There were only pictures referencing the term political football...oh well.
A few days ago, I asked all of you whether the Lighthouse becoming a political issue in the upcoming elections would help or hurt our cause. In the spirit of things, I give you my answer: It will certainly be an issue, but it is too early to determine the result of that. There are many variables we need to examine:
County Executive Election
Tom Suozzi will stand election this year for a 3rd term as Nassau County Executive. He is viewed as a competent leader by the citizens of Nassau County, and he is also popular, winning re-election in 2005 by 21 points in a County that is increasingly trending Democratic. Most observers believe Suozzi will win re-election with little issue, but there is a potential complication...
...And her name is Kate Murray. Sources within the Nassau County Republican Party have been openly saying for at least 2 years that it may be Kate Murray's "turn" to run for County Executive this year. Ms. Murray's overall silence on the project could very well be a political calculation to set up a run for County Executive and create some space between herself and Mr. Suozzi. It could also create an interesting issue for some Town of Hempstead voters who may have supported both Mr. Suozzi and Ms. Murray in 2005.
The Lighthouse is Tom Suozzi's signature vision for Nassau County. If Ms. Murray (or any opponent - remember, this is only speculation) were to use a cornerstone of Mr. Suozzi's philosophy as a wedge issue, it could transform the debate into more than just the Lighthouse. It could become an issue of past vs. future, progress vs. status quo, and the cold hard truth is that you can never tell who would win such a debate here on Long Island. All my experiences lead me to believe the public is in favor of the project (comments at meetings, lack of organized opposition), but making the Lighthouse a referendum on the past vs. the future may not turn out the way we'd like.
I believe Tom Suozzi would have a significant advantage over Kate Murray in a County election. However, it could seriously complicate the Lighthouse process until the election is over, and we cannot forget how much could change in the almost 8 months until Election Day.
Town Supervisor Election
Kate Murray's potential run for County Executive could complicate matters in the Town of Hempstead. There are no obvious candidates for Town Supervisor, especially since it is unlikely that Ms. Murray would run for both positions simultaneously. A new Republican candidate for Supervisor could have a very positive view of the Lighthouse and make public commitments to work out an amenable deal.
A vacancy at the Town Supervisor position could also create an opening for the Democratic Party to break the Republican stranglehold on Hempstead politics. A Democrat with name recognition and fundraising prowess (Dave Denenberg?) could seize the opportunity to mount a challenge for the seat based on strong support for the Lighthouse and forward-thinking policies. The Town of Hempstead votes Republican at the Supervisor level, but it is trending Democratic in state and national elections over the past few years, so it should not be fully discounted. (Blogger's Note: This is probably the most compelling reason AGAINST running Kate Murray for County Executive)
In addition, let's remember that only 90,000 votes (out of around 800,000 Town of Hempstead residents) were cast in the last Supervisor election. Turnout could be crucial here, and it would be interesting to see if the County Executive election or any afterglow from the 2008 Presidential Election could influence those figures.
It disappoints me to see certain people attempt to make the Lighthouse a partisan political issue, because it isn't.
Tom Suozzi is a Democrat, and his party is in lockstep behind the Lighthouse. The project has the full support from the Governor, Nassau legislators, and even congressional leaders like Sen. Charles Schumer, who is helping the Lighthouse apply for federal stimulus funds and infrastructue investment.
Things are more complicated on the Republican side, since contrary to some prevailing sentiments the party is anything but unified against the Lighthouse. While Republicans cast the only 2 votes against the Lighthouse in the Nassau Legislature, the other 7 legislators in the party's caucus supported the project. Some Republicans, like Assemb. Bob Barra (R-District 14) have loudly voiced their support for the Lighthouse and called on their colleagues to do the same (Source - note this links to a story from the Nassau County Republican Party) (Blogger's Note: In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Barra is also a former Islanders employee. Newsday has details here. I do not think this in any way disqualifies his economic reasons for supporting the Lighthouse, but it should be said). Sources within the Town of Hempstead say that many Republican council members support the project, with one even viewing the Lighthouse as a legacy to give to the Town of Hempstead. The belief that the Republican Party is set on blocking this project does not seem to be supported by fact. (Blogger's Note: I plan to follow up with the Nassau Republican Party to see if it has a stated position on the Lighthouse - I will report whatever I hear)
We can never forget that the economy could prove decisive here. The recent hard times have led to a palpable shift in politicians' attitudes toward the Lighthouse. It is now being touted as Long Island's very own economic stimulus package, a visionary proposal that will bring needed jobs, investment, and infrastructure improvements to the area. With the economy in severe recession, no elected official who wants to remain an elected official can afford to be seen as against jobs.
This is an issue about Long Island's future and should not be a forum to vent feelings about either national political party. The candidates (from either party) who best understand what our Island needs to grow and how the Lighthouse can help fulfill these needs will get my vote.
Charles Wang and the Lighthouse have said they will pursue other options if they do not receive "certainty" ("certainty" meaning the Town of Hempstead approves the re-zoning application) by the start of the next hockey season in October. In an election year that may pit the two current principal politicians against each other, that may not be feasible. However, that may not be a bad thing for the Lighthouse itself. If the Lighthouse becomes a major issue in the local campaigns, it could motivate public pollsters to gauge opinions on the project. If public support is as strong as I believe it is, the Lighthouse could have strong incentive to wait an extra month until Election Day, especially since construction would not begin in that scenario until May 2010.
(Blogger's Note: I heard from sources within Nassau Coliseum that no events are scheduled at the arena over the summer. The Lighthouse is keeping hope alive for a 2009 ground-breaking, however slim that may be)
I am not a member of either political party, and I hope nothing I said here betrayed any favoritism toward either party. I want this project to succeed, and I think it is counter-productive to make the Lighthouse a partisan political issue when it does not have to be.
The increasing politicization of the Lighthouse by a fractured Town and County also begs an important question. Nassau County and the Lighthouse Development Group worked together to formulate the bid, and they continued to work together after the County issued an RFP and the Lighthouse was named developer of the Coliseum site. The Town of Hempstead was not involved in the process, and as I've mentioned before it only received the application for re-zoning in November of 2007. Would including the Town of Hempstead in the process from day 1 have made this a smoother ride for us? While this is possible, we cannot dwell on the past. We need to remain educated on the process, attend every meeting we can, and send a strong message to politicians that voters, the ultimate voice, know Long Island needs this.
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