teacher to notify the principal and confiscate the clock, which Ahmed had built at his home in 20 minutes.

“It looks like a bomb,” the teacher purportedly told Ahmed, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me,’” Ahmed replied.

Ahmed was eventually led into the principal’s office with a police escort. He was handcuffed despite vehemently explaining that the presumed “bomb” was indeed a working clock, according to news reports.

“We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” said Irving Police spokesperson James McLellan, according to the Dallas Morning News. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”

Following his arrest, a photo of Ahmed in handcuffs surfaced on social media. The hashtag #IStandWithAhmed became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter Wednesday morning, featuring a bevy of support and Tweets lampooning police and school officials for what many considered an overreaction and an example of blatant American Islamophobia.


Dr. Hussein Rashid, an adjunct assistant professor of religion at Hofstra University and founder of the consultancy group islamicate, L3C, which focuses on religious literacy and cultural competency, began laughing when he was asked about Ahmed’s arrest.

“I’m utterly flabbergasted,” said Rashid. “You got to think about the multiple failures that had to happen here, right? A student who wants to prove he’s good in science goes to his teacher and says, ‘I am a good student.'”

Rashid criticized the teacher and school administration in Texas for involving law enforcement.

“It’s a perfect storm of social factors,” continued Rashid. “There’s a culture of Islamophobia, where your first thought anytime you see a brown person acting smart is that they must be a terrorist because we’ve got this long history of racism where people of color are inherently stupid. And then, so a brown, smart person is a terrorist.”

When it was first revealed that the NYPD was spying on Muslim communities on Long Island, the five boroughs and in New Jersey, Muslim groups said such tactics would discourage members of the community to speak their mind, and in some cases pray at their mosque, out of fear that something they say or do could make them a target of law enforcement.

“This has a real impact beyond getting eighth graders arrested for trying to impress the teacher,” Rashid added. “This has a very casual [message]: we’re all being surveyed right now.”

Dr. Isma Chaudhry, president of Westbury’s Islamic Center of Long Island, was mystified when a Press reporter informed her of Ahmed’s arrest in Texas.

“For how long will ethnic minorities walk on eggshells?” she asked. “That is not right. It’s counterproductive to everything, every belief, that we as Americans have. It doesn’t have to be a religious belief, but a belief in freedom of an individual living a peaceful life. Ethnic minorities have to constantly prove themselves because of a certain name or because of a skin color or because of hair color or eye color.”

MacArthur High School in Irving released a statement following Ahmed’s arrest, noting that the Irving Police Department had responded to a “suspicious looking item on campus.”

“We are pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety,” said the statement.

Irving police said Wednesday that Ahmed would not face criminal charges.

Ahmed, who has been bombarded with interview requests, thanked his supporters on Twitter.


President Obama showed his support by inviting Ahmed—and his clock—to the White House.


Peter King: Obama’s Plan For Syrian Refugees Would Endanger Americans

President Obama’s plan to accept at least 10,000 war-weary Syrians desperate to resettle in the West because of a merciless civil war back home would endanger the lives of US citizens, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said in a statement Thursday.

King, chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterintelligence and Terrorism, was swift in his objection to Obama’s plan, which comes as a divided Europe struggles to comes to grips with what has been described as the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.

America, King said, is ill-equipped to properly scrutinize each individual that would enter the country in the 12-month time frame imposed by the administration. The outspoken congressmen also speculated that Middle Eastern refugees, who are mostly Muslim, could pose a threat, even invoking the Boston Marathon bombing.

“This decision is in direct contrast to opinion of leading law enforcement and intelligence officials in this Administration,” King said in a statement. “We do not have the capability to vet these individuals nor will we be able to develop it in the next twelve months. The Administration is moving forward full speed ahead without the necessary security backbone in place.”

“It is vital that we measure our humanitarian beliefs against the security risks of bringing more than 10,000 unknown individuals into the Homeland,” King continued. “I oppose this decision. We do not want another Boston Marathon Bombing.”

Far right groups in Europe have protested decisions by their respective countries to accept downtrodden refugees, mostly Syrians fleeing a war-torn country that has endured bombings by its own government and the threat of the so-called Islamic State (IS). Fear of IS using the crisis as a cover to infiltrate Europe reached such a fever pitch that people on social media are sharing photos of men who they claim to be militants. Specifically, a before-and-after photo of a man in military gear and holding a weapon next to another of him in a green t-shirt and sunglasses went viral after Internet users accused him of being a militant. He turned out to be a former member of the Free Syrian Army, according to a recent profile of the man published by the Associated Press. The BBC was the first to refute the claims posted on social media.

The divisive issue has Europe split. Germany is poised to welcome 800,000 refugees this year alone while Hungary’s prime minister is on record saying authorities will start arresting those crossing the border.

Many blame the West’s response, or lack thereof, to the Syrian civil war for the current crisis enveloping Europe. The number of Syrians displaced due to the conflict has reached 12 million, and half of those who have been uprooted are children, according to World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. The plight of the refugees has dominated news coverage in recent weeks, but the worlds conscience wasn’t truly shocked until raw photos emerged of a Syrian boy’s lifeless body on a beach in Turkey, leading to an outcry of support for the migrants.

The Syrian American Council, which claims to be the largest Syrian-American community organization in the US, plans to hold a “#LetThemIn” rally in Washington, DC Saturday and will call on international governments to accept more refugees.

During a press briefing on Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the US has already given relief agencies $4 billion to help those fleeing Syria en masse. He also noted that the “top concern” when deciding on how to adopt policy related to the crisis is “the safety and security” of the United States.

“I can tell you that refugees go through the most robust security process of anybody who’s contemplating travel to the United States,” he told reporters. “Refugees have to be screened by the National Counterterrorism Center, by the FBI Terrorist Screening Center. They go through databases that are maintained by DHS, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community. There is biographical and biometric information that is collected about these individuals. They have to submit to in-person interviews to discuss their case.”

That process typically takes 12 to 18 months,” Earnest said. Those wishing to come to the United States must apply through the United Nations.

Wyandanch Man, 27, Killed in Shooting, Cops Say

A 27-year-old Wyandanch man was killed in a shooting at his home early Friday morning, Suffolk County police said.

First Precinct officers initially responded to 116 S. 29th Street at 3:30 a.m. after someone called 911 reporting a shooting.

The shooting victim was identified as Tehron Sims, police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Sims lived in the home where the shooting occurred, police said.

Police said the investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with information on the shooting is asked to call the Homicide Squad at 631-852-6392 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls are anonymous.