Photo by Steve Birkeland
You can thank Frank!
That water! That view! Aaah!
What many don’t know is that Sayville Marina Park was once the site of the Shoreham Hotel and Beach Club, complete with a pool and splashing kids. There was also a disco there, in the 1960s, owned by the notorious ex-convict Julius Klein.
But when the location languished, it was former Islip Supervisor Frank R. Jones who decided the property, now a curving pathway with wildflowers, old growth trees, benches, a tennis court and playground that fronts the Great South Bay, shouldn’t turn into a glut of condos, but a place for residents to muse, walk dogs, and sit in the sand. Jones received the ultimate compliment for his efforts last week when the Town of Islip re-named it Supervisor Frank R. Jones Beach at Sayville Marina Park.
He had quite the crowd, an impressive Sayville-style gathering. Jones grew up in Blue Point and lived much of his life in Sayville with his family.
Judge Peter Fox Cohalan got the ball rolling for the beach re-naming two years ago. “I wrote (Supervisor) Angie Carpenter that Frank was responsible for the acquisition of The Shore Club and Healy/Shortell properties,” Cohalan said.
Cohalan was one of the attorneys for the Shortells; Jones was town supervisor when the properties were a mess. “He stepped in when developers wanted to buy it,” Cohalan emphasized. It opened in 1989 with a 60-space parking lot.
The town board voted to rename it last May.
Cohalan and Jones already had a history together. Jones was his campaign manager when Cohalan ran for county executive and won, Cohalan said. Jones became deputy county executive, then chief deputy executive under Cohalan, then Islip supervisor from 1987 to 1993.
“He’s the best public administrator I ever met,” Cohalan said.
There were several jewels in Jones’s crown of far-reaching issues he fought for besides saving Sayville’s shoreline landscape.
He initiated the College Woods affordable housing development, 400 privately owned units in Central Islip, the largest at the time. “There were murders and drug dealing,” recalled Jones of the crime-ridden area. “The police couldn’t do anything because the drug dealers used 14-year-old kids in their operations.”
The crime lords were routed out when the development took hold; families who qualified could apply under a lottery system. It was a first-class design and intelligently thought out.
There was resistance in a number of arenas, including a big fight to ensure utilities were underground; also, $13 million in bonds had to be guaranteed. “I really leaned on the finance guys. The bonds were paid off in five years,” Jones said.
His mantra: Do what’s right for the people, not what’s right for the politicians.
(These days, wisdom like that needs to be perhaps tattooed on certain officials’ arms.)
A few years after College Woods was fully operational, Jones was privy to its impact. He drove to the neighborhood with his wife, Claire. A block party was going on, and they stopped to mingle. “One of the ladies remembered me and came up to Claire and said, ‘Would you like to see my home?’” Jones recalled. The couple went in. Three photos were prominently displayed on her wall in attractive frames; one was of her wedding day, another a papal marriage blessing with the Pope’s picture. The third was of Frank Jones.
It then hit Jones how much that housing meant to its occupants, being able to attain a nice home they never would have had. That project was the one he felt the best about.
But the environmental push was also on. The recycling program WRAP was the first in the country under his leadership. Every Wednesday, recycling cans were out in front of residents’ homes. An inspector, Irene Wicks, doled out summonses to those who didn’t comply.
Uh, oh. Jones accidently deposited a milk carton in the regular trash, not realizing it was recyclable. Wicks issued a summons. Not a good thing for a couple of reasons; he initiated the program and Claire was a stickler about the procedure.
“She went bananas,” Jones recalled.
(A minute blip; they’ve been married 60 years.)
“It’s hard to put into words her importance to me, because everything I did, Claire was a part of it or encouraged me,” he said, as Claire sat beside him. “A lot of it took me away from the home. We had four children and she had to sacrifice a lot. But she did it very gracefully.”
“We were in tune,” she said simply.
The family lived in Bayport and Sayville. They have four children, Bart, Allison, Barette and Matt. (The Joneses live in California now; they were visiting their son, Matt, this summer in Bellport.)
There were the free concerts at Heckscher State Park that he pushed the town to sponsor and he oversaw the runway extension at Long Island MacArthur Airport. Shoreham, the first commercial nuclear power plant, was an unsettling 500-pound gorilla the area was grappling with. Grassroots groups sounded the horn and as deputy county executive, he and then-county executive Peter Fox Cohalan helped shut down Shoreham.
“You couldn’t evacuate Long Island if there was a nuclear leak,” he recalled. “But LILCO never understood that.” Cohalan and Jones went to Albany and met with then-Gov. Mario Cuomo. They got him on board; Cuomo fought hard and got it decommissioned.
“He started out as a local Ralph Nader figure,” said his son, Bart Jones. His father was originally an engineer who became famous for his witty, barbed letters to the Suffolk County News. (He still sends them. “Think outside of the box” was one of his latest.)
“He and Judge Cohalan were really inspired by President Jack Kennedy and the thrust for environmental protection and clean government; that’s when he and dad joined forces,” he continued.
Jones addressed the rapacious contractors who worked on the beleaguered Southwest Sewer District project, the largest construction project on Long Island that was mishandled. When the county finally rattled its saber, Jones sent police cars to the main construction site at 6 a.m. to confiscate records.
“I got into journalism because of dad’s relationship with the Suffolk County News (where he started his career) and Newsday (a staffer for 17 years),” said Bart Jones, who heard many of his dad’s interviews. “He would have the reporters over to the beach house on Fire Island. They loved and respected him because he was a straight shooter and gave great quotes.”
Along with the long hours, his dad also got threatening phone calls at 2 a.m.; a cement truck sat in front of the house one afternoon for a while. “That upset my mother,” recalled Bart Jones. “She was crying.”
But Jones always stood his ground. At the beach dedication last Wednesday, some showed up with “I Survived Frank Jones” T-shirts on the front, “And Howard DeMartini!” on the back. (DeMartini was Islip deputy supervisor.) Tough, for sure, but what was accomplished will be remembered by many.
That was echoed by Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter in a statement: “The beach, which is now dedicated in his honor, would not be here today had it not been for his foresight. As supervisor, Frank Jones laid the groundwork for so many programs like WRAP and developments such as College Woods, that we have today, and will be in place for generations to come.”
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