Friday, May 7, 2010

"It All Starts With Al D'Amato"

(Blogger's Note: I didn't doctor this picture at all.  Google "Al D'Amato - this is apparently a real picture of former Sen. D'Amato)

I remember back to the bad old days of 1996-1998, when I was a young Islanders fan who just wanted to see his team get a new arena.  I may not have been as business-oriented as I am now, but I knew that other teams were getting new buildings and the Islanders would probably need one too.

I remembered reading some kind of a political puff piece that spoke about how the will was there to get the Islanders a new building, and that it would happen in short order.  I don't remember who said it - could have been former owner John O. Pickett, could've been a commentator, could've been former County Executive Tom Gulotta - but there is one sentence I remember loud and clear, that summed up the Islanders' favorable position: "It all starts with Al D'Amato in the Senate."

Many have whispered since this blog's inception that Mr. D'Amato was pulling the strings for some unseen political opposition to the Lighthouse Project.  I never saw it, and the former Senator was rarely mentioned save for a Newsday article that claimed a falling out with Charles Wang as a result of Mr. Wang's refusal to hire D'Amato's brother, Armand.

That's all changed as of yesterday, when Mr. D'Amato took to the pages of the LI Herald to criticize the Lighthouse Project and advocate the casino fantasy as a workable solution.

Unfortunately for Mr. D'Amato, there are some holes in his logic.  This in particular is my favorite:
In my opinion, in today’s economy, [a casino on the Coliseum site] makes a lot more sense than the previously proposed Lighthouse Project. For six years, real estate developer Charles Wang, the majority owner of the New York Islanders, has been pressuring elected officials from the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County to authorize this $3.7 billion project.
Mr. D'Amato is a savvy politician, and he is carefully framing this issue in a way that is, in my opinion, not accurate.  Nassau County voted in 2006, by a margin of 16-2 (with current County Executive Ed Mangano in the majority), to name the Lighthouse Development Group the developers of the Coliseum site, fulfilling a vision put forth by former County Executive Tom Suozzi.  Politicians at all levels, from Gov. Paterson to both U.S. Senators to every member of the Long Island congressional delegation (except for my representative, Peter King), have come out in favor of this project.  It is also supported by a record number of citizens.

The Town of Hempstead, according to numerous sources who were familiar with the negotiations at the time, has refused to meet with the Lighthouse to discuss their vision for the site since 2003, citing conflicts of interest that were never there.  This position is of course made more laughable since the Town has now "jump-started" the Lighthouse process and is working on its own competing proposal.  It has long been a position of those opposed to the Lighthouse that this is Charles Wang's whim and he is desperately fighting to get elected officials to buy into his vision.  The facts, including initial conception by Tom Suozzi and prior approval by Nassau County, do not support this assertion.

D'Amato cites the colleges directly adjacent to the Coliseum property (Hofstra University and Nassau Community College) as reasons why the Lighthouse Project should not be built, using the classic bogeyman of traffic.  This would be fine, if not for the fact that a casino would likely bring in more traffic at less regular times of the day.  In addition, as my friend B.D. Gallof reported last week, Gamblers Anonymous has reported large spikes in gambling addiction among college-aged Long Islanders, an issue that would almost certainly be exacerbated by having a large casino literally a stone's throw from college campuses.

To make matters more interesting, D'Amato acknowledges the need for mass transit at the site even if a casino is built, thus provoking the same opposition from communities such as Garden City who would seemingly prefer nothing done with the site than a light rail coming within 300 feet of homes.  In addition, unlike the Lighthouse Project, which is positioned to be an economic catalyst for the region, casinos are largely self-contained and usually result in property values dropping between 10-20% in the surrounding areas.  I can't imagine a scenario in which the neighbors would stand for this.  Mr. D'Amato calls the casino "creative," but let's get real: casinos are the cheapest revenue grab in the book for a government.  Mangano's proposal betrays a stunning lack of creativity and a surprising tone-deafness for the needs of the area.

Mr. D'Amato also fails to acknowledge his own role in the current state of both Nassau Coliseum and the Islanders.  D'Amato is the person who engineered the arena deal with SMG, a deal widely regarded as the worst in sports history, that has bled the County and the Islanders of millions of dollars since its signing.  Mr. D'Amato is also the person who convinced hockey neophyte Charles Wang to purchase the Islanders, citing fan passion and the guarantee of a new arena/Coliseum land development to offset the costs.  It's disingenuous to suggest Mr. D'Amato is merely a concerned observer in this process.

The former Senator also trotted out one of the more popular Town of Hempstead talking points (which is only fitting for a former Town Supervisor): financing...namely, Charles Wang's supposed complete inability to obtain it.  This has been a major talking point since the beginning, with the issue of potential financing from China brought up with sneering derision at the 9/22 re-zoning hearing.

First off, this is a simple economics issue.  As a friend who works in finance told me, Charles Wang could not be blamed for spurning banks that would not provide financing in favor of banks that would.  In addition, why would Charles Wang continue this farce if he wasn't able to gain the financing to do the project?  Why did a source tell me Scott Rechler was incensed at the news of the casino "plan"?  Why isn't the Lighthouse more openly seeking other options?  Why are people connected to the project continuing to insist that things are still on and they are waiting for the Town's response?  It doesn't make any sense.

There's a first time for everything....I agree with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on the financing issue.  If the Town is so convinced that Charles Wang is bluffing and can't get the financing, Green-Light the Lighthouse Project.  Make the Lighthouse prove that they can come through, and place the burden of the project's ultimate success or failure squarely on the shoulders of Wang and partner Scott Rechler.

Interestingly, these aren't my biggest issues with Mr. D'Amato's self-serving piece.  I'm far more concerned with the fact that the former Senator did not disclose information that could help readers better understand his position.  First of all, Mr. D'Amato did not disclose his previous relationship and subsequent falling-out with Charles Wang, something that could absolutely influence his position on the Lighthouse. 

There are other interesting connections.  Mr. D'Amato is Chairman of a pro-poker special interest group called the Poker Players Alliance, which seeks to "protect the rights of poker players."  The former Senator is also reported to have paid Ed Mangano a visit in the County Executive's office around the time of the casino announcement, and representatives from D'Amato's lobbying firm, Park Strategies, have been actively involving themselves in this issue.  Given this information, I think it's fair to ask whether Mr. D'Amato's advocacy for a casino stems from something in addition to the reasons he laid out in his piece.

In the same vein, sources continue to whisper behind the scenes of a deep connection between Mr. D'Amato and the Shinnecock Nation.  We have not been able to confirm or deny these rumors, but they persist, and I will continue to search the back channels for information.  It's important to determine whether the former Senator is merely a concerned citizen, or whether he would stand to gain more deeply from the approval of a casino.

Bottom Line

We have truly entered the silly season now, with odd pieces of information percolating from all sides.  Charles Wang and the Lighthouse continue to be silent, ceding the floor to a suddenly-silent Town of Hempstead and a Nassau County that seems to be living in a state of suspended reality.

Once again, Long Islanders in general, and Islanders fans in particular, are becoming pawns in a tit-for-tat between political and business forces with their own interest.  Mr. D'Amato's self-serving op-ed represents his first true emergence from the shadows and adds him to the silliness that is emanating from Ed Mangano of late and the Town of Hempstead since, well....forever.

Long Island will lose if we leave these individuals in charge of our future.  We are and should be the final voice for these matters, and we must take a stand to re-assert our belief in the Lighthouse Project, our rejection of this casino fantasy, and the ultimate potential of Long Island's future.


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  1. When will someone with a connection call a newspaper and break a story on how these middleman have their hands in everything? Someone should put al on the hot seat and ask him questions he doesn't want to answer? Enough already.. These clowns need to be called out in public!!!

  2. "...there are some holes in his logic."

    the logic is to be found in who prospers. a full green light for the wang/rech plan would have meant they had say over who did the design, demolition, construcion, carting. hundreds of millions in contracts.

    someone saw they were going miss out on that bonanza. therein lies the logic of where this is.
    mmmm. i wonder who they were.

  3. Nick:

    I'm very surprised that you didn't see D'Amato's and Mondello's as the powers behind the throne. We talked frequently and I often told you that this has been common knowledge for decades.

    It is nice to think things should be done right and the voters should have the final say, but that is not reality.

    D'Amato/Mondello/Murray knew Wang was never going to get the zoning approval. All of the meeting etc wre just eye wash.

    The final decision as to what happens to the LH & the Islanders will be made by Mondello and D'Amato who will (probably have) tell Murray what to do.

    the 7th Man

  4. Good post Nick. Unfortunatly, nothing we say or do will change Long Island and its politics. As a 27yr old living in NJ now, I really have no desire to ever move back to LI. What really pisses me off besides the idiots in office is the toal silence for Wang and Rechler. At this point, I cannot fathom any man not looking at outside options at this point. If Charles is looking at Queens, Brooklyn, or hell evey out of state then just let us know. Let me know, if I should continue to invest money in a lame duck franchise. Any fan will tell you that as far back at the 80's it has never been about hockey for this team. It has always been about LI politics and real estate. The Islanders were lookign for a news building as far back as 1992 if you remember, well here we are in 2010 still playing in this dump. Something tells me that when 2015 rolls around the Coliseum will still be there but the Isles won't be. Lets pray they are somewhere else locally.


  5. This is why nothing of note will ever get done on Long Island again, too many thieves with their hands out. Murray is an idiot and a liar, D'amato is a crooked politician and a liar and Mangano is a moron. The deepest recession in history, the highest taxed county in the country (or thereabouts)all time high unemployment and the powers that be have so far refused a project that will create tens upon tens of thousands of private sector construction jobs, nineteen thousand permanet jobs, help alleviate local taxes, help two economically depressed school districts all done without a penny of taxpayer money and the reason its not built much less started is what? Wang should give them all a big F U and move the team, thats what I would do.

  6. The more things change, the more they stay the same on Long Island. This whole thing stinks.

  7. again I say verrryyyy Intersting....and not in a good way. If D'Amato and company were going to make a power play of this why a casino?!?!? As you basically stated in your piece it doesn't make sense. All of the negatives of the LHP would be there and there is the additional problem of the college kids gambling...particularly with that eye-opening statement about gambling addiction being on the rise.

    Try a new power play Nassau Repubs.


  8. Your piece is excellent, Nick.
    This situation however is purely disgusting.

    I have known LI's crooked and shady reputation for a long time... but I cannot BELIEVE the depths to which we citizens allow these people to sink. I cant stand it, and I cannot stand knowing no way to expose this kind of corrupt backwards thinking for the undemocratic garbage that it is.

  9. Just saw that Scott Rechler has made a BIG land purchase, Nick. What do you think this move means for the LH?

  10. Well, all I hope is that the Islanders go to Brooklyn or Queens, win the cup, bring it back to Nassau and smash the cup in the faces of Al D'Amato and Tom Gulotta. Wasn't Gulotta the county executive that rammed through the SMG agreement that left Islanders little to no revenue for 3 decades?

  11. Excellent article. I found a petition against the Casino proposal sponsored by a North Merrick Civic group.

  12. Im not signing that petition because it does not specifically state that it is pro-lighthouse project and says that the development they want "should" keep its sports team (not even mentioning the Islanders by name) instead of saying that they NEED or MUST do so.

    I think that a petition that specifically states that the LH is what the majority of residents want (which has been demonstrated in unbiased polls) would be much better.

  13. Good conversation everyone. I share your anger and frustration.

    7th Man - by "never saw it" I was speaking literally. There was never any overt action that tied D'Amato beyond any shadow of a doubt until now. We've done a bit of digging - and this story will get worse.

    TMC - I don't think it will have any impact, because RXR likely pursues many business deals and will seek separate finacning for any proposals. I wouldn't read into it in either direction.

    I also agree that it's not wise to simply sign a No Casino petition - a Yes Lighthouse and No Casino petition is best for our causes. More on this in an upcoming new post - there are a few factors that influence how deeply we can go into attacking this proposal.

    If I were Charles Wang I would've lost patience a long time ago and it'll be interesting to see what he does now (this ties into the previous point). The one thing said here I truly disagree with is that we can't do anything to stop it. It's crazy - we all know our elected officials are shady but it almost seems like we accept it as a cost of doing business. It doesn't have to be.

  14. The one thing said here I truly disagree with is that we can't do anything to stop it. It's crazy - we all know our elected officials are shady but it almost seems like we accept it as a cost of doing business. It doesn't have to be.

    I totally agree with what you're saying Nick. It has gotten to the point where the Politicians are clearly transparent in their corruption. How is it possible that there hasn't been a revolt over this? All this shadiness is at our expense. Not just Islander fans but any taxpayer in Nassau/TOH/etc. is being made a fool. How do we continue to allow this?

  15. Derek, when there time come's REMEMBER IN NOVEMBER, aall kidding a side this is a freaking joke.Like one of the other post said this has been going on Pre-Wang. I think 1992 is fair starting point 18 year's what a waste of time these power's that be have drag this on way to long. All the other pro team's have gotten new building's and the Rag's are on the second refurb of MSG. What have they done to NVMC hmm let me think oh yeah waterless urinal's in the mens room, boy oh boy now THATS an improvement. For those that have seen pix or have been in the Isles L/room it look's the same as it did 25 year's ago, now wonder we can't get free agent's to sign here. let's ghet this thing in gear and get er done.

  16. i just read the d'amato piece in the LI herald re: the site/LH/casino.

    twisted as it may be, and i guess hypocritical on my part - given my personal take on the old guard repub machine politics, bullyism, and worse - i think the idea has a certain shrewdness and resourcefullness that's hard to challenge.
    the idea is so out of left field at this late date, and seemingly so bizarre in the context of anything discussed until now, it just may work.
    who knows what wang, murray and the G.C. 'not in my neighborhood' human impediments think about it, and nevermind the real motivations here (if that's what it takes), this might work. and given the circumstances, it may just be something that can actually get done.

  17. ANy one remember when big Al skirted the Zoning laws in Long Beach to improve his house and subsequently, against all legal procedure, got a retro active variance. Long Beach is in TOH and Al is the TOH puppeteer

  18. How about Al's involvement with the Roosevelt Raceway. He pushed a public bond to "save" the horse track and local jobs. His buddy's purchased it and then ran it into the ground and said we can't make the track profitable. Then in turn made a huge profit selling of the land. Big Al has a very checkered past.

  19. it IS "checkered" to say the least. LI politics has always been very much like chicago politics. subverted by nefarious non-elected influences at best, blatantly corrupt and cutthroat (literally) at worst, to the detriment of the community. but this is the islanders - and i know that's easy for me to say, as i'm a levittown native now in park slope, brooklyn near AY)and not burdened as many on this site are by local LI issues and problems. and i still wish an ideal scenario will somehow rise from the ashes and save the LH plan, but i'm resolved that it's unlikely now, to say the least, and if i bastardize my own supposed principles on this one particular issue - the team i grew up with and love whose departure would break my heart - i'll live with that. so be it. the self-shame and disapointment really would be worth it to me if the team stayed.

  20. As everyone who was around when D'Amato oozed up from his Town office, slimed Jacob Javits, and "served" 3 terms in the Senate knows, the D'Amato brothers were as crooked as they come. This all comes as no surprise to me. He must be proud of all of the Republicans in Nassau County and the TOH living his legacy.

  21. So why do our crooked Republican Politicians stay in power election after election? What does that say about the people of TOH. Sad.

  22. Well, perhaps Wang and Rechler have given up in their bid to stay in Nassau. According to the link below, Wang has been recently discussing about possible relocation to Queens.

  23. What is it going to take to get LI'ers to actually pay attention and take interest in this corruption???

  24. Steve, I read that this morning, and while it's important to note that any conversations have been "exploratory," which isn't a done deal, I'm glad this came out. Honestly I'd be more concerned if that conversation never happened.

    My biggest concern with a Queens solution has always been the 29 other developers and the already organized and funded opposition to doing something at Willets Point. It seemed like Charles Wang would have to go back to square 1, and it could have easily become another Lighthouse-style odyssey. If having the Mets on their side could lead this to a happy ending more quickly, I love the concept as a substitute for the Lighthouse. Honestly, if there's no Lighthouse I can't see the Islanders staying in Nassau County, and at that point I become strictly a hockey fan, only concerned with the team staying in the area.

    As for everyone else, it's charitable to say former Sen. Pothole has a "checkered" past in politics. He's been involved in many shady dealings, though watch for something later in the week that makes things much much worse for Mr. D'Amato (won't be published here, but I'll follow on....we're actually trying to alert political shows and such of this as well, if anyone has a connection to some cable news producers). As I've said before, we shouldn't accept corruption or shady dealings as a cost of doing business on Long Island. It's up to US to stop this.

    Also, day1...I agree with you that they could actually be crazy enough to build a casino. That's why I'm taking it so seriously.

  25. Nick,

    Please say that you have something good on this corrupt bastard.

    If need be, I have a bit of a hookup at 10/55 news.

  26. Nick, I agree with you, we shouldn't accept this corruption and shady dealings as a cost of doing business on Long island but its been going on for so long. What the heck can we do to stop it? As day1fan mentioned, the corruption has become so blatant and transparent but Long Islanders seem blind to it.

  27. With the Wilpons in the fold it looks like the Islanders will be saved. Not that there was any ever doubt that Brooklyn or Queens were where the Isles were going to play, but it would've been nice to see LI put up a fight.

  28. Thanks for the piece.

    New York has the worst politicians in the far.

  29. I think Nassau County Republicans are more corrupt than NYC politicians based on the way how those NC Reps are dealing with the Islanders. ALso, I think there is a chance that Rechler may no longer be involved with Wang in the Lighthouse project. According to this article, a source claimed that Rechler was incensed at the casino plan, but wang was absent. Also, it's been said Wang, but not Rechler, has been talking with the Wilpons.

  30. the queens talk seems to be becoming more prevalent. even bloomie joined the discussion, saying (to paraphrase slightly) 'if it isn't just maneuvering by the owner of the team "out there," of course we'd love to have them, the more teams in new york the better'

    if bloomie gets involved at all, this is gonna happen and happen fast. the man gets stuff done. and the more i think about it, the more i like it. i still like the brooklyn scenario best, for selfish reasons, as i live down the block, but absent that, a new arena right next to citifield and across from the national tennis center would be great. then if they develop deftly around the site - letting wang quench at least part of his developer's thirst - it could be an awesome scenario. awesome.
    if that's the way they go, once it gets going, it's gonna go fast. it has to, they must get out of the dump in murrayville.
    and of course if it does happen, kate and all those assclowns out there will be left to wallow in their own swamp of decline and be forever known as those who presided over the final rotting of their own community. and good for them. they deserve it, bad as i feel for all the residents who want better. it is my 'home town' also.

  31. No we should NOT accept corruption and shady dealings as part of Long Island just because its been this way for so long. But like so many have asked, what can we do to stop it? Ive GONE to meetings. I have written letters. I have handed out flyers. Ive voted pro-Lighthouse at the ballot box- and wrote to the TOH to explain my vote. Ive worn my Lighthouse hat out from wearing it so often. I even have a three-foot "LI Needs The Lighthouse" sign in my apartment window.

    I do not know what to do, but I really want to do something. I cant believe in America in 2010 how the will of the people can be so blatantly disregarded.

  32. Metal Chick, I share your passion but Im baffled by how these "so called" public servants can get away with doing nothing but serving themselves. Nobody seems to mind except people like us who have been paying attention to this saga. What can can we do, revolt???Americans fight for what they believe in and so many people have died for the American way of life and thats what we need to do

  33. The problem is the majority of the population could care less about what happens around the town.
    Think about this. TOH has a population of over 700,000 people. 82,265 voted for Murray, 44,530 voted for McElroy. Where the F. was everyone else. To think that around 10% of the population spoke for the whole.
    To give you a response TMC and 21, corruption will continue for as long as these politicians want because the majority are too stupid, lazy, and self-absorbed to care what happens around them.

  34. Derek, true, thats the cold hard reality.

  35. metal check - i don't mean to come off as presuming to lecture here, but i think all those efforts you mention are fine - they certainly cannot hurt the cause and are legitimate contibutions by a resident, taxpayer and voter in expressing frustation and disdain at the status quo. but getting that message in the right way to those in a position to do really do something about it is key. the problem is they are few and far between, but there are some out there, and if there is real shenanigans going on (which there is)and it's presented to them in the right way, action will be initiated. it hasn't happened yet, and that is somewhat disappointing. it used to be this was the domain of the 'the press' but clearly there is no real "press" anymore covering this issue. the closest i've seen to that is evan weiner of the examiner. the supposed 'press' on LI is now comprised of weak minded and/or incompetent and amateurish pseudo "journalists" afraid and/or incapable of flushing out this issue and its roots. that leaves it up to those in places like the DA's office, andrew cuomo's office, and possibly even the u.s. attorney's office. when credible suspicion of betrayal of public trust issues and/or "shady" dealing is presented to the right people in the right way, there are still those will act. maybe for their own reasons, but they will act. this hasn't happened here yet and it's hard to figure exactly why. what's gone on is definitely more than a routine and legitimiate dispute between private business interests and government officials over a development project intended to benefit the community.

  36. Youre not lecturing at all. I agree that the things I/we have done are good but that we need "to get the message in the right way to those in a position to do really do something about it." The problem is that SAYING that is fine and all well & good, but what do you do to actually DO that? That is my point. What do we DO?

  37. one suggestion would be direct phone calls - by as many who care as possible - to the AG's local office at 200 old country rd in mineola. the asst AG in charge there is a lady named ms. singleton i believe. when citizens call and present themselves credibly - for example to voice concerns about the actions of public officials ( and former public officials and others)re: public trust issues - sometimes they listen. obviously they aren't in the dark about what we're talking about, but sometimes ambitious people are prompted to action by simple phone calls from constiuents. ask if anyone there is aware of and/or interested in the web of 'behind the scenes' activities in this MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR DEAL. it may be they don't have anything concrete enough to act on, or even that this mess is way too big for them to even deal with, but it can't hurt and possibly may even prompt some sort of action.

  38. one caviat, we can't know if anything actually illegal is going on in the LH dealings specifically. what we're talking about is the overall environment of sleaze and shady dealing that's gone on forever on LI and especially when big dough is involved, as in this deal. that's what i mean about the thing possibly being too big.

  39. Nick, you once said that if TOH finds out Wang negotiates with Queens, they will never accept it. Do you still believe this is still the case?

  40. Derek, you have a connection at channel 55 news? Great! I know birds in the PARK that have more influence than those people. Get real.

  41. "Get real"? TV55 has more influence than, say, posting negative anonymous blog comments.


    Might want to read this...

  43. Apparently newsday had an article dated May 26 that Rechler and Wang met Mangano

    Does anyone know if the negotiations are still going on?

  44. Is there any news on when the town's plan is going be released


  45. I'm not really concerned on when or even if they ever release the new zoning plan. Charlie isn't going to agree with plan anyway. I'm just waiting & watching for Willets Point or Belmont Park or even Uniondale. Rechler can buy the Isles & build the LHP.

  46. Dos this blog still exist? helloooooooooooo?

  47. The blog exists....the blogger has been hideously busy and hopes to actually write out the new post he sketched in a notebook tonight.