Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.
More than 150 volunteers spent three hours Thursday lining up 31,000 books through two Wyandanch schools in an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the longest-ever line of books.
Freeport-based nonprofit The Book Fairies organized the event to raise awareness to their efforts to fight illiteracy by donating literature to underprivileged communities across Long Island, the New York Metro area, and overseas. The 500 boxes of books were all donated to Wyandanch students and residents at the conclusion of the attempt, which was held on Guinness World Record Day.
“It’s our goal to flood Wyandanch with all of the books that their children need to succeed in school,” Amy Zaslansky, who founded the group in 2012, said while inspecting the books to make sure there were no breaks in the chain. “Price is the No. 1 barrier to book access. And we’re removing that barrier by providing free books.”
The group worked to create a more than 3-mile chain of books winding through the halls and gyms at two connecting elementary schools off Straight Path, thereby breaking record of a 2.6-mile-long line of books. That record was set at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to promote a book drive on International Literacy Day in 2017, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. On Friday, The Book Fairies reported that its line of books stretched nearly four miles.
The first book in the Long Island chain was The Little Engine That Could, which Zaslansky’s father used to read to her as a child and inspired her benevolent spirit. The line included books ranging from those about learning the ABCs to paperbacks about zippers. They ran the gamut from children’s coloring books to novels, with test prep books and dictionaries in the mix, too.
“It is absolutely surreal actually seeing this manifest into reality,” said Dr. Monique Habershaw, principal of the MLK school, who estimated that the event included two libraries worth of books.
Volunteers — which included those with special needs from local organizations dedicated to helping those with developmental disabilities — were as enthusiastic about supporting the cause as they were the books themselves. During the effort, the halls echoed with talk of needing to re-read books by Shell Silverstein or stock up on those about The Little Mermaid.
“Not only to break the record, but for [Wyandanch] to be able to keep the books is amazing,” said Jeannette Johnson, a first grade teacher in the school district who helped lay some of the books.
Three volunteer monitors were on site to inspect the chain and verify for Guinness that the books laid on the floors of Lafrancis Hardiman and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. elementary schools were all touching. Videographers also recorded the chain and land surveyors were called in to prepare a report on the distance. Guinness will take 12 weeks to verify if the record was set.
Former Hempstead Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino was sentenced Friday to six months in jail following his guilty plea to federal tax evasion.
The 55-year-old North Valley Stream man was also sentenced at Central Islip federal court to three years’ supervised release. Judge Joanna Seybert addionally ordered him to pay $700,000 in restitution to his former employer and $254,628 in restitution to the Internal
“This is yet another example of a public official on Long Island breaking the law, this time by failing to pay his fair share of taxes like every other citizen,” Richard P. Donoghue, U.S.Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Federal prosecutors said Ambrosino, an attorney who was disbarred due to the felony conviction, diverted more than $800,000 in legal fees from clients that he was required to provide to his former Uniondale-based law firm. The clients included the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency and the Nassau County Local Economic Assistance Corporation. The Republican resigned from the town board following his guilty plea.
Ambrosino also evaded substantial income tax, and filed false and fraudulent
corporate tax returns on behalf of Vanderbilt in 2011, 2012, and 2013, authorities said. He claimed false and fraudulent business expense deductions, and failing to report funds he diverted from his former law firm, according to investigators.
Verizon subscribers who tuned into FiOS1 News Thursday morning were greeted by a message that the hyper-local TV news station went off the air slightly earlier than expected.
It was announced in August that FiOs1 would cease programming at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 16, but the station instead signed off at the end of its Nov 13 nightly news cast. It went off the air because Verizon declined to renew the contract with Rye Brook-based RNN, which produced FiOS1 News for Long Island, Hudson Valley, and New Jersey audiences for a decade.
“I am very proud of our entire team and what we produced for you, our viewers, for the past 10 years,” RNN President Richard French said during the conclusion of the final FiOS1 News Long Island news cast. “We hope you enjoyed watching as much as we enjoyed bringing you the news. This is difficult because clearly, this was not our choice to say goodbye.”
After the announcement in August came news that Verizon FiOS picked up Long Island’s sole surviving hyper-local TV news station, Altice’s News 12. A message greeted FiOS1 viewers Thursday morning directing them to turn to the new channel. Except instead of channel 12, News12 Long Island is found on channel 29 for FiOS subscribers.
“FiOS1 News is no longer available,” the message read. “Find episodes of your favorite NY & NJ high school sports games and Restaurant Hunter shows on FiOS Video on Demand.”
Jaci Clement, CEO and executive director of the Fair Media Council, a Bethpage-based nonprofit media watchdog group, has called the FiOS1’s demise “a serious loss to the region.”
The development had inspired New York State lawmakers to propose legislation mandating that television companies and telephone corporations provide local news programming.
“Our democracy depends on an informed citizenry,” said state Sen. Kevin Thomas said (D-Levittown). “The loss of local news seriously hurts our communities. This legislation will help ensure that New Yorkers have access to the local news and information that impacts their health, welfare, and the communities in which they live.”
Fourteen-term U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the dean of Long Island’s congressional delegation, announced Monday that he will not seek re-election in 2020, setting up a fierce fight for his district.
King, who was first elected to Congress in 1993, remained as feisty as ever in announcing his retirement, suggesting that he believes he’d win re-election if he ran, intends to back President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, and will vote against impeaching the president. He is currently the longest-serving congressman from New York.
“The prime reason for my decision was that after 28 years of spending four days a week in Washington, D.C., it is time to end the weekly commute and be home in Seaford,” King said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision.”
King, who is the most tenured of Long Island’s five congressional representatives, is one of 20 members of the GOP minority in the U.S. House of Representatives to decline seeking re-election next year. His last day in office will be on Dec. 31, 2020.
The congressman started his career in elected office in 1977 as a councilman in the Town of Hempstead before getting elected Nassau County comptroller in 1981, and a decade later won the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Robert Mrazek (D-Centerport), who retired. He represents New York’s Second Congressional District, which spans the South Shore of Long Island from western Nassau County to western Suffolk County.
King, who counts boxing as chief among his hobbies, was not one to back down from a political fight. His time in office was at times controversial, such as during his tenure as chairman of the homeland security committee, when he held hearings on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans, which critics decried as Islamophobic. The New York Civil Liberties Union recently forced him to create a new Facebook page after he was found to be illegally blocking online critics.
But his willingness to challenge his own party sometimes won him praise from Democrats. Such instances include in 2012 when he blasted then-congressional Republican leaders for stalling a $50 billion Superstorm Sandy aid package and when the GOP again dragged its feet on the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. He also worked with President Bill Clinton to achieve the Good Friday Agreement peace accord between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“I will miss fighting for the people of my district and America and will always be proud of my efforts,” he said.
Democrats have long sought to unseat King without success, including ex-Nassau Legis. Dave Mejias (D-Farmingdale), Suffolk County Legislative Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), and most recently, Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, who made national headlines last year when the Federal Elections Commission unprecedentedly allowed her to use campaign funds to pay for child care while she’s on the trail. Babylon Town Councilwoman Jackie Gordon was the latest challenger to throw her hat in the ring.
King said he will use his retirement to spend more time with his family, including his wife Rosemary, son Sean, daughter Erin King-Sweeney — a fellow Republican Hempstead Town Councilwoman who recently announcement that she’s moving to North Carolina — and his grandchildren.
“My time in Congress has been an extraordinary experience — an experience I wouldn’t have even dared imagine when I was a kid growing up in Sunnyside or a college student loading and unloading trucks and freight cars at Manhattan’s West Side Railway Terminal,” King said. “I intend to remain in Seaford, be active politically and look forward to seeing what opportunities and challenges await me in this next chapter of a very fortunate life.”
A Commack-based company imported Chinese-made surveillance technology with known cyber-security vulnerabilities, slapped “Made in The USA” labels on the products, and sold them to to the U.S. military for years, federal prosecutors alleged.
Those arrested Thursday in the alleged scheme include Avenutura Technologies, Inc. CEO Frances Cabasso, her husband and the company’s managing director, Jack Cabasso, both of Northport, plus three senior executives and two employees, authorities said. The suspects were scheduled to be arraigned at Brooklyn federal court on charges of defrauding the U.S. government, money laundering, and other counts.
“The defendants falsely claimed for years that their surveillance and security equipment was manufactured on Long Island, padding their pockets with money from lucrative contracts without regard for the risk to our country’s national security posed by secretly peddling made-in-China electronics with known cyber vulnerabilities,” said Richard P. Donoghue, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
Prosecutors alleged that Aventura made upwards of $88 million, including more than $20 million from federal government contracts, while claiming that it was manufacturing its products on Long Island.
Since at least 2006, Aventura has been importing products primarily from China, then reselling them as American-made or manufactured in a small number of other countries, authorities said.
The company also falsely claimed that Frances was CEO to qualify the company as a woman-owned small business to increase sales when it was in fact run by Jack, according to investigators. The couple is also accused to laundering their profits to hide their assets.
“The introduction of counterfeit parts and materials into the U.S. Defense Department’s supply chain poses a significant risk and impacts America’s military readiness and our national security,” said Leigh-Alistair Barzey, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s Northeast Field Office.
The couple faces up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.
At least two freshman town supervisors on Long Island were unseated in Tuesday’s elections and a third might join their ranks.
Republican challenger Yvette Aguiar unseated first-term Democratic Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith by a margin of 54 to 45 percent, according to unofficial returns from the Suffolk County Board of Elections. And Democratic challenger Gerard Stiller unseated first-term Republican Shelter Island Town Supervisor Gary Gerth, the tallies show. But Democratic Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen refused to concede Tuesday’s election after Republican challenger Don Clavin declared victory as Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs asked Gillen to wait for more than 5,000 absentee ballots to be counted.
Gillen, a first-term supervisor who two years ago became the first Democrat to win the town’s top job in more than a century, trailed Clavin, the town tax receiver, by more than 1,500 votes, according to unofficial returns from the Nassau County Board of Elections.
Incumbent town supervisors re-elected Tuesday on LI were North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, who won more than double the votes of GOP challenger David Redmond, and Republican Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joe Saladino, who had a 10,000 vote lead over challenger James Altadonna, the town clerk who switched parties from Republican to Democrat in his attempt to unseat Saladino.
On the other side of the county line, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine trounced Democratic challenger William Ferraro 61 to 37 percent, Democratic East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc drubbed Libertarian challenger David Gruber, Republican Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter beat Democratic challenger Thomas Murray 56 to 43 percent, Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman won 55 percent of the vote over Republican challenger Gregory Robins’ 29 percent, and Republican Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell won 51 to 48 percent over Democratic challenger Gregory Doroski.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas declared victory Tuesday in her race for re-election to a second four-year term.
The Democratic top prosecutor had a more than 40,000-vote margin over Republican challenger Frank McQuade, an attorney in private practice from Long Beach, with about 80 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results tallied by the Nassau Board of Elections.
“It’s my honor to serve the people of Nassau County as district attorney and I thank the voters for the confidence they’ve shown in me,” she tweeted. “With justice as our guide, we will continue our important work to keep Nassau safe.”
Singas won her first term in 2015 after a year of serving as acting district attorney following her predecessor, Kathleen Rice, getting elected to Congress. In that race, Singas beat then-Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who spent the last four years working at Nassau Community College before mounting a political comeback in a run for town clerk. Murray appears to have won that race in early returns.
High-profile cases that Singas has handled include multiple Hempstead police commanders nabbed for alleged corruption, an MS-13 bust that netted the gang’s leader for the Northeast, having former Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto plead guilty to corruption, and being tapped special prosecutor to probe disgraced ex-New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who was not charged following domestic abuse allegations that ended his career.
The election was the first on Long Island since the Empire State legalized early voting. Voter turnout is believed to have been up, but the margins were not immediately clear.
Voters elected Democratic Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to a third term Tuesday.
The county’s top-elected official beat Republican challenger John M. Kennedy, the county comptroller, by a margin of 55 to 43 percent, according to unofficial results from the Suffolk Board of Elections. Libertarian candidate Gregory Fischer drew 1 percent of the vote.
“Tonight the people of Suffolk have spoke and they have made it clear that they want the progress to continue,” Bellone told cheering supporters at a union hall in Hauppauge. “We’ve come a long way in the past eight years but I truly believe that it pales in comparison to what we can get done in the next four years.”
Among the top issues in the campaign were the state of the county’s finances. The vote came shortly after the New York State Comptroller’s office rated Suffolk the most fiscally stressed county statewide for the second year in a row.
The election was the first on Long Island since the Empire State legalized early voting. Voter turnout is believed to have been up, but the margins were not immediately clear.
Suffolk County Legis. William Lindsay III (D-Bohemia) was trailing Republican challenger Anthony Piccirillo by 223 votes Tuesday night, making the race too close to call, according to unofficial returns.
While seeking a rematch of a race Piccirillo lost by a similar margin two years ago, Piccirillo beat Lindsay in primaries for the Conservative and Independence party lines this year. This time, he may have pushed it over the edge, pending the Suffolk County Board of Elections counting the absentee ballots in the race.
Democrats have an 11-7 majority in the county legislature. Picking up another seat would put them within one vote of having a 9-9 split in the next election. If that were to happen, Republican Suffolk County Clerk would then have to choose the next presiding officer.
Besides Lindsay, also of note was Suffolk Legis. Rudolph Sunderman (R-Mastic) winning re-election with 62 percent of the vote despite the fact that he was arrested in July on felony perjury and misdemeanor ethic charges. He has pleaded not guilty. All other incumbent Suffolk legislators were also re-elected.
On the other side of the county line, all incumbent Nassau County legislators were re-elected, allowing the GOP to maintain their control of that body.
Steve Edmonson, a 62-year-old longtime security guard who is active in local civic groups, found himself without a place to live after his mother died and her house in Oceanside was sold.
At first, the Nassau County Department of Social Services put him up in the Jones Beach Hotel in Seaford. But eventually his roommate got hungry, spent the money for the room on groceries, which is against the rules, and they were cut off. After being sent packing, Edmonson got by living in his car for a while, but fall set in and the temperatures began to drop. Now he’s staying in an emergency shelter in Roosevelt.
“This is a nightmare,” he tells the Press. “I never thought this would happen to me.”
Few people imagine such a fate for themselves. There but by the grace of God go any of us, Long Island advocates for the homeless often say. Edmonson is not alone.
IN THE SHADOWS
In 2018, Nassau and Suffolk counties had a combined 3,781 homeless people — about as many as there are residents in the Village of Lloyd Harbor on LI’s Gold Coast — a drop of nearly 3 percent from the year prior.
While the numbers are heading in a positive direction, the local trend comes as New York State’s homeless population is on the rise and ranks second nationwide after California, with more than 91,000 in shelters or on the streets.
But as the Press has previously reported, the statistics, while valuable, are often lower than in reality. That’s because when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) coordinates the annual homeless census — known as the point-in-time count — volunteers, despite their best efforts, inevitably miss those who are hospitalized, jailed, institutionalized, those who refuse to identify themselves as homeless, or those who simply can’t be found.
Of course, not all those who wind up homeless have the same circumstances. As a former security guard, Edmonson is perturbed to be in a shelter with parolees and sex offenders. But that’s still a better temporary situation than those who don’t qualify for emergency shelter because they lack an eviction notice since their last home was in an illegal apartment, or they work nights and can’t follow the curfew without losing their job, or suffer from the disease of addiction that makes it difficult to be sober before getting a bed. Tent cities in woodlands along local parkways are sometimes where those who fall through the cracks wind up.
A lack of affordable housing is both the leading cause of homelessness and an issue discussed ad nauseam by local political leaders. Suffolk officials were touting a new affordable housing project for homeless veterans as this story went to press. The severity of the problem can be illustrated in LI’s network of about 100 homeless shelters.
“We have folks living in shelters with Section 8 vouchers,” says Greta Guarton, LMSW, executive director Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, an Amityville-based nonprofit. “They are really, really struggling to find landlords who are willing to accept their vouchers. That’s a major challenge.”
PARALLEL HUNGER TRENDS
The mixed bag of progress and persistent challenges facing LI’s homeless mirrors issues facing the larger population of those who classify as food insecure, which includes those without roofs over their heads.
The number of Long Islanders who don’t know where their next meal is coming from is also trending downward, experts say. There was a 4.8 percent decrease in people going hungry in Nassau and Suffolk last year, according to estimates in the latest Map the Meal Gap report by Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. But Long Island Cares, Inc.—The Harry Chapin Food Bank, one of LI’s two major nonprofit food banks, notes that the stats, which include 155,150 local residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, or other government assistance, is only a fraction of those visiting the more than 500 soup kitchens and food pantries on LI.
“Despite the encouraging decrease, Long Island Cares reports a 10 percent increase in the number of visits to its three satellite locations in Freeport, Lindenhurst, and Huntington Station, an increase also reported by many of our larger member agencies,” reports Paule Pachter, chief executive officer of Long Island Cares. “It’s troubling to see an increase in the number of people utilizing our network of pantries at a time when overall numbers of food insecurity in the region are decreasing. It illustrates that families in need are experiencing greater need and visiting pantries more often just to get by.”
Statewide, more than 2.4 million New Yorkers classify as food insecure, advocates say.
While those numbers are troubling, there is some good news. After President Donald Trump’s trade war with China left many American farmers unable to sell their crops overseas, the government bought the food as a part of a federal bailout and donated the fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat to food banks nationwide that are typically stocked only with nonperishable items such as canned goods. LI’s food banks recently received millions of pounds as a part of the program.
That’s not to say Long Islanders who are able to donate to food banks should hold off. Island Harvest puts the total number of food insecure Long Islanders at more than 300,000. Local hunger relief groups will continue to need all the help they can get.
The dovetailing issues of homelessness and hunger are not going to solve themselves. And thousands more Long Islanders are at risk, studies show.
Thirty-three percent of Long Island households are above the poverty level but don’t make enough to keep up with the high cost of living in Nassau and Suffolk counties, according to a 2018 study by the United Way of New York State.
The report — a follow up to the inaugural analysis in 2016 — dubbed this segment of the population ALICE, short for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. That is, those people who can’t make ends meet without making tough choices regarding basic necessities: food, shelter, child care, transportation, and healthcare. For example, some are forced to forgo health care, child care, good food, and even car insurance in order to pay their rent — sacrifices that put their health, safety, and future at risk.
On Long Island, 302,988 households were struggling to afford these basic needs in the decade since the Great Recession ended in 2010 — 132,236 in Nassau and 170,752 in Suffolk. In Nassau, the household survival budget is $89,208 for a home with two adults, one infant and one preschooler. In Suffolk, it’s $97,296. Yet 51 percent of all full-time jobs statewide pay less than $40,000 annually. Even working multiple jobs often does not provide sufficient income to meet the ALICE threshold.
“Long Islanders are working hard for the wages they earn, but unfortunately those wages might not be enough to cover life’s basic costs,” said United Way of Long Island President and CEO Theresa Regnante. “These families don’t qualify for federal assistance, and can find themselves needing help from organizations like United Way to recover from an unexpected cost or emergency situation. This ALICE Report highlights the significant difference between income and cost of living, pointing out the need to work toward bringing those numbers closer together.”
The question is, what are Long Islanders going to do about it?
Long Islanders impacted by food insecurity in 2017: 259,000 Number of those who are children: 79,000 Number of Long Islanders who make too much to qualify for food stamps but still need to rely on food banks and soup kitchens: 103,434