Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Can-Do Vs. Can't-Do On Display

(Blogger's Note: 11 Days, still no apology from Joe Mondello)

(Also, for more direct quotes, be sure to check out another wonderful writeup from my friend Dee, the 7th Woman. Doug from Isles Official's Outlook also has a writeup worth reading)

Today, as expected, the Long Island Regional Planning Council unanimously declared the Lighthouse as a project of regional significance. In other words, this opens up higher levels of support and more avenues for public assistance (infrastructure money) to help the project's progress.

Let's get into it. Rather than re-doing Dee's work I will do my usual and share both observations and key take-aways from today.

Joe Ra Update

I grabbed Mr. Ra after the meeting, and we cleared the air in a pleasant fashion. What happened last night in Garden City was a misunderstanding, and I will never mention it again. I have also removed it from yesterday's post.

Kristen McElroy in Attendance

Kristen McElroy, who is running against Kate Murray for Hempstead Supervisor, was in attendance and gracious enough to say hello to me. She acknowledged the encounter described by Anonymous last week and agreed to a discussion at a time that is convenient for both of us. I will have more information at that point, but I believe we have nothing to worry about.

Nassau County's Role

Many here and in other places have questioned Nassau County's role in delaying the Lighthouse for many years. We all know what happened - Tom Suozzi signed an agreement with Charles Wang and then threw the process back to RFP, making the progress much slower than it otherwise could have been. Charles Wang acknowledged this at the hearing today, but he also used it to stress the need to do things right and quickly. In his words, "I was stupid once [with Nassau County]; I don't want to be stupid twice."

Clearing Up Misconceptions

There is still a lot of misinformation floating around about the Lighthouse, so I was glad to see this meeting attack some of them head-on:
  • Charles Wang repeatedly mentioned the Lighthouse as "catalyst, not panacea." Nobody who wants the Lighthouse thinks its approval will suddenly solve all of the very real problems Long Island faces. However, everybody thinks it will open up the minds and hearts of Long Island to more smart ideas and solutions for these problems and create a positive ripple effect.
  • Many speakers, including all the Lighthouse representatives and Legis. Dave Denenberg, who read a statement from Tom Suozzi, repeatedly reminded the Town of Hempstead that nobody is asking them to break the law; we just want the process moved forward as quickly as possible.
  • The Regional Planning Council repeatedly talked about the need for and benefit of the Lighthouse far beyond the New York Islanders. As I've said many times, the Islanders cannot and should not be the center of anyone's argument. The Lighthouse will rise or fall based on whether it's a good deal for the community.
Hempstead Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who represents the proposed Lighthouse site, mentioned that many of her constituents still did not understand the details. We also heard that Mike Francesa on The Fan spoke about the light rail through Garden City that nobody proposed. It is clear that we have done a lot, but we still have a lot to do.

Wang vs. Murray

This was the first time Charles Wang directly criticized and questioned Kate Murray about her conflicting statements with the Lighthouse. He rebutted the Supervisor's assertion that the Town has moved as fast as it could, and he reminded her that this is the first time they have sat in the same room since January 23. Wang asked Murray to "give him back those months," by meeting to discuss the process moving forward.

He said the delay was not wholly Kate Murray's fault (witness the issues with Nassau County), but he rightly asserted that time is of the essence when we have such a unique opportunity to do something great for Long Island. I was glad to see Mr. Wang take the Supervisor to task, but I realize it was a major risk. The point is to open up lines of dialogue, not to make Kate Murray feel like she's walked into an ambush.

One positive thing - Kate Murray and the Lighthouse are meeting again on Friday, and it looks like this will become a regular occurrence. I'm glad to see that.

Lease Extension

The Islanders have promised to extend their lease 10 years, through 2025, as part of the Lighthouse. I think this is not enough time and that should be amended to a longer period in order to reduce fans' anxiety.

Suozzi Demands Public Comments...Now

Tom Suozzi, who was not present, issued a statement that was read at the meeting. He called for the Town of Hempstead to move the Lighthouse process into public comments immediately, claiming this would provide a way to address both the public's concerns and the Town's concerns in the Completeness Memorandum.

I have read SEQRA, and this would not be against the law. The law only says that the Lead Agency must determine the DGEIS is "suitable for public review." Only the Final EIS has the legal burden of being both complete and correct.

That having been said, I doubt the Town of Hempstead will do this.

Speed of Review

Both Kate Murray and Dorothy Goosby pointed out that large projects often require a long environmental review. However, and I'm glad many people pointed this out, Murray and Goosby are presenting a false choice. A project of this magnitude requires a speedy and correct review. It is not an either-or proposition; the environmental review is not either fast or correct, it can be both.

I was also glad to see the Planning Council point out the obvious truth. A rushed environmental review results in lawsuits (the developer is responsible for legal fees) and a delay in groundbreaking. Therefore, why would the Lighthouse want a slipshod review when the Lighthouse would stand to lose the most from it?

Line of the day, from Legis. Dave Denenberg:
"It has been 7 years. If William Levitt had to wait 7 years, there would only be a Levittown in Pennsylvania. If Mitchell Field had to wait 7 years, Charles Lindbergh would have taken off from Hackensack." - Dave Denenberg
Can-Do vs. Can't-Do

I have talked many times about Can-Do vs. Can't-Do, the perspectives that either search for ways to make things happen, or reach for excuses. We saw this on grand display at the meeting today.

Many people asked Can-Do questions of Kate Murray as the process moves forward:
  • "Do you need more people to move the process along more quickly?"
  • "What can we do to help you move this forward?"
  • "What extra resources can we provide?"
These are Can-Do questions that aim to find a solution. Kate Murray, in most instances, hid behind the SEQR process, mentioning how long and difficult it is. She also mentioned that these things take time, and she in fact offered Tom Suozzi and Nassau County the chance to be Lead Agency, an offer they refused. Before I could jump in and ask a question, Jon Kaiman, North Hempstead Supervisor, did it for me. He reminded Kate Murray that in most instances the process is held up because the developer does not have its story together, and it is usually the Town government that is left waiting. Kaiman also pointed out that Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead would still have final jurisdiction over zoning, so appointing the County as Lead Agency would make zero sense in this process.

I also have to give a shout-out to Jeffrey Kraut of East Meadow, a member of the Planning Council. He said he empathized with Murray and that he had very real concerns (I went to school across the street from the Lighthouse for 7 years; you don't have to sell me on traffic being an issue). However, Mr. Kraut and his neighbors were "more excited than concerned," and they were willing to contribute to a process that maximized benefits and minimized issues.

Mr. Kraut (who now knows about this blog) also mentioned the need for a citizen or citizens to advocate and educate the people on what's possible, rather than just hiding behind concerns. He mentioned this person would need the courage to both get educated on the project and make clear that the risk of doing nothing far outweighs the inherent risk in a project like the Lighthouse.

Mr. Kraut, I know we just met today, but thanks for the compliment!

I was glad to see the vision and the Can-Do spirit of this body. As I always say, those who are not willing to fight for the world as it should be are forever doomed to accept the world as it is.

Bottom Line

I left this meeting more confident than ever of an agreement being reached. Kate Murray is moderating her stance in the face of overwhelming support, and it is clear our nascent movement has played at least a small part in this.

Overall, I was very glad to see the political will in the room to get the Lighthouse done, but we must remain vigilant. All the political will in the world, from George W. Bush on down, was not enough to save the West Side Stadium from Sheldon Silver, and we can't forget that the same thing could happen here. I am glad Kate Murray is showing an increased willingness to meet and work with the Lighthouse as the process moves forward, but she cannot hide behind the SEQR process as an excuse for slowness, either.

At the end of the day, this will boil down to one question, a perfect encapsulation of Can-Do vs. Can't-Do: We know the SEQR process is painful, and we know it requires a lot of work. The question is, Will we try to work within the process to move this forward as quickly as possible, or will we use the process as an excuse?

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.


  1. I still don't trust Kate. She'll play nice long enough to hold her seat and then kill it.

  2. So let's still work our tuchuses off for Kristen McElroy. (Sorry for the double post)

  3. I hope Kristen McElroy uses the delay of this project to her adavantage in trying to beat K. Murray in th eupcoming election. It appears that Murray has shown poor judgement and stubborness.

  4. Nick, I'm glad to see some optimism has been restored for you. As the most informed citizen on this project, I look to your mood as a good barometer on all things Lighthouse.

    That said, how much of Murray's "cooperation" at this point (using that term loosely) is for appearances? I mean, you can only hide for so long before it becomes obvious to everyone. Do you think she really is opening up to participating genuinely in this process, or just going through the motions because she's out of alternatives? I'm trying to be optimistic, but my gut tells me to be wary.


  5. MC - great question. As they say, the proof will be in the pudding. She can attend all the meetings she wants, and she can say all the right things, but she needs to do the right things. The big issue right now is moving the environmental review into Public Comments. If they do that within the next month, they're serious about moving forward. If they keep doing what they've been doing, where FP Clark sends a memo on a Friday afternoon with a list of issues, 90% of which the Lighthouse has deemed irrelevant to completeness (Michael Picker, Lighthouse President, said that yesterday), we could be stuck in, to borrow a programming term, an infinite loop.

    That's really when we will know - if she begins to move the process forward the way she should be, then this is more than just talk.

  6. Nick, I have the same sentiments, you hit the nail right on the head on this one but then again, what else is new? Murray's "Cant Do" attitude is frustrating to all hell....

    I mentioned before that Murray is using "failures to get projects done" in a timely and efficiant manner as an excuse for "failing to get the LHP done" in a timely and efficient manner...This is obviously, counter productive and I'm tired of Murray patronizing us as if we're gullible Isles fans when it is her who sounds misinformed...We can see thru the rhetoric... Murray's attitude towards the past, the future and towards US is unacceptable...

    What happened to learning from the past as a way to do it right in the future???

    To learn from mistakes so those mistakes never happen again is a basic rule for success...

    With all that being said I do appreciate the fact that some head way is being made with the ToH, supervisor...

  7. Nick,

    Great post, and have always loved your optimism. How much do you believe the Light House will play a role in Murray's reelection? Do you believe she will just string everyone along until the elections, or is there some sincerity in her words?

  8. Netminder - that's enough material for a new blog post, and now you've inspired me to write that post later this week.

    Short answer - any smart politician will listen to a large enough contingent of voters that make it clear their support depends on a certain issue. It's like Mayor Quimby from The Simpsons, in that classic line: "Well, if that's the way the wind is blowing, let it not be said that I do not also blow."

    Again, expect a larger post on this but it depends on the size of our movement, whether or not the Lighthouse is a galvanizing issue, and whether Kristen McElroy is a credible opponent.