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.

Suozzi & Zeldin Take Different Approaches to Meeting Their Constituents

For over three hours, freshman Congressman Tom Suozzi took questions from an overwhelmingly supportive crowd gathered at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview for his first town hall event since his taking office in January. The participants ranged from a 98-year-old former Congressman to an 89-year-old refugee who fled Hitler and a seven-year-old who thought the new president is “very bad.”

In the auditorium, it was standing room only as Suozzi set the ground rules for the evening. “I want to make it clear—this is not going to be a Trump rally, so nobody gets to lose their temper and punch somebody if they disagree with them!” He wanted “respectful behavior” and said that all comments should be directed only at him because “I can take it.”

To keep the evening moving, Suozzi suggested they tackle four issues, starting with saving the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the “unusual relationship between the president of the United States and Putin,” the “discriminatory” anti-Muslim travel ban and the deportation of undocumented immigrants that is “destroying neighborhoods.” Then, responding to audience suggestions, he added the environment as well as preserving Medicaid and Social Security.

He even polled the crowd about how long they wanted the town hall to last—9:30 p.m. seemed to win the majority vote but Suozzi was still fielding questions from about a dozen constituents after 10 p.m. while the custodians packed up the chairs to clear out the auditorium.

Suozzi’s approach to meeting his constituents was quite different from the one taken by second-term Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who held an hour-long teleconference from an undisclosed location on the East End. Across the country Republican Representatives who’ve dared to hold town halls during this recess have taken heat from constituents upset at the direction Congress and the White House are going.

Zeldin reportedly took about a dozen questions, touching on Obamacare, gun control, Trump’s conflicts of interest and the rise of anti-Semitism. A caller identified as Joe asked him: “As an American and as a Jew, how do you condone Donald Trump’s belated condemnation of the rise of anti-Semitism that has been going on throughout his campaign and now his presidency?”

Zeldin, who is Jewish, said he was critical of the president for not mentioning the plight of Jews in the administration’s recent Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

“It’s important that our statements reflect and honor and never forget the loss of millions of other people who weren’t Jewish,” he said. “I also believe it’s very important to mention the fact that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were trying to exterminate the entire Jewish religion.”

Zeldin also condemned the bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the country and the desecration of the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. Then the same caller asked the Congressman why President Trump hadn’t visited the mosque in Texas that was firebombed on Jan. 28.

“Morally it’s the right thing to do to speak out when there is intimidation, physical threats, violence, destruction of personal property—sacred personal property—speaking out at those moments is a leadership opportunity,” Zeldin replied. “Not only to connect with the people who support you, but many others who maybe didn’t vote for you.”

In Plainview, the public’s outrage over President Trump’s policy pronouncements was palpable from the moment they sat down, waving anti-Trump signs, American flags, and little placards that read “Agree.” Early on, Suozzi asked the audience to raise their hands if they were Trump supporters—only one woman raised hers. Some participants were part of progressive groups like MoveOn and Indivisible, and they’d come from Queens, Nassau and Suffolk to hear him.

“We have to hold the president accountable,” said Suozzi. “Things are a little scary right now.” Indeed, Suozzi praised the Mid-Island Y JCC for holding the public event in light of the nation’s Jewish centers targeted with bomb threats—“67” so far, said a lady from her seat.

At several times during the evening, the town hall took on the air of a political pep rally, as Suozzi repeatedly urged the audience to go out and organize, which many Long Islanders have already done.

In particular he wanted their support for what he called “New York’s Third Will Be Heard,” a volunteer action campaign drawing upon 16 neighborhood regions of the 3rd Congressional District, as shown by two billboard-size maps on display at the front of the stage. The purpose, he said, is to “take all this energy that we’ve got, all this excitement that we’ve got, and use it in a constructive fashion to do the politics to win the battles. That means writing letters to the editor, attending issues meetings, that means going to other town hall meetings, that means running for office, that means supporting people for local office, because one of the reasons the country’s ended up the way it is right now is because the Democrats have not done a good enough job organizing locally throughout this country.”

He vowed to keep on pushing and fighting to get answers to the questions facing the nation as Trump settles into power.

“We can’t hate the Trump supporters,” he said. “The reality is that many of them are in desperate conditions as well. They don’t realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.”

He urged the activists in the audience not to underestimate their influence, referring to the Congressional Republicans’ inability to eliminate Obamacare without coming up with a valid replacement and the courts’ decision delaying Trump’s travel ban after nationwide protests sprung up against it.

In response to a questioner’s concern that Russia meddled with the November election, Suozzi said it’s time for “reasonable Americans” to put the love for their country before their party and help get bipartisan support to find out what’s going on between Putin and Trump. “If you care about your country, you want to know the answer to this question,” Suozzi said. Since the McCarthy era, he noted that the Republicans have tried to paint the Democrats as “the unpatriotic ones and the Republicans as the patriotic ones, which is not true at all!”

Suozzi admitted he has drawn some heat himself—even from his own political advisers—for joining a new bipartisan group of Congressmen called “the Problem Solvers Caucus,” consisting of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. He said working across the aisle to find common ground is going to be key in the coming years considering that the GOP controls the White House and Congress.

“Right now Chuck Schumer is probably the most powerful Democrat in the United States of America because he’s the bulwark” of the opposition against the conservatives’ agenda, Suozzi said, referring to New York’s senior U.S. Senator.

Perhaps the most combative moment came when a young man near the back of the auditorium demanded that Suozzi proclaim his support for Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which will vote on Saturday in Atlanta. Suozzi refused, but he wouldn’t say who he preferred, either. “I don’t want to get into DNC politics,” he said. The contest seems to come down to Ellison, a liberal Muslim-American, and Thomas Perez, who was the secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. The majority of the audience at the JCC seemed eager to move on to other matters.

“This is so powerful that you are in this room and that there are so many of you like this in places like this all over the country!” Suozzi exclaimed. “Don’t blow it by fighting against ourselves!” That response drew loud support from the audience.

Among those on hand who weighed in on Obamacare were several cancer survivors and their spouses who made a passionate pitch for keeping the program in some form. One man whose wife has a pre-existing condition said that “we need to amend it, not end it.” Suozzi said he prefers single payer but “the problem is that the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies have much too much influence” in health care policy, which makes it harder to fix.

Health care was the top topic at Zeldin’s teleconference, according to his staff who conducted a survey of those on the line. The Shirley Congressman said, “No one wants to pull the rug out from anyone who is currently covered. That is an important focus of mine.” He noted that his fellow New York Republican Representatives are working to “mitigate” the effects of an “outright repeal” because the state would stand to lose billions of dollars in Medicaid. Nor does Zeldin support measures that would weaken Social Security or Medicare.

Addressing his Nassau audience’s concerns about health care, gun violence and climate change, Suozzi said the main stumbling block always boiled down to money “because if you’re not paying attention, money will always control the conversation.”

Occasionally, when someone would ask Suozzi about a certain bill, he had to admit he’d only been in office “50 days.” He conceded that he and his staff were feeling “overwhelmed” trying to deal with the myriad of important issues all pressing for their attention, and he’s had “very little free time.” But he promised he would get up to speed on the particulars. In Congress he’s serving on the foreign affairs and the armed services committees.

Seated in the front row across from Suozzi’s wife Helene was former Congressman Lester Wolff, 98, a Great Neck Democrat, who smiled broadly when Suozzi introduced him. Two hours later when he got up to leave, Suozzi gave him the microphone. Wolff said he was very happy to see that the seat he’d held on Long Island from 1964 to 1981 was in “good hands right now.”

On the immigration issue, Anu Raj, who was born in India near New Delhi, told Suozzi that too many Americans today misunderstand what extreme vetting is. Now a citizen, she came to the country when she was 15 years old and told the JCC audience about what she went through two decades ago to enter the United States. “I was put through the ringer,” she said, and she had a green card. At one point at JFK Airport, she felt that she’d been hung upside down. It was a grueling process then, and it’s only gotten stricter, as Suozzi observed. He noticed that she was with her husband and her twin daughters, both born in the U.S., and he posed with them, sparking a round of selfies with the crowd.

“One of the reasons that New York is much more understanding of immigrants and why the Muslim ban is a problem is because we’re surrounded by immigrants and Muslims!” Suozzi said. “If you go out to some places in the country where there are no immigrants and no Muslims, it’s like: ‘Get those people out of here!’ We’ve got a lot of work to do to educate people.”

He pledged to fight for tolerance. “We can’t give up who we are,” he said. “This ban not only makes us less safe—it’s not who we are; it’s not who the United States of America is.”

He recalled how his own father left Italy to come to America as a very young boy. “America is founded on two very fundamental principles,” he said. “All men and women are created equal. It’s not all men and women with green cards are created equal.”

Wearing an Army baseball cap and seated in the front row was Harry Arlin, 89, who was born in Czechoslovakia. “I had the privilege of living briefly under Hitler and I had to run,” said Arlin. “Then I lived under Mussolini and I was incarcerated. Then I lived briefly under Stalin, and I had to run again. Now I’m living briefly under Trump. I’m too old to run again!” The crowd roared with appreciation.

Despite all that’s been going on in Washington—as well as recounting his personal history (“I’ve won a lot and lost a few”)—Suozzi insisted that he believed politics was a noble profession—and he urged people to stay involved.

“You know, John Kennedy used to describe himself as an idealist without illusion,” the Congressman said. “I’m not a sucker. I’m not going to fall for stuff. But I still believe in the country. I still believe in this system. I believe this is a powerful group of people that can make change. The sooner you give up on that, the sooner this country is wrecked.”

Seven-year-old Zachary Aquino, a second grader at Floral Park JLC Elementary School, had to stand on his chair to make his point. Confidently taking the microphone, the youngster said, “I don’t think this is right. Having this president I think is really bad. I don’t know how this happened…It’s good that we’re here tonight. This is a really valuable time that we’ve got to get this stopped. We’ve got to do this. We cannot stop! My name is Zachary.”

“Thank you, Zachary!” said Suozzi, with a smile.

Legendary Joel Grey Hosts Rare Screening of ‘Cabaret’ at Cinema Arts Centre

cabaret

Chalk up another amazing evening of entertainment coming to the Huntington Cinema Arts this Thursday night, when legendary Joel Grey hosts a rare “big screen” presentation of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, the scintillatingly original musical drama about decadence in 1931 Berlin as the Weimar Republic was about to be swept away forever by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.

The movie, which premiered in 1972, earned Grey an Oscar for his role as the leering, sneering Emcee of the seedy Kit Kat Club, where the vulnerable performer, Sally Bowles, was played by Liza Minnelli—Judy Garland’s daughter—who won an Oscar, too. The film, based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, earned eight Oscars in total. When it came out on screen, Bob Fosse was already a leading American choreographer, dancer and director, who’d later go on to create “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Chicago” (2002). But nothing ever quite equaled the groundbreaking Cabaret, the movie version of the John Kander and Fred Ebb Broadway musical, where Grey had first created his role of the Emcee on stage in 1966.

As the New York Times reviewer Roger Greenspun wrote in 1972, the film is “not so much a movie musical as it is a movie with a lot of music in it.” He remarked that it had a “general theme of sick sexual ambiguity…as a kind of working motif. The master of sexual ambiguity, and the master of motifs, is again Joel Grey, master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, the cellar cabaret where Sally sings and dances, and where everything, even the rise of the Third Reich, is ‘beautiful.’”

“An appearance by Tony and Academy Award-winner Joel Grey—at the Cinema Arts Centre or anywhere else—is a major event,” said Dr. Jud Newborn, the Cinema Arts Centers’ special program curator. “This man is a legend, and a unique one at that. But ours is an exclusive for Long Island! And the timing is especially potent for our rare ‘big screen’ showing of Cabaret because the film, with the rise of Nazism as its backdrop, resonates with the crisis of democracy that is roiling America today. We all can’t wait to hear Joel Grey’s ideas on this connection.

“But, of course, the sheer entertainment value of this Oscar-sweeping film, no matter what your politics, cannot be exceeded,” said Newborn. “After all, Joel Grey is on all lists as among the most important Broadway stars of all time.”

He’s an Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe winner.

Grey has just published his new tell-all memoir, Master of Ceremonies, and he’ll be on hand to discuss that as well.

“Grey reveals the risks and excitement of his bisexual life while giving us an amazing inside history of theater from the Vaudeville era to today,” said Newborn. “And think of what he can tell us about Liza Minnelli, his co-star and friend, and so many other celebrated artists!”

A singer, dancer, producer, director and photographer, Grey has lived a fascinating life on and off screen, in the limelight, and in the shadows. In his memoir he reportedly recounts his “fraught but exuberant bisexual love life at a time when any sexual ambiguity was both difficult and dangerous.” From his childhood in Vaudeville acting with his father to performing in gangster-filled nightclubs and basking in the glamour of Hollywood, Grey is a living legend who’s seen it all—and probably done it, too.

As the Emcee would say, “Life is a cabaret, my friends.”

For more information, visit Cinema Arts Centre’s website.

Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey as the Emcee in “Cabaret.” [Photo courtesy Cinema Arts Centre]

Top NY Dems & Long Island Environmentalists Slam EPA Foe Pruitt’s Confirmation As Agency Head

Pruitt

In a move that will have wide-ranging repercussions for our region, President Trump prevailed Friday afternoon when the Senate voted to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency in a 52-46 vote. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him. But two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota, voted for him.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Senate minority leader, could not get his fellow Democrats’ support despite his party’s holding the floor Thursday night and Friday morning to block the confirmation vote. They were hoping to delay the vote in time for thousands of Pruitt’s emails to oil, gas and coal companies to become part of the public record against this nominee—who many opponents have called a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry. Indeed, some of his biggest backers have been the Koch brothers, who run the Kansas-based oil-and-chemical conglomerate.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, in 13 of his 14 lawsuits against the EPA, Pruitt reportedly joined corporations and trade associations that had given generously to his political campaign. In his Senate testimony, he was confronted with a letter that he sent against the EPA that was almost entirely copied from a legal memo crafted by well-funded opponents of environmental regulation. He smiled.

Before the vote, Schumer spoke out vehemently against Pruitt’s nomination on the Senate floor, saying the Oklahoman was “clouded by potential conflicts of interest” and his views are “almost antithetical to the very purpose of the agency” he will now run.

Pruitt is a “climate science denier,” added Schumer. “This is not an issue where you can be skeptical. Either you accept the overwhelming opinion of climate scientists and researchers, or you don’t.”

He said the impact could hit Long Island hard, where Superstorm Sandy rocked the region.

“None of those residents, the thousands who lost homes, the hundreds of thousands who suffered injury, damage, economic problems from the flood, they don’t debate it, nor should he,” blasted Schumer. “There was no debate about what happened there. Folks lost everything that ever belonged to them. There was no debate about that. Forty-eight people in my state died. There was no debate about that.

“There is no debate that we have to do something about climate change,” he added. “Scott Pruitt, as head of our nation’s environmental protection agency, likely wouldn’t lift a finger.”

“I believe clean air and clean water are essential rights all Americans deserve, and they should never be sacrificed, especially for corporate profits,” said New York’s junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “And I have seen firsthand the devastation caused by climate change after New York lived through Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee. The EPA should be our first line of defense in protecting our air and water and combating global climate change. Unfortunately, in words and deeds, Mr. Pruitt has shown he does not share these values, and that is why I opposed his nomination to a department he has himself sued 14 times.”

On Long Island, the reaction from environmental activists was swift and to the point.

“Anyone who has described himself in his own biography as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda’ is singularly inappropriate to be America’s protector of air, land and water,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.

“Scott Pruitt’s record illustrates he’s more concerned with protecting corporate interest than protecting public interest,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “His record of pursuing over one dozen lawsuits attacking the EPA’s clean water and air regulations should be terrifying to every American. It took the environmental movement four decades to pass and implement the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. These landmark laws had bipartisan support.

“We’ve come too far to go back now,” she continued. “We cannot let the public’s air and water become polluted because of policies that favor corporate greed over public health. We will be vigilant about protecting our natural resources and the public’s health. It’s going to be a giant challenge.”

David Reisfield, executive director of Long Island Environmental Voters Forum, expressed his concern for the future of our region.

“Scott Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA to remove water and air quality protection in support of the oil and gas industry and his lack of environmental prosecution while attorney general for Oklahoma makes him the absolutely wrong person to be leading this country’s lead agency, which is entrusted with protecting the environment and human health,” he insisted. “With 43 Federal Superfund and RCRA sites on Long Island, each tainting our drinking water, we who get our water from a sole source aquifer cannot afford an administrator who has a history of siding with the polluters.”

Yet with Pruitt’s approval by the Senate, that’s exactly who President Trump has installed.

‘Big Fish Blues’ Documents Long Island Blues Scene On Silver Screen

big fish blues

Long Island’s little known—to some people—blues scene gets the wide attention it deserves in Big Fish Blues, a new documentary directed by Leslye Abbey that will get its premiere at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Feb. 22.

To those in the know, Long Island’s nickname on the music circuit is “The Big Fish,” thanks to the twin forks, it’s been home to many of the top musicians in blues over the years, and Abbey believes that it’s well past time they got their due.

“They are a lot of very famous people in this movie—people that are known in Europe, all over the country,” said Abbey, a social worker, psychotherapist and filmmaker who lives in Bellmore.

She began her project in 2001 by filming performers at the Back Street club in Rockville Centre.

“I just started shooting, meeting people, and interviewing people and it went on and on year after year,” said Abbey. “Then I put it away. But now I’m finishing everything I started!”

The Cinema Arts Centre is proud to host the event, says Cindy Campbell, who is producing the evening event. After Campbell saw a rough cut of the film in November, she said it was a revelation to her.

“I didn’t know Long Island had a big blues following,” Campbell told the Press, “but there is a big blues circuit. These people’s lives revolve around the blues.”

This film delves deep into one of the greatest genres of American music, featuring a wide range of artists delivering unforgettable performances. Here’s a short list: Little Buster and The Soul Brothers, Bo Diddley, Jr., Sam Taylor, Doug “Harmonica” McLean, Stevie Cochran, Toby Walker, Sandra Taylor with “A Band Called Sam,” Kerry Kearney, Gail Storm, and many more.

Their lives make great stories too, as the film makes clear by documenting their musical journey from the club scene to the silver screen. Besides Abbey, many of the musicians will be on hand in Huntington to talk to the audience and share their love of the music that is their life’s work.

“It’s going to be a big party!” said Abbey. “It’s going to be a dynamite night.”

So forget about the south side of Chicago, sit back and dig the blues from “The Big Fish.”

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22. For more information, go to the Cinema Arts Centre’s website.

In the photo, Bo Diddley Jr. is performing. [Photo courtesy Cinema Arts Centre]

New York Lawmakers Grapple with Abrupt Ouster of Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

Trump Michael Flynn

 

 

The surprising resignation Monday night of President Trump’s top National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, provoked outcries from Long Island’s Congressional delegation as his sudden departure raised more questions than answers.

Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford), who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Press Tuesday afternoon, that he was worried that the resignation could be a serious distraction for the new Trump administration, less than a month old.

“We’ve got to get back on track as quickly as possible,” said Rep. King. “This is a dangerous world out there.”

King had worked with Flynn when he was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn “did a great job,” the Congressman said, adding that he was “way ahead of the Obama administration in pointing out how dangerous ISIS was.”

Although Long Island’s senior congressman said he still had “great respect for what Gen. Flynn achieved,” he conceded that if Flynn had undermined the current Trump administration by withholding details about his secret phone conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador, on Dec. 29, they had to let him go.

“Obviously if he did not tell the truth, the full truth, to Vice President Pence, they had no choice,” King said. “You have to have total trust between the national security advisor and the president and the vice president.”

When news started to trickle out of Washington about the phone call—later it was revealed that a classified transcript of their conversation has been shared among high government officials—Flynn denied discussing any policy matters when he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence. It turns out he did. Flynn conceded on Monday that he misrepresented his supposedly secret conversations with the Russian ambassador.

But Congressman King raised another important issue.

“First of all, you’re never supposed to discuss publicly what foreign governments we’re recording,” said King, saying that he can neither confirm nor deny that it takes place. “For that to be leaked is wrong…but it’s out there.”

Flynn reportedly had discussed with Kislyak about lifting sanctions against Russia, which had been imposed in December by President Obama after our intelligence agencies concurred that Putin’s government had tried to interfere with the 2016 American election to help Trump win.

“General Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story, it is merely a beginning,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). “It is not the last chapter of this saga, but only the first. His resignation raises more questions than it answers and the American people deserve to know the truth.”

Among the issues raised by Flynn’s actions, Schumer said: “Was General Flynn directed or authorized to do what he did? What was the extent of his conversations and contact with Russia? Who else from the Trump administration, transition or campaign, had contact with the Russians? And why wasn’t General Flynn fired? As soon as the administration found out, why did they act only when they were caught misleading the media?”

Schumer, New York’s senior senator and Senate minority leader, has asked that newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself from leading any Justice Department inquiry into the matter because Sessions and Flynn were both early Trump supporters on his presidential campaign. Indeed, Flynn, who advised Trump on national security issues, was seen at one pro-Trump rally leading “lock her up” chants against the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In 2015, Flynn was shown on TV seated beside President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow anniversary for Russia Today, the Kremlin-controlled television network. Flynn was a paid guest. In his new role for the Trump administration, he’d given his son, Michael G. Flynn, his chief of staff, a security clearance. That became an issue when the son tweeted his belief of the “PizzaGate rumors,” the fake news started by alt-right media that Hillary Clinton was using Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in D.C. as a place for human trafficking and sex crimes. Flynn didn’t tell Vice President Pence what he’d done for his son, who’d gone on TV without knowing the truth.

Flynn’s resignation marks the third guy to fall from the Trump campaign—both before and after the November election. The first was Paul Manafort, Trump’s then-campaign manager, whose ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and multi-million-dollar business dealings in Ukraine proved too hot on the campaign trail. Back on Aug. 17, Trump told the press that Manafort was there to stay—but two days later he was gone, ultimately replaced by Kellyanne Conway. Next to go was Carter Page, a Trump advisor who had a personal stake in Russia’s oil and gas industry. After the CIA began looking into Page’s ties to the Kremlin in September, he took leave from Trump’s campaign.

The fast-moving events culminating in Flynn’s resignation—what some are calling the Valentine’s Eve Massacre—commenced when Conway, Trump’s top aide, told NBC’s Today Show that Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn. But by Monday evening, Flynn had reportedly resigned. The turnaround came so fast that two members of the National Security Council staff told The New York Times they only learned about it from news reports.

Then at a Tuesday White House press conference, Trump’s communications director Sean Spicer said that Trump had asked for Flynn’s resignation because “the level of trust had eroded” too far. Spicer insisted that Flynn had not done anything illegal by talking with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador, before Trump took office.

The FBI has said it first began looking into the matter in December, and then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates alerted Trump about it in January. Trump’s press secretary Spicer was unclear Tuesday when Trump first learned about the phone call and the true nature of the conversation, insisting that it was only “a matter of trust.”

On Valentine’s Day Spicer told the White House press corps that Trump has been “incredibly tough on Russia,” citing the new president’s comments on Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Spicer said that national security information being leaked is “a real concern” for the president, and that’s the “real story,” echoing what Trump had tweeted earlier in the day. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, top Russian lawmakers defended Flynn on Tuesday, saying that his forced resignation was due to a “dark campaign of Russophobia in Washington,” an attempt to undermine relations between the White House and the Kremlin.

Rep. King believes that maintaining contact is vital, but the question is a practical matter of how much is permissible.

“If you’re going to be our national security advisor, and Russia is probably our main adversary in the world,” said King, “you can’t come into office on Jan. 20 without them having some idea where we’re coming from, or us having some idea where they are. So it makes sense for Flynn to be talking.”

Added King, “The main sin that we know of right now is not telling Mike Pence the full story.”

His Democratic colleague, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), took a different view.

“The White House was informed weeks ago that General Flynn lied about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, but did nothing about it until that lie became public,” she told the Press in an email. “President Trump knew that the Russians had compromising information about his National Security Advisor, but still let him have access to all of our most sensitive intelligence. And we’ve now seen three Trump campaign officials forced to resign because of their ties to Russia.

“We need to know what General Flynn and the Russian ambassador said on that call, what the White House knew and when they knew it, and what explains the many links between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Until the American people have this information, we have plenty of reasons to suspect that President Trump is hiding something and no reason to trust that his administration is capable of keeping us safe.”

“There has been a nagging concern about the President’s relationship with Putin since day one,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “General Flynn only resigned because his actions were brought to light. This is serious business, and we must continue to give the president the benefit of the doubt, but we must also continue to probe.”

Long Island’s most conservative Republican Congressman, Lee Zeldin, declined repeated requests for comments. Nor did his office release a statement about the resignation.

While supporters of the Trump administration were recoiling from Flynn’s ouster, the unexpected news was greeted warmly by Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who denounced Flynn’s history of anti-Muslim prejudice against a faith worshipped by billions of people around the globe. Flynn has called it a “cancer” and once claimed that “Islam is not a real religion but a political ideology masked behind a religion.”

“We welcome Michael Flynn’s resignation and hope it is followed by that of all the other anti-Muslim bigots currently formulating domestic and international policies in the White House, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian and Katharine Gorka,” said Awad in a press release. “Our nation is best served by those who base their policy recommendations on facts, not fear.”

Related: Trump ‘Muslim Ban’ Sparks Airport Protests Amid Detentions

Schumer & Gillibrand Slam Mitch McConnell for Silencing Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren

New York’s Democratic Senators have joined in denouncing the late-Tuesday night actions by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to steamroll over opposition to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s conservative nominee for Attorney General.

In front of a nearly empty chamber in an address broadcast on sparsely-watched C-SPAN 2, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King that the widow of the late civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Sen. Strom Thurmond when Sessions was then being considered for the federal bench.

Taking to the Senate floor, McConnell (R-KY) invoked an obscure Senate rule to silence Warren from any further debate on Sessions’ AG nomination. The Kentucky Republican said the Massachusetts Democrat had “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.” Sessions has been a Senator for two decades.

Clearly stunned, Warren was ordered to take her seat and in essence, shut up. Afterwards, Senate Republicans voted 49 to 43 to uphold the objection that she had breached the rules of debate.

Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, said Wednesday morning that McConnell had violated the Senate’s tradition of mutual respect and comity by using “the most selective enforcement of a rarely-used procedure to interrupt her…to silence her.” He accused his Republican colleagues of being “far too zealous” and that they were “guilty of the same thing they were trying to police.”

“Sen. Warren wasn’t hurling wild accusations,” said Schumer. “She was reading a thoughtful and considered letter from a leading civil rights figure.” New York’s senior senator pointed out that “anyone who watches the Senate floor on a daily basis could tell you that what happened last night was the most selective enforcement of Rule 19.”

He recalled how a Senator labeled the leadership of Democratic Sen. Harry Reid “cancerous” and said the Nevada senator “doesn’t care about the safety of our troops.” Those remarks weren’t seen as a Rule 19 violation. “But reading a letter from Coretta Scott King—that was too much,” said Schumer.

“Just last week I heard a friend from the other side accuse me of engaging in a ‘tear-jerking performance’ that belonged at the Screen Actors Guild awards,” continued Schumer. “It was only the second time that week I had been accused of fake tears on the floor of the Senate, but I didn’t run to the floor to invoke Rule 19.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has opposed every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees so far, shared Schumer’s sentiments and retweeted a hashtag in support of Sen. Warren that has gone viral: “This is absolutely outrageous. #LetLizSpeak.”

McConnell inadvertently launched a viral Twitter-ready soundbite that had legs when he defended his extraordinary action. “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” the Senate majority leader said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” That last phrase has started showing up on pro-Warren T-shirts and hashtags.

Schumer said that McConnell and his fellow Republicans have “a shocking double standard” regarding free speech in the Senate chamber and at the Trump White House.

“While the Senator from Massachusetts has my Republican colleagues up in arms by simply reciting the words of a civil rights leader,” Schumer continued, “my Republican colleagues can hardly summon a note of disapproval for an Administration that insults a federal judge; tells the news media to ‘shut up’; offhandedly threatens a state legislator’s career; and seems to invent new dimensions of falsehood each and every day.”

Rebuked by the Senate majority leader, Warren wound up reading the 10-page letter outside the chamber on Facebook Live, which has been seen by more than 8 million people—exponentially more than routinely tune into C-SPAN 2.

In Coretta Scott King’s letter to South Carolina Sen. Thurmond—who had run for president in 1948 as the candidate from the pro-segregation States Rights Party—she said she opposed Sessions’ confirmation to the federal district court because, as the US Attorney in Alabama, he had used “the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”

Back then, senators on both sides of the aisle joined in rejecting his nomination to the federal court. In 2017, only Democratic senators are expressing their opposition to Sessions’ nomination to become the most powerful law enforcement officer in the nation.

“Our country desperately needs an Attorney General who will reject discrimination in all forms,” said Gillibrand in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We need an Attorney General who will defend our civil rights and human rights, with no exception. We need an Attorney General who will not be afraid to challenge the president if an order is illegal or unconstitutional. Sen. Sessions has not made it clear that he will use his power as attorney general to stand up for the voiceless and the oppressed, or to stand up to the president when he’s wrong.”

As for the leading voice of the elected Democrats on Capitol Hill, Schumer admitted he was put in a hard spot for opposing Sessions’ nomination but he had to, because the Alabaman’s record is “clearly troubling.”

“I ride with him on the bike in the gym,” said Schumer in a speech he gave Tuesday, “but he is not, if you can say one thing about him, he’s not independent of Donald Trump. He’s supported Donald Trump from the very beginning—even when Donald Trump didn’t look like he was going to be much of a candidate.”

Schumer recalled what happened two weeks ago when Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend the president’s Muslim travel ban because she said it was unlawful.

“We just had an acting Attorney General stand up to the President,” said Schumer. “That’s going to be a real test in this Administration because there seems to little regard for an independent judiciary—even for the Constitution itself.”

Echoing Coretta Scott King’s opinion from decades ago, Schumer said Sessions’ record disqualified him.

“He would be wrong at any time because of his record on immigration, civil rights and voting rights,” Schumer said, “but particularly wrong now because we need someone who has some degree of independence from the President.”

Despite the heated opposition, Democrats did not have the votes in the Senate to block Sessions from becoming the country’s top law enforcement official. His nomination passed Wednesday night, 52-47.

Related: Introducing News Beat: An Unconventional Podcast Challenging Conventional Wisdom #MLK

Founding Member of ‘Our Gang’ Comedies Gets the Silent Treatment at Cinema Arts

When visionary producer Hal Roach created the Our Gang comedy series in 1922, he broke ground in more ways than one. First, he made a ragtag group of kids the stars, which was a novel idea in the silent film era. And he signed the first African-American performer to a Hollywood studio contract—a 7-year-old named Ernie Morrison, whose stage name was Sunshine Sammy.

Born in New Orleans, Morrison began his unlikely movie career with supporting roles in features starring Baby Marie Osborne (not a household name today, but certainly a box office draw in her time). Under Roach’s guidance, he began working with top comedians of his day, like Harold Lloyd, he of the horn-rim glasses, and Snub Pollard, a man in an animated mustache. In the first Our Gang incarnation, “Sunshine Sammy” was actually the gang leader, going on to appear in 28 films.

We get to enjoy Morrison’s stereotype-shattering work all over again thanks to a special program at the Cinema Arts Centre. Besides clips from his roles in several comedies featuring Harold Lloyd, one of the great American comedians of the 1920s, Morrison will cavort on screen again with his posse in Firefighters (1922), Champeen (1923) and Dogs of War (1923). Accompanying the show on live theater organ will be Ben Model, who’s been doing the honors of supplying the sound track on keyboards at the Museum of Modern Art as well as at the Cinema Arts Centre.

Related: Love Of Hollywood’s Golden Era Brings Generations Of Filmgoers Together At Cinema Arts Centre

Roach’s short films—released as silent two-reelers lasting 13 minutes long or so—were light-weight at best, but they weren’t pretending to be anything but entertaining. Seeing them brings us back to the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, when little rich boys wore curls and kids hung around the dry goods store instead of the soda shop. In one of Morrison’s first films for Roach, we first see him wearing nothing but a wooden barrel strapped to his shoulders while his mom cleans his clothes—until a donkey gets in the way, his friends show up, and things soon get out of hand.

Morrison worked with Roach from 1921 to 1924, when he left the series to do vaudeville, where his comedic style took him far and wide, appearing with Abbott and Costello and Jack Benny when they were just starting out. Later he created the character “Scruno” in Sam Katzman’s “East Side Kids” series. In the twilight of his life, Morrison had a guest spot on Good Times. He died in 1989 in California.

But it was Morrison’s role as Sunshine Sammy that helped make Our Gang the most popular juvenile series ever filmed. Most of us today don’t remember the contributions made by the kids in the silent era because we mainly saw television broadcasts in the 1950s of The Little Rascals featuring Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla when they could speak for themselves after the studios were wired for sound beginning in 1929. But these earlier episodes are equally entertaining—and very revealing of a bygone era that our parents and grandparents knew well.

Roach set the scene with plot, structure and characterization, not just slapstick comedy and visual pranks—and those ingredients proved to be a winning formula. Critics say that the movies Roach produced in the silent era were some of the most sophisticated and personal short comedies to come out of Hollywood back then. Getting to see a few of them again along with child star Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison and Harold Lloyd, is a rare treat indeed. And listening to the ever-versatile Ben Model accompanying the action on screen makes the evening all the more special.

The program will be screening at Cinema Arts Centre, located at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington. For more information, visit cinemaartscentre.org Tickets range in price from $11-$16. The event is at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

In the featured photo, Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison is on the far left with the cast of Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedy series at that time, including (l-r) Morrison, Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon and Allen “Farina” Hoskins. (Courtesy: Cinema Arts Centre)

Related: Do This: Long Island Concerts & Events February 2 – 8

Photographers Reveal ‘The Human Condition’ in New Show at Huntington Gallery

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the poignant photographs selected for the Huntington Arts Council’s new show must speak volumes about the world we live in.

“The Human Condition” is the title of this powerful collection now on display at the Main Street Gallery in Huntington.

The opening reception is on Friday, Feb. 3., from 6-8 p.m. at 213 Main St., Huntington. This event is free and open to the public.

The juried show of color and black and white photographs by 34 artists will run through Feb. 25. Marc Josloff, president of the Long Island Center of Photography, was the juror who made the final selection.

“On the walls of the Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery, we now interact with fellow humans from different cultures around the world or from the confines of our backyards…even from the depths of our own minds!” Josloff said in a statement about the exhibit. “I am honored to have been able to receive so many brilliant photographic images to pore through. In the process, I’ve been moved greatly, and I’m confident that everyone who sees this exhibition will be impacted the same way.”

Just a sampling of images reveals the wide range of work, from James Dima’s photo of an elderly man and a younger woman sitting outside a café reading to Joan Weiss’s close-up of a wiry barefoot man cutting a reed with a scythe.

A Long Island native, Josloff has a diverse artistic background himself. He’s taught painting at the National Art League, and has judged painting and photographic exhibitions across the New York metropolitan region. He’s also won recognition for his painting and photography. In 2004, Artist’s Magazine selected him as one of 11 “Artists to Watch.”

You can see what caught Josloff’s discerning eye on the walls of the Main Street Gallery.

The gallery is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more info, go to www.huntingtonarts.org

Photo shown here is “Dignity” by Joan Weiss, now at the Main Street Gallery.

Related: Do This: Long Island Concerts & Events February 2 – 8

Rumsey Punch: What Judge Gorsuch Could Bring To The Court Is Cause For Alarm

Gorsuch

So here comes the judge. After a promo build-up that some compared to The Apprentice, President Donald Trump ended the suspense that he’d purposely created by nominating arch conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch in a live Tuesday night broadcast from the White House to fill the seat left vacant since last February when Justice Antonin Scalia died at a Texas ranch resort. Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Coloradan, who was skiing in the Rockies when he heard the news, was so distraught over his mentor’s death that he cried all the way down the slope.

Now the tears are falling down Lady Justice’s face.

Ten years ago, President George W. Bush had nominated Gorsuch to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver, and the Harvard Law grad was confirmed by a voice vote. Eric Citron, a Supreme Court blogger, regards Gorsuch as possibly even more conservative than Scalia. On the campaign trail, Trump had said he would nominate jurists who opposed abortion and supported gun rights. Regarding LGBTQ rights, Gorsuch has been described as a “religious liberty enthusiast,” which means he supports the right of private companies to discriminate against gays.

Until the announcement, Trump had kept speculation alive by saying he was going to choose between Gorsuch and Judge Thomas Hardiman, 51, a Massachusetts native whom Bush had nominated to U.S. District Court for western Pennsylvania in 2003. Four years later, Hardiman was unanimously approved by the Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, where he still serves with Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry. Fluent in Spanish and married to a Democrat, Hardiman reportedly had “more in common with Justice Sonia Sotomayor” than Scalia, according to one SCOTUS blogger. That probably was the deal breaker for Steve Bannon, Trump’s white supremacist advisor.

In a just world, this seat would have been filled last spring. President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who was universally respected. Until he wasn’t. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had said back in 2010 that Garland would be a “consensus nominee” and there’d be “no question” that he would be confirmed for a seat that ultimately went to Judge Elena Kagan. Last year Hatch reportedly called Garland “a fine man.”

But Garland never even got the courtesy of a committee hearing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put politics above the Constitution. The reactionary Republican kept the seat open so the next president could get his way. The blockage infuriated Democrats on Capitol Hill, and for good reason.

And what, you may ask, would have been the Republicans’ response had the polls been right and Hillary Clinton had actually won the election? Here’s what Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had to say last October, with weeks left to go:

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said. “I promise you.”

Will Senate Democrats follow the Arizona Republican’s example of all-out resistance now that Trump is in power? Senate Republicans need 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch. They start with 52.

So far, only U.S. Sen. Jeff Markley (D-Oregon) has staked out the firmest position, reminding Americans that the Supreme Court seat was “stolen” and promising to lead a filibuster of any Trump nominee.

“This is the first time in American history that one party has blockaded a nominee for almost a year in order to deliver a seat to a President of their own party,” said Merkley in a statement. “If this tactic is rewarded rather than resisted, it will set a dangerous new precedent in American governance. This strategy of packing the court, if successful, could threaten fundamental rights in America, including workers’ right to organize, women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of ordinary citizens to have their voices heard in elections rather than being drowned out by the corrupting influence of dark money from the richest Americans.”

Dark money is the real deal behind the consolidation of power in all three branches of government: the White House, Congress, and now the Court, once Chief Justice John Roberts gets his 5-4 majority back in Republican control. As The New Yorker magazine’s legal expert, Jeffrey Toobin, wrote in 2010, “Under Roberts, the Court has continued to use the equal-protection clause as a vehicle to protect white people.”

But let us not forget another horrible legacy of the Roberts Court: its decision on Dec. 6, 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that gutted the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law by removing limits on corporate expenditures in political campaigns. Our democracy has never been the same since.

And while we’re drifting down memory lane, let’s recall how the conservative-dominated Supreme Court had awarded the Republicans the White House on Dec. 12, 2000.

In Florida, Texas Gov. George W. Bush had clung to a 537-vote margin over Vice President Al Gore—an eyelash considering that almost 6 million ballots had been cast in the Sunshine State. Split 5-4, the Court decided that Florida’s lower court ruling ordering a manual recount of all those hanging chads was unconstitutional. It struck observers at the time as rather hypocritical for conservative jurists like Antonin Scalia, who’d made so much about “judicial restraint” and respecting states’ rights, to interfere with Florida’s right to count its ballots the way it wanted. Asked about it in subsequent public appearances, Scalia told critics: “Get over it!”

So here’s the unhappy recap for those of us who still haven’t “gotten over it.” First it was the Court giving Bush 43 the win. Next it was the Court giving billionaire right-wingers like the Koch brothers a green light to spend as much dark money as they could muster. And now the Orwellian-named Judicial Crisis Network has pledged to spend at least $10 million to push Trump’s nominee through by focusing on states where Trump won, such as Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As the Founders envisioned the Supreme Court, it is supposed to exert a check on the power of the executive branch. It seemed like an academic exercise when the notion came up in the last presidential debate in October. Trump said he would “instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look” into Hillary Clinton if he won. Clinton responded, “It’s awfully good someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Prompting Trump to retort, “Because you’d be in jail.”

Given what we’ve seen the first two weeks of his administration, it’s not an idle threat. Previously, Trump had slammed federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel because his parents were born in Mexico and therefore he couldn’t be fair in handling the million-dollar fraud lawsuit against bogus Trump University. The new president doesn’t take opposition lightly.

This week acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, was summarily canned by Trump for refusing to carry out his anti-Muslim immigration ban. The president could fire her because the AG’s office is under the executive branch. But her replacement is expected to be right-wing, racist Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who once joked that the KKK were “okay” until he learned that they smoked pot. Trump thinks the world of him.

Fighting to preserve the independence of the Supreme Court when our republic is threatened is truly a patriotic act. Hopefully, today’s elected Senate Democrats will channel their righteous indignation over the shoddy handling of Garland’s nomination and follow the example of the old liberal lion himself, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). He took to the Senate floor on July 1, 1987, to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork, who too many in the media had described as a mainstream conservative deserving confirmation. Kennedy wasn’t buying it.

As Kennedy put it: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government.” Bork was accurately portrayed as an extremist and he was rejected 58-42.

Unfortunately, the picture Kennedy painted is alive and well in the America Trump’s supporters have created. If we can’t trust the president to uphold the Constitution, who can we trust?

Two thousand years ago, the Roman consul Marcus Tullius Cicero spoke out against the enemies of freedom when his republic was facing the threat of dictatorship.

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within,” he said. “An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.”

Now is the time for our Senate to be filled with 21st Century Ciceros.

You Don’t Know Jack: Long Beach City Manager Schnirman Eyes Future of Nassau

Jack Schnirman
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman points out the window of his office.

From his fifth floor office with a stunning view of the Atlantic, Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman was just pointing out how the brand new, $42-million tropical hardwood boardwalk came in under budget and ahead of time, when John Mirando, his public works commissioner, entered with an important weather update.

The forecast was for one to three inches of snow overnight, not enough to shut the city down, but just enough to create hazardous driving conditions for the morning commute. Schnirman had to think about his residents and the budget. It was the first week of January with many storms yet to come. They agreed to monitor the situation and consult later that evening.

“It is a 24-hour job,” Schnirman told the Press. The 39-year-old has been city manager since January 2012. He admits he wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about the weather.

Pulling the city’s credit rating out of the basement is one thing—it was one step above junk bond status when he took over—but pulling the city back from the abyss is another. Nature is much crueler than any Wall Street analyst. When Superstorm Sandy swept in right before Halloween of 2012 Schnirman and his team had hunkered down in the same office. They watched the swelling bay meet the rising ocean right in front of the municipal building. The current was so strong it almost knocked over the police commissioner who was trying to enter. Almost two feet of water flooded the first floor.

They spent a long night planning for daybreak. They knew they had to call in the National Guard to patrol the streets by sunup because so many residents had ignored the mandatory evacuation order and remained at the mercy of the elements. As Schnirman prepared a team to conduct reconnaissance around the city at 3 a.m., the waters had receded but the wind was still strong, battering the wood barricading the office windows. Schnirman said they assumed they would find dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties.

But the city was lucky. None of its residents had died in Sandy. But when dawn came, Long Beach looked like it had been hit by a blizzard of sand. It marked the beginning of a long road back.

“People’s homes and belongings were destroyed. People needed help,” said Schnirman. But he wasn’t phased by the dire conditions.

“All those simulations I did in grad school about disaster scenarios, they really meant something,” said Schnirman, who got his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “I actually felt more prepared than I would have expected.”

He said his coursework in Cambridge was remarkably helpful.

“In a crisis situation, you want to give people order, protection and direction,” he said. “You want to establish a regular rhythm of communication and keep people up to date on what’s going on. Tell them everything you know. Be as candid as you can. Be present for people.”

And so they got to work and began to rebuild. Today, he and the all-Democratic city council tout the new boardwalk as a symbol of Long Beach’s resiliency. The new boardwalk has concrete undergirding, hurricane straps for added protection and 20-foot-deep pilings to hold it all up. Sustainability was always the goal.

He was getting his feet wet in more ways than one.

The Brink

“Five years ago I walked in the doors of Long Beach, and we were on the brink of bankruptcy,” said Schnirman. He inherited a worse situation from the previous administration than he thought. “They were hiding stuff from Wall Street and from the residents.”

On Dec. 20, 2011, shortly before he took over, Moody’s had downgraded the city’s credit rating five levels from A1 to Baa3.

“Now we have had eight consecutive credit-positive actions,” Schnirman said.

First, he had to get a handle on how bad the fiscal situation was. The previous administration under Republican leadership had been essentially over-budgeting for revenue and under-budgeting for expenses, and every year the gap just grew. To right the ship, Schnirman had to make tough choices.

“The hardest thing was I had to shrink the workforce,” he said. “We had to negotiate labor concessions. We had to put in a temporary surcharge on the tax bill to pay the previous administration’s deficit off.”

He wondered if he would pay the price for his actions at the ballot box in 2013, but the City Council that had hired him was re-elected “probably by the largest margin ever in Long Beach,” Schnirman asserted. “So, at the same time that we were making the difficult decisions to get our finances under control, Nassau County was avoiding all those difficult decisions and slipping further and further into the abyss. Then Superstorm Sandy hits and the city was completely devastated.”

The City by the Sea lay in ruins. But it doesn’t look at all like that today.

“Not everything is rebuilt yet. There are still tons of projects in progress,” said Schnirman. “The things that have been rebuilt have been rebuilt much stronger, much smarter and safer. That’s been our motto: stronger, smarter and safer.

“It’s a goal that the city council set for this city,” he continued. “We decided we wanted to be a model of resiliency. When you have one chance to rebuild, you have to do it the right way.”

Before he became Long Beach city manager, Schnirman, who was born at Central General Hospital in Plainview, had spent time as Brookhaven’s chief deputy supervisor, where he learned something about stopping the culture of corruption that had given the town the name “Crookhaven.” He’s proud of what he’s accomplished working in municipal government.

“Folks in Long Beach very much appreciate the tremendous progress we’ve made in the last four years since Sandy, the last five years of my administration,” said Schnirman.

Next Stop, Mineola?

And now his name has come up on a short list of four Democrats reportedly vying to replace Edward Mangano as Nassau County executive. The others are County Comptroller George Maragos, a Republican turned Democrat; Nassau Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin); and Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). Schnirman hasn’t formally announced, nor would he say when—or if—he plans to do so. But he has hired Kim Devlin, who was Tom Suozzi’s gubernatorial campaign manager and the former Nassau County executive’s advisor on Suozzi’s recent successful congressional race. If money could talk, Schnirman has also raised almost $200,000 for his exploratory committee, Nassau Forward.

“We’re building a movement,” Schnirman explained. “People are so frustrated about the corruption, by the dysfunction, by the lack of progress.”

The big question is not whether he’s running but whether what he’s learned as Long Beach city manager can work in the county executive’s office in Mineola.

“The simplest answer” that he could give, said Schnirman, is: “You’re either competent, or you’re not; you’re either corrupt or you’re not; you either believe in efficient government that brings everybody to the table or you don’t.”

He says his experience helping the city rebuild after Sandy while balancing its budget is also motivating him to look at making a difference in Nassau County.

“It makes you angry when you hear that at the same time we were doing this work, this all-encompassing effort to clean things up and restore our city and help people, folks in the county were looking at it as an opportunity to line their pockets,” he exclaimed, his normally calm demeanor actually becoming irate. “That’s just wrong. That’s not what government is supposed to be about. It’s just so extraordinarily offensive.”

Right now, Schnirman says he’s interested in having “a real conversation” about the problems facing the county and the priorities for fixing them. For 16 years, the county has been under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority because of its outstanding debt.

“There’s no magical solution for turning it around quickly,” said Schnirman. “The priorities that I hear from people—and that I share—are: taking care of people, educating people, transportation, housing, infrastructure, economic development. These are the key ingredients to restoring our county to prominence.

“There’s not a huge chorus out there calling for draconian cuts in services, or calling for dramatic tax hikes,” Schnirman continued. “It took many years to cause these problems, and those problems are not going to be solved overnight.”

One thing Schnirman wants to do is get a definitive understanding of Nassau’s dire fiscal situation, calling the budget deficit “a moving target.”

“For years the comptroller told us that the county was facing surpluses, and now for whatever his reasons, he’s become more critical,” Schnirman told the Press. “At the end of the day, the numbers are the numbers, and the county has tried to use a lot of phony accounting tricks and not actually use generally accepted accounting principles to paper over their problems.”

Muddying up the picture is that County Executive Ed Mangano is currently under federal indictment on corruption charges. His wife Linda is also under indictment. Schnirman harbors no ill will toward the incumbent but he wishes he’d step down.

“I’ve always found him to be a personable and friendly person,” he said. “On a personal level I wish him and his family well.”

But when Mangano’s other co-defendant, former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, said he’d resign so he could work on his legal defense, Schnirman issued a statement that “it is clear that Ed Mangano must do the same immediately and allow the Nassau County Legislature to appoint an independent professional to finish his term as county executive.”

Mangano has so far rebuffed the effort and carried out his duties, which Schnirman says is unacceptable.

“The county is facing serious fiscal issues that require full attention,” Schnirman said. “Former Supervisor Venditto said very clearly that he couldn’t focus on doing the task at hand in Oyster Bay because his trial requires his full attention, and yet we hear it’s business as usual in the county. You know, business as usual needs to change.

“Business as usual isn’t good enough anymore,” he continued. “We deserve better. We need reform. We need to move things forward.”

Nassau’s Future

Not surprisingly, Schnirman says that someone with professional management skills would be best suited to run the county.

“I worked my heart out to get our city on the right track,” said Schnirman. “There’s always more work to do, and I’m committed to making sure that I’m part of that work for years to come. Whether I’m here in Long Beach or in the county, I want to make sure that that work continues.”

He and his wife, Joan, an attorney who works for a foster care agency, met in New York City when he was living in Brooklyn. They have a 14-month-old daughter named Sage. Someday he hopes Sage will be able to swim in a cleaned up Reynolds Channel, go to the Nassau Hub to see a show or even catch a hockey game.

“Preferably to see the Islanders play—and I say that as a lifelong Islanders fan who is absolutely infuriated by the leadership failures that took place in allowing our beloved Islanders to leave,” said Schnirman, momentarily glaring. “Only the county government can look at us regionally and bring everybody together to make the things happen that need to happen.”

He’s not keen on Mangano’s repeated attempts to sell the county’s sewer system.

“Like a lot of people I have skepticism about that,” he said. “The concern is that it’s a short-term windfall and it’s a prescription for long-term rate hikes.”

He holds out hope that the Bay Park sewage treatment plan in East Rockaway will turn into a fully modern, resilient facility that stops polluting Reynolds Channel forever more. Schnirman can’t do as much about that situation as he’d like, but under his administration the beach on the Atlantic has gotten high marks for its turn-around. Last summer USA Today declared Long Beach one of the top 10 beaches in the country.

“We had record beach attendance,” said Schnirman proudly. This June the new boardwalk will host Long Island Pride, which used to host its LGBT parade in Huntington. “We’re always on the lookout for new fun events for our residents and visitors. Long Beach is really on the move!”

And soon, perhaps, its current city manager may be making a move, too.