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.
If journalism is the first draft of history, then an entertaining memoir written by a hard-hitting journalist like Edward Hershey must be the second, third or fourth draft. It’s a revealing personal history of post-war America that lets us look over his shoulder as he relives what he experienced firsthand when the news was breaking and he had deadlines to meet.
Thanks to his new book, The Scorekeeper, we’re there with Hershey as he covers the Attica prison debacle, the Son of Sam serial killings and the costly vendetta of a special state prosecutor, Maurice Nadjari, a former Suffolk County chief assistant DA who managed to spend $14 million to “clean up corruption” in New York but gained “not a single major conviction.”
Hershey was in Garden City in 1973 when Newsday decided to start covering the city that so many of its readers had left behind when they moved to Long Island. Until then, the Long Island paper of record only covered New York’s sports teams, or reviewed Broadway shows. It surrendered hot city stories to local TV news or the big city papers. Otherwise the copy desk would rewrite wire service stories. The disconnect didn’t sit well, especially if the reporters were doing the reverse commute, unlike their suburban readers.
“As much as we valued the journalism Newsday allowed us to pursue,” Hershey wrote, “many of us saw Long Island as a dull, stultifying sprawl of cookie-cutter homes occupied by white Democrats-turned-Republicans who clogged freeways and shopped in climate-controlled shopping centers, strip malls filled with chain stores, and fast-food restaurants.”
Born in 1944, he grew up in Brooklyn along Ocean Parkway. As he says, his career touched fame more than achieved it, “a life less about making history than footnoting it.” It will be a familiar tale to many Long Islanders with Brooklyn roots. Hershey went from watching the Brooklyn Bums at Ebbets Field to becoming a sportswriter covering the Yankees spring training in Florida.
He profiled Arthur Ashe, co-wrote a book with the Mets’ Cleon Jones, and interviewed Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlain and Billie Jean King, to name a few sports legends. Not bad for a self-proclaimed klutz who admittedly sucked at stickball. Hershey took his ineptitude off the field and volunteered to be his Little League’s official scorer, which lay the foundation for his future in getting the facts straight.
Along the way, Hershey went from learning how to arm and throw a live grenade at basic training at Fort Gordon in Georgia—he came close to blowing up his sergeant—to organizing journalists at Newsday to join a union with the pressmen and the drivers. As Hershey wryly observed, “Start a union and you aren’t exactly a favored staffer.”
Management had not been keen on the idea, telling reporters and editors that they had nothing in common with the blue-collar members of Local 406. But then the pressmen and drivers were making a lot more than the ink-stained wretches, as their pay stubs clearly showed.
“The difference between these employees and us is that they have a union,” Hershey explained to those willing to listen. Despite the disparity in pay, the vote for joining the union came down to the wire: 149-144. In the end the union won. Hershey still counts it as one of his life’s crowning achievements. He also serves on the George Polk Awards committee, which honors the best and brightest in journalism today.
The Scorekeeper is not a score settler, although Hershey tells it like it is. It’s also very entertaining. Here’s a guy who could say with a straight face that he’s been a basketball announcer, an antiques columnist and a labor union strategist.
He’s also worked on the other side, as reporters call it when you trade a byline for a public relations gig, when he became a communications director for the city’s corrections commissioner, Long Island University (his alma mater) and Colby College in Maine. Being a flack was a revealing experience.
“All those years writing stories I thought mattered and hardly anyone knew my name,” he told his wife after one appearance. “Now I stammer a sentence or two on TV and I’m a celebrity.”
Hershey would be the first to admit today he’s no celebrity, but the stories he tells in The Scorekeeper make him a winner for those who value the contributions made by the Fourth Estate as they try to speak truth to power.
Hershey will be at the Book Revue in Huntington at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan.26, reading from his book, The Scorekeeper: Reflecting on Big Games and Big Storeis, Brooklyn Roots and Jewish-American culture, the Craft of Reporting and Art of The Spin, and signing copies.
In the photo, Hershey, on the left, watches his union president George Tedeschi sign the contract that joined reporters and editors with pressmen and drivers in Local 406, as Newsday editor in chief, and later publisher, Dave Laventhol, observes on the right.
The word is out that this year’s Long Island LitFest has an ambitious roster of great authors, stimulating readings, book signings and inspiring workshops. Now in its third year, the all-day event will occupy Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre on Sunday, March 26.
To get the back story on LI’s first regional literary festival, we spoke with its founder and producer, Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, a journalist, author and essayist, whose work has appeared in the Long Island Press, the New York Times and Newsday.
Long Island Press: What did it take to get this off the ground and why now—and why Long Island?
Claudia Gryvatz Copquin: Several years ago I got a group of writer friends together. I booked the six of us in many venues on Long Island—Guild Hall, The Nassau County Museum of Art, Cinema Arts Centre, as well as in NYC and Brooklyn venues. We were a little band of writers on tour, if you will, and we read our personal essays under the name, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat and Fears.” We drew audiences wherever we read and that was the inspiration for a literary festival on Long Island, which for some reason that escapes me, we’ve never had! And because there are so many literary events in Manhattan, I wanted to offer Long Islanders a convenient way to see their favorite authors, right here, on a stage.
LIP: Where did you start?
CGC: In 2015, we held our first Word Up: Long Island LitFest at the Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington. We sold out. Over 200 people came to hear Dick Cavett, Roger Rosenblatt, Susan Isaacs, Alan Zweibel, Henry Alford and many other stellar writers. Each author took a turn at the microphone and read. We also had the Book Revue in Huntington as our pop-up book seller, offering copies of the authors’ latest books. This was a huge hit. So now Long Island LitFest is an annual event. In 2016, our home was the Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, which is an easy commute from New York City and the outer boroughs, so that’s where we will hold Long Island LitFest again on March 26, 2017.
LIP:How do you do it?
CGC: It’s a huge undertaking but this is my passion project. I love the challenge of booking best-selling authors. But I don’t do this on my own. I have a fantastic advisory board made up of professional writers who are on stand-by at all times for advice and input. They are wonderful because they volunteer their time and energy to help me with this endeavor, and I’m extremely thankful for them.
LIP:What are your goals for the LitFest?
CGC: One of my goals was to expand on our signature event, our full day of author readings and book signings, so in 2016 I booked a couple of authors for intimate book club discussions, such as Brenda Janowitz and Bob Morris. And I also produced ‘Long Island LitFest Presents…,’ which are single-author events. Wally Lamb read from his latest book on November 30th. We also presented Alice Hoffman in early December. Both of these events were at the Madison Theatre and included an audience Q&A and book signings. My plan for 2017 is to host more of these throughout the year.
LIP:Do people read books anymore in this age of Fake News?
CGC: Based on our ticket sales—all of our events are bundled, meaning, admission includes the author’s book—yes! There are so many book clubs here on Long Island. Just ask the Book Revue. They offer discounts on their books to book club members. Ask all the libraries. If people didn’t read, we wouldn’t have any! Look at Manhattan venues such as the 92nd Street Y or Symphony Space. Their author events are always sold out. But a clearer indication is that Amazon is now experimenting with brick and mortar book stores. Books are back! And people want them.
LIP:What power do words still have?
Copquin: Well, without speaking in tired clichés, words are everything. And especially now, when people are so stressed out about our future, a good book has the power to take you away to another world, one where you can literally forget your troubles. Reading is more important now than ever.
LIP:Who is your audience is and how many folks you expect to show up?
CGC: Our audience is anyone who enjoys reading and who wants to spend a few hours away from their house or place of work and engage with like-minded individuals. We like to say Long Island LitFest is a day to disconnect from gadgets and connect with each other. Connecting face to face is critical these days. It’s why Jerry Seinfeld is still touring and has a residency at the Beacon Theater. It’s why Billy Joel has a residency at the Nassau Coliseum. We need and seek out human contact and Long Island LitFest offers that—via the written and spoken word. And who wouldn’t want to meet Pulitzer Prize winning humorist Dave Barry or internationally acclaimed author of Passages Gail Sheehy? Personally, I can’t wait!
Here’s a brief description of the writers who have already committed to lighting up Long Island LitFest this year:
Dave Barry, Pulitzer-Prize winning humor writer whose columns and essays have appeared in hundreds of newspapers over the past 35 years. He’s also written a number of New York Times bestsellers. His latest, For This We Left Egypt, a parody of the Passover Haggadah, is co-authored with Alan Zweibel (and Adam Mansbach), an original Saturday Night Live writer, who has won multiple Emmy and Writers Guild of America awards for his work in television, which includes It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Late Show With David Letterman, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has also won a Tony Award and the Thurber Prize.
Gail Sheehy is author of 17 books, including internationally acclaimed best-seller Passages, named one of the 10 most influential books of our times by the Library of Congress. She will be in conversation with Cathi Hanauer, editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage and the recent The Bitch Is Back:Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier.
Friars Club historian and LitFest emcee Barry Dougherty, author of several comedy books, will interview Kelly Carlin writer, actress, producer, monologist, and Internet radio host, and author of A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George.
Steven Gaines is co-founder and a past vice-chairman of the Hamptons International Film Festival and author of numerous books, including Philistines at the Hedgerow and his memoir, One of These Things First.
Caroline Leavitt is author of the novel Cruel Beautiful World and New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, and many other works.
Bill Scheft was an Emmy-nominated and longtime staff writer for David Letterman and is the author of five humor novels, including his latest, Shrink Thyself.
General admission for the festival, which begins at 1 p.m., is $40. Before the main event gets under way, two free introductory workshops on essay writing and storytelling will both begin at noon. Iyna Bort Caruso, a New York-based Emmy Award-winning writer, will run the Intro to Personal Essay Writing workshop, which promises to teach participants—even those with no prior writing experience—how to give voice to their experiences in a way that is “both intimate in its details and universal in its message.”
Tracey Segarra, a Moth Radio Hour GrandSlam champ as well as a marketing and communications professional on Long Island, will lead the storytelling workshop for beginners who want to be “a more effective public speaker or just spin a good yarn at a party.”
Last January, eight-term Long Island Congressman Steve Israel shocked the Beltway by announcing he was leaving the House of Representatives. Now, a year later, he’s found a new home, so to speak, at Long Island University’s campus in Brookville, where he’ll be the chairman of the recently created LIU Global Institute, which will focus on foreign policy and national security issues—some of his favorite subjects. He’ll also be a Distinguished Writer in Residence, where he’ll wield his pen (or keypad) in the cause of political satire, which he did to critical acclaim with the publication of his first satirical novel, The Global War on Morris, in 2014.
When the Press caught up with the 58-year-old former Congressman last week at LIU Post, he was just finishing up the proofs of Big Guns, his second book for Simon & Schuster, which takes aim at the gun lobby. Israel’s official congressional records, providing behind-the-scenes insight on major issues of his time in office such as the aftermath of 9/11, the passage of Obamacare and the Great Recession, will be housed at LIU Post’s B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library. We had to borrow an administrator’s office to talk because his new digs were still being renovated.
When Israel served in Congress, he became a close ally of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, even though he had once been one of the so-called “Blue Dogs,” a loose coalition of conservative Democrats who voted for the Iraq war and President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. Starting in 2011, he headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but resigned after the House Democrats lost more ground than expected in the 2014 elections. In this latest election cycle, he led the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which Pelosi helped create to get the message out.
Now Israel is focused on getting the word out himself in academic circles and beyond. He’s no professor, but he thinks he comes prepared for the job.
“In Congress most of what you do is lecturing,” Israel said with a laugh. “I would not presume to be able to profess, but I think I’ve demonstrated an ability to understand the complexity of issues, to get into a room with a large or small group and have positive interactions. Those skills are required of any member of Congress, and I’m looking forward to transferring them to the university.”
The recent debacle of the Democrats’ losing the White House and both the Senate and the House were still weighing heavily on his mind, two weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“People say, ‘What kind of country could elect Donald Trump?’ Wrong question. ‘At what time could this country elect Donald Trump?’ And it was only in this time,” Israel observed.
In his recent role on the House communications committee, he oversaw focus groups and polling, and became increasingly aware of “this unique convergence of circumstances” that might throw the election to the billionaire. As Israel described them: “An economy that was changing radically for people; a breakdown of faith in all institutions across the board, whether it was government or religion or sports or Wall Street; a sense of personal fear, whether of ISIS or getting shot in a movie theater; and finally, a feeling that democracy just wasn’t working for people anymore. You put those four things together, and you have a moment in time when Donald Trump could get elected.”
Even so, Israel admitted that he didn’t want to believe his own eyes or ears. He said he heard the “first warning bells” when Trump was easily knocking off Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The now-former congressman became aware of “this trauma that was gripping America’s middle class,” as he told his colleagues in their weekly meetings in Washington, but “I wasn’t prescient enough to say that what was going on out there is that Donald Trump is about to become president. I scoffed at it myself. But guess what? We all turned out to be wrong.”
Looking back, he said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 21, 2010 decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case “changed everything.” The conservative ruling opened the doors for corporations and other powerful hidden interests to spend unlimited amounts of money during election campaigns.
“Nobody saw it coming,” said Israel. “Within days, millions and millions of dollars in dark money started showing up on people’s television screens and that resulted in a 63-seat loss for Democrats. We couldn’t compete, so the Supreme Court handed the Republicans the majority…We got wiped out.”
Israel does want to draw an historic parallel today to what happened in January 2009 because he thinks it provides a useful lesson—and can serve as a warning to Republicans about what can go wrong if they get too cocky.
“What I mean is that in January 2009 Democrats elected a Democratic president,” explained Israel. “We brought our majority in the House to its high watermark, and the Senate was secure. And we believed that we were going to be a permanent majority.” A wan smile crossed his face as a shadow seemed to pass before his eyes.
“Within two years we lost it all,” he continued. “Why? Because the argument could be made that we confused a margin as a mandate.” With Democrats in control, “We did a lot of stuff! Now, I happen to think we should have done that stuff because all we had to do was rescue the economy, stop GM from going bankrupt, and pass the Affordable Care Act. But the Republicans created a narrative that ‘They’re going too far too fast.’”
And the story line firmly took hold, Israel said, as the effects rippled through the country, even into Nassau County. “Tom Suozzi, a popular Democrat, loses his executive race,” recalled Israel. “After that, we lose 63 seats in the House, and a year after that, the Senate.”
With a broad grin, Israel exclaimed, “The Republicans are at great and grave risk of doing the same thing. If Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans confuse an Electoral College margin for a national popular mandate and double-down on dumb and reckless stuff, the Democrats will take the House back in two years.”
He pounds the desk for emphasis. “I have news for the Republicans,” Israel continued. “The hardcore Trump supporters want Obamacare to be repealed by Tuesday. When [Congress] can’t do it, they’re not going out and voting for Republicans in 2018. The Republicans risk losing their base in 2018 by not keeping their promises they made in 2016. They are in a jam.”
Israel had made his retirement announcement early enough last year to allow a spirited Democratic primary to find his replacement. After the dust settled, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi got the nod and went on to beat State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) to represent Long Island’s 3rd Congressional District.
Asked about what key advice the veteran lawmaker gave the new guy in town, Israel said he told Suozzi “about this obscure place in the Capitol that I suggested he visit. Right off the floor of the House is this secreted balcony outside, and it overlooks the Mall and the House office buildings… That’s where members of Congress in both parties sit on patio furniture as human beings in the backyard. You could be on the floor screaming at each other, and then you go off the floor and you can chill out. You can sit and learn that the person on the other side of the aisle is having a hard time with his kids. Or misses her husband or misses his wife. That balcony is where you form friendships on the other side of the aisle, and that’s where things get done.”
Israel remembers sitting on the balcony worried about protecting Long Island Sound, while he was talking to a Republican from Utah, Chris Stewart, who was anxious about preserving wilderness areas in his state.
“We just started sharing our concerns,” Israel recalled. “It turns out that though he may be a pretty conservative Republican, we had the same concerns and we could get things done.” He laughed at the memory but then turned serious.
“What I fear is that there are so few moderate Republicans left [in Congress], and that’s another reason I decided to leave,” Israel said. “There was hardly anybody to work with.”
Flying on Air Force One or sitting with the president in the Oval Office at the White House were definitely “cool,” he admitted, “but it doesn’t compare with just getting things done for people.” In fact, he claimed, “The best time for me in Congress was walking into a VFW post or an American Legion post and giving back pay to a veteran.”
He certainly won’t miss the pressure that being a congressman put on his family life.
“I had too many moments where I was sitting in airplanes on the tarmac listening to the pilot tell me that we were 16th in line for takeoff, that there were thunderstorms between Washington and New York, and dreading the phone call to my daughters telling them that I couldn’t take them to dinner that night,” he said, shaking his head. “There’s nothing worse for me, nothing worse in the world.”
Israel has two daughters, the older one works in New York City in marketing, the younger works on a farm in Suffolk County. He started his political career when he was elected to the Huntington Town Board in 1993 before heading to the nation’s capital. With a laugh, he remarked, “I don’t know why anybody would want to go to Albany!” As for retail politics, he doesn’t foresee a campaign on the horizon. “I don’t see it,” he said. “Do I hope there are several bestselling novels in my future? Absolutely yes!”
He intends to use his new position on campus as “the anchor” that allows him to keep his hand in important policy issues and “shed light on the dark corners of the world.” Still on his own “learning curve,” he won’t start teaching courses until the spring. To mark the official launch of the Global Institute, he invited former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Tilles Center at LIU Post on March 2.
When LIU President Kimberly Cline reached out to him about coming to Brookville, “she didn’t have to make too strong a case,” he said. “I love this institution.” He also admires Cline’s program to teach students about micro-financing in impoverished countries and send them to different parts of the world to make a difference, whether it’s bringing solar panels to a poor village in India or getting a small farm off the ground in Africa.
“We’re going to organize students and teach them how to do those things, and then deploy them,” Israel said. “That’s the vision—and that’s what really drew me to LIU—the willingness of the president to engage in those kinds of world game-changers.”
As the new institute’s chairman, he said, “We’re going to provide Long Islanders with some context on why global crises impact their local pocketbooks—and we’ll go beyond that.”
As LIU Post’s writer in residence, he intends to use satire as his weapon, because this era calls for it.
“Satirists always thrive in the darkest of times,” Israel noted. “Satire doesn’t really work when people are happy, you know, when there’s nothing to poke fun at. When you look at the greatest satirical works in literary history, the only way to criticize power was through satire. I think there’s going to be a ton of satire over the next four years.”
Israel said he had 95 percent of his second novel completed before Trump looked like a presidential possibility, so the billionaire doesn’t play much of a part in Big Guns. But “there are some very recognizable figures,” he smirked. He’s not worried about libel suits, either:
“If Dick Cheney did not sue me for libel on the first book, he’s not going to sue me for libel on the second.”
Photo: Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) will be the chairman of Long Island University’s Global Institute, a Distinguished Writer in Residence, and will continue penning satirical novels. (Long Island Press / Spencer Rumsey)
More than 46 summers ago, a young Canadian folksinger named Leonard Cohen delivered the performance of a lifetime at the third annual Isle of Wight music festival.
The late, insanely great Cohen, then 35, was awakened from a nap in his trailer and brought onstage to perform with his band. The audience of 600,000 was still in a frenzy, trampling fences and setting fires, stoked by Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary performance. Onlookers stood in awe as Cohen quietly tamed the crowd and took them to another place, and for that he became enshrined in music legend, forever. Cohen, who died in November at the age of 82, lives on in immortal concerts like this.
Interestingly, “Hallelujah,” one of his best known songs because it’s been covered by so many great artists, didn’t come into being until 1984. When he took the stage at Isle of Wight, he had released two albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) and Songs From a Room (1969), and was about to drop a third, Songs of Love and Hate (1971). At this early time, Cohen’s big hit was “Suzanne,” with haunting lyrics like: “And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind, and you know that she will trust you, for you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.”
This documentary captures Cohen setting out on the first of countless concert tours that he kept on doing for the rest of his long life.
“I consider it a reconnaissance,” he told Rolling Stone in 1971. “You know, I consider myself like in a military operation. I don’t feel like a citizen.”
Cohen had learned guitar as a teenager—a flamenco guitar teacher reportedly persuaded him to switch from steel strings to nylon—and formed a folk band. After he graduated from McGill University in Montreal, he wound up on a Greek island in the early ’60s where he honed his poetry. He published his first collection of poems, with the ironic title, “Flowers for Hitler,” in 1964.
But his literary ambition stalled, so he moved to New York in ’66, where he met Judy Collins, who covered two of his compositions on her album, In My Life.
His lyrics were always imbued with nuances that ran deeper than most pop songs. That’s what set his music apart.
“Poetry is just the evidence of life,” he once said. “If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”
As Rolling Stone’s Richard Gehr recently pointed out, “Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equaled him as a song poet.”
Amazingly, Cohen’s muse never went mute, despite a career that spanned half a century. Just before he died, he came out with one of his best albums in years, You Want It Darker, which was showered with critical acclaim. Not bad for a guy in his early 80s.
To catch him in concert when he was still relatively young and full of promise is a rare treat, indeed.
Ticket price includes reception with prolific rock documentarian Murray Lerner. Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. cinemaartscentre.org $10-$15. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11.
Almost 300,000 Long Islanders would lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed by the incoming Trump administration, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the pending impact on New York in a statement released Wednesday.
“The cost of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to state and local budgets and to the New Yorkers who depend on its health care coverage, is simply too high to justify,” said Cuomo. “Since its implementation, the Affordable Care Act has become a powerful tool to lower the cost of health insurance for local governments and New Yorkers, and it is essential that the federal government does not jeopardize the health and livelihoods of millions of working families.”
At present, the New York State Health Exchange has expanded coverage to more than 2.7 million residents, cutting the percentage of uninsured New Yorkers from 10 percent to 5 percent. In Nassau, 133,324 people are at risk of losing coverage; in Suffolk 152,631.
At the state level, the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act’s repeal would mean a loss of $595 million. According to the governor, New York’s counties have been able to directly use the additional federal Medicaid funding through Obamacare to lower property taxes. If Republicans in Congress carry out their promise to repeal Obamacare, Nassau County could lose $17,866,829 and Suffolk could lose $18,310,813.
The Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council said the repeal could cost Long Island hospitals around $3.2 billion in lost revenue over the next decade, the major loss coming from reductions in Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, which compensates hospitals that care for uninsured patients, sometimes referred to as “safety net discharges.”
“In Suffolk County, Catholic Health Services provides the largest number of safety net discharges through its eastern hospitals: Good Samaritan, St. Charles and St. Catherine,” said Christine Hendriks, a Catholic Health Services spokeswoman. “This commitment to assisting the poor and underserved is integral to our mission. If the underpinnings of the Affordable Car Act are not replaced, either through DSH payments or other previously cut subsidies, then the volume of those cared for will create a considerable financial strain on CHS that will be felt immediately.”
The view from our region’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health, was more forgiving.
“While the Affordable Care Act has its flaws, it has expanded health care access to more than 20 million Americans who were previously uninsured,” said Michael J. Dowling, president and chief executive officer at Northwell, in a statement. “It has also expedited the progress that Northwell and other health systems were already making in improving quality, containing costs and holding providers more accountable for the care they deliver…Instead of pursuing radical, highly problematic solutions to the healthcare challenges we face, I encourage lawmakers to work collaboratively on pursuing more-reasonable and more-gradual measures that will make the best care possible available to as many of us as possible.”
Long Island’s ranking Republican in Congress, Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) is hoping to soften the blow, should the ACA get the axe.
“I support repealing and replacing Obamacare while protecting all beneficiaries,” the Congressman told the Press in an email. “That is why I met with the governor’s top health advisors today and assured them I would work hard to minimize any negative impacts to New York and Long Island–long term and short term.”
His Republican colleague from the East End, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), took the governor’s press release to task for failing to acknowledge how “flawed” Obamacare is.
“Nothing at all is included about any of the lost doctors, cancelled policies, higher premiums or higher deductibles that New Yorkers are now facing,” said Zeldin in a statement to the Press. He noted that the state’s Health Exchange had just one co-op, Health Republic of New York, which “collapsed” because the entity the state picked to run it, the Freelancers Union, was incompetent. Zeldin also criticized the governor for failing to rein in the state’s huge Medicaid costs.
“New York State spends more money on Medicaid than Illinois, Texas and Florida combined,” claimed the Congressman. “New York has the same population as Florida, but spends more money on Medicaid costs than Florida spends on its entire state budget.”
Zeldin insists that Obamacare is going to be “repealed and replaced.” But the Congressman added that he’s open to the governor’s suggestions if Cuomo has “a good idea that productively contributes to the future of health care…In the meantime, he is not part of the solution by conspiring with allies to cook up half-baked numbers to scare people about a particular course of action that is divorced from reality.”
Long Islanders may not give tourism here much thought—unless they want someone to blame for summer traffic on the South Fork—but it plays a vital part in our regional economy. Those employed within the Long Island hotels and hospitality industry fervently want it to have a bigger role here year-round. Creating a great destination miles from the Manhattan skyline in a place not universally known for having great hotels, luxury resorts or secluded getaways is a daunting proposition, but dozens have unarguably succeeded on the Island despite the challenges. Their stories reveal a lot about the possibilities and the pitfalls of hosting travelers here.
Since Kristen Jarnagin became president and CEO of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau last year, she’s heard these narratives firsthand. With a staff of 14 people and a budget of $3 million, she runs the “official tourism promotion agency” for our travel and tourism industry.
“I hear a lot of things from our hoteliers,” Jarnagin said. “We are really lacking in product on Long Island. To me, it is completely unfathomable that we don’t have a convention center. Look at our proximity to New York City. We have some of the world’s best research, health care and education facilities—those are your three top core industries for having meetings and there’s nowhere to do it.”
Jarnagin, who left the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association to come here in 2015, is tasked with promoting this region as “a world-class destination for tourism, meetings and conventions, trade shows, sporting events and related activities.” For comparison’s sake, she noted that Arizona’s state tourism budget topped $26 million, while Phoenix and Scottsdale had separate budgets in the $20-million range. In her former state, only Flagstaff, with a population of 120,000 people and one downtown, had a tourism budget equal to Long Island’s.
Earlier this summer, the Long Island agency redesigned its website and launched a new marketing campaign targeting domestic and international audiences. To draw history buffs, the visitors bureau ran TV commercials plugging the “Washington Spy Trail” along Route 25A with spots airing during AMC’s series Turn, which portrays the travails of the Culper spy ring that aided Gen. George Washington when the British occupied the Island.
“New York is the ultimate international travel destination in the world,” Jarnagin told the Press. “Yet we seem so disconnected [from it].”
She says her goal is to “brand” Long Island.
“My job is to give people a positive perception of Long Island,” explained Jarnagin. “I try to get them here. It’s really up to the communities and the hotels to promote themselves.”
No one can deny the market potential for Long Island. In 2015, travelers reportedly spent more than $5.5 billion here, supporting almost 77,000 jobs. Tourism contributed $676 million in state and local taxes, while sales, property and hotel-bed taxes generated more than $372 million in local tax revenue.
According to a 2015 study, “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New York,” conducted by Tourism Economics, a company run by Oxford Economics in Philadelphia, the average household in our region would have had to pay an extra $720 to maintain the same level of government revenue if tourism-generated state and local taxes were eliminated from the equation. Next to New York City, which gets 65 percent of visitors’ spending in the state, Long Island ranks second, with 9 percent, followed by Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes at 5 percent. As for Niagara Falls, one of New York’s most famous natural attractions, it gets only 4 percent of the money travelers spend in the Empire State.
Jarnagin wants to get people to come to Long Island from far-away places because they’ll stay here longer and spend more money.
“The day trippers spend $60 a day, the person who comes overnight spends over $250, and the international visitor spends twice as much and stays twice as long,” she said. “We’re trying to put Long Island on the international stage.”
One of the more unusual hospitality venues is the four-star Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury, an upscale, solar-powered, eco-friendly facility that is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. One claim to fame is that it hosted Long Island’s first same-sex wedding in 2011. Its Marco Polo Restaurant offers a fusion menu of Asian and Italian dishes.
“During the week it is primarily a corporate hotel, but on the weekends it is primarily a social hotel for wedding groups and events,” said Alan Mindel, the owner. The Viana also hosts the majority of pop bands playing in the area.
“The majority are good citizens,” Mindel said, refusing to say whether any unruly musicians had ever thrown a TV out the window. “If I’m doing my job properly, neither you nor the New York Post ever hears about it!”
He admits that the Viana’s Nassau market is “a different world” from the Hamptons or Manhattan but it does well.
“It is an oasis—a suburban hotel with a full spa,” he said. The Viana gets a lot of repeat guests, drawing some travelers from Europe and Asia as well as locally. It is the first and so far only LEED-certified hotel on Long Island, a goal of Mindel’s because utility costs are so high in this region. It’s also designed to be a feng-shui friendly property. His core customers come from the area’s wedding halls and country clubs, and he reaches others through social media.
“Google has done a lot for the industry,” Mindel said. “Years ago, print media was important, but that’s not the case today.”
Out in Riverhead on Main Street is the Hotel Indigo, a modern boutique style facility with a bistro restaurant and a bar, plus a terrace with an outside fireplace, which makes its claim as an ideal travel destination because it’s at “the crossroads of the North Fork and the Hamptons.” It’s a short drive from the vineyards, the Splish Splash Waterpark in Calverton and the Tanger Outlets. Visitors are encouraged to bring their pets, too.
Rob Salvatico and his dad Albert Salvatico bought the venue in 2004 and eventually transformed it. Most recently a Best Western, the place first took shape as a Holiday Inn when it opened in 1972.
“The décor had barely changed since 1972 when we got there!” said Rob Salvatico with a laugh. He believes Riverhead’s central location has been a boon, because it’s the last available commerce hub on the Island, following Garden City, Melville and Hauppauge.
“What does Riverhead have that none of those other commerce hubs have?” he asked rhetorically. “We have the destination appeal of serving Long Island wine country, which has been undergoing unprecedented growth, and the Hamptons.” As Salvatico sees it, “This is a high-barrier entry market with a lot of potential upside.”
To market the Indigo, he said, “We spend upwards of $80,000 a year on social media, no exaggeration.” He sees the target audience as some 15 million tri-state residents in the greater metropolitan area.
“I’ve been quoted 9,000 times saying, ‘I don’t really market the hotel, I market the region. And I market the hotel as your authentic guide to the region.’ That’s the whole Indigo program,” explained Salvatico.
Further out in East Hampton is an historic getaway, The Baker House 1650, an upscale English manor-style bed-and-breakfast with luxury accommodations including fireplaces and whirlpool baths in most rooms and suites. Its gardens include 200-year-old wisteria and gingko trees that date back centuries. The house was first built in 1648 by a sea captain named Daniel Howe, who sold it to Thomas Baker, one of East Hampton’s original founders. At one point it was known as Baker’s Tavern, serving also as a town meeting hall, a community center and a place for religious services. Its present transformation began in 1911, when its owner James Harper Pool hired Joseph Greenleaf Thorp, a prominent architect with ties to the English Arts and Crafts movement, to turn it into an expansive English manor.
For the last 12 years, Antonella Bertello-Rosen has been running the hotel with her husband Bob Rosen, a surgeon.
“I wish the season were longer than it is,” she said. “We’re very busy June, July, August, September, maybe a little bit in October, and then it really starts dropping down incrementally. January is probably our worst month. Some people like to be here for the holidays, but the only way we survive the winter, basically, is by taking deposits for the following season.”
Most of their marketing is done by word of mouth, since they only have a total of seven rooms to fill. Recently, Bertello-Rosen has been encouraged by the growing number of off-season happenings in the area, such as the Hamptons International Film Festival and Long Island Restaurant Week on the East End, which bring in more visitors. About 25 percent of her guests are international travelers, predominantly from Britain and Germany.
“We try to advertise abroad as much as we can for the international guests,” she said. “They seem to be more willing to come during the off-season. You still have a lot of the really good restaurants open, many of the stores are still open, and all of the museums are open… We are relatively close—even in summer with the traffic—to the Parrish Museum and The Watermill Center, which is amazing, and Guild Hall, which is literally across the street from us. They do performances all the time.”
Out on Shelter Island is The Chequit Inn, an upscale Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast with 37 rooms (19 in the main house and 17 in a separate structure), plus an inviting front porch and a seasonal American eatery called the Red Maple. Originally built in 1872 as a religious retreat, it’s got a colorful history, once hosting Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, although not necessarily at the same time. Its owners, Kevin O’Shea and David Bowd, having made their reputation with their Salt House Inn in Provincetown, bought the place in 2013, spent a year renovating it, and officially opened The Chequit in 2015, when it drew raves in Travel & Leisure and Vogue magazine as one of the top summer inns.
“What I felt was really missing on Shelter Island was a great hospitality experience,” Bowd told the Press. One day he took the ferry to the island, drove up the hill, and spotted the old hotel.
“It was early in the evening, and it was really tired and run down,” he recalled. But he loved the building. “A hotel for me is all about a whole, encompassing, welcoming experiencing. The Chequit was the opposite of that when I first went there,” he said. “But I loved its history, and I loved its character.”
Shelter Island is not as well-known as other East End locales, but Bowd appreciates its special appeal.
“It’s a really beautiful island, and you can only get to it on a ferry,” he said, noting that it’s accessible by Hampton Jitney from Manhattan to Greenport and then a five-minute walk from the dock.
“It’s a real get-away, a fairly isolated experience over the Hamptons’ experience,” he continued. “On Shelter Island you can commune with nature year ’round. In the winter, there’s nowhere more beautiful than Shelter Island.”
The Chequit draws about 20 percent of its guests from overseas, mostly through social media and word of mouth from repeat customers. He notes that Europeans who want to come to New York City in the summer wind up spending three or four days in Manhattan and coming out to Shelter Island “for a few days so they can lie on the beach and relax.”
Still, he concedes that after July and August, the traffic dies down considerably. “We’re always trying to win new guests coming to the island,” Bowd said, “and to constantly educate people that this is a beautiful place, and you can get a great hotel experience outside Manhattan.”
As he puts it, “It’s far enough away so that it’s isolated, and it’s close enough that it’s connected.”
Just a ferry ride away in Sag Harbor is The American Hotel, a three-story landmark built in 1846 on the town’s Main Street. It draws guests from Manhattan who take the Hampton Jitney to stay in one of the eight double rooms, and locals who flock to the bar and restaurant. The present owner, Ted Conklin, bought the former boardinghouse in 1972 and turned it around after decades of neglect. He literally had to shovel coal dust out of the basement one bucket at a time. Now the cellar holds thousands of bottles of fine wine. In 1981 the hotel won Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for the restaurant’s superb wine list, and it’s never looked back.
One of its legendary evenings saw Billy Joel and Bono hanging out together on the couch by the backgammon board. Another saw Jimmy Buffett take a stroll from the barroom to entertain diners on the porch. For years, the place has been a haven for artists and writers in the Hamptons. Perhaps that’s why it’s always gotten good press. Peter Applebome in The New York Times once referred to it as “sort of the Hamptons’ answer to Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca.” As it boasts on its website, “discerning world travelers agree that The American Hotel is in a class of its own.”
Also in a class by itself is the luxurious Garden City Hotel, 15 miles from Manhattan and a few minutes’ walk from the Long Island Rail Road. This Nassau venue stands as one of the most modern-looking hospitality venues on the Island. It’s hard to believe it dates back to 1874, when it opened to much fanfare, but of course it’s been transformed almost half a dozen times over the years—the 1901 version was torn down in 1973—and it got its latest upgrade in 2014, when Marcello Pozzi, a renowned Italian designer, finished redecorating all the guest rooms and suites, adding WiFi and flat-screen TVs as well as a sophisticated decor. Its executive suites have kitchenettes and living areas, and its penthouse suites come with private outdoor patios, along with views of the New York City skyline. Besides a 25,000-square-foot event space, there’s an indoor pool, sauna, fitness center, the Polo Steakhouse, a patio bar and lounge. The hotel also provides pet walking and feeding services.
As the hotel boasts on its website, its clientele includes “the wealthy, the celebrated and the politically powerful.” Indeed, then-presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie stayed there in 1959. They’re just two of the luminaries who’ve given the hotel its cache over the years. Since the days of the original founder, A.T. Stewart, the Garden City Hotel has tried to uphold his dream to run “an oasis hotel as a country retreat far from the city but close enough for jazz,” as current owner Morris Moinian of the Fortuna Realty Group put it at the venue’s 140th anniversary ceremony. Even though it’s ensconced in suburban Long Island, this world-class hotel regards itself as a destination property within reach both of Manhattan and some of the best beaches in the Northeast.
A much quainter and more intimate space in Nassau County is The Harbor Rose, an elegant bed and breakfast in a former rectory for St. John’s Church dating back to 1849. Overlooking inner Cold Spring Harbor, it’s within walking distance of Cold Spring Laboratory, three miles from The Paramount Theater in Huntington Village and five miles from Teddy Roosevelt’s landmark home, Sagamore Hill, to name two other local attractions. The place boasts two comfortably furnished rooms, each with fireplaces and balconies.
“I feel like an ambassador to the community,” said Deirdre Ventura, who bought the place in 2007 but just got her business permit from the Town of Huntington almost a year ago. “We get a lot of international visitors.”
One of Kristen Jarnagin’s many tasks at the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau is to remind Long Islanders to welcome travelers from near and far because it’s in their own best long-term interests.
“I know that visitors can be annoying,” Jarnagin said. “They clog up the freeways. They take your favorite seat at the restaurant. But they’re taxed at every turn: where they sleep, where they shop, where they eat. It’s one of the highest-taxed industries in the country, and those taxes hit our bottom line. They’re bringing in new dollars, not shifting dollars around the Island.”
Another goal of hers is to extend the travel season and make Long Island a year-round destination. Right now, summer is the peak period when rates are the highest and most of the travelers coming here are more affluent. But Jarnagin is aiming for a different audience between Labor Day and Memorial Day.
“What we plan to do is shift our marketing strategy during the slow seasons to our residents on Long Island,” she said. With that in mind, she wants to play on local attitudes: “We’re not going to fight that traffic, we’re not going to pay those rates. We’re going to wait until all those tourists leave, and then we’ll go out and enjoy all the amenities in our own backyard when the time is right because we don’t care about winter—we’re tough.”
In the cold snowy months ahead, Long Island’s hotel operators hope she’s right—and that many more Long Islanders will come out in droves to spend the night under their roofs instead of their own homes. After all, if they wait until summer, it’s going to be too late, because the best places are booked well in advance.
And that’s how the Long Island hotels and hospitality industry stays in business.
Featured Art: Long Island Hospitality: Long Island is home to some unbelievable hotels; this collage includes scenes from Hotel Indigo, The Garden City Hotel, The Baker House 1650 and The Harbor Rose. (Photos from respective hotels’ official websites)
A big day is coming up—and it’s giving people cause for celebration.
On Dec. 7, Noam Chomsky turns 88, but the birthday of America’s great public intellectual actually got his mainstream acclaim last year in Matt Ross’ poignant indie film Captain Fantastic, a quirky comedic drama about a left-wing family living off the grid in the woods of the Pacific Northwest who traditionally celebrate “Noam Chomsky Day” instead of Christmas.
What is Noam Chomsky Day?
On this unique holiday, the presents aren’t the latest video games and expensive perfumes, but hunting knives and crossbows. There’s also cake, candles and quotations from “Uncle Noam,” the famed M.I.T. professor of linguistics and libertarian socialist culture critic.
As played by Viggo Mortensen, Ben Cash, the patriarch of this little tribe, is opposed to organized religion, soulless American consumerism and corporate commercialism that has demeaned contemporary life. He’s raising his six kids, who range in age from about 6 to 18, while their mom, his wife, is hospitalized with a debilitating disorder. In her absence, he maintains a rigorous program of physical and intellectual training, raising his brood to be philosopher kings. They know how to hunt, scale a cliff and interpret the Bill of Rights.
“Look, what we created here may be unique in all of human existence,” Cash tells his children solemnly. “We’ve created paradise.”
But there’s the rub. They’ve been living in isolation, so when word comes that their mother has died, things get very complicated. In this engrossing film, the children are an amazing ensemble cast but the adults are stars in their own right, too. Ben’s father in law (Frank Langella) is an upper-class conservative living in a gated community who blames Ben’s communal lifestyle for his daughter’s suicide and forbids them from attending the funeral, sparking rebellion.
“We want to see mom!” cries one of the youngest of the Cash clan. “Grandpa can’t oppress us!”
And so they set off for the sunny Southwest. They find out quickly they have a lot to learn. At a restaurant, one kid looks at the menu and asks, “What’s cola?” “Poison water,” replies his father with scorn.
Later, the eldest child cries out in despair to his dad, “Unless it comes out of a book, I don’t know anything!”
But what they do know is quite profound and what we learn from watching it is priceless.
Fans of this sleeper hit appreciate that Captain Fantastic is more than a simple road trip. Ross, who went to Julliard and New York University, is perhaps best known as the duplicitous high-tech exec Gavin Belson in HBO’s comedy satire Silicon Valley. In his feature-length directorial debut he tries to walk the line of the great cultural divide that has split the country, culminating in the election of Donald Trump—Chomsky himself a proponent of the “lesser evil voting” strategy of supporting Hillary Clinton. But he doesn’t devolve into stereotypes, although some critics may differ. He’s exploring family values in 21st century America with a refreshing candor that is all too rare.
In real life, Ross admits that he does indeed celebrate Noam Chomsky Day in his home in Berkeley, Calif., when he and his kids gather around for sweets and cake, blow out a candle and read a passage or two from Chomsky’s canon that ranges from works on language and mind to American foreign policy and the neoliberal security-surveillance state.
Chomsky’s bestseller, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), co-authored with Edward S. Herman, epitomizes his principled examination of contemporary social issues with a hard-hitting analysis that confronts conventional wisdom without fear or favor.
The renowned political theorist, philosopher, activist, scholar and prolific author, who’s published more than 100 works, is regarded as one of the most critically engaging minds alive today. Perhaps then, the Cash children’s incredulity that their grandfather doesn’t honor their family tradition by commemorating Noam Chomsky Day— “I don’t even know who that is!” he tells them—is Ross’ not-so veiled symbolism representing the American public at large, and an urgent plea for us to recognize Chomsky’s insights and embrace them.
As a linguist, Chomsky is regarded as revolutionizing the scientific study of language. As an activist, he remains one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy and global imperialism—a dissent that has its origins in the country’s involvement during the Vietnam War. A celebrated champion of left-wing politics, Chomsky is also considered one of the most cited authors in all of history.
As his inclusion in the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest (2009) states:
“Chomsky continues to be an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and its ambitions for geopolitical hegemony and the neoliberal turn of global capitalism, which he identifies in terms of class warfare waged from above against the needs and interests of the great majority.”
During movie production, Chomsky reportedly told Ross’s team just “please quote me correctly.”
That they did. No other American movie in mainstream release has ever referred to Chomsky with as much respect and humor. He may never become a household name—especially in the precincts Trump carried—but celebrating Noam Chomsky Day is a good way to honor his spirit.
—With Christopher Twarowski
Featured photo: Noam Chomsky Day is celebrated in Matt Ross’ indie film Captain Fantastic with cake, candles and quotations from the great American intellectual, social critic, philosopher and M.I.T. professor of linguistics’s many works. (Photo: Noam Chomsky official Facebook profile)
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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)