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April 25, 2001

Suffolk Upholds Veto

3 lawmakers change stance on hiring hall

by Emi Endo and Bart Jones
Staff Writers

After a day of impassioned pleas on both sides, the Suffolk legislature refused yesterday to overturn County Executive Robert Gaffney's veto of $80,000 for a hiring center that proponents had hoped would ease tensions over day laborers in Farmingville.

Newsday online poll results as of 1:15 AM Pacific, 4/25

It would have taken 12 votes to override Gaffney's April 4 veto of a bill to provide $80,000 for the center. Although 12 legislators originally approved the bill on March 20, three of them, all Republicans, yesterday changed their position.

The vote represented the culmination of an increasingly heated battle over the day-laborer issue in Farmingville.

Gaffney and other critics of the proposed center argued that the workers, many of whom are Mexican, are in the United States illegally and should either be deported or given legal status.

But supporters said the workers play key roles in the economy as landscapers and construction workers. They say a center where they could go to meet employers would provide a practical solution to the traffic problems and loitering about which Farmingville residents have complained.

Legis. Andrew Crecca, a Hauppauge Republican who had supported the original bill to provide funding for a center, said that "in his heart of hearts," he believed illegal hiring practices would take place at such a center and that he could not support putting taxpayer dollars into such an effort.

"My decision to sustain Gaffney's veto did not come from any political leader" or pressure, or from Gaffney, Crecca said.

Legis. Michael D'Andre, (R-St. James), did not explain what had changed since his previous vote for the funding. But yesterday he declared: "There'll be no hiring hall in Farmingville with taxpayer dollars!"

Legis. Cameron Alden, (R-Islip), who had supported the original funding bill, also voted to sustain the veto. And the three Brookhaven Republicans who had abstained in the funding vote yesterday voted to let the veto stand.

The group of nine who voted for the the funding last month and also voted to override the veto was made up of seven Democrats plus Presiding Officer Paul Tonna (R-West Hills) and Legis. Angie Carpenter (R-West Islip).

Legis. William Lindsay (D-Holbrook), who had not been in office for the previous vote, said that after listening to the debate he felt he could not impose a solution on Farmingville that had not been reached by consensus. Moreover, the longtime union leader said he was concerned that undocumented workers were taking jobs away from legal residents.

The original measure, sponsored by Legis. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point), would have set aside $80,000 for Catholic Charities to set up a center that would include space where contractors could pick up workers.

But in his veto message, Gaffney said he could not support the use of taxpayer money for a site that he said would facilitate the breaking of federal immigration and state labor laws.

State Attorney General Elliot Spitzer said the county would not violate any law by funding such a hiring site.

Foley and other supporters said such a center, like others around Long Island and across the country, would address complaints stemming from the ad-hoc gatherings of laborers on street corners.

Groups on opposing sides of the issues reacted to the legislature's vote yesterday either with joy or gloom.

"This was a victory," said Ray Wysolmierski, spokesman for the Sachem Quality of Life Organization. "It was a victory for the Constitution. It was a victory for the law."

But Ed Hernandez, spokesman for Brookhaven Citizens for Peaceful Solutions, said the decision solved nothing and warned that the vote could spark violence against the day laborers. In September, two Mexican day laborers were beaten brutally in an incident that police consider a hate crime.

We will be back," he said. "Whose blood will have to be spilled to open the door again?"

John Bingham of Catholic Charities said the church will not fund a day laborer center on its own without government participation. He called on Gaffney to propose another solution."It's back to the drawing board in a very divided community," Bingham said.

Wysolmierski said the only answer in Farmingville remains mass deportation of the illegal immigrants.

Gaffney's chief deputy executive, Eric Kopp, said yesterday that the county's next step would be to contact federal and town officials to try to address the issues stemming from immigration policy and overcrowded housing in the Farmingville area. The influx of day laborers has prompted complaints that the workers, some of whom entered the country illegally, work "off the books" and jam-pack houses.

The legislation to fund the center had marked the most recent of several attempts by the county to wade into the tangled area of international economics, federal immigration policies, the local underground economy and charges of racism that have roiled the Farmingville community over the past few years.

The divisions between neighbors in Farmingville, which had drawn national attention, were starkly in evidence in Hauppauge yesterday in the welter of speeches, signs, petitions and grabs by audience members for the attention of television camera crews and reporters.

Opponents of the day laborer center had pinned bright-colored signs to their chests reading "No Hiring Hall." Other signs read, "What Part of Illegal Don't You Understand?" and, "They Are Invaders."

Backers of a center wore feathers in their shirt pockets to mock Gaffney for what they termed as his ostrich-like avoidance of the issue of how to deal with the day laborers. "S.C. Legislators: Don't Bury Your Heads in the Sand! Override the Veto," their signs read.

Susan McKeon of Mastic Beach said the problem in Farmingville goes far beyond quality of life issues and that racism and bigotry were taking over.

"National hate groups have targeted Suffolk County," she said, echoing the comments of several other speakers. "The Sachem Quality of Life group has accepted them and become a conduit to our county for at least three of them."

She held a sign saying, "Stop Hate Groups Victimizing Suffolk County."

The Sachem group has ties to California-based American Patrol, which was listed recently as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the premier organization in the country that investigates and compiles a list of hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

"There is growing concern that your community is becoming a haven for hate groups," said Devin J. Burghart of the Chicago-based Center for New Community, a private organization that also investigates hate groups. "I can tell you, America is watching."

The Sachem group denies it is a racist organization, and says its opponents are using that allegation to discredit the group's legitimate complaints.

Sachem acknowledges its ties to American Patrol, but says that group is merely "conservative."

"The only hatred and racism going on in our community is the racism and hatred being perpetrated against us," Margaret Bianculli, president of the Sachem group, told the legislators. "Their race card will not stop us."

One sign a protester was holding said, "It's About the Law! Not Race!"

Keith Bantz, a teacher at the Candlewood Middle School in Dix Hills, even brought his seventh-grade class to the hearing to teach them about "government in action," he said.

Like the rest of the audience, his students seemed mixed about the proposed center. Isaiah Schuster, 12, said the undocumented immigrants should be deported, but Danny Nikbakht said they should be allowed to work since they merely came here seeking a better life.

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