Sunday, December 15, 2013



            Okay, I’m guilty. My Blogs are few and far between, but I do have an excuse. Between the media and social networks clogging air-space, the sub-liminal battle to have a life of my own is increasingly difficult. I know I’m not alone in this battle. Some may consider this very same Blog an example of social media intrusion. My defense:  sparse presentations.

            The topic, This Time, is befitting the holiday season. Recently, I revisited one of my root sources of adolescence and young adulthood – Harlem USA. For those of you who beat me to it, you’ll understand my surprise. The new 125th Street, which is really an avenue but no one ever called it that, is testament to gentrification and resulting businesses it attracts. The streets I once walked bear little resemblance to what I remember, as well as the faces encountered during my visit. The heart of Harlem has become a veritable United Nations that is composed of tourists and, to my great surprise, white folk who have taken residency. My destination served as perfect example.

            The Red Rooster restaurant is an icon of Harlem The location I remember from my younger days has changed, but the radiance of staff and patrons remains the same. First, I recommend reservations, particularly during the holiday season. Even with pre-planning, be prepared to spend time at the bar where my wife and I were treated to courtesy appetizers. The menu is not over-bearing, but carefully crafted by an executive chef to excel on the palette. Choice of appetizers serves to alert diners what’s in store. Take your choice:  Fried Chicken & Waffle, Oysters Rockefeller, Sweet Potato Soup, Smoke Trout, The Goat, and Caribbean Bacon. My birthday guest, Brandy, chose the Market Green Salad, which she felt compelled to share, while I negotiated the Crab Cocktail (and also shared).

            Entrees followed suit with unique character. My wife, the mermaid, could not resist the Fish & Grits (red grouper, crayfish grits, chorizo aioli, black kale @ $30). I, on the other hand, went for Helga’s Meatballs ($23), a not so simple mixture of lingouberries, braised green cabbage and mashed potatoes. Bottom line: Doggie Bags were not an issue, sorry Aries (my dog). A popular favorite with veteran customers was the Red Line Burger ($19), pimento cheese, bacon, melted onions, parmesan fries on a pretzel bun. As implied at the beginning, nothing at The Red Rooster is ordinary, including the live music that began at 7 pm during our visit. You’ll find Red Rooster at 310 Lennox Ave, NYC (between 125th & 126th). Phone: 212-792-9001.


            Now for the That. Will the real Steve Bellone please stand up? The County Executive of Suffolk came into office on a platform of more efficient government, and somewhere in the rhetoric, a more transparent one. After two years on the job, the jury is still out. Despite the usual Republican critics, many of Bellone’s Democratic colleagues have taken issue with some of his practices. As stated in Newsday, Steve’s (excuse the familiarity) disregard for procedure has followed him from his hometown of Babylon to the county level. Obviously, Steve is a gambler. He managed to get out of town (Babylon) before a negative audit report surfaced indicating budgets were not structurally sound due to overestimated revenues. Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) were ignored, in addition to questionable inter-fund transfers. A career politician may consider this business as usual, and wish to be in a position to do the same. After all, the town audit found no malfeasance or criminal conduct. Makes one wonder – why bother?

            Suffolk County Executive Bellone may have won the roll of the dice for the moment. His Ends Justifies the Means approach to government has been a friend indeed. Decisions made in his home district may have proved beneficial to taxpayers, i.e. a series of 17 transfers from the residential garbage district fund to the town’s general fund to purchase property for the town’s Wyandanch Rising revitalization project equaling $28 million. The process required approval by town board resolution, repayment by the end of the fiscal year with interest. Those conditions were not met at the time, but were subsequently met according to town officials.  The domino effect to taxpayers reflected a savings exceeding $3 million. Fans of Jackie Gleason may recall – A mere bag of shells!

            Perhaps, County Executive Steve Bellone needs to be reminded of the double standard. Note, the jury is still out.  Appointments made during his administration are under continuous scrutiny.  The county executive doesn’t disguise the value of patronage. On this, he may be more transparent than elected colleagues of the same level. Caution looms:  Are the appointments commiserate with qualifications? Case in point: Newly elected Suffolk County Legislator, Monica Martinez.  Monica was not appointed but elected.  This demonstrates a new avenue of patronage. Her road to success was endorsed and significantly financed by “behind the scene” supporters against seasoned incumbent, Rick Montano, a Democrat and critic of several Bellone practices.

            From the beginning of her campaign, Monica Martinez stated her intention to flaunt a newly enacted county law prohibiting “double dipping” by public employees in the event of election to public office. Accordingly, she declared her plan to keep her position as assistant principal in the Brentwood School District at $117,000 per year in addition to $98,260 per year as legislator. By all rules of logic, that admission should have ended Monica’s political future. Not so fast.

            Through support from the county executive’s office and influential family business connections, Monica wins election, but must now face a tough decision before being sworn in January. The law remains on the books, clearly stated with cloudy exemptions. Teachers in public schools or colleges are exempt, but not administrators. Ms. Martinez is an administrator. Case closed, almost. County Executive Steve Bellone further adds his support to the newly elected legislator by his attempt to amend the law regarding exemptions. Before you become completely nauseated by this sequence, help is on the way.

            Within hours of this post, the county Board of Ethics has responded to the petition of Monica Martinez. The original law is upheld and Ms. Martinez is forbidden from maintaining both positions at the expense of students and parents within the district of Brentwood and the taxpayers of Suffolk County. She immediately applies for a leave of absence from her assistant principal position. Simultaneously, Executive Bellone recants on his amendment plans. This predictable decision should send a message to the county executive: Time has come to seek advice beyond the club house. Happy Holidays!