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The Long Island Press

Suffolk Revives Plan to Merge Elected Offices

Suffolk County Treasurer Angie Carpenter and Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki.

Suffolk County voters will decide this fall whether to merge the elected offices of treasurer and comptroller, even though a planned referendum to do the same thing was nixed in a lawsuit last year.

The county legislature voted 12-6 to pass the resolution granting the new referendum at their meeting Tuesday. Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) crossed party lines to vote for the plan with the Democratic majority and their minor-party allies.

“It’s the power to the people,” said Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai), who introduced the bill with Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) last month. “This will allow them to make that decision.”

If voters approve the referendum on Election Day, a Department of Audit and Control to be headed by the comptroller will assume the treasurer’s responsibilities in 2018, when the term for the current treasurer expires.

The elimination of the county treasurer, chief deputy county treasurer, and deputy county treasurer could save $585,000 in ‘18 and $707,000 in ’19, but could cost the county in financial control and accountability, said Robert Lipp, who heads the office of legislative budget review.

“There could be other issues that would be problematic to savings,” Lipp said, “those being the possibility of impact on controls—it’s beyond our ability to determine if there would be an impact there—and the fact there is a shortage of staffing to begin with.”

The legislature approved a plan to hold referendum to merge the two offices last year when County Executive Steve Bellone first proposed the measure. Treasurer Angie Carpenter, a Republican who lost to Bellone, a Democrat, in the 2011 county executive elections, filed a lawsuit to stop the referendum. A Suffolk judge ruled in favor of Carpenter—a ruling that was upheld on appeal.

“The treasurer is not sitting there doing nothing,” Carpenter said. “To think that, without the treasurer or the deputies, the kinds of things that we do could be done isn’t going to happen.”

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he supports the referendum but criticized the merger itself.

“I’m not necessarily 100-percent convinced, but I don’t believe that my personal opinion should obstruct the voters,” he said.

Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) remained unconvinced, saying that she believes the treasurer and the comptroller should continue to be independently elected.

“What’s the potential for corruption?” she said. “Absolutely the potential is there with only one set of eyes.”

ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition Captures Alure at its Best [Sponsored]

Hundreds of supporters came to the "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" unveiling for the Arena family, the house completely transformed by Long Island's own Alure Home Improvements.

Doing back-to-back renovations for ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition didn’t deter Alure Home Improvements’ Sal Ferro.

His Alure team had just redone a house in Queens for the hit television show, when he agreed to assist another New York family in need. He knew Alure had the perfect crew of dedicated professionals to make a huge difference in the Arena family’s life in a very small window of time.

“It’s not a job, it’s a choice!” Sal Ferro, Alure’s president and CEO explained as the transformation was about to begin. “We’re going to build this house, we’re going to change their lives, and let’s do it with a heck of a lot of love.”

And so in just seven days Jim and Gina Arena of Somers, a village in northern Westchester County, got a brand new home. For too long they’d all been cramped together—mom, dad and six daughters sharing one bathroom.

The parents had been planning to fix up their house themselves and had even gotten the required permits to do the work, but then tragedy struck. Their youngest son James—everyone called him “Jimmy Boy”—was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He was only 4. For the next two years Jim and Gina spent all they had saved up for repairs on finding cures for their son, but it was to no avail. Jimmy Boy passed away shortly after his sixth birthday.

Click here to learn more about Alure Home Improvements

According to the show, the Arena family was “nominated by the whole town.” Their family and friends had rallied to their aid, including neighbors and several volunteer fire departments—in part because Jim was, and still is, a volunteer firefighter himself.

Alure Home Improvements renovated the Arena family's upstairs bathroom to include six sinks, one for each daughter.
Alure Home Improvements renovated the Arena family’s upstairs bathroom to include six sinks, one for each daughter.

Their ranch house, built in the 1950s, had fallen into disrepair. The couple had bought it in 1988, a year after they’d gotten married. By the time Alure and the television crew arrived at their address, there were holes everywhere, joists were bare, the original wiring was exposed, and the siding was falling off.

Adding to the urgency, Gina was expecting a baby due in three months. And so, Day One of the “Extreme Makeover” began at about 7:56 a.m. on April 19, 2006, when the family, who’d been told they might be among the finalists, heard the show’s enthusiastic team leader, Ty Pennington, standing out in front of their house with a bullhorn greeting them loudly with the news they’d been desperately hoping for.

And so, still in shock, the Arenas were soon packed off to Disney World in a white limousine where they’d spend their week as their home was being torn down and transformed. Everyone got into the demolition act. Even Gina’s dad, Ray Andretta, ran a backhoe that ripped the roof apart.

“My dad said that on the second day they cleaned out the house,” Gina recalled recently. “By 5 o’clock the next morning, my father said the whole house was framed!”

But the job wasn’t smooth sailing by any means.

“They had a rough time,” Gina says. “They got slammed with rain. It poured buckets.”

She says big fans were set up in the basement to dry it out. But, in one week, working nonstop with the show’s designers, Alure Home Improvements had transformed a dilapidated one-story ranch into a stunning two-story house.

“I was just in awe,” says Gina, describing the first time she and her family saw the final results. “I couldn’t believe it!”

She was in Florida while the show’s designers were working with Alure to redo her kitchen and give it a Tuscany-inspired look, but she wasn’t concerned.

“I knew, based on the shows that Alure had already been part of, that their work was high-end,” she says. “Everything worked! It was really, really, very impressive!”

Now she’s got a “large” kitchen sink, a “massive” refrigerator-freezer, and an island in the center of the kitchen with cabinets all the way around it.

“I love my kitchen!” says Gina with conviction.

The upstairs bedroom for the girls—who were big on softball—was designed to be large enough so they could even have a catch. According to Ed Sanders, one of the show’s designers, it was “the biggest space we’ve ever done.”

The upstairs bathroom came complete with six sinks, two showers and a tub. Next to the parents’ master bedroom was a nursery with a crib for the new baby.

But the biggest surprise for the Arena family was a creation the designers called “the Miracle of Life Room,” a place “for all the memories of Jimmy-Boy,” which touchingly displayed posters and photographs of their deceased son.

“My husband and I spend more time in it than anybody else, just relaxing in there,” says Gina. “It’s a very calm place to be in.”

Click here to learn more about Alure Home Improvements

As viewers of the program know well, emotions run high on the worksite when a lucky family returns to see what’s been done in their absence. Tears of joy flow spontaneously and profusely.

Alure Home Improvements President & CEO Sal Ferro consults with the Arena family on a special episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Improvements, getting emotional when their dream home was finally unveiled.
Alure Home Improvements President & CEO Sal Ferro consults with the Arena family on a special episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Improvements, getting emotional when their dream home was finally unveiled.

That was certainly the case at the Arena home. Even Sal Ferro was caught on camera wiping his eyes after Gina Arena had given him a big hug of gratitude on Day Seven.

“I just cried like a little baby!” he said later on camera, adding that “all the doubts and all the concerns of the week” were streaming down his cheeks.

Yet one member of the Arena family still has some regrets. It’s Michael, the youngest, who is now 8 years old.

“I have to say that he is very jealous that he was not in the show!” Gina says with a laugh. “He actually asked Jim and me if Alure could come back and build a playroom in the basement!”

Eight years later, she has nothing but admiration for the job Alure did.

“Sal and every single one of his employees bent over backwards to help!” she says.

Despite the intense time pressure, they left her house in immaculate shape; no detail was too small to be overlooked.

“They are such a fine-tuned organization!” says Gina.

What’s not to like?

Do This: Long Island Events June 19-24

Paramore Jones Beach

Lucinda Williams
The quintessential singer/songwriter has an edgy voice that sounds like a soft snarl filtered through a rusty screen door of a ramshackle Delta farmhouse on a hot summer night. Her material rides the border between alt-country and hard rock, but always reverberates with raw emotion and a hint of something deeper going on. Her career has been quixotic over the years, but she’s finally getting the acclaim she deserves. “Passionate Kisses” anyone? With special guest Kenneth Brian Band. The Space. 250 Post Ave., Westbury. thespaceatwestbury.com $40-$60. 8 p.m., June 19

Jay Black
The Long Island native known as The Voice and former frontman of Jay and the Americans will perform his hits, including “Only In America,” “Come A Little Bit Closer,” “Cara Mia,” “This Magic Moment,” and “Walkin’ In The Rain.” Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre, Eisenhower Park, East Meadow. nassaucountyny.gov Free. 7:30 p.m., June 20

Hot Tuna
Hot Tuna teams up former Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, who for years have been putting their own spin on rock and roll—either electric or acoustic—that draws deep from the roots of country folk and down-home blues. Looking like a hipper version of Colonel Sanders in sunglasses, Leon Russell is the legendary piano man with an unmistakable tenor drawl, now honored in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who achieved immortality for his “A Song For You,” with its evocative refrain, “Remember when we were together, we were alone and I was singing this song to you…” A night with these two great acts means a whole lotta pickin’ will be going on, whether on the keyboards or the guitar strings. NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury. venue.thetheatreatwestbury.com $39.50, $52. 8 p.m., June 20

WWE

WWE Live
This WWE VIP Experience event will feature some of the world’s greatest professional wrestlers, including John Cena, Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family, the Rhodes Brothers, and the recently dethroned Intercontinental Champion Big E. The audience will also witness the might of Rob Van Dam only one year after his return to WWE. Who will be left standing at the end of these epic showdowns? Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Tpke., Uniondale. nassaucoliseum.com $20-$111.85. 7:30 p.m., June 21

Happy Together Tour 2014
Back by popular demand on a tour running three-decades strong, concertgoers can relive the soundtrack of their youth as they are transported back in time via multimedia highlights referencing the era in which these hits were released. Those hits include “We’re An American Band,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Devil With A Blue Dress,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Joy To The World,” and, of course, “Happy Together.” Lineup includes The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, Chuck Negron formerly of Three Dog Night, Mark Farner formerly of Grand Funk Railroad, Gary Lewis and The Playboys and Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury. venue.thetheatreatwestbury.com $39.50-$89.25. 8 p.m., June 21

Fall Out Boy
Fall Out Boy performing in Brazil. (Photo: Facebook)

Fall Out Boy / Paramore
Pop-rock chart toppers Fall Out Boy and Paramore fill out one of this summer’s greatest tandems as they join forces for what they’re calling the “Monumentour.” Having ridden parallel roller-coasters through the courses of their careers, the announcement of the monumental co-headline has fans in frenzied states of excitement while questioning how this hasn’t happened earlier? Stay tuned for a forthcoming profile of both bands in the Press. With New Politics, The Maine. Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy., Wantagh. jonesbeach.com. $56, $107.70. 7 p.m., June 21

Scott Stapp
Since another Creed reunion appears unlikely, catch the post-grunge rock band’s former frontman who turned his Grammy-winning hit, “With Arms Wide Open,” into a charity. He’s touring to promote his second solo album released last fall, Proof of Life. With guests Monks Of Mellonwah. The Emporium , 9 Railroad Ave., Patchogue. theemporiumny.com. $22 advance, $25 DOS. 8 p.m., June 21

Matisyahu Long Island

Matisyahu/Beer Fields Festival
The Jewish reggae artist is touring to promote his fifth studio album, Akeda, released this month. With pop-punkers Ballyhoo! and local bands. The show is set against the backdrop of the daylong beer fest featuring more than 75 breweries, including a wide variety of local brewers. Pennysaver Amphitheater, Bald Hill, 55 South Bicycle Path, Selden. beerfieldsny.com $35 advance, $75 DOS, $125 VIP. 4 p.m., June 21

Beards, Bards and BOOM
This mix of contemporary art forms will put all the senses to work. An outdoor sculpture garden, featuring more than 20 sculptures from local and emerging artists, which will be displayed through Aug. 18. Inside The Gathering House’s art gallery, patrons take in two-dimensional drawings and paintings, including new installations constructed by a tissue sculptor and a crochet artist’s yarn bomb. And Poet Steven T. Licardi will host spoken word performances by the best emerging poets on the scene. That’s in addition to musical performances throughout the evening from local singer-songwriters. The Walt Whitman Birthplace, 246 Old Walt Whitman Rd., Huntington Station. waltwhitman.org. Free. 7 p.m. June 21

The Adventure Park at Long Island
The Adventure Park at Long Island (Photo: Facebook)

The Adventure Park at Long Island Debuts
What’s billed as Long Island’s “First Aerial Forest Adventure Park” is slated to open its doors Saturday to thrill seekers eager to feel the rush of zipping through the trees on zip lines and “challenge bridges” between tree platforms. All of which are interconnected in a series of color-coded “treetop trails” ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced on five wooded acres within the Henry Kaufman Campgrounds. Climbers wear safety harnesses, doubly secured to cables throughout their time in the trees to ensure they are “locked on” the climbing system. The Adventure Park at Long Island, 75 Colonial Springs Rd., Wheatley Heights, longislandadventurepark.org. $39-$49. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Mon-Fri. 9 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat.-Sun. Season ends. Sept. 2

Third Annual Long Island Kosher BBQ Championship and Kosher Food Festival
Fire up the grills! Trophies will be presented to first, second and third-place winners of the following categories: Best Brisket, Best Ribs, Best Chicken, Best Beans, Most Original Team Name and Best Booth Decoration. A portion of the proceeds will be going to charities working to alleviate hunger. Temple Beth Torah, 243 Cantiague Rock Rd., Westbury. likosherbbq.org Free. 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., June 22

Everclear Long Island

Everclear, Soul Asylum, Eve 6, SpageHog
Everclear’s lead singer and songwriter Art Alexakis exercises patchwork skills of the flannel-and-denim era, constructing another nostalgia-ridden touring mini-festival lineup for ‘90s alt-rock lovers. For its third consecutive annual run, the Summerland tour bill proudly stars Soul Asylum, Eve 6, and SpaceHog. The Paramount, 370 New York Ave., Huntington. paramountny.com $32-$71.50. 7:30 p.m., June 22

Block B Long Island

Block B
After the success of their new album “Jackpot,” this South Korean boy band is now a global sensation. These bad boys of K-pop are sure to impress with boastful rapping and powerful dance skills. Fans can expect to hear hits like “Very Good” and “Be the Light” on the latest stop of their first international tour under their new record label Seven Seasons. NYCB Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Rd., Westbury. venue.thetheatreatwestbury.com $110-$245. 6:30 p.m., June 22

Avril Lavigne Long Island

Backstreet Boys / Avril Lavigne
Backstreet’s back, alright. Twenty-one years after their debut, history’s best-selling boy band is back at it. Touring in support of their new record, “In a World Like This,” set to be released next month. Sharing a stage with everyone’s favorite Canadian punk princess, Avril Lavigne. Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy., Wantagh. jonesbeach.com. $29.50-$250. 7:30 p.m., June 22

Ben Folds
He put the Ben Folds in the platinum-selling Ben Folds Five and he’s back to rock the suburbs. Following a successful reunion/live album release with the band in 2013, Folds tackles his latest live performances with a piano concerto he’s composed as part of a global symphonic tour. The Space. 250 Post Ave., Westbury. thespaceatwestbury.com $40-$64.15. 7 p.m., June 23

25th Anniversary of Tim Burton’s Batman
This marks a quarter century since what became known as “The Summer of Batman,” long before Christian Bale played The Dark Knight. Speakers include comics’ historian Danny Fingeroth in conversation with one of comics’ most acclaimed writers, Dennis O’Neil. Includes a reception with comics and merchandise available for sale by Escape Pod Comics and 4th World Comics and Toys. Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. CinemaArtsCentre.org. $10 members, $15 public. 7:30 p.m., June 23

Lionel Richie Long Island

Lionel Richie / CeeLo Green
R&B and soul classics and current hits will be performed back-to-back in the All The Hits All Night Long tour. Lionel Richie, one of the best-selling artists of all time, will bring it back to the old school with too many chart-toppers to list here. With the more famous half of Gnarls Barkley, who’s starring in a new reality show, “CeeLo Green’s The Good Life.” Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, 1000 Ocean Pkwy., Wantagh. jonesbeach.com. $20-$171.50. 7:30 p.m., June 25

—Compiled by Arielle Martinez, Elora Weil, Nikki Donato, Spencer Rumsey and Timothy Bolger.

Cuomo Has Raised Millions Through Loophole He Pledged to Close

Andrew Cuomo
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at MTA New York City Transit Headquarters on October 24, 2013. (MTA photo)

When he ran for office four years ago, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pledged to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance regulations allowing corporations and individuals to pour unlimited amounts of money into politics.

Instead, he’s become the loophole’s biggest beneficiary.

New York State forbids corporations from giving more than $5,000 a year to candidates and political committees. But limited liability companies—businesses that share attributes of corporations and partnerships—are allowed to give up to $60,800 to a statewide candidate per election cycle and up to $150,000 a year to candidates and committees overall. What’s more, corporations and individuals can set up an unlimited number of LLCs through which to donate, making the caps effectively meaningless.

Cuomo took contributions from LLCs while running for governor in 2010, but said at the time that he was only accepting them so that he could get elected and change the law. He has twice proposed legislation that would eliminate the LLC exception, most recently in his budget proposal in January, but it hasn’t been enacted. He told reporters Wednesday that there was little chance any campaign finance reforms would pass before the legislative session ends next week.

Cuomo has accepted more than $6.2 million from LLCs in the three and a half years since he took office, according to a ProPublica analysis of state campaign finance filings. That’s more than double the amount his two predecessors, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson, took in during their combined four years in office. The contributions make up a sizeable chunk of the $33 million Cuomo has reported raising for his re-election campaign. (The data reflects contributions reported through mid-January, when candidates last filed disclosure reports.)

In a statement, Cuomo spokesman Matthew Wing offered this to explain the apparent contradiction: “The Cuomo campaign is following existing campaign finance laws, while the Governor is leading the charge to reform them, including closing the loophole for LLCs.”

That’s of little consolation to campaign finance watchdogs concerned that those who have—or are seeking to have—business with New York are continuing to use this wrinkle in the state’s contribution rules to exert their influence. Much of the money coming to Cuomo through LLCs appears to be from real estate developers, with cable companies and liquor distributors among those also providing healthy cash infusions.

“This is a gaping hole,” said Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, a New York good-government group. Getting rid of it is “an easy fix that would turn the spigot down a bit of the flow of money from big contributors.”

It’s not always immediately apparent who controls the LLCs making the contributions. Some, like Time Warner NY Cable LLC, have familiar names. But many LLCs don’t give much of a clue as to who’s behind the money. Some controlled by real estate interests are named for streets or addresses—Arwin 88th Street LLC or 134 W 58 LLC—that require some digging to connect the dots.

Cuomo has also taken far more from LLCs since his election than any other New York State politician or committee. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has accepted about $1 million from LLCs since 2011, according to ProPublica’s analysis. The Senate Republican Campaign Committee has received about $851,000, while the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has totaled about $172,000.

New York’s rules for political giving by LLCs are among the loosest in the nation.

Federal regulations generally bar LLCs, along with corporations and unions, from giving directly to federal candidates. The rules vary at the state level—at least six states allow unlimited contributions from all types of donors, while others ban donations from corporations and other businesses entirely. But few states have carved out exceptions for LLCs as generous as New York’s.

Maryland and the District of Columbia passed legislation to close their versions of the LLC loophole last year.

Cuomo has repeatedly called for tightening New York’s campaign finance limits since his election. After lawmakers failed to pass the ethics reforms he proposed last year—including closing the LLC loophole—Cuomo formed a Moreland Commission to investigate corruption and recommend new campaign finance laws.

The commission’s preliminary report, released in December, illustrated how companies use LLCs to avoid contribution limits. A “representative string of emails” subpoenaed by investigators included “a lively discussion among members of an organization about which of the organization’s LLCs should be used to make a round of outsized contributions, based upon which ones had already given outsized contributions in the past,” the report said. The commission recommended closing the loophole, among other reforms.

Instead, the loophole survived when Cuomo announced in March that he was shutting down the Moreland Commission. Lawmakers had agreed to adopt new bribery and anti-corruption measures, he said, so there was no longer a need for it.

But that halted the panel’s investigation into potential campaign finance abuses by LLCs.

“The commission was not given the time to accomplish what it was charged with doing,” said Richard Briffault, a Columbia Law School professor who served on the commission. “None of the investigations had time to be completed.”

Of the LLCs giving to Cuomo, the most generous are controlled by Glenwood Management, a real estate development company headquartered on Long Island. Headed by Leonard Litwin, a reclusive 99-year-old magnate, Glenwood has given $800,000 to Cuomo since he took office using 19 separate LLCs. Glenwood’s LLCs have also given millions of dollars to other New York candidates and committees, both Democratic and Republican.

Another real estate developer, the Extell Development Co., has also given extensively to Cuomo through LLCs, including two donations last year that were flagged by the Moreland Commission.

Two LLCs affiliated with Extell gave the governor a total of $100,000 on Jan. 28, 2013—two days before Cuomo signed legislation that granted a tax break to Extell’s One57 skyscraper in Manhattan, as well as properties owned by four other developers. Two other LLCs with ties to Extell gave Cuomo another $100,000 six months later. (The contributions were first reported last year by The Daily News.)

“While we do not comment on any specific campaign contributions, we categorically deny any quid pro quo between contributions and legislation,” Anna LaPorte, a spokeswoman for Extell, said in a statement to ProPublica. “Any suggestion to the contrary is an attempt to inhibit our constitutional right to have our voice heard on public policy issues.”

There is no evidence that Cuomo played any role in inserting the tax breaks. Without naming Extell or Cuomo, however, the Moreland Commission called out the developers’ donations, saying they created “the appearance of a relationship between large donations and legislation that specifically benefits large donors.”

“Our investigation continues and we draw no premature conclusions” about whether the tax breaks were improper, the commission wrote in its December report, “but it is clear that the combination of very large campaign contributions and very narrowly targeted benefits to those same donors creates an appearance of impropriety that undermines public trust in our elected representatives.”

Real estate interests may take advantage of the LLC loophole partly because of the way their businesses are structured. Developers typically keep each of their properties in a separate LLC to limit their legal liability, giving them plenty of LLCs with which to write checks to politicians.

“There is a lot of business they have before Albany,” said Bill Mahoney, the research coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group, “and this is one way for them to buy more access than other folks.”

Indeed, other businesses with huge stakes in New York have used LLCs to write outsized checks to Cuomo.

Since the governor took office, Time Warner Cable has contributed more than $60,000 to him through its LLC; LLCs affiliated with Cablevision have given $110,000. Two liquor distributors, Empire Merchants LLC and Empire Merchants North LLC, have given over $120,000. And two LLCs affiliated with the Ultimate Fighting Championship have contributed $115,000 to Cuomo, plus tens of thousands of dollars more to state legislators and political committees.

Cuomo has not proposed any legislation to legalize professional mixed martial arts events in New York, the only state that bans them. But almost a year after he received a $50,000 check from one of the LLCs, Cuomo seemed to come out in favor of overturning the ban.

“I think we need economic activity, especially in upstate New York,” he said in a radio interview in 2013. “I think this is a major endeavor that is televised, that is happening all over the country at this point. You’re not going to stop it from happening. And I’m interested in the potential economic potential for the state.”

Wing, the Cuomo spokesman, said there was no connection between the governor’s comments and the contributions.

Suffolk Bill Requiring Direct 911 Calls from Hotels Advances

Hank Hunt of Texas came to Long island this week to push for a bill that would require hotels to allow direct calls to 911.

When a 9-year-old girl tried to call 911 to report that her father allegedly ambushed her mother in December, she couldn’t get through because their hotel required guests to dial “9” first.

Brad Dunn was later charged with the murder of his estranged wife, Kari Hunt Dunn, in the Texas case that sparked a reexamination of security protocol in the hotel and tourism industry. Kari’s family joined Suffolk County lawmakers and supporters backing legislation that would require hotels and motels to update their phone systems to allow direct calls to police.

“She followed the instructions and she did not get help,” Hank Hunt, the victim’s father, told reporters Thursday during a news conference on Long Island. He wondered aloud if things could have turned out differently if one of his granddaughter’s four calls went through.

Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Solanga) and Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) proposed the bill, which passed the Public Safety Committee and will be subject of a public hearing at the legislature Tuesday. The proposal is among the first in the nation addressing the issue.

“We expect this [bill] to spread across the state and across the country,” said Trotta.

Hunt started a petition with more than 450,000 supporters on Change.org calling on Congress to pass “Kari’s Law,” proposed by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry into the multi-line phone system used in hotels and motels. And the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHALA) polled its members on how guests reach help by dialing 911.

“The results came back pretty dismal,” said Hunt. The survey found that guests reach emergency services if they dial 911 without an access code in only 44.5 percent of franchise hotels and 32 percent of independent hotels.

“We want those rules to be the same across every state line,” said Hunt. “If you dial 911 from any phone, you’re going to get help.”

John Tsunis, chairman of New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association, agreed.

“Can you imagine picking up a phone, desperate for emergency services, and dialing 911 and not being able to reach help,” he said. “Parents teach their kids to dial 911 in an emergency so it’s an important initiative that we drop the nine.”

The modification of phone systems has already made its way to the Holiday Inn Express in Stony Brook, where the press conference was held. It took only a day to install a new program for the communication service, Tsunis said.

Without such upgrades, the AHALA poll found that hotel guests have a one-in-three shot of dialing 911 and connecting to a dispatcher. Hunt hopes to turn the tragedy into an opportunity to create change that saves lives.

“I’m not doing it for Kari, but on behalf of her and any other people who have been affected by this problem,” concluded Hunt. “I would be somewhat relieved on my part that she didn’t die in vain.”

Exclusive: Ronald Bower, Released on Parole After 23 Years, Maintains His Innocence

Kristy Bower and her father Ronald are reunited June 12, 2014 after his 23-year incarceration for sex crimes many believe he did not commit. (Christopher Twarowski/Long Island Press)

Both crying with their arms wrapped around each other, Ronald and Kristy Bower embraced for the first time outside prison walls in more than 23 years.

“I love you dad, you’re finally home-free,” she told him.

“I love you so much,” Ron replied as a light rain began to fall outside Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate Dannemora, just south of the Canadian border. “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

Ronald Bower, 53, has spent the last quarter-century in prison for sex crimes that an ever-growing number of law enforcement officials believe he did not commit. A convicted Level 3 sex offender, Bower has become the center of a politically charged firestorm following a December 2013 letter from the then-New York State Attorney General Office’s conviction review bureau chief, Thomas Schellhammer, stating that it’s “highly unlikely that Bower committed the crimes for which he was convicted.”

Released just in time for Father’s Day, Bower granted the Press exclusive access to the family’s long-sought reunion.

Soon after his release, in his first interview as a free man, Bower continued professing his innocence—something he’s done since his arrest mid-shift as a security guard at Douglaston Mall on May 10, 1991—breaking down several times along with his daughter as he departed the grounds of what’s referred to as “New York’s Siberia.” His face strewn with tears, her hand in his, he thanked his supporters, including his longtime lawyer, Jeremy Goldberg, the Nassau Legal Aid Society’s appeals bureau chief.

“I just want the victims to know that I’m an innocent man, and it deeply bothers me that they believe the last 23 years that I’m guilty of these crimes,” Bower emphatically cried out. “I didn’t do anything to you or anybody. And I’m also a victim of the crimes against all of you.”

Read some of the backstory about Ronald Bower’s case HERE and HERE.

Watch Ronald Bower’s attorney’s plea to sex crimes victims in Nassau and Queens HERE.

Besides Schellhammer—who has since been replaced following backlash from the offices of Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who’s currently running for Congresssupporters include current or former members of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and members of the sex crimes unit who originally arrested him. They believe the true perpetrator is a former New York City police officer named Michael Perez.

Perez, who shared similar physical characteristics with Bower, was acquitted of two sex attacks involving a silver .38-caliber revolver—one of nearly a dozen weapons which he owned, according to court documents.

Ultimately, Bower was sentenced to 18-to-54 years for two such attacks in Queens and Nassau attributed to an assailant dubbed “The Silver Gun Rapist.” Yet, despite Bower’s arrest, the pattern attacks continued.

Unbeknownst to Bower, who didn’t own a gun at the time of the sex attacks, he has recently become a political football in the re-election campaign of state Democratic Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and his Republican challenger, John Cahill.

Thursday, shortly after his 8 a.m. release, Ronald Bower emerged from prison carrying a large fishnet bag full of two decades’ worth of correspondence, photos and holiday cards as his daughter, Kristy, raced toward him in the rain.

“I feel like I just won the Powerball,” said a joyous Ronald, his face awash in tears. “It feels like a 50-pound weight has been lifted off my chest. I’m so happy to be released from prison and to see my daughter so happy to see her father finally be free.” Her words were overwhelming with such happiness and relief knowing that her dad was finally released from prison.

“The moment that I have been long awaiting, to hold my father outside of the prison walls, was more than I could have ever imagined,” smiled an emotional Kristy, who was just 4 years old when her dad was arrested. “The fight will still continue until my father is finally exonerated.”

The Bowers and Ronald’s attorney Goldberg ask for privacy to enjoy Father’s Day weekend once again as a family.

“Ron will now be able to spend Father’s Day with his remarkable daughter Kristy,” says Goldberg. “On behalf of Ron, I ask that their privacy be respected for at least a short time while, with the support of those who know him to be innocent, he tries to adjust to the new and challenging realities that he now faces.”

Book Review: Everywhere That Tommy Goes by Howard Pollack

In a genre that is quickly becoming over-saturated, Howard Pollack bursts through with a psychological thriller that reminds us why we can’t get enough of it. The setup seems initially predictable but Pollack’s prose is enough to draw the reader far enough in to realize that this anything but hackneyed. Everywhere That Tommy Goes moves quickly without being breezy. Just as we’re beginning to navigate the personalities of the protagonists—Tommy Sullivan and Troyer Savage—everything turns upside down in an instant and chaos ensues. From that point forward, it’s impossible to put it down and the reader never has a chance to recover. You’re strapped in and along for the ride. Pollack maintains a consistently interesting and edgy narrative and winds up pulling together a terrific modern thriller. To say anything more would do a disservice to any curious fan of this genre. Suffice to say, nothing is what it seems. Everywhere That Tommy Goes is terrifying, frustrating and unpredictable and is written with the confidence of a seasoned storyteller. Therefore, the most unpredictable thing about it is might be that it is Pollack’s debut.

Book Synopsis:

An attractive young bartender goes missing from a popular New York City hot spot and the only evidence found at the scene points to Tommy Sullivan. Fearing arrest, he runs, and is secretly followed by his new friend Troyer Savage. When an even more horrific murder occurs, and Troyer vanishes in its wake, Tommy is left in a stupor, bathed in the victim’s blood.As his blackouts and memory lapses multiply, Tommy becomes lost between nightmare and reality. Things only get worse for him when the police build a case that links him to bodies buried in shallow graves among the sand dunes at Gilgo Beach on Long Island.With the police in hot pursuit and the psychological tension building by the minute, the action never lets up as Tommy pieces together parts of the puzzle from clues buried deep within his tragic childhood. However, the dark secrets from his past may belie the actual truth.

Click here to find Everywhere That Tommy Goes on Amazon.

Long Island Press Wins Top Honors at SPJ Press Club of Long Island Awards

The Long Island Press brought home 15 honors at the 2014 Society of Professional Journalists’ Press Club of Long Island (PCLI) Media Awards Thursday, clinching nearly a dozen of the competition’s top prizes and dominating several key categories.

Founded in 1974, PCLI is a local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s largest and most broad-based journalism organization. Its annual contest and awards dinner recognizes journalistic excellence across media outlets throughout Nassau, Suffolk and the region. It was held at Woodbury Country Club on June 5.

News organizations of all genres and sizes—from small community websites and weeklies to behemoths such as Long Island’s lone daily newspaper and the TV network its parent company also owns—go head-to-head, judged across more than 80 categories for the very best journalism.

The Press, which only published 12 issues last year, took home nine First Place honors across many of the contest’s most competitive categories. These include: Crime & Justice, Environment, Health, Arts, Entertainment, Sports Feature, Non-Local News/Feature, Video: Government/Politics, and Humor.

Press Editor in Chief Christopher Twarowski took home First Place honors in the Environment category for his investigative cover story “Atomic Warfare,” documenting the relentless struggles of sick and dying workers who unknowingly toiled atop a former nuclear waste site in Hicksville without ever being informed of its hazardous past by state regulators nor its owners.

The expose also earned First Place honors in the Health category.

Press Managing Editor Timothy Bolger took Third Place in the Environment category for his in-depth, comprehensive “Gas Pains: Offshore LNG Port Proposal’s Critics Fear Fracking Exports on Horizon.”

Press contributor Shelly Feuer Domash earned First Place in the Crime & Justice category for her exclusive, probing cover story into the infamous $6 million theft at JFK’s Lufthansa Terminal, titled “The Heist: Nassau Cop Breaks Silence on Mob Case that Left 16 Dead, $6M Missing,” which offered new revelations into the 1978 case and predated a historic arrest in the case by the U.S. Attorney’s Office by two months.

Press Multimedia Reporter Rashed Mian grabbed a First Place nod in the Sports Feature category (despite the Press’ lack of a sports section) for his colorful, insightful and well-researched cover story “Julius Erving and the Nets’ Glory Days on Long Island.”

Mian’s in-depth “Hollywood East: Behind the Scenes of L.I.’s Booming TV and Film Industry” also snatched First Place in the Entertainment category.

Twarowski, Mian and Press Publisher Jed Morey won First Place in the Non-Local News/Feature category for “Revolution’s Family Tree: Blood-Soaked Roots of the Liberty Tree Bear Fruit Once Again in the Digital Age.” The several-thousand-word cover story was reported throughout Washington, D.C., Virginia and Maryland—including at Fort Meade, where the National Security Agency is headquartered—and is an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the handful of independent journalists and activists covering U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning’s court martial.

Twarowski and Press Staff Writer Jaime Franchi brought home Third Place accolades in the Best Headline category for their Pink Floyd-inspired title “We Don’t Need No Education: L.I. Parents & Teachers Revolt Against Common Core.”

Franchi also won Second Place in the Editorial/Commentary category for Press sister publication Milieu Magazine with her revealing “Not So Blurred Lines,” addressing the controversy surrounding Miley Cyrus’ tuckus-gyrating twerking on the VMAs.

Press contributor Peter Tannen earned the First Place in the Humor category for his hilarious Just Sayin’ column “Long Island Slowly Drifting Toward Connecticut,” which sparked fear and consternation among some readers that did not realize it was an April Fool’s joke. The satire was also unfortunately reprinted as an actual news story by several local websites.

Mian and Twarowski brought home First Place honors in the Video: Government/Politics category for their 12-minute mini-documentary “NDAA, Indefinite Detention, and the Battle Raging Against the Most Important Law You’ve Never Heard Of,” chronicling journalists’ and activists’ attempts to stop a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act to legalize the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens and raise awareness about the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers.

The duo was also honored with Second Place nods in the Video: Neighborhood/Community category for their powerful short “Superstorm Sandy One Year Later: Much Work Still to be Done,” documenting the ongoing struggles of aid workers and residents still coping with the decimation wrought in the storm’s wake.

Twarowski’s “Atomic Warfare: Sick Employees Seek Justice in Lawsuit Over Former Nuclear Site in Hicksville” was awarded Third Place honors in the In-Depth Report/Series category.

Press contributors Cassidy Kammerer and Catherine Xavier were honored with a First Place prize in the Arts category for their moving, masterfully crafted “Sandy Art: Beauty from Devastation,” which brought to life local artists’ emotionally gripping, literal transformation of hope and life from the utter wreckage and decimation left in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Press contributor Steve Smirti and Twarowski shared Second Place nods in the same category for their colorful and fascinating “Art League of Long Island: L.I.’s Masters of Fine Art.”

Bernie Williams Blends Jazz and Pop in Life Beyond Baseball

Bernie Williams
Former New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams takes his talents center stage. (Photo credit: www.bernie51.com)

As his band mates leave the platform after a thorough sound check, the man who once patrolled centerfield at Yankee Stadium wearing No. 51 on his back stays on the stage, fine-tuning the sounds that his instruments produce and methodically going over the rhythms and melodies that piece together his work.

Observing from the seats, you couldn’t tell that Bernie Williams, a four-time World Series champion who spent his entire 16-year career with the New York Yankees, was once a deceptively exquisite athlete who had a knack for delivering in big moments—a flair for the dramatic that belied his tranquil demeanor.

Rather, you see a highly skilled musician feverishly working on his craft, somehow untainted by his success in the outfield. Williams absorbs advice and heeds notes from his band and tech crew. It takes a special someone to conquer a professional sport, but to transcend the game and become something more through music is a quality few have. Williams has truly gone from centerfield to center stage.

Williams and His All-Star Band performed in front of a sellout crowd at the Madison Theater, located at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, on June 6. The concert supported two causes that helps disadvantaged youngsters: Long Island Bombers, a group dedicated to educating the public on blindness and providing visually impaired athletes the opportunity to play baseball, and the Rockville Centre Little League Challenger Division, which helps children with disabilities pursue fun on the baseball field.

Williams, who plays lead and rhythm guitar, composes music that blends jazz, classical, pop and the Latin sounds of his heritage. After signing with Paul McCartney’s publishing company, MPL Communications, in 2003, he released his debut album, “The Journey Within,” and saw it soar to No. 3 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart. Williams collaborated with other artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Patti Scialfa, Jon Secada and Dave Koz in 2009 for his second album, “Moving Forward,” which came out on the Reform Records label.

“I developed a huge love of music through my father,” Williams, who grew up in Puerto Rico, tells the Press. Bernabé Williams Figueroa Sr. was a merchant marine. Returning home from Spain, the father surprised his eight-year-old son with a flamenco guitar. From then on, Williams was hooked on the instrument, the five-time All-Star says, adding, “I basically kept asking him to teach me to play guitar.” His passion for competitive sports went hand-in-hand with his affection for music. The blooming student-athlete swiftly shined in both pursuits, going on to attend the special performance arts school, Escuela Libre de Musicam, at age 13, while becoming one of the most distinguished young athletes on the island.

Despite his musical success, Williams has not stopped learning. He is currently in his junior year at Manhattan School of Music, where he’s pursing a degree in jazz performance. The former Yankee poked fun at his family, noting that the pressure was on him to get a degree.

“I was being a little regulated in my family because I was the only one without a college degree,” he says. He jokes that he has a doctorate degree in baseball, but still needs an authentic degree in music. “Being able to go back to school and earn my degree is something very important to me,” Williams says.

Asked if his fame as a baseball player carries over into a classroom full of students that are barely half his age, the former Bronx Bomber insists, “The only thing that matters in that school is if you can play.”

With an emphasis on jazz, Williams has made a commitment to learning as much as he can about the genre, studying its history and its origins. He mentions the great saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and top trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie as his inspirations.

Burdened by 16 grueling 162-game seasons (plus a remarkable run of 121 playoff games during his career), Williams devoted his spare time in the clubhouse to his music.

“With downtime, you always find time to do something, whether before games or after, so I just [chose] to practice guitar a lot,” he explains.

Williams reminisces about playing with his former teammate Paul O’Neill, a drummer enthusiast, during the season. “Paul is an actual player, he had a drum setup at a room in the old stadium,” he says. “We used to go there after batting practice or during rain delays and just jam a bit.”

In his book, “Rhythms of the Game,” the Major League Baseball player turned musical performer relates how the two passions in his life played off each other.

“A lot of the aspects of baseball and music are relatable,” he says. “It’s about rhythm and timing. Having good timing makes a lot of the notes you play pleasurable, and timing in baseball is key to the game. You have to time yourself to hit the ball in the perfect spot, and you have to time yourself to make a catch.”

Addressing the dozens of youngsters in attendance, Williams talked about how much it means to him to be able to give back to the community.

“I knew with the career I had in baseball,” he says, “it would be conducive to doing charity work. Adding the extra element of music makes it that much more special to kids who may not be involved in sports but can relate to me on another angle.”

Williams and his band were invited to the event by Ted Fass, owner of Entertainment Unlimited, which specializes in providing music, comedy, tribute bands and variety entertainment. Fass, who is visually impaired, is one of forerunners of the Long Island Bombers.

“We’re showing him our appreciation,” Williams says, “and that what he’s doing is making a lot of differences in people’s lives.”

With fame and fortune in his back pocket, Williams still remains humble. “I knew I was going to do something with music when I retired from the game of baseball,” he explains. “I didn’t know it would get this big, where I would perform at venues and get paid doing it. It’s a dream come true to do two things that I love. I feel very blessed to be able to succeed at both.”

Bernie Williams rocked The Space at Westbury back in January. Click here to check out Long Island’s Live Theater Guide, The Island Ear, for more shows and featured venues.

IRS Delays New Rules for Dark Money Groups

IRS headquarters in Washington, D.C.

After intense criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, the Internal Revenue Service has delayed indefinitely proposed rules that would have imposed new limits on social welfare nonprofits, which have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars from anonymous donors into recent elections.

The agency said last month it would postpone a hearing on the proposal it released in November defining more clearly what constitutes political activity for such groups, and would revise the plan to reflect some of the more than 150,000 comments it triggered.

Officials put no timeline on the process, disappointing those who had hoped the new regulations might kick in before this year’s mid-term elections.

“I think it’s unfortunate that new rules will be delayed even further and that we’re going through another election cycle” without them, said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel with the Campaign Legal Center.

Others called the delay a prudent step that would give the IRS an opportunity to get a crucial change right.

“They’re not going to put out some slapdash rule just to check it off their list,” said John Pomeranz, a Washington lawyer who works with nonprofits that spend money on politics. He doesn’t expect the agency to finish the rules any time soon. “I think we’ll be lucky if they’re in place for the 2016 election.”

Social welfare nonprofits have poured money into politics since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, which allowed corporations, unions and nonprofits to spend unlimited money on elections.

Social welfare nonprofits spent more than $256 million in the 2012 cycle alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Campaign finance watchdogs have viewed their rise with concern, fearing the influence of so-called “dark” money from secret donors, and had called for more oversight from the IRS.

Under IRS regulations, the groups can spend some of their resources on politics, but must devote themselves mostly to social welfare to keep their nonprofit status. But the rules defining what is and isn’t politics are murky.

Late last year, the IRS moved to clarify the issue, but its proposal came under fire from both the left and the right.

Conservatives complained that the rules would stifle political speech. The American Civil Liberties Union chafed at a provision in the proposed rules that would prevent nonprofits from backing ads that even mentioned politicians in the two months before a general election.

“We have no doubt that the Service is acting with the best of intentions, but the proposed rule threatens to discourage or sterilize an enormous amount of political discourse in America,” the ACLU said in its written response to the proposal.

The plan was also criticized for impeding nonpartisan election work such as voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The IRS, still facing fallout from accusations that it singled out the applications of conservative nonprofits for special scrutiny in the run-up to the 2012 election, decided it would make revisions.

“Given the diversity of views expressed and the volume of substantive input, we have concluded that it would be more efficient and useful to hold a public hearing after we publish the revised proposed regulation,” the agency said in statement.