Thursday, June 2, 2011

Special Comment: Banish the Underpants Gnomes

Hat tip to Matt C. for first mentioning this analogy, which is so perfect I cry myself to sleep at night for not thinking of it first (not really, but you get the idea...).

Blogger's Note: As with all special comments, I think it's better when there's more commenting and discussion going on.  This is my view and I always welcome yours.

EDIT: So remember that whole thing I wrote in here about letting innuendo take over and some people will never believe it doesn't raise taxes. Um, yea....about that.....

The Underpants Gnomes have to be one of the funniest and most random characters to come out of the South Park series. For those who do not know the backstory, the Underpants Gnomes are fabled creatures whom Tweek, the overly caffeinated kid that drives all the other kids crazy, claims come in the middle of the night to steal his underpants.  Nobody believes Tweek, who becomes increasingly stressed out about the situation, until one night he's pulling an all-nighter with Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny, and the gnomes show up.

After some cajoling, one gnome who stays behind takes the boys to the gnomes' headquarters and explains their business plan for world domination:

If you didn't/couldn't watch the video, or if you'd just like to see it again, the gnomes have a business plan that contains three phases:

Phase 1: Collect Underpants
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit!

Does this sound familiar?  It should.  This same business plan seems to be the hallmark of the two major post-Lighthouse proposals from Ed Mangano: the casino plan and the original announcement of the areener referendum.

Before this past Tuesday, as I've said, I was last at the county seat last July, which is ironic because that was the week when the heat index topped 110.  I guess it's a rule that my recent trips to the county seat have to be in stifling heat.....But anyway, I was with a few other community leaders to share concerns with the plan to put a casino at Nassau Coliseum, which was clearly a non-starter from the beginning.  Everyone knew Belmont was the better site, and I'm glad that it's gone that way.  When we asked for details of the casino plan, we were informed there wasn't a plan, just an Excel spreadsheet with rough revenue projections, with no consideration of costs or explanation where the numbers in that spreadsheet came from.

Phase 1: Announce Casino Plan
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit!

(Blogger's Note: What's interesting is that a Nassau County representative floated the possibility of a bond issue to replace Nassau Coliseum at that time, and my reaction was almost incredulous.  I never thought this would happen....and I never claimed to be right about everything)

We saw it again in May, when Ed Mangano, Charles Wang, and Kate Murray appeared together to announce a $400 million bond issue to pay for a new Coliseum (again, the proper term is "areener") and a minor league baseball stadium at the Mitchell Field complex.  When people asked for details, it did not initially seem that the group had any intention of publishing them in advance of asking the voters and legislature of Nassau County to approve it.

Phase 1: Announce Special Election
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Profit!

The underpants gnomes would be proud.

Mangano has wisely backtracked from this initial position, and he now promises that an agreement will be signed with Charles Wang and released by the middle of June.

This is a welcome step, but it comes at a costly, and perhaps fatal, price.

By not having the details ready at the outset, Mangano has created a negative impression of the project, opened up a line of attack from critics (and people who might just oppose him), and he's repeating the old mistake of the Lighthouse by allowing rumor and innuendo to take the place of indisputable facts.  At this point, much like the birther issue and conspiracy theories, there will be some people who will believe this referendum imposes a tax on Nassau residents, regardless of what the final numbers say.  That is not good for the prospects of a vote to pass in a low-turnout election; residents will show up if they think they're keeping taxes down.

It was clear from Tuesday's vote that Democrats who voted against the timing of the special election wanted to send Mangano a message more than anything.  I surmised as much when they asked for the caucus break right before voting, and I was right as all Democrats except Legis. Dave Denenberg voted against scheduling the election August 1.  By not having the details, Mangano provided an easy line of attack and gave the Democrats leverage to demand more should the vote pass (remember, approving the bond issue requires a supermajority, so Mangano will need the Democrats to have this signed, sealed, and delivered).

However, the lack of details also did something else: it's invited increased scrutiny on those details once they are released to the public.  I think a source close to Mr. Wang is right in saying that some will find fault with the numbers regardless of what they say, but at this point the negotiations have the impression of being rushed, and the numbers will be examined with increased scrutiny, especially by the legislature and NIFA.

In my opinion, the details, when they are released, should have the following data points in there:
  • What is the level of revenue-sharing to pay the debt service?
  • What scenarios would need to take place to pay the debt service in full every year?
  • What assumptions were made to reach these numbers?
  • What happens if an event, such as another NHL lockout in 2012, depresses the revenue-generating capability of the new areener?
  • Who is responsible for cost overruns? (Charles Wang has already committed to cover these, but it needs to be said loudly and more frequently)
  • Will a scaled-down development be a part of this arrangement?  If so, would revenue from that site also contribute to the debt service?
  • If development is included, and another developer is selected, would that developer be bound to the same arrangement?
  • Will Nassau County have a franchise in place before the minor league ballpark is built?  What happens if that plan is later changed?
  • All contracts supposedly must be approved by the county - How exactly are those approved and what are the qualifications to get something approved?
  • Does the county have a plan to cover the cost of the election should Charles Wang not agree to cover all costs, regardless? (More on this later)
Moving Forward

I'm glad that Ed Mangano is moving away from the Underpants Gnomes Theory of Governance, but simply pivoting from his old position is not enough to salvage this.  Details must come soon, and they must be complete enough to satisfy both watchful citizens and that Sword of Damocles known as NIFA.

Charles Wang and the Lighthouse group made a mistake by not getting further out in front of issues previously, and they allowed the project to die over rumor, innuendo, and intransigent TOH nonsense. 

This cannot happen again.

If the revenue-sharing numbers work for both Charles Wang and Nassau County, say that like they used to vote in Boston (early and often).

If this isn't a tax on already-stretched homeowners, shout it from the rooftops!

Make clear the benefit to the community and the cost of doing nothing and losing the Islanders.

Make people understand the mechanics of this.

Have surrogates out there pushing the message and constantly available to the media.

Treat this like a political campaign and avoid the mistakes that were the Lighthouse Project's undoing.

The Underpants Gnomes could start stealing underpants without figuring out phase 2, but Nassau voters cannot properly go to the polls if the details of this referendum aren't known.



  1. I agree with pretty much everything you said.

    I hope there's some light development around the Coliseum as well, and that revenue generated from that development goes towards repaying the debt.

    I lived in CO for two years, and the area around Coors Field has tons of bars and restaurants that previously didn't exist. They do well! And a similar set up near Hofstra would similarly be successful.

  2. The two questions below are key for me and greatly impact this issue: I think If other development that results from this also contributes to the debt service.....this CAN work.

    -Will a scaled-down development be a part of this arrangement? If so, would revenue from that site also contribute to the debt service?
    -If development is included, and another developer is selected, would that developer be bound to the same arrangement?



  3. I still cant believe mangano had the nerve to put this announcement out there with out facts to back it up...When Mangaloid was put on the spot about how the bond would get paid back he started stuttering...I feel like he cant be trusted.

  4. Very simple solution will be to have all the information for the voters so they are informed of all the pros and cons. If there is a tax increase of say 48 dollars a year that would = 13 cents a month. In the long run all of Long Island will benefit with the long term over all picture. Vote yes and think about the next generation as what this means to them !!!

  5. Meant to say 13 cents a day

  6. Sign Guy - you're absolutely right. I can't understand why they didn't have all these details almost seemed like some actually thought they could get this approved by voters without telling us anything about it. Hope they fix this mistake soon.

  7. Nick, this negligence doesn't really surprise me anymore. Especially after following the LHP fiasco and all the slimy underhanded politics that went on. Murray and the republicans sabotaged the LHP with there scheming. They sand bagged everyone with the bullshit petition and this hole proposal is a sandbag job without the proof and figures to back it up...

    What I cant believe is how Long Islanders allow this to happen. It seems like most civilians just go about their lives and really just dont know WTF is going on. So these politicians are abled to just do what ever the hell they want with no repercussions.

  8. Spoke with someone very close to Mangano and high up the chain in Nassau. He told me we should expect to see the plan include Nassau's offer to pay a premium to the bondholder and in return not have to start paying off the bond debt until the new arena is up and running.

    This guy and others tell me the same thing. Mangano is a great guy and very likeable but "not the brightest bulb on the tree". This came from a guy who worked with him and considers him a friend. A couple of others said they like him but fear he might be in over his head.

    The rumors regarding Mondello & Mangano having shouting matches are true. Mangano refuses to buckle under to Mondello. So, Kate Murray's appearance on the "dais" is important. She takes her orders directly from Mangano and would not have been there unless the Republican boo OKd it.

    As for the 13 votes needed to get the supermajority, the Republicans need one vote. Knowing Dave Denenberg, I will be very surprised to hear him give a NO vote. One Republican was absent from the last vote which was 11-7 so 12 votes shud be almost guaranteed.

    If the vote goes very well 60% for (which is what non-scientific polls now show), it will be VERY hard for Dems to ignore the vote in their area and then face reelection 10 weeks later.

    In fact if the vote is 60+ and there is no supermajority, Mangano could tell Wang give me until Jan 2 and I'll get the majority we need.

    Wang will wait because both Lancey & Picker have told me that the decision on relocating must be made by next spring or the latest late June of 2012.

    I am not all happy about how Mangano/Wang have gone about this. Like Nick says I see too much similarities to the LH project. However, we must remember that each democrat who voted no made sure to say that they FAVORED the project. The reaction of the union members present sent a strong message to their party (the Democrats)that the unionists are unhappy with a no vote just to delay the vote. How unhappy will they be if the Dems block the project? This has been and is all about jobs. Unfortunately, Wang & the politicians in favor of getting this done don't sing that from the rooftops.

    That Mangano did not run this past NIFA and not sandbag them is unbelievable.That he and Wang did not have more facts and figures means this could be Lighthouse II.

    Bottom line NIFA is the main key. If they say no, you can bet the unions will sue and there may even be a class action suit by Islander fans. The basis? Does a board of non-elected officials have the right to go against the will of the people? Isn't that what 1776 was all about?

    Lastly, Denenberg's suggestion to move the vote to primary day is a good second choice if the cost of the vote causes NIFA to block it (I'm not sure they have the right to block any kind of vote.Regardless of the economic oversight power they have). Primary day is around 9-15. It's just a six week wait and the turnout on that day is notoriously low.

    Keep up the good work Nick!


  9. Always good to hear your take on things too, Art.

  10. Hey Nick, any update on the happenings leading up to the August 1st very important public vote ?? Nassau county can not afford to lose all the revenue the Islanders and other proceeds bring to the county. For once lets all be on the same page and put our heads together to keep our home Long Island up with the times most of the country has been doing for some time. Put politics aside and lets move foward to secure a better future for all of Long Island and our children !!

  11. Patrick AKA Sign GuyJune 11, 2011 at 8:16 PM

    I was at a social function this afternoon out in Suffolk County. I had the opportunity to talk with quite a few Nassau County residents concerning the new arena. I asked their opinions on how they will vote on August 1st. 5 out of 5 said they were in favor of the revitalization of the coliseium and would vote yes, but would like more information. Just wanted to pass this along.

  12. For ALL our sakes, Patrick, I hope the people you spoke to were the majority of what we will see August 1st. I'm bringing as many people as humanly possible. VOTE YES!!!!!!!!!!!

    -Big Van Vader

  13. A-Freakin-men I implore all of the Nassau County residents to get in there and vote YES!!!!!!

    This will not stimulate the County like the LHP should have but denial of this bid will hurt the taxpayers more than the increase in their taxes that this project could potentially bring.


  14. Hi guys - worked a really long week last week and had little time to write. Will have something new tonight

  15. Looking forward to it, Nick.

    -Big Van Vader

  16. Quote from Nicks original post: "So remember that whole thing I wrote in here about letting innuendo take over and some people will never believe it doesn't raise taxes. Um, yea....about that....."

    I checked out that blog and everyone on there is saying "let Wang pay for it"... Isn't that ironic??? These idiots must have forgot about the LHP and how Murray stopped that from happening.