Nick Ciccone

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Josh Lafazan: The New Kid in Nassau Legislature

Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan (D-Syosset), the county's youngest county legislator ever, is encouraging more young people to get civically involved. (Photo by Nick Ciccone)

It wasn’t enough for Josh Lafazan, 24, of Syosset, to become the youngest Nassau County legislator in history in November. Now, he’s bringing his contemporaries with him into local government at an unprecedented rate.

The gregarious, fast-talking young politico, who first made headlines when he was elected to the Syosset Central School District Board of Education at 18 and who now represents Nassau’s 18th Legislative District, says he doesn’t mind being the “young guy.” The questioning perks him up — even if he sometimes finds himself being condescended to.

“I’m the only legislator who lives in mom’s basement,” he jokes.

Lafazan’s age gives him a rapport with his interns, he says, and about 40 of them will gradually take over the Franklin Avenue legislative building before July, well above the about five interns that lawmakers typically have. When dozens of young people volunteered to work on his campaign a little more than a year ago, he got the idea to create a bona fide government internship program — one where students would be able to do a whole lot more than fetch coffee.

“No matter how young they were, no matter whether they were a political science major or never watched a minute of C-SPAN in their life, I promised myself I would give them the opportunity to dive headfirst into the world of politics,” Lafazan says.

Diving headfirst into something new seems to be a popular refrain for the freshman lawmaker, who is a registered independent but caucuses with Democrats. He eagerly rattles off a list of rehearsed 100-days-in-office accomplishments, and although there’s something admittedly politician-like about it, Lafazan has undoubtedly had a front-loaded year.

He drafted a bill to require American Sign Language interpreters at every county emergency press conference — one that received bipartisan support at the legislature and that County Executive Laura Curran ultimately signed. He appointed a council of representatives to act as liaisons to the Nassau County Police Department in the 18th District. He voted to strengthen county policies on sexual harassment and to expand social host laws to include language about opioids. He’s proposed a package of bills to address the opioid crisis in concert, including provisions that would create 24-hour addiction assessment centers, an addiction crisis hotline and stricter enforcement of substance-free dormitories at Nassau colleges.

With the workload Lafazan describes, his team of interns sound more like junior staffers — young people who mirror his enthusiasm.

“Many of them have no interest in politics,” he says, referring to some interns who are studying criminal justice, “but they have an interest in me because I treat them like an equal.”

As Lafazan made the jump from aspiring politician to elected official, he says, the internship program became more governmental than political. To start with, the summer interns work together conducting a deep dive of the Nassau County Charter, to both familiarize themselves with local government and also to try to spot potential areas for revamped legislation. Lafazan says the interns are polled on their interests and skill sets, and he and his team try to make it as individualized as possible.

Those interested in lawmaking would be placed on a “policy team,” which focuses on poring over Nassau County laws and proposed bills throughout the tri-state area, and “actually will recommend policies for our office to introduce as bills, which again, is so substantive and you don’t find in other internships.”

One of Lafazan’s interns, Victoria Edwards, 21, of Hempstead, said that her first week on the job has “made politics come alive” for her.

“I was honestly inspired because he’s the youngest legislator,” Edwards says. “He’s so close to me in age, so I just wanted to see what it was that he was doing, and I wanted to be a part of that in some way.”

It’s jarring to see Lafazan’s zest for public office at a time when Americans are increasingly divided on how government should function — but he’s aware of that contrast. What’s refreshing about Lafazan is that he doesn’t seem to entertain the idea of political opponents or partisanship, often touting his registered independence.

He hopes his optimism can infect some of his jaded colleagues at the infamously combative legislature, and “open up their minds to a new way of doing business,” he says, “the millennial way of doing business.”

Tweezerman Tweezers: A Plucky Success

Dal LaMagna founded Tweezerman.

Dal LaMagna bent over — stark naked — in front of a mirror in 1980 and discovered the pain in his butt that would go on to make him a millionaire.

“I was nude sunbathing, and I got  a splinter in my butt,” LaMagna recalled in a speech in 2001, according to The New York Times.

The tweezers he’d bought from a local drugstore didn’t work, which prompted him to start thinking about what would make them better. This was the start of Tweezerman, now an international personal-care-tool brand launched on the North Shore.

LaMagna burst into the business world with tremendous entrepreneurial spirit. That zest was tested when he moved to Los Angeles to become a filmmaker but was initially unsuccessful. He had other ideas before selling tweezers, such as trying to engineer a baking pan specifically for lasagna — another failure.

The splinter in his rear end was both his rock bottom and his saving grace. He teamed up with a Swiss cosmetics company, Dumont, which eventually became the multimillion-dollar Tweezerman brand — but not before LaMagna practically exhausted his life’s savings. His early struggles ignited his lasting intrigue in American capitalism, about which he’s authored a few books.

Racking up debt in the process of building his tweezer empire, he realized, “You can’t get capital if you don’t have capital. It’s a closed club, and that’s a problem.”

At the peak of the business’s success in 2004, averaging between $25 and $30 million in annual revenues, LaMagna sold Tweezerman to a German company, Zwilling J.A. Henckels. Tweezerman is still a Long Island-based company, headquartered in Port Washington, and its products are sold virtually everywhere.

His relentless work ethic also led him to finance several of his own political campaigns — he twice tried to unseat U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) in 1996 and 2000; and he ran against ex-Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto in 1997.

LaMagna, now 71, is still an entrepreneur. He is president and CEO of IceStone, a company that makes countertops out of recycled glass and cement in Brooklyn. Even today, LaMagna is known for his dedication to the business world, and for the quirky story of that summer afternoon in his birthday suit when he realized he was sitting on a gold mine.

Belmont Racetrack’s Triple Crown Chef

Chef Drew Revella is racing to prepare for Triple Crown crowds at the June 9 Belmont Stakes. (Photo by Nick Ciccone).

The June 9 Belmont Stakes will be Chef Drew Revella’s fifteenth at Centerplate Inc., which coordinates the racetrack’s restaurants and catering. But this year he is racing to prepare for a bigger crowd than usual.

Even with that cushion of experience and his yearlong preparations now coming to a close, there’s no telling what challenges 90,000 hungry guests might bring on the day of the event.

“There’s a love of that chaos,” Revella says. “It’s not like every other job.”

The third and final leg of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes is the longest of them all at 1 1⁄2 miles. That, coupled with the fact that front-runner Justify, the horse that won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness in May, has the potential to become the thirteenth-ever Triple Crown winner, makes it likely that the crowd at Belmont Park’s Elmont arena will be full.

Triple Crown years have a markedly different feel, Revella says, adding that he is not generally a horse racing fan. He said it was incredible when, in 2015, he saw American Pharoah cross the finish line and win the Triple Crown.

“I had one manager who worked with me over 10 years, she was literally crying in my arms because it was such an emotional experience to be part of something that exciting,” Revella recalls. “When you’re down on the track and you feel the horses run by, there’s a feeling you get that — it’s very hard to put words to it — but people know it who watch it.”

Such moments are rare, though. Catering executives and employees rarely catch a glimpse of the events they work.

“I’ve been [at the Belmont Stakes] for two years — haven’t seen it,” says Robert DiChiaro, regional vice president of Centerplate Inc., the event’s caterer. “I’ve worked Super Bowls, World Series, Stanley Cups, Final Fours — very rare that I’ve seen anything.”

He shrugs it off and catches the highlights the next day.

Revella describes working the event as a “near-death experience.” In a similar fashion to the horses’ circuit, Revella moves in circles around more than a dozen satellite kitchen stations, making sure everything is going according to plan. Food preparation begins about nine days before the event, but the bulk of the work can be done only in the hours before race day to preserve freshness.

Revella, 47, of Staten Island, might clock in as early as 2 a.m. during those last few days of preparations, coordinating with hired vendors to execute the menu he crafted specially for this year’s 150th anniversary. His primary focus will be catering to a VIP echelon of guests (nearly 6,000) who have paid as much as $1,200 for a premium experience.

“We have a very New York-centric theme this year,” Revella says. “We’re taking some old subway signs and displaying food on that, and there’s pictures of Old World New York.”

Some of the new menu items this year include Brooklyn-cured GMO-free pastrami, hot dogs, sausages and an array of other charcuterie. Revella aimed to source food as locally as possible, tapping Brooklyn-based Gotham Greens, which produces urban rooftop-grown lettuces that Revella will hand pick ahead of the event.

Revella, who attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., says he started cooking at age 6, helping out with the family business — a catering hall. He says he was “bouncing around in the kitchen throwing ingredients in soup kettles.”

Now, as a regional executive chef for Centerplate, he says he channels that fun-loving creativity into how he leads his kitchen staff. In a high-stress role such as preparing for the Belmont Stakes, he urges his staff to stay calm.

“Never panic,” he tells them. “There’s always a solution. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

After thousands flood Belmont Park for the big day, Revella says he will likely “fall down,” but come 8 p.m. he’ll start tweaking his ideas for next year’s event. And June 10 is a regular racing day at Belmont Park, which means the Centerplate team has to be ready to go the next day.

“We still gotta open for another normal day on Sunday,” DiChiaro says. “It’s organized chaos.”

Rev. Todd Bishop Delivers Church Unleashed

P.T. Bishop: Rev. Todd Bishop of Commack’s Church Unleashed evokes The Greatest Showman. (Photo by Nick Ciccone)

It’s 9 a.m. on Easter Sunday, and a few hundred people are talking amongst themselves while a pair of enormous speakers pumps a raucous electronic drumbeat into the main room of Church Unleashed’s Commack campus — a not-so-typical-Sunday at a not-your-typical-church.

While the smoke machines and colored lights are being tested, Rev. Todd Bishop, 45, who co-founded the congregation with his wife, Mary, in 2008, tells me in his office that he’s nervous, which is unusual for him.

“There’s a lot of technical components,” he says, referring to the production he is about to pull off — an Easter spin on The Greatest Showman, with Bishop playing a priestly version of P.T. Barnum.

The church is part of the Assemblies of God, under the Protestant umbrella, which touts more than 13,000 affiliated churches nationwide.

A few dozen young volunteers adapted portions of the musical to mesh with Bishop’s Easter sermon. He is technically in costume from the waist up — wearing a red trench coat with gold lace and a top hat, resting his hands on a cane.

His jeans are ripped at the knee and are part of his regular attire. Bishop, who was raised in Buffalo, says he felt disconnected from church as a child. His parents divorced when he was 2, and he is endearingly quick to reveal that, at times, he is still trying to please his absent father. The youngest of three boys, he says his relationship with God made him feel less alone.

“I would literally be downstairs with my G.I. Joe guys, and be preachin’ to ’em,” he says with a laugh.

Perched on top of a wooded hill in a residential neighborhood, with almost no front facing windows, the former site of Commack Jewish Center looks more like an abandoned warehouse from the outside. Nonetheless, people come from all over Long Island to hear Bishop preach.

“When they walk in, they’re going to get an experience,” he says. “It’s gonna feel like they’re at a concert on a Friday night.”

Liz Sartorio, a congregant and volunteer from Melville, says Church Unleashed is “the best-kept secret on Long Island.”

Others describe it as a place to connect with other Christians — a close-knit community that is somewhat removed from the chaos of day jobs, schoolwork and traditional friendships.

“It’s different than any other church I’ve ever been to, in my entire life. It’s more of a place — not only is it Bible-based — but it’s a place where you can find out who you are,” says Alex Coutrier, of Deer Park. “We’re all looking for something in life, we’re all looking to fulfill our purpose. And I feel like, here, I found out who I was.”

The first church was planted in Hicksville 10 years ago. The second, in Commack, was formed two years ago, and the Bishops just announced a third, planned for Garden City. Not only is that growth unheard of for the area, but so too is the church’s popularity with young people.

Part of the reason for that could be Bishop’s willingness to unpack current events occasionally during his sermons. After the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., for
example, he told the congregaion something to the effect of, “People have the right to bear arms, not arsenals.”

The turnout is a testament to how much the sermons resonate with congregants.

“People today are looking for spiritual leadership on some of these issues that they’re not getting,” he says.

That sentiment resurfaces in his Easter opener — a pre-taped video monologue in character as “P.T. Bishop” — in which he speaks candidly about feeling inadequate, but assuring the audience that God will always satiate. The hopelessness of the times, his insecurity, his fear of failure — it is present in Bishop’s sermon, but he is sure to speak warmly to everyone, as if they’re all in on his little secret.

“It’s a place to belong, much more than you have to believe,” he says of his creation. “Belief comes later.”