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The 1980s: Any port in the storm

A tree fell on a car on Ponquogue

The Cold War was grinding on, the economy was in recession and fighting in the Middle East continued to flare. Across the border in New York City, crime was soaring.

On Long Island, it was an era of reckoning for previous decades of growth. The continued decline of the local defense industry was taking its toll. Residents were plagued by traffic, taxes and energy costs, and environmental issues.

Even the weather seemed to be on the attack. Hurricane Gloria, a Category 3 storm that made landfall near Long Beach in September 1985, battered the shoreline and left 750,000 households without power, some for days. The Long Island Lighting Co’s inability to quickly resolve the crisis sparked an uproar.

In another blow for LILCO, the Shoreham Nuclear Power Station, for years the target of virulent public opposition, closed in 1989 without ever generating commercial power. Environmental concerns, poor management and delays in federal regulation made Shoreham's lofty goal of providing cheap, abundant power impossible.

But if Long Islanders were disgusted with their public utilities, they were jubilant about their sports teams. In 1986, the long-suffering Mets won the World Series; in 1980 the Islanders won the first of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

It may have been more peaceful than the city, but Long Island had its share of lurid crime. In 1984, 17-year-old Gary Lawyers of Northport was murdered in what appeared to be a drug-fueled satanic ritual. Two years later Cheryl Pierson, 16, of Selden, was accused of hiring a classmate to kill her father because he sexually abused her.

On Oct. 11, 1983, the infant known to the world as Baby Jane Doe was born with severe birth defects at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. Her parents were demonized - and sued - for declining surgery for their daughter. The case became a flash point for a national controversy about the rights of parents, and the role of government, in deciding treatments for the severely disabled.

Elsewhere, President Ronald Reagan took a hard line against communism. International conflicts bled across borders. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killed 270 people - 11 of them from Long Island - and a foreshadowing, that terrorism could happen anywhere and anytime, to anyone.

-- Melanie Lefkowitz


  • Relief pitcher Jesse Orosco expresses elation after throwing the final pitch in the Mets' 1986 World Series victory. The Mets and the Islanders, too, provided relief from some of the decade's more troubling headlines.
  • Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, and Iran freed hostages.
  • The Nassau GOP leader was found guilty in December 1981.
  • Denis Potvin raised the Stanley Cup in May 1983 in yet another Islanders triumph.
  • Agreement was reached in February 1989 to close the Shoreham nuclear plant
  • The New York Giants win the Super Bowl in 1987


The Islanders’ first Stanley Cup ushered in Newsday’s use of color in May 1980.

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