Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is the Veil of Secrecy Lifting?

We are all gearing up for the long holiday weekend and the upcoming completeness hearing on Tuesday, July 7. However, a recent development, combined with the momentum the Lighthouse is producing, has given me something to write about.

I have mentioned many times that I live literally right next to one of the Town of Hempstead's great shames, the Bellmore Army Base. In fact, I live close enough to this base that I once hit a baseball into it while playing with my father.

It has been a shame to the community for many years, and especially since it was formally decommissioned in 1996 (it had been abandoned earlier than this). It came out that this base secretly held underground nuclear missiles, and it was meant to serve as the primary defense of Long Island in the event of a Soviet attack, even though it was presented to the community as a maintenance facility. The U.S. Army spent years to decontaminate the site - or, at least, they
told us they did.

My mother became active in finding a new use for the site when the Town and Army started soliciting bids in 1996. At first, there was a backroom deal with Habitat for Humanity, but the community rose up and decided to propose a single-family homes solution.

This proposal was accepted in 1996, and as of today the 17-acre site is still an empty pit. Aside from issues with the Department of Defense, the Town of Hempstead has sought repeatedly to change the zoning on the site to force the chosen developer to build a community center and senior citizen rentals (Funny how they always love senior citizen housing and not affordable housing for the younger generation...). A previous lawsuit had found the Town's attempts unconstitutional, but the Town continued to challenge...

I'm glad to say, that challenge has now been rejected. The New York State Court of Appeals (one of the few parts of State government actually functioning lately) ruled last week that the Town of Hempstead must stand down and allow the developer to follow through on its plan to build single-family homes. A civil suit alleging the Town of Hempstead violated the developer's constitutional rights is still ongoing.

So, Why Am I Writing About This?

This blight on my community will finally be rectified, even though it is not the exact situation the community favored in 1996 (what ever is?). I'm writing this on a blog about the Lighthouse Project because I believe it is symptomatic of a larger change for which I am not sure our local government is ready.

For too many years, the entrenched machine in the Town of Hempstead has concerned itself with backroom dealings and cronyism with the only goal being that of retaining power. It has scoffed at challenges, and citizens have rewarded these entrenched interests by re-electing the machine again and again for over a century.

However, there is clearly something happening here. The ruling on the Bellmore Army Base is yet another signal that the Town of Hempstead's old way of doing things is gone, gone, gone. As Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool some people all of the time, all people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The Town's cloak-and-dagger practices and history of playing games with developers after initial (widely-publicized) agreements ran headlong into a determined developer that was not willing to stand idly by and accept it.

The same must be true for the Lighthouse. We have already seen a thawing in relations due to a rising voter movement, but there is still much to do. Remember, Kate Murray was the only politician at Sen. Schumer's press conference who did not speak enthusiastically of the Lighthouse. All the political will in the world could not save the NYC2012 Olympic Bid from Sheldon Silver, and we must keep up the good work.

It is clear that this is not an impenetrable fortress. We must continue to stand up for the Lighthouse and for Long Island, because our future is too important to leave to chance and secrecy. The harsh light of day withers many a dark practice, and we must be the light of truth that shows how badly we both want and need the Lighthouse.

If we could finally get some kind of agreement on the Bellmore Army Base, we can surely keep the Lighthouse process moving. We have power, and we must use it.

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1 comment:

  1. I guess we all know where you get your idealism from, your mom...I am relieved to hear that the people aren't gonna be fooled anymore by the ToH "machine"....

    Good read, enjoyed it...