Thursday, April 9, 2009

Republican Party, Where Are You?

I have danced around this issue a few times, but I think it needs to be said in a formal, laid-out manner. This could end up being one of the most intriguing subplots in the entire Lighthouse saga.

First: Newsday Hits Dave Denenberg

There has been a disturbing trend in mainstream media lately. In the name of "balance," too many outlets have sought to provide equal-opportunity criticism for things that are more complex than they are made out to be. Unfortunately, Newsday's editorial board fell victim to this temptation.

In an editorial from the Tuesday edition, Newsday criticized Legis. Dave Denenberg for politicizing the Lighthouse Project. It cited his recent comments about circulating petitions that support the project and the potential of organizing a rally called Save The Island(ers). The editorial board claimed that this was in the name of balance, since they also criticized Kate Murray's petition drive to get unavailable stimulus funds for a renovation of Nassau Coliseum.

Dave Denenberg should not be playing politics with the Lighthouse, nor should any other politician. However, as this space has said before, telling politicians not to politicize something in an election year is like leaving a steak 4 inches in front of your dog's mouth and expecting him not to eat it. We have speculated here that Dave Denenberg has designs on running for Town Supervisor and that he may use the Lighthouse as his springboard into that race. It's an unfortunate diversion, but the editorial glossed over some very important distinctions between Mr. Denenberg's actions and Ms. Murray's actions.

First of all, Mr. Denenberg already voted for the Lighthouse in the Nassau Legislature, and he has been a vocal supporter since the project was first proposed. This does not provide him with the same umbrella of "judicial neutrality" under which Kate Murray has hidden whenever she is asked about the Lighthouse. Mr. Denenberg has made his position known, and therefore he is free to support it in any way he wants, even if it looks like grandstanding or bald ambition. In addition, Supervisor Murray was circulating a petition that made false claims about stimulus money that would not be available for a Coliseum renovation. This is far more serious than Mr. Denenberg's actions, and these differences should have been made clear.

I agree with the Newsday editorial board that politics should stay out of the Lighthouse process. However, I also believe that any criticism of politicians should include the important distinction between misleading the public and grandstanding.

LIA Ad in Newsday

The Long Island Association ran a full-page advertisement in Tuesday's Newsday calling for prompt approval of the Lighthouse Project. It listed many of the expected benefits and, overall, touted the project as Long Island's very own, privately-funded stimulus plan. It was co-signed by directors including Calvin O. Butts, President of SUNY Old Westbury, and Pearl Kamer, who also serves as the official economist of the Lighthouse Project.

Yesterday, Newsday ran an article claiming the ad was actually run as part of a barter agreement between the newspaper and the New York Islanders franchise. I have some thoughts on this, but I want to look into this a little further and report back to you with the full story.

Republican Support

We have already linked to the excellent write-ups from our friends Dee Karl and BD Gallof about this past Saturday's roundtable discussion hosted by Assembly Republicans. Support for the Lighthouse was overwhelming, and many Republicans said, on the record, that they were frustrated by the Town of Hempstead's game-playing.

This is important because the Republican Party has not taken an official position on the Lighthouse Project, despite its importance to hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Long Island voters. It strikes me as odd, especially since the Democratic Party has been in almost solid support of the Lighthouse since it was first proposed in the fall of 2004. The Republican Party has been reluctant to even talk about the Lighthouse in an oficial capacity. I've called and spoken to sources connected to the situation many times, and those who did not outright ignore my requests led me to believe that there is no official position on the Lighthouse and the Republican Party would allow individual politicians to decide. Many prominent Republicans, including Assemb. Fred Thiele (R - Bridgehampton) and Assemb. Robert Barra (R - Lynbrook) (Blogger's Note: Full disclosure, Mr. Barra used to work for the Islanders before he entered politics), have come out forcefully in support of the Lighthouse Project and urged others to do the same. This makes the official Party's silence all the more confusing.

This is most interesting because of the man who controls the New York State Republican Party: Joseph Mondello. Mr. Mondello is a former Hempstead Supervisor who has controlled the Republican Party in Nassau County for decades. He is widely thought to be professionally close to Kate Murray, especially since he oversaw her appointment to the Town of Hempstead Supervisor position after her predecessor resigned. The fact that Mr. Mondello has not taken a public stand in support of someone widely thought of as a protege speaks volumes. It perhaps says more than a public show of support could.

Republican Principles

On paper, the Republican Party should be staunchly in favor of the Lighthouse Project. It is a private investment that aims to correct mistakes the government made in a public arena. This should be every Republican's dream, and it will be interesting to see how many more prominent Republicans come out in support of the Lighthouse.

Town of Hempstead

This behavior has served to isolate the Town of Hempstead from many in the Republican establishment. My friend BD Gallof, reporting from Saturday's Assembly Republicans Roundtable, mentioned that many lawmakers are, off the record, becoming frustrated with the Town's conduct. Some sources (not necessarily politicians) said, off-the-record, that the Town of Hempstead was embarrassing itself and needed to get its act together to ensure the Lighthouse Project moves forward with all due haste.

The next move for the Town of Hempstead is unclear. The stimulus battle was nothing more than a diversion, but the Town's true intentions were hidden within. Tom Suozzi has no more power to seek stimulus funds than Kate Murray, as both are done by application with the State. If Kate Murray truly thought she could receive stimulus funds for the Coliseum, she would have applied for them herself.

It is also interesting to note that Rich Guardino has come out strongly in favor of the Lighthouse, touting it as Long Island's very own economic stimulus. Why is this significant? Kate Murray succeeded him as Hempstead Supervisor.

The idea of this being part of some concentrated Republican plan to derail Tom Suozzi's agenda in an election year is not supported by the facts in this case. There are many prominent Republicans who have come out in support of the Lighthouse Project, with the promise of many more to come. Only one prominent politician has come forward in support of Kate Murray's spurious plan to seek stimulus money: Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who made his intentions clear in a letter to Governor Paterson last month.

Bottom Line

The Lighthouse Project is about the future of Long Island and how we want to define ourselves, even though many will still attempt to deride it as a backroom landgrab. I understand and respect the need for Republican politicians to follow their consciences (and their constituents) and decide whether or not to support the Lighthouse accordingly. However, the official party's silence speaks volumes. It has served to both isolate Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead and serve to fuel rampant speculation about the true political calculations behind this move.

We don't want political calculations. This is the biggest building project since Levittown, and its approval will shape the trajectory of Long Island for decades to come. In that context, the Republican Party's silence and apparent unwillingness to take an official position is flat-out unacceptable. Voters know where one of the major parties stands on the Lighthouse, and they deserve to hear from the other as well.

It is time for both the Nassau County and the New York State Republican Party to stand up and take an official position on the Lighthouse.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me.

Blogger's Note: I'm heading to DC to watch my beloved BU Terriers compete for the National Title, and when I get back I will be spending the Easter holiday with my family. There will likely be no major posts on this blog until Sunday or Monday - or if something major happens that requires I write about it. I hope all of you have a blessed Easter or, for my Jewish friends, Passover. See you in a few days.


  1. Spot on as usual, Nick. The time is long past where their feelings regarding this project should have been made crystal clear to LI residents. We deserve an answer, and we need to keep asking for it!

    BTW, things have probably been as hectic for you as they have been for me. I am going away myself (to VA) and Ill also be back the start of next week. Have a great time in DC! :)

  2. I really wonder if Peter King's letter -- which I'd like to see -- could be interpreted as anti-Lighthouse. If a local politician comes to a Washington representative and says "Get me some federal bucks," there aren't too many elected officials who would say no to that. So King writing a letter in favor of that federal money is a far cry from being against the Lighthouse.

    One place where I disagree with you, Nick: not politicizing the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse is a project to be built on county-owned property under a lease with the county, approved by a political body. Then another political entity, the town of Hempstead, has to approve it. Politics has to be part of it. I have always defined politics broadly, sort of right out the civics book: the process by which groups of people following different ideologies and differences ultimately produce the direction which way government should orient itself. There's really no other way. It's very possible that Kate Murray's true ideology is that Nassau County's best days were in 1969 or thereabouts, and we should pursue that vision, as ridiculous as anybody who knows anything about development today would tell you. So she's expressing that through the political process. Unfortunately, she controls the process at this point.

    The only thing to do is for other Republicans to tell their Republican elected officials just what I told my GOP assemblyman: Kate Murray blocks the Lighthouse, and I'm done voting for local members of the Republican party. You want your ideology to be rooted in the past? Well, I'm not rooted in the past, and I'll vote for the party that believes in, and isn't afraid of, the future.

  3. Tigmet - spot-on analysis on both fronts. (Greetings from Annapolis, MD, by the way!)

    As far as Peter King is concerned, I want to obtain a copy of the letter and call his office for comment before going any deeper than I have, for the exact reasons our friend tigmet laid out.

    As for politicizing the Lighthouse, it's true that politics can't really be avoided here - the steak and dog analogy, and all that....I think I was attempting to draw a distinction between politics and playing political games. The stimulus grab, when everyone with a pulse knew money wasn't available for an arena, was a political game. As for the Denenberg side - new post up in 2 minutes...