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Thursday
Apr182019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Chair Of County Human Rights Commission Rabbi Dr. Steven Moss Retires

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Rabbi Dr. Steven MossA central figure in the realms of social justice and religious life in Suffolk County, Rabbi Dr. Steven Moss, for 28 years the chairperson of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission, is retiring. 

Not only has Rabbi Moss led the commission but he is co-chair of the Suffolk County Anti-Bias Task Force, and over his 25 years with the county task force has gone from town to town in Suffolk successfully working for the establishment of town anti-bias task forces.  

Further, he is chairperson of the Suffolk County Community College-based Center for Human Understanding and Social Justice featuring the Holocaust Collection. 

And he is director and founder of STOP/BIAS, an educational program for bias/hate crime offenders.

He served three terms as president of the Suffolk County Board of Rabbis.

And he holds the rank of Chief of Chaplains with the Suffolk County Police Department and been a department chaplain since 1986.  

Also, he is co-chair of the Islip Town Anti-Bias Task Force and was a long-time member of the Islip Town Board of Ethics.

Since 1972, he has been the rabbi at B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale and thus is the longest-serving synagogue rabbi in Suffolk County.

He will become rabbi emeritus at B’nai Israel upon his retirement in July. He is involved in “redefining” his many other positions. For example, he will step down as chair of the Center for Human Understanding and Social Justice, but will remain a member of its board.

He would like “to remain involved” in activities here but is “aware of the responsibility anyone has as a chair.” At B’nai Israel, “when needed by any congregant I will come back,” he said. He notes his long and deep connection with the families of the congregation. “I named the current president and bar mitzvahed him.” When a teacher or doctor retires, she or he “can’t continue, but a rabbi is always a rabbi.” 

He and his wife, Judy, will be spending part of the year in Florida and part at their home in Holbrook. 

The retirement of Rabbi Moss—although he still will be involved in some of his many activities—represents an incalculable loss for Suffolk County. Nevertheless, his many decades of service have been a huge gift to this county and its people. 

I know Rabbi Moss well. He was our family’s rabbi when we lived in Sayville. My wife, Janet, and I became friends with Rabbi Moss and Judy, a teacher. I’ll never forget when they first came to our house and he spoke about how, in addition to being the rabbi at B’nai Israel, he ministered to cancer patients—including children with terminal cancer—in New York City. What a commitment to humanity that reflected. He mentioned last week that he was a chaplain for the New York Board of Rabbis working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center from 1970 to 2000 and “the longest-serving chaplain” for the board.

I recall vividly 1973 and the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, when it looked like Israel could be destroyed, Rabbi Moss giving a sermon at B’nai Israel providing comfort and wisdom to a synagogue full of frightened congregants.

He will be moving to “the next stage in my life—moving to a different spiritual stage in my life.” He will be translating a 17th Century book “on death and dying” out of the mystical teachings of Judaism of the Kabbalah, writing a book on his spiritual encounters with God, and a history of “the anti-bias task force” activity in Suffolk County.

Rabbi Moss is an avid cyclist and on June 18 will embark on a 60-mile ride from the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland to Krakow, a center of Jewish life before the Holocaust. Also, he will visit Vilna in Poland where in the 19th Century “my grandmother’s grandfather served as a rabbi.” 

Raised in Belle Harbor in the Rockaways, he was “always interested in Jewish spirituality and religion.” Indeed, at his home synagogue, he recalled, he gave a sermon when he was 11. At 12, he wrote to the graduate school for rabbis and cantors, Hebrew Union College, asking for admittance to study to be a rabbi. He was advised that he needed to graduate college first. And he did, at NYU, and then when he arrived at Hebrew Union there was “an amazing thing at the interview—they had my letter.”

His involvement in social justice, he said, derives from “a rabbi’s role and the role of the Jewish community and Jewish people that we must be inclusive, that God is in every human being, that we are all equal before God. And everyone in the community, every person, has an equal role.” 

His Temple B’nai Israel is a success story in Suffolk. “When I came in 1972, 50 families were members. Now there are 400.” A spiritual success story, too, is Rabbi Steven Moss.

There will be a gala lunch in honor of Rabbi Moss at the Watermill in Smithtown on June 23. Reservations can be made through Temple B’nai Israel.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. 

Thursday
Apr112019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Environmental Battle To Save Fire Island From Robert Moses

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman 

 “Saving Fire Island From Robert Moses, The Fight For A National Seashore” is the title of a just-published book by Christopher Verga. It is about the battle to prevent public works czar Moses from building a four-lane highway the length of that ribbon of sand, paving over a paradise just off Long Island’s southern coast. 

The other evening, reading the book by Dr. Verga, who teaches Long Island history at Suffolk County Community College, brought memories back of a long time ago.

I’m a part of the book, but it’s a story that goes far beyond me—a tale of environmental success that has since served as a model for other environmental battles. To stop the would-be Moses highway, the National Seashore was created—and Fire Island was saved. It’s a story, too, of how three relatively small newspapers that challenged the Moses highway had a big part in this success.

Professor Verga writes, “When local politicians tried to block his projects, Moses used the media….Moses would silence any dissent that stemmed from rogue reporting, which could have threatened his power or overall vision.” He relates: “An example of Moses’ style of retribution was his retaliation against reporter Karl Grossman. In 1964, Grossman wrote an article in the Babylon Leader comparing Moses’ treatment of civil rights protesters at his World’s Fair to Bull Connors, and in response, Moses got Grossman fired from his job….” 

A central Moses ambition: highways and cars, although he didn’t drive—he was chauffeured. For years he sought a road on Fire Island although his “planning…remained secret.”  Then came a big storm in 1962 and Moses had his rationale: a highway would “anchor” Fire Island, he claimed. Media including “Newsday, The New York Times…and all other popular newspapers were under the influence of Moses and advocated support for his projects. The only local paper that had been strongly critical of Robert Moses was the Babylon Leader.” 

The Leader for decades had been taking on Mr. Moses, a resident of Babylon. In 1962, at the age of 20, I showed up at the Leader for my first job as a reporter and was assigned to go to Fire Island that weekend and write an article about the just-announced highway.

This front-page piece was to be the first of many articles. Professor Verga writes how I “became the first to report on the resistance” to the road and stayed on the story. He notes how the Leader was joined by Joseph Jahn’s Suffolk County News in Sayville and Paul Townsend’s Long Island Commercial Review. At times, we published the same article together.

  “These allies in the press soon began to make a difference. Babylon Leader’s Karl Grossman reported the story that made one of the biggest impacts by not just swaying mainlanders’ perspectives on the road through Fire Island but also challenging their trust in Moses. Grossman reported that during the twilight hours, Moses would routinely secretly replace sand that eroded along the Ocean Parkway [on the Jones Beach stretch to the west of Fire Island] after coastal storms. This story debunked Moses’ original claim that a parkway could anchor shifting and eroding dunes. The only problem was that Grossman’s story gained the attention of only the three papers that supported the cause.”

But then, Professor Verga goes on, attorney Irving Like, who with his brother-in-law Maurice Barbash were leaders of the Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore, brought a lawsuit to uncover how much money was being spent to keep Ocean Parkway in place. 

He describes how U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall embraced the idea of a Fire Island National Seashore—and was Mr. Moses mad at him! Also, Laurance Rockefeller, founder of the American Conservation Association and chairman of the State Council of Parks, began speaking out about how a Fire Island highway “would conflict with conservation”—and was Mr. Moses mad at him!

“Moses demanded that Governor [Nelson] Rockefeller silence [his brother] Laurance’s criticism,” notes Dr. Verga. The governor would not. “Moses, the most powerful person in New York, had met his match.” He reacted by quitting state positions, although holding on to running the 1964-1965 World’s Fair. 

My article and photos taken on the World’s Fair opening day of its private guards brutally attacking Long Island civil rights activists protesting racism in hiring at the World’s Fair ran in the Babylon Leader, which months before been bought out by a chain, and also appeared in the chain’s other newspapers. But I was no longer protected by the Leader’s former editor and its publisher. Mr. Moses complained to the chain’s New York City-based management and I got fired. I’ve nicely survived and, most importantly, Fire Island remains a beautiful, special, magical place. 

This excellent book by Professor Verga documents the complete story. 

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. 

 

Monday
Apr082019

Gershon Announces Run For Zeldin's Seat

 

On Saturday, April 6, Perry Gershon announced that he was running for Congress in front of hundreds of friends and supporters. The event was held at Painters in Brookhaven.

During his speech, Gershon said: “Our country started as a great experiment in democracy; a self-governed people who, through faith in unity, knew they could build a better tomorrow. That experiment continues today. …Every American is equally deserving of opportunity, justice and freedom. Today our vision is tested – there are forces at work seeking to divide us along various lines – whether they be tribal, racial, gender, or wealth – and we must fight not just for the status quo but to move forward towards unity. ….That is why I have decided to run again.”

Gershon was introduced by former Suffolk County Executive Pat Halpin, who said: “Perry you have to run again, because we need you. We need someone who’s going to fight.”

Perry came within striking distance last time when he narrowly lost to Zeldin by 4 points. Gershon raised $5.4 million and was in one of the most competitive congressional races in the country. He was able to build up momentum form a grassroots progressive movement.

Gershon plans to highlight the damage done to Long Islanders by the new tax laws and the SALT cap and Zeldin’s inability to help us when his party was in control, as well as the need to protect and improve our healthcare and to advocate for governmental help in clean water and energy on Long Island and elsewhere. With hundreds of supporters at his campaign launch he’s off to a great start for the 2020 race.


 

Wednesday
Apr032019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - LIPA Approves Food Scraps-To-Energy Plant

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

 The recent approval by the trustees of Long Island Power Authority for a food scraps-to-energy plant to be built in Yaphank links back to an original purpose of LIPA—to develop safe, alternative means of power.

LIPA was created by the Long Island Power Act of 1985 primarily to prevent the Shoreham nuclear power plant from going into operation and to further instead safe energy technologies. In its three decades, LIPA has emphasized solar and wind power to generate electricity. The food scraps-to-energy OK marks a move to another form of safe energy.

The LIPA trustees voted unanimously on March 20 for an $84 million 20-year contract to buy energy from a facility to be built by American Organic Energy that would convert 180,000 tons of food scraps a year into bio-gas to fuel a six megawatt power plant as well as vehicles and equipment. 

Underlying this is the huge problem of food waste in the United States. Some 40 percent of food produced in the nation is wasted, studies have found.  One way to deal with this was featured on the Today show a day before LIPA acted, in a segment titled “Cooking With Trash.” It featured Cameron Macleish who has a YouTube channel with that name. He came with seemingly fresh food retrieved from a dumpster, and with his mother, Ellen, a chef. 

Dumpster-dumping for food is “like opening a treasure chest…There is so much good food thrown out on a daily basis,” he stated, his interviewers somewhat taken aback.

This is one way to reduce food waste. Another way is a movement today involving restaurants pledging to generate “zero waste” with a variety of recipes using produce that otherwise would end up in the trash. 

There are other strategies. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been seeking to require “organizations that produce large amounts of excess food a year to donate edible items to food banks and recycle the rest.” He heralded the new “groundbreaking…clean energy project.”

No matter how much the reduction in wasted food, there still would be inedible scraps. Charles Vigliotti, co-founder of American Organic Energy, said that “on Long Island, the notion that we would put virtually all our commercial food waste onto trucks and carry it to Ohio and North Carolina is just insane.”

The main safe alternative energy technologies—solar and wind—are an energy bonanza. With 38 solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of our house for 10 years, I still marvel at seeing the electric meter going backwards—the panels are harvesting more electricity than we are using. We saved much in installing them with a LIPA rebate. That rebate no longer exists, but over the decade the price of solar panels has halved and their output significantly increased. Houses and commercial and government buildings throughout Long Island should have solar panels on their roofs.

Coupled with this, we had an “energy audit” done of leaks and other issues and took simple steps to make our more than century-old saltbox house energy efficient. 

We also have two rooftop solar panels that produce hot water.

LIPA has been deeply involved in the major state initiative underway to place wind turbines well off our shores.

Yet in addition to the sun which on most days shines on us and the winds that blow mightily off our coasts, there are other available energy sources. Take wave and tidal power long advocated here by Sarah Meyland, a professor in the Department of Environmental Technology and Sustainability at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury. As Dr. Meyland has stated: “One thing Long Island has that no one else in the state has is wave energy. We have it 24 hours a day. The sun doesn’t have to shine, the wind doesn’t have to blow. Tides rise and fall on a regular basis, day in and day out.” Countries especially in Scandinavia, have “deployed tide-generated plants that are completely submerged and generate a lot of electricity. It’s absolutely clean, and if we could support enough of these, we would solve a lot of our downstate energy problems.”

Indeed, next to Roosevelt Island in the East River, off Long Island’s west end, Verdant Power has had a demonstration project with six turbines spinning with the river’s motion. Verdant now seeks to install 30 turbines to generate electricity. 

There are opportunities to use tidal power to Long Island’s east—with Plum Gut off Orient Point ideal. Natural Currents Energy Services has been considering it.  We’ve been in Plum Gut in our sailboat when the tide is changing—and, wow, what power waits to be tapped! As for the waves hitting Long Island’s ocean beaches, the energy that can be gotten from them is also endless—and other nations are harnessing wave-power. 

Considering its founding mission, it’s a natural for LIPA to be a safe energy leader.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. 
Wednesday
Mar272019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Bellone - Kennedy 2019

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Facing each other in the top election race this year in Suffolk County—for county executive—are the incumbent, Steve Bellone, seeking a third four-year term, and County Comptroller John M. Kennedy, Jr. who has served in various positions in Suffolk government for 33 years.

A big advantage for Democrat Bellone is already having a campaign fund of $2 million. Republican Kennedy has a fraction of that.

Mr. Kennedy is a former Suffolk County legislator who has also held posts in the offices of county executive and county clerk. He has been highly critical of Mr. Bellone notably of Mr. Bellone’s handling of county financial matters about which Mr. Kennedy opened his campaign.

Mr. Bellone, a lawyer, was a member of the Babylon Town Board and that town’s supervisor before his election as county executive. He got off to a bumpy start. “Suffolk Exec’s First Year, Out Of The Office,” was the front-page banner headline of Newsday in 2013. The article began: “Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was absent from the office for days at a time or longer during his first year on the job and often was difficult to reach, said four high-level sources with direct knowledge of his schedule.” He “would spend hours at a time during workdays at restaurants, and aides who were searching for him even monitored twitter uses for reported sightings.”  The piece quoted one source as saying: “He would not return phone calls, sometimes for five days; it was very challenging.”

Instead of being in his office in the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, “Bellone spent hours at a time during the week at restaurants, primarily Panera Bread in North Babylon, not far from his home, all of the sources said.” During this period the county faced a “projected three-year deficit of as much as $530 million.”

Mr. Bellone was quoted in the article as saying he felt “very isolated and the public doesn’t come in” to the Dennison Building. The piece went on that following Suffolk being hit by superstorm Sandy, he “has been far more engaged in daily operations.” In recent times, Mr. Bellone has been quite active generating news.

He has promoted diversity most recently calling for the Suffolk Police Department to be “more diverse….The world around us is changing,” he said in a presentation this month. On the  On the environmental front, he had the county challenge the lawsuit brought by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society that would have crippled the nationally-renown Suffolk County Farmland Preservation Program. Big priorities have been development in Suffolk—such as the “Ronkonkoma Hub” project—to ostensibly provide an economic shot, and also sewering.

Mr. Kennedy of Nesconset worked at nearby Kings Park Psychiatric Center while attending Stony Brook University where he received a B.A. in psychology. After graduation, he became a counselor and administrator at a New York State Office of Mental Health outpatient program. He went on to law school and in addition to being an attorney has a master’s degree in business administration with a concentration in capital budgeting.

He starting working for Suffolk County government in 1986, under County Executive Peter F. Cohalan, a GOPer, in the executive’s Office for the Aging. Mr. Kennedy then served a succession of county executives, two Republicans and Democrat Patrick Halpin, and in 1995 held a high position in the county clerk’s office. He was elected to the Suffolk Legislature in 2003 and was its Republican minority leader between 2012 and 2014 when he was first elected Suffolk comptroller, the county’s chief financial officer and fiscal watchdog.

His online biography stresses his advocacy as a county legislator of measures “preserving local open space, groundwater and ecosystems.” In recent weeks, he, too, has hit a bumpy stretch, for sending out federal 1099 tax forms to Suffolk homeowners who have entered the county’s Residential Septic Incentive Program. It provides $10,000 to $20,000 grants toward installation of “advanced” wastewater treatment systems that substantially reduce nitrogen discharges which have caused serious pollution to bays and other water bodies. Homeowners fearing they may be liable for thousands of dollars in taxes have complained and so has the Bellone administration which says this would be contrary to a legal opinion it has received.

Mr. Kennedy was re-elected last year. As comptroller he has charged Mr. Bellone with “a complete absence of leadership” causing Suffolk to be “on the precipice of financial crisis.” He announced his candidacy for county executive in front of the Dennison Building last month declaring that Mr. Bellone “deserves an F” for repeated Wall Street downgrades of county bonds. “We’re saying enough is enough,” he said. “We will stop the hemorrhaging. We will stop the bleeding. We will cut up the credit cards. We will start to pay our debts….We will save Suffolk.”

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books.