(You can check a more high-level discussion of this, also written by me, on Islanders Independent)
My apologies for the quick hit posting. I am proud to announce that this was the first Let There Be Light(house) scoop in this blog's history - Kristen McElroy of Garden City has been nominated to run against Kate Murray for Hempstead Supervisor. I found out soon after arriving at the Democratic convention and wanted to make sure I had the information first. Is it a tad selfish? Absolutely. Am I proud nonetheless? As they say, you betcha.
Getting the Scoop
I arrived at the Cradle of Aviation Museum as Jay Jacobs was formally beginning the convention. Shortly afterward, I ran into my legislator, Dave Denenberg (D - Merrick) at the event, and in my typical understated fashion, I said hello and asked "So, is it you?" He calmly demurred and said he was not the best candidate for this year, and Kristen McElroy had in fact been nominated.
Thank you, Legis. Denenberg, and thanks to friend of the blog Joe Conte for letting me update the blog on his iPhone (I'm waiting for the new model before I get my own).
Observations From The Convention
There were two groups of protestors at the convention: one group supporting same-sex marriage rights and another group of volunteer firefighters aiming to preserve volunteer fire departments on Long Island. I do not know much about the fire departments issue, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention their presence.
I was heartened by the constant calls for moving Long Island into the 21st Century. Tom Suozzi in particular mentioned the need to move Long Island forward, specifically mentioning the Lighthouse, and calling for a "Property Tax Revolution" to minimize government waste on Long Island. This was very good to hear, but I was also upset that I did not hear more people sounding the alarm over the Lighthouse. This could very well be a winning issue for a large part of the Democratic slate, and I wonder if they've yet realized this.
I heard more than one person express skepticism at Charles Wang's current iron-clad deadline to receive "certainty" on the Lighthouse by October 3. These sources pointed out that, as we know from this blog's four-part-investigative-series, SEQR is a process that must be allowed to play out of its own accord. Continuing to beat the drum would only force Kate Murray in a corner, and that is exactly what she wants to happen. I reminded these sources that the Town of Hempstead is historically slow on things like this, and while they acknowledged the need for skepticism they cautioned against blind calls for speed.
(Blogger's Note: many high-level operatives at this convention did not know the economic reasoning for the Lighthouse Project. This is a grave problem, and this lack of information is either a failure of the Lighthouse or a failure of Tom Suozzi's office. It is inexcusable and must be rectified)
(Second Blogger's Note: I'm sure those who think I'm genetically incapable of criticizing the Lighthouse and Charles Wang are feeling tightness in their chests right now. Deep breaths....In.....Out.....It'll be OK)
More than one source with whom I spoke stressed the need for voters to take on a large part of the burden in advocating for the Lighthouse. An especially insightful comment came from a key aide to one of New York's two US Senators. I mentioned that some on Long Island were upset that Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand sent a letter to Gary Bettman saying the potential move of the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton could harm the Buffalo Sabres, but they have both been silent on the Lighthouse and the Islanders. This aide correctly reminded me that politicians involving themselves "before the key moment"*** would simply calcify it as a Democrat vs. Republican issue and guarantee nothing will get done. In this aide's words, the only way to make this a galvanizing issue is to make it from the ground-up, and that makes me very happy we began our movement this week.
I was shocked to near speechlessness about another thing that speaks volumes both about the media and the apparent levels of communication in the Nassau Democratic Party. In my discussion with a few elected officials, I brought up the verbal altercations with Joe Mondello that occurred last Friday. None of them knew about it. This shows both the power the media still has and the fact that the information-broadcasting abilities on the local level are not yet developed. If the politicians don't seem to know, what hope do we have for voters who don't read anything but Newsday?
*** According to this aide, the "key moment" will come during/after the DGEIS is out of its current morass and into public review and comment.
So, Who is Kristen McElroy?
Kristen McElroy has never held elected office, but she became widely known among Long Island (and New York State) political circles in 2008 because she almost pulled off a shocking upset. Running against deeply-entrenched Republican Kemp Hannon, Ms. McElroy fought a tougher race than anybody anticipated and lost by a margin of 3,000 votes. This doubtlessly contributed to her nomination to run against an entrenched Republican dynasty.
Kristen McElroy is a resident of Garden City and a practicing attorney at a law firm she co-founded with her father, McElroy and McElroy. Previously, she served as an Assistant District Attorney in Nassau County, where, according to her old State Senate Campaign Site, she prosecuted a wide range of cases, including burglary and DWI. She currently lives with her husband, Matt, and three children.
Ms. McElroy lists as her key issues access to affordable health care, the property tax burden on Long Island, education, and control of energy costs. I had a brief conversation with her at the convention, and she is unabashedly pro-Lighthouse. I will be interested to see the extent to which she involves that issue in her campaign. Currently, she told Newsday her biggest current issue with the Town of Hempstead is "ending the patronage." (Patronage? What patronage?
Also, if you would like to hear from the candidate directly, here is a brief interview and a campaign commercial from last year's run for State Senate:
(Also check the great piece from the Long Island Business News detailing this selection)
I was very surprised by this decision, since Jay Jacobs' previous statements about a candidate led me to believe it was a current elected official. However, I remember vividly the events of last November, in which Ms. McElroy came within 3,000 votes of defeating Kemp Hannon, one of the Republican stalwarts in New York State and a man widely thought to be unbeatable. That clearly opened some eyes among the Democratic Party, and she was tapped to run against Kate Murray with that in mind. However, I can't mention the race against Kemp Hannon without mentioning the Obama Effect - did the historic Presidential election pull up many down-ticket Dems and give Ms. McElroy a much better showing than she otherwise would have gotten? We may never know, but it should be asked.
Given Ms. McElroy's staunchly pro-Lighthouse stance, it is also interesting to note that she comes from Garden City, widely believed to be the center of opposition to
Others have thought of her relative youth and vitality. This could be an asset, but it depends on whether voters in the Town of Hempstead are looking for that sort of thing. At this point, I will call it a push, and we will see how things play out.
Let's throw the rest of the fluff out the window. I know what you guys are thinking, and it's the only important question: Can she win? The truth is, I don't know. Kate Murray won with nearly 70% of the vote two years ago, and it remains to be seen how this will play out. There are three major things, however, working in Ms. McElroy's favor: the Lighthouse; the recent tilt in voter registrations at the Town of Hempstead (more Democrats than Republicans for the first time in the Town's nearly 350-year history - the advantage is around 8,900, with over 90,000 unaffiliated); and Tom Suozzi being up for re-election.
In the end, this will hinge on money, passion, and turnout. Kristen McElroy will be a credible challenger if she can raise enough money to get her message out there, if Tom Suozzi's re-election increases voter turnout, and if the Lighthouse can become a galvanizing issue.
At this moment, Kate Murray must be considered a heavy favorite for the seat, but the election is not held on May 28.
This was a fascinating window into the inner workings of local politics, and I came out both fascinated and shocked. If nothing else, it calcified my belief that the true movement must come from we, the people. We cannot wait for Tom Suozzi, Kristen McElroy, Dave Denenberg, or anybody else to ride in and guarantee the Lighthouse's safe passage. As our President (and I) love to say, we are the ones we've been waiting for, now let's go out there and make things happen.
The Long Island Business news again stated that killing the Lighthouse would be akin to political suicide for Kate Murray. It leads me to believe that party operatives on both sides know more than they are telling us, and they believe a broad base of support exists. Now, we have to prove it. If we want to make a movement, and if we want to effect real change on Long Island, it has to begin with us, not the politicians. At the end of the day, authority rests in us, and we must make it clear what we want. It could very well be that a formidable movement would make Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead take action before the election, and that would surely make things quite interesting.
I wish Kristen McElroy and Kate Murray all the best in this race. Instead of rooting for a candidate, I'm rooting for the future of Long Island, and the candidate that stands with me on that will get my vote. We must all root for the future of Long Island and make it clear that we will not be passive observers of our own destiny.