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.

Adelphi’s President Scott Steps Down After Turning the University Around

Adelphi University
Robert A. Scott, retiring President of Adelphi University in Garden City, relaxes in his office before he finishes packing up to make way for his successor in July. (Photo credit: Kali Chan/Adelphi University)

After steering Adelphi University for 15 years as president, Robert Scott leaves the institution in far better shape than he found it. To call what he did on the Garden City campus a great turnaround would not be hype. The fate of this Long Island gem of higher learning looked dubious at best when he took over in July 2000.

“I was the sixth president in three and a half years,” says Scott, who’d previously been president of Ramapo College, a public liberal arts institution in New Jersey, and deputy commissioner of higher education for both New Jersey and Indiana.

Freshmen enrollment had dropped in half and half the resident halls were empty. Adelphi’s trustees were discussing whether to rent them out to another school or even merge with another institution. They were also considering whether to drop majors in philosophy, anthropology, sociology, physics and chemistry.

“When I got into the mix, I said to them, ‘If you want a new president, don’t do any of those things; and if you do them, you’re not going to get a new president,’” Scott recalled telling the trustees. They agreed with him and postponed taking these draconian measures. Their prudence was well rewarded.

“Within three years we not only filled the dormitories, which had been half empty,” said Scott, “we made plans to build a new residence hall. Since then, we’ve built yet another one and renovated the others.”

Thursday’s commencement was Scott’s last as president. According to the university, he’s shaken more than 15,000 graduates’ hands. At a ceremony two years ago he awarded an honorary degree to Roosevelt rapper Chuck D, whose professors more likely remembered him as Carlton D. Ridenhour, class of 1984. After Scott vacates his office in July, Christine M. Riordan, currently the provost of the University of Kentucky, will become the first woman to lead Adelphi in its 118-year history.

Founded in 1863 as a private prep school in Brooklyn, Adelphi Academy didn’t start on the path to what it is today until 1893 when Charles H. Levermore became its leader. He established Adelphi College, a coeducational institution, three years later, thanks to a charter granted by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. Eventually the college split off from the prep school and moved to Garden City, a new planned community, where it broke ground on its future campus in 1928.

Early on, Adelphi established itself as an innovator in public health and the arts, establishing one of the first public nursing programs in the country under Mildred Montag as well as one of the first dance departments at an American university, becoming home to modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis and later choreographer and performer Paul Taylor.

The university’s graduates run the gamut, from Gary Dell’Abate, ’83, producer for The Howard Stern Show to Alice Hoffman, ’73, New York Times best-selling author, and Jonathan Larson, ’82, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical, RENT.

The roster also includes:

  • Kevin Mawae, M.A. ’06, the former president of National Football League Players Association and a former New York Jet;
  • Robert Darling, ’81, former White House physician to President Bill Clinton;
  • Tom Donohue, M.B.A. ’65, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce;
  • Carmen Ortiz, ’78, U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts;
  • Charles Fuschillo, ’83, former NY State Senator;
  • Gregory Meeks, ’75, the current U.S. Representative for New York’s 5th congressional district, which includes Queens and a sliver of Nassau.

During Scott’s tenure, undergraduate enrollment has grown nearly 65 percent with students from 45 countries and total enrollment has increased by 48 percent; 300 new faculty have been hired and dozens of new programs and services have been added, including internships in non-profit groups through the Community Fellow Program, which he initiated, and growing partnerships with the North Shore-LIJ Health System, Catholic Charities Diocese of Rockville Centre; and the Northport VA Medical Center. On his watch, he expanded the university’s honors college and launched the Levermore Global Scholars program, as well as getting Adelphi recognized as a non-governmental organization (NGO) by the UN’s department of public information. Its physics department has received funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, to name a few. In a decade the endowment has tripled to more than $175 million and total assets have grown to $500 million.

In 2002, he oversaw the first new construction on the Garden City campus in more than 30 years. Since then, more than $250 million of construction and renovation has been completed, totaling more than 500,000 square feet. Right outside his office window, Scott could watch the new 100,000-square-foot Nexus Building and Welcome Center rise from the ground. Slated to open this fall, it will become the state-of-the-art home for the renamed College of Nursing and Public Health, as well as the Center for Health Innovation, including new labs and training facilities. It replaces the old school of nursing building which was dedicated in 1944 by Eleanor Roosevelt.

When he took office, he said he had a mantra.

“Enrollment is everybody’s job if everybody is to have a job,” he explained. “That meant everybody, whether it’s the front desk or the front of the classroom or the front of the line at commencement. Everybody had to think about enrollment.”

Today total enrollment is more than 8,000 students. This year, Adelphi had record numbers of applicants.

“Most come from the four counties of Long Island,” he joked, including Brooklyn and Queens as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Scott said that 87 percent of those accepted get some student aid; 10 percent of the undergrads are from families with annual incomes less than $12,000; 25 percent are from families who earn $30,000 or less and 40 percent are from families who earn $60,000 or less.”

“Our tuition is 25 percent less than Hofstra and St. John’s,” said Scott. “This is a great progressive place.”

Today he says proudly that he leaves Adelphi University in “very strong shape.”

His legacy will certainly be remembered more fondly than one of his more notorious predecessors, Peter Diamandopoulos, who was fired in 1997 after serving 12 years. His turbulent tenure was tainted with conflict of interest allegations and concerns about his perks, which included an $80,000 Mercedes-Benz and a $1.5-million Manhattan apartment in addition to his on-campus house, as reported in Newsday. At his peak, Diamandopoulos was the second highest paid college president in America, earning more than half a million dollars annually.

Ahead of him on the salary list was then-Boston University president John Silber, who was also on the Adelphi board of trustees and a staunch defender of his compensation package. As an example of his lavish life style, at one point Diamandopoulos and Silber spent $455 on wine and cognac at a Manhattan venue and charged it to Adelphi. Perhaps they were discussing the finer points of Immanuel Kant, since Silber was a noted scholar of the modern German philosopher, but regardless, the faculty, staff and alumni had had enough. They filed a complaint with the New York attorney general, who turned the matter over to the State Board of Regents. They dumped Diamandopoulos and removed the trustees so the university could start anew. But stability was still not in the cards.

After a nationwide search, Matthew Goldstein, then president of CUNY’s Baruch College in Manhattan, replaced Adelphi’s ousted leader, but didn’t stay long. In 10 months, he was gone, becoming CUNY chancellor. Several other men came and went before Scott threw his hat in the ring.

“I said I’d never go to another institution,” said Scott with a smile as he relaxed in a sofa chair in his presidential office, pausing from packing up his belongings before the commencement ceremonies. Once he learned about Adelphi through the brother of a very good friend of his and his wife’s who was a history professor at the university, he became fascinated with its history and decided to apply for the job.

Propped up against the bookshelves behind him were an impressive array of framed photographs in bubble wrap, all taken by Scott and earmarked for storage until October when he’ll have a solo show at the Huntington Arts Council. There was still a colorful display of his work on the walls. An accomplished photographer, Scott is represented by galleries in Manhattan and Garden City. On campus, he’s also appeared in three theatrical productions, including Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” in which he played the undertaker Joe Stoddard. He loved the experience.

Art and science are integral to Scott’s view of a liberal arts education. “I think of it as liberating students from their provincial origins, no matter where they are,” he told the Press. In recognition of the president’s artistic priorities, music professor Paul Moravec, who’s also a Pulitizer Prize-winning composer, created an exclusive composition for Scott called, “Grace Comes by Art,” and presented it at his recent birthday celebration last month at the Performing Arts Center on campus. In turn, Scott had the score framed and gave Moravec one to hang on his walls.

Starting this summer he’ll be working on a couple of projects as a scholar in the Allen Room at the New York Public Library, a reasonably short walk from the new apartment he and his wife have moved into in Manhattan.

“I know where I’m going and I know what I’m doing when I’m there,” he said with a smile. He’ll be working on a book about leadership, a subject he exemplifies. In the fall, he’ll be a senior visiting research fellow at Oxford University, giving lectures on American higher education based on a prize-winning essay he wrote called, “The Modern American University, a Love Story: What I Admire, What Causes Me Anguish, and What I Anticipate.” Then in March he’ll give a lecture basically covering the same ground in Japan, championing the value of liberal arts in a democracy.

“What distresses me most about the anti-intellectualism in our country is that it is usually promoted by politicians and pundits who themselves are college graduates,” Scott explained, adding “that is part of what causes me anguish…”

As for the future of liberal arts, he’s an optimist. “Study that for which you have a passion,” he said. “Learn about its history, think about what came before and ask questions.”

It’s a lesson to live by, whether in class or not.

Exit Skelos, Enter Flanagan: What Albany’s Power Switch Means for NY

From left: Outgoing New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his replacement, Sen. John Flanagan (R-EAst Northport).

Around the Empire State this week New Yorkers from across the political spectrum have been scrambling to assess what it means when New York State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), one of the most powerful people in Albany, stepped down as senate majority leader so Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) could step up into the role.

Some say it opens up the opportunity for major reform, others are more cynical that nothing will change. But one thing everyone can agree on. The capital has been in a constant state of historic upheaval since Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, took aim at what he called an unprecedented level of government corruption after Gov. Andrew Cuomo suspended the Moreland Commission last summer.

First in Bharara’s sights was the Democrat-dominated state Assembly. A little more than three months ago Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) gave up his leadership post to Assemb. Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) after Silver was charged in January with taking almost $4 million in kickbacks.

Last week, it was the Republican-led state Senate’s turn after Skelos was arrested along with his son, Adam, on federal corruption charges, which included steering a $12 million Nassau County storm-water contract to Arizona-based AbTech Industriesa contract that the county has since suspended.

Meanwhile, both Silver and Skelos continue to serve their constituents pending the resolution of the charges they confront; each say they’re innocent.

But, thanks to the federal prosecutor based in Manhattan, two of the fabled “three men in a room,” the Albany power trio that includes the governor, the Assembly speaker and the senate majority leader, have new faces.

That doesn’t mean that Cuomo can gloat because his popularity has hit the lowest point since he became governor in 2011, according to a new poll conducted by Marist College and released on Tuesday. His approval ratings peaked at 59 percent in October 2012. This month, his job-performance rating had fallen to 37 percent. Still, it could be worse: 23 percent of the poll’s 712 registered voters gave a thumbs-up for the job the state Senate was doing while only 20 percent said they approved of the Assembly’s performance.

Around here, a partisan few took Flanagan’s promotion as a giant leap forward for Suffolk County, marking a shift in power from Nassau’s traditional Republican base. But that’s not how most of New York saw it: more like “Keeping It On Long Island,” given that he’s one of the LI Nine, a significant bloc of Republican senators that surely must rankle upstate sensibilities.

Until the announcement this week, Flanagan’s chief rival to succeed Skelos was Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), the chairman of the finance committee. Flanagan chaired the education committee, as opponents of the Common Core curriculum know full well, and as such, they draw no distinction between Flanagan’s stand and that of Cuomo.

“Unfortunately John Flanagan comes to his position with a track record that is not very good,” said Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre and an outspoken critic of the Common Core curriculum, who is taking early retirement in order to oppose it. “Flanagan supported the bill, which increased test scores to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation while adding an unfunded mandate for outside evaluators to observe teachers. He has been a strong supporter of charter schools, which drain money from our public schools, and has supported the Common Core… Let’s hope that in his new position he begins to listen and respond, and peels his education policies from Governor Cuomo’s.”

Another thing that Flanagan and Cuomo have in common is that they both come from political families. Now 54, Flanagan was only 25 years old when he was first elected to the Assembly, replacing his father, a popular Long Island politician, who had died in office. Cuomo’s father, Mario, served three gubernatorial terms in Albany and lived long enough to see his son sworn in for his second term as governor on Jan. 1, 2015.

By all accounts, Gov. Cuomo had a good relationship with Skelos, and observers don’t see any ideological difference between Skelos and Flanagan. How the governor will get along personally with the new majority leader remains to be seen.

“Flanagan’s been up there a long time, and Flanagan’s father dealt with Mario,” said Lawrence Levy, dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University and a former Newsday columnist and editorial writer. “These are two families that have politics as part of their DNA. They’re both heirs to political dynasties. The Flanagans are less well known statewide but no less committed to politics and public service.”

To Gerald Benjamin, distinguished professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz and a long-time observer of New York politics, it’s almost Freudian.

“We have a governor who’s trying to live up to his father, a senator who’s trying to live up to his father, and an Assembly leader who’s trying to live down his mother!” he joked.

Speaker Heastie’s mother, Helene, had pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree grand larceny after she was arrested for embezzling almost $200,000 from a nonprofit she ran in the Bronx in the 1990s whose mission was to help the elderly and the infirm.  Sentenced for five years’ probation, she died soon after her conviction, according to the New York Daily News.

“The No. 1 problem in Albany is the culture of corruption,” said Lisa Tyson, Long Island Progressive Coalition director. “Five senate leaders in a row have been faced with criminal corruption charges. When the richest of the rich are bankrolling campaigns, the issues that matter to everyday New Yorkers, like good jobs, housing and rent, student loans, climate change and educational opportunity, all take a back seat. So replacing Senator Skelos with Senator Flanagan won’t mean much change at all. Because the system is still corrupt.”

On Tuesday, local residents and activists from a range of organizations gathered in front of Skelos’ district office, where they rallied to criticize him and other senators for blocking “meaningful reform.” The protesters included members of unions such as SEIU 32 BJ, CWA 1108 and UFCW Local 1500, advocacy groups like Alliance for Quality Education, Long Island Jobs with Justice, La Fuente, Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, Make the Road, New York for Communities Change, New York Immigration Coalition, NARAL and the Working Families Party.

Their efforts have a long history behind them.

“Closing the door on corruption in New York is a practice that has been going on a couple hundred years,” Professor Benjamin told the Press. “So we need to start thinking about inviting people into the political system who are not going to be corrupt, rather than try to catch the people who are corrupt after they’re in.”

Benjamin thought it was very noteworthy that it took a federal prosecutor “who’s really shaken the state system.” As for the governor’s own commitment to imposing ethical standards and implementing campaign finance and redistricting reform, Benjamin said it could have gone better.

“He has given way on those issues to get other things done that he thinks are important,” Benjamin said. “He ended up with an egg on his face when he gave the state of the state [speech in January and used an image that] put himself in a boat with two guys who are now under indictment.”

But, there are points in the plus column for Cuomo, he noted.

“The governor has achieved great progress on the fiscal side in the state during his first four years and took some risks on the social side that diminished his margin in the election and had some unexpected negatives politically,” Benjamin said. “The governor’s challenge is that he’s not loved.”

Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs thinks the change in leadership helps the governor advance his agenda as this legislative session comes to a close on June 17.

“I’m pretty confident that…in some respects he’ll be more successful than he otherwise might have been had Shelly and Dean remained in their positions,” Jacobs said. “That said, it’s still going to be an uphill battle for him because that’s the nature of it in a second term.”

Cuomo will get no relief from the powerful state teachers’ union.

The president of New York State United Teachers, Karen E. Magee, has denounced “Gov. Cuomo’s war on public education” not only for “his attacks on teachers” but what she dubbed in a recent letter to her membership his “Billionaires’ Agenda” that “would hold funding for SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges hostage to a competition reminiscent of The Hunger Games.

Professor Benjamin acknowledged that the governor is facing tough demands from advocates who want him to increase spending, particularly on public education from preschool to the university level, but having a property tax cap on school districts has given Cuomo some leeway, although it’s set to expire soon.

“The pressures to spend are enormous, far more than he can respond to, but he has a degree of flexibility that he didn’t have at the outset of his first term,” said Benjamin. “He can square the circle here.”

As for Flanagan, a politician with nearly two decades of Albany experience, Benjamin said that making the tax cap permanent “could become a serious issue” for the new majority leader. “Flanagan has enormous potential, but he also has a very narrow majority and that’s a constraint,” he said.

Of the 62 seats, the Republicans currently have 32 members plus Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) who routinely votes with them. Flanagan’s deputy, Sen. Tom Libous (R-Binghamton), who has terminal cancer, is under federal indictment. Complicating the Democratic minority’s position in the senate is the Independent Democratic Conference, which has five members.

Statewide, the Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1, with 5.7 million registered voters to 2.8 million. There are almost as many unaffiliated voters, 2.3 million, as registered Republicans. The Assembly, dominated by New York City Democrats, is not up for grabs.

Of course, the outlook ahead varies depending on who’s speaking.

“I did feel it was time for Dean to step down, if for no other reason than it would have been incredibly difficult to operate with that kind of cloud over you,” said Frank Tantone, Islip Town Republican chairman. “Nassau has always been a political power. With Flanagan now leading the delegation, maybe some of that power will shift. We’ll see… One of the good things Dean has done is make sure that Long Island got its fair share—or some would say more than its fair share—for its school districts, so I would hope that will stay as part of the agenda. It’s not a bad thing to have a local representative in a position of power.”

Jacobs, the Nassau Democratic chairman, said that Flanagan may have “a very tough job holding onto the senate in the next round. His majority is slim, and we’re going into a presidential year, which tends to favor the Democrats.”

With former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton likely to be at the top of the ticket in 2016, Democratic turnout should be heavy, putting the Republicans’ hold on the state Senate at risk, and putting Flanagan’s political acumen to the test.

“That’s his big challenge politically: to be able to hold all the seats they took back in 2014,” said Levy. “If not, they may have to maintain the coalition with the independent Democrats. And that’s going to require a lot of real skillful deal making and personal politicking.”

But given Flanagan’s background, those skills may run in the family.

Sagtikos Manor Group Loses Bid to Sway How Trust Spends Millions to Save Long Island History

Sagtikos Manor
The Sagtikos Manor has three centuries of Long Island history under its roof. Gen. George Washington spent the night there in 1790. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

A little-publicized recent New York State appeals court decision could wind up depriving Suffolk County of millions of dollars that would go a long way to help maintain Long Island’s priceless history.

The Sagtikos Manor Historical Society, a nonprofit group of volunteers who have a custodial contract with the county to run one of the most historic properties on LI, had sued to unseat the trustees of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, which has an estimated $81 million in its trust fund. The society claimed in a lawsuit that the foundation was abusing the trust and forsaking the intention of its founder to preserve the manor, his family’s ancestral home in West Islip.

“It’s a lot of money and the taxpayers are left holding the bag,” says Larry Donahue, a former Suffolk County judge and long-time board member of the Sagtikos Manor Historical Society, who had filed the lawsuit.

Late last month, the state Appellate Division reversed a supreme court ruling and dismissed the society’s lawsuit in a case that was said to have potentially far-reaching repercussions in the state’s regulation of charitable foundations. The trial court had ruled that the historical society had standing to sue, but the Appellate Division unanimously reversed that decision.

It’s just another strange chapter in the ongoing saga of the Sagtikos Manor and the last Gardiner to call it home.

No other place on Long Island can claim that both British Gen. Henry Clinton and Gen. George Washington slept under the same roof—although when Washington spent the night there in April 1790 he was the president and refused to sleep in the same bed his former enemy had occupied during the Battle of Long Island, opting instead for the room across the hall.

READ MORE: Sagtikos Manor Holds Three Centuries of Long Island History Under One Roof 

The original part of the Sagtikos Manor dates back to 1697. Then the manor got a major upgrade—in 1772. The owners were content through the 19th century, at least with the exterior; they had other things on their minds. One of the Gardiner daughters, Julia, married President John Tyler. She was only 23 when he started courting her, but as First Lady Julia “captivated Washington with the size and brilliance of her White House receptions,” according to Tyler’s website. When the 20th century came, the manor got its newest—and last—addition in 1902.

At one point the Sagtikos Manor estate ran north from the Great South Bay to about a mile from the Smithtown line. Over time the 1,200-acre property kept shrinking as LI’s population kept growing. The family donated about 233 acres to the state so Robert Moses could build the Sagtikos Parkway. About 900 acres remained when Robert Gardiner’s aunt, Sarah Diodati Gardiner, sold her nephew the property for about a dollar. He would often spend his summers there but in 1961 once he married Eunice Oates, a British model many years younger than him, he stopped being a regular because she wanted to live in a relatively newer home in East Hampton.

Despite his absence, he restricted the historical society’s access to the first floor, which prevented them from doing any archiving upstairs. A couple of years ago, Sarah Faye Meurer, the current president of the historical society, discovered the original deed in a well-worn manila envelope buried in a box. It was from 1692, when the Secatogue Indians signed away their property rights forever.

In 2002, Suffolk acquired the remaining 10.9 acres for more than $1.5 million from Gardiner in a transaction handled by his attorney, Joe Attonito. The eccentric millionaire was then over 90 years old, and by many accounts nearly blind. Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter was a county legislator when she first heard from the community that the manor property was about to be subdivided. She pushed the county to acquire the estate from the Gardiner Foundation. Gardiner died in 2004.

It wasn’t the first time Gardiner had sold off part of his holdings. In the early 1970s he’d unloaded 231 acres on the other side of Montauk Highway from the manor. Today it’s known as Gardiner County Park.

The Sagtikos Manor is only one of the more than 200 historic buildings that Richard Martin, director of historic services for Suffolk County Parks, has to maintain. It’s certainly one of the oldest since the majority of these holdings date back to the 19th century. The maintenance doesn’t come cheap.

The county just spent $250,000 of its capital funds to replace the wooden roof on the west wing of the main house as well as the front and rear porch roofs of the west wing. The next big project, pegged to cost $300,000, involves installing an irrigation system for the whole interior of the walled garden, where the peacock fountain is, and a full restoration of the grounds. Archaeologists reportedly just finished their examination and didn’t unearth any relics that could derail further digging. The money for the garden project is coming from a matching grant from the state.

“The plans are done and now we are putting it out for bid,” Martin tells the Press. In the meantime the volunteers have been making due with a bucket brigade from the manor.

Martin says his department hopes to restore a caretaker’s room inside the carriage house behind the manor so the historical society could have its office there. Currently, it occupies space on the second floor. Eventually, Martin says the carriage house will become a visitors’ center with a parking lot beside it. At present, people park on the back yard between the manor and the walled garden. There are no public restroom facilities inside the manor. Most of the existing plumbing is more than a century old.

The Appellate Court decision won’t alter the county’s approach to the manor.

“It’s our responsibility to restore it,” Martin says, “and the county knew that when they purchased it, so we just continue with the restoration.”

For that matter, at least for now, the legal ruling doesn’t change the Sagtikos Manor Historical Society’s commitment to the site’s upkeep.

“It really doesn’t mean anything but the principle of the thing,” says Meurer, the society’s president. “We’ve had people call us and ask, ‘Why is the manor not being restored?’ Because we personally don’t have the money. Everyone’s a volunteer. We do it all from the bottom of our heart.” She pointed out that replacing the peeling wallpaper on the main floor is estimated to cost more than $75,000 alone.

Any gain from the lawsuit would have gone to the manor, she insisted, not to the society. Unlike the Vanderbilt Museum, no one gets paid to run the Sagtikos Manor, and that’s why its hours of being open to the public are so limited. Meurer said the society’s project for 2015 is to try to upgrade the electricity so they can host evening programs.

“Bob Gardiner was very much involved with the history of Long Island. He was involved in it. He felt like he was key to it,” says Meurer, who became the society’s president last year.

Meurer confirms that the society has never applied for a grant from the foundation, adding that “they now have the grant requirements on their website which wasn’t there four or five months ago.”

“There was nothing put out about how one would apply for a grant,” says Norma Meder, the society’s director of docents. “There was no address as to who to send it to.”

She doesn’t view the Appellate ruling as a defeat.

“I don’t think we totally lost, because what we really wanted was to find out what they were doing,” says Meder. “We wanted them to be more transparent.”

She says the foundation wasn’t filing its paperwork with the IRS in a timely fashion, if at all, until the society initiated its lawsuit. “We didn’t hear about any money being given… As far as we know, they had not given any grants to anyone in New York State,” she says.

Still, Meder and other society members doubt that the foundation is living up to Robert Gardiner’s vision for Sagtikos Manor.

“Mr. Gardiner always said he had a plan, and we would certainly be included in it and so on, but he never said he was going to leave us the money, and we didn’t expect it,” she tells the Press. “He never promised us a rose garden!”

She says Gardiner told the society while he was alive that “we would be taken care of,” but she interpreted that to mean only that he would ensure that the historical mission of the Sagtikos Manor would be continued.

“We can’t make a big stink out of it,” she says. “Now we know where to apply for a grant!”

“There’s so much history involved you would think that the foundation would be eager to support it in every sense of the word, instead of them having to apply for grants!” says Nancy Donahue, who became the society’s president in 1987 and met Robert Gardiner “many, many times.”

She says he wanted to have Sagtikos preserved and he had transferred the manor to the Gardiner Foundation in 1985.

“You have to realize that this was his heritage. It was something very dear to his heart,” she says. And if Gardiner were alive today, she says, “I don’t think he’d be happy. I really don’t.”

She stepped down from her role in the society a decade ago, but her husband, Larry Donahue, is still active on the board as an honorary trustee. A former Suffolk District Court Judge for 17 years, he filed the society’s lawsuit pro bono in 2012 and got an unexpected lesson in how civil courts work.

“I was a criminal court judge, and things are different,” he says. “In criminal part, things have to be done because a guy may be sitting in jail. In civil court, you throw papers into the court, you stand around and you wait and you wait and you wait.”

It took the society three years to find out on April 22 that it had no standing to sue.

That wasn’t Donahue’s first legal entanglement with the foundation or its attorney, Attonito. Right after the county bought the manor, he found out that the antiques were about to be auctioned at Christie’s in Manhattan and an auction house in Moriches. He filed a formal complaint with then-State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer because that office regulates charities. The furnishings were part of the manor, not for sale. The auction was stopped, and Donahue credited then-Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood) for expediting the complaint.

“I live about a mile away from the manor and I saw a light in the second story,” Donahue recalls. “I thought that was strange. And a week later it was still on. Then somebody [in the society] said that Bob had mentioned auctioning off some of the furnishings. But I’m not sure he was in his right mind when that was happening.”

Donahue speculated that Attonito may have been doing that “all on his own.” The former judge and his wife knew Gardiner quite well but had no contact with him in the last years of his life.

“This attorney has everything, and Bob would not be happy with that,” Donahue speculates. “He wound up as executor of the estate, the trustee of the testamentary trust under the will, and trustee of the foundation.”

One of the trustees now lives in Eunice Gardiner’s house in Palm Beach. According to Donahue, she changed her will six days before she died in 2011 at the age of 82, leaving “her entire residuary estate” to Attonito, and the other trustees, James H. Mahoney and Robert Watson, plus the attorney who drew up the will.

Donahue said the historical society started the lawsuit in 2012 because of financial irregularities they claimed they’d uncovered in the trust. But their concerns dated back a decade before that when Attonito announced he was changing the foundation’s mandate.

“In 2002, Attonito said he was changing the charitable purposes and that was it,” says Donahue. “We wanted a declaratory judgment stating what the charitable purposes were. The second thing was to get rid of these people, and the third was to get an accounting.”

The lawsuit stipulated that the society would “not receive any funds directly as result of the disposition of this case. The ownership of the Manor by Suffolk County is not being challenged.”

But the foundation was indeed the target.

Asked to describe the foundation’s relationship to the Sagtikos Manor, one volunteer turned bitter and would only comment anonymously.

“I don’t think they care,” the volunteer says. “But what are we going to do? You can’t make the foundation do anything.”

Attonito, the attorney and chairman of the board of trustees of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, tells the Press that the foundation has “adhered fully to its mission which is to increase awareness and education of Long Island heritage through grants that support restoration, preservation, education, research, community awareness, exhibitions, and building the capacity of history-based non-profit organizations.”

Last year, he said the foundation distributed close to a million dollars in grant funds and this year “we aim to provide over $3,000,000 in new grants.” He disputed the historical society’s claim that its lawsuit had cleared the air of any doubts about his group’s operation.

“The foundation has always reported with complete transparency all of its distributions and business expenses,” Attonito said. “The foundation understands the importance of Sagtikos Manor. However, Sagtikos is one of many historic sites on Long Island that play a significant role in local history.”

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says that the ruling was in “our favor,” because the AG’s office was representing the state’s ability to be the sole regulator of charities and the sole party to bring cases against charities. But she would not comment further on the decision, nor say whether Schneiderman is investigating the foundation.

Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown was content with the outcome even if it means the parks department must depend on the kindness of the foundation’s trustees for any money to maintain the county’s historic properties, the manor in particular.

“The Appellate Division decision was a sound decision and the county does not plan on appealing,” Brown tells the Press.  “The county will explore opportunities for grant funding through various means including the David Lion Gardiner Foundation.”

Former judge Donahue vehemently disagrees.

“Why the county didn’t take over this lawsuit and prosecute it themselves is another question,” Donahue says. “I’ve always felt we had the law on our side, we had the facts on our side, and that there was no way we could possibly lose this lawsuit. That was my feeling all along. The lawsuit was to get rid of these people.”

Donahue notes that the Attonito gets $125,000 a year plus $50,000 in pension from the foundation, and the other trustees are also compensated, according to the IRS filings. As for the historical society getting grants from the foundation, Donahue is skeptical.

“From their website, I understand it has to be a matching grant,” he says. “If we need a million dollars, we’d have to put up half a million. We can’t do that.”

Two Mondays ago, the volunteers were greeted by an unwelcome sight when they walked into the manor. The ceiling in the butler’s pantry was bubbling. The next day the ceiling had turned green and yellow.

“We’ve had water damage before, and if it’s not handled right away, the ceiling falls down,” says Meder. “We can ask the county to fix that because it’s a danger.” But to take care of the plumbing won’t come cheap.

The next meeting of the Sagtikos Manor Historical Society’s board of trustees is Tuesday, May 12. Donahue says he sees no purpose in further litigation. He worked for free. The foundation paid its Manhattan-based law firm, Wilkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, at least $400,000, according to IRS filings.

“We’re finished,” says Donahue, his voice heavy with regret. “The Appellate Division has said we have no standing. We have no standing. We have nothing.”

What Nepal Has Lost Is A Lesson For Humanity

The first dead body I ever saw was lying on a funeral pyre in Nepal. It wasn’t a high-caste affair at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu. There was no tell-tale shroud, so I was surprised when I realized that the oddly shaped stick being licked by the flames was actually an emaciated brown limb. Then I noticed the calloused foot.

Now there’s so much death, so much destruction, it’s all you can see. The death toll is rising into the tens of thousands as the international rescue effort struggles to reach the far-flung villages of Nepal. As the days stretch into weeks before help arrives, I hope the living won’t come to envy the dead. I’ve trekked on those steep winding trails, climbing one hill only to descend to a narrow valley, and having to cross swinging rope bridges over raging rivers that would have given Indiana Jones second thoughts.

When I spotted the top of a stupa, a Buddhist temple, overlooking a pile of rubble in Kathmandu, I felt some relief to know that some artifacts of the country’s priceless heritage survived the devastation. But so much will be lost forever.

Kathmandu had its heyday about 500 years ago, give or take a century or two, when the silk trade between China and India was very lucrative through those Himalayan passes. At one point in the Kathmandu valley there were actually three kingdoms, when the royal family split apart, each son apparently competing with the others to build the most impressive temple complex in Bhaktapur and Patan as well as in the original royal city. Those are the pagoda structures that took the biggest hit from the massive shockwave.


An earthquake in 1988 had registered 6.5 on the Richter scale and left hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Saturday’s quake had a magnitude of 7.8. The loss is incalculable.

Until 1951, Nepal was known as “the forbidden kingdom,” a Hindu monarchy about the size of Tennessee wedged between India and Tibet, separated on the north by the Himalayas, the highest mountain range in the world culminating with Mount Everest, and on the south by the Terai, tropical lowlands where the Buddha was born in Lumbini more than two millennia ago. The country’s sovereignty was protected by a treaty between Great Britain’s East India Company and Nepal’s aristocracy, who guaranteed a supply of troops in exchange for never becoming a colony like India. It was those fierce soldiers, the Gurkhas, who made a name for themselves fighting alongside the Allies against the Japanese in World War II.

When they returned home after the war, they brought a different world view that ultimately led to a unique revolution. Instead of overthrowing the raja—the king—it restored him to power because since the 19th century the ruling family were the Ranas, whose progeny became Nepal’s hereditary prime ministers. The status quo came to an abrupt end in 1950 when King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah managed to escape the Ranas’ guards by allegedly going on a hunting trip with his family but instead seeking asylum in India. Tellingly, the Nepalese regard him as the Father of the Nation because he set the country on the path to a constitutional monarchy. He died in 1955.

I arrived in Nepal in time for the 1975 coronation of his 29-year-old grandson, Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, which had been delayed for a few years by the royal astrologers until the signs were most auspicious. Thanks to my college program, I’d taken my junior year abroad to live with a Nepalese family and get academic credit for making a 16 mm film and writing an article for The Rising Nepal Newspaper.

That’s how I ended up at the home of Rishikesh Shah, Nepal’s first ambassador to the United Nations. On the walls of his study were photos of him shaking hands with President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Krushchev. But I never met him because he was residing out of the country while writing a book about the monarchy. Instead, my official host was his wife, a friendly, rather rotund woman, who greeted me upstairs in her bedroom, where she was seated in the middle of a large bed surrounded by paperback novels written in Newari, one of Nepal’s dozens of dialects. She was entertaining a stately, elderly gentleman who seemed to be most amused by my purpose in coming to Nepal.

What caste, he asked me, did I wish to be considered equal to? Being an uppity 22-year-old, I scoffed at the notion and told him brashly that in America we had no castes; everyone was equal in the pursuit of happiness. He turned to Mrs. Shah and they nodded at each other knowingly. And so I found myself eating my meals and hanging out with her servants. My dinners were their nightly entertainment. Sometimes, I’d eat before 10 people, all crowded into a tidy kitchen at the back of Mrs. Shah’s compound, watching me plow through mounds of rice, hot chili curries and lentils, the sweat dripping off my brow. And whenever I managed to utter something in Nepalese, which I was allegedly learning during the day, they burst into laughter and smiled broadly.

One of the highlights of my five months’ stay was seeing the raja and rani perched in their red velvet-canopied throne atop a lumbering decorated elephant as the royal procession left the old palace in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square after the coronation ceremony. Rani, also known as Queen Aiswarya, didn’t look too comfortable riding up in their howdah, no doubt preferring to be in the back seat of Rolls-Royce.


But that ride was a breeze compared to the turbulence to come. With the vast majority of the country living in extreme poverty, tourist dollars and foreign aid, even before a major catastrophe like the recent earthquake, never trickled down far enough. A Maoist insurgency sprung up to bedevil the government, claiming thousands of lives as the rebels demanded land reforms, no royal family and no close ties to India.

By the 1990s, Raja Birendra had his hands full. But the worst was yet to come. In June 2001, he and seven members of his family were murdered by his own son and heir apparent, Crown Prince Dipendra, in the new palace. Apparently, the raja, regarded as the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, the Preserver, was no match for the barrage of bullets fired by his 29-year-old son who may have become unhinged because he’d fallen in love with a woman his mother disapproved of—and the astrologers had advised postponing his marriage until he was 35.

The Maoist rebels put their guns down in 2006 but the Nepal government has never gained ground, let alone the upper hand. The average annual income is pegged at $700 a year, and that’s generous. One of the highest-paid gigs is also one of the most dangerous, being a Sherpa guide up Mount Everest where the pay might be up to $5,000. When the recent earthquake struck, it triggered a deadly avalanche that leveled the base camp at 18,000 feet above sea level, killing at least 18 people, injuring and stranding dozens more.

The same geological force propelling Mount Everest to become the summit of mountaineers’ aspirations—the tectonic collision slamming the Indian and Eurasian plates—has torn the land asunder. It was only a matter of time.


When I visited Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a redevelopment team led by West Germans was training a cadre of skilled Nepali carpenters to restore the temples to their original glory. The project also involved installing public sewers, improving the drinking water and building a bus depot for tourists because all cars were going to be banned from the temple square. The old buildings were too fragile, the project coordinator told me back then, 40 years ago, adding that “heavy traffic” would shake them apart.

Today these irreplaceable structures lie in ruins.

The question now is not about replacing the past, but helping the Nepalese survive the present.

Read about local relief efforts and how you can help HERE.

Huntington Bay Village Board Seeks Salary, Drawing Ire

Huntington Bay village hall.

The Huntington Bay village board is considering a proposal to start paying the mayor and other volunteer elected and appointed village officials—an idea that has churned up a big debate in the tiny municipality of 1,600 residents and beyond.

Huntington Bay Mayor Herb Morrow has been trying to make his job a salaried position for several years. He’s been proposing a bill that would provide compensation for him, the four village trustees, two commissioners and the five zoning board of appeals members. But critics question if the workload really justifies a salary for managing an annual budget of under $2 million.

“If this is accepted up there, it will spread like wildfire to all these other villages,” says Desmond Ryan, executive director of Association for a Better Long Island, who is worried about the impact on state pension, health benefits and Social Security if these unpaid officials start to get public salaries. “When you take into consideration that we already have more government on Long Island than the old Soviet Union, who needs more salaries? For a mayor of a small village to ask for a salary? If you want the money, go get a job…. Most people take it as a civic duty.”

Huntington Bays Deputy Mayor Dominic Spada, who is also the village’s police commissioner, said 21 of Suffolk County’s 33 villages pay their municipal officials and, on the state level, 87 percent of the villages responding to a survey conducted by the New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials said they also pay their elected officials.

“We’re the minority,” says Spada. “We’re not blazing any new trails here.”

Under the proposal, the mayor would get $18,000, the trustee-police commissioner $4,800, the trustee-road commissioner $4,800 and the trustee $2,400.

Mayor Morrow, who is a consultant for staffing and recruitment firms, has told reporters that doing his job is not charity or volunteer work. He and his municipal colleagues say that the executive, legislative, policy and fiduciary responsibilities have “increased significantly over the past several years” as the village operations have “become more complex.”

Morrow first joined the village board in 1993 as a trustee and was elected mayor a year later. Last June, he was elected to his 11th two-year term, reportedly with 65 percent of the vote. In his executive summary of the proposed budget, the mayor asserted that the village has kept the spending at the same level as 2009, and for the third year in a row it entails no village tax increases.

Spada is proud of that accomplishment.

“That wouldn’t happen if we didn’t put a lot of time, thought and execution into what we do,” says Spada, who’s been an elected official for four years. “So, this is a job and it really needs to be treated as such.”

For comparison, Northport Mayor George Doll, a retired bayman, is paid $7,500 annually, for a municipality with roughly 7,000 residents within its incorporated borders. Mayor Gary Vegliante of West Hampton Beach, which has 55 year-round residents, is paid $80,000 annually.

“I will tell you that mayors are the unsung heroes of Suffolk County,” says Paul Tonna, executive director of the Suffolk County Village Officials Association and a former Suffolk County presiding officer. He declined to take sides on the Huntington Bays vote. “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to deliver municipal services… The issue is home rule and self-determination.”

If the proposal passes, opponents would reportedly have to organize a petition drive within the village and acquire signatures from at least 20 percent of the eligible registered voters to trigger a referendum to overturn it.

The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Huntington Yacht Club, 95 East Shore Rd., Huntington Bay.

Nassau Pols Pitch Dueling Lobbying Disclosure Bills After Skelos Report

nassau county legislature
The Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola has a statue of TR standing out front.

Republican and Democratic Nassau County lawmakers proposed competing lobbying disclosure bills this week, days after news broke that federal authorities are investigating New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and the business dealings of his son, Adam.

On Monday, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, a Republican, was first out of the gate with a press release announcing a bill that would require lobbyists for entities seeking contracts with Nassau government to register with the County Attorney “for the first-time in history.” The next day, Nassau Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the county legislature’s Democratic minority leader, held a news conference to tout his party’s own lobbying disclosure legislation.

“This new law will bring additional transparency by requiring contractors and vendors to disclose their lobbying activities—by registering with the County Attorney and Clerk of the Legislature—and file annual and quarterly reports, which will be available on the county website,” said Mangano in a statement.

Under the current law,  contracts require approval by the county attorney, the county legislature, the comptroller and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. But Nassau does not have any lobbying disclosures like that of neighboring Suffolk County, New York City and the state.

The Democrats said their proposal is more thorough than Mangano’s.

“Although any disclosure is a helpful start, what we really need, that our bill provides today, is clarification that will force clear disclosure of relationships and communications between consultants and lobbyists, County employees and elected officials,” Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said in a statement. “The administration’s bill only requires lobbyists, a term which is hard to define… Each contract has to clearly delineate any relationship between the County and the prospective participant in said contract.”

The focus on lobbying reforms stems from a report in The New York Times that Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, was looking into the actions of Sen. Skelos and his son, Adam, who had been hired as a consultant to an Arizona company, AbTech Industries, that was awarded a lucrative storm-water treatment contract by the Nassau legislature with no questions asked.

No charges have been filed and the federal investigation is ongoing, sources say. AbTech said in a Facebook post the day after the Times story broke that it “is a company of integrity and transparency, from its executive officers to its field employees.” Also a day after the report, the Nassau County district attorney’s office announced an overall review of the county’s contract bidding process.

The dueling proposals come despite the fact that Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said in a statement last week  that “Nassau County has the most transparent process known to government” in response to a request to confirm reports that the county executive had testified before the grand jury.

But the approval process of the AbTech contract has since raised concerns, because Adam Skelos’ connection to the company was not disclosed before lawmakers approved it.

“Our hope is that this legislation will avoid another ‘AbTech’ and clearly inform the public and County Legislature who exactly is influencing the award of hundreds of millions of dollars of County contracts annually,” said Abrahams. “We have been calling upon the County to take further steps to bring real disclosure measures for some time and it has fallen on deaf ears. It’s time County lawmakers work bi-partisanly to bring transparency measures that will bring public integrity back to governing here in Nassau.”

Rumsey Punch: The Mets Win But The Cost Is Hard For Fans To Take

New York Mets Matt Harvey
New York Mets fans will continue to look to pitcher Matt Harvey, aka The Dark Knight, to help offset their latest woes about catcher Travis d’Arnaud and lefty reliever Jerry Blevins' unfortunate injuries. (Photo: New York Mets Facebook)

For Mets fans Monday was an off-day like no other in recent memory. It was gray, dismal, rainy and depressing, when all the defeats of years past come to loom larger, haunting the recesses of the mind. Only Sunday as our ace Matt Harvey took the mound, our hopes seemed so much brighter. Unreasonably brighter, and long-time Mets fanatics could only know that something bad lay in store. We were right.

Yankees fans will never understand the depths of despair that Mets fans must constantly fight to keep at bay, even in the middle of the most improbable streak we’ve ever had. Winning eight games in a row? Being in first place in the National League East? The question that we dare not utter but is on the tip of every tongue: How long will this last?

Because disappointment is almost a team motto. Not like the Cubs, let’s be honest here, but the history of the Mets doesn’t inspire confidence in the long-term. Or even in the short-term, for that matter.

You wanna believe, you gotta believe, but you fear you’re only going to be deceived. Past is prologue. Here’s what a typical Mets fan asks himself before spring training: How much faith will be betrayed this season?

Then the pitchers and catchers show up, the hype machine starts cranking out “promising news,” and soon you swallow it all, hook, line and sinker, and dare to think: “Next year” is now! But then, the unbearable truth rears its ugly head again as the games that matter begin and the highly touted team in March typically falls into the ranks of the mediocre by May. It was ever so, and ever shall be.

Yankees fans, known for their superior disdain of mere mortals who pretend to follow America’s pastime, can always take the long view, even when the men in pinstripes stumble. They know it’s only temporary because they are the Yankees, of course, and another pennant is only 100 games away.

But not this year… This year the gods of baseball had something diabolical in store for Mets fans. They let us watch a team that for the first time in a long, long time, actually had a chance to have a winning record—an unusual achievement in itself, and something that Yankees fans take for granted as if it’s a birthright bestowed by the Bronx Bombers on the faithful.

True Mets fans would never entertain such delusions. Why? Because the words “avoid hubris” are invisibly engraved on our brains. The motto has appeared indelible for decades, with the few glimmers of hope just benchmarks to mark the long intervals of decline. Was it 2000 when Bobby Valentine led the Mets against the Yanks and ended watching their defeat from his home dugout at Shea Stadium? Or 2006 in the National League Championship Series, when Carlos Beltran, now a Yankee himself (and that’s another unbearable storyline, cf. Darryl Strawberry, Al Leiter, et al.), stood dumbstruck as the Cards’ Adam Wainwright struck him out? Mets fans like to debate when the decline began, it’s an entertaining academic exercise, but at least it’s something to talk about when there’s usually nothing but bad news.

For the Yankees, it’s been six years since the team won their last title and only three years since they won their division. Three years! That’s hardly a lifetime! Get a life! Certainly, the Yanks’ dynasty of dominance during the reign of King George Steinbrenner is no more. But here they come again, on April 20, already they’ve reached .500, and have started to trend upward, as is their prevailing tendency, given their propensity for winning.

Read “Hysteria Over Tanaka’s Velocity Is Comical,” in Press staffer Rashed Mian’s “Benchwarmer” sports blog, HERE

I wish the Yankees well, but don’t begrudge us Mets fans our fleeting happiness. For us, monstrous misfortune is always bearing down the base paths! Look at the price we’ve already had to pay this spring to get this far. We’ve lost our captain, David Wright, to a pulled hamstring. Then, in Sunday’s fateful seventh inning at Citi Field, our young hot-hitting catcher, Travis d’Arnaud, broke his right hand when it was drilled by a fastball. Our reliable lefty reliever, Jerry Blevins, broke his left forearm after it took a hard shot as he was on the mound. He managed to pick up the ball with his gloved hand and toss it to first base for the second out of the game. But now he’s out for at least a month if not more. These two players join their teammates on the crowded disabled list: pitcher Vic Black with neck and shoulder issues, pitchers Bobby Parnell, Zack Wheeler and Josh Edgin with debilitating elbow problems, and their closer Jenrry Mejia to steroids (his fault).

So the Mets managed to beat the Miami Marlins 7-6 on a sunny day but there was a chill in the air. The victory came at a cost, a price that Mets fans understand they must pay for whatever reason. Maybe the suffering makes us stronger. Maybe it builds character? It certainly has been around long enough to inspire a unique product line. A guy I used to work with had an inflatable figure about three-feet tall standing against a wall in his office, a plastic statue of a young Mets fan permanently wailing, his head buried in his arms so you couldn’t see his face, only his baseball cap and his Mets jersey. My colleague’s understanding wife had presented it to him. She knew how much his misery loved company.

So let us Mets fans cling to our momentary merriment one more day, knowing that we’ll always have April 2015, when our hearts were soaring above Queens like the planes leaving LaGuardia. Let us treasure these last few precious weeks as we face the certainty of more mishaps still to come and amuse ourselves while we can. The joys in Metsville can never be taken for granted. And for that we remain thankful.

Spencer Rumsey is the Mets-loving, globe-trotting Senior Editor of the Long Island Press and author of its blog “Rumsey Punch.” To send him fanmail or simply commiserate, check out his extended bio below and write him at srumsey@longislandpress.com. To bash on A-rod, reminisce about Jeter or talk any/and all Yankees-related dirt, check out Press staffer Rashed Mian’s “Benchwarmer” sports blog.

Game of Thrones Burns Readers at the Stake, but the HBO Series is Still Great

Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys Targaryen has seemingly lost control of her beloved dragons. (Credit: HBO)

The two fiery dragons may have zipped their flaming snouts for now—thankfully sparing the platinum blonde locks of their mistress Queen Daenerys Targaryen—but the debate has just begun to heat up over the Game of Thrones season five opener. (Beware of spoilers!)

Have the show runners finally gone too far? Have the fans of George R.R. Martin’s epic “A song of Ice and Fire” books been betrayed because the plot lines have truly diverged? Or are they going to continue to “hate-watch” the HBO series, as one of our crew here calls his Sunday night viewing experience glued to the tube?

As Martin labors to finish what he started, the show’s creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, press on their own way, killing off a major character, Mance Rayder, the king of the free-folk/Wildlings, in the season opener. They had him burned at the stake, instead of following the book’s switcheroo when Stannis Baratheon’s mistress Melisandre summons some of her magic and subs a character named Rattleshirt disguised as Mance to go up in flames in his stead. Live free or die, indeed.

Melisandre Game of Thrones
Melisandre, also known as The Red Woman, in Game of Throne’s season 5 premiere. (Photo credit: Helen Sloan/ HBO)

Face it, readers, you will always have your jam-packed books—whether Martin gets to the end himself, or a ghostwriter finishes the job. But for us watchers, the series is still as good as it gets. Whether we will ever want to go back and read the source material is another story.

All the HBO show’s special ingredients were on full display as the season got underway. There’s nudity, sexuality, depravity, sudden violence, stunning locations, splendid costumes, tense drama, blood, breasts and guts. What more do we need? It did not disappoint. Of course, not having read the books, we did not know what we were missing, nor what was supposed to be coming. That’s the joy of it, we suppose.

With an assist from his brother Jaime, Tyrion Lannister (played to perfection by Pinker Dinklage) managed to escape from the dungeon at Kings Landing but not from the abyss of his guilt. One of our favorite characters in the series, the small guy shot his evil dad, Tywin Lannister, with a crossbow as the dastardly Lord of Casterly Rock sat on the privy and also strangled the only love of his life, Shae, after finding her lying naked in his dad’s bed. That’s gotta be tough on anyone. Too bad he’ll never see a therapist, because he does have a lot of issues to work out. We hope he finds closure somehow—if he doesn’t, don’t you dare spoil it!

Meanwhile, our other favorite male on the show, Jon Snow, won a temporary truce at Castle Black between the free folk/wildlings and the Night’s Watch—without a creepy ice walker in sight—but self-declared King Stannis Baratheon had to go and ruin it.

Tyrion Lannister
The character Tyrion Lannister killed his father in Game of Throne’s season 4 finale last year. (Credit: HBO)

And way, way down south, across the sea, Dany is still missing a dragon, and the two she has locked away look rather depressed from their neglect, and that could be cause for animal rights’ activists, assuming the former slave kingdom of Meereen ever had any, which is doubtful. Khaleesi, as we like to call her with humble devotion, has a complicated relationship with other creatures. She hatched three dragons herself, lost one, and, proving she’s no vegetarian, ate the heart of a stallion. As for the Great Harpy of Meeren, the big bronze-buttocked-and-bare-breasted female with wings mounted atop the Great Pyramid, the new queen apparently has no respect for idols of the past, having her forces pull the statue down with ropes and demolishing it in a great moment of television action and special effects.

And next week we get to see what the Stark girls are up to: Arya is about to meet a cult of mysterious assassins and Sansa is going to find out what master spy Littlefinger has in mind for her. And from what we’ve seen so far, it can’t be good.

Rumsey Punch: Hawks Gotta Fry, Give Peace With Iran A Try

Us-Iran Nuke Deal
Secretary John Kerry (right) joins P5+1 officials after agreeing to a tentative framework that would prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. (Photo credit: US State Department)

As the sandstorm swirls around the historic framework that President Obama and our allies have hammered out with Iran to rein in its nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions, it’s become clear to me that if you want war, you’ll bash the deal. If you want peace, you’ll support it like your life depends on it—even if you live thousands of miles away from the Middle East.

Unfortunately, the jingoism, the saber rattling and the cynical pandering aimed at us here by Republicans and even Democrats in Congress, all to help Israel’s right-wing hawk, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, in his efforts to scuttle the negotiations, are only going to intensify before June 30 when the deal has to be finalized.

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 3, 2015

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 3, 2015

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 3, 2015

My connection to the issue is a little less tenuous than many of the commentators’. I’d been to Iran as a young college student while the Shah was in power, and later I got to meet the freed American hostages at a special reception that Mayor Ed Koch held for them after a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

It’s going to take a lot of clear-headed people rising above the maelstrom to keep their eyes on the prize: a more peaceful world.

“The framework is surprisingly comprehensive and offers the best potential for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” The New York Times said in its editorial headlined “Israel’s Unworkable Demands on Iran.”

Related: Long Island Iranian-Americans React to Us-Iran Nuke Deal

Reading the increasingly rancid editorials in the Daily News praising Bibi at Obama’s expense and attacking the president’s deal, I wonder if that wily Republican casino-owning mega-mogul Sheldon Adelson, who already pulls the strings of Israel’s most pro-Bibi newspaper, has bought my favorite city tabloid under the cover of darkness. Or maybe he’s just annexed the editorial board.

Now that Bibi has won his re-election, his American supporters are going all out to torpedo the framework. If this deal survives their propaganda campaign, it will rank with the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt and the Dayton Accords that ended hostilities among Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia.


Both historic achievements were achieved by Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter with the former, and Bill Clinton with the latter. Here, the framework is the handiwork of two top Democrats, President Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, who also ran for president but lost to George W. Bush. He took us into what former CIA spy Valerie Plame recently reminded us was “the biggest, most tragic U.S. foreign policy debacle ever.”

Dear Judy, No one is crediting you with starting the Iraq war. We know you were notactually on the team that took…

Posted by Valerie Plame Wilson on Monday, April 6, 2015


As a Long Islander, it pains me to watch Democratic Congressman Steve Israel vying with Tea Party Republican Lee Zeldin to be Bibi’s BFF on LI. (I guess Reps. Peter King and Kathleen Rice are chopped liver.) Seeing U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, New York’s elder Democratic leader, sidling up to his Republican Senate colleagues, some of whom signed that ignominiously unconstitutional letter penned by Arkansas’ junior Sen. Tom Cotton to undermine our negotiations, is appalling. Fortunately, New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is sticking with the president…so far.

It’s truly heartening to hear that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi opposes legislation empowering Congress to review the White House’s accord with Iran. She rightly said the proposal by Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would blow up the agreement as the talks are in their final stages. Now, Pelosi’s a Democrat, of course, but what does it say when her view shares common ground with a Republican hardliner like John Bolton, President Bush’s bellicose UN ambassador who’s now ensconced at the right-wing think tank the American Enterprise Institute?

“I don’t think it’s so important that the Senate actually gets a shot at this,” said Bolton, according to Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank who heard him speak recently at an AEI event in DC. Bolton noted that at least 90 percent of international agreements since World War II have not been subject to Senate ratification. Clearly those pushing for Congressional oversight here are looking for cover to scuttle the deal. Bolton is not one of them. His approach is different.

In late March, The New York Times ran Bolton’s op-ed, headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” This screed came from a man who, as W’s under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, told the BBC, “We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. We know how that worked out, but unfortunately our country will be paying the bill for that overconfidence for years to come—while our bridges, roads and tunnels will continue to crumble, to say the least.

— NYT Opinion (@nytopinion) March 26, 2015

If Iran is such a threat, why would Turkey’s pro-government paper, The Daily Sabah, be so sanguine? Its lead editorial recently said: “Iran remains one of the few stable countries in the Middle East, and by extension, a valuable partner for regional powers seeing to restore peace and stability.”

Turkey’s border with Iran is essentially what it’s been since 1639 after the Persian and Ottoman empires stopped slugging it out. If any pro-Western country would have a stake in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, wouldn’t it be its NATO-belonging neighbor? Yet the rhetoric from Istanbul is far less radioactive than the vitriol coming from Jerusalem—and Israel has had a nuclear weapons program since the late 1950s, thanks to French support.

When that secret came out, no politician at the time called for sanctions against France or Israel, as far as I can recall. The United States and our allies have tacitly accepted the presence of nuclear weapons in Israel as the status quo. Hypocrisy may help the diplomats keep a straight face, but it’s hard to see how it furthers the cause of peace. Why don’t they ’fess up, tell us how many centrifuges Israel has, and put this bargaining chip on the table, too? It might go a long way to changing the equation. Certainly it might improve our own reputation for posterity’s sake—after all, we dropped the nuclear bomb, not once, but twice.


Meanwhile, with bipartisan support in Congress, we give billions of dollars to Israel, while whining about its apartheid policies against the Palestinians; and billions to the junta in Egypt while standing by idly as its repressive regime cracks down on its people.

So, thanks to the negotiators in Switzerland, here’s a framework that doesn’t add to our deficit. Instead, it reduces the threat of war and encourages Iran’s middle class to go shopping.

And I know firsthand how Iranians like American goods. Or at least they did when I was traveling through Iran in 1975.

Coming back overland from India, there was no way around Iran. And so it was that I found myself leaving Afghanistan one hot afternoon and entering a building at the Iranian border. Mounted on a wall at the far end of the customs area was a billboard-sized poster that displayed the king, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, standing on top of a mountain peak looking like a corporate executive in his business suit, clouds swirling behind him as he gazed into the future. It was a little too Mussolini-ish to my taste, but it dwarfed anything the Afghan side had.

A few days later I was running low on cash in Tehran when I was told of a money-making scheme that would only cost me a pair of Levis, if I had any to spare. Fortunately, I did. I started to walk down a prominent boulevard downtown in the business district, holding my arm out to the street with a used pair of blue jeans draped over them. I’d been doing this for about a minute when suddenly a silver Mercedes-Benz swerved to the curb. The driver, a middle-aged Iranian man with a black mustache, rolled down the window and offered me 50 bucks for them. I gave him the jeans and he sped off. He never even looked at the waist size. Was that American imperialism?

By the time I’d taken a bus to the Turkish border, I was eager to put Iran behind me. I’d had enough conversations about the Shah with Iranians where it’d gotten to the point I had to pretend I was Canadian just to avoid having to defend our foreign policy—a policy I felt unfairly saddled with. I knew the Shah was disliked (if not despised), that the CIA had helped to overthrow Iran’s popular Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq in 1953 after he’d nationalized the British-owned oil industry, and that the Shah continued to hold power through his hated U.S.-trained secret police, the SAVAK. I felt the country was ready to blow apart because the Shah’s fruits of westernization weren’t shared widely enough.

At a large roadside restaurant near Tabriz where my Turkey-bound bus had stopped for dinner, I was seated with Iranian students my age who insisted on practicing their “American English” and laughed at everything I said. All of a sudden an argument erupted  between a customer and a cashier about 20 feet away from us. Everyone in the restaurant stood up to watch them. The next thing I knew, the two men had gone out the front entrance with a swarm of people all shouting and battling each other. I wanted to follow but my companions anxiously grabbed my sleeves, refusing to translate. A minute later, if that long, the fracas in the street ended, and everyone streamed back inside. I was told that the customer had complained that he was overcharged.

I didn’t think I’d ever have anything to do with Iran again, but I was wrong. In January 1981, Mayor Edward Koch threw a ticker-tape parade for the Iranian hostages. It was a big deal. They didn’t all show up—they’d only been free a couple of weeks since Inauguration Day when they were allowed to leave Iran—but after the parade they were invited to a special reception at City Hall. I was a lowly gopher for the New York Post back then, but I was sent to assist in the coverage, and soon wound up with nothing to do but socialize. So before the afternoon was over I was shaking hands gladly with Barry Rosen, the former press attaché at the embassy, and schmoozing with Moorhead Kennedy, one of the State Department’s economists based there. Liquor and good cheer were flowing in equal measures. It was a great day of jubilation, dimmed by my nagging thought that it didn’t have to happen.

If only Jimmy Carter hadn’t let the Shah into the United States for cancer treatment in October 1979, maybe these Americans might never have been held hostage for even one day in Tehran, let alone 444.


In the lead-up to the 1980 election, suburban Americans had been tying yellow ribbons around their trees for months to honor the hostages’ ordeal. On April 11, 1980, Carter bowed to increasing pressure to do something, anything, because the tough sanctions he’d imposed weren’t weakening the new regime’s resistance. And so he approved a rescue mission which became a fiasco. Three helicopters malfunctioned, and another helicopter crashed into a C-130 transport plane, killing eight servicemen. Carter’s popularity was around 20 percent, and he was up for re-election in November.

The Republicans had nominated Reagan, a former California governor, Bedtime for Bonzo comedy movie star and 20 Mule Team Borax cleanser TV spokesman. Reagan’s advisors were worried that the besieged incumbent, himself a former governor of Georgia and a peanut farmer, might pull off what they called an “October Surprise,” and turn what had become an albatross around his neck into a laurel wreath if he got Iran to release the hostages before Election Day. Stories have since come out that Reagan’s operatives may have worked behind the scenes overseas to undermine Carter’s negotiations with Iran and prolong the crisis to the Republican nominee’s advantage. From what we later learned about Reagan’s illegal Iran-Contra affair, it’s certainly plausible.

But hindsight only works in reverse. All I know as we await this fragile framework’s fate is that it offers the best hope in decades for a decent outcome between our countries that could benefit the world, Israel included. No one’s saying Iran is utopia. But Iranians are fighting ISIS too, aren’t they? Certainly the best thing we could do for those who don’t hold a grudge against the Great Satan is to let them have a chance to buy our stuff, play our music and wear our clothes.

Lift the sanctions and be smart. Don’t buy the bullshit.

Spencer Rumsey is the globe-trotting Senior Editor of the Long Island Press and author of its blog “Rumsey Punch.” To send him fanmail or inquire about his time in Nepal, Paris, or The Doors concert at the Philadelphia Arena in 1968, check out his extended bio below and write him at srumsey@longislandpress.com.

Nassau Art Museum Unlocks the Vaults to Showcase Its Treasures

Peter Lik's "Tree of Life" takes root at the Nassau County Museum of Art's "Open the Vaults" show.

To say it’s never been seen before is an over statement, but to describe the inspired new exhibition at the Nassau County Museum of Art as unprecedented in its 25-year history might be right on the mark. Certainly, the works in the museum’s collections have never been shown like this before—and that makes it a noteworthy aesthetic accomplishment.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, the museum’s staff have delved deep to put this impressive display together, calling the fruits of their labors,  “Out of the Vault: 25 Years of Collecting.” The show had its official unveiling March 20th, during what is hoped will be the last spring snow storm in 2015, but it will last well into summer, ending on July 12.

The exhibit draws upon the museum’s permanent collection, highlighting the patrons’ gifts to the museum over the last quarter century, many of which have never, or rarely, been put on public display before.

“We tried to pull out both new things as well as some things that have been in the collection for a while but haven’t been shown in a long time,” explained Karl Willers, the museum’s director. The museum owns about 550 works, he added, and he expects to have between 250 and 275 of them on display for this new show.

“It’s actually been a lot of fun putting it together,” said Fernanda Bennett, the museum’s deputy director.  “We’ve kind of pulled everything up, got to look at it all, and then edited it out, in terms of what related, what had a nice rapport, and what felt good.”

There’s portraiture—past and present—plus an array of American landscapes, paintings and objects by Louis Comfort Tiffany, vintage Americana posters, works by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, James Rosenquist and Robert Indiana. There’s also a provocative portfolio by the photographer Larry Fink, whose black and white work contrasts socialites in Manhattan with hard-scrabble families of rural Pennsylvania’s coal country.

Roy Lichtenstein's pop print has a prominent place in the first gallery.
Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 pop print, “Foot and Hand,” has a prominent place in the first gallery.

The great American naturalist John James Audubon, known for his bird paintings, is represented here by the hoary marmot, the jerboa mouse, and the marsh shrew, among other notable rodents. It’s a nice, educational tie-in for children, considering that the museum’s surrounding property is officially the William Cullen Bryant Preserve, although these figures in the “quadrupeds” gallery, as it’s called during the “Out of the Vault” show, haven’t been spotted on the grounds themselves.

The overwhelming amount of art work encompassed by the exhibit may be vast but the multifaceted presentation feels right, not unlike the masterful arrangement of different genres of art assembled by the keen aesthetic of the Barnes Foundation’s museum in Philadelphia, whose brilliant collector, Albert C. Barnes, wanted to educate the average viewer’s eye “to see as the artist sees,” as he put it in 1925.

No less ambitious, this exhibit at the Nassau County Museum of Art promises to delight visitors whose tastes and styles vary widely. They will come away with their vision renewed, guaranteed.

Take the Tiffany room, right next to the pop art in gallery one on the first floor. “We have one of the largest collections of paintings by Louis Comfort Tiffany,” said Willers, as he gave this reporter from the Press a preview tour as the staff scrambled to hang the show before the next day’s opening.

From all around, there was the sound of hammers, staple guns, tape measures and excited chatter. At one point, Willers took special care to move a priceless purple vase into its proper place in its exhibit case. On the walls some of the paintings supposedly had the original Tiffany gold frames; certainly their finely etched designs imparted an exquisite touch to the canvasses they contained.

The second floor of the museum offered some surprises. In a prominent spot in the American portraiture room was George DeForest Brush’s stark painting, “The Matinecock Indian Chief,” who was looking very formal in profile as he gripped his calumet, a long ornamented tobacco pipe used in ceremonies. Originally completed in 1928, this portrait had hung at the Bank of America branch in Locust Valley for many years until it closed. According to the museum’s publicist, Doris Meadows, the community convinced the bank to donate the piece so it could remain in Nassau.

Nearby was a compelling wall-hanging by Joseph Hirsch called “The Wedding,” which showed a very grotesque old man dancing with his very young bride, as a jaded group of jazz musicians serenaded the newly-weds. The large painting exuded an air of social criticism in a style from the 1930s like that of George Grosz. Hirsch, it turns out, had gained national attention as a muralist for the Federal Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Later, Hirsch’s 1949 illustration for Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” showing Willy Loman stooped and defeated as he carried his suitcase loaded with products nobody was buying, became a world-famous poster for the play. This uncompromising work had no commercial potential.

On the other side of the gallery was Frederick Warren Freer’s compelling portrait of his new bride, “Lady in Black.” With her fashionably stylish black gloves, she holds a fan artfully spread to hide her décolletage. Painted in 1889, the portrait shows the influence of Freer’s studies in Europe, where he learned how to imitate the Dutch old masters’ use of browns, grays and blacks. Apparently, the painting was exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893, where it won a medal. As the 19th century came to an end, Freer was one of America’s best known painters. He’s practically forgotten today.

In another gallery down the hall are photos of artists who are still quite well known. Taken by Berenice Abbott in 1948 is a gelatin silver print of Edward Hopper posing in front of a fireplace in his studio, looking like a banker in his conservative three-piece suit. Facing that work was a color photograph taken in the Hamptons by Linda McCartney of her husband, Paul, wearing a floppy hat but no socks, seated next to Willem de Kooning, stylish in his white painter’s pants, with one of de Kooning’s abstract expressionist works displayed behind them. The shot once adorned the cover of Art News in 1982 when the magazine ran a feature story on de Kooning’s celebrated career.

In a gallery around the corner is special selection of contemporary Long Island artists in the museum’s collection, called “Vernacular Visions.” It features paintings by Burt Young and Francisco Villagran of Port Washington and Susan Cushing of Southampton, and sculptures by Old Westbury’s Richard Gachot, who uses found objects the way artists use tubes of paint to make his whimsical creations.

Richard Gachot's
Richard Gachot’s spider sculpture is in the Vernacular Visions gallery.

A room devoted to “traditions in American landscape” was dominated by a very new acquisition, a stunning large color print called “Tree of Life,” taken in Oregon in 2010 by award-winning Australian photographer Peter Lik. On a glowing grassy knoll beside a pond stands a psychedelicized Japanese maple tree, its gnarled branches looking like the limbs of an old soothsayer silhouetted against a canopy of iridescent red leaves letting in sparkles of sunlight. Lik’s work has been featured at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and he starred in an NBC-produced TV series, “From the Edge with Peter Lik.”

For those who care about such things, “Phantom,” his black and white photo of a ghostlike image at Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, was acquired last year for $6.5 million, making it reportedly the most expensive photograph in history. To this reporter, “Tree of Life” is more vivid—and really worth gazing at for a very long time. Another hidden treasure brought to light because the Nassau County Museum of Art opened its vaults.

“We think audiences are going to like it,” said Willers with a justified mix of pride and delight, like a showman about to open the curtain to an eager audience ready to be dazzled.

“There’s a lot to see and it gives us a chance to show off for the first time some of the highlights of our collection,” he said. “I think it’s really one of the best looking shows that we’ve ever mounted.”

Nassau County Museum of Art is located at One Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A, two traffic lights west of Glen Cove Road. The museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors (62 and above) and $4 for students with ID and children aged 4 to 12.