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.

Photographers Reveal ‘The Human Condition’ in New Show at Huntington Gallery

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the poignant photographs selected for the Huntington Arts Council’s new show must speak volumes about the world we live in.

“The Human Condition” is the title of this powerful collection now on display at the Main Street Gallery in Huntington.

The opening reception is on Friday, Feb. 3., from 6-8 p.m. at 213 Main St., Huntington. This event is free and open to the public.

The juried show of color and black and white photographs by 34 artists will run through Feb. 25. Marc Josloff, president of the Long Island Center of Photography, was the juror who made the final selection.

“On the walls of the Huntington Arts Council’s Main Street Gallery, we now interact with fellow humans from different cultures around the world or from the confines of our backyards…even from the depths of our own minds!” Josloff said in a statement about the exhibit. “I am honored to have been able to receive so many brilliant photographic images to pore through. In the process, I’ve been moved greatly, and I’m confident that everyone who sees this exhibition will be impacted the same way.”

Just a sampling of images reveals the wide range of work, from James Dima’s photo of an elderly man and a younger woman sitting outside a café reading to Joan Weiss’s close-up of a wiry barefoot man cutting a reed with a scythe.

A Long Island native, Josloff has a diverse artistic background himself. He’s taught painting at the National Art League, and has judged painting and photographic exhibitions across the New York metropolitan region. He’s also won recognition for his painting and photography. In 2004, Artist’s Magazine selected him as one of 11 “Artists to Watch.”

You can see what caught Josloff’s discerning eye on the walls of the Main Street Gallery.

The gallery is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. For more info, go to www.huntingtonarts.org

Photo shown here is “Dignity” by Joan Weiss, now at the Main Street Gallery.

Related: Do This: Long Island Concerts & Events February 2 – 8

Rumsey Punch: What Judge Gorsuch Could Bring To The Court Is Cause For Alarm

Gorsuch

So here comes the judge. After a promo build-up that some compared to The Apprentice, President Donald Trump ended the suspense that he’d purposely created by nominating arch conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch in a live Tuesday night broadcast from the White House to fill the seat left vacant since last February when Justice Antonin Scalia died at a Texas ranch resort. Gorsuch, a 49-year-old Coloradan, who was skiing in the Rockies when he heard the news, was so distraught over his mentor’s death that he cried all the way down the slope.

Now the tears are falling down Lady Justice’s face.

Ten years ago, President George W. Bush had nominated Gorsuch to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver, and the Harvard Law grad was confirmed by a voice vote. Eric Citron, a Supreme Court blogger, regards Gorsuch as possibly even more conservative than Scalia. On the campaign trail, Trump had said he would nominate jurists who opposed abortion and supported gun rights. Regarding LGBTQ rights, Gorsuch has been described as a “religious liberty enthusiast,” which means he supports the right of private companies to discriminate against gays.

Until the announcement, Trump had kept speculation alive by saying he was going to choose between Gorsuch and Judge Thomas Hardiman, 51, a Massachusetts native whom Bush had nominated to U.S. District Court for western Pennsylvania in 2003. Four years later, Hardiman was unanimously approved by the Senate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, where he still serves with Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry. Fluent in Spanish and married to a Democrat, Hardiman reportedly had “more in common with Justice Sonia Sotomayor” than Scalia, according to one SCOTUS blogger. That probably was the deal breaker for Steve Bannon, Trump’s white supremacist advisor.

In a just world, this seat would have been filled last spring. President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, who was universally respected. Until he wasn’t. U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had said back in 2010 that Garland would be a “consensus nominee” and there’d be “no question” that he would be confirmed for a seat that ultimately went to Judge Elena Kagan. Last year Hatch reportedly called Garland “a fine man.”

But Garland never even got the courtesy of a committee hearing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put politics above the Constitution. The reactionary Republican kept the seat open so the next president could get his way. The blockage infuriated Democrats on Capitol Hill, and for good reason.

And what, you may ask, would have been the Republicans’ response had the polls been right and Hillary Clinton had actually won the election? Here’s what Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had to say last October, with weeks left to go:

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up,” McCain said. “I promise you.”

Will Senate Democrats follow the Arizona Republican’s example of all-out resistance now that Trump is in power? Senate Republicans need 60 votes to confirm Gorsuch. They start with 52.

So far, only U.S. Sen. Jeff Markley (D-Oregon) has staked out the firmest position, reminding Americans that the Supreme Court seat was “stolen” and promising to lead a filibuster of any Trump nominee.

“This is the first time in American history that one party has blockaded a nominee for almost a year in order to deliver a seat to a President of their own party,” said Merkley in a statement. “If this tactic is rewarded rather than resisted, it will set a dangerous new precedent in American governance. This strategy of packing the court, if successful, could threaten fundamental rights in America, including workers’ right to organize, women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of ordinary citizens to have their voices heard in elections rather than being drowned out by the corrupting influence of dark money from the richest Americans.”

Dark money is the real deal behind the consolidation of power in all three branches of government: the White House, Congress, and now the Court, once Chief Justice John Roberts gets his 5-4 majority back in Republican control. As The New Yorker magazine’s legal expert, Jeffrey Toobin, wrote in 2010, “Under Roberts, the Court has continued to use the equal-protection clause as a vehicle to protect white people.”

But let us not forget another horrible legacy of the Roberts Court: its decision on Dec. 6, 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that gutted the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law by removing limits on corporate expenditures in political campaigns. Our democracy has never been the same since.

And while we’re drifting down memory lane, let’s recall how the conservative-dominated Supreme Court had awarded the Republicans the White House on Dec. 12, 2000.

In Florida, Texas Gov. George W. Bush had clung to a 537-vote margin over Vice President Al Gore—an eyelash considering that almost 6 million ballots had been cast in the Sunshine State. Split 5-4, the Court decided that Florida’s lower court ruling ordering a manual recount of all those hanging chads was unconstitutional. It struck observers at the time as rather hypocritical for conservative jurists like Antonin Scalia, who’d made so much about “judicial restraint” and respecting states’ rights, to interfere with Florida’s right to count its ballots the way it wanted. Asked about it in subsequent public appearances, Scalia told critics: “Get over it!”

So here’s the unhappy recap for those of us who still haven’t “gotten over it.” First it was the Court giving Bush 43 the win. Next it was the Court giving billionaire right-wingers like the Koch brothers a green light to spend as much dark money as they could muster. And now the Orwellian-named Judicial Crisis Network has pledged to spend at least $10 million to push Trump’s nominee through by focusing on states where Trump won, such as Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As the Founders envisioned the Supreme Court, it is supposed to exert a check on the power of the executive branch. It seemed like an academic exercise when the notion came up in the last presidential debate in October. Trump said he would “instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look” into Hillary Clinton if he won. Clinton responded, “It’s awfully good someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Prompting Trump to retort, “Because you’d be in jail.”

Given what we’ve seen the first two weeks of his administration, it’s not an idle threat. Previously, Trump had slammed federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel because his parents were born in Mexico and therefore he couldn’t be fair in handling the million-dollar fraud lawsuit against bogus Trump University. The new president doesn’t take opposition lightly.

This week acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, was summarily canned by Trump for refusing to carry out his anti-Muslim immigration ban. The president could fire her because the AG’s office is under the executive branch. But her replacement is expected to be right-wing, racist Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who once joked that the KKK were “okay” until he learned that they smoked pot. Trump thinks the world of him.

Fighting to preserve the independence of the Supreme Court when our republic is threatened is truly a patriotic act. Hopefully, today’s elected Senate Democrats will channel their righteous indignation over the shoddy handling of Garland’s nomination and follow the example of the old liberal lion himself, the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). He took to the Senate floor on July 1, 1987, to denounce President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork, who too many in the media had described as a mainstream conservative deserving confirmation. Kennedy wasn’t buying it.

As Kennedy put it: “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, school children could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government.” Bork was accurately portrayed as an extremist and he was rejected 58-42.

Unfortunately, the picture Kennedy painted is alive and well in the America Trump’s supporters have created. If we can’t trust the president to uphold the Constitution, who can we trust?

Two thousand years ago, the Roman consul Marcus Tullius Cicero spoke out against the enemies of freedom when his republic was facing the threat of dictatorship.

“A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within,” he said. “An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself.”

Now is the time for our Senate to be filled with 21st Century Ciceros.

You Don’t Know Jack: Long Beach City Manager Schnirman Eyes Future of Nassau

Jack Schnirman
Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman points out the window of his office.

From his fifth floor office with a stunning view of the Atlantic, Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman was just pointing out how the brand new, $42-million tropical hardwood boardwalk came in under budget and ahead of time, when John Mirando, his public works commissioner, entered with an important weather update.

The forecast was for one to three inches of snow overnight, not enough to shut the city down, but just enough to create hazardous driving conditions for the morning commute. Schnirman had to think about his residents and the budget. It was the first week of January with many storms yet to come. They agreed to monitor the situation and consult later that evening.

“It is a 24-hour job,” Schnirman told the Press. The 39-year-old has been city manager since January 2012. He admits he wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about the weather.

Pulling the city’s credit rating out of the basement is one thing—it was one step above junk bond status when he took over—but pulling the city back from the abyss is another. Nature is much crueler than any Wall Street analyst. When Superstorm Sandy swept in right before Halloween of 2012 Schnirman and his team had hunkered down in the same office. They watched the swelling bay meet the rising ocean right in front of the municipal building. The current was so strong it almost knocked over the police commissioner who was trying to enter. Almost two feet of water flooded the first floor.

They spent a long night planning for daybreak. They knew they had to call in the National Guard to patrol the streets by sunup because so many residents had ignored the mandatory evacuation order and remained at the mercy of the elements. As Schnirman prepared a team to conduct reconnaissance around the city at 3 a.m., the waters had receded but the wind was still strong, battering the wood barricading the office windows. Schnirman said they assumed they would find dozens, if not hundreds, of casualties.

But the city was lucky. None of its residents had died in Sandy. But when dawn came, Long Beach looked like it had been hit by a blizzard of sand. It marked the beginning of a long road back.

“People’s homes and belongings were destroyed. People needed help,” said Schnirman. But he wasn’t phased by the dire conditions.

“All those simulations I did in grad school about disaster scenarios, they really meant something,” said Schnirman, who got his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. “I actually felt more prepared than I would have expected.”

He said his coursework in Cambridge was remarkably helpful.

“In a crisis situation, you want to give people order, protection and direction,” he said. “You want to establish a regular rhythm of communication and keep people up to date on what’s going on. Tell them everything you know. Be as candid as you can. Be present for people.”

And so they got to work and began to rebuild. Today, he and the all-Democratic city council tout the new boardwalk as a symbol of Long Beach’s resiliency. The new boardwalk has concrete undergirding, hurricane straps for added protection and 20-foot-deep pilings to hold it all up. Sustainability was always the goal.

He was getting his feet wet in more ways than one.

The Brink

“Five years ago I walked in the doors of Long Beach, and we were on the brink of bankruptcy,” said Schnirman. He inherited a worse situation from the previous administration than he thought. “They were hiding stuff from Wall Street and from the residents.”

On Dec. 20, 2011, shortly before he took over, Moody’s had downgraded the city’s credit rating five levels from A1 to Baa3.

“Now we have had eight consecutive credit-positive actions,” Schnirman said.

First, he had to get a handle on how bad the fiscal situation was. The previous administration under Republican leadership had been essentially over-budgeting for revenue and under-budgeting for expenses, and every year the gap just grew. To right the ship, Schnirman had to make tough choices.

“The hardest thing was I had to shrink the workforce,” he said. “We had to negotiate labor concessions. We had to put in a temporary surcharge on the tax bill to pay the previous administration’s deficit off.”

He wondered if he would pay the price for his actions at the ballot box in 2013, but the City Council that had hired him was re-elected “probably by the largest margin ever in Long Beach,” Schnirman asserted. “So, at the same time that we were making the difficult decisions to get our finances under control, Nassau County was avoiding all those difficult decisions and slipping further and further into the abyss. Then Superstorm Sandy hits and the city was completely devastated.”

The City by the Sea lay in ruins. But it doesn’t look at all like that today.

“Not everything is rebuilt yet. There are still tons of projects in progress,” said Schnirman. “The things that have been rebuilt have been rebuilt much stronger, much smarter and safer. That’s been our motto: stronger, smarter and safer.

“It’s a goal that the city council set for this city,” he continued. “We decided we wanted to be a model of resiliency. When you have one chance to rebuild, you have to do it the right way.”

Before he became Long Beach city manager, Schnirman, who was born at Central General Hospital in Plainview, had spent time as Brookhaven’s chief deputy supervisor, where he learned something about stopping the culture of corruption that had given the town the name “Crookhaven.” He’s proud of what he’s accomplished working in municipal government.

“Folks in Long Beach very much appreciate the tremendous progress we’ve made in the last four years since Sandy, the last five years of my administration,” said Schnirman.

Next Stop, Mineola?

And now his name has come up on a short list of four Democrats reportedly vying to replace Edward Mangano as Nassau County executive. The others are County Comptroller George Maragos, a Republican turned Democrat; Nassau Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin); and Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove). Schnirman hasn’t formally announced, nor would he say when—or if—he plans to do so. But he has hired Kim Devlin, who was Tom Suozzi’s gubernatorial campaign manager and the former Nassau County executive’s advisor on Suozzi’s recent successful congressional race. If money could talk, Schnirman has also raised almost $200,000 for his exploratory committee, Nassau Forward.

“We’re building a movement,” Schnirman explained. “People are so frustrated about the corruption, by the dysfunction, by the lack of progress.”

The big question is not whether he’s running but whether what he’s learned as Long Beach city manager can work in the county executive’s office in Mineola.

“The simplest answer” that he could give, said Schnirman, is: “You’re either competent, or you’re not; you’re either corrupt or you’re not; you either believe in efficient government that brings everybody to the table or you don’t.”

He says his experience helping the city rebuild after Sandy while balancing its budget is also motivating him to look at making a difference in Nassau County.

“It makes you angry when you hear that at the same time we were doing this work, this all-encompassing effort to clean things up and restore our city and help people, folks in the county were looking at it as an opportunity to line their pockets,” he exclaimed, his normally calm demeanor actually becoming irate. “That’s just wrong. That’s not what government is supposed to be about. It’s just so extraordinarily offensive.”

Right now, Schnirman says he’s interested in having “a real conversation” about the problems facing the county and the priorities for fixing them. For 16 years, the county has been under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority because of its outstanding debt.

“There’s no magical solution for turning it around quickly,” said Schnirman. “The priorities that I hear from people—and that I share—are: taking care of people, educating people, transportation, housing, infrastructure, economic development. These are the key ingredients to restoring our county to prominence.

“There’s not a huge chorus out there calling for draconian cuts in services, or calling for dramatic tax hikes,” Schnirman continued. “It took many years to cause these problems, and those problems are not going to be solved overnight.”

One thing Schnirman wants to do is get a definitive understanding of Nassau’s dire fiscal situation, calling the budget deficit “a moving target.”

“For years the comptroller told us that the county was facing surpluses, and now for whatever his reasons, he’s become more critical,” Schnirman told the Press. “At the end of the day, the numbers are the numbers, and the county has tried to use a lot of phony accounting tricks and not actually use generally accepted accounting principles to paper over their problems.”

Muddying up the picture is that County Executive Ed Mangano is currently under federal indictment on corruption charges. His wife Linda is also under indictment. Schnirman harbors no ill will toward the incumbent but he wishes he’d step down.

“I’ve always found him to be a personable and friendly person,” he said. “On a personal level I wish him and his family well.”

But when Mangano’s other co-defendant, former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, said he’d resign so he could work on his legal defense, Schnirman issued a statement that “it is clear that Ed Mangano must do the same immediately and allow the Nassau County Legislature to appoint an independent professional to finish his term as county executive.”

Mangano has so far rebuffed the effort and carried out his duties, which Schnirman says is unacceptable.

“The county is facing serious fiscal issues that require full attention,” Schnirman said. “Former Supervisor Venditto said very clearly that he couldn’t focus on doing the task at hand in Oyster Bay because his trial requires his full attention, and yet we hear it’s business as usual in the county. You know, business as usual needs to change.

“Business as usual isn’t good enough anymore,” he continued. “We deserve better. We need reform. We need to move things forward.”

Nassau’s Future

Not surprisingly, Schnirman says that someone with professional management skills would be best suited to run the county.

“I worked my heart out to get our city on the right track,” said Schnirman. “There’s always more work to do, and I’m committed to making sure that I’m part of that work for years to come. Whether I’m here in Long Beach or in the county, I want to make sure that that work continues.”

He and his wife, Joan, an attorney who works for a foster care agency, met in New York City when he was living in Brooklyn. They have a 14-month-old daughter named Sage. Someday he hopes Sage will be able to swim in a cleaned up Reynolds Channel, go to the Nassau Hub to see a show or even catch a hockey game.

“Preferably to see the Islanders play—and I say that as a lifelong Islanders fan who is absolutely infuriated by the leadership failures that took place in allowing our beloved Islanders to leave,” said Schnirman, momentarily glaring. “Only the county government can look at us regionally and bring everybody together to make the things happen that need to happen.”

He’s not keen on Mangano’s repeated attempts to sell the county’s sewer system.

“Like a lot of people I have skepticism about that,” he said. “The concern is that it’s a short-term windfall and it’s a prescription for long-term rate hikes.”

He holds out hope that the Bay Park sewage treatment plan in East Rockaway will turn into a fully modern, resilient facility that stops polluting Reynolds Channel forever more. Schnirman can’t do as much about that situation as he’d like, but under his administration the beach on the Atlantic has gotten high marks for its turn-around. Last summer USA Today declared Long Beach one of the top 10 beaches in the country.

“We had record beach attendance,” said Schnirman proudly. This June the new boardwalk will host Long Island Pride, which used to host its LGBT parade in Huntington. “We’re always on the lookout for new fun events for our residents and visitors. Long Beach is really on the move!”

And soon, perhaps, its current city manager may be making a move, too.

Glory Days of Covering Sports Stars and Criminals Get Their Due in Edward Hershey’s Memoir

Edward Hershey watches as Local 406 President George Tedeschi signs new union contract at Newsday for reporters and editors.

If journalism is the first draft of history, then an entertaining memoir written by a hard-hitting journalist like Edward Hershey must be the second, third or fourth draft. It’s a revealing personal history of post-war America that lets us look over his shoulder as he relives what he experienced firsthand when the news was breaking and he had deadlines to meet.

Thanks to his new book, The Scorekeeper, we’re there with Hershey as he covers the Attica prison debacle, the Son of Sam serial killings and the costly vendetta of a special state prosecutor, Maurice Nadjari, a former Suffolk County chief assistant DA who managed to spend $14 million to “clean up corruption” in New York but gained “not a single major conviction.”

Hershey was in Garden City in 1973 when Newsday decided to start covering the city that so many of its readers had left behind when they moved to Long Island. Until then, the Long Island paper of record only covered New York’s sports teams, or reviewed Broadway shows. It surrendered hot city stories to local TV news or the big city papers. Otherwise the copy desk would rewrite wire service stories. The disconnect didn’t sit well, especially if the reporters were doing the reverse commute, unlike their suburban readers.

“As much as we valued the journalism Newsday allowed us to pursue,” Hershey wrote, “many of us saw Long Island as a dull, stultifying sprawl of cookie-cutter homes occupied by white Democrats-turned-Republicans who clogged freeways and shopped in climate-controlled shopping centers, strip malls filled with chain stores, and fast-food restaurants.”

Born in 1944, he grew up in Brooklyn along Ocean Parkway. As he says, his career touched fame more than achieved it, “a life less about making history than footnoting it.” It will be a familiar tale to many Long Islanders with Brooklyn roots. Hershey went from watching the Brooklyn Bums at Ebbets Field to becoming a sportswriter covering the Yankees spring training in Florida.

He profiled Arthur Ashe, co-wrote a book with the Mets’ Cleon Jones, and interviewed Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, Wilt Chamberlain and Billie Jean King, to name a few sports legends. Not bad for a self-proclaimed klutz who admittedly sucked at stickball. Hershey took his ineptitude off the field and volunteered to be his Little League’s official scorer, which lay the foundation for his future in getting the facts straight.

Along the way, Hershey went from learning how to arm and throw a live grenade at basic training at Fort Gordon in Georgia—he came close to blowing up his sergeant—to organizing journalists at Newsday to join a union with the pressmen and the drivers. As Hershey wryly observed, “Start a union and you aren’t exactly a favored staffer.”

Management had not been keen on the idea, telling reporters and editors that they had nothing in common with the blue-collar members of Local 406. But then the pressmen and drivers were making a lot more than the ink-stained wretches, as their pay stubs clearly showed.

“The difference between these employees and us is that they have a union,” Hershey explained to those willing to listen. Despite the disparity in pay, the vote for joining the union came down to the wire: 149-144. In the end the union won. Hershey still counts it as one of his life’s crowning achievements. He also serves on the George Polk Awards committee, which honors the best and brightest in journalism today.

The Scorekeeper is not a score settler, although Hershey tells it like it is. It’s also very entertaining. Here’s a guy who could say with a straight face that he’s been a  basketball announcer, an antiques columnist and a labor union strategist.

He’s also worked on the other side, as reporters call it when you trade a byline for a public relations gig, when he became a communications director for the city’s corrections commissioner, Long Island University (his alma mater) and Colby College in Maine. Being a flack was a revealing experience.

“All those years writing stories I thought mattered and hardly anyone knew my name,” he told his wife after one appearance. “Now I stammer a sentence or two on TV and I’m a celebrity.”

Hershey would be the first to admit today he’s no celebrity, but the stories he tells in The Scorekeeper make him a winner for those who value the contributions made by the Fourth Estate as they try to speak truth to power.

Hershey will be at the Book Revue in Huntington at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan.26, reading from his book, The Scorekeeper: Reflecting on Big Games and Big Storeis, Brooklyn Roots and Jewish-American culture, the Craft of Reporting and Art of The Spin, and signing copies.

In the photo, Hershey, on the left, watches his union president George Tedeschi sign the contract that joined reporters and editors with pressmen and drivers in Local 406, as Newsday editor in chief, and later publisher, Dave Laventhol, observes on the right.

 

Long Island Literary Festival Features Dave Barry, Gail Sheehy & Pros of Prose

Long Island LitFest

The word is out that this year’s Long Island LitFest has an ambitious roster of great authors, stimulating readings, book signings and inspiring workshops. Now in its third year, the all-day event will occupy Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre on Sunday, March 26.

To get the back story on LI’s first regional literary festival, we spoke with its founder and producer, Claudia Gryvatz Copquin, a journalist, author and essayist, whose work has appeared in the Long Island Press, the New York Times and Newsday.

Long Island Press: What did it take to get this off the ground and why now—and why Long Island?

Claudia Gryvatz Copquin: Several years ago I got a group of writer friends together. I booked the six of us in many venues on Long IslandGuild Hall, The Nassau County Museum of Art, Cinema Arts Centre, as well as in NYC and Brooklyn venues. We were a little band of writers on tour, if you will, and we read our personal essays under the name, “Living, Out Loud: Writers Riff on Love, Sweat and Fears.” We drew audiences wherever we read and that was the inspiration for a literary festival on Long Island, which for some reason that escapes me, we’ve never had! And because there are so many literary events in Manhattan, I wanted to offer Long Islanders a convenient way to see their favorite authors, right here, on a stage.

LIP: Where did you start?

CGC: In 2015, we held our first Word Up: Long Island LitFest at the Sands Point Preserve in Port Washington. We sold out. Over 200 people came to hear Dick Cavett, Roger Rosenblatt, Susan Isaacs, Alan Zweibel, Henry Alford and many other stellar writers. Each author took a turn at the microphone and read. We also had the Book Revue in Huntington as our pop-up book seller, offering copies of the authors’ latest books. This was a huge hit. So now Long Island LitFest is an annual event. In 2016, our home was the Madison Theatre at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, which is an easy commute from New York City and the outer boroughs, so that’s where we will hold Long Island LitFest again on March 26, 2017.

LIP: How do you do it?

CGC: It’s a huge undertaking but this is my passion project. I love the challenge of booking best-selling authors. But I don’t do this on my own. I have a fantastic advisory board made up of professional writers who are on stand-by at all times for advice and input. They are wonderful because they volunteer their time and energy to help me with this endeavor, and I’m extremely thankful for them.

LIP: What are your goals for the LitFest?

CGC: One of my goals was to expand on our signature event, our full day of author readings and book signings, so in 2016 I booked a couple of authors for intimate book club discussions, such as Brenda Janowitz and Bob Morris. And I also produced ‘Long Island LitFest Presents…,’ which are single-author events. Wally Lamb read from his latest book on November 30th. We also presented Alice Hoffman in early December. Both of these events were at the Madison Theatre and included an audience Q&A and book signings. My plan for 2017 is to host more of these throughout the year.

LIP: Do people read books anymore in this age of Fake News?

CGC: Based on our ticket salesall of our events are bundled, meaning, admission includes the author’s book—yes!  There are so many book clubs here on Long Island. Just ask the Book Revue. They offer discounts on their books to book club members. Ask all the libraries.  If people didn’t read, we wouldn’t have any! Look at Manhattan venues such as the 92nd Street Y or Symphony Space. Their author events are always sold out. But a clearer indication is that Amazon is now experimenting with brick and mortar book stores. Books are back! And people want them.

LIP: What power do words still have?

Copquin: Well, without speaking in tired clichés, words are everything. And especially now, when people are so stressed out about our future, a good book has the power to take you away to another world, one where you can literally forget your troubles. Reading is more important now than ever.

LIP: Who is your audience is and how many folks you expect to show up?

CGC: Our audience is anyone who enjoys reading and who wants to spend a few hours away from their house or place of work and engage with like-minded individuals. We like to say Long Island LitFest is a day to disconnect from gadgets and connect with each other. Connecting face to face is critical these days. It’s why Jerry Seinfeld is still touring and has a residency at the Beacon Theater. It’s why Billy Joel has a residency at the Nassau Coliseum. We need and seek out human contact and Long Island LitFest offers that—via the written and spoken word. And who wouldn’t want to meet Pulitzer Prize winning humorist Dave Barry or internationally acclaimed author of Passages Gail Sheehy? Personally, I can’t wait!

Here’s a brief description of the writers who have already committed to lighting up Long Island LitFest this year:

Dave Barry, Pulitzer-Prize winning humor writer whose columns and essays have appeared in hundreds of newspapers over the past 35 years. He’s also written a number of New York Times bestsellers. His latest, For This We Left Egypt, a parody of the Passover Haggadah, is co-authored with  Alan Zweibel  (and Adam Mansbach), an original Saturday Night Live writer, who has won multiple Emmy and Writers Guild of America awards for his work in television, which includes It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, Late Show With David Letterman, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has also won a Tony Award and the Thurber Prize.

Gail Sheehy is author of 17 books, including internationally acclaimed best-seller Passages, named one of the 10 most influential books of our times by the Library of Congress. She will be in conversation with Cathi Hanauer, editor of the New York Times bestselling essay collection The Bitch in the House: 26 Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood and Marriage and the recent The Bitch Is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier.

Friars Club historian and LitFest emcee Barry Dougherty,  author of several comedy books, will interview Kelly Carlin writer, actress, producer, monologist, and Internet radio host, and author of A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George.

Steven Gaines is co-founder and a past vice-chairman of the Hamptons International Film Festival and author of numerous books, including Philistines at the Hedgerow and his memoir, One of These Things First.

Caroline Leavitt is author of the novel Cruel Beautiful World and New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow, Pictures of You, and many other works.

Bill Scheft was an Emmy-nominated and longtime staff writer for David Letterman and is the author of five humor novels, including his latest, Shrink Thyself.

General admission for the festival, which begins at 1 p.m., is $40. Before the main event gets under way, two free introductory workshops on essay writing and storytelling will both begin at noon. Iyna Bort Caruso, a New York-based Emmy Award-winning writer, will run the Intro to Personal Essay Writing workshop, which promises to teach participants—even those with no prior writing experience—how to give voice to their experiences in a way that is “both intimate in its details and universal in its message.”

Tracey Segarra, a Moth Radio Hour GrandSlam champ as well as a marketing and communications professional on Long Island, will lead the storytelling workshop for beginners who want to be “a more effective public speaker or just spin a good yarn at a party.”

For the latest news on the growing list of authors lining up to participate, go to www.LongIslandLitFest.com

Steve Israel Exits The House & Enters The University

Steve Israel
Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) will be the chairman of Long Island University's Global Institute, a Distinguished Writer in Residence, and will continue penning satirical novels, (Long Island Press / Spencer Rumsey)

Last January, eight-term Long Island Congressman Steve Israel shocked the Beltway by announcing he was leaving the House of Representatives. Now, a year later, he’s found a new home, so to speak, at Long Island University’s campus in Brookville, where he’ll be the chairman of the recently created LIU Global Institute, which will focus on foreign policy and national security issues—some of his favorite subjects. He’ll also be a Distinguished Writer in Residence, where he’ll wield his pen (or keypad) in the cause of political satire, which he did to critical acclaim with the publication of his first satirical novel, The Global War on Morris, in 2014.

When the Press caught up with the 58-year-old former Congressman last week at LIU Post, he was just finishing up the proofs of Big Guns, his second book for Simon & Schuster, which takes aim at the gun lobby. Israel’s official congressional records, providing behind-the-scenes insight on major issues of his time in office such as the aftermath of 9/11, the passage of Obamacare and the Great Recession, will be housed at LIU Post’s B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library. We had to borrow an administrator’s office to talk because his new digs were still being renovated.

When Israel served in Congress, he became a close ally of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, even though he had once been one of the so-called “Blue Dogs,” a loose coalition of conservative Democrats who voted for the Iraq war and President George W. Bush’s 2001 tax cuts. Starting in 2011, he headed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but resigned after the House Democrats lost more ground than expected in the 2014 elections. In this latest election cycle, he led the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which Pelosi helped create to get the message out.

Now Israel is focused on getting the word out himself in academic circles and beyond. He’s no professor, but he thinks he comes prepared for the job.

“In Congress most of what you do is lecturing,” Israel said with a laugh. “I would not presume to be able to profess, but I think I’ve demonstrated an ability to understand the complexity of issues, to get into a room with a large or small group and have positive interactions. Those skills are required of any member of Congress, and I’m looking forward to transferring them to the university.”

The recent debacle of the Democrats’ losing the White House and both the Senate and the House were still weighing heavily on his mind, two weeks before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

“People say, ‘What kind of country could elect Donald Trump?’ Wrong question. ‘At what time could this country elect Donald Trump?’ And it was only in this time,” Israel observed.

In his recent role on the House communications committee, he oversaw focus groups and polling, and became increasingly aware of “this unique convergence of circumstances” that might throw the election to the billionaire. As Israel described them: “An economy that was changing radically for people; a breakdown of faith in all institutions across the board, whether it was government or religion or sports or Wall Street; a sense of personal fear, whether of ISIS or getting shot in a movie theater; and finally, a feeling that democracy just wasn’t working for people anymore. You put those four things together, and you have a moment in time when Donald Trump could get elected.”

Even so, Israel admitted that he didn’t want to believe his own eyes or ears. He said he heard the “first warning bells” when Trump was easily knocking off Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. The now-former congressman became aware of “this trauma that was gripping America’s middle class,” as he told his colleagues in their weekly meetings in Washington, but “I wasn’t prescient enough to say that what was going on out there is that Donald Trump is about to become president. I scoffed at it myself. But guess what? We all turned out to be wrong.”

Looking back, he said that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Jan. 21, 2010 decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case “changed everything.” The conservative ruling opened the doors for corporations and other powerful hidden interests to spend unlimited amounts of money during election campaigns.

“Nobody saw it coming,” said Israel. “Within days, millions and millions of dollars in dark money started showing up on people’s television screens and that resulted in a 63-seat loss for Democrats. We couldn’t compete, so the Supreme Court handed the Republicans the majority…We got wiped out.”

Israel does want to draw an historic parallel today to what happened in January 2009 because he thinks it provides a useful lesson—and can serve as a warning to Republicans about what can go wrong if they get too cocky.

“What I mean is that in January 2009 Democrats elected a Democratic president,” explained Israel. “We brought our majority in the House to its high watermark, and the Senate was secure. And we believed that we were going to be a permanent majority.” A wan smile crossed his face as a shadow seemed to pass before his eyes.

“Within two years we lost it all,” he continued. “Why? Because the argument could be made that we confused a margin as a mandate.” With Democrats in control, “We did a lot of stuff! Now, I happen to think we should have done that stuff because all we had to do was rescue the economy, stop GM from going bankrupt, and pass the Affordable Care Act. But the Republicans created a narrative that ‘They’re going too far too fast.’”

And the story line firmly took hold, Israel said, as the effects rippled through the country, even into Nassau County. “Tom Suozzi, a popular Democrat, loses his executive race,” recalled Israel. “After that, we lose 63 seats in the House, and a year after that, the Senate.”

With a broad grin, Israel exclaimed, “The Republicans are at great and grave risk of doing the same thing. If Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans confuse an Electoral College margin for a national popular mandate and double-down on dumb and reckless stuff, the Democrats will take the House back in two years.”

He pounds the desk for emphasis. “I have news for the Republicans,” Israel continued. “The hardcore Trump supporters want Obamacare to be repealed by Tuesday. When [Congress] can’t do it, they’re not going out and voting for Republicans in 2018. The Republicans risk losing their base in 2018 by not keeping their promises they made in 2016. They are in a jam.”

Israel had made his retirement announcement early enough last year to allow a spirited Democratic primary to find his replacement. After the dust settled, former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi got the nod and went on to beat State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) to represent Long Island’s 3rd Congressional District.

Asked about what key advice the veteran lawmaker gave the new guy in town, Israel said he told Suozzi “about this obscure place in the Capitol that I suggested he visit. Right off the floor of the House is this secreted balcony outside, and it overlooks the Mall and the House office buildings… That’s where members of Congress in both parties sit on patio furniture as human beings in the backyard. You could be on the floor screaming at each other, and then you go off the floor and you can chill out. You can sit and learn that the person on the other side of the aisle is having a hard time with his kids. Or misses her husband or misses his wife. That balcony is where you form friendships on the other side of the aisle, and that’s where things get done.”

Israel remembers sitting on the balcony worried about protecting Long Island Sound, while he was talking to a Republican from Utah, Chris Stewart, who was anxious about preserving wilderness areas in his state.

“We just started sharing our concerns,” Israel recalled. “It turns out that though he may be a pretty conservative Republican, we had the same concerns and we could get things done.” He laughed at the memory but then turned serious.

“What I fear is that there are so few moderate Republicans left [in Congress], and that’s another reason I decided to leave,” Israel said. “There was hardly anybody to work with.”

Flying on Air Force One or sitting with the president in the Oval Office at the White House were definitely “cool,” he admitted, “but it doesn’t compare with just getting things done for people.” In fact, he claimed, “The best time for me in Congress was walking into a VFW post or an American Legion post and giving back pay to a veteran.”

He certainly won’t miss the pressure that being a congressman put on his family life.

“I had too many moments where I was sitting in airplanes on the tarmac listening to the pilot tell me that we were 16th in line for takeoff, that there were thunderstorms between Washington and New York, and dreading the phone call to my daughters telling them that I couldn’t take them to dinner that night,” he said, shaking his head. “There’s nothing worse for me, nothing worse in the world.”

Israel has two daughters, the older one works in New York City in marketing, the younger works on a farm in Suffolk County. He started his political career when he was elected to the Huntington Town Board in 1993 before heading to the nation’s capital. With a laugh, he remarked, “I don’t know why anybody would want to go to Albany!” As for retail politics, he doesn’t foresee a campaign on the horizon. “I don’t see it,” he said. “Do I hope there are several bestselling novels in my future? Absolutely yes!”

He intends to use his new position on campus as “the anchor” that allows him to keep his hand in important policy issues and “shed light on the dark corners of the world.” Still on his own “learning curve,” he won’t start teaching courses until the spring. To mark the official launch of the Global Institute, he invited former Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Tilles Center at LIU Post on March 2.

When LIU President Kimberly Cline reached out to him about coming to Brookville, “she didn’t have to make too strong a case,” he said. “I love this institution.” He also admires Cline’s program to teach students about micro-financing in impoverished countries and send them to different parts of the world to make a difference, whether it’s bringing solar panels to a poor village in India or getting a small farm off the ground in Africa.

“We’re going to organize students and teach them how to do those things, and then deploy them,” Israel said. “That’s the vision—and that’s what really drew me to LIU—the willingness of the president to engage in those kinds of world game-changers.”

As the new institute’s chairman, he said, “We’re going to provide Long Islanders with some context on why global crises impact their local pocketbooks—and we’ll go beyond that.”

As LIU Post’s writer in residence, he intends to use satire as his weapon, because this era calls for it.

“Satirists always thrive in the darkest of times,” Israel noted. “Satire doesn’t really work when people are happy, you know, when there’s nothing to poke fun at. When you look at the greatest satirical works in literary history, the only way to criticize power was through satire. I think there’s going to be a ton of satire over the next four years.”

Israel said he had 95 percent of his second novel completed before Trump looked like a presidential possibility, so the billionaire doesn’t play much of a part in Big Guns. But “there are some very recognizable figures,” he smirked. He’s not worried about libel suits, either:

“If Dick Cheney did not sue me for libel on the first book, he’s not going to sue me for libel on the second.”

Photo: Former U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) will be the chairman of Long Island University’s Global Institute, a Distinguished Writer in Residence, and will continue penning satirical novels. (Long Island Press / Spencer Rumsey)

Catch Late, Great Leonard Cohen In Unique 1970 Performance

Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen

More than 46 summers ago, a young Canadian folksinger named Leonard Cohen delivered the performance of a lifetime at the third annual Isle of Wight music festival.

The late, insanely great Cohen, then 35, was awakened from a nap in his trailer and brought onstage to perform with his band. The audience of 600,000 was still in a frenzy, trampling fences and setting fires, stoked by Jimi Hendrix’s incendiary performance. Onlookers stood in awe as Cohen quietly tamed the crowd and took them to another place, and for that he became enshrined in music legend, forever. Cohen, who died in November at the age of 82, lives on in immortal concerts like this.

Interestingly, “Hallelujah,” one of his best known songs because it’s been covered by so many great artists, didn’t come into being until 1984. When he took the stage at Isle of Wight, he had released two albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967) and Songs From a Room (1969), and was about to drop a third, Songs of Love and Hate (1971). At this early time, Cohen’s big hit was “Suzanne,” with haunting lyrics like: “And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind, and you know that she will trust you, for you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.”

This documentary captures Cohen setting out on the first of countless concert tours that he kept on doing for the rest of his long life.

“I consider it a reconnaissance,” he told Rolling Stone in 1971. “You know, I consider myself like in a military operation. I don’t feel like a citizen.”

Cohen had learned guitar as a teenager—a flamenco guitar teacher reportedly persuaded him to switch from steel strings to nylon—and formed a folk band. After he graduated from McGill University in Montreal, he wound up on a Greek island in the early ’60s where he honed his poetry. He published his first collection of poems, with the ironic title, “Flowers for Hitler,” in 1964.

But his literary ambition stalled, so he moved to New York in ’66, where he met Judy Collins, who covered two of his compositions on her album, In My Life.

His lyrics were always imbued with nuances that ran deeper than most pop songs. That’s what set his music apart.

“Poetry is just the evidence of life,” he once said. “If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.”

As Rolling Stone’s Richard Gehr recently pointed out, “Only Bob Dylan exerted a more profound influence upon his generation, and perhaps only Paul Simon and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell equaled him as a song poet.”

Amazingly, Cohen’s muse never went mute, despite a career that spanned half a century. Just before he died, he came out with one of his best albums in years, You Want It Darker, which was showered with critical acclaim. Not bad for a guy in his early 80s.

To catch him in concert when he was still relatively young and full of promise is a rare treat, indeed.

Ticket price includes reception with prolific rock documentarian Murray Lerner. Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. cinemaartscentre.org $10-$15. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11.

Cuomo: Obamacare Repeal Would Hurt Nearly 300K Long Islanders

Obamacare repeal

Almost 300,000 Long Islanders would lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed by the incoming Trump administration, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the pending impact on New York in a statement released Wednesday.

“The cost of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to state and local budgets and to the New Yorkers who depend on its health care coverage, is simply too high to justify,” said Cuomo. “Since its implementation, the Affordable Care Act has become a powerful tool to lower the cost of health insurance for local governments and New Yorkers, and it is essential that the federal government does not jeopardize the health and livelihoods of millions of working families.”

At present, the New York State Health Exchange has expanded coverage to more than 2.7 million residents, cutting the percentage of uninsured New Yorkers from 10 percent to 5 percent. In Nassau, 133,324 people are at risk of losing coverage; in Suffolk 152,631.

At the state level, the economic impact of the Affordable Care Act’s repeal would mean a loss of $595 million. According to the governor, New York’s counties have been able to directly use the additional federal Medicaid funding through Obamacare to lower property taxes. If Republicans in Congress carry out their promise to repeal Obamacare, Nassau County could lose $17,866,829 and Suffolk could lose $18,310,813.

The Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council said the repeal could cost Long Island hospitals around $3.2 billion in lost revenue over the next decade, the major loss coming from reductions in Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments, which compensates hospitals that care for uninsured patients, sometimes referred to as “safety net discharges.”

“In Suffolk County, Catholic Health Services provides the largest number of safety net discharges through its eastern hospitals: Good Samaritan, St. Charles and St. Catherine,” said Christine Hendriks, a Catholic Health Services spokeswoman. “This commitment to assisting the poor and underserved is integral to our mission. If the underpinnings of the Affordable Car Act are not replaced, either through DSH payments or other previously cut subsidies, then the volume of those cared for will create a considerable financial strain on CHS that will be felt immediately.”

RELATED: Trump’s Repeal Of Obamacare Would Profoundly Impact Long Island

The view from our region’s largest health care provider, Northwell Health, was more forgiving.

“While the Affordable Care Act has its flaws, it has expanded health care access to more than 20 million Americans who were previously uninsured,” said Michael J. Dowling, president and chief executive officer at Northwell, in a statement. “It has also expedited the progress that Northwell and other health systems were already making in improving quality, containing costs and holding providers more accountable for the care they deliver…Instead of pursuing radical, highly problematic solutions to the healthcare challenges we face, I encourage lawmakers to work collaboratively on pursuing more-reasonable and more-gradual measures that will make the best care possible available to as many of us as possible.”

Long Island’s ranking Republican in Congress, Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford) is hoping to soften the blow, should the ACA get the axe.

“I support repealing and replacing Obamacare while protecting all beneficiaries,” the Congressman told the Press in an email. “That is why I met with the governor’s top health advisors today and assured them I would work hard to minimize any negative impacts to New York and Long Island–long term and short term.”

His Republican colleague from the East End, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), took the governor’s press release to task for failing to acknowledge how “flawed” Obamacare is.

“Nothing at all is included about any of the lost doctors, cancelled policies, higher premiums or higher deductibles that New Yorkers are now facing,” said Zeldin in a statement to the Press. He noted that the state’s Health Exchange had just one co-op, Health Republic of New York, which “collapsed” because the entity the state picked to run it, the Freelancers Union, was incompetent. Zeldin also criticized the governor for failing to rein in the state’s huge Medicaid costs.

“New York State spends more money on Medicaid than Illinois, Texas and Florida combined,” claimed the Congressman. “New York has the same population as Florida, but spends more money on Medicaid costs than Florida spends on its entire state budget.”

Zeldin insists that Obamacare is going to be “repealed and replaced.” But the Congressman added that he’s open to the governor’s suggestions if Cuomo has “a good idea that productively contributes to the future of health care…In the meantime, he is not part of the solution by conspiring with allies to cook up half-baked numbers to scare people about a particular course of action that is divorced from reality.”

Long Island Hospitality: Making L.I. A Top Travel Destination Is A Year-Round Job

Long Island Hotels Hospitality
Long Island Hospitality: Long Island is home to some unbelievable hotels; this collage includes scenes from Hotel Indigo, The Garden City Hotel, The Baker House 1650 and The Harbor Rose. (Photos: respective hotels' official websites)

Long Islanders may not give tourism here much thought—unless they want someone to blame for summer traffic on the South Fork—but it plays a vital part in our regional economy. Those employed within the Long Island hotels and hospitality industry fervently want it to have a bigger role here year-round. Creating a great destination miles from the Manhattan skyline in a place not universally known for having great hotels, luxury resorts or secluded getaways is a daunting proposition, but dozens have unarguably succeeded on the Island despite the challenges. Their stories reveal a lot about the possibilities and the pitfalls of hosting travelers here.

Since Kristen Jarnagin became president and CEO of the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau last year, she’s heard these narratives firsthand. With a staff of 14 people and a budget of $3 million, she runs the “official tourism promotion agency” for our travel and tourism industry.

“I hear a lot of things from our hoteliers,” Jarnagin said. “We are really lacking in product on Long Island. To me, it is completely unfathomable that we don’t have a convention center. Look at our proximity to New York City. We have some of the world’s best research, health care and education facilities—those are your three top core industries for having meetings and there’s nowhere to do it.”

Related: 15 Reasons Why There’s No Place Like Long Island

Jarnagin, who left the Arizona Lodging and Tourism Association to come here in 2015, is tasked with promoting this region as “a world-class destination for tourism, meetings and conventions, trade shows, sporting events and related activities.” For comparison’s sake, she noted that Arizona’s state tourism budget topped $26 million, while Phoenix and Scottsdale had separate budgets in the $20-million range. In her former state, only Flagstaff, with a population of 120,000 people and one downtown, had a tourism budget equal to Long Island’s.

Earlier this summer, the Long Island agency redesigned its website and launched a new marketing campaign targeting domestic and international audiences. To draw history buffs, the visitors bureau ran TV commercials plugging the “Washington Spy Trail” along Route 25A with spots airing during AMC’s series Turn, which portrays the travails of the Culper spy ring that aided Gen. George Washington when the British occupied the Island.

“New York is the ultimate international travel destination in the world,” Jarnagin told the Press. “Yet we seem so disconnected [from it].”

She says her goal is to “brand” Long Island.

“My job is to give people a positive perception of Long Island,” explained Jarnagin. “I try to get them here. It’s really up to the communities and the hotels to promote themselves.”

Related: How L.I.’s Culper Spy Ring Helped Washington Beat the British

No one can deny the market potential for Long Island. In 2015, travelers reportedly spent more than $5.5 billion here, supporting almost 77,000 jobs. Tourism contributed $676 million in state and local taxes, while sales, property and hotel-bed taxes generated more than $372 million in local tax revenue.

According to a 2015 study, “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New York,” conducted by Tourism Economics, a company run by Oxford Economics in Philadelphia, the average household in our region would have had to pay an extra $720 to maintain the same level of government revenue if tourism-generated state and local taxes were eliminated from the equation. Next to New York City, which gets 65 percent of visitors’ spending in the state, Long Island ranks second, with 9 percent, followed by Hudson Valley and the Finger Lakes at 5 percent. As for Niagara Falls, one of New York’s most famous natural attractions, it gets only 4 percent of the money travelers spend in the Empire State.

Jarnagin wants to get people to come to Long Island from far-away places because they’ll stay here longer and spend more money.

“The day trippers spend $60 a day, the person who comes overnight spends over $250, and the international visitor spends twice as much and stays twice as long,” she said. “We’re trying to put Long Island on the international stage.”

Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury
Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury

One of the more unusual hospitality venues is the four-star Viana Hotel and Spa in Westbury, an upscale, solar-powered, eco-friendly facility that is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. One claim to fame is that it hosted Long Island’s first same-sex wedding in 2011. Its Marco Polo Restaurant offers a fusion menu of Asian and Italian dishes.

“During the week it is primarily a corporate hotel, but on the weekends it is primarily a social hotel for wedding groups and events,” said Alan Mindel, the owner. The Viana also hosts the majority of pop bands playing in the area.

“The majority are good citizens,” Mindel said, refusing to say whether any unruly musicians had ever thrown a TV out the window. “If I’m doing my job properly, neither you nor the New York Post ever hears about it!”

He admits that the Viana’s Nassau market is “a different world” from the Hamptons or Manhattan but it does well.

“It is an oasis—a suburban hotel with a full spa,” he said. The Viana gets a lot of repeat guests, drawing some travelers from Europe and Asia as well as locally. It is the first and so far only LEED-certified hotel on Long Island, a goal of Mindel’s because utility costs are so high in this region. It’s also designed to be a feng-shui friendly property. His core customers come from the area’s wedding halls and country clubs, and he reaches others through social media.

“Google has done a lot for the industry,” Mindel said. “Years ago, print media was important, but that’s not the case today.”

Hotel Indigo in Riverhead
Hotel Indigo in Riverhead

Out in Riverhead on Main Street is the Hotel Indigo, a modern boutique style facility with a bistro restaurant and a bar, plus a terrace with an outside fireplace, which makes its claim as an ideal travel destination because it’s at “the crossroads of the North Fork and the Hamptons.” It’s a short drive from the vineyards, the Splish Splash Waterpark in Calverton and the Tanger Outlets. Visitors are encouraged to bring their pets, too.

Related: 43 Fun Things To Do With Your Kids On Long Island

Rob Salvatico and his dad Albert Salvatico bought the venue in 2004 and eventually transformed it. Most recently a Best Western, the place first took shape as a Holiday Inn when it opened in 1972.

“The décor had barely changed since 1972 when we got there!” said Rob Salvatico with a laugh. He believes Riverhead’s central location has been a boon, because it’s the last available commerce hub on the Island, following Garden City, Melville and Hauppauge.

“What does Riverhead have that none of those other commerce hubs have?” he asked rhetorically. “We have the destination appeal of serving Long Island wine country, which has been undergoing unprecedented growth, and the Hamptons.” As Salvatico sees it, “This is a high-barrier entry market with a lot of potential upside.”

Related: Long Island Wineries and Vineyards Guide

To market the Indigo, he said, “We spend upwards of $80,000 a year on social media, no exaggeration.” He sees the target audience as some 15 million tri-state residents in the greater metropolitan area.

“I’ve been quoted 9,000 times saying, ‘I don’t really market the hotel, I market the region. And I market the hotel as your authentic guide to the region.’ That’s the whole Indigo program,” explained Salvatico.

The Baker House 1650 in East Hampton
The Baker House 1650 in East Hampton

Further out in East Hampton is an historic getaway, The Baker House 1650, an upscale English manor-style bed-and-breakfast with luxury accommodations including fireplaces and whirlpool baths in most rooms and suites. Its gardens include 200-year-old wisteria and gingko trees that date back centuries. The house was first built in 1648 by a sea captain named Daniel Howe, who sold it to Thomas Baker, one of East Hampton’s original founders. At one point it was known as Baker’s Tavern, serving also as a town meeting hall, a community center and a place for religious services. Its present transformation began in 1911, when its owner James Harper Pool hired Joseph Greenleaf Thorp, a prominent architect with ties to the English Arts and Crafts movement, to turn it into an expansive English manor.

For the last 12 years, Antonella Bertello-Rosen has been running the hotel with her husband Bob Rosen, a surgeon.

“I wish the season were longer than it is,” she said. “We’re very busy June, July, August, September, maybe a little bit in October, and then it really starts dropping down incrementally. January is probably our worst month. Some people like to be here for the holidays, but the only way we survive the winter, basically, is by taking deposits for the following season.”

Related: A Beginner’s Guide to Fire Island

Most of their marketing is done by word of mouth, since they only have a total of seven rooms to fill. Recently, Bertello-Rosen has been encouraged by the growing number of off-season happenings in the area, such as the Hamptons International Film Festival and Long Island Restaurant Week on the East End, which bring in more visitors. About 25 percent of her guests are international travelers, predominantly from Britain and Germany.

“We try to advertise abroad as much as we can for the international guests,” she said. “They seem to be more willing to come during the off-season. You still have a lot of the really good restaurants open, many of the stores are still open, and all of the museums are open… We are relatively close—even in summer with the traffic—to the Parrish Museum and The Watermill Center, which is amazing, and Guild Hall, which is literally across the street from us. They do performances all the time.”

The Chequit Inn on Shelter Island
The Chequit Inn on Shelter Island

Out on Shelter Island is The Chequit Inn, an upscale Victorian-style bed-and-breakfast with 37 rooms (19 in the main house and 17 in a separate structure), plus an inviting front porch and a seasonal American eatery called the Red Maple. Originally built in 1872 as a religious retreat, it’s got a colorful history, once hosting Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe, although not necessarily at the same time. Its owners, Kevin O’Shea and David Bowd, having made their reputation with their Salt House Inn in Provincetown, bought the place in 2013, spent a year renovating it, and officially opened The Chequit in 2015, when it drew raves in Travel & Leisure and Vogue magazine as one of the top summer inns.

“What I felt was really missing on Shelter Island was a great hospitality experience,” Bowd told the Press. One day he took the ferry to the island, drove up the hill, and spotted the old hotel.

“It was early in the evening, and it was really tired and run down,” he recalled. But he loved the building. “A hotel for me is all about a whole, encompassing, welcoming experiencing. The Chequit was the opposite of that when I first went there,” he said. “But I loved its history, and I loved its character.”

Related: Slavery and Salvation: Long Island’s Underground Railroad

Shelter Island is not as well-known as other East End locales, but Bowd appreciates its special appeal.

“It’s a really beautiful island, and you can only get to it on a ferry,” he said, noting that it’s accessible by Hampton Jitney from Manhattan to Greenport and then a five-minute walk from the dock.

“It’s a real get-away, a fairly isolated experience over the Hamptons’ experience,” he continued. “On Shelter Island you can commune with nature year ’round. In the winter, there’s nowhere more beautiful than Shelter Island.”

The Chequit draws about 20 percent of its guests from overseas, mostly through social media and word of mouth from repeat customers. He notes that Europeans who want to come to New York City in the summer wind up spending three or four days in Manhattan and coming out to Shelter Island “for a few days so they can lie on the beach and relax.”

Still, he concedes that after July and August, the traffic dies down considerably. “We’re always trying to win new guests coming to the island,” Bowd said, “and to constantly educate people that this is a beautiful place, and you can get a great hotel experience outside Manhattan.”

As he puts it, “It’s far enough away so that it’s isolated, and it’s close enough that it’s connected.”

The American Hotel in Sag Harbor
The American Hotel in Sag Harbor

Just a ferry ride away in Sag Harbor is The American Hotel, a three-story landmark built in 1846 on the town’s Main Street. It draws guests from Manhattan who take the Hampton Jitney to stay in one of the eight double rooms, and locals who flock to the bar and restaurant. The present owner, Ted Conklin, bought the former boardinghouse in 1972 and turned it around after decades of neglect. He literally had to shovel coal dust out of the basement one bucket at a time. Now the cellar holds thousands of bottles of fine wine. In 1981 the hotel won Wine Spectator’s Grand Award for the restaurant’s superb wine list, and it’s never looked back.

Related: Long Island Craft Beer Guide

One of its legendary evenings saw Billy Joel and Bono hanging out together on the couch by the backgammon board. Another saw Jimmy Buffett take a stroll from the barroom to entertain diners on the porch. For years, the place has been a haven for artists and writers in the Hamptons. Perhaps that’s why it’s always gotten good press. Peter Applebome in The New York Times once referred to it as “sort of the Hamptons’ answer to Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca.” As it boasts on its website, “discerning world travelers agree that The American Hotel is in a class of its own.”

Garden City Hotel
Garden City Hotel

Also in a class by itself is the luxurious Garden City Hotel, 15 miles from Manhattan and a few minutes’ walk from the Long Island Rail Road. This Nassau venue stands as one of the most modern-looking hospitality venues on the Island. It’s hard to believe it dates back to 1874, when it opened to much fanfare, but of course it’s been transformed almost half a dozen times over the years—the 1901 version was torn down in 1973—and it got its latest upgrade in 2014, when Marcello Pozzi, a renowned Italian designer, finished redecorating all the guest rooms and suites, adding WiFi and flat-screen TVs as well as a sophisticated decor. Its executive suites have kitchenettes and living areas, and its penthouse suites come with private outdoor patios, along with views of the New York City skyline. Besides a 25,000-square-foot event space, there’s an indoor pool, sauna, fitness center, the Polo Steakhouse, a patio bar and lounge. The hotel also provides pet walking and feeding services.

Related: The Complete Guide to Long Island Colleges and Universities

As the hotel boasts on its website, its clientele includes “the wealthy, the celebrated and the politically powerful.” Indeed, then-presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie stayed there in 1959. They’re just two of the luminaries who’ve given the hotel its cache over the years. Since the days of the original founder, A.T. Stewart, the Garden City Hotel has tried to uphold his dream to run “an oasis hotel as a country retreat far from the city but close enough for jazz,” as current owner Morris Moinian of the Fortuna Realty Group put it at the venue’s 140th anniversary ceremony. Even though it’s ensconced in suburban Long Island, this world-class hotel regards itself as a destination property within reach both of Manhattan and some of the best beaches in the Northeast.

The Harbor Rose in Cold Spring Harbor
The Harbor Rose in Cold Spring Harbor

A much quainter and more intimate space in Nassau County is The Harbor Rose, an elegant bed and breakfast in a former rectory for St. John’s Church dating back to 1849. Overlooking inner Cold Spring Harbor, it’s within walking distance of Cold Spring Laboratory, three miles from The Paramount Theater in Huntington Village and five miles from Teddy Roosevelt’s landmark home, Sagamore Hill, to name two other local attractions. The place boasts two comfortably furnished rooms, each with fireplaces and balconies.

“I feel like an ambassador to the community,” said Deirdre Ventura, who bought the place in 2007 but just got her business permit from the Town of Huntington almost a year ago. “We get a lot of international visitors.”

Related: Long Island’s Teddy Roosevelt: King of the Hill

One of Kristen Jarnagin’s many tasks at the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau is to remind Long Islanders to welcome travelers from near and far because it’s in their own best long-term interests.

“I know that visitors can be annoying,” Jarnagin said. “They clog up the freeways. They take your favorite seat at the restaurant. But they’re taxed at every turn: where they sleep, where they shop, where they eat. It’s one of the highest-taxed industries in the country, and those taxes hit our bottom line. They’re bringing in new dollars, not shifting dollars around the Island.”

Another goal of hers is to extend the travel season and make Long Island a year-round destination. Right now, summer is the peak period when rates are the highest and most of the travelers coming here are more affluent. But Jarnagin is aiming for a different audience between Labor Day and Memorial Day.

“What we plan to do is shift our marketing strategy during the slow seasons to our residents on Long Island,” she said. With that in mind, she wants to play on local attitudes: “We’re not going to fight that traffic, we’re not going to pay those rates. We’re going to wait until all those tourists leave, and then we’ll go out and enjoy all the amenities in our own backyard when the time is right because we don’t care about winter—we’re tough.”

In the cold snowy months ahead, Long Island’s hotel operators hope she’s right—and that many more Long Islanders will come out in droves to spend the night under their roofs instead of their own homes. After all, if they wait until summer, it’s going to be too late, because the best places are booked well in advance.

And that’s how the Long Island hotels and hospitality industry stays in business.

Featured Art: Long Island Hospitality: Long Island is home to some unbelievable hotels; this collage includes scenes from Hotel Indigo, The Garden City Hotel, The Baker House 1650 and The Harbor Rose. (Photos from respective hotels’ official websites)

Noam Chomsky Day Celebrates The Great American Intellectual & Activist

Noam Chomsky Day
Noam Chomsky Day is celebrated in Matt Ross' indie film 'Captain Fantastic' with cake, candles and quotations from the great American intellectual, social critic, philosopher and MIT professor of linguistics's many works. (Photo: Noam Chomsky official Facebook profile)

A big day is coming up—and it’s giving people cause for celebration.

On Dec. 7, Noam Chomsky turns 88, but the birthday of America’s great public intellectual actually got his mainstream acclaim last year in Matt Ross’ poignant indie film Captain Fantastic, a quirky comedic drama about a left-wing family living off the grid in the woods of the Pacific Northwest who traditionally celebrate “Noam Chomsky Day” instead of Christmas.

What is Noam Chomsky Day?

On this unique holiday, the presents aren’t the latest video games and expensive perfumes, but hunting knives and crossbows. There’s also cake, candles and quotations from “Uncle Noam,” the famed M.I.T. professor of linguistics and libertarian socialist culture critic.

As played by Viggo Mortensen, Ben Cash, the patriarch of this little tribe, is opposed to organized religion, soulless American consumerism and corporate commercialism that has demeaned contemporary life. He’s raising his six kids, who range in age from about 6 to 18, while their mom, his wife, is hospitalized with a debilitating disorder. In her absence, he maintains a rigorous program of physical and intellectual training, raising his brood to be philosopher kings. They know how to hunt, scale a cliff and interpret the Bill of Rights.

“Look, what we created here may be unique in all of human existence,” Cash tells his children solemnly. “We’ve created paradise.”

But there’s the rub. They’ve been living in isolation, so when word comes that their mother has died, things get very complicated. In this engrossing film, the children are an amazing ensemble cast but the adults are stars in their own right, too. Ben’s father in law (Frank Langella) is an upper-class conservative living in a gated community who blames Ben’s communal lifestyle for his daughter’s suicide and forbids them from attending the funeral, sparking rebellion.

“We want to see mom!” cries one of the youngest of the Cash clan. “Grandpa can’t oppress us!”

And so they set off for the sunny Southwest. They find out quickly they have a lot to learn. At a restaurant, one kid looks at the menu and asks, “What’s cola?” “Poison water,” replies his father with scorn.

Later, the eldest child cries out in despair to his dad, “Unless it comes out of a book, I don’t know anything!”

But what they do know is quite profound and what we learn from watching it is priceless.

Fans of this sleeper hit appreciate that Captain Fantastic is more than a simple road trip. Ross, who went to Julliard and New York University, is perhaps best known as the duplicitous high-tech exec Gavin Belson in HBO’s comedy satire Silicon Valley. In his feature-length directorial debut he tries to walk the line of the great cultural divide that has split the country, culminating in the election of Donald Trump—Chomsky himself a proponent of the “lesser evil voting” strategy of supporting Hillary Clinton. But he doesn’t devolve into stereotypes, although some critics may differ. He’s exploring family values in 21st century America with a refreshing candor that is all too rare.

In real life, Ross admits that he does indeed celebrate Noam Chomsky Day in his home in Berkeley, Calif., when he and his kids gather around for sweets and cake, blow out a candle and read a passage or two from Chomsky’s canon that ranges from works on language and mind to American foreign policy and the neoliberal security-surveillance state.

Chomsky’s bestseller, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), co-authored with Edward S. Herman, epitomizes his principled examination of contemporary social issues with a hard-hitting analysis that confronts conventional wisdom without fear or favor.

The renowned political theorist, philosopher, activist, scholar and prolific author, who’s published more than 100 works, is regarded as one of the most critically engaging minds alive today. Perhaps then, the Cash children’s incredulity that their grandfather doesn’t honor their family tradition by commemorating Noam Chomsky Day— “I don’t even know who that is!” he tells them—is Ross’ not-so veiled symbolism representing the American public at large, and an urgent plea for us to recognize Chomsky’s insights and embrace them.

As a linguist, Chomsky is regarded as revolutionizing the scientific study of language. As an activist, he remains one of the most outspoken critics of U.S. foreign policy and global imperialism—a dissent that has its origins in the country’s involvement during the Vietnam War. A celebrated champion of left-wing politics, Chomsky is also considered one of the most cited authors in all of history.

As his inclusion in the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest (2009) states:

“Chomsky continues to be an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and its ambitions for geopolitical hegemony and the neoliberal turn of global capitalism, which he identifies in terms of class warfare waged from above against the needs and interests of the great majority.”

During movie production, Chomsky reportedly told Ross’s team just “please quote me correctly.”

That they did. No other American movie in mainstream release has ever referred to Chomsky with as much respect and humor. He may never become a household name—especially in the precincts Trump carried—but celebrating Noam Chomsky Day is a good way to honor his spirit.

—With Christopher Twarowski

Featured photo: Noam Chomsky Day is celebrated in Matt Ross’ indie film Captain Fantastic with cake, candles and quotations from the great American intellectual, social critic, philosopher and M.I.T. professor of linguistics’s many works. (Photo: Noam Chomsky official Facebook profile)