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.

Why Suffolk’s Water Protection Program Ruling Is A Win For Voters

Calverton Ponds Preserve

Environmentalists cheered recently when the New York State Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy had illegally raided $30 million from Suffolk’s landmark Drinking Water Protection Program to plug a hole in the county’s budget. They called the decision a victory for the environment and for an important legal principle.

“This is a huge win for taxpayers and for good government,” said Richard Amper, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society’s executive director.

The problem is that Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, has to restore the money his Republican predecessor raided just as he’s introducing his 2016 budget, which so far calls for no hike in the general fund property tax, which has been frozen since he took office four years ago, but does raise police district taxes for the fourth time in a row.

According to Bellone’s spokesman, Justin Meyers, the court decision “is not a budget buster in 2016,” because the county can pay the fund back over time, not in one fell swoop, at least that’s what the county executive is hoping to work out with the environmentalists once the details are ironed out in court.

What Bellone can’t do is bend the rules the way Levy did because the highest Court in New York State has affirmed that once the people have voted their preference in a public referendum, its stipulation can’t be arbitrarily nullified on a whim when the coffers run dry—or the budget falls short.

“The politicians can’t rewrite those laws or repeal them without going back to the public,” explained Paul Sabatino, one of the authors of more than two dozen public referenda in Suffolk County when he was the legislature’s counsel. The key legal principle, he explained, is the equivalency clause inserted in the referendum’s wording—a doctrine he introduced in 1983.

“The public’s right to determine the outcome of a public referendum was carefully calibrated,” Sabatino said.

In this case involving the water fund, Suffolk County voters agreed to tax themselves about $2.2 billion over 41 years and ensure that the money was allocated “according to a very specific formula,” he added. Explicitly part of the deal the public made by passing the referendum, Sabatino added, “was that nobody could come back and change that formula—or repeal it or modify it or whatever—without getting public approval.”

Cynicism may have been part of his reasoning for making the equivalency clause binding.

“I realized that you can’t trust the politicians,” Sabatino said. “They say one thing publicly and another thing privately.”

Ironically, by the time Sabatino left Suffolk County government, he was chief deputy to County Executive Steve Levy with whom, it’s fair to say, he did not always see eye to eye. As soon as Levy became county executive in 2004, Sabatino recently told the Press, he “started to argue that the referendum was non-binding,” and he eventually persuaded the legislature that he could “change the drinking water protection program…and simply redirect the ways the money was going to be spent.”

Apparently, Levy is still thinking that way, despite the Court of Appeals ruling on Aug. 27. In a letter he wrote to Newsday last week, the former county executive denied that the Suffolk water program was what Amper said it was: “Not true. It was a depository only for funds to stabilize sewer rates,” Levy wrote. “I discovered that the fund had been overtaxing the public for decades, leading to the point in which we had hundreds of millions of surplus dollars in the fund. So why not return at least part of that to the public as tax relief?”

Not surprisingly, the Pine Barrens’ Amper disagrees with Levy’s interpretation.

“Long Islanders are paying twice the national average in taxes but they always go to the polls to vote to give government more money if it’s for water protection,” said Amper. “The Levy administration raided $30 million from the Suffolk Drinking Water Protection Program, which was funded by a quarter of a penny sales tax that the public approved at referendum.”

Responding to Levy’s action, the Pine Barrens Society and the Environmental Voters Forum sued in New York State Supreme Court, saying that the government could not take money earmarked by the public for water and use it for the general fund. A lower court dismissed the case but the environmentalists appealed, citing the equivalency cause, and the Appellate Court sided with them unanimously. The Bellone administration, which took office in 2012, fought that ruling, first in the Appellate Division, and, when that effort failed, before the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest judicial body, which just recently declined to consider Suffolk’s motion. So now the county has to put $30 million back into water protection as it faces a structural deficit and a decline in sales tax revenue.

“Now it would be unfair to make Bellone responsible for Levy’s crime,” Amper told the Press, “so we need to sit down and agree upon the terms of the return of the money that Levy took with a more responsible Bellone administration.” The Pine Barrens Society will be joined by the Environmental Voters Forum in pressing for the fund’s full restitution before state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti, who had sided against them in the first go-round.

Speaking for the Bellone administration, Meyers told the Press that “we’re on the same page” with the environmentalists because water protection is one of the county executive’s most important priorities, and they hope to come to a restitution agreement soon.

Sabatino, one of the three pro bono attorneys managing the litigation on behalf of the Pine Barrens—Jennifer Juengst and Regina Seltzer were the others—praised Amper for maintaining the integrity of the program created in 1987. It has been revised three times since then—all by public referendum.

“He made a lot of compromises over the years,” said Sabatino, referring to Amper. “I give him a lot of credit.”

The appreciation is mutual: The three attorneys will be honored for their public service work at the Pine Barrens Society’s 38th anniversary environmental awards gala in October.

“This is a really important principle,” Sabatino reiterated. “On Long Island the voters have gradually lost their right to elect judges, to elect county-wide officials, to elect local officials, because there’s either cross endorsements or non-aggression pacts that increasingly take away the public’s right to decide. I think this is a huge victory for voter participation at a time of limited voter opportunities.”

The Drinking Water Protection Program’s complicated details, for example, earmarking 11.75 percent for land, 25 percent for sewers, could boggle the layperson or the legislator perhaps, but Sabatino said the stipulations spelled out in the referendum had their purpose.

“Why go to the trouble to write in all these specific percentages if politicians could then wipe them off the face of the Earth with just about a roll of toilet paper?” he exclaimed.

As for the principle of using public referenda to resolve pressing issues facing New Yorkers, Sabatino acknowledged that Suffolk has “led the way” among the state’s counties.

“Nassau doesn’t know how to do it,” he said, chuckling as he recounted the “totally illegal” referendum Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano put together in the summer of 2011 to see if the residents would approve a $400 million bond to renovate the Coliseum and thereby keep Charles Wang’s New York Islanders playing there. Though the county spent an estimated $2 million to hold the vote on Aug. 1st—not to mention how much time and money the Long Island Federation of Labor deployed to get the word out on behalf of the building trade unions—it was resoundingly rejected, 56-43, as roughly 17 percent of the county’s eligible voters trekked to the polls.

But the effort was pointless, observed Sabatino, because the county executive’s administration had drafted an “advisory referendum” for the election, which, the Suffolk attorney said, “had absolutely no binding effect… Even if they [the voters] had adopted it, it would have been of no consequence.”

So while the ice has melted in Nassau—at least for the Islanders and their hockey fans here—money may soon start flowing back into Suffolk’s water protection fund, at least until the next budget freezes over.

Second Republican Debate Sets Up Trump So Others Can Knock Him Down

As if we needed another example that life isn’t fair. Poor George Pataki, New York’s favorite governor (if we exclude all the others), was left off stage for the big GOP debate and had to settle for the second string at 6 p.m., instead of CNN’s main event at 8 o’clock featuring The Donald and all his detractors.

Not even his mentor, Alfonse D’Amato, without whose help none of us would probably have ever heard of the Peekskill Republican, had the decency to support Pataki this time around. D’Amato is pulling for another governor, Ohio’s John Kasich, who barely held his own at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Even pseudo-moderates have a tough row to hoe in this very conservative field.

Pataki’s absence reminded me of a New Yorker cartoon showing our governor campaigning for president in the Iowa primary four years ago, earnestly introducing himself to a disinterested cow chewing a stalk of grass beside a barnyard fence. No other species in sight. Last night, he might as well have been talking to himself since he’s just not a household name west of the Hudson, yet he was the governor of New York for a dozen years.

How many voters tuned in early to hear Pataki denounce Trump, the only New Yorker to make the first string, who happens to be leading in the polls?

“Donald Trump is unfit to be president of the United States or the Republican Party’s nominee,” said our ex-governor. Probably one of the truest statements uttered the whole night. You can be sure that Pataki won’t be invited to Trump’s next wedding.

Democrats I know watched the prime-time proceedings with a mix of horror and fascination. The CNN stage set, with Reagan’s shiny Air Force One jet as backdrop, could be mistaken for a Boeing ad at first glance. The producers made sure that Trump had center-stage so the camera wouldn’t have to move every time he butted in.

On one side of him was Ben Carson, the only African American included, who happens to be a brain surgeon. Carson, whose bumper stickers I’ve seen around LI, once made the assertion that “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” It sounds like Carson skipped one too many American history classes in college while studying for his MCATS. Certainly, the good doctor doesn’t have to worry about his own health insurance. Despite all the other nutty things Carson has said recently, his measured demeanor and eloquence must have resonated along the way because he went into the debate just trailing Trump in the GOP surveys.

On the other side of The Donald was his purported Republican establishment candidate, Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who took a lot of shots defending his brother’s war record. Unlike W, this Bush doesn’t have the same folksy style, nor does he mince words or mangle the English language, except when explaining why he’s fluent in Spanish and why his wife’s being from Mexico doesn’t disqualify her as a patriotic American.

And that brings us to one of the more ominous themes of the evening. Of all the Republicans running for president in 2016, only Jeb Bush seemed willing to rationally criticize Trump’s outrageous claim that he would round up 14 million “illegal” immigrants and deport them. Bush actually raised the specter of families and communities being ripped apart, evoking, without saying it directly, the scenes of our country’s shame from World War II when tens of thousands of loyal Japanese Americans were put in camps where the guards pointed the guns at them. And those folks were citizens.

How would treating undocumented workers harshly not put us on a slippery slope to becoming just like the enemies we defeated in the Great War? We might as well melt down the Statue of Liberty and sell it for scrap metal. Nevertheless, the candidates apparently like the idea of building a wall around the United States as tall as possible. Wonder who will get that juicy government contract?

One highlight, such as it was, came when the two business moguls, Trump and Carly Fiorina, dressed in blue not Republican red, clashed over their business prowess. The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard brought up Trump’s bankruptcies, adding them up on camera: “not once, not twice, not three times but a record four times.” The Donald’s face grew crimson with suppressed rage. He had already had to defuse the recent attack he’d made on Fiorina’s appearance in a Rolling Stone interview, when he said, “Look at that face!”

She has turned the personal attack into a compelling fund-raising ad, saying that she’s earned “every line” on her 61-year-old countenance. At this debate he denied that he had ever called her ugly. Last night, he said she had a beautiful face. She retorted, “I think women all over the country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.”

Trump, not to be undone, attacked Fiorina’s leadership at Hewlett-Packard, saying it was so bad that’s why she was fired. Indeed, despite laying off tens of thousands of workers, her company was failing fast and she was canned—but not without being given a multi-million-dollar golden parachute. That’s the way they do it at the top. To counter Trump, she claimed that she was very successful, a great executive, in fact, and that the guy who got of rid of her has since recanted.

Gov. Chris Christie, leaning heavily on his podium at the end of the stage, saw his opening and took it, however illogically, to wage his version of class warfare.

“You’re both successful people. Congratulations,” he said. “The middle class in this country who’s getting plowed under by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, let’s start talking about those issues tonight and stop this childish back-and-forth between the two of you.”

No one else thought to bring up Christie’s dismal economic record in New Jersey. The state lost 14,000 jobs in July, more than 26,000 since June, prompting the Asbury Park Press to editorialize recently that “Christie wants to brag about a job recovery under his leadership that isn’t even close to so many other states, including some of our closest neighbors, like New York and Pennsylvania…”

There were many strange moments, like the candidates speculating on what their Secret Service code names might be, or whether their moms belong on the 10-dollar bill, but one of the weirdest—or at least the most ballsy—had to be when Christie turned to the camera and said, “The question is, who’s going to prosecute Hillary Clinton?” He wants the Justice Department to investigate the former Secretary of State, who happens to be the leading Democrat running for president, for the way she handled her emails while in office.

But Christie is already under federal investigation for abusing power as epitomized by the Bridgegate Scandal, when his underlings shut down the George Washington Bridge to penalize the mayor of Fort Lee. Weeks ago, as a result of the ongoing inquiry into this blatant act of political payback, it was revealed that Christie’s hand-picked choice to be the Port Authority Chairman, David Samson, who resigned in 2014, had forced United Airways to set up a direct route from Newark so he could spend weekends at his family’s place in South Carolina.

For his role in this special flyway, the CEO of United resigned last week. Samson hasn’t been indicted—yet. But a federal prosecutor is still probing Christie’s cronies, and a grand jury has indicted three of his key appointees: David Wildstein, a high school buddy of his (until Christie said he hardly knew him); Bill Baroni, another Port Authority patronage worker; and his former top aide, Bridget Anne Kelly, who took the fall for her boss when her name showed up on a revealing email that it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”

Well, Christie will never get elected president, let alone get the Republican nomination, because, let’s face it, he’s from Jersey, but more important to us New Yorkers, he still can do mischief to our commute.

As for the Republican frontrunners, at least we can admire their hubris. But if one of them ends up taking the Oath of Office in 2017, it would be a disaster.

Too bad Pataki’s time—and his party—have left him far behind.

Giant Bummer For Yanks & Big Blue, as Jets & Mets Amaze Fans



Giants fans could be forgiven for waking up Monday morning feeling colder than the sudden autumn chill in the air. New York’s pro football team had blown it big time on Sunday Night Football, losing to their division rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, despite having a 6-point lead with minutes to go in the fourth quarter. A season-opening victory in Texas would have made a huge statement for Big Blue.

But Coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, opting to pass on the goal line—shades of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl fiasco last year—and it backfired. Manning’s incomplete pass sailed out of bounds, stupidly stopping the clock, and ultimately giving Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo almost a minute and a half to win the game, 27-to-26.

For the Giants, the debacle marked their fifth straight season-opening loss. Adding fuel to the fire, Manning had just signed a four-year, $84 million contract extension before heading to Texas.

A Giants’ win would have given them a record equal to the other New York team whose home locker room is the Meadowlands of New Jersey—the triumphant Jets, who flattened the Cleveland Browns in Todd Bowles’ coaching debut for Gang Green.


The lop-sided 31-to-10 win at home didn’t come cheap, of course. Key cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who inked a four-year contract during the offseason, suffered what looked like a torn ACL, a season-ending injury, which fortunately turned out to be a very bad knee bruise, but more seriously, Lorenzo Mauldin, a rookie linebacker, looked unconscious lying face down on the field with what could still be a career-altering concussion. He spent the night in the hospital, a mute reminder of the toll this violent sport takes on its athletes.

And while we’re still thinking of the Jets, let’s take a moment to check out how well former coach Rex Ryan did up in Buffalo with his new team, the Bills, the only true New York team in the NFL. With Tyrod Taylor his starting QB and Boobie Dixon =) and Karlos Williams on offense, Ryan’s ground-and-pound game plan smothered the Indianapolis Colts, 27-to-14, on a day when their much better known quarterback Andrew Luck was favored to come out on top. As Luck would have it, “They beat us pretty bad.”

So after a Sunday when most other New York sports fans had something to cheer about, the Giants extended family were alone in their grief.

Reveling in despair and depression has been the typical feeling this time of year for Mets fans used to enduring the waning weeks of the baseball season as the local focus in New York would shift to the Yankees’ likely playoff chances and the start of the NFL and weekend soccer league games.

But 2015 has been anything but typical in our sports world.



In Atlanta, home of the dreaded Braves, the Mets did all they could to play flat and lose, being down by three runs with two outs and two strikes left at the top of the ninth. Not only did Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy tie the game with a three-run homer, the team from Queens did something almost unheard of—at least to long-suffering Mets fans: they swept the Braves. They scored three more runs at the top of the 10th inning, and won the final game of the series, 10-to-7.

And so they head home to NYC, with a 9-and-a-half game lead over their nearest division rival, the underachieving Washington Nationals, and talk starts heating up about their playoff rotation for their star pitchers. Did we mention that Sunday’s game—their 82nd victory—gave them their first winning season since 2008?

But what about New York City’s other Major League team with playoff hopes, the Yankees? The Bronx Bombers had a chance to regain the division lead over the Toronto Blue Jays this weekend but by Sunday afternoon, the pin-stripers were desperate for a win. Fortunately, for them, they managed to shut down Toronto’s knuckle-ball ace, R.A. Dickey, who endeared himself to a generation of Mets fans when he played in Queens before the trade to Canada. The Yanks shut down the Jays, 5-to-0, keeping them within striking distance of the first place team and, more to the point, still in the wild card hunt.

And there, but for a Metro Card, rest the prospects of a Subway Series in October.

Let’s not forget the big news in two other sports related to NYC: The Liberty clinched home-court advantage through the WNBA playoffs for the first time at Madison Square Garden, and Novak Djokovic beat tennis favorite Roger Federer before an unfriendly crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, where the U.S. Open holds court within sight of Citi Field. Baseball might be played there later this year than usual, weather permitting.

Put It in the Books: This Mets’ Season Is Amazin’!!

Who are these guys? They can’t be the same players who barely managed to eke out three runs against the St. Louis Cardinals back in July. Those Mets needed 18 innings to amass that amount, but the meager margin proved just enough—for once. Averaging about 3.49 runs per game, their offense was ranked worse than the laughable 1962 Mets.

The six hours the game took out of our lives on that hot summer Sunday was especially hard to endure, because the Mets went 1-for-26 with runners in scoring position. But the victory was sweet relief indeed, since the memory of their 11-game winning streak when they set a franchise record just kept getting dimmer by the day.

As did our hopes that this year would be any different.

Now these guys who show up in Mets uniforms must be from another planet. They certainly are in a different place: a pennant race. I don’t know how much more of this I can take! The ups and downs of this season have been grueling, and it’s not even October! It’s already sent Howie Rose, the great Mets announcer, to the hospital for six days. Fortunately, he came back—and so have the Mets.

On Labor Day Mets pitcher Jon Niese, arguably pitching the game of his career, gave up a grand slam to their division rivals, the Washington Nationals. With one swing of Wilson Ramos’s bat, the score whipsawed from a 3-0 Mets’ lead to 4-3 in favor of the Nats. I’d just heard Rose and Josh Lewin, his radio sidekick on WOR, say how the Nationals’ catcher was a proverbial “Mets killer.”

Niese had gotten past the third inning—usually his meltdown point—but he had walked Nationals ace Max Scherzer, a bad sign of things to come. Niese needed to rise to the occasion, but he dropped the ball, figuratively speaking. Before the inning ended, the Nats were up 5-3.

And usually, a deficit of two or more runs would be enough to seal the Mets’ fate. But not this time.

They roared back in the seventh inning, with Mets captain David Wright, after being sidelined for months with spinal stenosis, drilling a single to left field to break a 5-5 tie. Before the inning was over, he slid ahead of the tag and gave the Mets a three-run cushion. His own safe sign, mirroring the umpire’s call, and his unabashed enthusiasm as he leaped in the air with his fist pumped at the plate seemed to make eight years, or perhaps a century, of despair and disappointment vanish in an instant. I’ll never forget the triumphant look on his face.

And then on Tuesday, the Mets’ dreaded Dark Knight Matt Harvey had a very bad night on the mound, giving the Nationals a six-run lead before leaving with one out left in the sixth. With the score a lopsided 7-to-1, how many Mets fans abandoned ship to watch the other big sporting event of the day, the U.S. Open quarter-finals match between professional tennis’s top sisters: Venus and Serena Williams? I know I did. I confess! But I couldn’t help flipping back to the game to see if the score had gotten any worse.

In fact, it had: for the Nationals. Who could have predicted that? Before the game the sports tabloids had been full of speculation on how many more innings Harvey would be allowed to pitch this season as he recovered from his Tommy John elbow surgery. Was there a 180-innings limit on him or not? The answer could determine whether he still gets to pitch in the playoffs—assuming the Mets make it that far. Harvey’s agent Scott Boras said one thing, his general manager Sandy Alderson said another, and his surgeon Dr. James Andrews tried to stay out of it.

It was a mess of “he said, he said.” When Harvey had a chance to put it all behind him on the mound, he blew it. In the sixth inning, he mishandled a sacrifice bunt, loading the bases. Then the Nats’ center fielder Michael Taylor ripped a grounder up the middle that the Mets newly acquired star center fielder Yoenis Cespedes misplayed, letting the ball roll all the way to the outfield wall and all four Nats cross home plate.

The damage was done. Manager Terry Collins, who has been nothing less than a miracle worker this season, given the tricks he’s had to pull out of his baseball cap to stay competitive, had no choice but to yank Harvey. The Dark Knight was staring at defeat, with his innings count now at 171 and two-thirds, and perhaps one last start before the post-season. In normal times, the game would have been over.

But for some reason that defies description—and makes America’s pastime the most inscrutable and inspiring sport (as SNY’s great Mets announcer Gary Cohen put it during the game, quoting a venerable scribe whose name I didn’t catch, “You can sum up baseball in one word: You never know!”), the guys in the Mets uniforms tied the game, with Cespedes himself clinching the rally. And the one who won the game 8-to-7 with a pinch-hit home run was Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who had been banished to the minor leagues earlier this summer.

This Mets team just amazes me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. If the aces can’t get the job done on the mound, the hitters come through at the plate. So in this most unlikely year Nieuwenhuis is the newest hero. The other day it was Michael Conforto, called up from the Mets’ Double-A farm team in Binghamton, who came through in the clutch.

How much longer will their season last? I have no freaking clue, but I do know this: The first game of the 2015 World Series starts on Tuesday, Oct. 27. I sure hope the Mets, whoever the hell they are in those blue and orange uniforms, are in it to win it.

Suffolk Pol Monica Martinez Concedes Democratic Primary

Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood).

In a surprise move in State Supreme Court Wednesday, a lawyer representing Suffolk County Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) withdrew her candidacy from the Democratic primary in September.

That means that her would-be challenger Giovanni Mata of Central Islip has won that round without a fight. Come November, Martinez’ name will appear only on the general election ballot for two minor parties, the lines for the Frank MacKay and Gary Melius-backed Independence Party and the progressive Working Families Party.

As of right now, no Republican candidate will be on the November ballot for that legislative seat.

Martinez’ withdrawal came before lawyers representing Mata could present their case to Judge Joseph Santorelli that Martinez had committed fraud on her campaign petitions. Ivan Young, an attorney representing Mata, had a legal handwriting expert from Manhattan, Roger Rubin, on hand to back up his candidate’s claim that she had falsified the witness statements on four pages of her signing petition, involving 10 to 12 signatures.

“They just came in and conceded the election on the Democratic line,” Young told the Press, calling the decision “very unusual.”

Martinez’ lawyer, Tom Garry, could not be reached for comment. But Suffolk Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer rushed to her defense. Her brother is a town councilman in Babylon, where Schaffer is also town supervisor. He noted that Martinez is a registered Democrat and has an important part in the Democratic caucus in the county legislature.

“I personally am going to do everything I have to to make sure she’s re-elected,” Schaffer told the Press. “I’m confident that she will be overwhelmingly re-elected in November.”

Her withdrawal is seen as a victory for one of Schaffer’s major political adversaries, former Suffolk County Legis. Rick Montano, who lost his seat in the Legislature to Martinez. He’s running against Thomas Licari, the candidate backed by the Islip Democratic Committee, for the Democratic line. The winner will challenge the incumbent Republican Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter.

“The wind’s at our back right now!” said Montano. “This is a major legal victory. This has never really been done.”

Schaffer, no friend of Montano—in fact he and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone helped orchestrate his defeat from the Legislature—saw it differently.

“It doesn’t happen often,” Schaffer said. “It’s happened before.”

The next round in this increasingly contentious legal battle pitting Suffolk Democrats against themselves is set to take place Friday when challenges will be heard on campaign petitions involving Montano and his slate of town candidates and those of the Islip Town Democratic Committee.

Carpenter is facing no primary opposition in her race. Who her Democratic opponent will be in November remains to be seen.

Biden Will Run For President, Says Top Dem LI Fundraiser Jon Cooper

Former Suffolk County Legis. Jon Cooper, a top Obama fundraiser, has climbed on board the Draft Joe Biden 2016 bandwagon -- even though the vice president has not thrown his hat in the ring.

When former Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper follows his heart in politics, he makes news. In 2008, the Huntington resident made headlines when he became the first elected Democrat here to throw his support to a long shot, an Illinois Senator running for president named Barack Obama, while the rest of the party establishment in New York was backing a sure thing, the Empire State’s junior Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now Cooper is making news about the 2016 presidential race—and once again it involves her.

Early this month Cooper sent ripples nationwide when he announced that he would become the finance chairman of the Draft Joe Biden 2016 committee. It sounds like he’s betting on another long shot. Vice President Joe Biden, 72, still has 18 months left in the Obama administration. Biden has not announced that he’s running—and a story this Monday in The New York Times quoted anonymous aides discounting the notion that Biden ever would.

But to Cooper, the former majority leader of the Suffolk Legislature, that story, despite the headline “Grieving Biden Focuses on Job He Has Now, Not the Next One,” was not the last word about the vice president, who’s still reeling from the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer. On Facebook, Cooper posted the article with the comment: “Obviously that reporter is talking to different folks than I’m talking to.”

In fact, Cooper claims that this week top officials in the Draft Biden organization have been contacted by half a dozen people in Biden’s “inner circle” who sent them “very encouraging signals.” He says they’ve also heard from “a growing number” of White House staffers, both current and former, who are “actively expressing support” for a presidential run by Biden.

“I really think this is going to happen,” Cooper told the Press. His gut feeling is that Biden will declare his candidacy “over the next two or three weeks, if not by the end of this month, then by the first week of August; and everything I’ve heard, certainly over the past two or three days, tends to reinforce that.”

Cooper and his pro-Biden cohort can’t wait. Their seemingly quixotic campaign has drawn interest from the Washington Post to the National Journal and beyond.

“When he does enter the race, it’ll be a game changer,” Cooper said. “It’s going to upend the whole campaign. Overnight the vice president will be able to put a fundraising structure in place because he’ll be able to draw on all the folks who raised money for Obama. A disproportionate number of them will be willing to sign on with Joe Biden.”

That day may never come, insists Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs, a long-time Hillary Clinton supporter, a current member of the Democratic National Committee and the former leader of the New York Democratic State Committee.

“No, I don’t believe he would run,” the politically well-connected Jacobs told the Press. “Because if he would run, he would be talking to two sets of people, and we’d know it. One, he’d be talking to major financial people around the country, and, no disrespect, but Jon Cooper’s not one of those; and number two, he would be talking to major campaign operatives that he would need to be lining up to help run his campaign, and he has not been talking to them.”

Before enlisting in the Draft Biden 2016 enterprise, Cooper, the president of the Spectronics Corporation based in Westbury, was a top Obama “bundler” for his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, even serving as the regional chair of the Obama Victory Trustees, a major group of donors. Now he’s been joined by Shiva Sarram, a Connecticut woman who was a major Obama fundraiser; she reportedly hosted a luncheon in 2008 that netted Obama “nearly $400,000.” According to Cooper, the Draft Biden SuperPAC has begun focusing on South Carolina, one of the early states to hold primaries next year, and will probably spend “about $15,000” in outreach over the next couple of weeks to identify potential Biden supporters in the Palmetto State and build up his donor base.

“I think that clearly there’s no one better suited than Joe Biden to carry on the legacy of the Obama administration and to continue the great work they did together as a team,” said Cooper. “He was part of the administration from Day One, and he supported Obama on every initiative.”

“Joe Biden would be a wonderful person to run if we didn’t already have another wonderful person running!” countered Jacobs. “When you’re groping around for anybody else, it’s really more about personal agendas than it is about the political agenda.”

The 2016 Democratic race for president is split between “Hillary Clinton and the anti-Hillary Clintons,” Jacobs explained. “That’s really what this is.”

The numbers for the anti-Clinton candidates look daunting, Jacobs said, at least on the Democratic side of the accounts ledger.

“Hillary Clinton just raised $45 million to become the 45th president and nobody else is near that,” Jacobs said. “Bernie Sanders raised $15 million. Anybody else who comes into the race is going to have to split up the anti-Hillary money even further.” The New York Democratic leader seriously doubted that Clinton supporters, whether grassroots volunteers or financial benefactors, will start “peeling off to go now with Joe Biden or any other candidate. We’re committed.”

Cooper recounted how he came to this critical juncture. The day Hillary Clinton formally announced her 2016 candidacy for the White House, a friend of his from the Obama campaign reached out to him and asked if he’d become “a Hill-Starter,” someone who’d commit to raise $27,000 in 27 days for her. Cooper agreed, but when it came time for him to draft an email to his extensive contact list, he was unable to enunciate his rationale for supporting Clinton.

“I couldn’t do it; I really tried,” recalled Cooper. He said he labored for a couple of hours trying to draft his email. “My heart just wasn’t in it.”

He wrote his friend back that he was on the fence. His ambivalence ended up in a Newsday column, which “accurately” quoted his reaction to Clinton’s candidacy as “meh!” His lack of enthusiasm got widely circulated by political pundits in media circles, Cooper claims, and calls started coming in. Jacobs tried to no avail to get him back on board with Clinton. Then Cooper heard from two of her rivals: former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who spent hours on the phone with him, and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who ultimately took him to a Manhattan steakhouse for dinner. About two weeks ago the executive director and the finance director of the Draft Biden group flew out to meet him, and that sealed the deal.

“I was convinced that it was very likely that Joe Biden would be running,” Cooper said. So he signed on.

Even now, with more “encouraging signs” that Biden’s presidential declaration is imminent, Cooper insists that his support for Obama’s vice president has nothing to do with his attitude toward the former Secretary of State.

“I really don’t want to criticize Hillary,” Cooper said. “I like her. I respect her. But I think she’s a little too cautious and calculating and managed for my taste; whereas with Joe Biden, he’s not afraid to lead; he’s not afraid to speak his mind. Sometimes he’s been ahead of the curve—and ahead of Obama on some issues—and I like and respect that, and I think it really resonates. I think the American people like that.”

Vice President Joe Biden has yet to say if he's running for president. (White House Photo by David Lienemann)
Vice President Joe Biden has yet to say if he’s running for president. (White House Photo by David Lienemann)

For five years, Cooper and his husband Rob and their kids would spend New Year’s Eve at Hilton Head, S.C., where the Clintons were also attending the Renaissance Weekend festivities at the famous resort. Once Cooper was elected Suffolk legislator, he stopped going there.

“We did get to know the Clintons, not that we are friends, but certainly we got to hang out with them. I still like her and respect her,” Cooper said. “I have to do what my heart dictates.”

As for those pushing the candidacy of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Cooper scoffed. “I just don’t think a Democratic Socialist has a chance in the general election…I think Joe Biden would be the strongest of the Democratic candidates.”

The first time Cooper met Biden, they had a long talk in Manhattan after the vice president had given a speech at an Obama fundraiser in 2012, and he was impressed by Biden’s range and commitment—as well as his personal style.

“He didn’t know me from Adam!” Cooper said. “He wanted to continue the conversation…even though I was somebody he’d never met before. That’s Joe Biden!”

Cooper adamantly does not believe his supporting Biden is doing the bidding of the Republican SuperPACs and their well-oiled attack machines, not to mention the plethora of GOP candidates who are out to slime Hillary Clinton any way they can.

“I don’t buy into that at all,” Cooper said. “I think a primary is a good thing for the Democratic Party and will increase the chance that we’ll win the general election.”

He recalled hearing what Sen. Obama said to a dwindling group of supporters huddled at a restaurant in New Hampshire after he’d just lost that state’s Democratic primary in 2008 to Sen. Clinton.

“Obama gave one of the best speeches I heard him give the entire campaign,” Cooper said. “He said that ‘if we had won tonight, the primary campaign would have been over. But now this is proof that we’ll have a tough battle ahead, Hillary’s going to be a formidable opponent, and it will make me a much better candidate; it’s going to toughen me up.’”

Cooper insisted that the ultimate results proved Obama right in 2008 and the same scenario now in the primary would make Clinton a stronger candidate in 2016—assuming she’s the eventual Democratic nominee.

“It doesn’t have to be a negative campaign,” Cooper claimed. “If there’s a primary campaign on the issues, as I hope it will be, then…whether it’s Hillary or Joe or Bernie, I think they’re going to be a stronger candidate for it, and it’s going to toughen them up for the general election battle against whoever the Republican nominee is.”

On Monday at the New School in Greenwich Village, Clinton delivered what The New York Times called the “most comprehensive policy speech of her presidential campaign,” in which she evoked her vision of a “growth and fairness economy” to close the gap between rich and poor and give the middle class a lift while taxing the wealthiest Americans and expanding social services.

“She spoke in broad strokes and she tried to hit the progressive talking points,” Cooper conceded. “But if you’re looking for specifics and details, I still don’t know what minimum wage she’d support… I want specifics; I don’t want generalities. At least with Joe Biden you get that.”

Jacobs thought Clinton’s speech was right on the money.

“She is laying out the platform that a candidate running for president ought to be laying out with enough information to give people a general sense,” Jacobs said. “You do not write every bill for every issue and present it to the public in a campaign. Give the public the sense of what your general view is, your philosophy, and your hopes and aspirations for the future, your vision. That is what they vote on. Whether Hillary believes in the $15 minimum wage or in the $14.75 minimum wage or the $15.25 minimum wage, I’m saying those are words from someone groping for an excuse—and it’s not a good one.”

Hillary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is considered the favorite to represent the Democratic party in the 2016 Presidential election. (State Department Photo)

Another bone of contention between these two top Long Island Democrats is the issue over Clinton’s release of her private emails when she was Secretary of State. Jacobs referred to the House Select Committee’s focus on her tenure in office as a partisan fishing expedition led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina conservative, who’s trying to smear the prospective Democratic presidential front-runner by making the Benghazi attack and her private emails a campaign issue for the Republicans rather than an objective investigation into what happened in Libya that night in 2012 when four Americans were killed at the poorly protected compound.

“This is politics,” exclaimed Jacobs. “This is all about trying to embarrass somebody running for president.”

By comparison, Cooper insists that “there are some valid issues being raised. I don’t think it’s fair to blame it all on the right-wing media…” He said he’s “not buying into the Benghazi thing, but the way her emails were handled” looked bad, producing “horrible optics.”

Those issues aside, Cooper says the race for the White House is really about another branch of government.

“The next president is going to appoint at least three justices to the Supreme Court, and it’s scary if it goes the wrong way,” he said. “If there’s a Republican elected, it could easily unravel all the progress that we’ve made over the past 10, 20 years. I think it’s critically important that we elect a candidate with the least amount of baggage, who can speak to the American people and can gain the respect of the American people, and I honestly think it’s Joe Biden.”

Jacobs has kind words for Biden but he thinks Cooper is sadly mistaken.

“I like Joe Biden an awful lot. I think he’s a great guy,” said Jacobs, adding that he thought Biden wouldn’t win a New York Democratic primary. “I just don’t feel that this is his time. At the end of the day, I don’t think that he feels it is, either.”

Fortunately for Clinton, all hope is not lost on Cooper.

“If Hillary ends up being the nominee, I’ll support her,” Cooper said. “Whoever the Democratic nominee is I’ll support. Having Joe Biden run against Hillary Clinton…she will be a better nominee for it.”

She probably doesn’t see it that way, but so it goes with Jon Cooper, an affluent and influential Long Island Democrat who follows his heart and puts his money where his mouth is.

Political Veteran Rick Montano Roils Islip Democrats With Primary Fight

Rick Montano
Rick Montano

Former Suffolk County Legis. Rick Montano is returning to politics with a vengeance, vowing to make a comeback by running for Islip Town supervisor in a Democratic primary with a slate of town and county candidates that he helped organize—in opposition to the Islip Town Democratic Committee’s picks.

“This is war!” Montano tells the Press. “We have a lot of issues.”

The outcome of this hotly contested race could send ripples through the Democratic Party on Long Island and beyond because it threatens the control of its traditional leadership.

Last Thursday, Montano, a Brentwood attorney and a former Suffolk County Human Rights Commission executive director, reportedly filed more than 2,900 signatures—he only needed 2,000 to qualify—at the Suffolk Board of Elections in Yaphank to get his name on the ballot for the Sept. 10 Democratic primary election. Joining him are Islip town board candidates Miriam Ventura of Central Islip and Donovan Currey of Brentwood; Jorge C. Guadron of Central Islip for town clerk; Nitza Franco of Brentwood for receiver of taxes; and Giovanni Mata of Central Islip, who will challenge Legis. Monica R. Martinez (D-Brentwood).

Martinez beat Montano decisively two years ago in the primary, getting 1,329 votes to his 759 votes, and then went on to unseat him in the general election.

The Islip Democratic Committee submitted 3,000 signatures for its candidates, which includes Thomas Licari of Kismet for supervisor; and Joseph McDermott, mayor of Brightwaters, and Christopher Pulitano of Holbrook for town board.

“We have a fully integrated ticket,” Montano insisted, referring to the candidates from the Islip Democratic Committee as “three white males south of Montauk” Highway.

“We know they made a deal with Angie Carpenter to give her no real opposition,” he said, referring to the current Islip Town supervisor, a Republican. “We want to dispose of these non-candidates and run a real race.”

“Our slate is better,” countered Suffolk Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer. “It’s representative of all the communities of the town.”

To Schaffer, Montano’s motivation is clearly personal.

“He’s still burned up about his loss in the primary two years ago when he only got 700 votes, which was an embarrassment for a 10-year incumbent.”

Asked if he expected a hard-fought and ugly primary battle, the county chairman responded this way: “Based on Montano’s track record on how hard he works? No… Will it be ugly? Yes, it will be ugly because that’s his standard operating procedure.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with him, and he always tends to focus on the negative,” Schaffer continued. “That’s all he knows. So I expect it to be an ugly campaign, but at the end of the day our ticket will prevail.”

Schaffer speculated that Montano has “spent a lot of time working with the local Islip Republicans, and he’s had a close relationship with the party leaders over there…This just helps them, which is what Montano wants. This isn’t about doing anything in a positive fashion; it’s about doing something in a negative fashion.”

Suffolk Republican Chairman John Jay LaValle thought Schaffer’s assertion about Montano was “completely outlandish! He’s not doing the Republicans’ work at all. He’s upset with the Democrat Party. We’ve had no contact with Rick Montano.”

Nor did he believe the claim that Islip Town Republican Chairman Frank Tantone and his party have had close contact with Montano.

“That’s bizarre!” exclaimed LaValle. “In fact, they worked very hard against Rick Montano in his effort to try to run for state Senate.”

As for the Democratic county chairman’s claim that Montano is simply running to bolster Supervisor Carpenter’s election chances in November, LaValle scoffed, criticizing the Democratic candidacy of Thomas Licari, a Fire Island resident who has never run for office before.

“The candidate they put up is certainly a lot weaker candidate than Rick Montano,” LaValle said. “So, I don’t know if it’s going to help or hurt Angie Carpenter, but she’s going to be elected on her own merits, regardless of who the Islip Democrat party puts up against her. I think the chairman’s trying to cover up cracks in the foundation of the Democrat Party.”

Reached on vacation after a round on the driving range, Islip Town Republican Chairman Frank Tantone was amused by the opposing Democrats’ sniping.

“It sounds humorous that each side accused the other side of being in cahoots with me!” Tantone told the Press. “It’s also nonsense because we don’t make those kinds of deals… I can assure you that we have no arrangement with either side. It’s not our style.”

On behalf of Carpenter, Tantone added: “We’re confident that we can win against either candidate.”

But the Islip GOP leader did say that there would not be a Republican candidate running against Martinez for her legislative seat. He said the GOP had several candidates in mind but none could pull it off in time for the petition filings deadline last Thursday.

“That’s a tough district for a Republican,” Tantone admitted. “It’s hard to find a candidate; it’s hard to win.”

Taking another swipe at Montano, Schaffer criticized how he had represented his Brentwood district while he served in the county legislature.

“When he was the legislator, it was unrepresented!” Schaffer said with a laugh. “That’s why he got 700 votes… She’s done more work in a year and a half than he did in all of his time…as a county legislator.”

Schaffer expects Martinez to handily win her re-election. “Absolutely!” he said.

Last year, Brentwood was rocked by a toxic dumping scandal that involved Roberto Clemente Park and three other sites in Islip Town after authorities discovered carcinogenic chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, arsenic and asbestos in the estimated 50,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris. In December, six men and four companies were indicted by the Suffolk County district attorney, but all have pleaded not guilty. This week, the county Department of Health released a report based on samples from its monitoring wells near the park that showed “unusual and unexpected” levels of pesticides in the groundwater. The drilling had been in response to legislation sponsored by Martinez.

When the scandal initially broke, then-Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci, a Republican, was serving on active duty in Afghanistan as a member of the Navy Reserve. He returned to town hall with more than a year left as supervisor but instead ran for the state Senate seat vacated by Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who was challenging longtime Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) for the second time. In one of the most expensive Congressional races in the country, Zeldin defeated the incumbent.

Meanwhile, Democrats had pinned their hopes in the state Senate race on Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Before Croci entered the race, Esposito was facing Islip Councilman Anthony Senft, a member of the Conservative Party, whom she dubbed “Toxic Tony” for his alleged ties to the dumping scandal since he served as the town board’s liaison to the parks department and it occurred on his watch. Confronting the more moderate Croci, Esposito had no ammo and lost soundly.

With Croci going to Albany, the Islip Republicans decided to make a spot for Angie Carpenter, the Suffolk County treasurer who was slated to be out of a job in 2018 since a ballot proposition supported by County Executive Steve Bellone to merge the offices of the county treasure and comptroller had passed in November. At the beginning of 2015, she retired as treasurer and took up the post as town supervisor.

Besides the aftermath of the illegal dumping debacle, which had led to Roberto Clemente Park being padlocked all this summer and last, Islip has to deal with the $11.3 million deficit dragging down Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, a town-owned property that has had its own history of scandal and corruption.

With a touch of hubris and self-deprecating humor, Montano, a former federal prosecutor and an assistant New York State attorney general, exclaimed, “Let’s be honest. I’m the most qualified candidate there is!”

Admitting that he has a thorny reputation in some circles (a Newsday editorial reportedly once dubbed him “Bellone’s nemesis in the legislature”), Montano observes that one of the guys on the town party committee’s slate is “a likeable guy. He does closings. I’m a trial attorney. If I was a real estate attorney, I’d be a nice guy, too!”

Montano, 65, had heard that the opposition had been calling him, “El Viejo Lobo,” Spanish for the Old Wolf, but he takes that as a point of pride. “I say I’m still the leader of the pack!”

And comparing himself to his compadres on the ticket, he boasted, “I’ve collected more signatures than the younger guys. I’ve lost 13 pounds; I look great!”

In November 2012, Montano had vied for the seat left open when then-state Sen. Owen Johnson announced that he was finally retiring after four decades in office. With little Democratic Party support, Montano lost by 5 percentage points, or 5,361 votes, to Assemb. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) in this gerrymandered district that favored the Republicans. (Tellingly, in 2014, the Democratic candidate John Alberts was crushed by Boyle 63 percent to 30 percent.)

Montano, who remained in the legislature, had complained that the other side had run a “dirty campaign,” with mailings targeting voters in Wyandanch that he alleged were “racist,” because they cited Legis. DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville)—without the African-American legislator’s knowledge or permission—saying that Montano was not a real Democrat because he’d supported one of Gregory’s previous opponents. Gregory’s mother in Wyandanch had gotten this mailing and showed it to her son, now the Suffolk County presiding officer, who later told the Press that he was “appalled” and angry about it. But the damage had been done.

At the time, Schaffer, the Suffolk Democratic chairman, said that Boyle’s supporters had outspent Montano by half a million dollars. Couple that advantage with the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, and Montano had a deep gap he couldn’t overcome.

A year later on Nov. 5, the Suffolk Democrats who were gathered at the IBEW Local 25 Hall in Hauppauge reportedly cheered when Schaffer announced that then-political newcomer Monica Martinez had defeated Montano, who had run against her on the Working Families Party line. In a bitter Democratic primary in September, Martinez, the sister of Tony Martinez, the co-chair of Bellone’s transition team in 2011, had knocked Montano off the Democratic ballot. It was the first time since he’d been elected in 2003 that Montano had faced opposition.

According to news reports, the Democratic county convention that May had picked Montano unanimously but later—as a sign of things to come—the Islip Democratic executive committee backed the relative newcomer over the veteran politician, even chipping in more than $69,000 into her coffers, thanks to money from Bellone’s campaign as well as the Suffolk and Babylon Democratic committees, according to Montano.

Montano complained that she was being set up against him because he’d dared to oppose Bellone—and County Executive Steve Levy before him—on issues that mattered to him in the legislature. Martinez reportedly accused him of “absentee leadership” and siding with Republicans in some cases: charges that Montano denied.

Before she took office in the legislature, Martinez had to make a significant career move herself. A vice principal in Brentwood’s East Middle School when she beat Montano, she said she intended to keep both her old job and her new one, potentially earning $215,000 annually. But in December, after complaints about her “double-dipping” were percolating through the community in the aftermath of the election, the school board put her on unpaid administrative leave for two years.

These days, Montano said that what he went through back then was “a political hit against Rick Montano,” and he likened it to a combination of “The Godfather” and “The Terminator.” But now he’s back.

Contends Montano: “They shot. They thought I was dead. But I was only wounded.”

Let the race begin. The primary is eight weeks away.

Feel The Love Supreme! Coltrane Day Celebrates The Jazz Great’s Legacy & Hopes For His Huntington Home

John Coltrane Dix Hills
John Coltrane created “A Love Supreme” inside this dilapidated Dix Hills house where he once lived.

Like a truly innovative, modern jazz composition, the John Coltrane home in Dix Hills—where the greatest American saxophonist created A Love Supreme—is also a work in progress.

But ever since the National Trust for Historic Preservation named his modest 1952-ranch-style house to its 2011 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, progress has indeed been made. Today, the house now has a new roof, new siding and new soffits. Yet so much more remains to be done before his legacy can be rightfully preserved there.

With that goal in mind, this Sunday will be Coltrane Day at Heckscher Park in downtown Huntington when the Town of Huntington, The Huntington Arts Council and The Coltrane Home in Dix Hills present a full day of music workshops, jams, concerts and an evening performance featuring Ravi Coltrane, who spent his first years as an infant growing up in his parents’ house on Candlewood Path. The event is being hailed as a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the release of the iconic album, A Love Supreme, as well as honoring the 50th anniversary of the ongoing Huntington Summer Arts Festival.

“Nothing brings people together like music, and we can’t think of a better way to celebrate this monumental work than by inviting music lovers and musicians of all ages and backgrounds to come together, listen, play and just have fun,” said Ron Stein, president of The Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills, a 501c3 tax-exempt group dedicated to restoring, interpreting and preserving the house and grounds where John and Alice Coltrane, an innovative jazz pianist and harpist, lived and raised their family. The event will also mark the launch of the Coltrane Legacy Education Project, a new music education program designed by Alice Coltrane, who died in 2007.

“One of the goals of the home was to inspire people of all ages and backgrounds to participate in the making of music,” Stein told the Press. “For her, it wasn’t about learning how incredible and influential John Coltrane was. It’s about getting people engaged in the process of making music.”

That this suburban one-and-a-half story brick home where Coltrane composed his iconic masterpiece still stands is “almost miraculous,” according to Stein. Coltrane died of liver cancer at Huntington Hospital in 1967 and was buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale. Alice Coltrane sold the house and moved to California in 1972. In 2003, Steven Fulgoni, a new resident to Dix Hills and an avid jazz enthusiast, was in Huntington Town Hall researching the Coltrane property when he realized that it had recently been sold to a developer who planned to raze the home and subdivide the lot.

Through his efforts, soon augmented with support from Coltrane’s family and celebrated musicians like Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock, an alarm went out to the local community and jazz fans around the world responded. The demolition was stopped in 2004, and Huntington town bought the property for $975,000 in 2005, according to news reports, and declared the site a town park. But there were no public funds to do much more than that.

“When we discovered the house and took it over, it had been abandoned for two years,” said Stein, who gave this reporter a rare look inside, where a total gut-rehabilitation is in full swing, with walls torn out, no plumbing, and lots of gaping holes that need to be filled. “The bones of the house are actually in surprisingly good shape.”

John Coltrane

General contractors, architects and electricians have been donating their time to the tune of almost $200,000, according to published reports. So far the nonprofit group has received $38,310 from New York and $5,000 from the National Trust, as well as thousands more from benefits in Manhattan and elsewhere. The entire project may run more than $2 million, Stein told the Press, and his group hopes to snare more matching funds from grants and donations. But first they have to come up with their own funds to match.

“We’re really gearing up to raise money in a very big way these next six months,” Stein said. “They’re going to be very important.”

In March, an architecture and historic preservation team of students from Columbia University was onsite conducting research to help the home become a living museum. The garage where Coltrane kept his Jaguar XKE—his one indulgence, Stein said—will be converted to a temporary visitors’ center. What happened to that car is unclear. At the moment, the garage is far from finished.

In the basement where the Coltranes were building a studio, the mold looked like “a coral reef,” Stein recalled when he first went down there. The hope is not only to restore the studio—the ledge where Coltrane rested his saxophone in an archival photo looks just like it once did—but make it fully functioning so new music can be recorded there again. On the first floor in the family room, the grand piano is long gone, but some of the architectural touches, like the special paneling, remain.

But more amazingly, the original purple carpets are still in the master bedroom as well as the yellow, red and orange carpeting in the large meditation room—the colors of the chakras, according to Alice Coltrane, who had become a devoted follower of Eastern philosophy and religion.

The upstairs room where Coltrane channeled the material for his breakthrough album in the summer of 1964 still has the original floral print wallpaper. But the view from the window has certainly changed, because now it’s just an acre or more of overgrown woods tangled with vines. Once the renovation is completed, it should look out over the Alice Coltrane Memorial Garden, which will have paths and flower beds.

“We’re going to make that one of the high points,” said Stein.

As Alice Coltrane recalled, one day her husband came downstairs from this upstairs room “like Moses coming down from the mountain,” holding the musical manuscript in his hands. According to Ben Ratliff, a jazz critic for The New York Times, the complete outline for this new suite was formally prepared unlike any other previous Coltrane composition, and it showed his thoughts: “Make ending attempt to reach transcendent level with orchestra…rising harmonies to a level of blissful stability…last chord to sound like final chord of Alabama.”

Then he got to work with his group of musicians until he was ready to go into the studio in Manhattan. Recorded in one day, Dec. 9, 1964, A Love Supreme is “not just another cusp in a series of cusps,” Ratliff writes, “but the fulcrum of his career, setting the outline for understanding both his past and future work.”

“Throughout his life,” writes Branford Marsalis, a jazz superstar, in his introduction to a biography John Coltrane: A Sound Supreme, “Coltrane was so engaged in the creative process that his growth as a musician closely paralleled his own personal and spiritual development. For this reason, there is an emotional depth to Coltrane’s music, an almost unearthly quality to his tone, that can leave the listener stunned, if not thoroughly seduced and moved in extraordinary ways.”

John Coltrane 'A Love Supreme'
Album cover: A Love Supreme (Photo courtesy of Jason Hickey/Flickr)

In the near future, that’s the effect the Friends of the Coltrane Home hope to recreate in the suburbs of Suffolk County.

“Look, we know when we get this house rebuilt it is part shrine, part museum,” Stein said. “Musicians who are Coltrane disciples are going to be traveling from around the world to come to this location and experience the site. And that’s why making the outside landscape as beautiful as possible is a big part of it.”

In fact, that homage has already happened.

“We discovered a musician who had hitch-hiked all the way up from Florida who was sitting outside with a saxophone playing up to the house,” Stein said. “We get that.”

The all-day music festival at Heckscher Park, 164 Main St. (aka Rt. 25A), in Huntington, kicks off on Sunday, July 5, at 11 a.m. and runs until 5 p.m. There will be music impro and percussion classes led by Shenole Latimer, Terry Greene II, Jerry Liggon and Napoleon Revels-Bey, plus workshops led by Funk Filharmonik’s saxman John Scarpulla and percussionist Steve Finkelstein; rap/hip-hop by Clifton Torres; electronic music by Mikah Feldman-Stein; and blues jams led by Willie Steel. Bangalore Breakdown, led by Premik Russell Tubbs on sax and Uli Geissendoerfer on keyboards, take the stage at 12:30 p.m. Mala Waldron, a talented vocalist and keyboardist, hits the stage with her quartet at 3 p.m. Her well-known dad, Mal Waldron, had played piano with Coltrane early on. At 7:30 p.m. the Ravi Coltrane Quartet starts its evening performance with a discussion about A Love Supreme.

Women Will Have to Save America in 2016

Hillary Clinton will officially kick off her campaign this weekend in New York City. (Photo credit: US State Department)

This weekend in New York City, Hillary Clinton is set to hold her first official full-scale campaign rally for the 2016 presidential election. She’ll be speaking Saturday on Roosevelt Island, named after FDR not his First Lady, Eleanor, which would have been more appropriate considering the historic kickoff like the one Clinton is making.

Let’s look at the big picture and see how far she’s come—and how far we still have to go.

Next November some American women who were born when they, their mothers and their sisters all lacked the right to vote may get to actually elect the first woman president. And New York will have made it possible in more ways than one.

The woman’s suffrage movement took off upstate in Seneca Falls in the summer of 1848. If Clinton had chosen that venue for her big campaign event, I suppose the symbolism might have been too much for some squeamish men-folk and their female enablers to handle.

But it’s not like that reactionary crowd lacks inspiration. If only we could hold this election this fall, we might be spared some of the calumnies to come. Instead, we’ll have to withstand months and months of poisonous prevarication, pusillanimous punditry, and preposterous pomposity proliferated by the plutocrats and their plebeians just to feed every insatiable news cycle until Nov. 8, 2016. So much verbiage will be wasted signifying nothing while so many important problems facing our country and the planet will go unaddressed—and too many people will continue to suffer until their needs are met.

Reading a recent snarky column by Maureen Dowd sliming Hillary Clinton for the umpteenth time (with many more columns still to come) I was reminded of my first encounter with the leading Democratic nominee after she’d just become New York’s first woman Senator. Typical of some of our state’s highest achievers, she was born somewhere else—in her case, Chicago—and you can still hear traces of her Midwestern roots today when she speaks.

New York voters had welcomed the former first lady after she and her husband moved to Westchester County. Showing unabashed support for the local boy, Newsday had endorsed her Long Island-born Republican opponent, 42-year-old four-termer Rep. Rick Lazio. Whether it was the worst endorsement Newsday ever made is debatable. Regardless, Lazio lost by a double-digit margin. As Clinton told the TV cameras in her victory speech, “Today we voted as Republicans and Democrats. Tomorrow we begin again as New Yorkers.”

It was in that spirit of reconciliation that she came to Newsday to meet with the publisher, the editorial board and the op-ed department, which then included me. There, in the belly of the beast, so to speak, she was clearly amused at the situation and the apparent discomfort of our publisher who had sided with Lazio. She could have gloated, rubbed her triumph in his face, but she didn’t. She was gracious, charming, lively and intelligent—perhaps the smartest one in the room.

And there I was, sitting across the polished mahogany conference table in the publisher’s spacious office, eye to eye with the most hated woman in America, thanks to Rush Limbaugh and his ilk, and I was smitten. Of course, as friends and enemies would say, I’m gullible to begin with. But I admired her character, her strength, her sense of humor. My female colleagues, particularly our columnist at the time, Marie Cocco, didn’t want to cut her any slack, but so be it. Was it professional envy? Perhaps. As well as lingering resentment over the way she’d botched the Clinton administration’s health insurance reform by trying to keep it all under wraps. And there was also no doubt some disgust that she’d let her philandering husband mistreat her like the female subject of a country western song.

But she did so well representing the Empire State she won a second term. Her first attempt to win the White House didn’t go so well but she did end up as secretary of state serving in the administration of the man who’d beaten her for the Democratic nomination.

Last summer throngs of women and men lined the blocks around the Book Revue in Huntington when Clinton was on tour plugging “Hard Choices,” her 635-page memoir of her work leading the State Department. Across the corner on New York Avenue a small cadre accused her of “lying” about Benghazi but they hardly got a rise out of her fans—some had been camped outside since 11 p.m. the night before. Once inside the store, their excitement at meeting Clinton was palpable. These are the people she’ll need to come out to the polls in every state across the country if she’s going to win the race. But they will have to do a lot more than celebrity worship if they want her to succeed. The big question about Clinton’s candidacy, as columnists like the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson has pointed out, is whether she can inspire the coalition that twice elected President Obama—young people, minorities, women—to rally to her side. And that’s just to win her race next November, assuming she’s the Democratic nominee. If she is going to make any progress on Capitol Hill, she’ll need a majority in the Senate and the House to support her positions.

I don’t know if the men and women I saw at the Book Revue are up to the task. But it is helpful to remember how long it took New York’s most famous suffragettes, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, before they made any headway in getting their sex the right to vote.

As Stanton once wrote:

“Night after night by the light of an old-fashioned fireplace, we plotted and planned the coming agitation, how, when, and where each entering wedge could be driven, by which woman might be recognized, and her rights secured…Such battles were fought over and over again.”

Fittingly, Stanton’s and Anthony’s nicknames were “Napoleon” and “General.” When they first met in Seneca Falls in 1851, Elizabeth was a 35-year-old mom with four boys, ages nine to three months. Susan was 31 and unmarried.

They wouldn’t have met in Seneca Falls had it not been for another New York woman who was a real liberator: Amelia Bloomer, an upstate feminist who advocated that women wear a short skirt and loose trousers to get rid of their constricting whale-boned bodices and “shed the burden of long, heavy skirts;” today her fashion creation is known to us as “bloomers.” Very modest, she refused to take credit for the dress design, let alone profit from it. When we read coverage of what Hillary Clinton is or is not wearing, we should take a moment to praise Ms. Bloomers for making pants-suits possible.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention, which began July 19, 1848 in Seneca Falls. Twenty years later, the amendment to the Constitution was first proposed on Dec. 7, 1868. The goal, according to the National Archives, was universal suffrage, so the 1870 passage of the 15th Amendment, granting black men the right to vote, was regarded as a partial victory. But afterwards progress stalled on what the women hoped would become the 16th Amendment.

Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2016 race for the White House, was the first woman US Senator in New  York History.
Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the 2016 race for the White House, was the first woman US Senator in New York State.

In the 1872 election in Rochester, Susan B. Anthony registered to vote and dared to cast a ballot even though she knew she’d get arrested for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully” voting. She was convicted and fined $100. She vowed she’d never pay a penny. Instead, on Jan. 12, 1874, she petitioned Congress that the fine be remitted because her “conviction was unjust.” Congress rebuffed her. Almost a century later, Congress did approve putting her stern visage on a dollar coin, which was minted from 1979 to 1981, and again in 1999. Despite Anthony being the first woman ever to adorn U.S. currency, her coin never quite caught on, in part because it was about the size of a quarter. On eBay a Susan B. Anthony Dollar apparently ranges from $2.99 to $25.

Coin collecting was farthest from the minds of the suffragettes in the 19th century. But you wonder what they would have thought of all the money that Hillary Clinton has to raise just to be a viable candidate in our republic. At least, Clinton should have President Obama on her side this time around. The suffragettes counted on African Americans to help them, too.

In 1877 Frederick Douglass, Jr., notably signed the Petition for Woman Suffrage, asking Congress to “prohibit the several States from Disenfranchising United States Citizens on account of Sex.” His name appeared at the top of the column of signatories under the “Colored MEN” heading. Douglass’s famous father, a former slave and leader of the abolition movement, had attended the historic Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, writing an editorial at the time that “in respect to political rights…there can be no reason in the world for denying to woman the elective franchise.”

But reason, as it is so wont to do in America, fell on deaf ears.

After decades of distractions and setbacks, the tide began to turn. New York adopted woman suffrage in 1917. Interestingly, New Jersey had granted women the right to vote after the Revolution only to rescind it in 1807. Another significant step was taken on May Day in 1917 when the Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War sent a supportive letter to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. But the opposition wouldn’t go away. The same year, as America entered the First World War, the Women Voters Anti-Suffrage Party of New York circulated its petition to the U.S. Senate. Their argument against making “such a radical change in our government” said that “our country in this hour of peril should be spared the harassing of its public men and the distracting of its people from work for the war…” They quoted one of the measure’s leaders, Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, who had urged the amendment’s supporters to wage “a simultaneous campaign in 48 states” and create an “organization in every precinct; activity, agitation, education in every corner. Nothing less than this nation-wide, vigilant, unceasing campaign will win the ratification.”

Apparently that’s exactly what it took to get the measure through. At the turn of the 20th century, the momentum was irreversibly on the women’s side. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson switched positions in favor of enfranchising women. A year later, the House approved the 19th Amendment 304 to 90, and the Senate passed it 56 to 25. Can you imagine how the wives felt being married to those men who’d voted no? The first states to ratify it were Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan; on Aug. 24, 1920, Tennessee became the crucial 36th state to follow suit, and so the amendment became law. Interestingly, Maryland didn’t get around to ratifying the amendment until 1941.

A year from now an American woman may lead this country. About time, I say.

When I look at the men the Republican Party now has running for president, I can hear them saying, “Hey, my billionaire’s bigger than yours!” But when I hear Hillary Clinton finally saying the obvious—that she’s willing to put up with all the crap the most vile right-wing minds can muster in order to win the White House—I grin. If those guys want to throw bad money after good, I say, bring it on, boys.

As Abigail Adams famously wrote her husband John in March 1776 while he was in Philadelphia with the Continental Congress (and long before she herself became First Lady), “Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.”

Let’s be clear who Hillary Clinton is—and who she is not. She wouldn’t be on the campaign hustings had not Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton come first. But she’s not like them. Nor is she nearly as radical as Mother Jones, Emma Goldman, or Sojourner Truth. She’s an upper class woman who graduated from Wellesely College in Massachusetts. No, she’s not as “progressive” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders. We need those two in the Senate right where they are, but they’re going to need many more colleagues who think like them if we’re going to win the fight for fair pair pay, reproductive rights and the prosperity of the middle class. Not to mention saving Social Security and expanding Medicare.

Let’s be glad Clinton is definitely no Carly Fiorina, the Hewlett Packard CEO, who laid off 18,000 workers but was still dumped by her board two years later although she did get a “golden handshake” worth $21 million. What did the unemployed get? Bupkis. What is Fiorina hoping to get by running with the GOP guys? The Republican vice-presidential nomination. But she’s no comedienne, so the joke may be on her.

Electing Hillary Clinton president is no laughing matter.

You don’t have to go to a skilled nursing home to find women alive today who were born without the right to vote. Come November 2016, these elderly women will get a chance to do something their mothers never dreamed possible. Is that what the campaign of Hillary Clinton is all about? Hardly. But don’t discount that historic movement for a moment. It’s going to take their spirit to save this great land of ours.

No-Hit Mets Lose an Away Game at Citi Field as Giants Fans Rule the Roost


As Mets’ losses go, you could put this one in the history books. San Francisco Giants rookie pitcher Chris Heston (who dat?) won his 13th start in the Major Leagues with a stellar performance that had fans at Citi Field, despite their conflicted loyalty, actually rooting him on in the ninth inning, standing up and clapping in anticipation for that final strike.

In all, three Mets players got hit, but none got a hit. The last time they’d been “no-hit” was 1993.

The night started off strangely in Queens because the attendance was sparse and those in the stands with any energy seemed to be San Francisco fans. And yet here was a battle between two National League teams leading their respective divisions, both in first place, the Mets in the East, the Giants in the West. But those on hand with any demonstrable enthusiasm really seemed to be wearing the Giants’ tell-tale orange. Was it because they’d won the World Series last year?

At one point in the game, with the Giants up 4-zip, an elderly man wearing an orange and blue Mets jacket got up in my row to leave, and with hardly any prompting, said in his New York accent, “I’m rooting for the Giants! I can’t stand the Mets management. Look at that infield. They’ve got guys playing positions they’ve hardly played before. And their hitters are terrible. It’s all because of Madoff.”

We nodded in agreement. It’s not a good sign when the Mets player with the best average is the pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, who came in with a fearsome .400—more than a hundred points than his nearest teammate. By the time he was pulled, his average had sunk to .350. And the poor Mets catcher Anthony Recker finished the game getting plunked and seeing his average sink to .150. How did the lineup get so thin and their hitting get so anemic? Unlike some fans, I don’t blame General Manager Sandy Alderson and Manager Terry Collins. I believe they’re working with the best they’ve got.

But I don’t let the Mets ownership off the hook for putting this “product” on the field. Certainly, Fred Wilpon and his Sterling Equities dodged a bullet after Bernie Madoff’s millions went up in smoke. Instead of facing SEC litigation, they were able to hold onto the team they’d acquired from Nelson Doubleday in 2002. These were the kinds of thoughts racing through my head as I watched Tuesday night’s game unfold with a mixture of anger and awe.

The 27-year-old Heston was reportedly just a “stopgap starter”—the Giants best-known aces are still to come—but despite his 4.29 ERA he was masterful, flummoxing Mets’ batters with devilish pitches down and in and down and away. His change-up and his sinker were, apparently, unhittable. Occasionally our guys would think they’d worked out four balls and would start toward first base only to be punched out by the plate umpire and sent to the dugout. Heston actually walked no one. Also to his credit, he threw the first no-hitter of the 2015 Major League season.

But we Mets fans on hand didn’t begin to appreciate his progress or his prowess until the seventh inning when we foolishly still clung to false hope.


Citi Field’s between innings distractions did seem lamer than usual. Trivial contests blared from the big screen in center field, featuring the bogus and the bored. We saw a kid out-stack plastic cups faster than a Mets shortstop; we watched another fan ride a stationary bike slower than our centerfielder. At one point, Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinosa came into view larger than life to urge us all to yell, “Let’s go, Mets!” Obviously he’d recorded his appearance long before the game. As far as I could tell, he drew some half-hearted cheers, but more out of respect for his historic Belmont Stakes ride than anything going on in this Queens ballpark.

You could say the kiss-cam was the hottest action of the night. But that would be unfair, really, because players on both teams made some outstanding plays. Great leaping catches. Some heads-up double plays, such as when Mets’ second baseman Ruben Tejada snagged a line drive, swirled and tagged out a Giant base-runner caught between first and second for a double play.

And let us note that the Mets did win a challenge at first base. We all could see that Lucas Duda did indeed have his toe barely touching the bag when the throw came in. We started shouting in unison, “Out! Out! Out!” We yelled, “Challenge!” And, dutiful manager that he is, Collins emerged from the dugout and told the umps he wanted a do-over. Surprisingly, for once he was rewarded—the call was reversed!

But that was the only time anything Collins tried worked out. He did pull an interesting stunt late in the game, making a meaningless pitching change just to keep Heston on first base longer so he might cool off. Yes, in this game, even the Giants pitcher had gotten a hit (two, in fact).

The Mets’ hapless Dillon Gee had just come in to relieve Syndergaard. He had essentially thrown batting practice for the Giants—giving up a whopping home run that bounced off the Pepsi Porch on the upper deck. When Collins replaced Gee, that move didn’t play out, either. Heston came back out on the mound even stronger.

Meanwhile, across town, the Yankees were predictably beating the Washington Nationals, 6-1, giving the Mets a false sense of superiority by letting them share first place in their division with the equally mediocre Nats. Comparing official attendance figures is revealing: 23,155 people came to Citi Field but 36,613 showed up at Yankee Stadium.

I don’t regret watching a no-hitter in person. How many times can you say that? Every out, every pitch, counted. Indeed, the mood of the people leaving Citi Field seemed remarkably upbeat for a Mets defeat. Maybe it really was a Giants’ hometown crowd and the Mets were the away team. That’s what I felt, anyway.

Afterwards, at the Port Washington train station, I noticed three late-middle-aged ladies chatting happily as they slowly strolled down the platform toward the parking lot. They’d clearly been to Citi Field because one clutched a Mets paraphernalia bag—she hadn’t come from Macy’s. She gladly told me they’d all seen the Giants win, but they were actually Yankees supporters! She asked me if I was a Mets fan. I said, “I think so.”

They laughed. For baseball fans it was a great night to enjoy the sport because the final result was so rare.

As for this season, that Giants team certainly looks like a well-rounded winning machine. Wish I could say the same about mine. I go to Citi Field and see Bernie Madoff’s smiling face floating over right field. And when I drive home, I have to hear the unhappy recap broadcast on Rush Limbaugh’s radio station, WOR. I think Mets announcers Howie Rose and Josh Lewin deserve better. So do we all.