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Thursday
Nov082018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Corruption In NYS Govt. Is No Joke

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

“We’ve had the governor’s right-hand man and the two former leaders of the legislature convicted of crimes. There’s no clearer picture than that as to why ethics reform needs to be on the top of the state’s to-do list,” says State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. from Suffolk.

Mr. Thiele is a leader in promoting enactment of what is being referred to as the “Anti-Corruption Amendment.” It seeks to amend the New York State Constitution by creating a single and independent New York State Government Integrity Commission. 

It would replace the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and Legislative Ethics Commission (LEC). The problem with JCOPE, says Mr. Thiele, is that it is “controlled” by the governor and the problem with LEC is that it is “controlled” by the state legislature. 

Both have been “complete and total failures,” says Mr. Thiele.

“The new single commission would be responsible for ensuring consistent enforcement” of ethics standards, says the Sag Harbor-based assemblyman, in “both the executive and legislative branches.” Moreover, it “would have widened powers” to punish “misconduct.” Also, it would “be responsible for the enforcement of campaign finance laws” and “would operate under substantial transparency laws, with several provisions in place to ensure fair and just appointment of members.”

It would be comparable, says Mr.Thiele, an attorney, to the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct which serves as a watchdog on the judiciary “and is independent. We need something like that in regard to the executive and legislative branches.”

The legislation that will be before the State Assembly and State Senate when they begin their 2019 session in January states: “The people of New York expect officers and employees of the state to observe laws, rules and regulations that specify high standards of ethical conduct designed to avoid the reality and appearance of corruption, conflict of interest, self-dealing and breach of the public trust. Equally they expect that candidates for state office and others seeking to influence state elections to observe laws, rules and regulations designed to regulate actual and potential corruption and conflicts of interest by regulating the influence of money in politics and making transparent the financing and expenditures of efforts to influence voters.”

“Achieving this goal,” it continues, “requires an independent and non-partisan agency with jurisdiction over matters pertaining to both the legislative and executive branches of government and that has the needed powers to train, advise, interpret, adopt rules and regulations, conduct fair hearings that afford due process and impose appropriate sanctions on a consistent basis so that, with fair and equal application of the law, no person or entity, no matter what their status, influence or role in government, can place themselves above the law…”

New York State government most recently got a grade of D-minus for ethics from the Center for Public Integrity which cited its “unending string of scandals” that “fail to spur meaningful reform.” It is a Washington-based non-profit non-partisan investigative journalism organization with a mission “to reveal abuses of power, corruption and dereliction of duty in powerful public and private institutions in order to cause them to operate with honesty, integrity, accountability and put the public interest first.”

And that was in late 2015. The Center for Public Integrity noted: “First came the Assembly speaker, the powerful Democrat Sheldon Silver, arrested for “exploiting his position by accepting millions in bribes and kickbacks. Then it was the Senate leader, Republican Dean Skelos, who federal prosecutors charged with bribery, extortion and fraud….Skelos was the fifth straight Senate leader to be charged with corruption.” And there had been many other lesser state officials charged and found guilty of corruption.

This was before Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s closest aide, Joseph Percoco, and yet more other state officials, were accused and convicted of corruption. The trial in September of Mr. Percoco was punctuated by the code-name he used in taking bribes: “ziti.” As The New York Times account of the trial related, the code-name was a “term used in the HBO mob drama, ‘The Sopranos.’ Typical was this kind of exchange, after a payment from a company to Mr. Peroco was slow to arrive. ‘’I have no ziti,’ Mr. Peroco wrote [in an e-mail]. Another time, Mr. Peroco seemed more testy, ‘Where the hell is the ziti???’….The pasta parlance almost became a running joke during the trial but it also provided a powerful symbol for the prosecution.” 

Corruption in state government is no joke. Mr. Peroco was sentenced to seven years in jail. Mr. Silver also got seven. Mr. Skelos, of Rockville Centre, was sentenced to four years and the judge added three months to that for his “false testimony.” This related to his having taken the stand “and tried to spin a tale about an innocent, doting father” just trying to help his son, when, said a sentencing memo sent to the judge from the prosecution, he was a “brass-knuckled power broker…who shook down constituents for bribes.”

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
Nov012018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Gardiner's Island LI's Ecological And Historical Jewel

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman 

I’ve been to many beautiful islands—Bora Bora, Mykonos, Nantucket, Cuttyhunk, Tahiti,  Virgin Gorda, Tobago. But just off Long Island’s shores is a gem, splendorous, an exquisite island that excels any. Gardiner’s Island is an ecological and historical jewel. 

But what will its future be? 

The 3,300 acre island is home to hundreds of bird species, freshwater ponds, lagoons, and a 1,000-acre white oak forest, Bostwick Woods, the largest stand of White Oak in the Northeast. It is the oldest English settlement in New York.

I first went to Gardiner’s Island nearly 50 years ago. Robert David Lion Gardiner, who described himself as the “16th Lord of the Manor” of the island, for nearly 400 years privately held by his family, welcomed a large camp-out of Boy Scouts on it in 1971. I visited, interviewed Mr. Gardiner on the island, and wrote about the camp-out.

The next year, 1972, I got to know Mr. Gardiner pretty well—when he ran for Congress in the lst C.D. on the Conservative Party ticket against incumbent Otis Pike of Riverhead as a protest to Pike’s effort for federal acquisition of the island. 

Gardiner was no Conservative. Indeed, he ran for the State Senate in 1960 as a Democrat. It was quite a scene when he ran—this kind of an American aristocrat. As Mr. Gardiner told American Heritage magazine in 1975: “The DuPonts, Rockefellers and Fords, they are nouveaux riche. The DuPonts came in 1800; they’re not even a colonial family.”

Gardiner lost, of course, but there was also a letter-writing campaign—80,000 letters opposing Pike’s bill were sent to the House Committee on the Interior—and Pike withdrew it.

Mr. Gardiner was subsequently a guest on my weekly TV show, “Long Island World,” on WLIW/21, the Long Island PBS station. And I did more interviews with him for print. 

Meanwhile, in 1974, thinking about the eastward move of development in Suffolk, I embarked on a TV documentary with my crew from WLIW titled “Can Suffolk Be Saved?”

It was ten half-hour programs broadcast on WLIW and WPIX/11 in New York City. 

I started the series on Gardiner’s Island describing it in a “stand-up” as a “time capsule.” I ask whether Suffolk can avoid being swallowed in the swath of sprawl from Boston running through New York down to Washington. Then Mr. Gardiner speaks of the island as a “paradise” and gave a tour. The Gardiner’s Island segment can be seen on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiayfbQKOTY

Lion Gardiner acquired the island from the Montaukett Indians in 1639. Among its structures is a windmill, brilliant white, constructed in 1795 by Nathaniel Dominy 5th of East Hampton that’s on the National Historic Register. There’s a carpenter’s shed, built in 1639, the oldest surviving wood-frame structure in New York State. 

In the tour, Mr. Gardiner—standing in a truck bed—told of how Captain Kidd came to the island in 1699 and buried treasure. Kidd then headed off to Boston where he was captured, tried for piracy and executed. The Gardiners were ordered to return the treasure. He spoke about Julia Gardiner, born on the island, who became President John Tyler’s wife in 1844.

Subsequently, a feud developed between Mr. Gardiner and his niece, Alexandra Creel Goelet, who stood to inherit the half-share of the island held by Gardiner’s sister, Alexandra Gardiner Creel. It went on for years. Gardiner accused his niece and her husband, Robert Goulet, of planning to sell the island for development. He switched and said he was not opposed to ownership of the island by government or a private conservation group. Mrs. Creel’s ownership went to her daughter when she died in 1990. Mr. Gardiner died in 2004.

A few months later, the Goelets arranged with the Town of East Hampton for a 20-year conservation easement covering more than 95% of the island. It was contingent on a promise from the town that it would not further upzone the island, change its assessment, or attempt to acquire it by condemnation.

Earlier, in 2001, Lee Koppelman, long-time Suffolk County planner, recommended that “development rights” for the island be purchased or it becoming a limited access national park or national wildlife refuge. He described Gardiner’s Island as “perhaps the most important offshore island on the entire Atlantic seashore from Maine to Florida….The overriding concern is for the long term future.” Dr. Koppelman in 2004 commented that the Goelets “cannot perceive what their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren will decide to do. And what if the line itself passes from history, as many families do?”

Mrs. Goelet is an environmentalist. She has a master’s degree from the Yale School of Forestry. Mr. Goelet is former chairman of the American Museum of Natural History. The Goelet family has enormous wealth.  

The Goelets have been, as was Mr. Gardiner, excellent stewards of Gardiner’s Island. But the conservation easement expires in a few short years. Will unique and wonderful Gardiner’s Island in future years, in the long term, in 50, 100, 200, another 400 years, be saved?

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
Oct252018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Zeldin And Gershon "Kinda" Debate Environment

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

The rivals in the hotly contested race in the lst Congressional District this year—Republican incumbent Representative Lee Zeldin and Democratic challenger Perry Gershon—appeared last week at an environmental forum.

It provided quite the contrast.

The one thing Messrs. Zeldin and Gershon share is both are Jewish—and it is the first time in my memory covering politics in Suffolk County since 1962 that two Jews were running against each other in a major race. Decades ago, there was a level of reluctance to run a Jewish person for a major office in Suffolk—a concern that this would reduce the vote received. 

Also, both men are affiliated with the same denomination of Judaism, the Reform movement. Mr. Zeldin and his family are members of B’nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale where he was bar mitzvahed by the rabbi still there, Steven Moss, who id also chair of the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission. Mr. Gershon and his family are members of Long Island’s oldest synagogue, Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor.

Jews, along with Italian-Americans (earlier discriminated against in Suffolk politics), and African-Americans and Latinos in recent years, have made great strides in Suffolk politics.

Although they have a religion in common, Messrs. Zeldin and Gershon could not be more different politically. 

The arrangements for the October 15th forum were poor. Instead of getting use of a big high school auditorium for the large group of people that could be expected to attend—this was the first time the candidates would be answering questions at the same event—the New York League of Conservation Voters arranged for the relatively small auditorium at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center of Suffolk County Community College.  This resulted in a fiasco. Many people on a dark, rainy night in Riverhead weren’t allowed in and had to wait outside or go home. There were public apologies from the moderator from the League of Conservative Voters. 

Messrs. Zeldin and Gershon, meanwhile, didn’t debate each other—despite decades of debates under the auspices of the League of Women Voters and other organizations held for contests in the lst C.D. which includes much of Smithtown. 

Instead, the candidates appeared separately. There was a panel of three environmentalists asking questions. Mr. Gershon came in first, gave an opening statement and then answered questions from the environmentalists and three questions gathered from members of the audience He then gave a closing statemen. Next, Mr. Zeldin came in, gave an opening statement and answered the exact same questions Mr. Gershon was asked. Then he made a closing statement.

Despite this not being a normal head-on debate, the differing stances of Gershon, of East Hampton, and Zeldin, of Shirley, about environmental issues came through.

For example, on the issue of climate change, Mr. Gershon, in response to a question from the panel as to whether he thought it was caused by humans, said “yes.” Mr. Zeldin also said “yes,” but then added. “there are multiple factors.”

Mr. Zeldin’s personal and political closeness to President Donald Trump—who has been in denial of climate change and has had his administration dismember a host of environmental protections—was a central target of Mr. Gershon. “We need a congressman that’s going to stand up to the Trump administration and say, ‘No, we’re not going to take this anymore. We’re going to get on the right track. That’s why I ran for Congress.”

He cited Mr. Zeldin’s rating of a low 7 percent last year from the League of Conservation Voters. Mr. Gershon spoke about his environmental ethic. “I have solar panels on my roof. I drive an electric car,” he said. And he gave strong support to a wide array of environmental initiatives—and proposed other steps. He not only supported offshore wind but, a businessman, he suggested the turbines for offshore wind be produced on Long Island, creating a major industry. He criticized the Trump move to broadly open ocean waters to oil drilling, going on to say that Mr. Zeldin has opposed Atlantic offshore oil drilling but wouldn’t sign a petition in Congress opposing the opening of other ocean waters off the U.S. coastline to drilling.

Mr. Zeldin cited funding and re-authorizations he had secured for various environmental projects especially involving the Long Island Sound and National Estuary Program. He spoke of his effort to stop the dumping of dredge spoils from Connecticut into the Long Island Sound and his resolution to block the federal sale “to the highest bidder” of Plum Island which, he said, should not only be preserved but research there should continue. The federal government has run the Plum Island Animal Disease Center since the 1950s.

“I believe it is hugely important to ensure we have stringent standards set to provide clean air and clean water for Long Island and across the country,” said Mr. Zeldin, a lawyer.  

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
Oct182018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Environmentalist Irving Like Has Died We Must Keep Going

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Irving Like, an environmental giant in Suffolk County, New York State and the United States, has died. 

Irving Like (photo Legacy.com)Mr. Like was instrumental in getting the Shoreham nuclear power plant abandoned; was a key in the successful fight to stop the four-lane highway that public works czar Robert Moses sought to build on Fire Island and to create instead a Fire Island National Seashore; he was the author of the Conservation Bill of Rights that’s part of the New York State Constitution; and he established a model since emulated across the U.S. of exposing the deadly dangers of nuclear power at proceedings of federal nuclear power licensing agencies that otherwise are kangaroo courts. And there was so much more.

Attorney Like, of Bay Shore, never stopped fighting for the environment. He was still involved in crusades and litigation when he passed away on October 3 at 93.

I began writing about Mr. Like in 1962 and was regularly in touch with him through the years since. Our last communication came on September 20 when Irv emailed me about his crusade to have UNESCO designate Fire Island a World Heritage Site. This, he said, would result in international protection for that extraordinary barrier beach. In the email, Irv related how “my wife Margalit to whom I was happily married for 69 years” had died. “What keeps me going are the environmental projects I care about & the knowledge of people like you. Let’s keep going!!!” 

I was 20 years old starting out as a reporter at the Babylon Town Leader when I first wrote about Irv. Mr. Moses, a Babylon resident, had just announced his Fire Island highway. I was dispatched to Fire Island and wrote a lengthy front page article on how the highway would pave over the exquisite nature and magical communities of Fire Island. It was my first big story. 

Irv and his brother-in-law, Murray Barbash (who passed away in 2013) swung into action creating the Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore. Irv and Murray figured there wouldn’t be a way to stop Moses on the state level. After Moses suffered what was a then record loss in a run for governor, he instead amassed vast influence in New York particularly through commissions. Needed was federal involvement to stop Moses’ highway. Also, the National Seashore goal would make the campaign positive, more than anti-highway. In 1964 the Seashore became a reality, the highway stopped.

Irv and Murray flipped that strategy on Shoreham. They determined that the nuclear project couldn’t be stopped on the federal level—with the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) never having denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime. (This has continued with its successor agency, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.) So they formed Citizens to Replace LILCO with a focus on using state power, especially the power of condemnation, to stop Shoreham and the Long Island Lighting Company. They worked to establish a Long Island Power Authority with the clout, if LILCO persisted with Shoreham and its plan to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants on Long Island, to eliminate LILCO. The Long Island Power Act was enacted in 1985 and LILCO gave up turning Shoreham over to the state for a nominal $1 to be decommissioned as a nuclear facility.

Irv had gotten involved in challenging nuclear power in Suffolk earlier. He was attorney for the Lloyd Harbor Study Group which fought a previous LILCO nuclear plant project in Lloyd Harbor. LILCO, in the face of the opposition in that upscale village in Huntington Town decided to shift the location of its first nuclear plant to Shoreham. It assumed the Lloyd Harbor Study Group and Irv would not go many miles east to continue the battle. But they did. 

The AEC construction permit hearings for Shoreham lasted two years and were the longest hearings it ever held. Irv understood he wouldn’t be able to win. But as he wrote in a paper delivered before the American Bar Association in 1971 and in a version published nationally, the AEC hearings, although fixed, could be an “educational forum to alert the public” about the perils of nuclear power and spur people to political action. 

Most recently, Irv has represented Helene Forst’s Long Island Businesses for Responsible Energy battling the placement of giant toxic chemical-coated poles for transmission lines by PSEG and LIPA. Ms. Forst who worked earlier with Irv as co-chair of East End Shoreham Opponents, speaks of his “brilliance, positivity and resilience.” She reflects: “l was fortunate to be able to work side-by-side with Irving, passionately fighting the David and Goliath fights that needed to be fought.”

Irv’s important work goes on and on including his being counsel to Suffolk County challenging offshore Atlantic oil drilling and his involvement in the lawsuit on behalf of Vietnam War vets suffering from cancer caused by the use by the U.S. of Agent Orange,

We must all “keep going.” 

 

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
Oct112018

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP - Understand The Consequences Of Climate Change

SUFFOLK CLOSEUP

By Karl Grossman

Long Islanders should be aware of the projections by Professor Scott A. Mandia of Suffolk County Community College of the consequences if a major hurricane hits Long Island.

“Given public complacency, the amount of people needing to evacuate, the few evacuation routes off Long Island, and the considerable area affected by storm surge, more lead-time is needed for a proper evacuation than in other parts of the country,” says Professor Mandia in a remarkable series of web pages. He is a meteorologist, a Miller Place resident, who teaches courses at the college on weather and climate change. 

The above is on a page where he discusses hurricane prospects for this region. Click on it at http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/hurricane_future.html

As he details on another of his web pages, which we spotlighted in this space last week, a Category 4 hurricane “inundates” with severe flooding “entire communities” on Long Island. He lists community after community. http://www2.sunysuffolk.edu/mandias/38hurricane/storm_surge_maps.html  

Professor Mandia’s pages say the impacts from a major hurricane “point to a likely future disaster in Suffolk County.” 

The key factor causing loss of life and damage from a hurricane is storm surge. And if a Category 4 hurricane hits Long Island, the storm surge, he says, would be more than 20 feet and as high as 28 and 29 feet, in some areas of Suffolk and Nassau Counties.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of protecting the coast of the U.S. from hurricanes, believes it can win against hurricanes. In 1962, when I started out as a Long Island-based journalist, the Army Corps was first pushing its Fire Island to Montauk Point Project, to bolster 83 miles of Suffolk’s south shore to, in large part, ostensibly withstand hurricanes. The scheme is still around as a $1.3 billion project. But the dunes reinforced in the project would rise, at their highest, to 15 feet—about half the height of the worst hurricane storm surge estimated for Long Island.

Until less than 100 years ago, folks on Long Island wouldn’t think of building houses on its barrier beaches. The most they’d put there would be “shacks”—with no expectation of them lasting a long time.

“Resiliency” is the word the Army Corps and politicians have been using since Sandy in 2012 as to what’s needed to protect Long Island. It’s a nice word, but the Army Corps’ Fire Island to Montauk Point scheme is billion buck wishful thinking. 

Complicating things today, as Professor Mandia notes on his web pages: “Unfortunately, in the past decades, the coastal population has also increased substantially which further increases the hurricane risks.”

And then there is the federally-subsidized flood insurance program that “almost rewards people for building in dumb locations,” said Professor Mandia in an interview.   

The gargantuan elephant in the hurricane room now is climate change. Professor Mandia says climate change, global warming, is responsible for the increased severity of major hurricanes. He explains: “All coastal storms are now worse due to sea level rise caused by human activities that are warming the climate. A warmer climate means more ice melt, which adds water to our oceans. Warmer water expands and thus rises upward, a double-whammy for sea level rise. Imagine a basketball hoop ten feet above the floor and consider a dunk to be a storm over-topping a sea wall or other barrier. Now imagine humans have caused that floor to rise by a foot. It is much easier to dunk a basketball now. More flooding just like we saw in Sandy, Harvey, Maria, Florence and every hurricane from now onward.”

Climate change is caused by the use of fossil fuels. Al Gore, who first took on climate change as a U.S. senator and continued as vice president and now a citizen-activist, said in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek last month: “We’re still treating the atmosphere as an open sewer. We’re putting 110 million tons every day of man-made, heat-trapping pollution into the sky….That’s why the oceans are getting so hot. That’s why Hurricane Florence intensified so rapidly. That’s why there are fish from the ocean swimming in the streets of Miami at high tide—because of the melting ice and sea level rise.”

“The scientists were spot on in warning us about all of those consequences,” said Mr. Gore. “Now the evening news every night is like a nature hike through the Book of Revelations…This is a really critical choice that we have to make. We must change. The second question: Can we change? We have the ability and the technologies to do it.”

We must eliminate the cause of increasingly severe hurricanes by ending reliance on fossil fuel and moving to green, clean, non-polluting sustainable energy led by solar and wind power.  As Mr. Gore says, “We have the ability and the technologies to do it.”

 

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.