Top 10 Long Island News Stories of 2016

2016 news

Whether it’s lingering heartbreak over the presidential election result or the deaths of beloved icons such as Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali or Leonard Cohen, few are sad to bid farewell to 2016.

Sure, it had its bright spots both nationally and locally. Among these: WNBA All Star, US women’s basketball captain and Syosset native Sue Bird won her fourth consecutive gold from the Rio 2016 Olympics, and two medical marijuana dispensaries opened on Long Island—providing much-needed relief for certified patients with serious conditions following a long-fought fight to legalize its use in New York State.

But these stories didn’t make the cut as the biggest local news events of the year. What follows are the top 10 Long Island stories of 2016.

10. History for Hofstra
In a showdown that drew record ratings, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton squared off in the first of three presidential debates at Hofstra University. For Hofstra, it was the third consecutive debate it had hosted in as many presidential elections, which was a first for any host. For America, it was a Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em affair in which the rivals proclaimed demonstrably different beliefs. Trump talked about instituting “stop-and-frisk” across the nation despite a court striking down the controversial police procedure as unconstitutional and nixing such trade deals as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Clinton said she’d work to build the economy from the bottom up and questioned her competitor’s temperament. Outside the debate, the atmosphere was both festive and chaotic. Nassau County police removed Green Party candidate Jill Stein from Hofstra’s grounds and made two dozen arrests as thousands along Hempstead Turnpike demonstrated for minimum wage hikes, women’s rights and climate change—a dire global issue that went unmentioned on the debate stage.

9. New Bishop in Town
While much of the media gushed over Long Island’s new bishop’s apparent basketball prowess during his introductory press conference earlier this month, Bishop John O. Barres will be judged not on his ball-handling skills but how he leads the Rockville Centre Diocese—the sixth-largest Catholic diocese in the nation, with 1.3 million baptized—through difficult times. According to the Pew Research Center, Americans are increasingly becoming less religious, with the percentage of religious “nones”—the name academics have given for those who are agnostic—comprising nearly 25 percent of the nation. Meanwhile, during that same time period (2007-2014), the number of people who identify as Christian dropped from 78 to 71 percent. Barres, 56, is replacing outgoing Bishop William Murphy, who is retiring after 15 years at the helm of the diocese. Pope Francis appointed Barres to his new position after he led the diocese in Allentown, Pa. He takes over on Jan. 31.

8. Disappointment 101
Dowling College students learned harsh life lessons in reliability when their 48-year-old alma mater in Oakdale gave three days’ notice in June that it planned to close its classroom doors forever shortly after its last graduation ceremony. The administration then led the private, nonprofit liberal arts college on a summer-long academic train wreck when it just as abruptly reversed its decision to close as it clung to hope that a buyer would bail it out. But it was the end of the line when Dowling’s oversight agency, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, voted to withdraw accreditation for the college following a two-year review. Dowling leaders then reversed course a second time and decided to close the school, capping a decade-long downward spiral of unstable leadership, mounting debt and declining student enrollment. The college has since filed for bankruptcy and is expected to auction off its two campuses.

7. Bet on Islandia
Three years after New York State authorized Nassau and Suffolk OTBS to build mini-casinos, Islandia village did what nobody was willing to and approved construction of the first such facility on Long Island when it opens in February, barring any roadblocks. The Suffolk OTB Islandia Casino at the Marriott Hotel will have 1,000 video gaming terminals run by Buffalo-based hospitality company Delaware North. Islandia officials approved the controversial plan during a special meeting on a Friday morning in August, outraging residents, who filed a lawsuit in September to block the casino out of fear that it will increase traffic and crime. After facing identical protests and litigation to the west, Nassau Downs OTB folded its mini-casino plans and reportedly struck a revenue-sharing agreement that transferred the rights to 1,000 gaming terminals to Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens.

6. Cablevision’s Reign Ends
European telecom giant Altice completed its $17.7 billion takeover of Cablevision in July. The enormous sale gives Altice’s American subsidiary, Altice USA, 3.1 million new subscribers, on top of the 1.5 million customers of Suddenlink Communications in St. Louis, Missouri—making it the fourth-largest cable operator in the United States. For Long Islanders, the sale also invited speculation about the fate of Newsday, the Island’s lone daily newspaper, which Cablevision owned along with amNewYork and News 12. Shortly after the deal closed, the paper announced that Patrick Dolan, president of News 12 Networks, had acquired 75-percent of Newsday Media Group, with Altice USA holding onto a 25-percent stake in the media company. Patrick Dolan is the son of Charles Dolan, the family patriarch and founder of the since-sold telecom company. The Dolan family still owns Madison Square Garden and the NBA’s Knicks and the NHL’s Rangers.

5. Jail House Rocked
Two years after taking office, Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano touted a public-private partnership to save money and close perennial budget gaps by turning inmate health care at the county jail to Florida-based Armor Correctional Health Services. Five years later, Mangano is facing prison for allegedly taking bribes from another county contractor (more on that later), the New York State Commission on Correction issued reports suggesting Armor contributed to the death of several inmates and the state attorney general sued the company for not fulfilling its contract. The company was fined $350,000 and was barred from bidding on jail contracts in New York for three years as a part of a settlement. Several other lawsuits are pending from the families of inmates who died, one of whom was an Iraq War veteran. And the county is trying to find a new company to provide inmate health care.

4. Trump Stumps
Donald Trump-mania descended on Long Island in April with a packed rally at Grumman Studios in Bethpage that attracted an estimated 12,000 supporters and hundreds who demonstrated outside. At the first of two rallies he’d hold on LI, Trump led his fans on his oft-used campaign chant: “Who’s going to pay for it?” the businessman and reality TV star asked, referring to a wall at the southern border. “Mexico!” the crowd shouted. Outside protesters condemned Trump for his hard-line position on immigration, calls to ban non-US Muslims from entering the United States and misogynistic behavior. A similar scene played out several weeks later in Patchogue, where Trump hosted a smaller yet impassioned rally at a concert venue, just blocks from the slaying of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero—a hate crime that revealed deep fissures in the community. Immigrant advocacy groups and religious leaders decried Trump for holding a rally so close to the site of Lucero’s murder. Trump’s outreach to Long Island may have played dividends in the election, with the GOP candidate taking the majority of the vote in Suffolk County.

3. Orlando Shooter, Victim’s LI Connection
The horrific slaying of 49 people inside a gay nightclub in Orlando this summer reverberated across the country and especially on Long Island, which is home to a large and close-knit LGBT community. That the homophobic murders of dozens of young people felt incredibly poignant for many was not the only reason LI became part of the story. As it turned out, Omar Mateen, the deranged gunman, spent his early childhood in Westbury—the same town that alleged al Qaeda propagandist Samir Khan called home before moving to North Carolina. (Khan was killed in a drone strike in Yemen.) One of the victims who survived Mateen’s massacre, Marissa Delgado, reportedly grew up in Glen Cove and later moved to Orlando. The attack on the nightclub was the worst mass shooting by a single gunman in US history. The shooting occurred on the eve of gay pride parades across the country, including on LI.

2. Body Count Rises in Brentwood
In the deadliest month in Brentwood in seven years, six victims of gang violence—mostly teenagers—were found dead there in a five-week span. Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, were first found dead on Sept. 13. Days later, police unearthed the skeletal remains of 19-year-old Oscar Acosta, who was reported missing under suspicious circumstances in May, and 15-year-old Miguel Moran. All four were Brentwood High School students. Then on Oct. 13, Dewann A.S. Stacks, 34, was killed on American Boulevard. On Oct. 17, police found the body of 18-year-old Jose Pena-Hernandez, an alleged MS-13 gang member from Brentwood who was reported missing in June. Police said MS-13 involvement is suspected in some cases and sources said the gang is responsible for all six. Police said they have made arrests in a gang crackdown, but haven’t released names or charges of the suspects.

1. Tammany Island
Together, they read like the verse of a Billy Joel song. Thomas Spota, Jimmy Burke, Dean Skelos, Edward Walsh, John Venditto, Ippolito, Ed & Linda Mangano. We didn’t start the fire! What do they all have in common? Getting the attention of federal law enforcement this year, of course. Nassau County Executive Mangano, his wife, Linda, and Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Venditto all pleaded not guilty in October to an alleged bribery scheme. The county exec rebuffed calls to resign and Venditto hasn’t said if he will or not, either. Ex-Oyster Bay Planning Commissioner Fred Ippolito was sentenced in September to 2 years in prison for not reporting $2 million in income on his taxes. Ex-Suffolk County Conservative Party Chairman Ed Walsh is appealing his March fraud conviction for golfing, gambling and politicking when he was on the clock at his job as a corrections lieutenant. Expelled New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was sentenced in May to five years in prison but remains free while he appeals his conviction for extortion, fraud and soliciting bribes. Disgraced Suffolk Police Chief James Burke was sentenced last month to 46 months in prison for beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover up that resulted in several of his subordinates being charged and convicted. And Burke’s mentor, Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota, rebuffed calls to resign in May following reports that his top corruption prosecutor is the target of federal public corruption investigators.

Who’s next? Guess we’ll find out in 2017.