They’re back! Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Memorial Day weekend arrived, the starting date for the return of many noisy helicopters ferrying people to and from the Hamptons. This was no Long Island counterpart to the swallows of Capistrano. The choppers with their raucous noise came back.
The economy is in a downturn but that apparently isn’t discouraging some folks from shelling out several hundred dollars to go by chopper to and from the Hamptons.
And their flight paths continue to be over many peoples’ heads.
Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine has filed a new bill to deal with the helicopter racket and last week asked residents to turn out for a meeting of the Suffolk Legislature on June 23 in Riverhead to give their viewpoints on the chopper noise and help his resolution get passed.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives last week passed a measure authored by Congressman Tim Bishop instructing the Federal Aviation Administration to study helicopter flights over Long Island. “Those of us who live in Suffolk County are tired of the roar of helicopters disrupting the serenity of our island,” said Mr. Bishop.
The problem is that the U.S. Senate rejected the same measure last year.
“Why aren’t these helicopters flying the ocean route?” demands Mr. Romaine.
The three main destinations for the Hamptons helicopters are all not far from the ocean, he notes. The choppers could fly from Manhattan and then over the ocean, well off Long Island’s south shore, and make turns “at different vectors” into these airfields.
The Southampton Village helipad “is right off the ocean,” he points out, and Suffolk County’s Francis Gabreski and the East Hampton Airport are just a few miles away.
But instead, this Memorial Day weekend—as has been the situation—the choppers were largely routed over northern Long Island and then, over eastern Suffolk, to make turns south to these airfields.
Mr. Romaine’s new bill declares: “Low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County.” It notes, accurately, that the FAA “has failed to regulate the operation” of these Hamptons helicopters. It says that “the operation of helicopters at low altitudes is presumed to be a hazard to persons and property on the surface and constitutes careless and reckless operation.”
That’s the key to his measure: that choppers flying low—as do the Hamptons helicopters—constitutes “careless and reckless operation,” which Suffolk County government is entitled to stop.
Penalties for violation of the proposed county law would be a fine of “up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison per offense.”
A representative of the FAA and advocates of the Hamptons choppers in fighting an earlier Romaine bill on helicopter noise last year insisted that Suffolk County and other local and state governments were pre-empted from regulating aircraft operations by the federal government. However, in preparation for the new battle, Mr. Romaine and his staff have come up with court cases determining that this is not true. The Appellate Division of Superior Court of California, in one case involving low-flying aircraft, dismissed the claim of pre-emption finding: “The state has the right to impose criminal sanctions for the unlawful operation of aircraft above its land and waters.”
Mr. Romaine says it’s important that people come to the public hearing portion of the legislative meeting, to begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 23, and “speak out on the issue.” That’s the best way, he said, to “grab the attention” of legislators and get the new chopper bill approved. The meeting will be held at Suffolk County Community College’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center at 20 East Main Street, Riverhead,
Mr. Bishop, meanwhile, said he believes an FAA study “is a necessary step toward the goal of reducing helicopter noise of Long Island. I believe it will offer a roadmap for pilots who want to fly over Long Island in a way that is respectful of our communities.”
But if the Bishop measure is to again be blocked in the Senate, and considering that the FAA sees its main mission as encouraging air travel, local Suffolk County action appears vital in taking on the bane of Hamptons helicopter noise.
The Southampton Town Councilperson on forming a coalition to address immigration on the East End, confronting conflicting ideals and what the coalition cannot do.
When the coalition first began – what were some of the immediate goals you hoped for concerning immigration?
Our goals were to try to get people from all parts of the community together and start talking about how we can start the immigration dialogue in our community. There are issues around it that are good and bad and indifferent. We began with the feeling that this is the elephant on the couch and no one wants to come out and take the politics out and address this issue. I think in the past it hasn’t been very easy for anyone to deal with it. Clergy and non-profits deal with it and it is very easy to say it’s a federal problem.Â You could keep passing the buck – but nothing else will be done about it if we don’t come forward and talk about it now.Â
Who are the key players involved in the coalition?
Tim [Bishop} and Fred [Thiele]. The clergy reached out to them. They invited elected officials and had a couple meetings which were held at the college to get the conversation going. Between the three of us, we represented three levels of government and are able to represent the different roles we play. The thought was that unless we all get together it’s easy to keep passing the buck. This way we take the political football out of here too. There is no particular agency or level of government but we are trying to take the bull by the horns and send the signal that we were willing to work together on this and be able to take the politics out of it.
Are there other organizations or coalitions that have formed in this country that deal with this issue or other issues that are similar?
Yes, I believe there are several. We haven’t modeled ourselves after anyone in particular, there are several organizations that have successful outcomes, but every community is different and the goals are different. We are hoping to get as much information as possible and craft solutions for our community. I’m sure our solutions will be unique to us.
Is the town looking to set new policies regarding immigration?
That is hard to say. I was asked at Friday’s forum what can I do as a town representative? It’s a good question. There are things we can do and things we can’t do. There are things we are restricted from doing. It’s important to understand what we can do on a local level.Â I believe that I can have an open door, there are people with issues around this issue and I can deal with those on an individual basis. I can work with the things I have on hand, I can get code enforcement. We are concerned about the well being of families and I can go to the clergy group and ask them to help. We can start talking about the partnerships, but more than anything else we can start this conversation and look at it from all levels and see what we can do about this.
What that is going to lead to? It’s too soon to say. But we have to do something – nothing has been done so far and no one wanted to touch this issue. But we do know what we can’t do or don’t want to do.
And what are some of the things you can’t do or don’t want to do?
We can’t deport people. We don’t have the power to crack down on people who employ undocumented workers. We cannot strip them of their rights as humans. But on both sides of this issue, we can foster a healthy dialogue.
We want to bring all of this together. We want all the facts and figures brought to the table so we are all working from the same set of facts. We want to know how this is affecting neighborhoods, hospitals and schools.
Â We can’t change the federal mandates. If this is an issue in our school then how do we work with the schools to somehow ease that? Or how can we help people understand?
The president of the hospital said those that work in the hospital are federally mandated to fix what comes in their doors; they are precluded from asking any issues of visa or residency. The bigger issue for them is uninsured patients. There could be someone as American as apple pie or a visitor to the U.S. who is on vacation but their bigger issue is uninsured Americans. And how do we wrap our heads around that?
Do you find that there is any structure or anything that needs to be tweaked concerning the issue of immigration?
Right now there are no laws or direction. There is no doubt that we need comprehensive immigration reform, and laws and a road map for going forward – and that is important to point out. One thing that both Barack Obama and John McCain agreed on was an immigration policy. But we need to know how that is going to come down the pike for us. Until we get that – it will be hard for us. Right now our laws don’t affect any of this so it’s more about finding practical solutions and our realities in the community.
How do you find a middle ground with so many conflicting ideals concerning immigration?
Allowing and welcoming the dialogue and making everyone feel they are welcoming the dialogue and that’s okay, but in the end we need to start talking and looking at the facts and figures and the problems. We need to look at what is or isn’t working and what is affecting the community and the quality of life and economics.
I hope the outcome is that there is a dialogue and people feel they are welcome to that dialogue and then we hope we can come to some consensus collectively. I think we want healthy dialogue; we want to recognize the many sides to this issue.
We don’t want what happened in Patchogue to happen here – we don’t want the quality of life to be adversely impacted. But we also want to know that businesses are being supported and laws are being respected, the solutions we hope will form themselves.
One thing we do know is there are confusion and a lot of anger and a strong sense that nothing is being done and that is not okay.
Overall, how do you think Friday night’s immigration forum went?
There was some anger. But the way I look at it, I could’ve gone home and put on my slippers.
But there were 150 people there – and what that speaks to this issue that is so important to so many people. It is incumbent on us not to get into our slippers on Friday night and bring people together, and the chips will fall where they are going to fall. We recognize what a big issue this is. And we are being proactive to work around it.
The ink is not yet dry on the stimulus package, but local municipalities may see federal money flowing into their coffers very soon. According to Congressman Tim Bishop, Long Island will receive around $200 million — over a two year period — in transportation development projects, but nearly half of the money allocated for highway construction must be spent within 90 days. Bishop added these funds will be distributed to local municipalities by the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Committees. Municipalities will apply for the money as if they were applying for a grant. These transportation projects will most likely create close to 8,000 jobs.
Bishop added many of the budgetary cuts made by New York State Governor David Paterson, especially in the education sector, will be offset by money from the state stabilization fund. Overall, Paterson cut almost $800 million from state education budgets. The Sag Harbor School district’s budget will be cut by almost $186,000.
“Without the state stabilization fund [these schools] would be forced to lay thousands of people off or would be forced to raise property taxes, and many people can’t afford higher property taxes,” reported Bishop.
Bishop remains confident the Sag Harbor school district will be granted additional funds to shore up this budgetary loss. He reported $195,000 is already earmarked for the district.
At a local level, Bishop said Suffolk County — an area which relies heavily on the construction industry and real estate sales — will benefit from a neighborhood stabilization fund and real estate tax breaks. The neighborhood stabilization fund allows local municipalities to purchase foreclosed or abandoned properties. Bishop asserts that construction workers will then be hired to rehabilitate these buildings. These properties will be available as workforce housing rentals, after construction is complete, he believes.
In addition, first time real estate buyers will be given a tax credit of nearly $8,000, though there is an income contingency to be eligible for this tax break. Bishop added that $30 million will be used to construct a new laboratory at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is part of Stony Brook University.
Bishop said a recent halt in construction projects on the East End has had a trickle down effect throughout many businesses in the community. “Behind every economic statistic there is a story … The builders had to lay off their crew. Now the deli owners are selling fewer sandwiches because these workers were laid off … Real estate agents haven’t made a sale in months, which affects lawyers who depend upon real estate closings … Everywhere you look, [the recession] has an impact.”
Nearly 95-percent of American families will also be given a tax break, which will include tens of thousands of families on Long Island, added Bishop.
Bishop said the main stimulus package is broken up into three main objectives: to keep money in the hands of people who need it and will spend it, to provide assistance to the states so they won’t be forced to lay off employees or reduce services, and, finally, to create numerous service projects.
Bishop believes these goals will help encourage consumer spending. He added that spending and lending are the cruxes of the American economy.
“People have simple stopped spending,” reported Bishop. “We need to put money back into the hands of people who need it.”
It is still unclear by what channels the funds will be distributed throughout the government, or how much money will be designated for Sag Harbor and the surrounding towns. Bishop expects to have answers to these questions within the coming weeks or months.
Sag Harbor Village Mayor Greg Ferraris remains “cautiously optimistic” the village will receive funding for infrastructure projects, such as the safe routes to school project and the reconstruction of the fence at the old burial ground. He expects, however, most of the federal funding will be used for infrastructure and education, and very little will trickle down to offset the operating costs of the village. For now, Ferraris added, the village will continue to operate on an austerity basis.
By Marianna Levine
It was clear from the start that several audience members at a panel discussion last Thursday on immigration were not immigrants themselves. They were there as concerned residents who came with their own opinions on immigration they hoped to be able to air during the discussion. However, the event’s organizers, Organizacion Latino Americana’s (OLA), as well as the discussion’s moderator, Joachim Mendez created some ground rules he introduced with a joke to dispel the already apparent tensions, “If you have something you want to say we’ll have a beer later. If you have a question then raise your hand.” He stressed this was an informational meeting and not a debate.
Still the first person to speak was an woman from Southampton who expressed fear that people who were born and raised on Long Island were being treated like outsiders rather than insiders.
“We are American citizens, and we’ve welcomed an international community here for over 45 years. Can we be included in this dialogue please?” To which Mendez responded, “(the welcoming has occurred for) more like a couple hundred years. And we shouldn’t get into this now. I will not allow it. If you don’t have a question we’ll move on.”
From then on there were a plethora of questions from both local business owners as well as immigrants asked in both Spanish and English, and always translated for all to understand. Most questions concerned small business owners and the need for work visas and driver’s licenses for their workers, the actual naturalization process, and most urgently what was occurring with immigration reform in Washington D.C.
The panel, held at the Bridgehampton National Bank meeting room in Bridgehampton, included immigration attorneys Millicent Clarke and Allen Kaye (of the American Immigration Lawyers Association), as well as the Executive Director of the Long Island Immigration Alliance Luis Velenzuela, and Congressman Tim Bishop.
The immigration lawyers fielded the questions regarding the immigration process, often cautioning audience members to be wary of so-called lawyers who promise to put aside tax money for the future for undocumented workers or who make any easy promises about the naturalization process. Both Clarke and Kaye suggested waiting for immigration reform prior to starting any paperwork.
Kaye explained that there are basically only three ways to get a Green Card in the United States. You can either get one through an employer, or by marrying or being related to a citizen, or you can have resided here illegally for over ten years and take your chances before a judge in court. He then explained that trying to get a Green Card properly as an undocumented person almost always means, “You’re asking to be deported.”
Congressman Tim Bishop arrived soon after this discussion began, and addressed questions on comprehensive immigration reform. An audience member asked in frustration, “What is wrong with getting in line and waiting?” To which Congressman Bishop replied, “The fundamental problem is that the current system is a broken system that simply doesn’t work. I think we can all agree that it isn’t working. This discussion is a symptom of the fact that the system is broken. We don’t have a visa system that works. We have people who stand in line for 5 to 20 years and nothing happens.” He also added that, “No solutions can come from the vantage point of anger. I believe we should make a good faith effort to put our differences aside and try to bring people together.”
Bishop explained the new comprehensive immigration reform would come about in four parts in something referred to as the “Strive Act.” First the U.S. government would need to intensify border protection, and crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers. Thereafter the government would construct a visa program that actually worked and reflected the needs of our country and business owners. Bishop explained this would include a simplified agricultural work visa. He then noted that the fourth aspect of this plan is the most controversial, since it would create a path to legalization for those who are currently in the U.S. without proper documentation.
“Undocumented workers would be given a work visa as long as they have a clean record for about 11 or 12 years,” said Bishop. “They would have to pay a fine and back taxes on the money they earned off the books. They would have to learn English and civics and maintain a clean record for that period. After that they would be granted permanent residency.”
Asked when immigration reform would be passed, Bishop answered, “I believe it will be considered sometime in June or September. President Obama has made it very clear he supports comprehensive immigration reform.” He also said that he guessed the bill had a better than 50/50 chance of passing this year.
The local representative on preventing foreclosures, failures of the bailout and how Obama’s stimulus may help the East End
by Marianna Levine
This past Thursday, President elect Barack Obama gave a speech about the economy and in it he outlined his economic stimulus package. Could you tell me what aspects of it you agree with and how specifically it will be implemented here on the East End of Long Island?
I am in general agreement with the President’s outline. I think a lot of specifics need to be filled in but I believe that infrastructure spending provides us with the greatest bang for our buck in terms economic stimulus. So I think that is an imperative. Not only is it an imperative in terms of jump starting the economy it also gets us improvements that we need with highways, bridges, tunnels, airports and seaports.
Specifically for the east end of Long Island?
This is were the stimulus is a little difficult to explain. Both the President-elect and Speaker of House have made it clear there will be no earmarks in the stimulus package. That is to say there will be no congressional directive spending. Therefore the way the money is going to flow is that the money is going to go from the federal government to the states and the states are going to make the allocations. So this is not something the members of congress are going to be able to control. The judgments about what projects are getting the funding are going to be made by the government and the various state agencies like the department of transportation, or the state’s department of health and education.
If you were the one giving that speech, what would you state as your vision for economic stability and growth in the coming year for your constituency?
We have to do two things. We have to create jobs and put people back to work and that is what the economic stimulus package is all about. And the other thing is we have to keep people in their homes. Currently there are over 7,000 families a day being foreclosed out of their homes. The collapse of the housing market is at the root of the economic difficulties that we are now having and we are not going to climb our way out until we fix the housing market.
And we have to make much, much more effective use of the so-called TARP funds. They have also been called the “bail out”. TARP stands for Troubled Asset Recovery Program, and that’s the Wall Street bail out that the Congress passed back in October. We passed up to 700 billion. The first 350 has been spent by the current Secretary of the Treasury in a way that in my view has not facilitated economic recovery and absolutely has not facilitated keeping people in their homes. The President-elect has made it clear to the Congress that he now wishes us to release the second 350 billion, and I will only support that if it has a significant foreclosure mitigation built into it. I voted for the first TARP money thinking that was how it was going to be used. That’s exactly what the Congressional intent was for the money but that is not how the current Treasury Department used it.
What do you think can realistically be done to implement some of your wishes for our area in the next year or two?
If we pass the stimulus package and it is properly constructed then a significant portion of the money will go to infrastructure investment, and a significant portion will go to helping those in the greatest need — for unemployment compensation and food stamps and so on. I think that would be an effective stimulus package. If we can modify existing mortgages to make it easier for people to make their monthly payments, that’s what the second half of the TARP money will be about, then I think we will be successful in reducing the number of families who are currently being foreclosed from their homes.
Could you tell me briefly how government money from any sort of stimulus package gets distributed, and who decides the amounts and where the money goes?
The money is going to flow from the fed government to the state and there are existing formulas that govern that. For example, there will be money in the stimulus package we believe at the present time anyway for schools and there’s a formula about which federal money flows to the states to assist with K-12 education. By the way, all of this is very fluid. All of this could change or any bit of this could change. But the way it currently stands, existing formulas that govern federal moneys going to the states will be used to distribute the money.
Do you have any new thoughts on current bail out packages, and would you re-consider your vote on the banking bail out considering how many industries and institutions are now looking for a helping hand?
When I cast that vote back in October I absolutely was convinced it was the right vote. I am both very very angry and disappointed with how the Treasury Department took the authorization that Congress gave it. Congress made it very clear that the money was to be used back in October in a particular way and the Treasury Department didn’t use those funds in that way. And so, had I known the funds would be used in the way Sec. Paulson wound up using them, I would have voted no. But I continue to believe that the way Congress outlined the use of those fund was the right way to do it. Hopefully that is the way we’ll do it now when we release the second half of those funds.
What do you perceive to be the major political or economic concerns in the coming year that people haven’t considered yet? In other words, is there anything you know that we don’t yet?
The Economy. The over riding concern is the economy: the massive loss of jobs, massive reduction of consumer spending, and a huge loss of economic confidence on the part of everyone. Those are the three things we have to attack and attack as aggressively as possible. The government has to be the spender of last resort in order to stimulate demand. And we have to restore confidence to our financial markets and our credit markets. I believe we are on the right path. Let me lay it out for you, 70% of our economy is based on consumer spending so when people are spending less it has a ripple down effect through out the economy. If people aren’t going out to eat, then restaurants have to lay off people. Generally, reduced levels of economic activity are already being felt by some people every single day. Those who haven’t been affected yet, they ultimately will be. People are spending less and that has a dramatic effect on the economy.
During this past election cycle more people became involved in the actual political process than ever before, and now people may be wondering how they can continue to be involved in their local and national government. How do you think people can continue their involvement? In particular what do you think people can do to help the economy right now on a personal and local level so that they feel like they are making a difference and creating positive change?
Not to sound like George Bush, but people need to spend money. They need to be responsible about it because one of the ways we got into this mess is by people spending money they didn’t have by borrowing against their home equity or using up their credit cards and that’s part of the economic downturn now. People are finding themselves over extended. I think people need to be responsible but I say the principle thing that needs to happen is that the government needs to become the principle spender. I think if the government spends then others will follow suit.
Putting the economy aside for a second it’s a very encouraging development that so many people have gotten involved in the political process I hope they remain involved. We have a participatory democracy and it only really works if people participate. One of the great things about the Obama candidacy was the extent to which he energized people and brought people into the political process that previously hadn’t been.
Speaking of positive change, what do you think is going well here on Long Island, and what do you think will continue to go well?
Well, we have a very good quality of life here. We have remained very good at protecting our environment and open spaces. Our schools remain first-rate schools. Our communities are great communities in which to raise one’s family. We have very good economic stability here. Housing prices have dropped but not as dramatically as elsewhere in the country, and unemployment is up but not anywhere near as sharply as elsewhere in the country.
How will you be spending Inauguration Day?
I’ll go to inauguration itself with my family, and I will be doing a series of press interviews. I’ll be hosting a reception with Steve Israel from the neighboring congressional district for people coming down from Suffolk County.
Did you have a large number of requests for Inaugural tickets? How were they dispersed and do you know if anyone from Sag Harbor is going?
Fred Thiele is coming with his kids. We had several thousand requests for tickets. We put a few tickets aside for other elected officials such as Fred, but for the most part we released the tickets to the public and had a lottery. It was the only fair way to do it.
In the wake of a disaster sometimes fear can erupt and in the country’s current economic climate some are terrified. But according to some experts this fear can — and should — be replaced by excitement and opportunity. Well, at least it has for those who attended a forum at the Stony Brook Southampton campus last Friday and are seeing some light at the end of a long dark tunnel.
Friday’s forum focused on carbon reduction and was sponsored by the new International Consortium for a low-carbon society, of which Stony Brook Southampton is a member. Stony Brook is the only member university in the United States. Other universities that belong to the consortium are in countries such as Thailand, China, Japan, Australia, United Kingdom and Sweden.
The consortium was formed by Nay Htun, an Amagansett resident and professor at Stony Brook Southampton who hopes to reduce carbon production world wide. The goals of the consortium include focusing on a low-carbon society through transformational technology, financing, economics, education, training and policy — among others.
Friday’s event was intended to bring additional experts on green energy to the campus.
David Winchester, chair on the Alternative Energy subcommittee of the Hauppauge Industrial Association, said that great businesses come out of recessions and for now, that business boom is in green energy.
“This is the biggest business opportunity on the planet,” Winchester said on Friday. “College students make the connection very quickly from choosing a career path and saving the earth.”
The challenge, he said, is showing those on Wall Street that this is the biggest business opportunity in the world.
Those who spoke at the forum came from a variety of companies who focus on reducing the carbon footprints of those who live and work on Long Island.
“Together, moving on a path of low carbon, we can have all the building blocks that can spot this greening revolution here in Long Island,” Htun said on Friday.
In his presentation, Htun talked about the “who, what, when, where and how” of reducing the carbon output of society. The challenge, he said, is “how.” Htun believes that by forming innovative partnerships and national consortiums the world could link together and form a greater momentum to move towards low carbon societies. His hope is that the East Coast will become as ambitious as the West Coast in becoming greener.
Executive Director of Renewable Energy Long Island, Gordian Raacke, spoke about the importance of educating the public on climate change and how everyone should be playing a part in attempting to reduce their carbon footprints.
“We are facing a planetary emergency of unprecedented proportions,” Raacke said. “If we are part of the problem then we can be part of the solution.”
Raacke said that his company does a lot of outreach on solar, wind energy, and a host of other topics to inform the public of alternative energy sources. He said that he witnessed firsthand a direct result of climate change when he visited Montana, where there used to be 150 glaciers and now there are just 26. By 2020, said Raacke, there will be no more glaciers in this area.
“By forming partnerships between businesses and others we agree that we need to do something very rapidly,” he said. “We need to move from realization to doing something about it.”
Renewable Energy Long Island has published a Long Island Green Guide, a directory of green building information for consumers.
Anil Dhundale, Executive Director of Long Island High-Technology Incubator of Stony Brook Southampton, said the way the university can help is by training students and creating new industries.
“We have an entrepreneurial tradition on long Island,” he said and added that multi-institutional partnerships can help to develop accelerated commercialization of advanced and alternative energy technologies.
At the close of the forum, U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop gave a keynote speech that talked about the revelation of “green collar jobs.” On January 6, the congressman said there will be a “kick off” to the economic stimulus package, which includes business opportunities pertaining to green energy.
“I have some optimism in the 111th congress,” Bishop said, “I think they will take us where we need to be.”
The congressman said he believes that with a change of leadership in the White House – green energy and climate change will become the center of attention among politicians.
“Everyone agrees that we have to drive down our consumption,” Bishop said.
While Bay Street Theatre may not have been able to boast the crowds that packed Chicago’s Grant Park, on Tuesday night there was a palpable sense of excitement in Sag Harbor as village residents gathered at the theatre, The American Hotel and Bay Burger to bear witness to the historic Presidential election of Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
Obama, the Democratic candidate, was not just successful in the Electoral College, where he bested Republican Arizona Senator John McCain 349 to 163, with 26 electoral votes out of North Carolina and Missouri still hanging in the balance as of Wednesday, but took states like Indiana and Virginia – states that had not voted for a Democratic president in decades. He was also able to easily take the popular vote collecting roughly 63 million votes to McCain’s 56 million.
Nationally, an estimated 64 percent of the electorate turned out on Tuesday to cast their ballots for president – a record turnout. However, residents of Suffolk County appear to take their voting seriously year in and year out, with an estimated 70 percent of registered voters pulling the lever for a presidential candidate this election cycle. In 2004, about 72 percent of the electorate stepped out to vote in the presidential contest between Democrat John Kerry and President George W. Bush.
As was the case in 2004, a majority of Suffolk County and East End residents voted for the Democratic candidate this year, with Obama taking approximately 52 percent of the votes cast to McCain’s 47 percent. On the East End, and in particularly Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, Noyac, North Haven and Sagaponack Obama won by far greater margins.
On the Southampton Town side of Sag Harbor (districts 1 and 21) 741 voters turned out to support Obama, with McCain earning 309 votes. On the East Hampton side of Sag Harbor, 515 residents turned out in support of the Democratic candidate, with 124 voting for McCain. In Northwest Woods, 533 of the electorate pulled the lever for Obama with 232 voting for McCain.
In Noyac (districts 2 and 36), Obama took 725 votes with McCain clocking in with 428. In North Haven-Baypoint, voters handed Obama 432 votes and McCain a solid 368. In Bridgehampton and Sagaponack (districts 3 and 13), Obama snared 830 votes to McCain’s 369.
While there may have been a number of supporters of the Republican candidate on the East End, at Bay Street Theatre and The American Hotel on Tuesday night, prior to the election being called in Obama’s favor, it was as if he had already won the race with many residents offering their enthusiasm and advice for the man who would later that evening become the United State’s first African-American President.
Sag Harbor resident Mia Grosjean said she had little advice for the president-elect, as he already seemed to be moving in the direction she supports – community activism.
“Encourage young people to remain active, get involved and make a difference,” piped in Helen Samuels of her hopes for Obama.
“Govern with peace and justice,” advised Dennis Carr.
Many also spoke of their desire to see a country united, and their hope the 47-year old senator will be the man to do just that.
“To make people proud to be in this country and to make it something it was when I was a child,” said North Haven resident Richard Demato of his hopes for the Obama regime. “Make it something to be excited about.”
“I want him to bring us together,” said another guest at The American Hotel on Tuesday night. “And never forget he’s the president of the whole country.”
Â Congressman Tim Bishop, who handily regained his seat in the United States House of Representatives securing 58 percent of the vote to Republican challenger Lee Zeldin’s 42 percent, had similar thoughts about the future of the federal government and the mandate he says the American people have now handed the Democratic Party, which will have control of the House, the Senate and the Executive branches.
“I think that it gives us great hope for the future,” said Bishop. “I think the other thing is we have to be very careful to not make the same mistakes the Republican Party made when it had a majority, where the national party really allowed itself to be moved to the right. We, as a party, need to resist the temptation to move to the far left. We need to recognize that we need to achieve balance and govern from the middle. That is Obama’s message, and it is an important one.”
Like Obama, Bishop took every election district in Sag Harbor, Noyac, North Haven and Baypoint, in Northwest Woods, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, often securing more than double the votes Zeldin was able to gather in his inaugural bid for political office.
In a prime example of the continued success of the Democratic Party on Tuesday, Democrat Sally Pope bested incumbent Republican Dan Russo to earn a seat on the Southampton Town Board securing 52 percent of the vote to Russo’s 48 percent by a narrow margin of 741 votes. However, with over 2,000 absentee ballots expected to be counted next Wednesday, Russo has said the race is too close to call.
According to preliminary results out of the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Russo was only able to win two districts in our area – one in Sagaponack-Bridgehampton (district 13) and the other in Noyac (district 36). Pope took the remaining districts in Sag Harbor, one in Noyac, in North Haven and another in Bridgehampton.
Sag Harbor resident and Democratic candidate for Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni also appears to have been successful in her attempt to oust Republican justice Thomas DeMayo, taking 56.5 percent of the electorate to DeMayo’s 43.5 percent by earning 2,822 more votes than the incumbent. Schiavoni won all districts in Sag Harbor, Noyac, North Haven and Baypoint, Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and in Northwest Woods.
One Republican on the East End who coasted to victory with relative ease was incumbent New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. who won his seat over Democratic challenger W. Michael Pitcher with 63 percent of the vote to Pitcher’s 37 percent. Thiele was victorious by over 12,000 votes.
New York State Senator Ken LaValle, a Republican incumbent who was running unopposed also earned reelection in Tuesday’s race.
But like many Republicans nationwide, Thiele is looking at a Democratic majority, not just in the assembly, but likely in the senate with a Democratic governor in place.
However, Thiele is not worried, noting he was pleased to see 15 percent of voters who turned out to support him did so under party lines that were not Republican, meaning those outside his party supported his bid for reelection.
“My approach has always been to not be overtly partisan,” said Thiele. “I think that is what people are looking for in government.”
Congressman Tim Bishop has a worthy opponent in Republican candidate Lee Zeldin, who in his first race for political office has shown poise, intelligence and charisma often not seen in an inaugural run for office. At the tender age of 28, Zeldin has an impressive resume including his military service – which landed him in Iraq as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division – and a career in law. For the most part, during this campaign, Zeldin showed he was educated on many of the issues and willing to take unpopular stances, even within his own party — it’s an attitude we wish we could see more of in Washington.
However, Bishop has proven himself a valuable representative for the East End over the course of the last six years and has our endorsement for another term in Congress.
We find ourselves impressed with Bishop’s command of all the issues. No matter where debates took the candidates he was easily able to follow, his responses confident, well informed and well considered. In terms of the responsiveness to his constituency, we have found Bishop is the kind of Congressman who has always made himself available, no matter the issue, an asset we consider valuable on the East End.
Personality aside and looking towards the issues, we agree with Bishop’s stance on a number of topics, including his call for universal health care, education initiatives and how the country can begin to address the fiscal crisis we find ourselves in.
Bishop has called for greater oversight in our financial markets. It is the initiatives of the financial markets and subsequent fallout that is largely why we find ourselves in a national economic crisis. We stand with Bishop in his call for regulation.
Ditto on Bishop’s stance on No Child Left Behind, a federal mandate this paper has been critical of since its implementation. The unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind are patently unfair to both the states and the school districts attempting to comply with this program.
It is time once and for all that this and many other policies change in Washington D.C., and hopefully next year under a new regime that includes Congressman Bishop we will start to see some changes we can all be proud of.
With just a month left before East End residents hit voting booths on November 4, incumbent U.S. Congressman Tim Bishop, a Democrat, finds himself in a race for his seat in the House of Representatives against a 28-year-old attorney and Iraqi war veteran, Republican Lee Zeldin who has thrown his hat — and divergent opinions — into the political ring.
This week, both candidates took some time to discuss a wide range of issues as they look towards squaring off in a League of Women Voters of the Hamptons sponsored debate in Hamptons Bays on October 16 at 7 p.m.
With brokers on Wall Street and residents on Main Street watching news on the nation’s uncertain economy with trepidation, Bishop and Zeldin present differing opinions on the cause, and ultimate solution to what has emerged as one of the central questions this political season.
Bishop, a 12th generation Southampton Town resident and former provost at Southampton College, sees a number of issues driving an unstable economy — an economy he says is a result of eight years of failed economic policies under president George W. Bush’s administration.
“That was exacerbated by a serious meltdown in the housing market, which has now brought rise to serious freezing of the credit market,” explained Bishop on Tuesday. “We have people losing jobs, the cost of everything is going up. We have diminished credit markets and a spike in foreclosures. So I see at the very least four severe, but interrelated problems.”
Bishop says the government must be an active part of a solution to mitigate these problems, with the recently passed $700 billion bailout bill as just a piece of the solution.
“I am very hopeful that once it starts to move, once it starts to work through the financial system it will have beneficial results,” he said.
Bishop also calls for a second economic stimulus package to compliment the package passed by Congress last February. The House of Representatives did pass a $66 billion stimulus package two weeks ago with some bi-partisan support, noted Bishop, although the bill was stalled in the Senate. He said it went a long way towards helping those who will feel this economic pinch the most by, in part, extending unemployment limits and providing monies to states for infrastructure, which in turn would create employment opportunities.
While Zeldin, a Shirley resident, acknowledges the country is in the midst of a financial crisis, he disagrees that the $700 billion bailout plan, in either incarnation, is the solution the American people need to get through the predicament.
“I don’t believe Main Street should have to bail out Wall Street,” said Zeldin. “Seven hundred billion, not to mention all the added pork, made it a bill I truly lost sleep over when it passed.”
Zeldin did argue that private capital, rather than taxpayer dollars, should have been injected into Wall Street.
He added that he sees himself disagreeing with a number of Washington insiders when it comes to the subject, noting not just Democrats, but Republicans, including president Bush and presidential candidate John McCain have disagreed, supporting the bail out instead.
“I see things, unfortunately, in the short term, getting worse before they get better,” said Zeldin. “We are going into a winter where people are going to be shocked by high heating costs in [comparison to what will amount to] a small mortgage payment. So for many of us living paycheck to paycheck, it will be a rough winter.”
Ultimately, Zeldin believes government needs to curb wasteful spending before it will truly help the American people, calling for an earmark moratorium until the system is fixed to where it no longer represents quid pro quo between politicians and lobbyists. He would also like to see untaxed income that leaves the country through money wiring services taxed and given back to the communities it originates from to bring down the costs of school and property taxes.
Â Zeldin sees that issue tied directly to what he called the government’s failed immigration policies. For the last two years, H-2B visas have been a source of contention for local business reliant on the federal program for legal, seasonal workers from overseas. In recent years, the program has been limited, leaving many without a seasonal workforce.
Zeldin said more H-2B visas should be granted, but added there also needs to be accountability enforced when it comes to immigration policies.
“When I started my race in Amagansett in January of 2008, I talked to someone with a small business that was going under because he refused to pay employees off the books, which would have allowed him to compete with those not paying taxes for their workers or workman’s compensation,” said Zeldin. “That is a real problem.”
Bishop, who has worked with local business leaders in trying to find a solution to the H-2B crisis, acknowledged he and other members of Congress from areas dependent on seasonal tourism were unsuccessful in their fight to fix the situation.
“We will go back at it this winter,” he said. “Unfortunately, the H-2B visa problem got caught up in the larger issue of the immigration debate.”
Bishop still supports the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which would have provided a path to citizenship or legal status for a number of illegal immigrants currently working or living in the United States.
“It’s a good bill,” said Bishop. “I believe we need to somehow summon the wisdom and political will to act on that. But at minimum, we have to fix the H-2B visa problems and the agricultural visa issues. Talk to vineyard owners and small vegetable farmers on the North Fork. Eighty eight percent say they can accommodate no loss in their immigrant work force.”
Zeldin said he does not support McCain-Kennedy, and would rather see those immigrants in the United States assimilate into the country, rather than the country assimilate to them.
Bishop sees his work on a number of issues including Federal Aviation Administration legislation to mandate altitude limits for helicopters, work with the Army Corps of Engineers for a Fire Island to Montauk coastal erosion study, and tax initiatives to prevent farmers from having to sell their land in the face of looming estate taxes as just a few he is tackling in his sixth year as a congressman.
“I think my opponent is offering a lot more of the same,” said Bishop. “I offer the same level of commitment I have for the last six years and I believe with my experience and I believe with a majority in the house, the senate and, I am fairly certain, the White House, I will be in a position to influence policy decisions.”
If elected, Zeldin has a number of initiatives he would like to explore, including pushing the East End to the forefront of environmental sustainability, he said. But ultimately, he sees his values as what should ultimately give him an edge over Bishop come November.
“Adding my voice to congress is adding an independent voice who understands no leader in any party is right serving this congressional district by voting with his party 99 percent of the time,” said Zeldin, attacking a predisposition by Bishop, he said, towards simply voting his party line. “What we need is to send a bulldog to Washington that is going to fight for us, stand up for us across party lines … we need to be more fiscally responsible in how we tax and spend.”