Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Election, The Lighthouse, and You

While the national press argued whether a few governors' races whose outcomes were fairly obvious were a referendum on the President, voters across Long Island went to the polls (in pathetically low numbers) to choose their leadership for at least the next 2 years.  Some results were expected, some results not so expected, and at the end of the day we do not know the full picture here in Nassau County.

Many people have asked me what these results mean for the Lighthouse Project, and I will do my best to analyze the races while providing my take on all of this.

Nassau County Executive

This is an image of Nassau County (NY) Executi...
This entire year, most people in the press and on the ground considered a Tom Suozzi victory to be a foregone conclusion.  In fact, a friend who writes for a newspaper on Long Island spoke to me about it a few weeks ago, suggesting that if Mr. Suozzi took the race for granted he would "only" win by a 10-point margin.  I bought into that conventional wisdom myself, and hummed happily along believing the County Executive would romp and it didn't make sense to pay close attention to the race.
Well, as they say, a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box.  In fact, two funny things happened.

First, the whispers about Tom Suozzi began to grow louder behind the scenes.  People questioned his leadership style, with some nonpartisan people going as far as saying Tom Suozzi's repeated criticisms of Kate Murray and Republicans over the Lighthouse were hurting the cause, and that he in fact may be the project's worst enemy, due to the political angle of all this.  It seemed a legitimate concern, and, while I did not fully embrace it as an issue, the snowball began to roll.  The signs promoting Ed Mangano were popping up everywhere, and I even began to see "Dump Suozzi" bumper stickers - not a good sign for any incumbent.

Second, I interviewed Ed Mangano last week at his office in Bethpage.  I was grateful for the opportunity, though I did not know what to expect, and I honestly wondered if speaking to me 5 days out from the election rather than a larger outlet was a good idea for the candidate.  40 minutes later, my conversation with Mr. Mangano ended, and I came away thoroughly impressed.  Mr. Mangano repeatedly gave full-throated endorsements for the Lighthouse Project, claiming his experience with the re-development of the Grumman property made him the ideal leader to see the project to completion.  He, not surprisingly, criticized Tom Suozzi's leadership style, but it echoed many of the things that I had heard from people not involved with his campaign or the Republican Party.  I was still not convinced of a Suozzi defeat, but my intuition was acting up, telling me that Ed Mangano was no pushover, and this race would be closer than anybody expected.

I won't tell you the candidate I supported, though I will tell you that I flipped back and forth between Suozzi and Mangano before making my final choice and getting out of the polling place. Rather, I will tell you that the election is, to this point, painfully close.  The latest tallies have Mr. Suozzi winning by 250 votes, with the 9,000 votes going to Conservative Steven Hansen looming very large for Mr. Mangano and the Republicans.  Mangano said yesterday that 12,000 absentee ballots were sent out in Nassau County, and this, combined with the almost-certain need for a recount, means we will not see a resolution to this today, or likely even tomorrow.

One thing is for certain: Tom Suozzi, if he wins, would enter his third term a badly-wounded politician who would need to make rapid progress in order to keep his hope for statewide office alive.  I don't believe that there are no second acts in politics, but I believe it will take all of Mr. Suozzi's talents for him to have a second act after this showing.

Hempstead Supervisor

Town of HempsteadImage via Wikipedia
When Kristen McElroy was nominated to run against Kate Murray, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of disaffected Lighthouse supporters ready to donate their time and money toward getting her elected.  Phone calls and emails began pounding Town Hall, and the Town of Hempstead seemed ready to be washed under a tsunami.....
Except it never materialized.  Kate Murray and her crew got the message, suddenly meeting with the developer and attending public meetings on the project.  All forecasts pointed to sunny days, the movement evaporated, and McElroy never recovered.  Her health issues - which were unfortunate and rightly her first priority - did not help matters, as the Democratic Party did not fulfill its duty to prop up the candidate while she was ensuring her health and her child's health.  McElroy mounted a spirited campaign in the last month or so, aided by rabble-rouser extraordinaire Joe "Blow it Out Your Dufflebag" Conte, but it was, as the saying goes, too little, too late.  Murray won a crushing victory, with 65% of the vote (though her margin was smaller than her race against Kevin Gorman 2 years ago).
Chalk it up as proof of Kate Murray's strength in the Town of Hempstead, and the Democratic Party's decision to not run the race as strongly as they could have.

Nassau Legislature

Conventional wisdom said that Suozzi and Murray were safe, and the only vote worth watching was the Nassau Legislature, which the Democrats held by a slim 10-9 majority and seemed ripe for plucking by Republicans.  We expected drama, and we have it.

Legis. Jeffrey Toback (D-Oceanside) was defeated by challenger Howard Kopel, giving the Republican Party a seeming majority in the Legislature.  Legis. David Mejias (D-Farmingdale), who represents a very Republican district and has been elected by less than 300 votes in each of his last 2 attempts, is hanging on by a thread, currently up by 50 votes with all precincts reporting.

Last night, Joe Mondello declared victory, claiming his Republicans now control the Nassau Legislature.  If only Toback fell, the margin would be 10-9, with an 11-8 majority in the cards if Mejias also falls to challenger Joseph Belesi.

However, the Republican majority should not be guaranteed if Mejias prevails, because there is a potential complication for Mr. Mondello's crew....

Wild Card

....and her name is Legis. Denise Ford.  Ford is a registered Democrat from a very liberal district who has nonetheless caucused with the Republican minority during her time in the Legislature.  Ford often "crosses the aisle" to vote with the Democrats on major issues, though she is not a reliable vote for either party.  She ran unopposed this year, on all party lines, and The Community Alliance reports that Ford has said previously she would not support Legis. Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) as Majority Leader of the Legislature.

This begs the question: if only Legis. Toback is defeated, would the Democrats offer a plum such as Majority Leader or Presiding Officer for Ford to caucus with them and retain their majority?  It would be some interesting drama, something often missing in local politics.

General Impressions

Turnout was pathetically small in this election, with Republicans motivated to turn out and many Democrats motivated to stay home.  On the whole, I sensed an anti-incumbent air for the countywide election, with residents rightly upset about the high tax burdens and the terrible state of the economy.

However, much of the anger seemed misplaced, and I would not call this an endorsement of Republican ideas.  School taxes, which are set by local governments, make up over 60% of the crushing taxes we pay here on Long Island, compared to 16% or so from Nassau County.  Even a 25% cut in county taxes, assuming a $10,000 yearly property tax, would save about $400.  This is not a small number, but 4% of much too high is still much too high.  Local governments need to be on board with the cuts, and we need more of a motivation to do things as an Island rather than local Towns and villages - this is the only way we will ever achieve economies of scale and actually have a chance to lower taxes.

Republicans won many elections simply by criticizing the ruling Democrats, and dissatisfaction was high enough to propel them to victory.  This is not new; after the Gulotta administration the Democrats (under Suozzi) swept to power largely as a reaction to the failure of the Republicans.  However, if the majority in the Legislature holds, and if Mr. Mangano is indeed our new County Executive, Republicans will now have to govern, and governing is not the same animal as campaigning.  Voters will not hesitate to change back if they believe their needs are not being met.

Lighthouse Implications

I'm sure this is the main question many of you are asking this morning, and in all truth it can go either way, and it is too early to say for sure.

Charles Wang and the Lighthouse got themselves involved in the political fray at times, appearing with Tom Suozzi and letting Kristen McElroy make campaign appearances at Nassau Coliseum, and this could cause issues if the newly-empowered Republicans want to exact their pound of flesh.  Legis. Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), who may be the new Majority Leader, has been heavily critical of the Lighthouse Project in recent history, slamming the lease to which Suozzi and the developers agreed in principle as a bad deal for the County and coming out strongly against any attempts to "sell" the County's land.  We know Joe Mondello and Al D'Amato have their roles, and if Tom Suozzi is still the County Executive, with a Republican Legislature, it could spell gridlock in Mineola.

On the other hand, this could be the final wake-up call to all parties that, as Ed Mangano said to me last week, ensuring Long Island's future and making sure the Lighthouse gets done is not a partisan issue.  The need to deal with both political parties on the County level, plus the Republicans in the Town of Hempstead, could be the final impetus for all sides to reach an agreement that is in the best interests of the parties and the people they are paid to represent.

Until the dust settles, we will not know the full story.  This was not the best day for those of us who favor the Lighthouse Project, but it is far from the worst.  Politicians from the Town and County will need to work with the Lighthouse to ensure a project is built, and that does not change if the politicians sitting in the seats change.

It is clear that the Town of Hempstead is uncomfortable with the size and scope of the project as proposed, and it is also now clear that Islanders fans/Lighthouse supporters had no discernible impact on the election.  This will embolden politicians, and it will force Charles Wang to either come to the table or find another option.

Moving Forward

The Lighthouse is not quite hanging in the balance, but its future is unclear.  We will know much more in the coming days, as the dust settles and our elected/re-elected officials turn their attention from campaigning to governing.

I will be gone for most of today, but I will be monitoring the news, and I will report anything new.  Check the Nassau County Board of Elections and the Long Island Press for more information.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook.

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  1. With both parties running pro-lighthouse, I think that people didnt know who the hell to vote for if they were "pro".

    As far as the turnout goes, I am not surprised but am nontheless disgusted with the voters of Long Island.

  2. Nick, great article. The exit polls from NJ & VA clearly showed those races were not a referendum on the President. Corzine's job approval numbers were in the 30's. Its tough to win with those numbers. Corzine promised to lower prop taxes & obviously they went up. The Dem VA candidate ran a horrible campaign. The Nassau democrats should have replaced McElroy & ran a tough campaign against Murray. I believe it would take 1.5- 2 million dollars to defeat Murray & her machine. This is why the Dems don't have a chance to win the Supervisor seat.

  3. The next act is CW submitting (or not submitting) his desire to develop the available property in Willits Point. That will be the next significant moment.

  4. What a joke. Long Island once again fails at epic proportions. This is why I'm happy I don't live there anymore cause nothing seems to change at all. If kate murray and her minions kill the lighthouse project, you people of Long Island will also have to take some blame for putting that sea cow back in power for another 2 years.

  5. NYDan - thanks for the comment, and the compliment. I realize now that my initial wording was a bit awkward; I agree with you that Corzine and Deeds were destined to lose because one was unpopular and the other was an awful campaigner....that doesn't mean as much for the President as the congressional elections will next year. As for the Town of Hempstead....McElroy never caught on as a candidate.

    Anon - we all need to get off the Willets Point stuff. BD and myself are working on some stuff that will throw a little cold water in the face of everyone thinking that Queens is a slam dunk.

    Anthony - it sucks, but the cold hard truth is that the Lighthouse Project was not a galvanizing issue for many people. They were content to blame Tom Suozzi for tax rates he doesn't set (the school taxes), and since town services were still being provided most just reflexively voted for Kate.

    It's clear now what would have to be done to topple an incumbent as entrenched as Murray - either a scandal, a massive fundraising push, or a galvanizing issue.

    Stay tuned for more posts in the coming days about this issue. Ironically, one-party rule might be the best thing for all involved.

  6. Long Island sucks and as a 26 year old I have no desire to move back anymore. I am content on living in North Jersey or moving to NYC. Far more to do for folks between 25-35 years old. As for the LH Project, it would be a wonderful thing for Long Island, it is a shame it is in political hell and shows no signs of coming out. As for the Islanders, it has gotten to the point where this team would be so much better off in Queens. Pro sports teams belong within city limits, and if you look soley at the Islanders, they should not be held hostage by a real estate deal or Long Island politics. Go to Willets Point.

  7. Listen, Anon - the hockey fans in all of us want a solution for the New York Islanders that will keep them where they belong. I'm not saying that Queens shouldn't be an option; it just frustrates the hell out of me that so many people blithely say "go to Queens" without the slightest understanding that this isn't some slam dunk.

    First of all, I don't see the team as being held hostage by a real estate development at all. This was the only way to get it done without public funding, as I now proved twice, with real numbers and research on the blog.

    Second, I hope you saw my interview with Ed Mangano where he repeatedly endorsed the Lighthouse Project. The Project is politicized, but that's partly because the Republicans in Hempstead and the Democrats in Nassau could blame each other rather than actually doing something to move the thing forward. A County and Town controlled by the same party no longer have that excuse, and it's all down to will we get it done or not.

    Third of all, Queens is just not a slam dunk, nor is Brooklyn. Charles Wang has repeatedly spoken about how long the project has taken; do you really think he would want to submit a bid he might not win somewhere else and wait another 5 years for ground-breaking? Besides, the city wouldn't provide any new subsidies, especially after the anger from the new baseball stadiums. This would be trading land deal for land deal. Queens has a higher profile, an embattled mayor, a Chamber of Commerce person who spouts off about the Islanders to get attention, and local opposition that make our friends at the Eastern Property Owners' Association look like child's play.

    I just hope we can move forward with our eyes open. As I said, BD and I are both working on a lot of material related to this, so please stay tuned for that.

  8. I don't think Queens is a slam dunk, but the LHP is dead. What are the alternatives? No fan, no blogger can put cold water on Willets Point. Until the Isles are in Quebec, Willets Point remains the only option. The LHP is a pipe dream...unless CWB negotiates, which of course he won't.

  9. Nick - My name is Mike, I am the first Anon to post not the 2nd (I can't firgue out how to post my name). I am a big supporter of the LH Project, don't get me wrong on that. I just feel for the Islanders sake, they would be much better off in Queens. They are closer to NYC, close to mass transit (how the Coliseum was built without it is a mystery),etc. In no ways do I think it is a slam dunk but IMO if the Islanders did wind up in Queens they would be alot better off in the long run then they would be in Uniondale.

  10. Hi Mike - glad to meet you. Honestly, as a hockey fan, if the Lighthouse falls through I hope Queens is more serious about luring them than they've acted so far. In the meantime, the current project (which, as I'll elaborate in later pieces), the owner seems to overwhelmingly favor, isn't dead, and I've heard a lot of things about Queens that lead me to believe it's not as simple as many people who are tired of this saga hope it is. I hope there is a good resolution here.

  11. So, am I crazzy for still believing the Lighthouse Project will get done in the end.

  12. hi Nick. I emailed you previously, but i dont think i got a reply, so i'm trying your blog.
    I just had a really dumb question that i'm asking out of all seriousness. If there are so many for this project, including people in the govt positions and citizens, why isn't this getting a go? Which are the actual groups that are opposing this project? Thank You.

  13. PK - not a dumb question, and I am very sorry. Last week was crazy for me ("real life" calling at every turn), and I had a few emails (including yours) I resolved to answer to day.

    The project is largely supported by citizens, labor unions, elected officials, and the like, but unfortunately it's not that simple. The opposition has come from a scattering of people and groups in and around the local area, but nothing that should at this point derail things. The big reason this hasn't gone through yet is because we are in a state-mandated environmental review process that hasn't finished yet. Once that is squared away we can move into the meat of negotiations (lease) and ultimately get an answer (re-zoning).

    The Lighthouse chart on the bottom of the main page is a great place to start - it shows what needs to be done between where we are now and where we want to be (shovels in the ground).

    New post coming tonight - I will out-nerd myself in discussing exactly what's up with the Lighthouse Project as things currently stand.