Pride in Smithtown
There was nothing obviously controversial on the Smithtown Library Board of Trustees’ agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting.
But by Wednesday morning, a memo from Smithtown Library Director Robert Lusak spread quickly through social media — and Smithtown residents and others began to mobilize.
Lusak said the library trustees passed a resolution Tuesday night that read:
“Motion to remove all Pride displays, in addition to removing all books of the same subject on display from all Children’s sections in all Smithtown Library buildings.”
Lusak’s memo concluded: “Accordingly, please remove all Pride displays from all of our Children’s Rooms.’
Sources told the Point that the memo particularly angered some library employees and other area residents.
The memo comes after last year’s library trustees’ election, when three Long Island Loud Majority-backed candidates — Marie Gergenti, Theresa Grisafi and Marilyn Lo Presti — won in a high-turnout race.
As the memo spread, residents began to organize. Enter Vincent Vertuccio, an 18-year-old Sayville resident, who has worked on organizing and political campaigns. He helped put together a Zoom meeting with concerned Smithtown residents scheduled for Wednesday night.
“The purpose is … to process what happened and develop a strategic response going forward on this particular issue,” Vertuccio said.
Smithtown resident Sarah Tully, who became particularly active during the recent school board elections, said this is about more than just the library books — though getting the displays back is the first step.
“Our plan is to just start shining a light on the crazy, to tie it to home values, and to appeal to people who are sane and rational,” Tully told The Point.
She noted that Gergenti is up for reelection in October — so any organizing now is about more than just Pride Month.
“We need to put our foot down and say we’re not going to stand for this,” Tully said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the board’s first since Pride Month began, but it might seem unusual that the board reacted with fewer than two weeks left in the month.
Not to Vertuccio, who noted opposition elsewhere in the region, in New York City and in other parts of the country to Drag Queen Story Hours, gatherings where drag queens read to children at libraries, and other events.
“It’s the culture war of the week — or month, and that’s why this is happening,” Vertuccio said.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Suffolk DA's campaign to finance ShotSpotter
When Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney appeared before the county legislature’s Public Safety Committee Thursday, he was a man on a mission. He said he wants to deploy ShotSpotter technology in eight communities, covering 22 square miles, explaining that this 1% of Suffolk is responsible for 50% of all gun violence in the county.
Tierney is asking for the money from the legislature and supported his request with a rash of statistics, saying:
- In 2020, shootings in Suffolk doubled.
- In 2021, shootings increased another 34%.
- In 2020-2021, 637 shooting incidents left 128 people shot and 32 dead.
- Year to date in 2022, shooting incidents are up another 50%, with 28 people shot and nine dead.
Tierney said the county had ShotSpotter in several locations until three years ago, and the escalation in shooting incidents happened after the equipment came down. Tierney wants the technology, which alerts the department when shots are fired and helps locate the source, placed in Huntington Station, North Amityville, Wyandanch, Central Islip, Brentwood and North Bellport, where the program operated previously, as well as in Gordon Heights, Mastic, Shirley, and Center Moriches.
There is little opposition to the return of the program, supported by Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison. Both Tierney and Harrison say they saw great results from it in New York City. Tierney was an assistant DA in Brooklyn and Harrison was chief of department at the NYPD.
The money is where the politics gets interesting.
Why Tierney had to go to the legislature for the money is one big question, since it seems like the perfect candidate for asset forfeiture money that law enforcement organizations get when criminals are forced to forfeit their illegal gains. However, Tierney informed the committee that the DA office’s access to its own federal asset forfeiture money has been frozen because the program is under federal criminal investigation, a fact that has not been widely known previously.
Tuesday, Tierney told The Point he’d learned upon taking office that the funds had been frozen by the U.S. Justice Department’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section in September 2020, and it’s not clear when they might be unfrozen, so another source is needed.
The best guess right now from county officials is that ShotSpotter will cost $1.8 million. And Kevin McCaffrey, the legislature's presiding officer, has a great idea for where to find it: The legislature is expected to cancel its public campaign financing initiative at its Wednesday night meeting in Riverhead.
McCaffrey told The Point that canceling the program would free up $2.6 million. Using $1.8 million of that for ShotSpotter could certainly create public support for canceling the public financing.
So, too, could the GOP’s plan for the rest of the saved money: making up for lost revenue caused by taking down red-light cameras where accidents have increased since they were installed.
McCaffrey says if he’s successful, the budget would be amended to reflect the change in September and ShotSpotter could move forward by mid-October.
However, County Executive Steve Bellone told The Point he’ll veto the squelching of public financing, and no one yet knows whether McCaffrey can muster an override. As far as the money goes, Bellone says he’s on board with the ShotSpotter plan but thinks public campaign financing is a totally separate issue and conjoining them is just rank politics with no governance justification.
Rob Trotta, the GOP legislator and former Suffolk cop who is a relentless thorn in the side of his party caucus, the PBA and Bellone, agreed, saying that “the police department has $8 million in contingency money sitting there that could fund ShotSpotter, which is badly needed and will be a great addition. It’s no justification for getting rid of public financing.”
But the PBA, which has tremendous power in the legislature, strongly opposes public financing, which would likely help little-known candidates running against those funded by the PBA. And Trotta didn’t get to weigh in on the Public Safety Committee conversation because, in his words, “The PBA kept me from being named to the Public Safety Committee. Me — the cop.”
— Lane Filler @lanefiller
Once upon a GOP
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Free meals come of age
New York’s Office for the Aging provided more than 17.7 million free meals statewide to senior citizens in 2020. These free meals, home-delivered or served at community dining locations, are provided up to five times a week for eligible New Yorkers with registered dietitians available for individuals with specific dietary needs.
For Long Island, 2020 saw an increase in meals served overall as well — a historic high of 1.5 million meals served compared with the pre-pandemic decade average of 1.3 million meals.
In the midst of 2020’s pandemic surge, congregate meal sites closed for safety reasons and aging service providers pivoted their nutrition programs from congregate models to home-delivered meals, grab-and-go meals, assistance with grocery delivery, and other methods. In the prior few years, around 60% of the meals for Long Islanders were home-delivered, but 2020 saw it spike to 95%.
Comparatively, meals served in New York City plummeted to the fewest since 1990 — 8.6 million in 2020 from 11.6 million the previous year.
Perhaps reflecting the increased proportion of our aging population, the number of meals served on Long Island has held steady even as the number for the rest of the state has declined. LI’s senior population increased by 2% since 2015 to 25%, and is higher than the state’s 24%.
— Kai Teoh @jkteoh