Blurring the lines between law, anarchy

By Bob Wiemer

Newsday, October 23, 2000

Paul Tonna is the Suffolk legislature’s presiding officer and one of the organizers of mid-October’s candlelight rally during which the “good” people of the county protested alleged manifestations of bigotry and hate by an amorphous and largely imagined phalanx of “bad” people. Tonna never stereotypes others unless he thinks they deserve it.

The Hauppauge rally followed the vicious beating of two undocumented aliens by two young men, one a resident of Maspeth, Queens; the other, still not apprehended, from Holbrook. Its net effect was to summon up a blanket indictment of the people of Farmingville, to blur a towering public policy issue and to further intimidate spineless public officials. What has transpired in the Brookhaven Town hamlet of Farmingville in these turn-of-the-century years is a disgrace to the idea of representative government. The Tonna crowd fears vigilantes, but the people of Farmingville have steadfastly resisted lawlessness. They organized the Sachem Quality of Life Organization to petition their representatives for relief from a state of virtual anarchy. They have since been frustrated at every level of government.

Events in Farmingville represent a sad day for representative democracy and a sadder day for the notion of government by law. The United States Congress passes immigration statutes that govern the entrance of aliens into this country. It creates an income-tax code that demands taxes be withheld from paychecks. It sets health and safety regulations for the workplace, stringent ones that industry often finds onerous. At the state level, there are similar labor standards and similar strictures relating to the payment of taxes. There are also state health laws. At the town level, Sachem Quality of Life was able to get a law on the books to limit overcrowding in housing, which is endemic and dangerous. But Margaret Bianculli-Dyber, who heads the community organization, says the occupancy provisions have yet to be enforced.

So what? With a singular exception, law enforcement is a joke in Farmingville. The exception: The cops arrested Bianculli-Dyber for trespass on the night of the Hauppauge rally. They cuffed her and drove her to the precinct house where she says she sat for a couple of hours studying a wanted poster for two aliens who jumped bail on sexual assault charges.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service recently spread a net at MacArthur Airport and intercepted more than 80 aliens who lacked documentation. But it claims it can do little about Farmingville because its agents can’t tell a documented from an undocumented alien and it would violate the civil rights of the aliens to ask. So hundreds of aliens are allowed illegally to descend on this Long Island community. Their numbers are disruptive and uncontrolled, but they need the work. Their need, in the eyes of Tonna and his candle-toting seraphim, is morally superior to the rule of law.

The bulk of these needy ones come from Mexico; they look a tad alien. So those who object to the prevailing anarchy risk being called racist. Fear of being tarred by that brush is one reason the political establishment turns a blind eye to the petitions of the Farmingville community. The other reason is more subtle. It could be that the contractors who live off this cheap supply of labor have a better lobby among the hierarchs of government than the ordinary citizens of Farmingville.

As things stand now, federal, state and county officials don’t even recognize the thriving underground economy. Tonna and County Executive Robert Gaffney think it would be neat if they could hide the problem and make things more comfortable for the aliens by setting up an off- street site to replace the prevailing curbside labor market.

Of course, the state Department of Labor already has an indoor service that brings employer and employee together. But that’s terribly inconvenient. It’s legal.