Monday, April 6, 2009

The Fear Card

We have a few things to discuss on this blustery and rainy Monday morning, and since it's also Opening Day I hope to get this finished before the Yankees start playing...

Town of Hempstead Takes Site Down

Kate Murray's propaganda site, Islanders Fans First, has been officially pulled. The site became unavailable late this morning, and it has not returned.

This is an important step. The Supervisor is clearly back-tracking on the ill-advised petition drive at taxpayer expense. Concerned citizens and voters like you jammed their phone lines and email inbox with complaints, and your voices were heard. This is a good step, and I am glad the Supervisor has at least come to her senses on this issue.

As I said yesterday, we cannot be distracted, since we still have more to do. There are many hurdles to climb in the Lighthouse process, and this site coming down is only the tip of a very important iceberg.

A Prediction Playing Itself Out

I wrote something back on Wednesday, March 18, called The Lighthouse as Political Football (Puck?), in which I discussed many of the political issues surrounding the Lighthouse Project. In the context of Kate Murray's potential run for County Executive, I laid out why the Lighthouse as political issue may not turn out the way we'd like:
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. - Post 3/18/09
This may be exactly what the Town of Hempstead will do. This may not be a new addition, but this piece of Kate Murray's official bio is quite interesting:

Kate Murray is protecting the suburban character of our neighborhoods and standing strong in the face of threats to residential neighborhoods. Overdevelopment will not be permitted at the expense of the suburban tranquility that our families now enjoy. (Source: Town of Hempstead)

And so it begins. Politicians in Nassau County have been scaring voters with the bogeyman of overdevelopment for decades. Making the Lighthouse an issue along these lines runs the risk of transforming it into a past-vs-future, development-vs-status quo argument, and the cold hard truth is that you never know who wins that debate in Nassau County. Many people have been concerned (I'd say paranoid) for decades that Nassau County will become New York's "Sixth Borough," and they think any higher-density development will suddenly make Nassau County look exactly like Queens.

First of all, what exactly is the "suburban way of life"? Does a suburban life have to be single-family homes with white picket fences and no commercial development? What about the flight of young people? Nassau County has one of the lowest percentages of residents 25-34 in the Country, according to County Executive Tom Suozzi. I think educating children with high tax dollars so they can move to less-expensive areas of the country runs counter to the "family-friendly" suburban way of life. That term seems to me to be a buzzword meant to attack any movement forward, rather than an actual ideal to which we should aspire.

Now, about development...It's true that development should not be blindly allowed at the expense of residents' quality of life, but that is exactly what the Town of Hempstead and many other communities have allowed.

Many who fear over-development use traffic and the "suburban ideal" as the reasons behind opposing any large scale development. Even though Nassau County has over 200,000 fewer residents than it did 30 years ago, traffic is still getting worse. It seems that our local leaders have never met a big-box store or strip mall they didn't like. Within a 1.5 mile radius from my home in North Bellmore, there are 2 CVS stores, 2 Eckerd stores, 1 Rite Aid, and an abandoned Rite Aid right across the street from one of the Eckerd stores. That's 5 drug stores and 1 abandoned drug store; shouldn't somebody have used some common sense here and denied development due to over-expansion? What about the area near Roosevelt Field Mall? The Town of Hempstead permitted strip mall after strip mall and green-lighted two condo developments in that concentrated area with no cohesive plan to deal with transportation, and they tout this as one of their most successful achievements. (Blogger's Note: The Town of Hempstead likes to use the condos built on the Roosevelt Raceway site as proof they can handle large-scale development. Construction began a full 18 years after Roosevelt Raceway closed, and one of the condo developments had a problem with mold contamination.)

The Lighthouse has studied traffic patterns in a way that none of the previous overdeveloped strip malls have done. It could attract federal money for infrastructure improvements that actually make the traffic situation better.

Bottom Line

It's clear that the Lighthouse will not be a political issue in and of itself. This debate is showing signs of evolving into that past vs. future battle that seems constantly raging among residents of Long Island. Given the climate on Long Island, you just don't know who would win such a debate, and this could distract from the reality of the Lighthouse, the specific project that is on the table. Unfortunately, in order for the Lighthouse to become a reality, we will have to battle with a philosophy that clings to an antiquated notion of a suburbia that has not existed for decades, and we must be prepared with our own stories to tell.

Some people think Kate Murray is directing that message toward proponents of the Lighthouse, but I don't think so. I think this is a message for people in the Town of Hempstead, specifically locations like Garden City, who fear development and density in all its forms. It is a fear card, plain and simple, and it's meant to scare up votes. She may be hoping that opposition to the Lighthouse will rise up in a way that it has not yet, and this could give her political cover to obstruct the process. We must not allow this to happen.

Taking down that shameful web site proves that Kate Murray will not ignore the will of large numbers of voters. We should continue to make our voices heard and make it clear that blind fear of the "Sixth Borough" is not the way to move our Island forward. The Lighthouse Project should be judged on its specific merits and the benefits it would bring to the community, not some blind fear of over-development, the very thing which has been happening under our noses for decades now.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me.


  1. Very good post, Nick. I'm too commented out to add anything!

    I wish the Democrats would pick their candidate soon, so that person could set the paramaters of the debate.

  2. I'm curious how come your blog did not note Newsday calling out David Dennenberg for his petition in support of the Lighthouse in their editorial?

    You are aware Cablevision-Newsday would save hundreds of millions in cable revenue if the Isles departed and would immediately look to expand their sports brand here as they did almost immediately in Hartford.

    Thank You
    New York Islander Fan Central

  3. Fan Central - no nefarious motive. I wanted to get that SEQR series finished since I've been promising it for 2 weeks now, and the Denenberg issue will be mentioned in due time. If you've seen past posts on the politics you'll know this space has openly speculated that Dave Denenberg wants to run for higher office and may try to use this as a springboard. If he's circulating petitions that's a bad move that politicizes the Lighthouse. However, it's not quite the same; he already voted for the project in 2006 and has never hidden his support for the Lighthouse, so there is not as much of a pressing need for "objectivity" or "judicial neutrality."

  4. Quick addendum to this - I live in Dave Denenberg's legislative district, and I have not received any mailing from him about this yet. I will let everyone know if/when I do.

  5. It's actually simple. Newsday is not the evil empire. just a poorly run paper. Let's not go Conspiracy Theory there, NYI Fan!

    David Dennenberg supported the Lighthouse long before it was invogue..and furthermore, actually said he would be mailing something a while ago.

    To me, Newsday was fickly calling out anyone because of response. They, like many other papers and publishing companies, are bleeding horrendously. They need to sell papers...thus why we see them constantly trying to stir pots and make issues.

    Cablevision-newsday can barely get our cable service right. Let's not go overboard on corporate leanings and desires trickling to the reporters who work there.