Sunday, January 10, 2010

The New Narrative is Developing

This story is late in coming because I was in Boston at the outdoor college hockey game between Boston University and Newton University - I'm sorry, Boston College - at Fenway Park.  My beloved alma mater won 3-2, and nobody froze to death.  It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life as a sports fan, and I thank you for understanding.  

We've all heard the comments by now - Kate Murray addressed the Long Island Board of Realtors on Thursday, mentioning the Lighthouse Project more extensively than anyone from the Lighthouse itself has since October.  The Supervisor compared the density to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and she intimated that, with the inauguration of Ed Mangano as County Executive, there was a new, pro-scaling-down Sheriff in town.  This is a clear indication of the new narrative that is taking hold in 2010, and a precarious point for the Lighthouse negotiations.

Fuzzy Math

One little point - according to demographic data, the Supervisor is playing with some serious fuzzy statistics.  According to the 2000 Census, the Upper West Side (the third most-dense neighborhood in New York City) had 207,699 residents in 2.11 square miles, a density of around 98,000 people per square mile.  The Lighthouse is proposing 2400 residential units in an area roughly .25 square miles.  Assuming 4 residents per unit (that may be an over-estimation), you get 9600 residents and 38,400 residents per square mile, or almost 1/3 the density.*  I didn't realize the 2 numbers were equal - as those commercials say, THANK YOU KATE MURRAY!

*1 square mile = 640 acres.  Therefore, the 150 acres of proposed development would actually come to .234 square miles.  I rounded for the purpose of calculation.

Political Background

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After witnessing the complete no-show at the polls in November, I can't help but come to one simple conclusion: our movement peaked too early, and I share some blame for that.  In March we (and many connected Republicans) were talking up Kate Murray as a challenger to Tom Suozzi for the County Executive position, since the Republicans' hold on the Town of Hempstead seemed secure.  Just as the Town of Hempstead became more receptive to the project due to your passion and dedication, they also seemed to want to hold Kate Murray in a seat that now appeared vulnerable.  Ed Mangano, a good, capable, but unknown politician who seemed outside the traditional machine, was nominated, and many in his own party declined to give him a chance.  Kate Murray ended up winning re-election in a landslide, and Ed Mangano rode a wave of anti-incumbent feelings and anger over taxes into the big office in Mineola.

Republicans are united, the Town of Hempstead's rhetoric is becoming more fierce, and you may have to wonder if the Lighthouse Project and its supporters will pay the price for, in essence, causing Kate Murray to stay in her current job.

Implications Going Forward

Seinfeld first explored the concept of "hand" - meaning the upper hand - in a relationship, and, right now, politicians have all the hand in the Lighthouse negotiations.  This is exactly why I believe the media blackout has been a terrible mistake.  The Lighthouse has stayed silent, allowing the Town of Hempstead to become more sharp in its rhetoric, and causing the support base to fracture under the weight of misinformation and unproductive arguing about other options.  At this point, the Lighthouse has completely lost control of the public debate, and it is hurting the ultimate cause.

At the same time, the Town of Hempstead seems to be out for revenge after the Lighthouse and now-former County Executive Suozzi used them as a pinata for the most part of 2009.  The Lighthouse and Mr. Suozzi criticized Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead for dragging their feet on the project, even though the Town is not solely responsible for the delays.  This has led to the Town digging in, calling Charles Wang a "bully" to B.D. Gallof and complaining about every little slight.  One source was even upset that Mr. Wang did not call Kate Murray after the election to congratulate her on her victory, and tried to make that symbolic of a greater issue with the man.  The Town's dislike of Mr. Wang seems personal, and they clearly feel the tables have turned with Ed Mangano in office.

At the same time, Mangano is the first Republican County Executive in decades who did not rise from the traditional Town of Hempstead Republican machine.  He seems less beholden to some of the classic bosses, including Joe "Blow It Out Your Dufflebag" Mondello, and he repeatedly stressed his support for the project in interviews with me and News 12 Interactive (hat tip to the readers who told me about that).  It may be premature for Murray and her cronies to assume the Mangano camp is wholly in support of their new tactics because of the (R) next to his name.

One thing is clear - the political landscape has changed, and some in the Town are promising that this is only the opening shot.  They have promised to examine everything about the project, including the supposedly "sweetheart deal" of the lease that Mr. Suozzi signed with the Lighthouse on October 1.  New times, indeed.

Bottom Line

These are the same stories we have been hearing since October, the last time the Lighthouse and Town are confirmed to have met each other to discuss the project.  It's clear that size and scope are the main objections to the Town, and even though I wholeheartedly support the project as proposed, I realized a long time ago that there will need to be negotiations if this project ever hopes to become reality.

The sides are far apart, with Town of Hempstead sources discussing a reduction of up to 35%, something that could render the project not worth doing, and sources and other outlets close to Charles Wang floating a number closer to 10%.  Both sides seem to have dug in their heels rather than offering to meet in the middle, which has kept us at this impasse.

We first heard these numbers in October, from my friend B.D. Gallof.  We're now here, on January 10, talking about the same things, and the Town of Hempstead is still clinging to an argument that was long ago disproven by just about every objective measure.

3 months, and zero progress.  That's not good for anybody.

At this point, we need to re-visit the mediation option that has previously been offered by John Cameron of the Long Island Regional Planning Council.  Both sides have devolved the debate into a tit-for-tat about who insulted whom, and the focus has gone away from what I believe is an unassailable fact: Long Island desperately needs the new direction the Lighthouse Project can provide.  Maybe Mangano, who promised to be a uniting force after 8 years of the hyper-partisan Suozzi, could best serve the people by laying low and trying to get the two sides to forge a compromise.

The Lighthouse, without the cover of PR and community outreach that allowed it to build such unprecedented levels of support, only has three options in its fight to regain Hand: they can either wait and hope the politicians in Hempstead overplay their hand, openly flirt with other options (Brooklyn chief among them), or give in (the least likely option).

If both sides can't get past every little slight and comment and work toward a common purpose, the people, who again seem an afterthought in this equation, will lose.

The future we need will be gone.

Long Island will lose.

That is not the ending I want to see to this narrative.

Play time is over - how about people start doing their jobs?

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  1. Nick, I am strating to think that this will never get done. Cut off your nose to spite your face politics continues to persist on Long Island and in particular the Town of Hempstead. It's a shame, but it's the reality of the situation.

  2. "...the people, who again seem an afterthought in this equation,..."

    " about people start doing their jobs?"

    That indeed Nick is the Brass Tacks!

  3. I am tired of my hands being tied, but there is absolutely nothing that I can do.

    The waiting and waiting is so- disappointing. :(

  4. Nick- The Town on Hempstead cares more about politics than anything else. I have no faith in Kate Murray & the town board. I'm not hopeful now. Voters need to vote in off elections too. Its really easy to vote on Long Island. Kate won with about 67%, she has no fear from the voters- Very sad..

  5. So millions and millions of dollars are being thrown away, the future of long Island is being postponed, due to the politicians and Wangs, humongous, egos!?!?!?!!!!

    This is EPIC!

  6. I can't agree with you guys more. This whole thing has become a very frustrating experience, and I hope we will find a light at the end of what is turning out to be a long tunnel.

    I'm working right now on an autobiographical post for the site, since I think it's about time I really and truly introduce myself. Look for that tonight or in the morning.