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.
Ever since he could remember having Sunday dinners at his grandmother’s apartment on Ocean Parkway, Matt Schwartzberg has carried a lasting impression of the sights and smells of Brooklyn life. It also helps that his uncle owns Mill Basin Deli, famous for its art collection and its corned beef and pastrami—ranking right up there with Katz’s as one of NYC’s top five Jewish delicatessens. From his other uncle, who was in real estate and boxed in the Golden Gloves, he’s learned street smarts.
His childhood experience has proved invaluable as he navigates the many neighborhoods of this burgeoning borough that has undergone so many changes in recent years. As president of A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, he’s been literally on the move since he started there when he was 22. He’s gone from making the sales to driving the vans, to relocating 500-person offices and taking the New York Mets’ sports equipment to and from spring training.
His company, which is an agent for Atlas Van Lines, has an office in East New York with warehouses in Sunset Park and elsewhere in the city. The moving business has also taken him all over town, from Borough Park to Park Slope, from Bensonhurst to Bay Ridge. He likes to say he’s completed 50,000 moves in his career, but what he counts on most is the experience of meeting such a diverse range of Brooklyn residents.
“I would get a look inside people’s homes—that gave me an education in itself,” said Schwartzberg, now 46 and married with three sons.
In a typical day, he’d be looking out an apartment window in Brooklyn Heights with spectacular views of Manhattan and feel like he was in a Woody Allen movie, and then go to Bensonhurst, where a mother and daughter shared a two-family home, so he could discuss a pending move, and wind up being invited to sit down and have dinner and wine.
He’s especially proud that his company also reflects Brooklyn’s diversity in its workforce, with long-time employees who are Hispanic, African-American, Caribbean and Eastern European. Some have been with the company for decades.
“Two people have become American citizens while here, three have completed college degrees at night, and two people we have helped in their effort to beat cancer,” Schwartzberg said.
Over the years he’s seen many parts of Brooklyn rebound.
“Streets that we thought were not going to become part of a community have now become communities,” he said with amazement. “I believe all areas go through life cycles. Bushwick burned down during the blackout in the 1970s. The idea that Bushwick was ever going to be vibrant seemed like a pipe dream.”
Now, it too is blooming. He thinks East New York will be next on the list for renewal.
In fact, to his eyes, the borough has turned into a melting pot, with an influx of people from all over the country wanting to be in Brooklyn.
“People may be dissuaded by the gentrification,” he conceded, “but I think time will tell that it has made neighborhoods more walkable, more livable, and more enjoyable. Is having too many Brooklyn coffee shops a bad thing? They’re now the pubs of 40 years ago where people congregate. Parks have been refurbished. New ones have opened. Neighborhoods are starting to look refreshed. From what I’m seeing, it seems that the suburbs are going back to Brooklyn.”
But as a professional mover, he admits that the challenge of doing business in bustling Brooklyn can be daunting.
“To go seven miles could take 45 minutes,” he said, with a hint of exasperation. “The borough is going up—it’s not going wide. When you go to Flatbush Avenue, down Third Avenue, you continue to see high rises and new apartments.”
He noted that Williamsburg and Greenpoint, places that that didn’t have much residential or commercial stock, are now growing fast. Offices are springing up in the former Brooklyn Navy Yards that are “world-class,” Schwartzberg says. Industry City on 35 acres along the Brooklyn waterfront near the Belt Parkway in Sunset Park used to be “old cut-up warehouses and the schmatta factories and the export-import firms,” he said, but now it’s home to We Work, IC, and the New York City College of Technology, and the Brooklyn Nets have a practice facility there.
Sometimes what he likes to do in Brooklyn with his sons is drive down Atlantic Avenue under the El and go to the Smoke Joint in Fort Greene for their ribs and wings. Or walk across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to have Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brooklyn Heights.
“The day I feel that I’m not excited by where I work and the places where I’m around is the day that I leave,” Schwartzberg declared. “As someone who gets energized by people, the vibrancy of Brooklyn is intoxicating.”
A-1 First Class Moving & Storage, one of New York’s most trusted and reliable moving and storage companies since 1948, specializes in residential and commercial moves throughout New York City (Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Bronx, Staten Island) and Long Island. Learn more at www.a1firstclass.com. [Disclaimer: A-1 First Class Moving & Storage is a client of Morey Publishing, parent company of Long Island Press.]
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Watching Hollywood movies never gets old for Raj Tawney, the young director of publicity for the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, especially if the films are classics from the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
“They call it the Golden Age for a reason,” says the 29-year-old with a broad smile. “It was an era in which you had almost 60 to 90 million people attending a film all at once. It really reached a mass cultural moment.”
Gone are the days when everybody in America routinely flocked to their neighborhood movie palaces to see the same flick the moment it premiered. But Tawney, who grew up on Long Island, is devoted to recreating that experience as best he can by hosting special events and screenings at Huntington’s premier film facility, where the usual fare is primarily foreign and independent movies, as opposed to commercial blockbusters.
Recently, he introduced an anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which he says is “a great example of a movie that bridges generations.” The turnout was very gratifying. “To watch a 50-plus-year-old movie and see so many young people in the audience was really encouraging. We know we’re going in the right direction.”
A graduate of Farmingdale State, where he was a communications major, Tawney got exposed to Hollywood’s heyday by watching Turner Classic Movies with his Puerto Rican grandmother at her place in the Bronx.
“My family is from all over the place,” he explains, noting that his father emigrated from India in the 1970s. “I grew up in a Puerto Rican, Indian and Italian household. I had the best food!”
He learned early on that films could enable him to bridge the generations. His Italian grandfather, who died when Tawney was an infant, used to play Sinatra “all the time.” One day while he and his grandmother were watching Doris Day and Frank Sinatra in the 1955 film Young at Heart, he says it struck a chord.
“It was a way for me to connect with my grandparents through a film they had watched when they were teenagers,” he recalls. That passion has become his mission at Cinema Arts, where he’s been since 2015.
“I’m always looking for new ideas to reach audiences with different types of genres,” says Tawney, who fittingly is also a member of the Suffolk County Legislature’s Next Generation Advisory Council.
On Nov. 6 at the Cinema Arts, Tawney will be hosting an in-depth discussion and multi-media presentation with the legendary Hollywood agent Budd Burton Moss, who’s a living connection to a world that most young people have only read about. The 86-year-old Moss hung out with Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, to name a few stars. Sidney Poitier was the best man at one of Moss’s weddings. Every week in Los Angeles, Moss still goes out for bagels with his pal Larry King, who wrote the foreword to Moss’ new book, Hollywood: Sometimes the Reality Is Better Than the Dream. When Moss was a talent agent, he represented Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, and, most importantly, Rita Hayworth, with whom he became very close friends, as well as her manager. Currently, Moss is on a crusade to get the underrated actress, who died in 1987, honored with her own U.S. Postal Service stamp.
Moss had a fabled childhood growing up on the back lots of Hollywood. His father was a film editor at Fox, and his uncle was Sam Zimbalist, who produced the Oscar-winning Ben-Hur (1960) along with the Oscar-nominees Quo Vadis (1952) and King Solomon’s Mines (1951). First wanting to become an actor himself, Moss was an extra on the set of Sidney Poitier’s breakout film, Blackboard Jungle. Later, after he’d switched careers, they became long-lasting friends.
“He’s a fascinating man,” says Tawney, who’s never met Moss, although they talk “almost every day.” It all began one day while his Cinema Arts colleagues were at the Toronto Film Festival. Tawney took a call from a woman who said she knew Moss well, and insisted that he should invite Moss to Huntington. He did. The rest is history: film history.
Following the special event in Huntington, Tawney will be hosting Moss at The Amsterdam at Harborside in Port Washington on Nov. 10 to moderate another conversation and book signing, under the auspices of the Gold Coast International Film Festival—the first time the two groups have partnered together on a project.
“Raj is amazing!” says Regina Gil, executive director of the Gold Coast International Film Festival. “He’s got the energy and the enthusiasm befitting a young person but he’s also got what they call an alte kopf, a Yiddish expression that means ‘old soul.’ He really knows how to connect to young people, old people, everybody in between.”
Gil first met Moss a few years ago at the film festival when he was promoting his first memoir. This time, she connected with Tawney through a mutual friend, and suggested that he host Moss at the festival venue as well as at the Cinema Arts.
“Budd has become an activist for the Golden Age of Hollywood,” Gil says. “He is coming back because he’s written another book, and he wants to honor Rita Hayworth. She was one of the great stars of the Golden Era. She started out as an amazing singer and dancer—and she was Hispanic. Hollywood plucked her out of the cantina circuit. You didn’t become a star in those days without having a ton of talent.”
Gil has similar regard for Tawney.
“Raj is young; he’s talented,” she says. “I’m delighted that our two entities in Nassau County and Suffolk County can partner together.”
Budd Burton Moss gushed about working with Tawney.
“Since I was introduced to Raj Tawney at the Cinema Arts Centre,” says Moss, “I have found a new excitement due to his unique understanding of many of my clients and his understanding of our motion picture and TV industry.”
Tawney does bear an uncanny resemblance to a younger version of Budd Burton Moss, so it will certainly be entertaining to see the two film aficionados on the same stage.
Just don’t ask Tawney to name his favorite films.
“I hate that question!” he says, laughing. But if Tawney could go back in time for one movie premiere, it would be when Alfred Hitchock’s Psycho came out in 1960.
“Can you imagine how scary that might have been to anybody?” Tawney asks. “Hitchcock forced you to use your imagination!”
One of the first classic films Tawney helped bring to Huntington was Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, starring Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten, which came out in 1943 and was nominated for an Oscar. He screened the film on one evening in the middle of the work week but it still found its audience.
“I couldn’t believe how packed it was!” Tawney exclaims.
In March, the Cinema Arts presented a 70 mm version of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood. The original celluloid film stock is always Tawney’s favorite format, because he believes it makes the cinematic experience much more authentic than a slick, remastered digital version.
“We’re an art house cinema,” he explains. “We’ve been around for 43 years. We’ve outlived the VCR, the DVD, the Blu-ray…
“We want the reel,” says Tawney emphatically. “There’s something about those little chips and cracks in the film stock that make you feel like you’re watching it as an audience watched it when it first came out. Maybe it’s our romanticized vision, but I think there’s something to it.”
Recently, Tawney arranged an event featuring film historian Irene P. Eckert, an octogenarian whom he calls “a Renaissance lady,” for a special presentation of Divorce Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni, which won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 1962. It was another successful evening that brought different demographics together.
“For me, it’s about the emotional connection,” Tawney says. “We have film historians, event hosts, to lead the discussion. How did you feel about the film afterwards? Not just to psychoanalyze it. That’s what my grandma always asked me, too. Right away, as soon as the film’s done, what do you feel about it?”
Tawney knows that someone streaming a movie at home alone won’t have that kind of dialogue.
“At the end of the day, the reason people still come to watch movies, is because you’re looking for an experience to share with a group,” Tawney says. “That’s why movies exist. They bring people together.”
Main Art: Raj Tawney, director of publicity at Cinema Arts Centre, proudly displaying one of the many original celluloid film reels showcased at the Huntington venue (Spencer Rumsey / Long Island Press
Cinema Arts Centre is located at 432 Park Ave., Huntington, NY. cinemaartscentre.org The Gold Coast International Film Festival runs Nov. 10 to Nov. 15 at various theaters and venues throughout the Town of North Hempstead. For a complete list of films and showtimes, check out goldcoastfilmfestival.org
Born in 1960 in Asheville, N.C., with the Blue Ridge Mountains as his backdrop, Warren Haynes had the benefit of listening to his older brothers’ huge record collections as the ’60s cultural revolution was rocking the free world.
He picked up the electric guitar when he was 12, and by the time he was 20 his reputation as a sizzling guitarist drawing on the blues and Southern rock had traveled far and wide. He teamed up with Allman Brothers guitarist Dickey Betts, who asked him to join the Allmans in ’89 when Betts and Greg Allman reformed their legendary band. Along the way he’s played with Grateful Dead’s bassist Phil Lesh, and later toured with The Dead in 2004 and ’09.
As a songwriter, bandleader, solo artist and gifted sideman, Grammy Award-winning Haynes is one busy musician with many projects always competing for attention. His newest release, The Tel-Star Sessions, which just dropped in August, features never-before-heard ’94 recordings made with the original lineup of his power trio known as Gov’t Mule: Haynes, the late Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody and drummer Matt Abts. On Sept. 9 Haynes brings Gov’t Mule (with Abts, keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Jorgen Carlsson) back to Nikon at Jones Beach Theater to share the bill with ZZ Top.
In October, Haynes will be the lead guitarist in an all-star tribute concert to Jerry Garcia’s musical legacy to be held at Washington, D.C.’s DAR Constitution Hall. When we caught up with Haynes recently, he spoke to us from San Francisco in between gigs in California.
Long Island Press: Did the San Francisco sound influence you growing up?
Warren Haynes: I had two older brothers, and they were big music heads. My oldest brother listened to a lot of the San Francisco stuff so I was hearing that music at a very young age. I think it had an impact on pretty much all rock listeners for the most part.
LIP: When I was a young teenager, pop culture was split in my home town between “psychedelic” music and Motown Soul. Did you have to cross that divide?
WH: We didn’t choose between them, but definitely there was a period of time when all we were listening to was soul music. But that changed. I think being a little younger I was never faced with “either/or”; I was always about “adding to,” you know, broadening your horizons. I never got the Beatles vs. the Stones thing, either!
LIP: Have you played at Jones Beach many times before?
WH: Probably 10 times.
LIP: Do they ever let you go swimming or do they keep you too busy there?
WH: Well, I’ve never been swimming there!
LIP: Is an outdoor venue as stunning as Jones Beach a distraction for a musician?
WH: Playing in beautiful places is always a plus, for the band and the audience. For us, it’s more about the connection with the crowd and the music. But the visual is nice.
LIP: If you had your way, would you rather play indoors or outdoors?
WH: My favorite is small theaters somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 [seats]. But the big crowds are really nice. It’s just a different type of energy. In the intimate settings you have a more one-on-one connection with the audience. We also sometimes play these big festivals where there’s tens of thousands of people, and that’s a nice feeling, too. It’s just not quite as intimate.
LIP: You’re on a bill with ZZ Top, which I gather was also an early influence on your music.
WH: Yeah, absolutely I became a ZZ Top fan right from the beginning. When I discovered that music, I was just starting to play guitar. It was the perfect time period for me to be influenced by something so unique and powerful.
LIP: Compared to your tenure, I think that ZZ Top has generated a more pop-hit expectation in its audience than has your work, which is more improvisational like jazz. Is that a fair distinction? And can audience expectations be restrictive?
WH: Well, I think there’s enough similarities between the two bands that we attract a lot of the same types of fans. Certainly we have different fans as well. When I first started listening to ZZ Top at the very beginning, there was no template for what they were doing. They were doing something that was different from anybody else. Definitely different from the Allman Brothers, definitely different from the Rolling Stones and other bands from that time period. They created their own sound, which I think is the most important thing. It’s a little bit more minimalist than what we do, and that provides a great contrast. But they were certainly an influence of ours.
LIP: When I think of your live music, it seems more like jazz to me than ZZ Top. I hear more free form, and I hear Coltrane.
WH: We’re definitely taking influences from a lot of different places. I think most musicians and most artists do, but it’s just a matter of which ones they choose to allow to rise to the surface. Most of us listen to a lot of different music, and whether it comes through depends on the artists.
LIP: Did you ever play with Jerry Garcia?
WH: No, I never met Jerry Garcia.
LIP: Was it a burden or a challenge, having to follow his tracks?
WH: I’ve been very fortunate to be included in a lot of situations where I was working with or jamming with or performing with people that I grew up listening to, and I’ve always obviously welcomed that opportunity. When I first started playing with the Allman Brothers in 1989, people always asked me if it was a daunting role to be stepping into that music. As a 28-year-old, it was a bit daunting, but I had played with Dickey Betts three years prior, which was really a great initiation for me. So by the time they asked me to join the Allman Brothers, I was much more comfortable in that position than I would have been had I just auditioned one day and woke up the next day in the Allman Brothers.
LIP: I could see that creative style of jamming being very inspiring to a musician like you. Is that true?
WH: I love improvisation, and I love jazz and blues. I think the fact that I started listening to jazz at a really early age—I think I was around 14 when I started listening to Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley and Coltrane—and all the rock music that was influenced by it enticed me to want to make improvisation a big part of what I do. It’s been that way all my life. When I was starting to play guitar, all the rock bands made live recordings where they stretched the songs out and played longer versions. They did a lot more improv than bands did in later years. I was very influenced by that. I listened to every live record I could get my hands on.
LIP: Do you feel that the fans have evolved along with you?
WH: Yeah, I think there’s a whole scene of music fans out there today that is much more about the live experience. Gov’t. Mule is very fortunate to have an audience based on people who really love music and keep coming to see more and more shows because all of our shows are different. If you’re going to play improvisational music, the audience is a very important aspect of the overall thing.
LIP: Is there ever a moment when you’re on stage and you think, “Oh, shit, why did I play that? I meant to play this but it’s too late!”
WH: If you do that, it means that you’re thinking too much! The best improvisational music is when you shut off the thinking part of your brain and just surrender to the music and the moment—and that’s not as easily said as done. There are definitely times when we’re guilty of thinking too much, and I think the music suffers.
LIP: Is the music business harder now?
WH: I think it’s harder to make a living as a musician these days. It’s easier in some ways to have access to all the music through the internet and modern technology. It’s easier to record music and make it available to people. The way the music business has changed, though, it’s much harder to make a living than it was when I was a kid.
LIP: Where do you find your inspiration when you’re not playing on stage? How do you find out what’s fresh? I don’t expect you to be doing a rap album any time soon, but maybe you would!
WH: I try to listen to newer music. I find less and less new music that I would compare to the greatest music of all time, but there is great stuff out there, and I feel right now that it’s on an upswing. I think we were in a lull for a while. A lot of the music I was hearing wasn’t as inspired as my favorite music of the past. I’m starting to hear a lot of young musicians, not just guitar players, who have a very inspired attitude and are listening to all types of music with a very open mind. I think that’s the key.
LIP: You’re on tour, and you have The Tel-Star Sessions from ’94 that just dropped. Are you playing some of those older songs live?
WH: We are starting to play some of those songs. There are a few that we’ve never played before that we’re starting to play for this tour, which is nice. We’re also revisiting the early arrangements that we did back then and experimenting with going back to playing them the way that we used to, which is a bonus as well.
LIP: When I look at all your projects, from playing with Dickey Betts to doing the Jerry Garcia role as well as your own music, how do you keep all these silos straight? Is it all a creative ferment?
WH: It’s definitely a positive in my life that I have all these different projects, and that I’m surrounded by all these great musicians and artists, and that I’m constantly in a position of being able to do different things and be inspired by other folks. That’s one of the main things that does keep me inspired.
LIP: What should your Jones Beach audience expect?
WH: Well, I’ve played Jones Beach many times, and the New York audiences in general have always been wonderful for us.
LIP: Are they a tough crowd?
WH: An enthusiastic crowd—a crowd that really loves music.
LIP: Are you writing new music on this tour?
WH: We’re planning to go into the studio in November and start recording a new studio record.
LIP: Where’s your studio?
WH: Well, it depends. It’s looking more and more like New Orleans. But we don’t record in the same place all the time.
LIP: Did you ever learn how to play the banjo growing up in Asheville with its blue-grass roots?
WH: No, but I can bang around on one, but not very well.
LIP: What was the first electric guitar you ever owned?
WH: It was called a Norma and it cost $49. My dad got it at a local hardware store.
LIP: What’s the most recent guitar you’ve bought?
WH: I bought an old, like Robert Johnson-era, Gibson acoustic guitar that I’m looking forward to writing on and recording with.
LIP: So blues remains a big part of your repertoire and your inspiration.
WH: Yeah, it always will be, I’m sure. I think the blues, soul music and rock music are kind of at the heart of it, but blues is where it came from. And if you’re in love with that sound like I am, it never goes away.
Main Art: Gov’t Mule, featuring Warren Haynes on lead guitar, is ready for some Jones Beach music. (Photo by Anna Webber)
Imagine if your empty plastic cup—once full of iced coffee—could just be tossed into a composter. Instead of clogging up a landfill for who knows how long, it’d disintegrate in months. What if that paper plate that came with your slice of pizza was totally compostable? Or your napkin and your bathroom tissue were biodegradable?
Ralph Bianculli has turned these imaginings into reality through a Syosset-based company he founded called Emerald Brand. With two of his kids following in his footsteps—his son Ralph Jr., known as RJ, and his daughter Jaclyn, whose married surname is McDuffey—this family formerly from Floral Park has begun to revolutionize the disposable products industry by providing “sustainable solutions” for businesses, sports facilities, and soon, they hope, consumers everywhere.
Emerald Brand, a subsidiary of Paradigm Group, is a national provider of environmentally responsible products manufactured from rapidly renewable and sustainable materials like sugarcane bagasse (stalks left over after the sugar has been processed), bamboo and eucalyptus. Instead of producing paper from hardwood trees and plastic from petro chemicals, this company wants to use alternative natural substances like polylactic acid (PLA), which is a compound of plant starches. Besides reducing the impact on the waste stream and global warming, Emerald Brand also hopes to help American farmers turn their crops into another source of profit.
“Our model is very interesting,” said Bianculli Sr., who was visiting farmers in upstate New York when he recently spoke with the Press. “Hands down, I think it’s the most innovative piece of what anybody’s done in our industry in 50 years. It’s actually pretty cool. I’m inspired!”
Over the last four years this privately owned company has doubled in size, reportedly earning tens of millions of dollars annually, as its distribution has expanded from four states to 40. It’s also begun to export to the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Right now, the vast majority of Emerald Brand’s customers are businesses. Their products are in Barclays Center, American Express, and Sachs Fifth Avenue, to name a few venues.
Only a small but growing percentage of the business is retail. The marketing focus has been mainly business-to-business because when decision makers choose what disposable products to buy for their companies’ facilities, the results can be profound, the Bianculli siblings believe.
“They say, ‘Okay, we’re going to go with Emerald because we want to have an environmental impact that’s positive,’” explained McDuffey, 25, managing director of Emerald Brand, speaking at her company’s headquarters in an industrial park off Jericho Turnpike. “The next day they’re able to just turn it on, and 10,000 to 20,000 people in their buildings are all switching over. You’re able to make a difference very quickly in the B2B world versus the consumer world, where you have to get every single consumer every single time they buy to think of you.”
Emerald Brand has taken that route, too, after spending millions of dollars and at least five years on research to develop prototypes that they could eventually bring to market. In 2008, Emerald Brand partnered with Duane Reade for two years when it launched a private label called Apartment 5. The Biancullis were supplying bath and facial tissue, dinner napkins and paper towels to the pharmacy chain.
“This was the first alternative tissue material brought to market. It sold off the shelves,” said RJ, 27, managing director of sales. “It was the fastest, highest-selling tissue product at the time.”
After that trial run, the family was even more determined to roll out Emerald Brand as “a total environmental portfolio,” explained RJ. They haven’t stopped there, either.
Last year, Emerald Brand announced that it had formed a strategic partnership with Totally Green, a U.S.-based manufacturer of the ORCA Anaerobic Aerobic digestion machine, which significantly cuts down on the food-waste stream. The move came in response to the passage of New York City law 1162-A, which took effect in July 2015 and mandated that food facilities at manufacturers, stadiums, large cafeterias and hotels with more than 60 rooms could no longer simply throw away their organic food waste. Instead, they had to either compost the waste or use an onsite anaerobic digester. Using Emerald Brand’s sustainable disposable products has helped the companies meet the new strict compliance standards more cost-effectively and efficiently. According to PlaNYC, food waste comprises 30 percent of the four million tons of waste that New York City was annually sending to landfills.
“When waste normally goes into the landfills, it ends up producing methane gas and other global warming gas byproducts,” said RJ. Bio-digesting machines can take up to 100 pounds an hour of food waste and turn it into water.
It took something painfully personal to compel the Paradigm Group to make the shift from the mainstream to launch the Emerald Brand.
Bianculli had come from a large traditional distribution company that handled styrofoam cups and plates, corrugated packing materials and other items. During his career, he’d worked with Georgia Pacific and Unisys. But things changed for the family when John Paul Bianculli was born in 1994. At first, he was a healthy baby, but at 2 months old, “John-John,” as his siblings call him, started having seizures, sometimes up to 300 a day.
“I remember going to the hospital quite often,” recalled McDuffey. At the time she was 4, her older brother was 6.
“We found out that he had gotten mercury poisoning from one of the vaccinations,” said RJ. The level of mercury in the infant’s brain was eight to 10 times above normal. Now 22 years old, John Paul needs full-time care, because his grand mal seizures can be severely debilitating. The young man can neither walk nor speak. “He knows us as a familiar face,” said RJ, “but he’s very, very attached to our mother, Pam.”
The family never sued the vaccination maker. “Our parents never wanted to go down that road,” said McDuffey. Instead, they devoted themselves to finding out what had triggered the malady and what could be done about it.
After investigating the pharmaceutical industry, the elder Bianculli said it was “quite disappointing” to find out how much was already known about the potential harm that some of the materials posed to human health. He looked at his own industry and saw “how inherently wrong” things were there, too. The recognition inspired him.
“It just moved us along to where I said, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do the things that we know,’ recalled Bianculli. “I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. But I know the paper and plastics industry, and it was the single-biggest moment in my life when I said, ‘If I could do something in this industry and make a difference, then you know what? It’s worth it.’”
With admiration RJ calls his father “a visionary” because he looked “into what we are making our products from. What are we bleaching our products with? What are the substances that we are touching our mouths, our rear ends, and our faces with every day?”
As a result, RJ said that his dad became “very passionate about this whole movement, not only from an environmental perspective, but from a health perspective… He came up with the idea to create a line of products that were healthier and more sustainable, and that were going to be the same or better price and quality than the traditional, fossil-fuel-based plastic products and tree-based products.”
“We were way ahead of the curve,” Bianculli said, proudly.
The original name of the parent company was Paradigm Marketing Consortium, now Paradigm Group, which officially gave birth to its disposable products subsidiary, Emerald Brand, in 1997. They picked that name because “It means green without saying it’s green—kind of clever!” explained McDuffey with a smile.
“But it was something the consumer could relate to,” added her brother. Emerald started with four recycled products. Now the brand includes more than 225 separate stock keeping units (SKUs), from soup cups to paper towels and garbage liners. The company acts as a wholesaler, a manufacturer, and a distributor, depending on the market. Besides its Syosset headquarters, it’s got a distribution center in Hayward, Calif., and is about to open one in central Florida. According to RJ, about 50 percent of the production of their finished products is done here in the United States. “Upwards of 30 to 40 SKUs are made here in New York,” he said.
Clearly, they’ve come a long way.
“Our first stage was to try to bring purity to the disposable world,” said Bianculli. “Our mission is to totally transition the way people perceive paper and plastics in the consumables world.”
The elder Bianculli compares what Emerald Brand is doing now to “What the revolution was on smoking. We’re up against big industry,” he said. But he believes that his team can convince the “titans of industry to really start looking at these alternatives. It’s not all about the money. It’s about changing the way industry treats the consumers in this country.”
His daughter explained the company’s research.
“We don’t just work with bagasse,” McDuffey explained. “We really look at any material that is rapidly renewable, safe for the environment, easy to grow, and doesn’t utilize trees. So we’re always looking for alternative fibers.”
Sugarcane is prevalent in the Southeast, like Florida, but now the company is trying to find crops that can be grown in the Northeast. For about a year and a half, she said Emerald Brand has been working with researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to study fruits and vegetables like tomatoes and corn that might have the properties they’re looking for. And finding the right crop also fits in with their goal to help American farmers.
When the Press recently caught up with Bianculli Sr., he was on the road upstate, looking at farmland in the Saratoga Springs area, and planning to meet with local farmers. The company has come up with at least four other crops that might work just as well as bagasse in supplying plant starches for their product line.
“I believe that in a year from now we will have that solution,” said Bianculli. “We’ve got the ear of a lot of folks in the farmlands. So it’s my mission now to try to put that piece of the puzzle together.”
Meanwhile, back on Long Island, RJ was planning to fly down to Florida and speak at the Sierra Club’s Big Sugar Summit #2 on Aug. 20 in West Palm Beach, where he intended to explain Emerald Brand’s benefits. Under current practices, the vast majority of sugarcane farmers burn the discarded bagasse, which yields methane gas, a contributor to global warming.
“Burning this cane is a big issue,” RJ said, “and we happen to have the solution. We buy the material from these farmers. It’s an added source of income and gives them an incentive not to burn it.”
As RJ sees it, if Emerald Brand can help farmers while reducing the impact that disposable products have on the environment, it’s a win-win for the company, and the planet.
“It’s a mission for us,” said RJ, with a determined smile as his sister nodded in agreement. “It’s not about the dollars and cents. We have a lot of passion behind it, and I think we’re here to stay and we’ll continue to grow.”
Some of the best-known jazz musicians in the world will be taking center stage July 23 as Heckscher Park in Huntington hosts the second annual Coltrane Day Music Festival.
The musical genres range from jazz to funk, blues, hip-hop, reggae and gospel, promising something to please every ear. Proceeds from the all-day event will help to restore John Coltrane’s Dix Hills home, where he composed his iconic masterpiece A Love Supreme.
Who will be attending the Coltrane Jazz Festival?
Among the many luminaries on the lineup is the great drummer Roy Haynes, a living legend, whose stellar career as a “hard swinger” includes stints with Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, to name a few. Grammy Award-winner Randy Brecker, an innovative jazz-rock trumpeter and composer, has recorded with the likes of James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, and Frank Sinatra. Saxophonist Charles Neville is the second-oldest of the Neville Brothers, the great family band that put New Orleans music on the map of American pop culture. Michelle Coltrane, the only daughter of Alice and John Coltrane, is an internationally known vocalist, arranger and band leader. The Firey String Sistas features Nioka Workman on cello, Mala Waldron on piano and vocals, Marlene Rice on violin, Melissa Slocum on base, and Dorota Piotrowska on percussion.
“Not only are Nioka and Mala tremendous musicians, but they’re also daughters of music giants who actually played and recorded with John Coltrane,” said Ron Stein, president of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills, a not-for-profit organization. Nioka’s father was the famous bassist Reggie Workman. Mala’s dad is Mal Waldron, the acclaimed pianist and composer. Another claim to fame: Her godmother was Billie Holiday.
“One thing we’re trying to do is elevate the role of women in music,” said Stein. “Alice was one of the few female musicians who actually succeeded on the stage not behind the microphone. She was one of the great piano players of her generation, and to this day considered one of the greatest jazz harp players who lived. She was very influential in bringing the Eastern religious music of India to the rock music world.”
‘Building community through music’
Besides the eclectic roster of talented performers that includes students and professional musicians, there will be more than a dozen workshops and community jams to make it a full day of inspired music, bringing a wide range of people together, just the way Alice Coltrane intended.
“This year’s theme—Building Community Through Music—reminds us that nothing brings people together and connects us like music,” said Stein. Last year’s concert celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of Coltrane’s jazz breakthrough, which he’d composed at the Dix Hills home.
The house could use a lot of love itself, to put it mildly. In 2011 the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the former Coltrane residence on its list of the “Eleven-Most Endangered Properties” in the United States. Abandoned for two years before Huntington Town acquired the property in 2005, it had suffered extensive damage. But since then, with dedication and determination, volunteers and preservationists on the board have stabilized its condition and stopped its deterioration.
Now the group is hoping to take it to the next level.
“We’re in the running to become a National Treasure,” says Stein, proudly.
Representatives of the National Trust have taken a keen interest in the Coltrane house, donating $5,000 last year, touring the site, and requesting more information to help them make their decision.
What would this designation mean?
“It opens the keys to the kingdom, so to speak,” said Stein. “It adds a level of credibility to the effort, because one of the problems that we are experiencing now, despite the fact that we’ve been doing this for a number of years, and despite the experience of some of the board members, is that we’re still seen as a non-profit startup by many organizations because we haven’t been…around raising big dollars year after year after year.”
The recognition could help this Coltrane organization take giant steps, Stein says, putting them in touch with high-end donors and those with the technical capacity and skills to transform the place into the culturally significant destination the group has long envisioned. Stein hopes to find out within the next few months if they made the grade. Proceeds from the Coltrane Day will go toward their capital campaign. They hope to raise approximately $2 million, whether in “real dollars or in in-kind dollars to try to move the restoration forward,” Stein says.
One of the toughest issues at the Dix Hills house has been getting rid of mold.
“We have literally taken apart the top two stories completely,” Stein said. Preservationists carefully labeled and removed every object that had historical significance and put the materials in storage while the house is being cleaned. The next target is the basement, where Alice and John Coltrane set up their recording studio.
“Once we get the basement fully cleaned and the mold remediated, then we can actually start to piece the house together again,” Stein says. “That’s the reason we’re going to be pushing our capital campaign.”
Following the Tesla model
The designation won’t bring in a lot of money by itself, Stein says, but it will raise the Coltrane Home in Dix Hill’s profile. In the meantime, his group has been trying to get some funding support from Albany, where they were thwarted last year due to a computer glitch that nixed their grant application.
“We’ve been working hard to develop relationships with many state legislators,” said Stein. “We have broad support among the business community, and I would be very surprised if we do not get a good amount of support from the state this year.”
In honor of the visionary inventor’s 160th birthday on July 10, the center hosted an event that was linked live to the Nikola Tesla Museum celebration in Belgrade, Serbia, Tesla’s native country. Thanks to the efforts of this Long Island group, Tesla’s last remaining laboratory was saved from destruction and preserved, with the future intention of turning the property into a science and technology center and museum.
“We would love to follow that model,” Stein said.
In 1964 John and Alice Coltrane bought their Huntington house. The great jazz musician died from liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at Huntington Hospital, and was buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale. His wife sold the place in 1972 and moved to California. Today, a Coltrane statue stands in High Point, N.C., where the musician grew up. His home in Philadelphia, where he lived from 1952 until 1958 when he moved to New York City, is a National Historic Landmark, but it’s not open to the general public.
The goal of the Friends of the Coltrane Home is to create a world-renowned center that honors Trane’s career the way the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, honors the iconic horn-player known as Satchmo. Stein said that Michael Cogswell, executive director at the Armstrong museum, has played an important part in their planning, Stein said.
This day and night of music gets them closer to opening the door so Coltrane fans can feel the love firsthand.
To find out more about the upcoming Coltrane Day Music Festival, which runs from noon to 10:30 p.m. July 23 at Heckscher Park in Huntington Village, click here. The rain date is Sunday, July 24. $10 admission donation for adults.
The question about what will happen to Newsday and News12 after Cablevision was bought by Altice USA for some $17.7 billion has been answered. The Dolans are back in charge of Long Island’s major source of news coverage.
On Thursday it was announced that Patrick Dolan, president of News 12 Networks and news director of News 12 Long Island, has acquired 75 percent of Newsday Media Group (NMG), with Altice USA retaining a 25 percent interest in the new entity. Patrick Dolan’s father, Charles, former Cablevision chairman, will hold a small financial interest in NMG and serve on its board of directors.
“This is an exciting new chapter in the history of Newsday Media Group,” said Patrick Dolan in a press release. “My father and I, together with our Altice partners, are deeply committed to preserving the state-of-the-art journalism that Newsday has consistently provided and that has served Long Islanders so well. We also look forward to continuing the collaborations with News 12 Networks that have resulted in breakthrough multi-media projects and digital services.”
“We deeply appreciate the partnership with Altice as we come together to strengthen the power of Newsday Media Group,” added Charles Dolan. “This arrangement opens the door to greater opportunities to connect readers to what matters to them and to continue the company’s legacy of best-in-class local journalism.”
Altice USA is a subsidiary of Altice N.V., a multinational cable and telecommunications company headquartered in the Netherlands, and founded by billionaire tycoon Patrick Drahi in 2002. Last year, it acquired the St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications for $9 billion. By closing its Cablevision deal last month, Altice gained 3.1 million cable customers in the tri-state area, making it the fourth-largest provider in the United States.
“We have enormous respect for the Dolans and their unwavering passion and dedication to journalistic excellence,” said Dexter Goei, chairman and CEO of Altice USA. “We are thrilled to be their partner as we drive the continued development of Newsday Media Group to the benefit of our customers and the local communities that we serve.”
As part of the agreement, Altice USA’s Optimum Online customers will continue to receive access to Newsday.com and the Newsday mobile Apps. Newsday Media Group includes Newsday, still one of the nation’s largest daily newspapers; amNewYork, the most widely circulated free daily serving New York City; and Newsday Hometown Shopper, one of the largest weekly shopper publications in the Northeast.
As reported in Cablevision’s financial filings, Newsday’s combined operating losses totaled $135.5 million since 2013: $71.1 million in 2013, $37.7 million in 2014 and $27.2 million in 2015.
At Newsday, 800 workers—almost half the staff—are members of the Graphic Communications Conference/International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 406, whose contracts run through Dec. 31, 2017.
“I actually think the membership is more relieved now that we’re not going with the French company and we’re staying with the Dolans,” said Mike LaSpina, president of Local 406. “He was in the building today. He was in the press rooms. So, he looks like somebody that’s really interested in the newspaper, which is good.”
He said he believed that Altice was “going to make a tremendous amount of cuts, so maybe it’s a blessing.” He noted that Gordon McLeod, Newsday’s publisher, had stepped down the last week of June.
“We’re probably the only newspaper in the country right now that don’t have a publisher,” he exclaimed.
LaSpina said he was “pretty satisfied” with Patrick Dolan’s new leadership role in Melville.
“The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, I guess!” added the union president. Before the Cablevision sale closed, the staff had joked that they’d have to learn French to communicate with their new owners. Not anymore.
“Yeah, the escargot is off the menu in the cafeteria,” LaSpina said with a laugh.
Jaci Clement, executive director of the Fair Media Council, a media watchdog group based on Long Island, noted that Altice USA had named Patrick Dolan president once the purchase had been completed, making him the only former Cablevision executive still on board.
“The fact he’s staying is not that big a surprise,” Clement told the Press, “but this is actually a really good turn for local news. Atlice weren’t local folks. None of them knew the landscape. Pat does have a news background.”
Clement said Dolan faces a steep challenge nonetheless, given Newsday’s revenue situation, but she doubted there would be the drastic layoffs that were predicted if Altice had remained in control.
“They need to come up with a plan for strong sales,” she said, “and they really need to morph into a true multi-media company as opposed to a newspaper that has a website.”
“It’ll be fun to see what he does,” Clement said. “This is the best-case scenario.”
European-based media mega-giant Altice N.V. announced Tuesday that it has completed its purchase of Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp., which owns Newsday, amNewYork and News 12, for $17.7 billion.
Altice made its initial offer to acquire the company on Sept. 16, 2015, estimating that the sale would go through by the second quarter of this year after getting the required regulatory approval. In May, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that the deal “serves the public interest.” Last week the New York State Public Service commission approved the purchase with conditions that it estimated could provide $243 million in benefits to New York consumers.
By combining Cablevision’s 3.1 million customers in the tri-state region and the nearly 1.5 million customers of Suddenlink Communications, the St. Louis, Missouri-based company that Altice acquired last December for $9.1 billion, Altice USA becomes the fourth largest cable operator in the U.S.
Billionaire tycoon Patrick Drahi, who founded Altice in 2002, said the Cablevision acquisition was “a crucial step” to the company’s growth.
“We are very excited about our U.S. business and the opportunities we see in this market,” Drahi said in a statement. “We will accelerate network investments and bring innovative products and services to U.S. customers by leveraging our global operational expertise, scale and resources.”
He had kind words to say about Cablevision’s now former owners, the Dolans.
“I wish to also thank the Dolan family for entrusting us with their life’s work at Cablevision, where they have developed under their pioneering stewardship one of America’s pre-eminent cable operations with best-in-class management talent.”
Drahi’s favorable sentiments about Cablevision’s employees were echoed by Dexter Goei, president of Altice N.V., and chairman and chief executive officer of Altice USA.
“Our very talented employees have great energy and enthusiasm,” Goei said in a statement, “and we are confident that altogether we will help to build Altice USA to the benefit of our customers and the local communities that we serve.”
Naming its new executive leadership team, Altice USA said that Patrick Dolan would remain head of News 12 Networks.
“To meet our customers’ content and information needs, the company through News 12 also offers hyper-local news and programming created specifically for the communities we serve,” said the new company in its press release.
The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) voted Wednesday to approve the $17.7 billion purchase of Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. by the European media conglomerate Altice N.V., clearing the last major regulatory hurdle.
Last month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that the pending acquisition of Cablevision, which owns Newsday and News12, “serves the public interest,” citing the “benefits of increased broadband speeds and more affordable options for low income customers.”
On Wednesday, New York’s PSC weighed in, approving the sale but imposing some public interest conditions on Altice that it estimates will provide $243 million in benefits to New York consumers, such as creating “a new low-income broadband program,” building out its network in “unserved areas” and providing about $40 million in additional benefits stemming from Cablevision’s participation in a “new federal broadband affordability program.”
The PSC’s approval was not a surprise for Altice, which has already been on record anticipating that the sale would close in the second quarter of this year.
“Altice is pleased to have obtained approval from the New York State Public Service Commission for the acquisition of Cablevision,” said Altice spokesman Jimmy Asci. “This follows approvals received from the Federal Communications Commission, the Department of Justice, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and 67 local municipalities. We remain on track to closing the transaction as expected.”
“We’re not commenting any further,” Asci said in an email to the Press.
The PSC hailed the approval as a victory for the state because of the conditions it had imposed on the deal.
“As a result of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s strengthening of our oversight of the sale of cable companies, we were able to put in place rigorous conditions on the transaction to ensure it was in the best interest of customers and the State as a whole,” Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman said in a press release. “With our decision today, we will see a significant investment in New York’s communication landscape that improves quality, reliability, speed and affordability for Cablevision’s customers.”
According to the PSC, Altice has agreed to triple the speed of its network to 300 megabites per second by the end of 2017, increase high-speed broadband access in rural and urban communities throughout its service territory, provide some 600,000 low-income households with affordable high-speed broadband at $14.99 per month and during declared state and federal emergencies provide free Wi-Fi service to all to coordinate restoration efforts with electric utilities that will make the “entire network more robust, reliable and resilient.”
One of the concerns raised about the purchase was job protection, considering Altice’s reputation for slashing payrolls. The PSC’s approval says that for four years Altice is prohibited from laying off, involuntarily reducing or taking any action “intended to reduce (excepting attrition and retirement incentives) any customer-facing jobs,” such as call centers or walk-in centers.
Cablevision has roughly 1.9 million voice, broadband and video customers in New York with more than 220 cable franchises in Long Island, New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. Altice has operations in western Europe, Israel, the French Caribbean, the Dominican Republican and some areas around the Indian Ocean.
Once the deal closes as expected, Altice’s deal with Cablevision, the nation’s fifth-largest cable company, with 3.1 million subscribers, combined with Altice’s $6 billion acquisition last year of St. Louis-based Suddenlink Communications, the seventh-largest cable provider in the country, would make it the fourth-largest cable operator behind Comcast, Time Warner and Charter Communications.
The mega-corporation was founded in 2002 by billionaire tycoon Patrick Drahi and has more than 55,000 employees worldwide. Soon it may be adding a few more in New York—while perhaps jettisoning some of the highly compensated executives, those earning more than $300,000 a year, whose salaries had drawn Drahi’s public disapproval when he initially discussed his offer to buy Cablevision last September in a conference call with investors.
“I don’t like to pay salaries,” Drahi reportedly said. “I pay as little as I can.”
When Rep. Steve Israel decided eight terms in Congress were enough, he set in motion a scramble that could make the race to replace him in the 3rd Congressional District—which stretches from northern Queens through Nassau and into Suffolk—one of the most expensive in the nation. Five Democrats are in close pursuit of voters ahead of the June 28 primary.
Running as an outsider vowing to get rid of money’s influence in politics may have cost 38-year-old Jericho attorney Jonathan Clarke the chance to be on an equal footing with the four other Democrats he faces—at least in terms of media exposure and mass mailings—but he says this year, it works in his favor.
New York voters are so angry at the status quo, he insists, that ethics reform is a winning formula. He says that an underdog like him has a chance because the electorate is sick and tired of the corruption that has already led to federal convictions of two of the most powerful men in Albany: the former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and the ex-State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).
Until the reforms kick in, though, it still takes money to get money out of politics.
Of all the Democrats running for this hotly contested Congressional seat, Clarke certainly has the emptiest campaign war chest. As of this week, he’s raised slightly more than $4,000 from 417 individual contributions, according to his treasurer, and that still falls below the $5,000 threshold, the mandatory requirement to file with the Federal Election Commission. By comparison, his opponents are rolling in it, as shown by their first quarter FEC reports. Suffolk County Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) had $445,000 cash on hand. Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi had $375,000. North Hempstead Town Board member Anna Kaplan had $350,000 in cash, while former North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman had $189,305 and counting.
Since Clarke hasn’t spent thousands of dollars on campaign mailings and TV ads, how many Democratic primary voters have heard of him beyond a few lively debates? Name recognition is one issue he has to overcome. Another is his record of public service. This primary is only his second race—he lost his first election to Nassau Legis. Dennis Dunne, Sr. (R-Seaford) in 2013.
By contrast, look at the long resumes of his rivals: Tom Suozzi, the youngest mayor of Glen Cove, was the first Democrat elected in 30 years to be Nassau County executive. Jon Kaiman was North Hempstead supervisor and chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has served in the Suffolk County Legislature since 2005. When she was 13, Anna Kaplan fled Iran as part of an international effort to rescue Jewish children facing persecution, and didn’t see her parents for more than a year until they were reunited in the United States. She has served on the North Hempstead Town Board since 2011.
To Clarke, they’re all establishment candidates—“moderate centrists,” he puts it charitably, or “political has-beens and political never-will-bees,” when he’s being less kind—while he’s the only true progressive in the race.
Clarke was an early and vocal supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential contest. In April, working with Election Justice USA, a voting rights organization, he filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court on behalf of voters from New York City and the Island whose paper affidavit ballots were tossed out in the April 19 primary here that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won handily.
He agrees with Sanders’ criticism of the “one percent” who rule corporate America.
“In today’s society, if you’re legislating from a place of privilege, and you’ve gone to school and not had to pay off student loans, or you live in the millionaire class, you don’t understand what people are actually going through,” said Clarke in the Farmingdale office of his law firm, Clarke and Fellows, earlier this spring. Now in general practice, he handles personal injury law suits and does a wide range of pro bono work.
“When someone hires you as an attorney, they put their life in your hands,” said Clarke. “You have to keep them out of jail because they’ve been wrongly accused, or they’re being evicted from their home due to a foreclosure. You actually have to save them.”
The notion that he’s untested makes him scoff.
“I don’t think political experience is the important thing,” said Clarke. “I think life experience is the actual thing we should focus on. You can’t really make laws unless you’ve experienced a certain amount of hardship.”
Clarke grew up in Freeport. “We were very poor,” he said. His mother left home when he was 4 and his dad “raised me alone.” His parents were never married. His father, who Clarke thinks suffered from PTSD, had served in the Navy during WWII—enlisting when he was a teenager—and wound up on a ship hit by a Japanese kamikaze attack. At one point, Clarke dropped out of high school to support his disabled father, eventually getting his GED from night school. He later went to Nassau Community College and Hunter College in Manhattan. Then he took time off to repay his student loans before getting a law degree from Touro Law School.
“I always wanted to be in politics,” he said. “If you can change the law, you can actually affect more people’s lives than by being an attorney and doing it one by one by one. But I thought there was a political class and you couldn’t join it.”
Clarke says he got rebuffed the first time he approached the Nassau Democratic Party to volunteer, but he got a better reception after he had his law degree and was living in Levittown. He subsequently got tapped to be what he calls “the sacrificial lamb” running as a Democratic candidate in a heavily Republican area in Nassau against popular incumbent Legis. Dennis Dunne.
Once he had his party’s nod, Clarke had been handed a stack of palm cards and campaign brochures supposed to show all the Nassau Democratic Party candidates in a coordinated effort. But to Clarke’s surprise, he discovered that he had actually been left out because he hadn’t kicked in $25,000 as each of the others had. For that race, he spent about $400 initially and then forked over a few hundred dollars more.
What happened three years ago apparently made a lasting impression on Clarke. At the top of the ticket, Suozzi was trying to make a come-back bid against Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and “brought all the Democrats down with him,” Clarke observed.
Clarke got 37 percent of the vote, which he deems “was actually very, very good.” He claims a Nassau party operative told him later that he had outpolled Suozzi in the 15th Legislative District.
“I knocked on just about every door in Levittown,” said Clarke. “At some point, I realized that you can’t win a Republican district just by going to the Democrats, so I had to try to convince the Republicans.”
Along the way, he learned a lot about retail politics. When he would tell people that he was a Democrat on a ticket supporting Suozzi, he’d get the door slammed in his face. So he revised his pitch. In his current grassroots campaign, he’s doing the same.
“Obviously, I’m a progressive and I’m a Democrat,” he said. “But when you lead with that, you turn people off. You tell somebody Sanders’ agenda in the abstract, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’m for that! I’m for justice! I’m for getting money out of politics!’ But if you call it progressive, then they’re not for it.”
The Democratic Party chairmen in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk may disagree with Clarke’s analysis, but he thinks the key to winning the 3rd Congressional District is not the fabled Gold Coast but the working class areas of Plainview and Bethpage, where he claims he’s stronger than the established opponents who’ve had the money to reach voters through their mailboxes and on their TVs. Clarke is also banking on low turnout for the June primary, triggered in part by the confusion caused when Albany set up a separate primary date for state and local races in September. Under New York State rules, the primary is winner-take-all.
Clarke drew inspiration from watching Sanders’ improbable campaign make a national impact.
“This is the time for someone who’s a complete outsider who’s not in any way tainted by this pay-to-play system,” he said, “and for someone who authentically wants to do this for the right reasons.”
Long before he went to law school, Clarke was a philosophy major at Hunter, and he thought about a future in academia. But not after he saw the cut-throat competition among the professors and adjuncts in his department. A political contest is a love fest by comparison, he says with a smile. Nonetheless, the subject of his college thesis still resonates with him today. He restated its theme: “Whether it’s right to do something because it’s right, or right to do something because of the effect it has.”
He contends that his lack of foreign policy expertise doesn’t make him any weaker than his primary rivals and pointed out that he had served on his international law review at Touro. But those issues will confront him squarely in Congress. He said he was disappointed that Congressman Israel had signed a letter criticizing the Iran nuclear deal that the Obama administration had negotiated. He further noted that Kaplan was “pandering” to get votes in her Great Neck community when she sided with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
“Why take a bellicose stand against Iran?” said Clarke. “They have young people coming up.” He hailed President Obama’s achievement as a major foreign policy victory for peace in the region.
Asked why he wouldn’t have taken the more conventional approach to a career in politics and run for the state Assembly, for example, he was adamant that Congress was where it’s at.
“Albany is an even bigger cesspool than Mineola!” Clarke exclaimed. “I don’t think anything positive is going to come out of there.”
And that’s another reason Clarke is confident that he’s the best Democratic candidate to challenge state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), who’s gotten the official backing of Queens, Suffolk and Nassau Republicans and Conservative Party leaders, to be their choice for the 3rd CD. Clarke says Martins is vulnerable on the same “pay-to-play” issues that brought down Skelos, his former Albany mentor. “Martins wouldn’t give up on Skelos until the bitter end,” Clarke said.
But Clarke believes change can only come from Washington.
“I think campaign finance reform is the issue,” he said. “That is the pinnacle of what I’m running on.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, he actually believes he can clinch the nomination.
“When people see what little money it took me to win the primary,” said Clarke confidently, “then I think people will start saying, ‘Well, maybe it doesn’t cost $1.5 million. Maybe we should actually put somebody up there who cares.”
Right now the coolest, hippest exhibit space on Long Island has to be the “Cosmic Cavern” created by the internationally known street artist Kenny Scharf and currently installed at the Nassau County Museum of Art.
This psychedelic phantasmagoria of found objects ranging from a mirrored disco ball to a 45-turntable to hollowed out TV sets, electric guitars, dinosaur toys, plastic robots and so much more—all spray-painted luxuriantly with Day-Glo fluorescent colors and lit by black lights—has to be experienced at least once to be believed. It’s like stepping into a “Wild Style” abstract painting and entering a secret clubhouse that would leave your mom so speechless that she would forget to tell you to “clean up all this junk” before your father gets home from work.
My only regret is that its days are numbered. This unique Kenny Scharf show—and the fascinating Glamorous Graffiti exhibition on the second floor—will vanish from this historic Gold Coast mansion for good after July 10. Museum director, Karl E. Willers, who curated the show, should be commended for encouraging what once was—and to some critics still is—an outlaw form of artistic expression to take up residence within the former Frick Estate.
It almost defies imagination to consider where Scharf’s “street art” was displayed decades ago when he was part of the most famous (or infamous) trio of contemporary urban artists the East Village produced in the 1980s that included him, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Each man’s style was distinctive. Haring drew the definitive white-lined figures boldly on a black background. Basquiat, who never studied art formally, was more expressionistic with dripping paint strokes and multiple layers of sometimes violent images, while Scharf took a more pop-surrealistic jokester approach by appropriating cartoon figures like the Flintstones and the Jetsons. Basquiat, who was taken under Warhol’s wing, died of a drug overdose in 1988. He was only 28. Last month, Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese online retailer, bought one of Basquiat’s 1982 works for $57.3 million. And to think that Basquiat, born in New York, used to be one rent check away from being evicted.
Scharf grew up in Hollywood, California, and moved to New York City to study at the School of Visual Arts, where he met Haring, who was from Kutztown, Penn. In 1990 Haring died of AIDS with Scharf by his side. He was only 31. But Haring’s iconic faceless crawling children, barking dogs and kinetic dancing figures live on all over the world.
These days Scharf, a grandfather, lives in Los Angeles and divides his time between New York and Brazil, among other locales. Last month he was invited to be part of a public art show in Malaga, Spain, where Picasso was born.
“Growing up in LA in the ’60s profoundly influenced my visual landscape,” Scharf explained in the program guide. “There were bright plastic colors and space age designs everywhere, from coffee shops to car washes…When I moved to NY in the ’70s, it was a very drab place colorwise, and I thought a little brightening up would help a bit.”
Gallery I features Scharf’s whimsical polished bronze sculptures and an appetizing series of paintings of rather singular donuts. One typical title is “Pink Frosted Cruller in Outer Space,” which he did in 2010. No galaxy ever looked sweeter. Adding to the overall aesthetic experience is that the gallery’s false walls were taken down, exposing the room’s stately windows and letting viewers take in the museum’s spacious grounds as well as the art on display—an idea that Scharf had expressed because “he thought the room would look happier,” recounted a grinning Laura Lynch, the museum’s director of education, on a recent tour with the Press.
“The really important thing for me is communicating,” Scharf has said, “and the bigger the audience, the better. I went to art school, took art history, and I want the art elite to be able to see in my work how it’s new but also how it has a tradition within it. I also want people who don’t know or care about art to want to know about art and get inspired in some way.”
Although some visitors may scoff at the idea, Scharf considers himself a traditional painter, according to Lynch, pointing out how he used reflected light coming from the left of the frame to illuminate the central object on the canvas, an aesthetic concept stemming from the Renaissance. In this case, the subject being a dark chocolate glazed donut.
It’s like stepping into a “Wild Style” abstract painting and entering a secret clubhouse that would leave your mom so speechless that she would forget to tell you to “clean up all this junk” before your father gets home from work.
In Gallery II, the white walls surrounding the “Cosmic Cavern” installation came from Scharf’s former studio in Bushwick, showing his artistic process, his evolving lines and paint splashes, plus candid photos of him and his friends. It took him and his crew two weeks to install the Cavern. Scharf had created his “Cosmic Closet” in 1981, supposedly discovering a closet in the apartment he shared with Haring that was filled with junk, which he subsequently drenched with fluorescent paint and lit up by a black light. The idea caught on, eventually taking up shape at P.S. 1 in Long Island City and the 1985 Whitney Biennial, which helped put the East Village art scene on the international map once and for all time.
Here in Nassau, museum-goers daring to explore the Cavern enter a large room the size of a suburban basement filled from top to bottom with an amazing array of “found objects.” There’s a boom box to fill the air with music from the ’80s and a couple of artfully decorated ceiling fans to keep the air moving. Some of the stuff dates back to 1981 and other things are “gems” he just found in the garbage this year, Scharf says.
“In a sense it’s a time capsule,” Lynch explained. “Everyone who comes in here wants to stay here!”
His exhibit culminates in Gallery III with “Pop Renaissance,” consisting of four 33-foot canvases that he originally did in 2001 across the ceiling of the Palazzo Communale in Pordenone, Italy, and now expanded considerably with more dimensions. The work combines religious figures, surrealist motifs, black text, magazine images, swirling paint, sculptural elements, plus the ubiquitous rectangle of a TV. But there’s always a touch of whimsy to Scharf’s art. Pointing to a line of Arabic on one of the panels, Lynch said that it translates into “Best kebabs!”
The second floor of the museum is devoted to Scharf’s urban contemporaries with art work, sketches and even repeated film screenings of Edo Bertoglio’s “Downtown 81,” which features a 19-year-old Basquiat and Debbie Harry as a fairy godmother, Charlie Ahearn’s groundbreaking “Wild Style,” which chronicled the hip-hop cultural explosion that happened when the Bronx blew the East Village away, and Harry Chalfant and Tony Silver’s “Style Wars” historic documentary.
“This [exhibit] is called ‘Glamorous Graffiti,’” said Lynch. “This is not art that’s on the wall or a subway train. These artists started doing public works outside but now they’re framed in the museum.” She said they may have started as “outlaws” in a sense but soon “companies really wanted that urban aesthetic and started bringing it into their products and they started getting commissions.”
And for some, those commissions added up to real money.
There’s only one painting by Basquiat, “Third Street,” done in 1984, but it’s a powerful work, showing his interest in human anatomy, African masks, comic books and language, and conveying the full range of this innovative artist’s imagination. Keith Haring’s “Growing Suite I-V” consists of five color screen prints done in 1988 on Lennox Museum board.
Lee Quinones, considered one of the most influential artists to emerge from the NYC subways, is represented by several pieces, including a very funny take-off on “Sesame Street” with Big Bird and his pals breaking the law, let’s say. Quinones’ “One Million B.C.” is a revealing sketch he did in 1977 for a whole subway car mural, showing the process he undertook. Starting when he was only 13, he was known as “a ninja in the train yards,” because he worked so quietly and quickly in the dark to avoid the MTA cops on patrol in the Bronx, as well as the “conscience on the rails,” because he used his hand-sprayed images and text to convey radical political messages against war, death and violence. His tag was LEE. Two years later he had his first solo show in Rome, and these days his work is included at the Whitney, the Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere.
The show upstairs also includes works by CRASH (John Matso), Toxic (Torrick Ablack), Koor (Charles Hargrove), Futura 2000 (Leonard Hilton McGurr), Dondi (Donald Joseph White), DAZE (Chris Ellis) and NOC167 (Melvin Samuels Jr.). There’s a 2012 piece, “Lotus, Target Black,” by Shepard Fairey, who became famous for his Obama “Hope” poster that he did in 2008, and a very provocative print that the street artist Banksy created in 2003, called “Bomb Hugger,” which shows a girl in a pony-tail and a mini-skirt happily embracing the aerial weapon.
“It freaks out the kids at first,” said Lynch. “It makes you nervous for her!”
The title is ironic, too, considering that graffiti artists used the expression “to bomb” when they meant painting quickly on many surfaces in one area. Scharf will put it in action for several hours on June 19, when he will be outdoors at the Nassau Museum for a performance he calls “KARBOMBZ!” He’ll be spray-painting three automobiles on the grounds so viewers can watch him at work. He’ll also be on hand to sign his new book, “Kenny Scharf: Kolors.”
Nassau County Museum of Art is located at One Museum Drive in Roslyn Harbor, west of Glen Cove Road, just off Northern Boulevard, Route 25A. For current exhibitions, events, days/times, and directions, call (516) 484-9337 or log onto nassaumuseum.org.