Spencer Rumsey

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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.

Long Island Set to Offer Medical Marijuana at Two Dispensaries as New Law Goes Into Effect

The waiting room inside Columbia Care's Medical Marijuana dispensary in Riverhead. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Little by little, New York is finally joining 22 other states plus Washington, D.C., in offering medical marijuana to qualified patients at tightly regulated dispensaries that are slowly opening across the Empire State. All told, there will be 20 when the program is fully operational. Two facilities are set to open Friday on Long Island, one in Riverhead and the other at Lake Success.

Like Minnesota, New York’s stipulations are very restrictive, permitting the dispensaries to sell the drug only in oils and tinctures—not in smokable or edible form—compared to other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“Our goal is to ensure that New Yorkers have access to the treatment they need through a controlled, regulated process,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release when the law passed in 2014 as part of the Compassionate Care Act.

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Only patients with 10 medical conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer, qualify for the medical marijuana certificates given by physicians registered with the New York State Department of Health. The doctors have to undergo a four-hour training course and pay a $249 fee. As of this week 409 patients have signed up in New York and 302 doctors have registered.

Despite the restrictions and the slow implementation of the program, state Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who has been sponsoring medical marijuana legislation for almost two decades, remains optimistic.

“I would say the glass is three-quarters full, which is pretty good in life,” he said. “Ultimately the law, even as currently written, is going to provide important relief for thousands and thousands of seriously ill patients. I think it could work a whole lot better and serve a lot more patients in need if some of the restrictions the governor insisted on can be changed.”

In the current legislative session, the Assemblyman has introduced some amendments to address these concerns.

“We’re still going to be working to fill the glass,” he told the Press. “I’ve always believed that on this issue the general public is way ahead of a lot of elected officials.”

Advocates for the law hope the health commissioner will exercise his leeway to include at least five more qualifying serious medical conditions and allow doctors to more easily participate in the program. The dispensaries are also on a tight watch to prevent abuse. That intense scrutiny applies to the dispensaries’ suppliers too, noted Gottfried. These producers have to use their own trucks and drivers—not Federal Express, for example—and each truck has to be outfitted like an armored bank truck with its own safe to keep the product locked up. When one driver stops for coffee, another has to remain in the truck at all times.

“You would think they’re delivering plutonium,” observed Gottfried.

Gottfried disagrees with the health department’s insistence that the list of approved doctors be kept secret.

“I don’t think there is any legal justification for doing that,” he said. “The department ought to put it on its website.”

Although there’s no publicly available list of certified physicians, Columbia Care maintains its own list it can supply prospective patients. Potential patients, who are battling debilitating illnesses, are also struggling with the restrictions.

Before they can receive treatment, patients have to locate a physician who has been approved by the state to issue a prescription. In many cases, their primary care doctor may not even know who they can turn to.

“We’ve gotten literally dozens and dozens of calls from patients every day really frustrated and angry that they’re not able to enroll in the program because they can’t find a physician,” said Julie Netherland, a director at the Drug Policy Alliance, which runs the Compassionate Care coalition of patients and caregivers and was involved in lobbying for the bill.

“It is a fairly narrow and restrictive program,” she told the Press. “You can see that there are huge areas of the state that are not well served and Long Island is one of them. It’s a big area and only two are slated to open. The very people who qualify for the program are some of the sickest and most disabled folks in New York for whom travel can be really difficult and burdensome.”

She said it’s very hard to know how many patients would want to participate in the program, especially considering the limited number of qualifying conditions. One of the five dispensary companies licensed to supply the product in New York told Netherland that they estimated 400,000 to 500,000 patients but “I don’t know how accurate that is.”

Patients who qualify have to pay for it out of pocket because medical marijuana is not covered under any health insurance plans. The dispensaries have the option to price the product on a sliding scale in order to subsidize those patients who couldn’t otherwise afford the prescription. The drugs cost between $100-$300.

The drug is taken orally, for now. They expect to roll out vapor and pills in the near future.

“Somebody who wants to use marijuana for recreational purposes in New York does not need to go through this whole health department process to get access to it,” said Gottried. “You can go to almost any street corner. You don’t have to register your name and address with the state if you’re interested in smoking a joint.”

On Long Island, Bloomfield Industries Inc. is opening a dispensary at 2001 Marcus Ave., Suite NI, in Lake Success. Columbia Care runs the dispensary at 1333 East Main St. in Riverhead.

“We think this is a wonderful opportunity for patients and physicians to really examine and take advantage of a new form of health care,” Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita told the Press inside the facility Friday morning.

Vita said about 15 patients have scheduled appointments as of Thursday evening. Over next several weeks it will transition to regular business as opposed to strictly appointment based.

“The goal for us is to make sure no one ever comes and leaves empty handed,” Vita said. “If they want medicine, they should be able to get medicine, and that’s something we have the ability to do.”

The facility does not have any signs or markings outside indicating it’s a medical marijuana dispensary. Inside, it’s decorated with succulents and retro furniture.

Columbia Care has four facilities statewide, which is the max under the law. They’re in Riverhead, Manhattan, Plattsburgh and Rochester.

But New Yorkers won’t have the same options patients in other states have.

“There are lots of restrictions on the kinds of medical marijuana that are available in New York that don’t apply to other states,” said Netherland, noting that other states permit smokables, edibles, patches and lotions, as well as dozens of different strains. “That’s important because physicians and patients want the flexibility to be able to match a therapeutic strain to a particular set of symptoms. In New York there are only five strains or brands being allowed for each company. So if you go into a dispensary, you’re going to have a fairly limited selection.

“We all want to see a well-regulated system,” said Netherland. “The problem is that you have to balance that regulation with patient access.” She thinks the state has tipped the balance too far.

“My hope is that as the program rolls out,” Netherland said, “the state will realize that it doesn’t need all the restrictions that it’s put into place and will really change the program in a way that allows the patients to get the medicine they need more easily.”

—With Rashed Mian

Positive Signs Seen in Long Island and New York State Economy

Long-Island-Jobs
Long Island job fair.

With the unemployment rate on Long Island hitting its lowest level in eight years—4.1 percent in November—the labor market is tightening, which could translate to good paying jobs for highly skilled, better-educated workers although wage growth promises to be uneven, experts say.

In his January 2016 report, John Rizzo, Long Island Association’s chief economist, found that consumer confidence and spending have been up overall, compared to previous years, and now housing starts and new home sales on the Island are starting to show encouraging signs because inflation remains “well in check.”

He did express concern about global economic growth shrinking as oil prices continue to fall. How those factors, China’s recent turmoil in particular, will play out on LI remains to be seen, considering that international markets don’t have a major impact on the Island’s economy. As recent days on Wall Street have shown, investors have become quite skittish and that could take a toll in the months ahead.

Although the New York State Department of Labor’s Long Island Region won’t be releasing work force data for December 2015 until Jan. 26, it did report that the number of private sector jobs here increased by 21,600 or 1.9 percent, to 1,130,800. New York’s over-the-year private sector growth rate was 2.1 percent, while the nation’s was 2.2 percent.

Unfortunately, the Island’s private sector job count dipped by 2,200 workers between November and December (not seasonally adjusted), compared to an average gain of 5,200, the Labor Department reported, because “seasonal hiring remained weaker than normal for the retail industry, adding a record-low 1,000 employees when the industry typically hires 4,600 workers in December,” according to Shital Patel, labor market analyst for the Long Island Region at the state Department of Labor.

Part of the decline stemmed from the closure of A&P-owned stores on the Island, which declared bankruptcy in July. Patel also reported that restaurants “also shed a record 1,100 employees in December, compared to an average of 100.”

But workers were making gains in six of nine private industry sectors in December compared to a year ago, according to Patel’s analysis: education and health services added 12,500 more jobs; natural resources, mining and construction had 5,900; professional and business services had 4,700; leisure and hospitality added 1,200; other services added 700, and information showed 100 more.

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According to preliminary figures released by the state Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in New York remained unchanged at 4.8 percent in December, its lowest level since November 2007, and a few clicks below the national unemployment rate of 5.0 percent.

It was a good month for the state, the department found, because private sector job count rose by 13,200, or 0.2 percent, to 7,880,000, a record high.

“New York’s labor market continued on its upward trend in December 2015,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, deputy director of the Division of Research and Statistics at the state Labor Department. “Not only did New York State’s private sector job count reach a new record high, but our statewide unemployment rate remained below the nation’s rate in December 2015.”

Schneiderman and Singas Get Unusual Gifts for Their Reform Fight

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas wields a light saber to symbolize her promise to weed out corruption.

In a crowded union hall on a cold blustery night in Nassau County, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas were given the “Champions in Fighting Corruption Award” from the Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC).

They each received their own light saber suitable for “Star Wars.”

“I’ve gotten a lot of awards over the years but I never got one of these!” Schneiderman told the appreciative audience with a laugh as he waved his toy saber through the air and pledged to take it back with him to Albany. Singas didn’t say if she intended to use her saber in Mineola.

Schneiderman and Singas were honored for their work exposing unethical practices by Nassau County and New York State elected officials and furthering ethics reform in state and local government. In their remarks, they pledged to carry on the fight.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shows off a toy light saber.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shows off a toy light saber.
The occasion was a cocktail party to benefit LIPC, a grassroots community-based organization founded in 1979, which is affiliated with the Citizen Action of New York.

“During an era when residents have lost their confidence in public officials, we are grateful that we have allies both statewide and locally protecting taxpayers and putting the people first,” said  Lisa Tyson, LIPC’s executive director, at the Westbury headquarters of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, the largest grocery union in the state.

On hand was a who’s who of progressive activists, local labor leaders and Democratic politicians, including former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who earlier in the day formally announced that he’s among the dozen candidates considering running for the open Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), and current Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who so far is the only one running against Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

He’s Back! Tom Suozzi Explores Race to Replace Rep. Steve Israel

Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi announced he's exploring a possible run for Congress (Photo credit: handout)

An already congested Congressional contest just got more crowded as former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi became the latest candidate to join the growing ranks of those interested in succeeding Rep. Steve Israel, who rocked the Long Island political world earlier this month when he declared that he will not run for reelection this November.

The 53-year-old Nassau Democrat, who served two terms as county executive after being Glen Cove mayor from 1994-2001, announced his intention to explore a run for New York’s 3rd Congressional District at a Tuesday morning event held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. A CPA and lawyer at the law firm of Harris Beach, Suozzi formally filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to form a fundraising committee, an initial step in the process.

“Over the next month or two, I’m going to talk to people in the district, raise some money, really think it through with Helene and the kids and try to make the right decision,” Suozzi said.

Come September he’ll have two kids in college and a son still in high school, so currently weighing on his and his wife Helene’s minds is that the commute to Washington, D.C., is longer than the one to Albany, which he considered making in 2006 before he lost a Democratic gubernatorial primary to then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In 2009 Suozzi lost his race for a third term as county executive to then-Republican Legis. Ed Mangano, who beat the incumbent by 386 votes. Four years later, Suozzi ended up much further behind County Executive Mangano in a rematch, losing by 59-to-41 percent of the vote.

“I know that people are sick of politicians and they’re sick of politics,” Suozzi tells the Press. “Going back into the arena is not an easy thing to do but I’m frustrated by what I see going on in politics these days and it’s got to be shaken up.”

He took issue with the current campaign rhetoric coming from both the right and the left in the national discourse.

“The Republicans are saying, ‘Let the marketplace take care of it. Let the rich continue to succeed and that will take care of everything,’ ” Suozzi complained. “And I don’t think it’s accurate what a lot of Democrats are saying, which is, ‘Let’s raise taxes on the rich.’ It’s not as simple as that….I want to work together with other people to actually solve real problems that face the people who live in the Third Congressional District.”

At this early stage Suozzi is arguably the front-runner from his side of the aisle since he’s the only Democratic elected official to win county-wide office twice. The district stretches from northern Queens to Suffolk’s Huntington Town but its largest bulk includes Nassau’s Gold Coast.

At this point, a dozen Democrats have expressed varying degrees of interest, and they’re all scheduled to meet Wednesday with Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs and other party leaders in Glen Cove. Among the contenders are Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Jon Kaiman, former North Hempstead Supervisor; Suffolk Legis. Steve Sterns (D-Dix Hills), who’s term-limited; North Hempstead Town board member Anna Kaplan; Brad Gerstman, a lobbyist; Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove); Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member, who co-runs a public relations firm; Suffolk Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Huntington); Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone; former Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper; Todd Richman, a Great Neck businessman and philanthropist; and Laurie Scheinman, a psychologist and philanthropist from Port Washington.

Rep. Steve Israel won't run again this fall because he wants to spend more time writing novels and eating in diners, or so he says.
Rep. Steve Israel won’t run again this fall because he wants to spend more time writing novels and eating in diners, or so he says.

Interest is also heating up on the Republican side. At this early stage the contenders are State Sen. Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), the former mayor of Mineola; Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga); Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station); and David Gurfein, a former Marine and currently president of a health & wellness business.

“Jack’s all in, no question about it,” says E. O’Brien Murray, a campaign strategist for State Sen. Jack Martins, in a phone interview with the Press. “He’s definitely running.”

Although Murray says he’s sure that Nassau Republicans will eventually come around to regard the former mayor of Mineola as their best candidate for the congressional seat, he was quick to criticize the former Nassau County Executive.

“This is the same Tom Suozzi who brought us corruption in his first term, created the energy tax in his second term, and raised taxes 20 percent,” says Martins’ Republican spokesman. “The voters threw him out once and overwhelmingly rejected him the second time when he tried to come back.”

Rep. Steve Israel, a former Huntington Town council member, was first elected to Congress in 2000 when the district included more of Suffolk than it does now after it was redrawn. For two terms Israel served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He resigned that post following the brutal drubbing of Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections, which included the defeat of Rep. Tim Bishop, who had represented the East End of Long Island in the 1st Congressional District but lost to then-State Sen. Lee Zeldin. Until Israel made his announcement two weeks ago, the race for Zeldin’s Congressional seat was the only one on Long Island drawing attention—and money—considering that Republicans hold a 30-seat majority in the House of Representatives and this district was considered a toss-up. Vying to run against Zeldin are Democrats Anna Throne-Holst, the former Southold Supervisor, and David Calone, the former Suffolk County planner and investor.

Now Long Island has two hot Congressional races with national implications in 2016 when the White House is also up for grabs.

Rumsey Punch: Facing His Opposition, Obama Delivers His Best–and Final–State of the Union Address

 

On Tuesday night, when the words rang out through the expectant House chamber, “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States,” it was hard not to feel the rush of emotion about the historic significance. Here was the first African-American to be elected to the White House and he was about to give his last State of the Union address to the nation. No, he didn’t end racism in America during his tenure in office, as his more naïve supporters may have hoped in 2008. But he proved something to the world, no less: that we could rise above that prejudice in the name of progress.

As Obama made his way to the podium, he was trailed by the Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky’s reactionary Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, wearing an ugly green tie, and looking like a turtle out of his shell. McConnell’s stubborn vow in early January 2009 to not let the president-elect “succeed in anything” should follow him to his grave.

Obama was in a good mood, shaking hands, reaching out, touching supporters, kissing cheeks, and giving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg a big hug—reminding us that if only we had more liberal jurists like her on the Court, we wouldn’t have Chief Justice Roberts poised to roll back the power of public unions—another item on the conservative billionaires’ agenda.

When the president said “there is red tape to be cut,” that was red meat to the Republican side of the aisle. Not what came next. “But after years of record corporate profits,” Obama continued, “working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.”

When he mentioned making Wall Street pay more instead of trimming food stamps to balance the budget, the reaction got partisan. “Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up,” Obama told the country. “Those decisions are made in boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.” Touche!

Then he doubled down on another issue that’s roiling the Republican electorate. “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there!” he said, drawing laughter in the House chamber. “We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”

As he tackled climate change, the lack of Republicans applauding was painfully obvious even while he tried to appeal to their enlightened self-interest. “But even if—even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even hotter—why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

Emphatically Obama said that the United States was “the most powerful nation on Earth, period,” and the camera pointed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff seated in the front row. They resembled a gang of thugs or a grizzled old rugby team. Either way, you don’t want to mess with those guys. They didn’t break a smile.

Then Obama took on the issue driving the Republican presidential nominees: al Qaeda and ISIL (aka ISIS). Against the threat, he defended his use of American power, and called on Congress to approve the unauthorized war against ISIS. “Over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands,” he said.

He cited what happened in Vietnam and Iraq, and said, wisely, that we should learn from our mistakes. In fact, if President George W. Bush hadn’t let his quasi-Prime Minister Dick Cheney pull a bait and switch by leaving Afghanistan prematurely to take out Saddam Hussein, it’s doubtful that ISIS would have risen in the Mideast region that his administration destabilized. On Tuesday night, Obama didn’t say, “Told you so!,” although he could have, considering he voted against the Iraq invasion, unlike his 2008 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Instead, Obama said that “masses of fighter on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages” are not a threat to our national existence. Apparently Obama’s observation lit up the right-wing twitter-sphere, drawing condemnation from the fear-mongering GOP candidates and their bellicose conservative pundits.

Obama turned up the heat when he subtly referred to Sen. Ted Cruz’s plan to carpet-bomb the ISIS state and somehow spare the innocent civilians they’re holding hostage. Because Cruz was on the campaign trail, the camera cut to Cruz’s rival who had actually showed up, Sen. Marco Rubio—a wise move on the Florida Senator’s part since his record of absenteeism has become an issue used against him—but Rubio looked like an impatient high school kid waiting for class to end so he could dash off to recess.

With tight-lipped Vice President Joe Biden seated behind him on one side and smirking House Speaker Paul Ryan on the other, Obama was clearly enjoying himself. In a nice moment, full of portent given the tragic death of Biden’s son Beau, the president made Biden his cancer czar. Biden beamed with gratitude.

Then Obama took on the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump, without mentioning him by name. He started by pointing out that right at the same spot where he was giving his State of the Union address, the Pope had delivered a speech extolling the virtues of tolerance over the tyranny of hate. Obama expanded on that theme.

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer,” the president said. “It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.” He reminded the country that “We the People” are the first three words of our Constitution, and that means everybody.

From there his speech took a poignant, lofty turn as he called upon the better angels of our nature to fix our politics, to free us from the rancor that has trapped too many people, and how wrong it is to assert that our political opponents are unpatriotic just because they take a different point of view. He regretted that he didn’t have the eloquence of Lincoln or Roosevelt to bridge the gap, and that the country is more divided now than when he tried to sow the seeds of hope and change.

He urged politicians to tune out the noise of their base and listen to the voice of the people. He reminded them of their duties as citizens to defend the weak. Then, rising to the occasion, he wanted to end on an optimistic note. He pointed out the global appeal of America’s brand of diversity, and how that mix of religions and races has made us strong. And if we embrace those values, our best days will still lie ahead, he insisted.

It may have been his best State of the Union speech, reminding us what he’s accomplished despite hostile opposition that bordered on racism. It got us feeling nostalgic, remembering how he’d stood tall in 2009 when the economy was sliding into the abyss of the Great Recession and Congressional Republicans had gone AWOL. With only Democrats on Capitol Hill lined up behind him, Obama used his presidential power to pass the stimulus package and get the country on the right track back. No, it didn’t go nearly far enough but it was better than doing nothing. For their efforts, many of those Democrats were defeated at the polls as the Tea Party surged two years later.

But look at the country now. Even a conservative columnist like David Brooks has had to admit this: “…America is in better economic shape than any other major nation on Earth. Crime is down. Abortion rates are down. Fourteen million new jobs have been created in five years.”

Let’s not forget that millions of Americans also have health insurance for the first time and marriage equality is the law of the land. That’s truly a tribute to Obama’s leadership.

But there’s a limit to Obama’s lofty oratorical skills. Words alone won’t redress the oligarchs’ concentration of wealth. So it was interesting to see Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), whose campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is predicated on doing something about it, come on camera, however briefly, during the night’s proceedings. He looked like an eccentric Ivy League professor, especially when he pulled a notepad out of his inside jacket pocket. Currently, the Vermonter is leading Hillary Clinton in Iowa’s upcoming caucus and the New Hampshire primary. If those results hold, it could be a very close race between them to succeed Obama and build upon his legacy.

For the Republican rebuttal, the Grand Old Party turned to its third woman in four years, giving the spotlight to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants with a compelling personal narrative that led her to the governor’s mansion in Columbia. As she spoke, it was hard to ignore her blinding white teeth, a shining dental achievement in themselves. But the words she uttered were quite unusual for someone in her role. Of course, she obliged her party by blaming Obama for not accomplishing anything but falling short on the economy, tax reform, urban unrest and the national debt.

But then Haley told her party’s supporters, “We need to be honest with each other and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around. We as Republicans need to own that truth.”

She didn’t stop there, she went significantly further. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” the governor said. “We must resist that temptation.” Then Haley issued a clarion call to tone down the extremist rhetoric.

Movingly, the governor recounted the mass shooting last June at the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, sparked by an angry white man—Haley actually called him “a domestic terrorist”—who had turned his gun on a Bible study meeting and killed nine black parishioners, according to authorities. Gov. Haley praised how her state responded to this hate crime: “We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.”

Just as important she authorized that South Carolina remove “a symbol that was being used to divide us.” And so the Confederate flag no longer waves over the capitol, something that some of us with long memories of the civil rights struggle in the South thought we’d never see. Definitely a positive sign.

So, as pundits parsed the State of the Union speech and the rebuttal, some themes have emerged that will play out the rest of this important, bitterly contentious campaign season: Will 2016 be a year for our best hopes or our worst fears? How the voters answer will determine the future of our country for a long time to come. Let’s hope they heed the president’s call to do their civic duty.

Rep. Steve Israel Won’t Run for Re-election, Setting Off Race to Replace Him

Steve Israel was first elected to Congress in 2000. (Photo credit: Long Island Press)

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) announced Tuesday that he won’t seek re-election in November, citing a desire to frequent some of his favorite New York diners and dedicate more time to writing his second novel.

Now the scramble is on to fill his seat. Israel says he hopes it will remain in Democratic hands.

“Nearly 16 years ago, I was honored to take the oath of office and stand on the House floor for the first time,” Israel said in a statement. “Now, I’ve decided to leave the House in 2017. I hope to continue to be involved in public service, but it is time for me to pursue new passions and develop new interests, mainly spend more time writing my second novel.”

Israel was first elected to Congress in 2000 when he won the race for what is now the 3rd Congressional District, which includes much of Nassau’s Gold Coast and parts of western Suffolk County, after his predecessor, Republican Rick Lazio, vacated his seat to make an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.

“I want to be a team player and ensure that my district, which is the only competitive district in the House Democratic Leadership, remains in the hands of Democrats when I leave,” he said.

Israel expressed confidence that November’s presidential election will inspire Democrats, who historically don’t vote in off-year elections, to flood the polls.

“It has been an incredible and humbling opportunity to serve my community,” Israel said. “Simply put, it’s time to pass on the torch.”

Israel’s first book, The Global War on Morris, was published in December 2014. His next book, Big Guns, is reportedly a satire on the gun lobby.

The 57-year-old veteran lawmaker grew up in Levittown. He later served on the Huntington town council before running for Congress.

Israel’s announcement comes nearly two years to the day that fellow Democrat, former U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, announced her retirement plans after serving 17 years in Congress.

Democrats managed to hold on to McCarthy’s seat when Kathleen Rice, the former Nassau District Attorney, won a close race for the 4th Congressional seat. On the East End, long-time Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop lost the 1st Congressional District in 2014 to then-New York State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

Until Israel made his announcement this week, the battle over Zeldin’s seat was drawing national attention from both parties. At the moment, former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and former Suffolk Planning Commission chairman and venture capitalist David Calone are vying to be the Democratic nominee.

The only other Congressional seat fully on Long Island has long been held by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who represents the South Shore of Nassau and Suffolk counties. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) represents a sliver of western Nassau. Both lawmakers routinely fend off challengers by large percentages at the polls.

As for replacing Israel, no candidate has formally declared, although that announcement could come very soon. So far, Democratic names bandied about include former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi; Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who’s being term-limited out of the legislature; Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove); and North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan. The most prominent Republican to step forward so far is state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), the former Mineola mayor who’s said he’s “strongly considering running.” Other potential Republican candidates include Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington) and Suffolk Leg. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

This list of wannabees could grow or shrink significantly in the days ahead once the dust settles.

Israel rose to prominence within Democratic House leadership and served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for two terms. But he chose not to seek another term as chairman following a brutal showing by Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections. At the time, Israel said he had made his decision that spring, adding that the nationwide bludgeoning had no bearing on his decision. He currently serves as chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Early in 2015, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) took over as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after Israel stepped down.

“Steve Israel is a great colleague, strategist, mentor and friend, and he will be greatly missed after he leaves Congress,” said Luján in a statement. “Steve will continue to be an active force this year, a leader of House Democrats, and a champion of the issues that matter to hardworking families on Long Island and across the county. I wish him great luck in the next phase of his career.”

As for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, Israel won it handily despite Republicans’ nationwide gains: he had 58.2 percent of the vote in 2012 and 54.8 percent in 2014. According to the DCCC, the currently configured district would have been won by both Sen. John Kerry and Vice President Al Gore, and the Democrats hold an 8.2 point advantage in party registration over the Republicans: 38.3 percent to 30.1 percent.

“I am fully confident that Democrats will continue to hold this reliably Democratic district, particularly in a Presidential year,” added Luján.

Democrats need to win back 30 seats on Election Day to regain the majority in the House of Representatives. Currently holding 188 seats, it’s the fewest the Democrats have had since 1947, according to Congressional Quarterly.

—with Rashed Mian

War Hawk GOP Candidates Whip Up Fear To A Fevered Pitch In Latest Debate

 

 

If you took a shot every time the word “war” came up in Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, you would have been dead drunk within the first half hour and would have been too far gone to catch one of the best moments on the Las Vegas stage, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for shutting down the George Washington Bridge to keep people—probably Democrats or Muslims or both—out of The Garden State.
Of course, being well fortified with a stiff drink was probably a good antidote for all the fear-mongering running rampant like a virus at The Venetian casino hotel. This crowd wants blood, as long as it’s spilled by “jihadi terrorists in the ISIS caliphate.” Red was the color of the evening—a red dress for former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and red ties for the guys—except that Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson obviously didn’t get the memo and wore blue ones instead. Those wimps. When everybody started to get rowdy and speak out of turn, CNN host Wolf Blitzer had his hands full, but he kept them in line. Certainly he did a better job than those losers at Fox Business Network.

To keep us guessing there were some flubs and falsehoods. Christie said he would meet the king of Jordan, but the king he named is dead. More tellingly, Christie summoned up how he foiled a Fort Dix plot but didn’t admit how it was manufactured by the FBI.

Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush seemed to be going for the nerdy look with his glasses on. His demeanor reminded me of a decent kid who would have been the perfect gentleman as a teenager if he had showed up at your door to take your daughter to the senior prom. To see him as the ruler of the Free World is a stretch, but then who would have thought his brother would ever be elected—certainly not the Bush family!

I give him credit for telling the truth—or at least trying—by calling Donald Trump “The Chaos Candidate” and telling him to his face that “you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.” He also pointed out how damaging Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant utterances have been to the country and its image in the world. Too bad he resorted to typical Bush speak when it came time to make his closing argument. He should take a lesson from the candidate leading him in the polls, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Cruz took an adroitly worded, long-winded detour to avoid answering CNN’s Dana Bash about why he would disparage Trump in private conversations to his supporters but swear his admiration to him in public. Did he or did he not think that Trump didn’t have the judgment to be president? Yes, and no. And he sounded believable.

Trump took it in stride—even patting the former Princeton debater on the back—after he himself had been quoted calling Cruz “a maniac” last weekend. “He’s just fine—don’t worry about it!” Trump said of his rival. I guess the bromance was back—at least until the Iowa caucus results come in Feb. 1.

When Cruz said he’d build a huge border wall and, “I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it,” Trump replied, “I’ll do it!” See, beneath that weird hair lurks the brain of a builder.

But Cruz’s pandering went too far—even for this crew. When Cruz was pressed to explain whether his call to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion” meant he’d pulverize Raqqa, their stronghold, even if it meant blowing up hundreds of thousands of presumably innocent civilians, he dodged that bullet. Instead, he pointed out, “The object isn’t a city… We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys.” And he spelled out his brilliant military strategy further: “We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness.”

You could hear a big sigh of relief coming all the way from the Pentagon. But really, how anybody could support this snake oil salesman is beyond me. He’ll always be the right-wing radical who tried to filibuster against Obamacare so he could read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor.

Donald “Something Terrific” Trump didn’t steal the show. But he was worth watching—as long as you could forget what some of his followers are reportedly shouting at hecklers (Hint: It recalls Nazi rallies). He did let the others get under his skin, turning red in the face once or twice, especially after putting up with criticism from Jeb!

Trump said that Bush “has failed in this campaign. It’s been a total disaster.” To seal the deal, the billionaire developer reminded him where they both stood in the polls: “I’m at 42 and you’re at 3.” Ouch!

After a heated exchange between U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cruz over the finer points of Senate amendments—especially whether they’d undermine our First Amendment rights—Bush and Paul seemed like the sane guys in the room. At least for a few moments. I liked that Paul stood up for the Constitution, especially when it comes to the Internet, but when the Kentucky libertarian said our greatest threat is the federal debt, he sounded like a fool.

Carson didn’t have a clue about the nuclear triad, which is key to our defense. I can’t look at Fiorina without thinking of the 30,000 people she laid off while she walked away from her CEO job with a golden parachute worth millions of dollars. I went to college in Ohio, but I wouldn’t want Kasich running our country. He acts like a buffoon. He should be selling used cars in Dayton.

Trump is good for the ratings, but would he even be here in the public eye without his dad’s inheritance and his legion of lenders who couldn’t afford to let him fail? He is indeed the most dangerous man in America without a gun. According to surveys, he leads among white men that never went to college.

But Trump didn’t have the monopoly on simple truisms. Or lies. No, President George W. Bush did not deport 10 million people. Iran has not declared war on us. Yes, Russia has had a naval base in Syria since 1971. Tech companies in Silicon Valley have indeed been asked and refused to let law enforcement get access to encrypted data, despite what Fiorina insisted.

Sure, we live in a dangerous world—there are crazy people in it. But what would this crop of Republican Party candidates have to talk about if they couldn’t distract us with all their inflammatory rhetoric?

How convenient that somebody apparently triggered a shutdown of the Los Angeles school system earlier that day when it fortunately turned out to be a hoax. Did the GOP candidates mention the Paris climate talks—so far the best and only chance humanity has to stop global warming? Or the cancerous concentration of wealth? No, but at least Trump pointed out our crumbling infrastructure needs billions of dollars in investments, and we don’t need another ground war in the Middle East. There’s that word again.

After Christie said he’d shoot down a Russian plane if it ventured into a “no-fly” zone above Syria, even if it risked World War III, that triggered Paul’s best quip.

“When we think about the judgment of someone who might want World War III,” he said, looking at Christie at the next podium, “we might think about someone who might shut down a bridge.”

These candidates are building a bridge to nowhere.

Lawsuit Claims Suffolk Taxpayers Are Owed $250M

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. (Photo credit: Suffolk County Executive's office)

Calling it “the biggest ripoff” in Suffolk County history, a pair of veteran Long Island attorneys claim that the Southwest Sewer District has illegally overcharged local taxpayers by more than a quarter of a billion dollars since 2009.

If their recently amended lawsuit is successful, then some 340,000 residents in Babylon, Islip and part of Huntington stand to get refunds of $3,361.10 each.

The original lawsuit, filed in February in State Supreme Court in Riverhead by the law firms of Paul Sabatino II, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive, and Reilly, Like, and Tenety asserted that the 57-square-mile sewer district had accumulated an illegal balance of $116.9 million. But the lawyers say they subsequently discovered that the county had added another $138 million to the cumulative surplus. So, they returned to court in October to amend their class action lawsuit to recover $254.9 million in over-taxation.

“The magnitude of Suffolk County’s deception in trying to hide these huge surpluses from its own citizens is shocking and the contempt that it shows by county officials for the will of the people is reprehensible,” said Sabatino, who was County Executive Steve Levy’s chief deputy from 2004 to 2007 and former counsel to the Suffolk County Legislature for almost 20 years before that. “This deception has evolved into the biggest rip-off of taxpayers in the history of Suffolk County.”

The lawsuit specifically cites four public referenda approved by Suffolk County voters in 1983, 1989, 1995 and 2006, which directed county officials “to return the surpluses, known as Fund Balances, to the taxpayers.” Instead, the attorneys claim, the county violated section 4-10 (F) of the Suffolk County Charter by placing the surplus in Fund 405, which they say “is an illegal fund used by the County as a subterfuge…” Irving Like, founding partner of his firm, was a member of the Suffolk County Charter Review Commission. Sabatino, as legislative counsel, helped draft the charter.

As Suffolk County Comptroller, John M. Kennedy Jr. called the lawsuit “troubling” but he declined to discuss its merits, which he might have done had he still been in the legislature, where the Republican represented the 12th District for a decade until being elected to his current office in 2014 as the county’s chief fiscal officer and auditing authority.

“There’s two parts here: there’s the calculus as to whether in fact an improper collection occurred and then there’s the remedy,” Kennedy told the Press. “Were we compelled to have to pay back the full amount being sought in one fell swoop, would that have dire consequences for the county? Yes, it would, in my opinion.”

The court is not expected to hold hearings on the lawsuit until next year.

In early October, James O’Connor, the Republican then running for Suffolk County executive, tried to make the Southwest Sewer District surplus a campaign issue. O’Connor held a press conference at the Bergen Point Sewage Treatment Plant in West Babylon and reportedly accused the Bellone administration of keeping the sewer taxes high to pay down the costs of capital construction projects.

In response, Suffolk Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider told Newsday that replacing the outflow pipe from Bergen Point might cost $207 million, and the county secured about $40 million in low or no-interest loans from the state. Bellone’s deputy added that O’Connor’s accusation was the action of a “desperate politician.”

A month later Bellone easily won re-election with 57 percent of the vote, while O’Connor polled 43 percent. The incumbent also substantially outraised the challenger; Bellone had $1.8 million in his campaign war chest, while O’Connor had raised about $172,000.

In the meantime, Sabatino and Like redid their math and raised the amount of the surplus they were targeting for refunds.

Asked to comment about the now $254.9 million lawsuit, a spokesperson for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone summarily dismissed it.

“The County has about $70-plus million in ‘pay go’ projects for [the] Southwest Sewer District and has a potential draw-down for the outfall pipe of about $200 million, so budgeting has been reasonable,” said Vanessa B. Streeter, Bellone’s communications director, in an emailed statement to the Press. “The later proposed amendments to the complaint have no merit.”

In the amended lawsuit the attorneys allege that the 2016 county budget “added $33.295 million to the illegal surplus in defiance of the [February] lawsuit seeking the return of illegal fund balances.” They also claim that the sewer district’s taxpayers were “illegally charged” to repay a pure subsidy from the ¼ percent sales tax that supports the drinking water protection program through the Environmental Trust Fund (known as Fund 404), “even though the public voted via public referenda…to give those sales tax proceeds to county sewer districts for the purpose of preventing double digit and triple digit sewer tax hikes.”

According to the attorneys’ recalculation, the average taxpayer in the sewer district is entitled to a refund of $3,361.10—originally it called for $1,542. The attorneys say the over-taxation stems from the repeated failure of county officials to pass on “the substantial savings” that arose from the amortization of Southwest Sewer District’s debt that had been issued in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. As the debt was paid off “in increasingly large amounts,” the lawsuit says, the county held on to the savings instead of returning it to the taxpayers as the county statute and state law required.

“As I warned at the beginning of this lawsuit, failure to stop this violation of the constitutional rights of the taxpayers would only encourage the county to continue its unlawful behavior in the future,” said Like in a statement. “Unfortunately, the responsible county officials have not heeded this warning. We are filing this Amended Lawsuit to protect the public interest against the county’s disregard of the laws its own voters have adopted. The strong policy of the law requires a full accounting of all public funds to prevent local governments from acquiring tax proceeds faster than they are needed and for costs and expenses not incurred.”

The lawsuit’s attorneys retained former Suffolk County Budget Director, Robert Bortzfield, CPA, a career civil servant who worked in county government from 1972 to 2007, to verify the validity of the claims being made in this lawsuit.

“A careful review of the finances and budgets of the SWSD confirms that the taxpayers and ratepayers in the SWSD have been overtaxed by at least $ 254.9 million,” Bortzfield said in a statement, “and the amount will continue to grow if this lawsuit is not successful.”

“This is going to drag on,” Sabatino tells the Press. “The county basically stonewalled for 10 months. We tried to work with them. They’re not acting in good faith. When they came out with a new budget [for 2016] that made things worse, not better, we knew that they weren’t for real.”

LI Reps Split On EPA’s Efforts To Curb Carbon Emissions & Combat Climate Change

While the nations of the world heard President Obama take the pledge in Paris this week that the United States would do more to combat climate change, the House of Representatives passed two measures apparently aimed at undercutting him.

Here on Long Island, which is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels from global warming, the votes are split along party lines on these resolutions, which would weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions from existing and future coal-fired power plants.

Freshman Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) says he supported the two joint resolutions—already approved by the Republican-controlled Senate—because the EPA’s so-called “Clean Power Rule” could significantly raise electricity bills on Long Island.

“Some forecasts see potential costs as high as $366 billion to $479 billion over the period 2017-2031,” he told the Press in an email. “While I support clean and renewable energy on Long Island, I am opposed to unfunded EPA mandates that ignore the role of Congress and the Constitution. Any deal negotiated in Paris must be presented to the Senate in the manner proscribed by the U.S. Constitution. The President has no authorization from Congress to commit any U.S. taxpayer money to other nations or to agree to any unconstitutional regulations that would infringe on our nation’s sovereignty.”

As a longtime elected official from eastern Suffolk, Zeldin says he’s always been a staunch supporter of clean energy and protecting Long Island’s environment. But he found fault with the Obama administration on this important issue.

“While protecting the environment is one of my priorities, hearing our president compare the threat of climate change to that of ISIS, or hearing Secretary of State John Kerry call climate change ‘the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction,’ shows how completely out of touch this administration is on foreign policy, especially in light of the recent terror attacks in Paris.”

Also serving her first term in Congress, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) vehemently disagreed. She saw the resolutions as the latest attempts to prevent the EPA from doing its job, as well as undermining President Obama as he pursues an international climate treaty in Paris. And, just as clearly, she agreed with the Secretary of State’s assessment of the issue.

“Climate change is not only a threat to the environment and public health–it’s a threat to our national security,” said Rice in an email. “It’s a threat to our energy grid and to our troops on the ground all over the world who are forced to spend massive amounts of time transporting, retrieving, storing and protecting fossil fuels. While politicians and special interests debate whether or not climate change is real, our military leaders are taking action and leading the effort to diversify our energy grid, develop alternative energy sources, and reduce fossil fuel dependency.”

Long Beach after Sandy
An aerial view of the City of Long Beach after Superstorm Sandy. (Kevin Kane/Long Island Press)

She outlined the perils of doing nothing to reduce heat-trapping carbon in the atmosphere, one of the leading causes of global warming, because “those of us on Long Island have a tremendous amount to lose as sea levels will continue to rise and extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy will become more frequent and more intense.”

Rice stressed the importance of investing in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power to create good jobs and economic opportunities here.

“We have to capitalize on our potential to be a leader in the transition to a cleaner, greener economy,” she said.

Rice’s assessment that climate change is a national security issue echoes a 2014 report published by a military advisory board consisting of retired generals and other military officials, including former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

“During our decades of experience in the U.S. military, we have addressed many national security challenges, from containment and deterrence of the Soviet nuclear threat during the Cold War to political extremism and transnational terrorism in recent years,” the panel wrote in the report titled “National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change.” “The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced.”

Long Island’s longest-serving congressman, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), never responded to explain his votes or his views on climate change, despite repeated attempts to reach him, as of press time.

Long Island’s senior Democratic Congressman, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills) agreed with his party’s colleague from Nassau.

“We have a moral responsibility to take action to protect families and communities from the negative impacts of climate damage,” said Rep. Israel in an email. “These dangerous Republican resolutions prevent our country from taking practical steps to curb carbon pollution and keep the air we breathe clean. We all know the effects that dirtier air and water will have on future generations and coastal communities like Long Island.”

Adding urgency to the climate change debate is the potential devastation to our region, considering that a large section of New York City and the South Shore of Long Island lies less than 10 feet above sea level now, and that puts hundreds of thousands of people at risk during major storm events, whether from excessive rainfall or hurricanes. Based on some current projections, the average sea level could rise 8 inches by 2020 and by almost two feet by 2050.

Environmentalists railed against the House votes, calling “these attempted giveaways for industry…extreme legislation that no New York member of Congress can justify supporting” because it would block climate action and clean air protections, according to Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of watchdog group Environmental Advocates of New York.

By supporting the bills, Iwanowicz said in an email, Reps. Zeldin and King “are placing the interests of western polluters over our public health here at home.”

While world leaders are convening in Paris “to plan global climate action,” Iwanowicz added, the goal of the House of Representatives is “to thwart progress.”

“Climate change has taken an enormous human and economic toll that is only expected to get worse in the years ahead,” he said. “New York is already ahead of schedule on meeting standards required under the Clean Power Plan thanks to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). There is no justification for any New York member of Congress to support this effort.”

Donald Trump Stomps on the Truth and His Supporters Love It

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks to supporters. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

 

Next Tuesday, thanks to the New York State Federation of Republican Women, a grassroots group based in Nassau, folks can listen to Dick Morris, the triangulating political mastermind and Fox News Channel commentator, promote the latest book he’s written with his wife Eileen McGann.

Packed with provocative buzzwords, the title is “Revolt!—How to Defeat Obama and Repeal His Socialist Agenda—A Patriot’s Guide.” Even though his presentation is called “Winning the Presidential Election,” it’s safe to say that Morris is not peddling free advice so Hillary Clinton can occupy the White House again, although he doesn’t mind getting credit for providing the strategy that engineered President Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996 when it looked a little hopeless.

Morris must know his audience pretty well, because it takes a lot of balls to profit from calling President Obama’s agenda socialist with a straight face. But for this crowd, they’ll probably buy it. They certainly aren’t paying any mind to a real Democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who could only wish that Obama and, for that matter, his party’s leading rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, really were more to the left, especially about reining in Wall Street power and the cancerous concentration of wealth in this country.

There’s a lot going on in the months leading up to the next election, and it’s neither enlightening nor encouraging—at least if you care about facts. The reality is that the extremists in the GOP base eat this stuff up. According to the polls, Donald “Something Terrific” Trump is still the front-leader of the GOP field, and that’s got a growing number of people concerned, and some of them are even Republicans.

A recent cartoon by the Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Toles in the Washington Post, featuring a conversation between a pair of elephants in business suits, spells out the conundrum facing the party of Lincoln: “We’ve got a Trump problem,” says one. “He’s appealing to voters who are responding to racism bordering on fascism. It’s a real dilemma. How do we get rid of Trump but keep those voters?”

Conservative Michael Gerson, President George W. Bush’s speechwriter and policy advisor, spelled it out much further in a recent column about the 2016 race: “The presidential candidate who has consistently led the Republican field for four months, Donald Trump, has proposed: to forcibly expel 11 million people from the country, requiring a massive apparatus of enforcement, courts and concentration camps; to rewrite or reinterpret the 14th Amendment to end the Civil War-era Republican principle of birthright citizenship; to build a 2,000-mile wall on our southern border while forcing Mexico to pay the cost. He has characterized undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, and opposed the speaking of Spanish in the United States.”

Most of Trump’s appeal is “reactionary,” writes Gerson, before quoting the billionaire himself: “‘We’re going to have to do things,’ says Trump with menacing vagueness, ‘that we never did before.’ And if disrespect for institutions is common, Trump is its perfect vehicle — combining the snark of Twitter with the staged anger and grudges of reality television… Is it possible and morally permissible, for economic and foreign policy conservatives, and for Republicans motivated by their faith, to share a coalition with the advocates of an increasingly raw and repugnant nativism?”

He’s right, but his words probably fall on the deaf ears of those who get their views from Fox News. After all, Trump has just lied that the U.S. is going to take in 250,000 Syrian refugees, that African-Americans are responsible for most white homicides (total falsehood), and, most outrageous, that on Sept. 11, 2001 he saw on television “thousands and thousands” of people in some unnamed “Arab” neighborhood of New Jersey “cheering as that building was coming down.” Not even Gov. Chris Christie, who knows a thing or two about New Jersey, could back him up on that big whopper. But it didn’t matter, because he just doubled-down and his supporters ate it up.

Recently a front-page photo taken at a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, showed a group of haggard-looking white people sitting in the front row, holding placards proclaiming “the silent majority stands with Trump.” Take away their red, white and blue signs and they could have passed for hard-luck people in the Depression, perhaps gathered to hear the Louisiana Sen. Huey “Kingfish” Long, on the stump for his “Share Our Wealth” campaign.

A populist Democrat with a demagogic streak, Long was a constant thorn in the left side of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whom the Kingfish called a mama’s boy. He dubbed Congress “the Rich Men’s Club” when he gave a speech in 1932 on the Senate floor he titled “the Doom of the American Dream.” At one point he says, “There is a mere candle flicker here and yonder to take the place of what the great dream of America was supposed to be.” His plan would have imposed a $5 million tax cap on a family’s wealth, a $1 million a year salary cap, and a reliance on “men with the smartest minds” in America to flesh out the details.

“Unless we provide for the redistribution of wealth in this country, the country is doomed,” he said, citing a study by the Federal Trade Commission that “1 percent” owned “59 percent” of the wealth. His figures almost sound quaint today, but he was deadly serious. He railed against both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, saying that “nothing can be squeezed through these party organizations that goes far enough to bring the American people to a condition where they have such a thing as a liveable country.”

On the stump, Trump boasts about his business ability that has made him, the son of a millionaire, a purported billionaire. Nothing he’s proposed so far will actually improve the lives of the poor middle class men and women flocking to hear him. Behind him lurk Charles and David Koch, petrochemical billionaires (in Long’s day he railed against Standard Oil executives), who have pledged to spend almost a billion dollars on the 2016 elections to bring the Republican Party to the White House, and cement their hold on the Senate and the House of Representatives—as the brothers have already done with helping to put a majority of the state houses across the land in Republican hands.

By 1935, Huey Long’s Share Our Wealth organization was collecting tens of thousands of letters a week from people all across the country who didn’t believe that FDR and the Democrats were doing enough to save them from despair, let alone improve their daily lives. As the 1936 election approached, FDR’s supporters feared that Long would challenge him for the nomination.

But Long was playing a different game. He told his closest advisors that he was going to sit it out, perhaps put up a third party candidate who’d siphon enough votes from Roosevelt so that the Republican candidate would win. It was a cynical strategy, as T. Harry Williams noted in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the Kingfish, because Long knew that a Republican president would only make the Depression worse—but that would pave the way in 1940 for a savior to come along like Huey Long, who’d promised to “make every man a king.”

Today, when you look at the forlorn faces of Trump’s Republican supporters beyond the beltway, you wonder what they think when they listen to their candidate speak. In his mind, he’s already on the throne. But he’ll never share the crown.

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)