Monday, June 1, 2009

Venturing Outside the Echo Chamber

(Blogger's Note: 10 days, still no apology from Joe Mondello)

I do my best to engage people on the Lighthouse, and you could debate how successful I am with that. More than anything, however, I have always been concerned that this site was an echo chamber, a place where there was not enough disagreement with the Lighthouse issue. Today was a fascinating look outside the echo chamber, as I (and a few others who read this site) attended a meeting in Garden City featuring Supervisor Kate Murray.

This will largely be darker than most things I write, but I owe it to you to give you the true story of what happened.

Also, Kristen McElroy was not in attendance, and it is quite possible this Homeowner's Association does not represent the part of Garden City in which she lives.

Two quick things first:

Meeting Tomorrow

Tomorrow's meeting, which is open for public comments, is very important for the Lighthouse. Please make every effort to attend and discuss the Lighthouse and how vital it is to the region's future. Kate Murray is confirmed in attendance, and Charles Wang will likely be there as well. This would mark the first time in a very long time that the two were in the same room at the same time.

As a reminder, the meeting will be held at the Nassau Legislative Chamber, 1550 Franklin Avenue (at the corner of Old Country Road), in Mineola. The Lighthouse discussion starts at 11 AM.

Nolan vs. Murray

David Reich-Hale, who has really been on top of the Lighthouse issue, has another feature on the LI Business News Polit Bureau blog. He compares the feigned "impartiality" of Kate Murray with the active engagement Phil Nolan, Islip Town Supervisor, has shown with those proposing the massive Heartland development in Brentwood.

Mr. Nolan has a good point - he has expertise in certain areas, and he can't just sit in an igloo until it's time to come out and vote, so what's the harm in engaging?

To Tonight...

Kate Murray gave a speech and Q-and-A session for the Garden City group today, discussing the Lighthouse, a planned expansion to the Covanta energy plant, and anything else that might be on citizens' minds.

This was an incredible window into the minds of certain Long Island residents, and I think it would be best to share some of my key impressions and take-aways from tonight:


Kate Murray largely played it straight and should be commended for sticking to her (recent) dictum of looking at the Lighthouse like an impartial judge. She echoed most of the talking points we have come to know through this process, talking about the size, other projects in the region, and the speed at which the Town is moving (compared to...?).

(UPDATE: I am removing the encounter with Joe Ra, the Hempstead Attorney. It was a misunderstanding with no malicious intent)

SEQR Process Update

At this meeting, Kate Murray announced that Frederick P. Clark, the Town's environmental consultants, delivered a final memo on May 29 to the Lighthouse group. This document details the areas that must be improved before the issue can be brought for Public Comments.

At Least One October Will Pass

This space has openly questioned whether Frederick P. Clark, the Town of Hempstead's environmental consultants, had motivation to move the Lighthouse process forward and stop the steady stream of income. You can now add the Supervisor to a list of people who are in no hurry to move SEQR forward.

Let's remember, neither I nor anyone else want to skirt the law or do a slipshod job. We want things to move forward as quickly as they can. The Supervisor made sure to mention the years it has taken to review other big projects on Long Island (Heartland, Calverton, etc.) in an attempt to both congratulate herself on "speed" and, seemingly, to plant seeds of doubt in the Garden City electorate.

It is now clear - when we look at a prism of months, the Supervisor may be thinking years. It is the most clear illustration that SEQR is a law, and it can be bent to one's own will.

Charles Wang's October deadline will pass without any substantive action from the Town of Hempstead; the Supervisor would not even commit to Public Comments over the summer (though she allowed that it is possible).


Kate Murray admitted that she did not know the basics of many of the issues surrounding the Lighthouse, including water usage and sewage (which, if my understanding is correct, will end up being a major issue, and it is something the Lighthouse needs to address quickly). The Supervisor's admitted lack of knowledge makes me wonder how engaged she is in the overall process, and whether she has any motivation to do so with the Lighthouse or any other major development. Believe me, memorizing SEQR law is not fun or joyous in any way, but I managed to do it in my spare time, and it's not my job to do so.

This begs the question - who is controlling the response to the DGEIS? Is the Town of Hempstead letting Frederick P. Clark take its sweet old time without any critical eye, or are they more deeply involved? This must be answered.


Many Garden City residents seem to oppose the Lighthouse for one reason: the proposed light rail system will run on an abandoned freight spur (that is nowhere near residential areas) amd, in the words of one resident at the meeting, "destroy [Garden City]." Only one problem: THERE IS NO LIGHT RAIL SYSTEM PROPOSED. It is a passing thing Tom Suozzi mentioned once as a possibility, and it was the center of many people's opposition. This really underscores the need to get informed, since a whole room of people were convinced of something that is not currently on the table.

Kate Murray did mention that it was not "part of the Lighthouse proposal," but she then suggested those concerned should contact Tom Suozzi. First of all, I heard many murmurs through the crowd suggesting Charles Wang, Scott Rechler, and Tom Suozzi were in cahoots to ram this down "our" (read: Garden City's) throat. Second of all, as far as she went, I think Ms. Murray should have gone further and reminded these residents that no such plan exists. Third of all - I really don't get the problems here. As I said before, I've lived next to a light rail system, something most of those people cannot say, and it never had a negative impact on my quality of life.

Garden City

Garden City has a reputation as a NIMBY community that does not want any development, anywhere, at any time. A running joke among some people is that they believe they are the Gold Coast, except there's no gold and no coast. Sadly, most of the people there displayed their Can't-Do Mentality and looked for ways to find problems with theLighthouse (and other projects in the area). At the end, few were willing to share ideas, with more than one resident declining a request to talk to me because they "did not want their names all over the internet." Funny thing, they spoke to Newsday, which publishes its stories online.

More ominous, the association president introduces the Supervisor by describing her as a friend and a buffer to the craziness going on all around them. This is a clear indication that this group is not happy with and plans to fight all proposed developments (though they seem to be OK with sprawl).

I think one thing typified the evening, more than anything else. A woman stood up and asked the Supervisor about her statements that environmental reviews take time. The woman asked a simple question that sadly got a lot of applause: "How long does it take to say no?"

Sadly, residents like these are not interested in the common good. Issues about the slow, painful death of Long Island will not register with them, and we cannot persuade them with normal means. Why? They only care about themselves. I hate saying that and generalizing a group of people, but if tonight's experience was any indication, we are dealing with people who only care about themselves and who will make countless people suffer to further their own interests.

It seems a basic fact escaped the crowd, which was overwhelmingly older people - there will be no homeowners like them in 30 years if they drive all the young people away.

Bottom Line

I was glad to have a window into the minds of voters who are opposed to the Lighthouse, and it left me both concerned and indignant. Frankly, when sitting in that meeting I felt like I was in a foreign country. It amazes me to see that those who support the Lighthouse talk about doing something great to lift up the entire community, and those who oppose it seem to dwell solely on how it will impact them. It is clear that Garden City will make good on threats to sue if the environmental review is not done according to their definition of speed, but it is not clear what exactly their definition is.

As for the Town of Hempstead, they are currently sending mixed signals. On one hand, they are attempting to reach out to Lighthouse supporters and open lines of communication. On the other hand, the siege mentality still reigns among many parts of the Town. You can look no further to a tense exchange that resulted from what might be the nicest thing I've said about Kate Murray all year.

More than anything, I am very glad our movement is starting, since it proves that we must fight for the Lighthouse if we want it. Voters in places like Garden City think their voices are the only ones that matter, and that is simply not true. They are willing to look for every reason to kill the Lighthouse and other major developments; we must be willing to meet them on the field of battle.

Kate Murray said it best herself:
"If they receive enough phone calls about one issue, any smart politician would listen." - Kate Murray
We have a pretty good idea of what Garden City residents and other Lighthouse opponents will do. I think it's also pretty clear what we need to do.

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


  1. "How long does it take to say no?" Hmm- how long does it take to say "self-absorbed ignorant elitists"? Not very long, it would seem.


    Talk to you in the AM, Nick.

  2. Were these people gathered together to appose the LHP purposely???

    I love how you mentioned Murray should have said there "wasn't any plan for Rechler and Wang to strong arm the ToH into moving this along when it was brought up...Wang has been asked questions about the ToH and when blame is thrown on Murray's lap he says "lets take the politics out of it and work together for our future", which is the right thing to say, which is what Murray should be saying but she wants as many apposers as possible...

  3. I just wanted to apologize to Mick, Justin Conte, and all of the LHP supporters and Isles fans who are going to stand up for our belief's at meeting this morning...I am unable to make it, I just can't take the day off after a short week last week due to memorial day, I'm sorry fellas...I appreciate your efforts and support what you're doing...

  4. Islespassion21 - good question. This is a Property Owners' Association, one of the four in Garden City that control the mayor's office (literally, it rotates each term to another association, who then picks a candidate that is unelected). They invited Kate Murray to speak on the two major projects that affect them - expansion of the Covanta plant (you know - the smokestack that's the tallest structure in Nassau/Suffolk Counties) and the Lighthouse.

    So this is a group that happens to oppose the Lighthouse, not a group formed to oppose the Lighthouse.

  5. I wish I was going to be with all you guys this morning unfortunately I can't be attendance my Dads chemotherapy treatment trumps everything at the moment.

    On another note though convincing people such as these residents in Garden City, is basically impossible. They will always vote against development and this will never change. This goes back to how politicians win elections. Ms. Murray knows she has no challenge here but does the meeting for some positive PR and to fine tune her message. Well use easy numbers even though they vary in the real world but every politician knows there are always 25% of the electorate that will vote right every time, and 25% of the electorate that will vote left every time. This leaves 50% in the middle and which ever politician can win these votes in the middle wins the election.

    How does this relate to the Lighthouse you ask? Simple if Kate Murray realizes that her numbers are significantly down in the polls she has an ace in the hole. She will use the Lighthouse as a poll booster maybe moving it along to the public comments period sometime in September or October as we get closer to election day. This kind of "progress" will allow voters to believe Kate is finally truly committed to the Lighthouse Project and serve to boost her numbers.

    Time will tell if actions such as this will be enough for Ms. Murray but for now we need to continue to be persistent and show both our elected officials and those who are looking to become our elected officials that this issue is at the forefront of all Long Islanders minds.

    So Nick and others do not be frustrated from what you hear at Garden City. This kind of talk will always be present somewhere there always is opposition. Instead continue to show the TOH that Garden City is a small isolated area in the TOH, while the rest of the region is strongly committed to the project and what it stands for.

  6. Jimmy - you're right, and God bless your father.

  7. And to clarify, I wasn't so much frustrated by Garden City as I was amazed that they truly could not care less about anyone or anything but themselves and their own interests. My big concern here is not Kate Murray winning an election - in fact I heard some people criticizing her in the audience because, get this, they didn't think she spoke out against it to their liking. I'm concerned they're going to sue and tie the whole thing up if it becomes clear they're on the wrong side of the debate.

    As for the rest of it, you're also correct. I just hope we make it clear to the current powers-that-be that there will not be any more power if there is no Lighthouse.

    Again - the best to your father. I lost mine many years ago and can surely empathize with what you guys are going through right now.

  8. Nick - thanks very much for the fascinating read. One of the questions that has been asked for months is who the opposition is. OK, now we have a good idea of who it is - TOH residents like these in Garden City.

    Not to compliment her, but it sounds like Kate Murray is playing it down the middle and leaving all of her options open. At first it sounded like she was against the LH, but never really came out and said it. In the past few days she has sounded more open.

    I said this on Islandermania - if this is going to happen, it will be after Mr. Wang's October 3 deadline and before election day. It will most likely be a deal for a watered down verstion of the current plan. But - the only way it will happen is if Ms. Murray is under pressure and is not sure that she will be re-elected.

    So to you and everyone who wants to see this happen - keep the pressure on.

    I am sorry to hear that Ms. McElroy was not there. We need to support her. Do you know where we can go to make campaign contributions? I can only find a web site for last years's state senate campaign.

  9. So let me make sure I understand this - there will be no young people living in LI because the Lighthouse didn't get built? I did not realize ToH was the soul of LI. I do realize though that Garden City is probably only one surrounding town that has problems with this mecca being built. Interesting that you should write that GC residents only care about themselves and are selfish...I wonder if Isles fans would be this passionate about the Lighthouse if a new arena wasn't attached to it...and Wang is what? Selfless? Alrighty then.

  10. Christine - go back and actually read everything I write here. I know you troll the blogs trying to start fights where none exist, and I'm not taking your bait.