Spencer Rumsey

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.

Dems Claim Brooks Unseated NY Sen. Venditto as Court Fight Looms

From left: New York State Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa) and his Democratic challenger, John Brooks.

Although the results are far from official, Nassau County Democrats say that John E. Brooks unseated freshman New York State Sen. Michael Venditto (R-Massapequa), the son of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who recently pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.

The outcome is significant because it would give the Democratic Party a slight majority in the State Senate. As of now, both parties have 31 seats in the 63-seat chamber. But in actuality, state Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) already caucuses with the Republicans, which keeps State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Smithtown) in control by a one-vote margin. Also in play is the seven-member Independent Democratic Conference, a group that often sides with the GOP but has yet to say which way it will align next year.

When the election ended Nov. 8, Brooks led by 33 votes. After the paper absentee ballots were counted Wednesday night—some 6,100 in Nassau and 1,300 in Suffolk—his margin had increased to 41.

The next step will be taken in Nassau State Supreme Court before Judge Thomas Adams, who will rule on challenges to the remaining ballots. The Republicans say that 750 Democratic ballots are invalid, while the Democrats are objecting to 360 Republican ballots.

“This is only one part of the process and there are still more than a thousand ballots to be examined beginning next week under the supervision of a judge,” said Scott Rief, a Senate Republican spokesman, in a statement. “Despite an effort by the Democrats to shut this down prematurely, this race is far from over.”

Democrats remain confident they won.

“Everything that could have been counted was counted,” claimed an official in the Nassau Board of Elections who was not authorized to speak, noting that the Democrats’ challenges were “significantly lower” than the Republicans’. “The number that Republicans objected to is too huge. When all was said and done, Mr. Brooks was ahead. And that’s the direction the race is headed in.”

The Democratic nominee didn’t wait for the results to be finalized before declaring victory.

“I am humbled and honored to be the next State Senator from the 8th District,” said Brooks in a statement. “For far too long, elected officials have used their positions to line their pockets at the taxpayers’ expense.

“In our campaign, we focused on reforming the way public education is funded, eliminating corruption and alleviating the excessive property tax burden now being faced by far too many New Yorkers,” he continued. “I will work hard each and every day putting the needs of Long Island families above everything else.”

Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs seconded his affirmation.

“With counting of absentee ballots now nearly concluded, it is clear that John Brooks will be the next State Senator from New York’s 8th District,” said Jacobs in a statement. “I urge the Board of Elections to move swiftly to certify the results so that the people of the South Shore in Eastern Nassau and Western Suffolk are properly represented in Albany. The time for campaigning and politics is over, and it is now time to govern.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), the Senate Democrats’ chief political strategist, was confident the results would hold up—and he’d soon be joined by a new colleague in Albany.

“He’s up by 41 and the objections were twice as many on the Republican side as on the Democratic side,” Gianaris told The Press, “so there’s virtually no chance that the Republicans can catch up at this point. In fact, Brooks’ lead is likely to grow when this gets to court.”

But what does Brooks’ unofficial victory really mean for his party’s control? Gianaris demurred.

“It means we have 32 Democrats elected to the state Senate, which is a majority of the senate composition,” he replied. “That’s all I’m going to say right now. The people have made it clear they want a Democratic majority in the senate by electing 32 Democrats.”

Meanwhile, Democrats’ hopes of picking up another Republican seat from Long Island seem much dimmer. State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Oyster Bay) holds a lead of more than 1,500 votes over his Democratic challenger, James Gaughran, the Suffolk Water Authority chairman. That recount is just getting underway.


Trump’s Repeal Of Obamacare Would Profoundly Impact Long Island

Trump Obamacare Repeal Long Island

On the campaign trail Donald Trump often called Obamacare a “disaster” and promised to repeal it. Now that he’s become the president-elect, the medical and economic implications for Long Island could be profound if he fully carries it out.

Some 20 million Americans gained health insurance for the first time through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In our area, more than a quarter of a million people might lose their coverage. That cutback could ripple through our hospital system, as this population becomes older and more vulnerable to disease and has nowhere else to turn but the emergency room.

“It was supposed to be something that society was willing to pay for in order to get to a point where we have better national health,” explains Professor Debra Dwyer, a health economist at Stony Brook University in the College of Engineering who specializes in public policy. “What we’re doing if we repeal it is take a step backwards. We’d be going back to the haves and the have-nots.”

Meanwhile, Trump has already taken two steps back from his radical rhetoric: He’s said he now supports the requirement that people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, could not be denied health insurance, and the provision that dependent children up to the age of 26 remain under their parents’ plans.

But the president-elect’s recent selection of Rep. Tom Price as secretary of health and human services is a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia who’s been perhaps the ACA’s staunchest opponent, which all but guarantees Obamacare’s dismantling.

It’s too soon to know what Trump or the incoming Republican Congress will replace Obamacare with, but it’s not too early to discuss what’s at stake: the capability of health care providers and local hospitals to provide adequate coverage for patients, the Island’s means of effectively tackling its unremitting heroin epidemic, and the sustainability and future of the region’s health care economy overall—which grew by 25,000 jobs since the law was passed, with 218,000 currently employed within the health care industry throughout Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to the New York State Department of Labor.

New York State has expanded the eligibility standards so more New Yorkers could qualify for Medicaid, and the state has set up subsidized exchanges for those who could not afford to buy health insurance through private insurers. To date, more than 3 million New Yorkers have health insurance through the state’s health care exchange, including more than 334,000 living in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

“If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, these folks on the exchange will once again be priced out of the market, leaving many ending up in the emergency room with acute problems,” says Dwyer. “And because they can’t pay, who foots the bill but the hospitals?”

The cutback would definitely have an economic impact here.

“Healthcare is big on Long Island,” explains Dwyer. “We were expecting a boom… We have a ton of physical therapists. That’s not going to be covered.”

Hospitals were bearing the brunt of cost savings under the ACA’s provisions to improve patient care. But if they experience a large influx of sick people without insurance coming to their emergency rooms, they’ll lose more revenue.

“When hospitals and doctors face fewer patients who are insured, they make less. That’s not rocket science,” Dwyer continues. “Yes, it’s going to have a negative impact on Long Island.”

Under federal law, hospitals are mandated to treat anyone who shows up at an emergency room regardless of their ability to pay. Uncompensated care adds debt to the hospitals’ bottom line, which can create a severe strain, notes Janine Logan, senior director of communications and population health at the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, which represents all Long Island’s 23 hospitals including Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System) and Catholic Health Services’ facilities.

Logan doubts there would be a full repeal “because you’re going to throw millions and millions of people off insurance. You would absolutely destabilize the insurance market [and] the hospital market. There’s a lot of ramifications to this.”

Her hospital council understands the pluses and minuses of working with the Affordable Care Act because it’s one of three so-called navigator agencies set up on Long Island by the New York State of Health Marketplace that offers low-cost coverage. According to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the uninsured rate on Long Island was 10.5 percent in 2013, and has since dropped to under 7 percent, according to New York State Department of Health’s 2016 Open Enrollment Report.

“We’ve seen the benefits of getting people into affordable health insurance plans,” says Logan, noting that the program is currently open for enrollment until the end of January 2017.

Unlike some other states, New York runs its own program. As a result, Logan says, “We’ve always been in a little bit better situation. We were able to take the increased Medicaid matching funds money available through the federal government. That’s why more people have been insured here.”

She admits that there are “certainly” parts of Obamacare that need to be tweaked: “We’re happy to work with the new administration about what would or would not work.”

“Everybody acknowledges that there are certain problems with the Act,” explains Terry Lynam, senior vice president and chief public relations officer at Northwell Health, the largest employer on Long Island as well as the largest private employer in New York, with more than 61,000 employees. Three years ago Northwell launched CareConnect, its own health insurance plan, which ranks fourth in state marketplace enrollees Island-wide.

“We’re a provider and an insurer,” Lynam explained. “As an insurer, we’ve seen problems with the payment methodology that the government put in place, resulting in insurers getting out of the exchanges because they get penalized financially. In 2017, we will have to pay U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services $100 million. In essence it’s a tax.”

One big unanswered policy question is: What happens to the Obamacare mandate that everyone have health insurance?

“The mandate is what’s helping to fund the subsidies,” says Lynam. But he notes that the tax penalty for not complying is “not that significant,” so many young and healthy people in their 30s are “just kind of rolling the dice in that regard.”

Because this demographic isn’t enrolling in the exchanges in the numbers that were anticipated, premiums have gone up on average nationwide by more than 20 percent, and that’s what has fueled consumers’ opposition to the act, prompting Trump to call it a “disaster” on the stump to the delight of his crowds.

“The insurance industry and the hospital industry agreed to cost reductions and restrictions in order to help fund the law,” explains Logan of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council. “For insurers, agreeing to cover people with pre-existing conditions is costly, but the promise of millions of newly insured lives offset that cost. For hospitals, the industry agreed to enormous cuts in uncompensated care reimbursements because of the promise of millions of newly insured. Rather than no reimbursement for these people for healthcare services rendered, coverage now provides reimbursement.

“Without mandated, affordable coverage for everyone, the uninsured will turn to the ERs again, and this will in turn drive up premium costs for those who are insured,” predicts Logan. “To keep the provision that insurers cannot deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, it has to be funded or offset in some way. Any revised plan will have to deal with this dilemma.”

In the meantime, the hospital industry has been consolidating rapidly, notes Lynam.

“You rarely see stand-alone hospitals because they just can’t survive on their own,” he says. “You’re seeing larger health care systems like ours get larger.”

Northwell has been expanding its outpatient practices—such as its urgent care centers—throughout the metropolitan area, and it now has 550 locations. One factor driving this change has been the shrinking health-care dollar. According to Lynam, Northwell Health has seen its Medicare reimbursements reduced by more than $2 billion in the last three years.

“Health care is not going anywhere,” says Lynam. “People still need care regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act is in place or not. From the political standpoint, you would think that because so many people have gotten coverage as a result some accommodations are going to have to be made for those people.”

Lisa Tyson, director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, calls denying millions of Americans health insurance “a travesty.”

“In New York State, ACA covers over 2 million people,” she says. “This state has worked to ensure that the program is successful and helps people obtain quality affordable health insurance. Rather than repealing the ACA nationally, Trump should take the program changes that New York State has done and implement them in other states.”

“We already were pretty generous with Medicaid prior to the Affordable Care Act,” adds Professor Dwyer, the Stony Brook University health economist. “So all those subsidies for people who couldn’t afford it on the exchange—all of that is going to go away, which is really scary.”

Current funding for Medicaid and Medicare is about 20 percent of the federal budget, according to Dr. Victor Politi, president and chief executive officer of the NuHealth System, aka Nassau Health Care Corporation, which operates the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow.

Dr. Victor Politi, president and chief executive officer of the NuHealth System.
Dr. Victor Politi, president and chief executive officer of the NuHealth System.

“We are a safety net hospital. We provide medical care to the underserved, and those persons who cannot afford insurance,” explains Politi. “We are mission-driven. We want to treat those patients. Other hospitals are required to receive under-insured patients in their emergency rooms, but we receive them for follow-up care.”

Politi says that the repeal of Obamacare could ultimately result in his hospital receiving less federal reimbursement for patient care—and NUMC already operates annually on a deficit.

Right now, the current system is providing care to the needy population through expanded Medicaid and New York’s exchanges. Politi admits that without government support, hospitals will “take the hit for the cost of that care.”

His facility needs help to pay for the uninsured so he can “keep our doors open.” Medicaid alone is hardly enough. Noting that the East Meadow hospital has 530 beds and 3,500 employees, he says, “We’re a major employer in Nassau and we’re also a major critical infrastructure. No matter what the disaster is, this is the hospital.”

NUMC has a level one trauma center, a well-regarded burn center, plus a methadone clinic and an emergency communications command center for firefighters and police.

He’s not sure what Obamacare will look like after Trump occupies the White House, but he is confident of what NUMC is going to do.

“We’re not going to turn away people,” says Politi. “If you show up at my hospital, whether you have insurance or you don’t, we’re going to take you in and we’re going to give you the top-quality care.”

It’s no secret that Long Island has been at the epicenter of the opioid and heroin crisis, as hundreds of people have died from overdoses. Repealing ACA could have a direct impact on addiction treatment, warns Jeffrey L. Reynolds, president and CEO of the Family and Children’s Association.

“The ACA eliminated some barriers to care, especially for people under the age of 26—a group disproportionately affected by substance use disorders—who have been allowed to remain on their parent’s insurance,” says Reynolds. “Even if Trump doesn’t mess with that provision of the law or the ban on pre-existing condition coverage limitations, 16.4 million Americans got coverage thanks to the ACA. If you apply national averages, at least 10 percent of those folks have a substance use disorder. Do we really want to resurrect barriers to care for 1.64 million Americans who are struggling with a costly, potentially fatal, yet treatable disease?

“As January rolls around and ACA winds up on the table, along with other important discussions, one thing is certain: From this crisis, a massive movement of young people in recovery and families impacted by addiction have emerged—and they’ll be intently watching both President Trump and Congress and holding them accountable,” he continues.

Given all the unknowns, it’s hard to find a bright spot for businesses here, but Kevin Law, president and chief executive officer of the Long Island Association, a not-for-profit lobbying group, says that if the repeal lifts the mandates that employers have to cover their workers, it might save them some money. But there could be more cause for concern in New York.

“If changes to the ACA creates a budget hole for the state, will they then seek to raise taxes on businesses to plug the gap?” he asks.

That remains to be seen.

Compared to other developed countries, the United States has a long way to go to improve the health of all Americans, not just the wealthiest. Obamacare was just a step in that direction.

“We really rank on the bottom in terms of any health indicator you want to look at,” says Stony Brook University’s Dwyer, citing rates of infant mortality and chronic disease. “It doesn’t take a Ph.D in economics to figure out that we’re not efficient. We spend way too much and we don’t have anything to show for it.”

She calls our health care system irrational rationing.

“If you can pay for it, you get it; if you can’t, you don’t,” explains Dwyer. “Whereas in other countries, it’s a different mechanism. You’re going to give it to people who really need it so that they’re healthier, and you’re not going to have a lot of unnecessary care. The goal is to maximize population health. Here we clearly don’t have that goal, because if we did, we wouldn’t have the outcomes that we have.”

And that outcome may only get worse in the years to come.

—With Rashed Mian and Christopher Twarowski

The Rise of Donald Trump Recalls the Downfall of Richard Nixon

Trump Nixon
President Richard Nixon infamously posed making the peace sign as he left the White House following his resignation. (Photo: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum official Facebook page)

A week is not enough time to absorb the impact of this historically divisive presidential election. It’s natural to be reeling, considering how wrong the polls were about Hillary Clinton’s prospects and how the outcome could harm the planet, let alone the country.

The stunning results apparently surprised even Donald Trump, seeing how unprepared his transition team is to take power.

This shock is how I felt watching the electoral returns in 1972 when President Richard Nixon obliterated the anti-Vietnam War candidate Sen. George McGovern from South Dakota. “Tricky Dick” Nixon, as he was dubbed, took every state but one. And that’s where I was then going to college: Boston University in Massachusetts.

The year before, the protest slogan, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote,” had finally been put to rest by the passage of the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18.

When I got to cast my first vote for president, I was 19, but more importantly, my draft lottery number was 243. I thought that only if China invaded South Vietnam would I ever be drafted, but I was a die-hard McGovern supporter in solidarity with those other young men whose fates were up for grabs by the Pentagon and the president.

The night of Nov. 7, 1972, my B.U. buddy, Scott, and I were on assignment. Our journalism professor had told the class to pick a political candidate and join him or her on election night. Since I had a car, we decided to go outside Beantown to the campaign headquarters of Rep. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit priest who was ardently opposed to the Vietnam War and was running for re-election. His outspokenness had made him a national figure so we got to watch professional reporters in action—and share in the booze put out in the press room. Scott observed that the scotch bottles went empty first.

As the night wore on, we noticed that everybody there was getting smashed—but not because they were celebrating Father Drinan’s victory. It was more like an Irish wake. They were coping with the stunning defeat of their presidential choice, Sen. McGovern. I’ll never forget watching the TV map turn red, all except for Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. McGovern didn’t even carry his home state. How could my country get it so wrong? I felt absolutely betrayed. Nixon was a crook! He should never have been re-elected, but he had won by almost 18 million votes, one of the widest margins in American history.

On the night of June 17, 1972, burglars had broken into the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate complex in D.C. They got busted. The incident barely made a ripple in the national news until two dogged metropolitan reporters from the Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, got a tip to “follow the money,” and it took them to campaign cash dispensed by the Committee to re-elect the President, amusingly known as CREEP.

“In public, Nixon presented a coolly competent demeanor. In private, he was paranoid and vindictive.”

In his uphill campaign, McGovern was never able to gain any media traction on the scandal. The only issue to come up consistently was how far behind he and his running mate, Sargent Shriver, were in the polls.

Later, Drinan became the first member of Congress to call for Nixon’s impeachment, but not because of the Watergate break-in and Nixon’s ill-fated cover-up, but for the president’s “concealing a massive bombing” in an undeclared war against Cambodia that he’d hatched with his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger.

“The country knew there was extensive lawlessness in the White House,” Drinan recalled afterwards. “Abuse of power and criminality were apparent to the American people.” But the realization came too late to change the election results.

In March 1974, seven men were arraigned for their role in trying to thwart the Watergate investigation. Ultimately Nixon’s most senior aides, Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Attorney General John Mitchell, were sent to prison.

As Hunter S. Thompson put it in Rolling Stone for an article headlined: “He Was a Crook”: “Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.”

Writing in the November 1974 issue of The Atlantic was George V. Higgins, a lawyer representing Gordon Liddy, one of the Watergate “plumbers” caught red-handed. Higgins was angry that his client was taking the fall for the president since he’d just been following orders. Said Higgins, “…the Nixon School of Lying was erected on the premise that people will hear what they want to hear… The President thought we were all stupid.”

In public, Nixon presented a coolly competent demeanor. In private, he was paranoid and vindictive. Not trusting anyone, he kept tape recordings of all his meetings in the Oval Office—and their presence led to his downfall.

In July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to release the “Watergate Tapes.” Within days, the House Judiciary Committee, which had begun looking into the matter in 1973, passed three articles of impeachment.

As the Washington Post has had to disprove time and time again when the erroneous alt-right meme makes its rounds, 27-year-old Hillary Rodham (then unmarried) had been hired as a staff attorney out of Yale Law School by John Doar, the chief lawyer for the impeachment probe, who “essentially displaced” Jerry Zeifman in the role. There’s a recurrent falsehood spread by her enemies—and they are legion—that Zeifman “fired” Clinton. Untrue. She reported to Doar. Other events led to the committee’s dismantling.

With rumors circulating that the end was near, Nixon made it clear on the night of Aug. 8, 1974, when he announced on television that he would be resigning at noon the next day. I happened to watch him live at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Ohio, which had turned on the TV in the main dining room for the historic occasion. I was with a group of friends from Antioch College—I had transferred from B.U.—heading back to campus in Yellow Springs, a village near Dayton, after spending a few days on a white-water rafting trip in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania. We’d had a blast—and earned all our physical education requirements needed for graduation. (Our small liberal arts school was not big on sports.)

Seeing Nixon tell the nation he was leaving office was a wonderful antidote to the deep despair I’d felt two years before. The other patrons sat in stunned silence. We few let out a cheer. But then, we were the only ones with long hair, sideburns and beards.

Outside the White House the night Nixon spoke, protestors on Pennsylvania Avenue were chanting, “Jail to the Chief!” Nixon claimed he never heard them.

Those words remind me of the vicious anti-Hillary chants echoing from Trump’s campaign rallies, but with a twist. The president-elect, unlike Nixon, lost the popular vote to his challenger. In fact, Clinton got 62,414,338 votes in unofficial tallies, compared to Trump’s 61,252,488 votes. (Nixon received 47,168,710 in 1972.) Aside from the Electoral College, Trump has no true mandate to lead, but he does seem dead set on taking us back to a bad place where we’ve been before. And he’s got the White House, the Supreme Court and both houses of Congress along for the ride.

“Our nation’s future stands at a fork in the political road,” said Adlai Stevenson in 1956 when he was the Democratic presidential candidate running against President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon. “In one direction lies a land of slander and scare; the land of sly innuendo, the poison pen, the anonymous phone call and hustling, pushing, shoving; the land of smash and grab and anything to win. This is Nixonland. America is something different.”

You could say the same about Trumpland today.

Nixon had called his supporters who so resoundingly re-elected him “The Silent Majority.” They were drawn from white-collar suburbs in the North, rural white areas in the South and an increasing number of blue-collar workers in cities and towns disenchanted by the Democrats. They’re the ones who roared for Trump last week. I expect that, like Nixon’s loyalists, they’ll be betrayed, too, when the alleged billionaire fails to “make America great again.”

But we can’t wait for history to repeat itself. Now is the time to stand up for what is right—for the good of us all.

Featured photo: President Richard Nixon infamously posed making the peace sign as he left the White House following his resignation. (Photo: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum official Facebook page)

40 Years of Brooklyn Through the Eyes of A-1 First Class Moving & Storage’s Matt Schwartzberg

A-1 First Class Moving & Storage Brooklyn NYC Mover
A-1 First Class Moving & Storage Brooklyn NYC Mover

Ever since he could remember having Sunday dinners at his grandmother’s apartment on Ocean Parkway, Matt Schwartzberg has carried a lasting impression of the sights and smells of Brooklyn life. It also helps that his uncle owns Mill Basin Deli, famous for its art collection and its corned beef and pastrami—ranking right up there with Katz’s as one of NYC’s top five Jewish delicatessens. From his other uncle, who was in real estate and boxed in the Golden Gloves, he’s learned street smarts.

His childhood experience has proved invaluable as he navigates the many neighborhoods of this burgeoning borough that has undergone so many changes in recent years. As president of A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, he’s been literally on the move since he started there when he was 22. He’s gone from making the sales to driving the vans, to relocating 500-person offices and taking the New York Mets’ sports equipment to and from spring training.

His company, which is an agent for Atlas Van Lines, has an office in East New York with warehouses in Sunset Park and elsewhere in the city. The moving business has also taken him all over town, from Borough Park to Park Slope, from Bensonhurst to Bay Ridge. He likes to say he’s completed 50,000 moves in his career, but what he counts on most is the experience of meeting such a diverse range of Brooklyn residents.

“I would get a look inside people’s homes—that gave me an education in itself,” said Schwartzberg, now 46 and married with three sons.

In a typical day, he’d be looking out an apartment window in Brooklyn Heights with spectacular views of Manhattan and feel like he was in a Woody Allen movie, and then go to Bensonhurst, where a mother and daughter shared a two-family home, so he could discuss a pending move, and wind up being invited to sit down and have dinner and wine.

He’s especially proud that his company also reflects Brooklyn’s diversity in its workforce, with long-time employees who are Hispanic, African-American, Caribbean and Eastern European. Some have been with the company for decades.

“Two people have become American citizens while here, three have completed college degrees at night, and two people we have helped in their effort to beat cancer,” Schwartzberg said.

Over the years he’s seen many parts of Brooklyn rebound.

“Streets that we thought were not going to become part of a community have now become communities,” he said with amazement. “I believe all areas go through life cycles. Bushwick burned down during the blackout in the 1970s. The idea that Bushwick was ever going to be vibrant seemed like a pipe dream.”

Now, it too is blooming. He thinks East New York will be next on the list for renewal.

In fact, to his eyes, the borough has turned into a melting pot, with an influx of people from all over the country wanting to be in Brooklyn.

“People may be dissuaded by the gentrification,” he conceded, “but I think time will tell that it has made neighborhoods more walkable, more livable, and more enjoyable. Is having too many Brooklyn coffee shops a bad thing? They’re now the pubs of 40 years ago where people congregate. Parks have been refurbished. New ones have opened. Neighborhoods are starting to look refreshed. From what I’m seeing, it seems that the suburbs are going back to Brooklyn.”

But as a professional mover, he admits that the challenge of doing business in bustling Brooklyn can be daunting.

“To go seven miles could take 45 minutes,” he said, with a hint of exasperation. “The borough is going up—it’s not going wide. When you go to Flatbush Avenue, down Third Avenue, you continue to see high rises and new apartments.”

Matt Schwartzberg, president of A-1 First Class Moving & Storage
Matt Schwartzberg, president of A-1 First Class Moving & Storage
He noted that Williamsburg and Greenpoint, places that that didn’t have much residential or commercial stock, are now growing fast. Offices are springing up in the former Brooklyn Navy Yards that are “world-class,” Schwartzberg says. Industry City on 35 acres along the Brooklyn waterfront near the Belt Parkway in Sunset Park used to be “old cut-up warehouses and the schmatta factories and the export-import firms,” he said, but now it’s home to We Work, IC, and the New York City College of Technology, and the Brooklyn Nets have a practice facility there.

Sometimes what he likes to do in Brooklyn with his sons is drive down Atlantic Avenue under the El and go to the Smoke Joint in Fort Greene for their ribs and wings. Or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to have Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn Heights.

“The day I feel that I’m not excited by where I work and the places where I’m around is the day that I leave,” Schwartzberg declared. “As someone who gets energized by people, the vibrancy of Brooklyn is intoxicating.”

For an in-depth look at Brooklyn’s heartbeat through the people that live there, check out the A-1 First Class Guide To All Things Brooklyn.

A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, one of New York’s most trusted and reliable moving and storage companies since 1948, specializes in residential and commercial moves throughout New York City (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island) and Long Island. Learn more at www.a1firstclass.com. [Disclaimer: A-1 First Class Moving & Storage is a client of Morey Publishing, parent company of Long Island Press.]

A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, Inc.
156 Hinsdale St., Brooklyn, NY 11207
Phone: (718) 745-3400
Toll Free: (800) 545-6683
Email: info@a1firstclass.com

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

Raj Tawney Cinema Arts Centre
Raj Tawney, director of publicity at Cinema Arts Centre

Watching Hollywood movies never gets old for Raj Tawney, the young director of publicity for the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, especially if the films are classics from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

“They call it the Golden Age for a reason,” says the 29-year-old with a broad smile. “It was an era in which you had almost 60 to 90 million people attending a film all at once. It really reached a mass cultural moment.”

Gone are the days when everybody in America routinely flocked to their neighborhood movie palaces to see the same flick the moment it premiered. But Tawney, who grew up on Long Island, is devoted to recreating that experience as best he can by hosting special events and screenings at Huntington’s premier film facility, where the usual fare is primarily foreign and independent movies, as opposed to commercial blockbusters.

Recently, he introduced an anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which he says is “a great example of a movie that bridges generations.” The turnout was very gratifying. “To watch a 50-plus-year-old movie and see so many young people in the audience was really encouraging. We know we’re going in the right direction.”

A graduate of Farmingdale State, where he was a communications major, Tawney got exposed to Hollywood’s heyday by watching Turner Classic Movies with his Puerto Rican grandmother at her place in the Bronx.

“My family is from all over the place,” he explains, noting that his father emigrated from India in the 1970s. “I grew up in a Puerto Rican, Indian and Italian household. I had the best food!”

He learned early on that films could enable him to bridge the generations. His Italian grandfather, who died when Tawney was an infant, used to play Sinatra “all the time.” One day while he and his grandmother were watching Doris Day and Frank Sinatra in the 1955 film Young at Heart, he says it struck a chord.

“It was a way for me to connect with my grandparents through a film they had watched when they were teenagers,” he recalls. That passion has become his mission at Cinema Arts, where he’s been since 2015.

“I’m always looking for new ideas to reach audiences with different types of genres,” says Tawney, who fittingly is also a member of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Next Generation Advisory Council.

Budd Burton Moss
Legendary Hollywood agent Budd Burton Moss, who will be the subject of an in-depth discussion and multi-media presentation at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Nov. 6.

On Nov. 6 at the Cinema Arts, Tawney will be hosting an in-depth discussion and multi-media presentation with the legendary Hollywood agent Budd Burton Moss, who’s a living connection to a world that most young people have only read about. The 86-year-old Moss hung out with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few stars. Sidney Poitier was the best man at one of Moss’s weddings. Every week in Los Angeles, Moss still goes out for bagels with his pal Larry King, who wrote the foreword to Moss’ new book, Hollywood: Sometimes the Reality Is Better Than the Dream. When Moss was a talent agent, he represented Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, and, most importantly, Rita Hayworth, with whom he became very close friends, as well as her manager. Currently, Moss is on a crusade to get the underrated actress, who died in 1987, honored with her own U.S. Postal Service stamp.

Moss had a fabled childhood growing up on the back lots of Hollywood. His father was a film editor at Fox, and his uncle was Sam Zimbalist, who produced the Oscar-winning Ben-Hur (1960) along with the Oscar-nominees Quo Vadis (1952) and King Solomon’s Mines (1951). First wanting to become an actor himself, Moss was an extra on the set of Sidney Poitier’s breakout film, Blackboard Jungle. Later, after he’d switched careers, they became long-lasting friends.

“He’s a fascinating man,” says Tawney, who’s never met Moss, although they talk “almost every day.” It all began one day while his Cinema Arts colleagues were at the Toronto Film Festival. Tawney took a call from a woman who said she knew Moss well, and insisted that he should invite Moss to Huntington. He did. The rest is history: film history.

Following the special event in Huntington, Tawney will be hosting Moss at The Amsterdam at Harborside in Port Washington on Nov. 10 to moderate another conversation and book signing, under the auspices of the Gold Coast International Film Festival—the first time the two groups have partnered together on a project.

“Raj is amazing!” says Regina Gil, executive director of the Gold Coast International Film Festival. “He’s got the energy and the enthusiasm befitting a young person but he’s also got what they call an alte kopf, a Yiddish expression that means ‘old soul.’ He really knows how to connect to young people, old people, everybody in between.”

Gil first met Moss a few years ago at the film festival when he was promoting his first memoir. This time, she connected with Tawney through a mutual friend, and suggested that he host Moss at the festival venue as well as at the Cinema Arts.

“Budd has become an activist for the Golden Age of Hollywood,” Gil says. “He is coming back because he’s written another book, and he wants to honor Rita Hayworth. She was one of the great stars of the Golden Era. She started out as an amazing singer and dancer—and she was Hispanic. Hollywood plucked her out of the cantina circuit. You didn’t become a star in those days without having a ton of talent.”

Gil has similar regard for Tawney.

“Raj is young; he’s talented,” she says. “I’m delighted that our two entities in Nassau County and Suffolk County can partner together.”

Budd Burton Moss gushed about working with Tawney.

“Since I was introduced to Raj Tawney at the Cinema Arts Centre,” says Moss, “I have found a new excitement due to his unique understanding of many of my clients and his understanding of our motion picture and TV industry.”

Tawney does bear an uncanny resemblance to a younger version of Budd Burton Moss, so it will certainly be entertaining to see the two film aficionados on the same stage.

Just don’t ask Tawney to name his favorite films.

“I hate that question!” he says, laughing. But if Tawney could go back in time for one movie premiere, it would be when Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho came out in 1960.

“Can you imagine how scary that might have been to anybody?” Tawney asks. “Hitchcock forced you to use your imagination!”

One of the first classic films Tawney helped bring to Huntington was Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten, which came out in 1943 and was nominated for an Oscar. He screened the film on one evening in the middle of the work week but it still found its audience.

“I couldn’t believe how packed it was!” Tawney exclaims.

Raj Tawney Cinema Arts Centre
Cinema Arts Centre Publicity Director Raj Tawney with an actress at the venue’s recent anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In March, the Cinema Arts presented a 70 mm version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood. The original celluloid film stock is always Tawney’s favorite format, because he believes it makes the cinematic experience much more authentic than a slick, remastered digital version.

“We’re an art house cinema,” he explains. “We’ve been around for 43 years. We’ve outlived the VCR, the DVD, the Blu-ray…

“We want the reel,” says Tawney emphatically. “There’s something about those little chips and cracks in the film stock that make you feel like you’re watching it as an audience watched it when it first came out. Maybe it’s our romanticized vision, but I think there’s something to it.”

Recently, Tawney arranged an event featuring film historian Irene P. Eckert, an octogenarian whom he calls “a Renaissance lady,” for a special presentation of Divorce Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1962. It was another successful evening that brought different demographics together.

“For me, it’s about the emotional connection,” Tawney says. “We have film historians, event hosts, to lead the discussion. How did you feel about the film afterwards? Not just to psychoanalyze it. That’s what my grandma always asked me, too. Right away, as soon as the film’s done, what do you feel about it?”

Tawney knows that someone streaming a movie at home alone won’t have that kind of dialogue.

“At the end of the day, the reason people still come to watch movies, is because you’re looking for an experience to share with a group,” Tawney says. “That’s why movies exist. They bring people together.”

Main Art: Raj Tawney, director of publicity at Cinema Arts Centre, proudly displaying one of the many original celluloid film reels showcased at the Huntington venue (Spencer Rumsey / Long Island Press

Cinema Arts Centre is located at 432 Park Ave., Huntington, NY. cinemaartscentre.org The Gold Coast International Film Festival runs Nov. 10 to Nov. 15 at various theaters and venues throughout the Town of North Hempstead. For a complete list of films and showtimes, check out goldcoastfilmfestival.org

Warren Haynes: Guitar Great Talks Gov’t Mule, Allmans & Jones Beach

Warren Haynes
Gov't Mule, featuring Warren Haynes on lead guitar, is ready for some Jones Beach music. (Photo by Anna Webber)

Born in 1960 in Asheville, N.C., with the Blue Ridge Mountains as his backdrop, Warren Haynes had the benefit of listening to his older brothers’ huge record collections as the ’60s cultural revolution was rocking the free world.

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He picked up the electric guitar when he was 12, and by the time he was 20 his reputation as a sizzling guitarist drawing on the blues and Southern rock had traveled far and wide. He teamed up with Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts, who asked him to join the Allmans in ’89 when Betts and Greg Allman reformed their legendary band. Along the way he’s played with Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh, and later toured with The Dead in 2004 and ’09.

As a songwriter, bandleader, solo artist and gifted sideman, Grammy Award-winning Haynes is one busy musician with many projects always competing for attention. His newest release, The Tel-Star Sessions, which just dropped in August, features never-before-heard ’94 recordings made with the original lineup of his power trio known as Gov’t Mule: Haynes, the late Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts. On Sept. 9 Haynes brings Gov’t Mule (with Abts, keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson) back to Nikon at Jones Beach Theater to share the bill with ZZ Top.

Related: 11 Questions With Allman Brothers Guitarist Warren Haynes

In October, Haynes will be the lead guitarist in an all-star tribute concert to Jerry Garcia’s musical legacy to be held at Washington, D.C.’s DAR Constitution Hall. When we caught up with Haynes recently, he spoke to us from San Francisco in between gigs in California.

Long Island Press: Did the San Francisco sound influence you growing up?

Warren Haynes: I had two older brothers, and they were big music heads. My oldest brother listened to a lot of the San Francisco stuff so I was hearing that music at a very young age. I think it had an impact on pretty much all rock listeners for the most part.

LIP: When I was a young teenager, pop culture was split in my home town between “psychedelic” music and Motown Soul. Did you have to cross that divide?

WH: We didn’t choose between them, but definitely there was a period of time when all we were listening to was soul music. But that changed. I think being a little younger I was never faced with “either/or”; I was always about “adding to,” you know, broadening your horizons. I never got the Beatles vs. the Stones thing, either!

LIP: Have you played at Jones Beach many times before?

WH: Probably 10 times.

LIP: Do they ever let you go swimming or do they keep you too busy there?

WH: Well, I’ve never been swimming there!

LIP: Is an outdoor venue as stunning as Jones Beach a distraction for a musician?

WH: Playing in beautiful places is always a plus, for the band and the audience. For us, it’s more about the connection with the crowd and the music. But the visual is nice.

LIP: If you had your way, would you rather play indoors or outdoors?

WH: My favorite is small theaters somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 [seats]. But the big crowds are really nice. It’s just a different type of energy. In the intimate settings you have a more one-on-one connection with the audience. We also sometimes play these big festivals where there’s tens of thousands of people, and that’s a nice feeling, too. It’s just not quite as intimate.

LIP: You’re on a bill with ZZ Top, which I gather was also an early influence on your music.

WH: Yeah, absolutely I became a ZZ Top fan right from the beginning. When I discovered that music, I was just starting to play guitar. It was the perfect time period for me to be influenced by something so unique and powerful.

LIP: Compared to your tenure, I think that ZZ Top has generated a more pop-hit expectation in its audience than has your work, which is more improvisational like jazz. Is that a fair distinction? And can audience expectations be restrictive?

WH: Well, I think there’s enough similarities between the two bands that we attract a lot of the same types of fans. Certainly we have different fans as well. When I first started listening to ZZ Top at the very beginning, there was no template for what they were doing. They were doing something that was different from anybody else. Definitely different from the Allman Brothers, definitely different from the Rolling Stones and other bands from that time period. They created their own sound, which I think is the most important thing. It’s a little bit more minimalist than what we do, and that provides a great contrast. But they were certainly an influence of ours.

LIP: When I think of your live music, it seems more like jazz to me than ZZ Top. I hear more free form, and I hear Coltrane.

WH: We’re definitely taking influences from a lot of different places. I think most musicians and most artists do, but it’s just a matter of which ones they choose to allow to rise to the surface. Most of us listen to a lot of different music, and whether it comes through depends on the artists.

LIP: Did you ever play with Jerry Garcia?

WH: No, I never met Jerry Garcia.

LIP: Was it a burden or a challenge, having to follow his tracks?

WH: I’ve been very fortunate to be included in a lot of situations where I was working with or jamming with or performing with people that I grew up listening to, and I’ve always obviously welcomed that opportunity. When I first started playing with the Allman Brothers in 1989, people always asked me if it was a daunting role to be stepping into that music. As a 28-year-old, it was a bit daunting, but I had played with Dickey Betts three years prior, which was really a great initiation for me. So by the time they asked me to join the Allman Brothers, I was much more comfortable in that position than I would have been had I just auditioned one day and woke up the next day in the Allman Brothers.

LIP: I could see that creative style of jamming being very inspiring to a musician like you. Is that true?

WH: I love improvisation, and I love jazz and blues. I think the fact that I started listening to jazz at a really early age—I think I was around 14 when I started listening to Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane—and all the rock music that was influenced by it enticed me to want to make improvisation a big part of what I do. It’s been that way all my life. When I was starting to play guitar, all the rock bands made live recordings where they stretched the songs out and played longer versions. They did a lot more improv than bands did in later years. I was very influenced by that. I listened to every live record I could get my hands on.

LIP: Do you feel that the fans have evolved along with you?

WH: Yeah, I think there’s a whole scene of music fans out there today that is much more about the live experience. Gov’t. Mule is very fortunate to have an audience based on people who really love music and keep coming to see more and more shows because all of our shows are different. If you’re going to play improvisational music, the audience is a very important aspect of the overall thing.

LIP: Is there ever a moment when you’re on stage and you think, “Oh, shit, why did I play that? I meant to play this but it’s too late!”

WH: If you do that, it means that you’re thinking too much! The best improvisational music is when you shut off the thinking part of your brain and just surrender to the music and the moment—and that’s not as easily said as done. There are definitely times when we’re guilty of thinking too much, and I think the music suffers.

LIP: Is the music business harder now?

WH: I think it’s harder to make a living as a musician these days. It’s easier in some ways to have access to all the music through the internet and modern technology. It’s easier to record music and make it available to people. The way the music business has changed, though, it’s much harder to make a living than it was when I was a kid.

LIP: Where do you find your inspiration when you’re not playing on stage? How do you find out what’s fresh? I don’t expect you to be doing a rap album any time soon, but maybe you would!

WH: I try to listen to newer music. I find less and less new music that I would compare to the greatest music of all time, but there is great stuff out there, and I feel right now that it’s on an upswing. I think we were in a lull for a while. A lot of the music I was hearing wasn’t as inspired as my favorite music of the past. I’m starting to hear a lot of young musicians, not just guitar players, who have a very inspired attitude and are listening to all types of music with a very open mind. I think that’s the key.

LIP: You’re on tour, and you have The Tel-Star Sessions from ’94 that just dropped. Are you playing some of those older songs live?

WH: We are starting to play some of those songs. There are a few that we’ve never played before that we’re starting to play for this tour, which is nice. We’re also revisiting the early arrangements that we did back then and experimenting with going back to playing them the way that we used to, which is a bonus as well.

LIP: When I look at all your projects, from playing with Dickey Betts to doing the Jerry Garcia role as well as your own music, how do you keep all these silos straight? Is it all a creative ferment?

WH: It’s definitely a positive in my life that I have all these different projects, and that I’m surrounded by all these great musicians and artists, and that I’m constantly in a position of being able to do different things and be inspired by other folks. That’s one of the main things that does keep me inspired.

LIP: What should your Jones Beach audience expect?

WH: Well, I’ve played Jones Beach many times, and the New York audiences in general have always been wonderful for us.

LIP: Are they a tough crowd?

WH: An enthusiastic crowd—a crowd that really loves music.

LIP: Are you writing new music on this tour?

WH: We’re planning to go into the studio in November and start recording a new studio record.

LIP: Where’s your studio?

WH: Well, it depends. It’s looking more and more like New Orleans. But we don’t record in the same place all the time.

LIP: Did you ever learn how to play the banjo growing up in Asheville with its blue-grass roots?

WH: No, but I can bang around on one, but not very well.

LIP: What was the first electric guitar you ever owned?

WH: It was called a Norma and it cost $49. My dad got it at a local hardware store.

LIP: What’s the most recent guitar you’ve bought?

WH: I bought an old, like Robert Johnson-era, Gibson acoustic guitar that I’m looking forward to writing on and recording with.

LIP: So blues remains a big part of your repertoire and your inspiration.

WH: Yeah, it always will be, I’m sure. I think the blues, soul music and rock music are kind of at the heart of it, but blues is where it came from. And if you’re in love with that sound like I am, it never goes away.

Main Art: Gov’t Mule, featuring Warren Haynes on lead guitar, is ready for some Jones Beach music. (Photo by Anna Webber)

Legendary guitarist Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule rock Nikon at Jones Beach Theatre on Sept. 9 with ZZ Top.

Long Island-Based Emerald Brand Offers A Revolutionary Way To Go Green

Paradigm Group Emerald Brand
Syosset-based Paradigm Group's Emerald Brand is leading the biodegradable green revolution.

Imagine if your empty plastic cup—once full of iced coffee—could just be tossed into a composter. Instead of clogging up a landfill for who knows how long, it’d disintegrate in months. What if that paper plate that came with your slice of pizza was totally compostable? Or your napkin and your bathroom tissue were biodegradable?

Ralph Bianculli has turned these imaginings into reality through a Syosset-based company he founded called Emerald Brand. With two of his kids following in his footsteps—his son Ralph Jr., known as RJ, and his daughter Jaclyn, whose married surname is McDuffey—this family formerly from Floral Park has begun to revolutionize the disposable products industry by providing “sustainable solutions” for businesses, sports facilities, and soon, they hope, consumers everywhere.

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Emerald Brand, a subsidiary of Paradigm Group, is a national provider of environmentally responsible products manufactured from rapidly renewable and sustainable materials like sugarcane bagasse (stalks left over after the sugar has been processed), bamboo and eucalyptus. Instead of producing paper from hardwood trees and plastic from petro chemicals, this company wants to use alternative natural substances like polylactic acid (PLA), which is a compound of plant starches. Besides reducing the impact on the waste stream and global warming, Emerald Brand also hopes to help American farmers turn their crops into another source of profit.

“Our model is very interesting,” said Bianculli Sr., who was visiting farmers in upstate New York when he recently spoke with the Press. “Hands down, I think it’s the most innovative piece of what anybody’s done in our industry in 50 years. It’s actually pretty cool. I’m inspired!”

Over the last four years this privately owned company has doubled in size, reportedly earning tens of millions of dollars annually, as its distribution has expanded from four states to 40. It’s also begun to export to the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Right now, the vast majority of Emerald Brand’s customers are businesses. Their products are in Barclays Center, American Express, and Sachs Fifth Avenue, to name a few venues.

Only a small but growing percentage of the business is retail. The marketing focus has been mainly business-to-business because when decision makers choose what disposable products to buy for their companies’ facilities, the results can be profound, the Bianculli siblings believe.

“They say, ‘Okay, we’re going to go with Emerald because we want to have an environmental impact that’s positive,’” explained McDuffey, 25, managing director of Emerald Brand, speaking at her company’s headquarters in an industrial park off Jericho Turnpike. “The next day they’re able to just turn it on, and 10,000 to 20,000 people in their buildings are all switching over. You’re able to make a difference very quickly in the B2B world versus the consumer world, where you have to get every single consumer every single time they buy to think of you.”

Ralph Jr. with Emerald products.
Ralph Jr. with Emerald products.

Emerald Brand has taken that route, too, after spending millions of dollars and at least five years on research to develop prototypes that they could eventually bring to market. In 2008, Emerald Brand partnered with Duane Reade for two years when it launched a private label called Apartment 5. The Biancullis were supplying bath and facial tissue, dinner napkins and paper towels to the pharmacy chain.

“This was the first alternative tissue material brought to market. It sold off the shelves,” said RJ, 27, managing director of sales. “It was the fastest, highest-selling tissue product at the time.”

After that trial run, the family was even more determined to roll out Emerald Brand as “a total environmental portfolio,” explained RJ. They haven’t stopped there, either.

Last year, Emerald Brand announced that it had formed a strategic partnership with Totally Green, a U.S.-based manufacturer of the ORCA Anaerobic Aerobic digestion machine, which significantly cuts down on the food-waste stream. The move came in response to the passage of New York City law 1162-A, which took effect in July 2015 and mandated that food facilities at manufacturers, stadiums, large cafeterias and hotels with more than 60 rooms could no longer simply throw away their organic food waste. Instead, they had to either compost the waste or use an onsite anaerobic digester. Using Emerald Brand’s sustainable disposable products has helped the companies meet the new strict compliance standards more cost-effectively and efficiently. According to PlaNYC, food waste comprises 30 percent of the four million tons of waste that New York City was annually sending to landfills.

“When waste normally goes into the landfills, it ends up producing methane gas and other global warming gas byproducts,” said RJ. Bio-digesting machines can take up to 100 pounds an hour of food waste and turn it into water.


It took something painfully personal to compel the Paradigm Group to make the shift from the mainstream to launch the Emerald Brand.

Bianculli had come from a large traditional distribution company that handled styrofoam cups and plates, corrugated packing materials and other items. During his career, he’d worked with Georgia Pacific and Unisys. But things changed for the family when John Paul Bianculli was born in 1994. At first, he was a healthy baby, but at 2 months old, “John-John,” as his siblings call him, started having seizures, sometimes up to 300 a day.

“I remember going to the hospital quite often,” recalled McDuffey. At the time she was 4, her older brother was 6.

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“We found out that he had gotten mercury poisoning from one of the vaccinations,” said RJ. The level of mercury in the infant’s brain was eight to 10 times above normal. Now 22 years old, John Paul needs full-time care, because his grand mal seizures can be severely debilitating. The young man can neither walk nor speak. “He knows us as a familiar face,” said RJ, “but he’s very, very attached to our mother, Pam.”

The family never sued the vaccination maker. “Our parents never wanted to go down that road,” said McDuffey. Instead, they devoted themselves to finding out what had triggered the malady and what could be done about it.

After investigating the pharmaceutical industry, the elder Bianculli said it was “quite disappointing” to find out how much was already known about the potential harm that some of the materials posed to human health. He looked at his own industry and saw “how inherently wrong” things were there, too. The recognition inspired him.

“It just moved us along to where I said, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do the things that we know,’ recalled Bianculli. “I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. But I know the paper and plastics industry, and it was the single-biggest moment in my life when I said, ‘If I could do something in this industry and make a difference, then you know what? It’s worth it.’”

With admiration RJ calls his father “a visionary” because he looked “into what we are making our products from. What are we bleaching our products with? What are the substances that we are touching our mouths, our rear ends, and our faces with every day?”

As a result, RJ said that his dad became “very passionate about this whole movement, not only from an environmental perspective, but from a health perspective… He came up with the idea to create a line of products that were healthier and more sustainable, and that were going to be the same or better price and quality than the traditional, fossil-fuel-based plastic products and tree-based products.”

“We were way ahead of the curve,” Bianculli said, proudly.

The original name of the parent company was Paradigm Marketing Consortium, now Paradigm Group, which officially gave birth to its disposable products subsidiary, Emerald Brand, in 1997. They picked that name because “It means green without saying it’s green—kind of clever!” explained McDuffey with a smile.

“But it was something the consumer could relate to,” added her brother. Emerald started with four recycled products. Now the brand includes more than 225 separate stock keeping units (SKUs), from soup cups to paper towels and garbage liners. The company acts as a wholesaler, a manufacturer, and a distributor, depending on the market. Besides its Syosset headquarters, it’s got a distribution center in Hayward, Calif., and is about to open one in central Florida. According to RJ, about 50 percent of the production of their finished products is done here in the United States. “Upwards of 30 to 40 SKUs are made here in New York,” he said.

Clearly, they’ve come a long way.

“Our first stage was to try to bring purity to the disposable world,” said Bianculli. “Our mission is to totally transition the way people perceive paper and plastics in the consumables world.”

The elder Bianculli compares what Emerald Brand is doing now to “What the revolution was on smoking. We’re up against big industry,” he said. But he believes that his team can convince the “titans of industry to really start looking at these alternatives. It’s not all about the money. It’s about changing the way industry treats the consumers in this country.”

A collection of Emerald Brand's products.
A collection of Emerald Brand’s products.

His daughter explained the company’s research.

“We don’t just work with bagasse,” McDuffey explained. “We really look at any material that is rapidly renewable, safe for the environment, easy to grow, and doesn’t utilize trees. So we’re always looking for alternative fibers.”

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Sugarcane is prevalent in the Southeast, like Florida, but now the company is trying to find crops that can be grown in the Northeast. For about a year and a half, she said Emerald Brand has been working with researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to study fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and corn that might have the properties they’re looking for. And finding the right crop also fits in with their goal to help American farmers.

When the Press recently caught up with Bianculli Sr., he was on the road upstate, looking at farmland in the Saratoga Springs area, and planning to meet with local farmers. The company has come up with at least four other crops that might work just as well as bagasse in supplying plant starches for their product line.

“I believe that in a year from now we will have that solution,” said Bianculli. “We’ve got the ear of a lot of folks in the farmlands. So it’s my mission now to try to put that piece of the puzzle together.”

Meanwhile, back on Long Island, RJ was planning to fly down to Florida and speak at the Sierra Club’s Big Sugar Summit #2 on Aug. 20 in West Palm Beach, where he intended to explain Emerald Brand’s benefits. Under current practices, the vast majority of sugarcane farmers burn the discarded bagasse, which yields methane gas, a contributor to global warming.

“Burning this cane is a big issue,” RJ said, “and we happen to have the solution. We buy the material from these farmers. It’s an added source of income and gives them an incentive not to burn it.”

As RJ sees it, if Emerald Brand can help farmers while reducing the impact that disposable products have on the environment, it’s a win-win for the company, and the planet.

“It’s a mission for us,” said RJ, with a determined smile as his sister nodded in agreement. “It’s not about the dollars and cents. We have a lot of passion behind it, and I think we’re here to stay and we’ll continue to grow.”

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


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.

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