Spencer Rumsey

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Spencer Rumsey, the Long Island Press’ senior editor, has worked on dailies, weeklies and monthlies, including New York Newsday and the New York Post, the East Village Eye and the supermarket tabloid Star Magazine. Starting at the Press in 2010, he’s written award-winning stories on planning, politics and policy, to name a few topics, and he’s taken on a wide range of targets in his Press blog, Rumsey Punch.

Coltrane Day Hopes to Hit All the High Notes to Restore Trane’s Dix Hills Home

Some of the best-known jazz musicians in the world will be taking center stage July 23 as Heckscher Park in Huntington hosts the second annual Coltrane Day Music Festival.

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The musical genres range from jazz to funk, blues, hip-hop, reggae and gospel, promising something to please every ear. Proceeds from the all-day event will help to restore John Coltrane’s Dix Hills home, where he composed his iconic masterpiece A Love Supreme.

Who will be attending the Coltrane Jazz Festival?

Among the many luminaries on the lineup is the great drummer Roy Haynes, a living legend, whose stellar career as a “hard swinger” includes stints with Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, to name a few. Grammy Award-winner Randy Brecker, an innovative jazz-rock trumpeter and composer, has recorded with the likes of James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, and Frank Sinatra. Saxophonist Charles Neville is the second-oldest of the Neville Brothers, the great family band that put New Orleans music on the map of American pop culture. Michelle Coltrane, the only daughter of Alice and John Coltrane, is an internationally known vocalist, arranger and band leader. The Firey String Sistas features Nioka Workman on cello, Mala Waldron on piano and vocals, Marlene Rice on violin, Melissa Slocum on base, and Dorota Piotrowska on percussion.

“Not only are Nioka and Mala tremendous musicians, but they’re also daughters of music giants who actually played and recorded with John Coltrane,” said Ron Stein, president of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills, a not-for-profit organization. Nioka’s father was the famous bassist Reggie Workman. Mala’s dad is Mal Waldron, the acclaimed pianist and composer. Another claim to fame: Her godmother was Billie Holiday.

“One thing we’re trying to do is elevate the role of women in music,” said Stein. “Alice was one of the few female musicians who actually succeeded on the stage not behind the microphone. She was one of the great piano players of her generation, and to this day considered one of the greatest jazz harp players who lived. She was very influential in bringing the Eastern religious music of India to the rock music world.”

‘Building community through music’

Besides the eclectic roster of talented performers that includes students and professional musicians, there will be more than a dozen workshops and community jams to make it a full day of inspired music, bringing a wide range of people together, just the way Alice Coltrane intended.

“This year’s theme—Building Community Through Music—reminds us that nothing brings people together and connects us like music,” said Stein. Last year’s concert celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of Coltrane’s jazz breakthrough, which he’d composed at the Dix Hills home.

John Coltrane House Dix Hills
The Coltrane House in Dix Hills, which a non-profit dedicated to preserving the site is seeking a federal designation. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

The house could use a lot of love itself, to put it mildly. In 2011 the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the former Coltrane residence on its list of the “Eleven-Most Endangered Properties” in the United States. Abandoned for two years before Huntington Town acquired the property in 2005, it had suffered extensive damage. But since then, with dedication and determination, volunteers and preservationists on the board have stabilized its condition and stopped its deterioration.

Now the group is hoping to take it to the next level.

“We’re in the running to become a National Treasure,” says Stein, proudly.

Representatives of the National Trust have taken a keen interest in the Coltrane house, donating $5,000 last year, touring the site, and requesting more information to help them make their decision.

What would this designation mean?

“It opens the keys to the kingdom, so to speak,” said Stein. “It adds a level of credibility to the effort, because one of the problems that we are experiencing now, despite the fact that we’ve been doing this for a number of years, and despite the experience of some of the board members, is that we’re still seen as a non-profit startup by many organizations because we haven’t been…around raising big dollars year after year after year.”

The recognition could help this Coltrane organization take giant steps, Stein says, putting them in touch with high-end donors and those with the technical capacity and skills to transform the place into the culturally significant destination the group has long envisioned. Stein hopes to find out within the next few months if they made the grade. Proceeds from the Coltrane Day will go toward their capital campaign. They hope to raise approximately $2 million, whether in “real dollars or in in-kind dollars to try to move the restoration forward,” Stein says.

One of the toughest issues at the Dix Hills house has been getting rid of mold.

“We have literally taken apart the top two stories completely,” Stein said. Preservationists carefully labeled and removed every object that had historical significance and put the materials in storage while the house is being cleaned. The next target is the basement, where Alice and John Coltrane set up their recording studio.

“Once we get the basement fully cleaned and the mold remediated, then we can actually start to piece the house together again,” Stein says. “That’s the reason we’re going to be pushing our capital campaign.”

John Coltrane Jazz Festival

Following the Tesla model

The designation won’t bring in a lot of money by itself, Stein says, but it will raise the Coltrane Home in Dix Hill’s profile. In the meantime, his group has been trying to get some funding support from Albany, where they were thwarted last year due to a computer glitch that nixed their grant application.

“We’ve been working hard to develop relationships with many state legislators,” said Stein. “We have broad support among the business community, and I would be very surprised if we do not get a good amount of support from the state this year.”

He said the Coltrane Home organization wants to emulate the success that the non-profit group known as Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe has had trying to develop the site in Shoreham where Nikola Tesla intended to make electricity freely available to the world, an effort documented by the award-winning film, Tower to the People.

In honor of the visionary inventor’s 160th birthday on July 10, the center hosted an event that was linked live to the Nikola Tesla Museum celebration in Belgrade, Serbia, Tesla’s native country. Thanks to the efforts of this Long Island group, Tesla’s last remaining laboratory was saved from destruction and preserved, with the future intention of turning the property into a science and technology center and museum.

“We would love to follow that model,” Stein said.

In 1964 John and Alice Coltrane bought their Huntington house. The great jazz musician died from liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at Huntington Hospital, and was buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale. His wife sold the place in 1972 and moved to California. Today, a Coltrane statue stands in High Point, N.C., where the musician grew up. His home in Philadelphia, where he lived from 1952 until 1958 when he moved to New York City, is a National Historic Landmark, but it’s not open to the general public.

The goal of the Friends of the Coltrane Home is to create a world-renowned center that honors Trane’s career the way the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, honors the iconic horn-player known as Satchmo. Stein said that Michael Cogswell, executive director at the Armstrong museum, has played an important part in their planning, Stein said.

This day and night of music gets them closer to opening the door so Coltrane fans can feel the love firsthand.

To find out more about the upcoming Coltrane Day Music Festival, which runs from noon to 10:30 p.m. July 23 at Heckscher Park in Huntington Village, click here. The rain date is Sunday, July 24. $10 admission donation for adults.

Dolans Enter into Partnership Agreement to Run Newsday Media Group

Newsday
Newsday

The question about what will happen to Newsday and News12 after Cablevision was bought by Altice USA for some $17.7 billion has been answered. The Dolans are back in charge of Long Island’s major source of news coverage.

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On Thursday it was announced that Patrick Dolan, president of News 12 Networks and news director of News 12 Long Island, has acquired 75 percent of Newsday Media Group (NMG), with Altice USA retaining a 25 percent interest in the new entity. Patrick Dolan’s father, Charles, former Cablevision chairman, will hold a small financial interest in NMG and serve on its board of directors.

“This is an exciting new chapter in the history of Newsday Media Group,” said Patrick Dolan in a press release. “My father and I, together with our Altice partners, are deeply committed to preserving the state-of-the-art journalism that Newsday has consistently provided and that has served Long Islanders so well. We also look forward to continuing the collaborations with News 12 Networks that have resulted in breakthrough multi-media projects and digital services.”

“We deeply appreciate the partnership with Altice as we come together to strengthen the power of Newsday Media Group,” added Charles Dolan. “This arrangement opens the door to greater opportunities to connect readers to what matters to them and to continue the company’s legacy of best-in-class local journalism.”

Altice USA is a subsidiary of Altice N.V., a multinational cable and telecommunications company headquartered in the Netherlands, and founded by billionaire tycoon Patrick Drahi in 2002. Last year, it acquired the St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications for $9 billion. By closing its Cablevision deal last month, Altice gained 3.1 million cable customers in the tri-state area, making it the fourth-largest provider in the United States.

“We have enormous respect for the Dolans and their unwavering passion and dedication to journalistic excellence,” said Dexter Goei, chairman and CEO of Altice USA. “We are thrilled to be their partner as we drive the continued development of Newsday Media Group to the benefit of our customers and the local communities that we serve.”

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As part of the agreement, Altice USA’s Optimum Online customers will continue to receive access to Newsday.com and the Newsday mobile Apps. Newsday Media Group includes Newsday, still one of the nation’s largest daily newspapers; amNewYork, the most widely circulated free daily serving New York City; and Newsday Hometown Shopper, one of the largest weekly shopper publications in the Northeast.

Newsday Patrick Dolan
Patrick Dolan, president of News 12 Networks and news director of News 12 Long Island, has acquired 75 percent of Newsday Media Group (NMG). (Photo credit: Handout)

As reported in Cablevision’s financial filings, Newsday’s combined operating losses totaled $135.5 million since 2013: $71.1 million in 2013, $37.7 million in 2014 and $27.2 million in 2015.

At Newsday, 800 workers—almost half the staff—are members of the Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 406, whose contracts run through Dec. 31, 2017.

“I actually think the membership is more relieved now that we’re not going with the French company and we’re staying with the Dolans,” said Mike LaSpina, president of Local 406. “He was in the building today. He was in the press rooms. So, he looks like somebody that’s really interested in the newspaper, which is good.”

He said he believed that Altice was “going to make a tremendous amount of cuts, so maybe it’s a blessing.” He noted that Gordon McLeod, Newsday’s publisher, had stepped down the last week of June.

“We’re probably the only newspaper in the country right now that don’t have a publisher,” he exclaimed.

LaSpina said he was “pretty satisfied” with Patrick Dolan’s new leadership role in Melville.

“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, I guess!” added the union president. Before the Cablevision sale closed, the staff had joked that they’d have to learn French to communicate with their new owners. Not anymore.

“Yeah, the escargot is off the menu in the cafeteria,” LaSpina said with a laugh.

Jaci Clement, executive director of the Fair Media Council, a media watchdog group based on Long Island, noted that Altice USA had named Patrick Dolan president once the purchase had been completed, making him the only former Cablevision executive still on board.

“The fact he’s staying is not that big a surprise,” Clement told the Press, “but this is actually a really good turn for local news. Atlice weren’t local folks. None of them knew the landscape. Pat does have a news background.”

Clement said Dolan faces a steep challenge nonetheless, given Newsday’s revenue situation, but she doubted there would be the drastic layoffs that were predicted if Altice had remained in control.

“They need to come up with a plan for strong sales,” she said, “and they really need to morph into a true multi-media company as opposed to a newspaper that has a website.”

“It’ll be fun to see what he does,” Clement said. “This is the best-case scenario.”

Altice Completes Its Takeover of Cablevision

Cablevision sold to Altice

European-based media mega-giant Altice N.V. announced Tuesday that it has completed its purchase of Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp., which owns Newsday, amNewYork and News 12, for $17.7 billion.

Altice made its initial offer to acquire the company on Sept. 16, 2015, estimating that the sale would go through by the second quarter of this year after getting the required regulatory approval. In May, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the deal “serves the public interest.” Last week the New York State Public Service commission approved the purchase with conditions that it estimated could provide $243 million in benefits to New York consumers.

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By combining Cablevision’s 3.1 million customers in the tri-state region and the nearly 1.5 million customers of Suddenlink Communications, the St. Louis, Missouri-based company that Altice acquired last December for $9.1 billion, Altice USA becomes the fourth largest cable operator in the U.S.

Billionaire tycoon Patrick Drahi, who founded Altice in 2002, said the Cablevision acquisition was “a crucial step” to the company’s growth.

“We are very excited about our U.S. business and the opportunities we see in this market,” Drahi said in a statement. “We will accelerate network investments and bring innovative products and services to U.S. customers by leveraging our global operational expertise, scale and resources.”

He had kind words to say about Cablevision’s now former owners, the Dolans.

“I wish to also thank the Dolan family for entrusting us with their life’s work at Cablevision, where they have developed under their pioneering stewardship one of America’s pre-eminent cable operations with best-in-class management talent.”

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Drahi’s favorable sentiments about Cablevision’s employees were echoed by Dexter Goei, president of Altice N.V., and chairman and chief executive officer of Altice USA.

“Our very talented employees have great energy and enthusiasm,” Goei said in a statement, “and we are confident that altogether we will help to build Altice USA to the benefit of our customers and the local communities that we serve.”

Naming its new executive leadership team, Altice USA said that Patrick Dolan would remain head of News 12 Networks.


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“To meet our customers’ content and information needs, the company through News 12 also offers hyper-local news and programming created specifically for the communities we serve,” said the new company in its press release.

There was no comment about the fate of Newsday, despite requests.

The sale doesn’t include Madison Square Garden Co., which under the umbrella of MSG Sports, owns the New York Knicks, New York Rangers and New York Liberty.

Cablevision Sale To Altice Gets State Approval, With Conditions

Cablevision-Altice Sale

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) voted Wednesday to approve the $17.7 billion purchase of Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. by the European media conglomerate Altice N.V., clearing the last major regulatory hurdle.

Last month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the pending acquisition of Cablevision, which owns Newsday and News12, “serves the public interest,” citing the “benefits of increased broadband speeds and more affordable options for low income customers.”

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On Wednesday, New York’s PSC weighed in, approving the sale but imposing some public interest conditions on Altice that it estimates will provide $243 million in benefits to New York consumers, such as creating “a new low-income broadband program,” building out its network in “unserved areas” and providing about $40 million in additional benefits stemming from Cablevision’s participation in a “new federal broadband affordability program.”

The PSC’s approval was not a surprise for Altice, which has already been on record anticipating that the sale would close in the second quarter of this year.

“Altice is pleased to have obtained approval from the New York State Public Service Commission for the acquisition of Cablevision,” said Altice spokesman Jimmy Asci. “This follows approvals received from the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and 67 local municipalities. We remain on track to closing the transaction as expected.”

As for what the purchase portends for the future of Newsday and News 12 Long Island, Altice was mum.

“We’re not commenting any further,” Asci said in an email to the Press.

The PSC hailed the approval as a victory for the state because of the conditions it had imposed on the deal.

“As a result of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s strengthening of our oversight of the sale of cable companies, we were able to put in place rigorous conditions on the transaction to ensure it was in the best interest of customers and the State as a whole,” Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman said in a press release. “With our decision today, we will see a significant investment in New York’s communication landscape that improves quality, reliability, speed and affordability for Cablevision’s customers.”

According to the PSC, Altice has agreed to triple the speed of its network to 300 megabites per second by the end of 2017, increase high-speed broadband access in rural and urban communities throughout its service territory, provide some 600,000 low-income households with affordable high-speed broadband at $14.99 per month and during declared state and federal emergencies provide free Wi-Fi service to all to coordinate restoration efforts with electric utilities that will make the “entire network more robust, reliable and resilient.”

One of the concerns raised about the purchase was job protection, considering Altice’s reputation for slashing payrolls. The PSC’s approval says that for four years Altice is prohibited from laying off, involuntarily reducing or taking any action “intended to reduce (excepting attrition and retirement incentives) any customer-facing jobs,” such as call centers or walk-in centers.

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Cablevision has roughly 1.9 million voice, broadband and video customers in New York with more than 220 cable franchises in Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Altice has operations in western Europe, Israel, the French Caribbean, the Dominican Republican and some areas around the Indian Ocean.

Once the deal closes as expected, Altice’s deal with Cablevision, the nation’s fifth-largest cable company, with 3.1 million subscribers, combined with Altice’s $6 billion acquisition last year of St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications, the seventh-largest cable provider in the country, would make it the fourth-largest cable operator behind Comcast, Time Warner and Charter Communications.

The mega-corporation was founded in 2002 by billionaire tycoon Patrick Drahi and has more than 55,000 employees worldwide. Soon it may be adding a few more in New York—while perhaps jettisoning some of the highly compensated executives, those earning more than $300,000 a year, whose salaries had drawn Drahi’s public disapproval when he initially discussed his offer to buy Cablevision last September in a conference call with investors.

“I don’t like to pay salaries,” Drahi reportedly said. “I pay as little as I can.”

Jonathan Clarke Is Proud To Be ‘The Outsider’ In Race To Succeed Israel

When Rep. Steve Israel decided eight terms in Congress were enough, he set in motion a scramble that could make the race to replace him in the 3rd Congressional District—which stretches from northern Queens through Nassau and into Suffolk—one of the most expensive in the nation. Five Democrats are in close pursuit of voters ahead of the June 28 primary.

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Running as an outsider vowing to get rid of money’s influence in politics may have cost 38-year-old Jericho attorney Jonathan Clarke the chance to be on an equal footing with the four other Democrats he faces—at least in terms of media exposure and mass mailings—but he says this year, it works in his favor.

New York voters are so angry at the status quo, he insists, that ethics reform is a winning formula. He says that an underdog like him has a chance because the electorate is sick and tired of the corruption that has already led to federal convictions of two of the most powerful men in Albany: the former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and the ex-State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

Read: “An Inside Look At How Skelos Trial Exposed Slimy Side Of NY Politics” HERE

Until the reforms kick in, though, it still takes money to get money out of politics.

Of all the Democrats running for this hotly contested Congressional seat, Clarke certainly has the emptiest campaign war chest. As of this week, he’s raised slightly more than $4,000 from 417 individual contributions, according to his treasurer, and that still falls below the $5,000 threshold, the mandatory requirement to file with the Federal Election Commission. By comparison, his opponents are rolling in it, as shown by their first quarter FEC reports. Suffolk County Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) had $445,000 cash on hand. Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi had $375,000. North Hempstead Town Board member Anna Kaplan had $350,000 in cash, while former North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman had $189,305 and counting.

Since Clarke hasn’t spent thousands of dollars on campaign mailings and TV ads, how many Democratic primary voters have heard of him beyond a few lively debates? Name recognition is one issue he has to overcome. Another is his record of public service. This primary is only his second race—he lost his first election to Nassau Legis. Dennis Dunne, Sr. (R-Seaford) in 2013.

By contrast, look at the long resumes of his rivals: Tom Suozzi, the youngest mayor of Glen Cove, was the first Democrat elected in 30 years to be Nassau County executive. Jon Kaiman was North Hempstead supervisor and chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has served in the Suffolk County Legislature since 2005. When she was 13, Anna Kaplan fled Iran as part of an international effort to rescue Jewish children facing persecution, and didn’t see her parents for more than a year until they were reunited in the United States. She has served on the North Hempstead Town Board since 2011.

To Clarke, they’re all establishment candidates—“moderate centrists,” he puts it charitably, or “political has-beens and political never-will-bees,” when he’s being less kind—while he’s the only true progressive in the race.

Clarke was an early and vocal supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential contest. In April, working with Election Justice USA, a voting rights organization, he filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on behalf of voters from New York City and the Island whose paper affidavit ballots were tossed out in the April 19 primary here that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won handily.

He agrees with Sanders’ criticism of the “one percent” who rule corporate America.

“In today’s society, if you’re legislating from a place of privilege, and you’ve gone to school and not had to pay off student loans, or you live in the millionaire class, you don’t understand what people are actually going through,” said Clarke in the Farmingdale office of his law firm, Clarke and Fellows, earlier this spring. Now in general practice, he handles personal injury law suits and does a wide range of pro bono work.

“When someone hires you as an attorney, they put their life in your hands,” said Clarke. “You have to keep them out of jail because they’ve been wrongly accused, or they’re being evicted from their home due to a foreclosure. You actually have to save them.”

The notion that he’s untested makes him scoff.

“I don’t think political experience is the important thing,” said Clarke. “I think life experience is the actual thing we should focus on. You can’t really make laws unless you’ve experienced a certain amount of hardship.”

Clarke grew up in Freeport. “We were very poor,” he said. His mother left home when he was 4 and his dad “raised me alone.” His parents were never married. His father, who Clarke thinks suffered from PTSD, had served in the Navy during WWII—enlisting when he was a teenager—and wound up on a ship hit by a Japanese kamikaze attack. At one point, Clarke dropped out of high school to support his disabled father, eventually getting his GED from night school. He later went to Nassau Community College and Hunter College in Manhattan. Then he took time off to repay his student loans before getting a law degree from Touro Law School.

“I always wanted to be in politics,” he said. “If you can change the law, you can actually affect more people’s lives than by being an attorney and doing it one by one by one. But I thought there was a political class and you couldn’t join it.”

Clarke says he got rebuffed the first time he approached the Nassau Democratic Party to volunteer, but he got a better reception after he had his law degree and was living in Levittown. He subsequently got tapped to be what he calls “the sacrificial lamb” running as a Democratic candidate in a heavily Republican area in Nassau against popular incumbent Legis. Dennis Dunne.

Once he had his party’s nod, Clarke had been handed a stack of palm cards and campaign brochures supposed to show all the Nassau Democratic Party candidates in a coordinated effort. But to Clarke’s surprise, he discovered that he had actually been left out because he hadn’t kicked in $25,000 as each of the others had. For that race, he spent about $400 initially and then forked over a few hundred dollars more.

What happened three years ago apparently made a lasting impression on Clarke. At the top of the ticket, Suozzi was trying to make a come-back bid against Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and “brought all the Democrats down with him,” Clarke observed.

Clarke got 37 percent of the vote, which he deems “was actually very, very good.” He claims a Nassau party operative told him later that he had outpolled Suozzi in the 15th Legislative District.

“I knocked on just about every door in Levittown,” said Clarke. “At some point, I realized that you can’t win a Republican district just by going to the Democrats, so I had to try to convince the Republicans.”

Along the way, he learned a lot about retail politics. When he would tell people that he was a Democrat on a ticket supporting Suozzi, he’d get the door slammed in his face. So he revised his pitch. In his current grassroots campaign, he’s doing the same.

“Obviously, I’m a progressive and I’m a Democrat,” he said. “But when you lead with that, you turn people off. You tell somebody Sanders’ agenda in the abstract, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’m for that! I’m for justice! I’m for getting money out of politics!’ But if you call it progressive, then they’re not for it.”

The Democratic Party chairmen in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk may disagree with Clarke’s analysis, but he thinks the key to winning the 3rd Congressional District is not the fabled Gold Coast but the working class areas of Plainview and Bethpage, where he claims he’s stronger than the established opponents who’ve had the money to reach voters through their mailboxes and on their TVs. Clarke is also banking on low turnout for the June primary, triggered in part by the confusion caused when Albany set up a separate primary date for state and local races in September. Under New York State rules, the primary is winner-take-all.

Clarke drew inspiration from watching Sanders’ improbable campaign make a national impact.

“This is the time for someone who’s a complete outsider who’s not in any way tainted by this pay-to-play system,” he said, “and for someone who authentically wants to do this for the right reasons.”

Long before he went to law school, Clarke was a philosophy major at Hunter, and he thought about a future in academia. But not after he saw the cut-throat competition among the professors and adjuncts in his department. A political contest is a love fest by comparison, he says with a smile. Nonetheless, the subject of his college thesis still resonates with him today. He restated its theme: “Whether it’s right to do something because it’s right, or right to do something because of the effect it has.”

He contends that his lack of foreign policy expertise doesn’t make him any weaker than his primary rivals and pointed out that he had served on his international law review at Touro. But those issues will confront him squarely in Congress. He said he was disappointed that Congressman Israel had signed a letter criticizing the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration had negotiated. He further noted that Kaplan was “pandering” to get votes in her Great Neck community when she sided with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

“Why take a bellicose stand against Iran?” said Clarke. “They have young people coming up.” He hailed President Obama’s achievement as a major foreign policy victory for peace in the region.

Asked why he wouldn’t have taken the more conventional approach to a career in politics and run for the state Assembly, for example, he was adamant that Congress was where it’s at.

“Albany is an even bigger cesspool than Mineola!” Clarke exclaimed. “I don’t think anything positive is going to come out of there.”

And that’s another reason Clarke is confident that he’s the best Democratic candidate to challenge state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who’s gotten the official backing of Queens, Suffolk and Nassau Republicans and Conservative Party leaders, to be their choice for the 3rd CD. Clarke says Martins is vulnerable on the same “pay-to-play” issues that brought down Skelos, his former Albany mentor. “Martins wouldn’t give up on Skelos until the bitter end,” Clarke said.

But Clarke believes change can only come from Washington.

“I think campaign finance reform is the issue,” he said. “That is the pinnacle of what I’m running on.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, he actually believes he can clinch the nomination.

“When people see what little money it took me to win the primary,” said Clarke confidently, “then I think people will start saying, ‘Well, maybe it doesn’t cost $1.5 million. Maybe we should actually put somebody up there who cares.”

Graffiti Superstar Kenny Scharf ‘Bombs Out’ in Wild Style at the Nassau Museum of Art

Right now the coolest, hippest exhibit space on Long Island has to be the “Cosmic Cavern” created by the internationally known street artist Kenny Scharf and currently installed at the Nassau County Museum of Art.

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This psychedelic phantasmagoria of found objects ranging from a mirrored disco ball to a 45-turntable to hollowed out TV sets, electric guitars, dinosaur toys, plastic robots and so much more—all spray-painted luxuriantly with Day-Glo fluorescent colors and lit by black lights—has to be experienced at least once to be believed. It’s like stepping into a “Wild Style” abstract painting and entering a secret clubhouse that would leave your mom so speechless that she would forget to tell you to “clean up all this junk” before your father gets home from work.

My only regret is that its days are numbered. This unique Kenny Scharf show—and the fascinating Glamorous Graffiti exhibition on the second floor—will vanish from this historic Gold Coast mansion for good after July 10. Museum director, Karl E. Willers, who curated the show, should be commended for encouraging what once was—and to some critics still is—an outlaw form of artistic expression to take up residence within the former Frick Estate.

It almost defies imagination to consider where Scharf’s “street art” was displayed decades ago when he was part of the most famous (or infamous) trio of contemporary urban artists the East Village produced in the 1980s that included him, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Each man’s style was distinctive. Haring drew the definitive white-lined figures boldly on a black background. Basquiat, who never studied art formally, was more expressionistic with dripping paint strokes and multiple layers of sometimes violent images, while Scharf took a more pop-surrealistic jokester approach by appropriating cartoon figures like the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Basquiat, who was taken under Warhol’s wing, died of a drug overdose in 1988. He was only 28. Last month, Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese online retailer, bought one of Basquiat’s 1982 works for $57.3 million. And to think that Basquiat, born in New York, used to be one rent check away from being evicted.

Scharf grew up in Hollywood, California, and moved to New York City to study at the School of Visual Arts, where he met Haring, who was from Kutztown, Penn. In 1990 Haring died of AIDS with Scharf by his side. He was only 31. But Haring’s iconic faceless crawling children, barking dogs and kinetic dancing figures live on all over the world.

These days Scharf, a grandfather, lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between New York and Brazil, among other locales. Last month he was invited to be part of a public art show in Malaga, Spain, where Picasso was born.

“Growing up in LA in the ’60s profoundly influenced my visual landscape,” Scharf explained in the program guide. “There were bright plastic colors and space age designs everywhere, from coffee shops to car washes…When I moved to NY in the ’70s, it was a very drab place colorwise, and I thought a little brightening up would help a bit.”

Gallery I features Scharf’s whimsical polished bronze sculptures and an appetizing series of paintings of rather singular donuts. One typical title is “Pink Frosted Cruller in Outer Space,” which he did in 2010. No galaxy ever looked sweeter. Adding to the overall aesthetic experience is that the gallery’s false walls were taken down, exposing the room’s stately windows and letting viewers take in the museum’s spacious grounds as well as the art on display—an idea that Scharf had expressed because “he thought the room would look happier,” recounted a grinning Laura Lynch, the museum’s director of education, on a recent tour with the Press.

Graffiti artist Kenny Scharf
Graffiti artist Kenny Scharf

“The really important thing for me is communicating,” Scharf has said, “and the bigger the audience, the better. I went to art school, took art history, and I want the art elite to be able to see in my work how it’s new but also how it has a tradition within it. I also want people who don’t know or care about art to want to know about art and get inspired in some way.”

Although some visitors may scoff at the idea, Scharf considers himself a traditional painter, according to Lynch, pointing out how he used reflected light coming from the left of the frame to illuminate the central object on the canvas, an aesthetic concept stemming from the Renaissance. In this case, the subject being a dark chocolate glazed donut.


It’s like stepping into a “Wild Style” abstract painting and entering a secret clubhouse that would leave your mom so speechless that she would forget to tell you to “clean up all this junk” before your father gets home from work.


In Gallery II, the white walls surrounding the “Cosmic Cavern” installation came from Scharf’s former studio in Bushwick, showing his artistic process, his evolving lines and paint splashes, plus candid photos of him and his friends. It took him and his crew two weeks to install the Cavern. Scharf had created his “Cosmic Closet” in 1981, supposedly discovering a closet in the apartment he shared with Haring that was filled with junk, which he subsequently drenched with fluorescent paint and lit up by a black light. The idea caught on, eventually taking up shape at P.S. 1 in Long Island City and the 1985 Whitney Biennial, which helped put the East Village art scene on the international map once and for all time.

Here in Nassau, museum-goers daring to explore the Cavern enter a large room the size of a suburban basement filled from top to bottom with an amazing array of “found objects.” There’s a boom box to fill the air with music from the ’80s and a couple of artfully decorated ceiling fans to keep the air moving. Some of the stuff dates back to 1981 and other things are “gems” he just found in the garbage this year, Scharf says.

“In a sense it’s a time capsule,” Lynch explained. “Everyone who comes in here wants to stay here!”

His exhibit culminates in Gallery III with “Pop Renaissance,” consisting of four 33-foot canvases that he originally did in 2001 across the ceiling of the Palazzo Communale in Pordenone, Italy, and now expanded considerably with more dimensions. The work combines religious figures, surrealist motifs, black text, magazine images, swirling paint, sculptural elements, plus the ubiquitous rectangle of a TV. But there’s always a touch of whimsy to Scharf’s art. Pointing to a line of Arabic on one of the panels, Lynch said that it translates into “Best kebabs!”

Evergladagator, by Kenny Scharf.
Evergladagator, by Kenny Scharf.

The second floor of the museum is devoted to Scharf’s urban contemporaries with art work, sketches and even repeated film screenings of Edo Bertoglio’s “Downtown 81,” which features a 19-year-old Basquiat and Debbie Harry as a fairy godmother, Charlie Ahearn’s groundbreaking “Wild Style,” which chronicled the hip-hop cultural explosion that happened when the Bronx blew the East Village away, and Harry Chalfant and Tony Silver’s “Style Wars” historic documentary.

“This [exhibit] is called ‘Glamorous Graffiti,’” said Lynch. “This is not art that’s on the wall or a subway train. These artists started doing public works outside but now they’re framed in the museum.” She said they may have started as “outlaws” in a sense but soon “companies really wanted that urban aesthetic and started bringing it into their products and they started getting commissions.”

And for some, those commissions added up to real money.

There’s only one painting by Basquiat, “Third Street,” done in 1984, but it’s a powerful work, showing his interest in human anatomy, African masks, comic books and language, and conveying the full range of this innovative artist’s imagination. Keith Haring’s “Growing Suite I-V” consists of five color screen prints done in 1988 on Lennox Museum board.

Kenny Scharf's Pink Frosted Cruller in Outer Space, 2010
Kenny Scharf’s Pink Frosted Cruller in Outer Space, 2010

Lee Quinones, considered one of the most influential artists to emerge from the NYC subways,  is represented by several pieces, including a very funny take-off on “Sesame Street” with Big Bird and his pals breaking the law, let’s say. Quinones’ “One Million B.C.” is a revealing sketch he did in 1977 for a whole subway car mural, showing the process he undertook. Starting when he was only 13, he was known as “a ninja in the train yards,” because he worked so quietly and quickly in the dark to avoid the MTA cops on patrol in the Bronx, as well as the “conscience on the rails,” because he used his hand-sprayed images and text to convey radical political messages against war, death and violence. His tag was LEE. Two years later he had his first solo show in Rome, and these days his work is included at the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere.

The show upstairs also includes works by CRASH (John Matso), Toxic (Torrick Ablack), Koor (Charles Hargrove), Futura 2000 (Leonard Hilton McGurr), Dondi (Donald Joseph White), DAZE (Chris Ellis) and NOC167 (Melvin Samuels Jr.). There’s a 2012 piece, “Lotus, Target Black,” by Shepard Fairey, who became famous for his Obama “Hope” poster that he did in 2008, and a very provocative print that the street artist Banksy created in 2003, called “Bomb Hugger,” which shows a girl in a pony-tail and a mini-skirt happily embracing the aerial weapon.

“It freaks out the kids at first,” said Lynch. “It makes you nervous for her!”

The title is ironic, too, considering that graffiti artists used the expression “to bomb” when they meant painting quickly on many surfaces in one area. Scharf will put it in action for several hours on June 19, when he will be outdoors at the Nassau Museum for a performance he calls “KARBOMBZ!” He’ll be spray-painting three automobiles on the grounds so viewers can watch him at work. He’ll also be on hand to sign his new book, “Kenny Scharf: Kolors.”

Nassau County Museum of Art is located at One Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, west of Glen Cove Road, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A. For current exhibitions, events, days/times, and directions, call (516) 484-9337 or log onto nassaumuseum.org.   

Roslyn’s Center Cuts Customers Can Now ‘Meat Again’ in the Hamptons

Doug Cohen and Justin Aronoff are a young pair of butchers whose passion for meat has spread far beyond their Center Cuts store in Roslyn.

Out on the East End some loyal customers won’t go for even a weekend without having their culinary creations to enjoy. To satisfy those roving carnivores, these two men are taking their show on the road…to the Hamptons and beyond.

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“We went out and bought a big refrigerated truck,” said Cohen, who just turned 27 over the Memorial Day holiday, “and we’re going to be doing home deliveries on Fridays and Saturdays out there.”

Cohen is the elder of the pair; his partner, Aronoff, is only 22, but they talk about their craft like two old-timers who’ve been in the business for generations. After graduating with a degree in hospitality and restaurant management, Cohen was managing the now-defunct Meat House on Northern Boulevard in Roslyn when Aronoff came in one day looking for a job.

“We hated each other instantly,” recalled Cohen, making Aronoff burst out laughing. Soon they were spending late nights at Starbucks talking about the butcher business.

“And that was before we even knew what we were going to do,” he added. “But we both knew that we wanted to own our own place.”

Another thing they had in common was their close connection to the area and their clientele. Aronoff went to Roslyn High School and Cohen went to The Wheatley School in Old Westbury.

“You can’t get closer to the neighborhood than that,” said Aronoff.

While they were plotting their future, The Meat House and its nearby rival, Prime Time Butchers, were going under. Far from seeing that decline as a sign that the vegetarians had taken over and everybody would be eating nothing but tofu from then on, these guys saw it as an opportunity.

Center Cuts
Dry Aged Ribeye from Center Cuts. (Credit: Center Cuts/Facebook)

As for going organic, when they opened Center Cuts in 2014, they stocked 100-percent grass-fed beef but the demand for it wasn’t as strong as they anticipated.

“In all honesty, it’s a little tougher, a little less tasty than a prime steak, which has that really buttery, really rich flavor,” said Cohen. “A lot of our customers are looking for that, so that’s what we sell more of.”

All the meat and poultry in Center Cuts is free of hormones and antibiotics, Cohen claims. He says they’ll gladly order grass-fed beef to please a customer “but it’s just less popular” so they don’t keep it around.

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As the summer heats up, so does their schedule. These days Cohen and Aronoff are busy barbecuing for families other than their own because the catering side of their operation is simply sizzling.

“We’re going to be out in the Hamptons, doing a party at somebody’s house,” said Cohen. “We have parties all over the neighborhood. We go there, we bring our chefs and servers and everything, and we cook for them.” They’re booked up through June and July is filling up fast. And that’s their weekend plans. On weekdays they’re often catering lunches to financial firms and companies in the area such as Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and UPS. A typical order might entail five or six full trays of food.

“The offices love our maple-bourbon chicken breasts, sliced, with an orzo salad and sweet mashed potatoes,” said Aronoff. “It’s healthy and it’s clean. That’s really popular.”

Aronoff says that another one of Center Cuts’ specialties is their “signature house steak tips,” which consists of marinated sirloin steak tips that they place in a vacuum-sealed tumbling machine.

“We have two marinades that we do,” said Cohen. “We put the meat in there with the marinade, and it gets really infused into the meat. People go crazy for it. They’re perfect for the grill. Kids love them; adults love them.”

They also have a special burger blend of ground brisket and ground boneless short ribs.

“They’re both prime cuts,” Cohen explained. “It’s hamburger but it’s like the juiciest, tastiest hamburger you’ve ever had.”

As could be expected, the pair was tight-lipped about listing all the ingredients in their marinades.

“Our house marinade is a mild Italian [blend],” said Aronoff. “It’s got garlic, onion, and black pepper. We put a little bit of mustard seed in there, and add a little bit of red wine vinegar to give the meat some tenderness. That’s our special house marinade. The other flavor we do is maple bourbon, which people love.”

They also have a home-made barbecue rub that they make in-house.

“We toast all the spices and we grind them down,” Aronoff explained. “If we do barbecued-style pulled beef, or barbecue-style pulled pork—anything like that—we use that rub in combination with a homemade barbecue sauce, too.”

So, you might ask, what do these young men have for lunch, assuming they have the time to sit down and enjoy it?

“This is where Justin is really going to shine,” said Cohen. “I’ll let him tell you what he eats.”

“We do a steak and cheese hero that we’re known for,” Aronoff said. “We take our house steak tips, and we slice them up. They’re sautéed with peppers and onions, and topped with white American cheese. And that’s our signature sandwich. We put it on regular Italian bread.”

That’s about as close to the Philly cheesesteak as Center Cuts gets.

“For me,” said Cohen, “I would take a brisket burger, medium rare, with American cheese and smoked bacon. That’s just one man’s opinion.”

Just then Gail Aronoff, Justin’s mom, who frequently helps out at the butcher store, happened to be in the office when the young men spoke to the Press.

“What about a woman’s opinion?” she volunteered. “Women like the Roslyn!”

“We have a sandwich called ‘The Roslyn,’” noted Cohen.

“The Roslyn is marinated grilled chicken with roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, which we make in-house, and a homemade balsamic dressing that we make in-house, too,” Aronoff helpfully explained.

His mom admitted that she “never, never” would have predicted that her 22-year-old son would have become such an accomplished butcher. “I’m proud every day,” Gail Aronoff said enthusiastically. “It’s amazing!”

And apparently that’s become an increasingly common reaction from Center Cuts’ customers, who get to savor what Cohen and Aronoff routinely serve up at their meat counter in Roslyn.

‘The Congressman’: Ex-Long Island Rep. Robert Mrazek’s Film Career Finally Takes Off

In Robert Mrazek's "The Congressman" Treat Williams, left, has the starring role as a jaded politician trying to right himself and Ryan Merriman is his uptight chief of staff, as they head to an island off the coast of Maine. (Photo courtesy: The Congressman)

This Memorial Day weekend, The Congressman, the earnest new film by Huntington native and former Democratic Rep. Robert Mrazek, opens in Yellow Springs, Ohio; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Hartford, Connecticut and Kansas City, Missouri.

Starring Treat Williams in the title role, it’s a heartfelt, gently humorous and strongly patriotic look at an elected public official whose idealism has almost run dry—like the sour mash whiskey in his silver flask.

Mrazek, now 70, first entered office as a Suffolk County legislator, and then went on to serve five terms in Congress. He retired in 1993 to write military-themed novels and nonfiction—and he’s since published eight books.

And so it was like a homecoming for him, his friends and his loyal supporters who’d worked on his campaigns, when his debut movie premiered April 29 at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington.

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After he left the Navy, he’d gone to the London Film School but he returned to the States in 1968 after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, saying recently that having a movie career at the time felt “kind of trivial.” He got a job working with Indiana Sen. Vance Hartke, one of the leading anti-Vietnam War Democrats in the U.S. Senate, before heading back to Long Island and beginning his own political pursuits. Decades later Mrazek’s film career is finally taking off, thanks to the intervention of Fred Roos, who produced Francis Ford Coppola’s films and liked his script so much he wanted Mrazek to co-direct the movie.

At the pre-screening reception, Mrazek reportedly brought down the house when he jokingly told the Cinema Arts Centre’s co-director Charlotte Sky that he was running for Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-Dix Hills) open seat and needed the audience’s full support plus “about $10 million bucks, which is five times the size of the budget for the film you’re going to see tonight,” according to the Northport Observer.

Interestingly, Mrazek is not the only Huntington-based politician with a creative streak. Israel recently published his debut satirical novel, The Global War on Morris, which the Washington Post’s Book World editor, Ron Charles, called “spirited and funny.”

In Mrazek’s movie, Treat Williams, who played Sen. Ted Kennedy in HBO’s recent movie about Judge Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings, is Rep. Charlie Winship, a jaded nine-term Congressman from Maine whose life is a mess. His marriage is on the rocks, he’s drinking like a fish, and his idealism is shot. A former Vietnam veteran who saw combat as a Marine at Khe Sanh, Winship once vowed to make each day count after he held off an assault by the Vietcong.


As you sit through the film, you can’t help but wonder how much of what you see actually happened to Mrazek and how much he invented for narrative effect.


But when we first see Winship, he’s on the House floor with his feet propped on his desk while his colleagues all stand up to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Tellingly, the scene is shot through the lens of someone’s camera—and we soon learn that the paparazzi photographer had an ulterior motive: to paint Winship as an unpatriotic slime ball.

Robert Mrazek
Former Rep. Robert Mrazek has made the jump to film. (Photo credit: robertjmrazek.com)

After the opening credits, a quick collage of 1960s’ images including JFK, LBJ and anti-war protests culminating in a demonstrator holding up a sign that says, “Fuck the Draft,” we see Winship on his way back to his office being stopped by a lobbyist who tells the Congressman that he’s just gotten him a twenty-grand campaign donation. Distracted (or more likely thirsty), Winship brushes past the man without expressing his gratitude, prompting the lobbyist to utter: “Then fuck you, buddy!”

What follows is a news cycle blasting Winship for not standing up for the Pledge. The smear turns out to be a hatchet job perpetrated by another oleaginous operative played to perfection by George Hamilton, who could have stolen the movie if he’d wanted to. In this case, he’s Laird Devereaux, a smiling cobra fronting for a huge mega-giant corporate seafood monster that wants to scarf up all the lobster off the Maine coast. To make that acquisition happen, he’s trying to undermine Winship’s own chief of staff, an uptight young man named Jared Barnes (Ryan Merriman), promising to introduce him to “exceptional friends” and boasting that the “people I work for, or with, are going to run the country someday.”

From Washington the film shifts to Maine, where for decades Mrazek himself has lived on Monhegan Island, 12 nautical miles from Boothbay. In the movie it’s called Catatonk. But before Winship and Martin board the Sea Hag to meet the hard-pressed locals trying to preserve their way of life from commercial exploitation, there are several poignant scenes on the mainland that show what Mrazek was aiming for.

In one, Winship stops at his soon-to-be former residence, where his ex-wife is packing up their things because they’re selling the house. Right outside the door on the front lawn he’s stopped by an eccentric constituent who barges out of the bushes to beg the Congressman to give him a patronage post because its current occupant is in intensive care. Says Winship with shock and awe, “You’re asking me about getting a job while the man is still alive!” Once inside, surrounded by the debris of his failed marriage, he tells his wife that he never stopped loving her—he just stopped loving her well. It’s a touching vignette, because it comes after a hint that he’s been unfaithful. Then he admits he’s afraid of becoming “irrelevant” in Congress.

As you sit through the film, you can’t help but wonder how much of what you see actually happened to Mrazek and how much he invented for narrative effect. Certainly, once the movie leaves the coast behind, you can feel Mrazek’s love for Down East way of life. At Huntington, he told the audience that “The Congressman” is “a heartfelt meditation…particularly upon what it means to be an American.” Williams, who co-produced the film, called it “a little movie with a big heart.” That’s a very apt description.

But its creative formula won’t work for every cineaste. There are no space aliens or zombies, no evil terrorists, no sinister suspense, no ticking time bombs. And compared to the denizens of a typical indie art movie, these characters are much too normal with a few humorous exceptions.

Sometimes you can see the plot twists coming a mile away, like when Winship meets Rae Blanchard, his multi-tasking tour guide, a 43-year-old divorcee who is the island’s constable, chief garbage collector and ombudswoman, played with a mix of tenderness and toughness by Obie-award winner Elizabeth Marvel. Congressman Winship has a bad back and, wouldn’t you know, among her many talents Blanchard also gives great massages.

To some hardcore political junkies, “The Congressman” probably won’t have enough cynicism to satisfy them, but this is a movie about a disillusioned politician rediscovering his idealism so maybe it’s not meant for them anyway. Certainly, given Mrazek’s long career in public service, it’s a worthy achievement. And in the genre of movies about American politics, I certainly enjoyed it much more than the sickly saccharine “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Frank Capra’s 1939 take on corruption in Congress, which recently aired on PBS.

Starring James Stewart, Jefferson Smith is a “perfect man, never been in politics,” who’s being recruited by Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) , a crooked powerbroker in cahoots with Sen. Joe Paine (Claude Rains), a pol on his payroll, to replace a deceased Senator so a rigged land deal can go through.

This movie had its premiere on Oct. 17, 1939 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., at a screening sponsored by the National Press Club. More than 4,000 guests, including 45 Senators, were invited. The press and the politicians reportedly attacked the film as “anti-American” and “pro-Communist” because it dared to portray corruption in our government. Imagine that! A film so sentimental and sappy today that it’s hard to sit through without grimacing, especially when Gov. Hubert “Happy” Hopper’s children champion Smith at the dinner table because he runs the Boy Rangers (supposedly the Boy Scouts of America wouldn’t allow its name to be used), who put out a little newspaper when they’re not having good clean fun. The movie cemented Stewart’s Hollywood status as a star, as he epitomized the bumbling but earnest patriotic bumpkin thrust into the Senate by a vile political machine.

But some scenes, such as the powerbroker’s brutal efforts to squash dissent and eliminate sympathetic coverage of Sen. Smith’s filibuster, did have an unmistakable edge, and I was not surprised to learn that it had been banned in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain and Stalin’s USSR. When this movie came out, the allies were on the run in Europe. Capra made his classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946, after the war against fascism was over.

In “The Congressman,” Winship refers to that Capra movie about what happened in Bedford Falls, not the film about Capitol Hill, telling his female companion as they gaze on the rolling Atlantic that he’s afraid Congress has entered “a moral and political Ice Age.” This movie may not melt too many hearts but it’s easy to see why Treat Williams jumped at the chance to act in it. As the lead, he gets to deliver a fiery speech in a high school back on the mainland to an angry crowd pumped up by a right-wing media propaganda campaign.

Winship recounts his combat experience in Vietnam, defending American values on the frontlines, and says that patriotism is more than a bumper sticker or a soundbite. Needless to say, this movie has a happy ending. Some people won’t like that, but so it goes. I’m glad Mrazek got his chance to see his vision on the silver screen. Bravo, Congressman!

As Altice’s Cablevision Purchase Heads To Finish Line, Newsday’s Future Uncertain

Cablevision-Altice Sale

European-based media conglomerate Altice N.V.’s $17.7 billion bid to buy Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp., which owns Newsday and News 12, cleared an important regulatory hurdle this week, fueling mounting speculation that the telecommunications giant may look to unload Long Island’s lone daily newspaper.

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The Federal Communications Commission ruled Tuesday that the pending acquisition “serves the public interest,” citing the “benefits of increased broadband speeds and more affordable options for low income customers.” But it still faces additional regulatory approvals.

“Altice is pleased with the FCC issuance of the approval order,” said Jimmy Asci, a spokesman for Altice, a multination cable and telecommunications company headquartered in the Netherlands. The ruling means that the FCC “recognizes the benefits that the proposed merger will bring to consumers in the U.S. We continue to make good progress toward a transaction closing in the second quarter of this year.”

The Cablevision purchase will be on the agenda at the Monday meeting of the New York City Franchise Concession Review Committee (FCRC) in Manhattan and at the May 20 meeting of the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) in Albany. If Altice can close the deal by the end of June, as is becoming increasingly likely, it would gain 3.1 million cable customers in the tri-state area, making it the fourth-largest provider in the United States, behind Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications.

Founded by billionaire telecom tycoon Patrick Drahi in 2002, Altice has some 55,000 employees serving millions of customers in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Switzerland, Israel, the Indian Ocean regions, the French Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Last year, it expanded into the United States, when it bought the St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications, which has 1.5 million customers, for $9 billion.

When Drahi publicly discussed his offer to purchase Cablevision with investors last September, he said that he’d achieve $900 million in cost savings between Suddenlink and Cablevision. He noted that some 300 employees at Cablevision earn more than $300,000 a year.

“I don’t like to pay salaries,” Drahi reportedly said. “I pay as little as I can.”

What the change in ownership means for Newsday and News 12 is unclear. Since 2013, Newsday’s combined operating losses totaled $135.5 million—$71.1 million in 2013, $37.7 million in 2014 and $27.2 million in 2015—as reported in Cablevision’s financial filings. Should telecommunications goliath Altice look to shutter or sell the daily newspaper and/or its sister broadcasting channel, it would drastically alter the local media landscape across Long Island—where Newsday, founded in 1940, has remained the primary print source of news for its nearly 3 million residents. Its main competitor, the daily Long Island Press, ceased publication in 1977.

“That result is a lot worse than is typical,” Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., said of the newspaper’s hefty fiscal hemorrhaging. Still, he doubted that the new owner would close Newsday. “I would think that a new owner might well choose to sell it. There are several companies that are buying papers. Whether they would or not, I don’t know.”

Edmonds specifically referred to Gannett, which is making an offer to buy Tribune, Newsday’s owner until 2008 when Cablevision bought it for $650 million, and New Media Investment Group, a company based in upstate New York, formerly known as GateHouse Media, which has bought “a number of small papers in recent years,” he explained. “They say in their earnings column that they want to acquire more.”

Fueling speculation is the debt load that will burden Altice if the purchase goes through. The New York City Public Advocate’s office reportedly pegged the actual amount at $15.3 billion. Cablevision’s financial filings peg its own total outstanding debt at $9.6 billion.

“It’s clear the company has a cost-cutting focus as key to its future intent,” said Jaci Clement, executive director of the Fair Media Council, a media watchdog group based on Long Island. “Altice’s high debt load makes it unfathomable that they’ll be able to invest in the infrastructure… Killing the printed version would certainly save big money, wouldn’t it?” She said she had concerns that the new owners would not uphold Cablevision and the Dolan family’s “legacy of outstanding commitment to the community.”

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At Newsday, 800 employees—almost half the workforce—belong to the Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 406. Their contracts run through Dec. 31, 2017, said Mike LaSpina, Local 406 president. Although he has not been contacted by Altice directly, he believes the new owners would not close the paper.

“Right now, my understanding is that they want X amount of money out of Cablevision corporate,” he told the Press. “They’re not looking to do anything at Newsday.”

Altice’s pending debt load does worry him, but he is optimistic because he pointed out that Drahi had always wanted the paper and News 12 when he originally approached the Dolans about buying Cablevision last July, since the properties fit into his strategy to package content. LaSpina said that Drahi had “walked away” from negotiations when James Dolan had tried to hold onto those two properties. Neither Cablevision nor Altice would comment.

LaSpina did not buy into the argument that Newsday’s operating losses were a potential threat to its future.

“Look, they might be losing revenue, but I think they’re still making money,” he said. “Believe me, if it were a losing proposition, Altice wouldn’t have wanted it.” He insisted that Newsday’s revenue stream has value to Altice, especially now.

“For a company that has so much debt, why would they close a paper that’s bringing in a couple of dollars?” LaSpina asked rhetorically. “Whatever the couple of dollars are, it’s still making money.”


But the union leader did not hold out as much hope for management at Cablevision or Newsday. “I know there are a lot of them walking on eggshells,” LaSpina said.


If Altice’s recent actions regarding the content packaging of other European subsidiary media holdings are any indication, retaining Newsday and News 12 may be a strategic component of its corporate plan.

On April 27, Altice made headlines for consolidating its media assets in France, drawing comparison to what it planned to do in the United States. The Wall Street Journal reported that “French cable tycoon Patrick Drahi is bringing a bit of New York to France,” saying that his plans for Altice’s SFR French subsidiary to offer new cable TV channels in France, including six sports channels and a news channel covering Paris, were “inspired by Cablevision System Corp.’s News 12 Networks that focus on the New York City metropolitan area.”

SFR, which is owned by Altice’s holding company, announced that it was acquiring Altice Media Group France, which publishes more than 20 major national titles, including the leftist daily Libération and the weekly L’Express, and runs an international news channel, i24 News. According to SFR’s April 27 press release, it has positioned itself to be “the second largest operator in the French digital press sector.” The same day, SFR announced that it had gotten Altice N.V.’s 49 percent minority stake in NextRadioTV, first acquired in December 2015, which it called “a benchmark operator in the French information ecosystem, focused on mainstream news, sports, business, high-tech and discovery.”

The moves were hailed by the conglomerate as a sign of “global convergence” embracing telecoms, media and advertising with a potential customer base of more than 18 million people, plus France’s leading fiber network and the country’s fastest-growing 4G network. “This exceptional commercial striking force,” proclaimed SFR, “will transform the world of media by enabling everyone to have a true newsstand at home and by creating a sustainable business model for the press.”

But the news was very different in March, when the Financial Times ran a story questioning the magnate’s business plan.

“Altice’s king of cost-cutting faces SFR challenge,” the publication reported, adding that the performance of the French mobile operator “raises doubts about Patrick Drahi’s playbook.” Apparently, in 2015, after Drahi’s Numericable, his French cable company, had acquired SVR, France’s second-largest mobile operator, it issued an “ultimatum” to its suppliers: “halve your prices or else.” Then SFR suspended payments. According to the French Association of Telecom Users (Afutt), complaints at SFR per million internet subscribers rose 54 percent between 2014 and 2015 and SFR lost 795,000 mobile customers during the first nine months of 2015.

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As detailed by the Financial Times, Drahi’s “playbook for deals…involves buying companies with poor cash flow and slashing costs to ramp up operating profit.” To fund Altice’s rapid growth, its net debt has mushroomed from $1.94 billion in 2012 to $8.5 billion by the close of 2016, once it completes the Cablevision deal, reportedly raising investors’ concerns that “the group was growing too fast.” Altice’s shares were trading around $13 on May 5, compared to $35.80 a year ago. According to news reports, Altice would pay $34.90 for each share of Cablevision stock, financing the purchase with $14.5 billion of new and existing debt at Cablevision, cash on hand at Cablevision and $3.3 billion of cash from Altice.

Before the recent SFR announcements, Bloomberg reported on April 20 that investors had “bought up four offerings totaling $12 billion in just two weeks, including the largest single junk-bond deal ever, which the company plans to use to refinance older obligations.” Tellingly, the headline read: “Billionaire Drahi’s Surprise Junk-Debt Binge Caps Chaotic Months.”

The FCC may have ruled that Altice’s pending purchase is in the public interest, but that’s not how Dennis Trainor, vice president of Communications Workers of America District 1 views it. CWA, which has 300 workers at Cablevision in Brooklyn, has lobbied both the state PSC and the city FCRC to oppose the acquisition.

“Altice takes on too much debt, outsources as much work as possible and then downsizes its workforce,” said Trainor in a statement last December. “Customers get worse service and employees lose their job.”

Back in January, union reps and Cablevision customers reportedly packed a PSC hearing in the Bronx to criticize the sale. No doubt they’ll be back at the upcoming meetings to have their say.

“The deal as it is currently structured is bad for cable consumers and bad for cable workers and should be rejected,” Robert Master, a CWA District 1 spokesman, recently told the Press. “It’s a pretty serious situation.”

Come July, judging by what’s happened so far, it may be a done deal. What that means for Cablevision’s media holdings, and consequently, how Long Islanders, specifically, get their local news, remains to be seen.

’60s Generation Holds Key To New York Primary

Seeing Susan Sarandon exhorting Bernie Sanders supporters in New York City the other day reminded me of the time Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden were the unexpected opening act at a Grateful Dead concert in Oakland, Calif., back in 1979. Fonda told the restless crowd to take home the pamphlet folded on their seat and “not read it” then, but examine it at their leisure. Naturally, I can’t remember what the issue was about, and I doubt that the crowd of Deadheads had much inclination to study it further whatever it was.

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But it was very cool to see the then-most hated woman in America (“Hanoi Jane,” the conservatives dubbed her because she’d gone to North Vietnam, but nobody could ever dis her great acting ability) smiling earnestly up there on stage with her shaggy husband, Tom Hayden, who had been one of the founders of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and the lead author of its celebrated left-wing manifesto, The Port Huron Statement. Their celebrity appearance for a worthy cause gave the concert a level of gravitas that it might not otherwise have had. But did it change minds? Certainly not more than the music could.

These days the most hated woman in America is Hillary Clinton. She makes appearances with Katy Perry… Enough said.

Pop culture is not a heavy leg to stand on, as we’ve learned. Most young people these days probably don’t know who Abbie Hoffman was, but the Yippie leader took to the stage while The Who were performing at Woodstock in 1969 to rail against the unfair jailing of White Panther Party’s chairman John Sinclair. Pete Townshend didn’t appreciate the Chicago Eight defendant’s presence and whacked him with his guitar. Hundreds of thousands of people were at the concert, but it’s unlikely that more than a cadre knew what the issue was all about. Most of those watching were just enjoying the show and waiting for the next song.

I’m thinking about all this as New York is about to hold its most significant presidential primary in decades. Just the other day almost 30,000 people filled Washington Square Park for a campaign rally on behalf of the most progressive, left-wing candidate the Democratic Party has fielded since U.S. Sen. George McGovern (D-SD)—and this guy isn’t even a Democrat! It amazes me that we find a 74-year-old Brooklyn native, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), crushing his 68-year-old rival, Hillary Clinton, our former U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, by double digits in polls of likely Democratic voters who were born after 1968.

The demographics of this contest are mind-blowing because it seems that the ’60s Generation, at least in New York, may hold the key to who wins the race.

Siena College pollster Steven Greenberg reported on Feb. 8 that “while Democrats under 35 are evenly divided, those 55 and older favor Clinton by 31 points.” But in a new survey released on April 13, Greenberg says, “Sanders has widened his lead among voters under 35 to a whopping 52 points, up from 17 points, while Clinton leads among voters over 55 by 22 points, although that’s down from a 39-point lead with older voters. The younger voters are feeling the ‘Bern’ but the question is will they come out and vote in large numbers, as older voters historically do?”

For the record, Susan Sarandon is a very attractive 69-year-old left-wing movie star. But I digress.

Quinnipiac University Poll’s Assistant Director Maurice Carroll says that Hillary Clinton “leads Sen. Bernie Sanders in many New York demographic groups except the young folks and very liberal voters, but it’s a huge lead among black voters that gives her a comfortable double-digit margin.” Among likely Democratic voters 18 to 44 years old, Sanders has a 55-36 percent advantage over Clinton, his April 12 survey finds, while older voters back Clinton with almost reverse numbers: 62-33 percent for 45 to 64 year olds, and 62-30 percent for those 65 and older.

The ’60s is my g-g-generation. I remember how hippies got “clean for Gene”—U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), that is—they cut their long hair and traded blue denim for sweaters and khakis. They quite literally furled their freak flag. They were never as hip as the Yippies and the other radicals who took to the streets outside the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, when Mayor Richard Daley unleashed his riot squads on the demonstrators as they chanted that “the whole world is watching” the American violence unfold on television.

The Republicans ate it up, as the Democrats came out of Illinois weak and divided, handcuffing liberal U.S. Sen. Hubert Humphrey and handing the White House to Richard Nixon, who profited mightily from the spectacle by marshaling the “silent majority”—those who comprise the conservative base today—to his side. Voting for the Hump was very uncool. But only those over 21 could even vote at that time—the law didn’t change until March 1971, when Nixon was starting to run for his second term against the “acid, amnesty and abortion” candidate—his supporters’ words for Senator McGovern.

I contemplate that history as I prepare to vote next Tuesday. A colleague in his 20s recently asked me if I would have supported Bernie if I were young as him. It was a hard question to answer without feeling old! Or at least, thinking: Have I gotten this square in my dotage?


“Purity will only get you so far in this world. And politics ain’t beanbag. Nobody knows that better than Hillary Clinton.”


Reportedly, Jack Weinberg, a Free Speech Movement activist in Berkeley, was the first American to say “We don’t trust anybody over 30.” By the time the slogan reached Yippie leader Jerry Rubin in New York it was: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” In 1968 came the countercultural cult film, Wild in the Streets, featuring Christopher Jones, Hal Holbrook and, yes, Shelley Winters, which turned the expression on its head.

Jones played a rock star and revolutionary wannabe named Max Frost (his estranged mom is Shelley Winters), who sings at a rally for a Kennedy-like candidate named Johnny Fergus (Hal Holbrook). His campaign platform is to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. But before Frost is done performing, he’s taken liberties with the agenda and improvised a new song, “Fourteen Or Fight!”

The rest of the movie is about the chaos that ensues as teenagers take it to the streets across the nation. The “old guard” is anybody over 40; 30 becomes the new mandatory retirement age, and those over 35 are sent to “re-education camps” where they’re dosed with LSD. But things actually turn out pretty groovy around the globe, as the youth revolution spreads. As Frost puts it, after he’s withdrawn the U.S. military from other countries and shipped surplus grain to starving countries for free, he’s become the leader of “the most truly hedonistic society the world has ever known.” But, dum da dum dum, there’s a backlash: At the end of the movie, Frost is confronted by kids 10 and under who want to overthrow all the old farts like him.

Once, in San Francisco, I attended a film screening to benefit striking coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky. To get inside the door you had to thread between two competing groups of protesters, about eight or so Trotskyites and the same number of Maoists, who were wearing white shirts and ties, as I recall. They were actually protesting against each other’s ideological take on how to foment working-class revolution.

They were not that keen on supporting trade unions, it turned out. I think about them now as I recall how the “Bernie Bros” regard the “Hillary Hoes.” With righteous scorn. Admittedly, she is one heck of a flawed candidate—and why she lets those Goldman Sachs speeches hang around her neck like a $675,000 albatross is beyond me.

But I do know who I will support: someone I believe will be the most effective president for the tough times ahead. And I take comfort knowing that I’m not alone, that I’m not forsaking all my “New York values,” from others who’ve gone down this road before me.

Take former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the great liberal champion of the Democratic Party, who backs Clinton but says of her opponent in Politico: “Decades ago, Sanders made a principled choice to play a valuable part in our politics—the outsider within the system.” But the former Massachusetts Congressman observed in an interview in Slate: “Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out.”

Boy, did Sanders’ “Bros” not appreciate Frank’s words. Here’s the Barney Frank rule, as he spelled it out in his recent memoir: “If you care deeply about an issue, and are engaged in group activity on its behalf that is fun and inspiring and heightens your sense of solidarity with others, you are almost certainly not doing your cause any good.”

Purity will only get you so far in this world. And politics ain’t beanbag. Nobody knows that better than Hillary Clinton.

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