Old habits and old attitudes die hard. The NIMBY mentality has run Long Island for decades, and you would not expect those people to give up their perch without a fight just because the Lighthouse Project is on the agenda.
The opposition to the Lighthouse Project has not, so far, been organized, but their tactics have been insidious. People with an agenda and their enablers in the media have pushed these lies as if they are fact every chance they get.
First, Lighthouse supporters were dismissed as "just" Islanders fans, as if a group of Long Islanders could not stand for progress unless they are guided by blind loyalty to a hockey team.
When it became clear that people realized this was for Long Islanders, not just the Islanders, the talking points shifted. How, people claimed Lighthouse supporters were blindly in favor and did not know any specifics, another insulting position that falsely assumes that only a certain side of a debate is using its head.
As Lighthouse supporters made clear, at public meetings and on blogs like this one, that they knew exactly what was going on, opponents shifted tactics once again. Now, they claimed Charles Wang was paying us, as if some unseen cosmic force ordained all Lighthouse opponents as principled citizens and relegated all supporters to little more than paid dupes. We most famously saw this in May, when state GOP Chairman Joseph Mondello told Lighthouse Supporter Joe Conte to "blow it out [his] dufflebag" and suggested Mr. Conte was being paid by Charles Wang because he had the nerve to show up to a public event and let his voice be heard.
wait until the public hearing.
Now that we know how that turned out, the lie du jour has been revealed: Lighthouse supporters don't live in the Town of Hempstead; most TOH residents oppose it.
The Public Comments
Astute reader mrlbem asked the right question in yesterday's piece, when I reported that, according to Town of Hempstead figures, 503 comments favored the Lighthouse, 322 opposed it, and 4 were unclear (no, I don't know what the "Unclear" comments looked like either). mrlbem is absolutely correct that this is a much lower percentage of support than we have seen at any of the public hearings, and we should wonder if there is some kind of silent opposition that is afraid to show itself in public.
In my honest opinion, I don't see it at this point. We know the NIMBY history of Long Island in the last few decades, and we realize that the Lighthouse Project is on a scale that has been, to this point, unheard of on Long Island. Given that history, and my knowledge of the SEQR process, I feel pretty confident in saying that these sort of public comments periods attract only the most ardent supporters and the most ardent opponents. In addition - I can't imagine this sort of project attracts lukewarm opposition; in my view, most people either support it, conditionally support it, or are dead-set against it (this is not a catch-all - our friend NYI Fan has admitted the Lighthouse could be a catalyst for the area if the traffic situation is solved - I agree).
Despite all this, 60% of comments were still in favor, and this doesn't account for the overwhelming support seen in person at the public hearing, which is also part of the public record. This looks pretty good for us.
Despite this, yet another article appeared in Newsday that appeared to go out of its way to play a different angle. It was written by the same reporter who passed along the news of Kate Murray's stimulus "offer" with a non-critical eye and who sought out the only 3 people wearing Islanders gear at the February hearing to interview, on-camera.
The article pushes the meme that Lighthouse supporters mostly live outside the Town of Hempstead, while a small majority within the Town oppose it. The piece relies on two samples: a look through the first 200 comments, in which opponents outnumbered supporters, 59-57, within the Town of Hempstead, and another random sample of 65 letters from supporters, in which 38 came from "out-of-towners."
The article also discusses letters from opponents, highlighting one opponent from Garden City who used words like "tremendous," "gargantuan," and "impossible" to discuss issues like the size of the project and traffic - without mentioning any of the arguments from supporters.
trade unions on Long Island have 35% unemployment; those workers, no matter where they live, are interested in a project that will bring jobs and investment. Businesses who may want to locate offices or retail stores at the Lighthouse - thus creating jobs - have every right to care about what is going on. People who do not currently live in the Town of Hempstead but who would want to live or work at the future site also have a right to make their voices heard.
Long Island has for too long been limited by parochial thinking, in which villages act independently of each other without an eye toward doing something as a whole. That same thinking must not be allowed to poison the current debate surrounding the Lighthouse Project.
Second - the "sample." A random sample of what amounts to less than 300 comments does not and cannot tell the full story. The author did not share her methodology for picking these letters; it could have been just as easy to pick 65 support letters that were overwhelmingly from Town of Hempstead residents. In addition, there are important pieces to this discussion the author left out:
- Every comment made at the public hearing is added to the public record. At the hearing, most speakers were Town of Hempstead residents, and the turnout was overwhelmingly positive.
- Charles Wang, during his opening address, unveiled 15,000 letters - all from supporters - that were added to the public record. Many of these letters came from Town of Hempstead residents, and counting this figure would undoubtedly tip the scales in our favor.
- The public comment period is supposed to have the most bearing on the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), but it is not the only measure of support. Don't for one second think the Town of Hempstead is now ignoring the huge favorable turnout at all the Lighthouse hearings because of a random sampling of letters as part of one step in the process.
- The issue of ardent supporters from earlier is very telling. In my immediate family, there are 6 voters, all of whom support the Lighthouse and live within the Town of Hempstead. Only 2 - including me - sent in comments. This likely played out in many other families as well, though I imagine opponents took every opportunity.
The most troubling sign? This has previously been a Town of Hempstead talking point, as a TOH insider told my friend BD Gallof months ago that the Town noticed many of the check-in cards at Lighthouse meetings came from Suffolk County residents. To have this point mentioned now, using a clearly flawed methodology, must raise serious questions.
Image via WikipediaThe Lighthouse Project is a pivotal point in the history of Long Island, and it will shape our destiny for generations to come, whether or not it is approved. It is therefore insane to let the debate fall into innuendo, half-truths, and questionable methodologies. It is just as misguided to see this as a "Town of Hempstead issue" rather than what it is, a Long Island issue, and, in some instances, a national issue. Therefore, I am very sad to see that too many people reporting on this issue are treating it as if it is the Bellmore Army Base.
In the same vein, I am disturbed that certain people with an agenda seem to be going out of their way to give the opposition equal air time when it has been proven time and again that those citizens are a minority.
To me, it begs the question: At what point do you stop trying to appease opponents that have yet to show up in an organized way? When do you concentrate on the citizens who have overwhelmingly supported the Lighthouse and who are determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past?
If you are in the media, and you have an agenda, please say so in an open, honest way. Your responsibility comes from reporting the full story, and that does not mean reaching for negative stories about a widely-supported project in pursuit of some dictum of balance. The media's responsibility is to report the facts, not to play referee between two points of view, regardless of how divorced from reality one or both of those points of view may be.
Over 60% of the public comments submitted supported the Lighthouse, and that does not count the 15,000 letters and thousands of citizens who have shown up to the public hearings and rallies to make their voices heard. To write a piece like this, which again seeks to de-legitimize us, is an insulting reach.
What can we do? We can continue to stand up and combat the Lie du Jour, like all the previous false memes. Those with an agenda and their enablers in the media have been pushing lines about us since the Lighthouse was first conceived, and nothing has been able to stick. We must continue to positively advocate for what we know is right for our home, and we must not be afraid to stand up as one to defend these positions.
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