It's all just a little bit of history repeating...Remember this?
I pick the wrong days to be unavailable past 2PM, as Newsday (and my friend BD Gallof) report that Kate Murray called Charles Wang yesterday (a day before Mr. Wang's deadline) to set up a meeting about "amending" the Lighthouse Project. Mr. Wang was unavailable yesterday, but all indications are that this meeting will take place on Monday or Tuesday.
Since we are talking politics, nothing is truly as it seems, so let's take a look at some of the behind-the-scenes implications:
The lease document is roughly 17 pages long, according to one source, and it clearly did not take Nassau County and the Lighthouse almost 5 years to settle on such a short and straightforward document. Therefore, the true meaning behind the timing of the lease announcement was unmistakable: 2 days before Mr. Wang's deadline in a move that is clearly meant to put pressure on the Town of Hempstead.
Image by Long Island Business News via FlickrThe Town, for its part, has not taken Mr. Wang's deadline seriously, with the Supervisor drolly noting that the Town doesn't put deadlines on Mr. Wang to win the Stanley Cup. However, her move can be considered political as well. First of all, this is another string in the Supervisor's tactics of reaching out to the Lighthouse when Kristen McElroy makes a public appearance and shows some semblance of running a campaign. Second of all, the County Executive, as well as Mr. Wang and partner Scott Rechler, has criticized the Town of Hempstead for being unwilling to negotiate for months, if not years, about the Lighthouse site because they claim to "not negotiate with developers." In addition, some have even questioned the Town Board's questioning tactics at the re-zoning hearing. Most everyone I spoke to agrees that it was political grandstanding, but in some instances the Town conducted questioning in public that, while it is always done, is usually done behind closed doors. It makes you wonder if things had deteriorated so badly that none of the necessary behind-the-scenes work was being done.
Interestingly, despite the hard line on Thursday, I could notice a few cracks in the facade. Scott Rechler, when I spoke to him, maintained that, the way things currently stand, it was either a yes or no answer from the Town Board. Mr. Rechler also expressed disappointment and bewilderment that the Town of Hempstead had not negotiated or stayed in contact with the developers about the size and scope up through that point. It was a criticism, but the criticism seemed to stem from the fact that things are always done this way. The SEQR implications are also important to note, in this case: many at the press conference (and in other places) have claimed that a change in the size of the project would require a whole new environmental review, but I have independently confirmed with three SEQR experts that this isn't true. Could the door be open, if even just a little?
According to a TOH source who spoke to BD Gallof, there will not be a vision coming from the Town. They will merely discuss a project that the Town Board would feel comfortable voting for. You could file this one under "What Took You So Long?" but, if things are worked out, you may also be able to file it under "Better Late Than Never."
Republican. Mr. Suozzi, while not saying that in so few words, seemed to reluctantly admit he was concerned about the same thing.
I speculated previously that the Lighthouse Project could become a galvanizing issue that swept Republicans in the Town of Hempstead out of office, but that picture is incomplete. First of all, the two principals in this are virtually guaranteed re-election. Kristen McElroy, who, as we remember, was nominated in May to run against Kate Murray, is only now re-emerging, and her first public event will be an address at Nassau Coliseum tonight. She may run a spirited campaign, but you have to ask where she has been for the previous 4 months.*** Legis. Ed Mangano, Tom Suozzi's challenger for County Executive (who is, by the way, not running against the Lighthouse - just taxes), seems all but assured of a blowout loss. Recent campaign finance figures cited by The Community Alliance show that Mr. Mangano, despite those signs that seem to be everywhere, has raised barely $28,000, when Suozzi's war chest boasts funds of over $350,000. Unless a seismic shift or a galvanizing event occurs sometime in the next 5 weeks, I can't imagine this changing.
Minority Leader of the Nassau Legislature, fired the first shot across the bow by criticizing the lease by saying the Coliseum property was "worth more than $1" (memo to Mr. Schmitt: the land is worth more than $1....It's actually worth about $4 billion....did you forget?).
At the end of the day, the Democrats are in self-preservation mode as much as, or even more than, the Republicans. Both sides are probably wishing this goes past Election Day (and the environmental review will all but assure this).
As I've said, nothing that happened at the re-zoning hearing is new, and the Town Board's concerns seem to come down to the size and scope. BD's source (and people I've asked as well) seem to suggest this proposal will be overwhelmingly approved if it comes to a level with which the Board is comfortable. Mr. Wang and the Lighthouse should not give away the store, but they should try to seek common ground. Too much has happened, and too many people have rallied to the cause, for either side to fail now.
What Happens Today?
I wish today could be about hockey, and I will enjoy the game, but the Lighthouse will loom over today's game, especially since today is the deadline for certainty. Tom Suozzi will drop the puck for the ceremonial face-off, Kristen McElroy is expected to address Islanders fans outside the Coliseum box office around 6 PM, and Charles Wang is expected to call a press conference announcing that the New York Islanders are now a free agent franchise. McElroy may run a viable race for Supervisor, but she may also be a ploy to divert resources into the Supervisor race and away from the tight legislative races.
I for one will be keeping an eye on Mr. Wang's speech today. Will he strike a more conciliatory tone due to Kate Murray's overtures, or will the hard line return? Could this have been a negotiating tactic in order to motivate the Town of Hempstead to make a more reasonable offer than they otherwise would have made? I will keep an eye on this, and hopefully we can figure out what is going on.
Political theater has once again come into the Lighthouse process. Tom Suozz's tactic of announcing a lease agreement two days before the deadline, and, to a lesser extent, her opponent's re-emergence, have led to Kate Murray making an overture to the Lighthouse. Hopefully this move can tone down the rhetoric and both sides can commit themselves to a solution that works for the people of Long Island rather than a solution that works to prove a political point.
I have followed this issue since the beginning of 2008. My assumptions have been challenged, my beliefs have been rocked to their very core, but I can sum up my feelings in one word: ENOUGH! Let's get the parties together at the table and let them act like adults, rather than this game of chicken that seems to permeate the process lately. We have confirmation that a new review will not be needed, and that any changes (to make things larger or smaller) will not result in a re-do of the entire painful SEQR process. I accept that things will not progress until after the election, since the Town needs to finish its pieces of the review and the County Executive is hoping to maintain his party's now-tenuous grip on power. However, the games need to end. I hope Mr. Wang, while maintaining his desire to seek other options, accepts Kate Murray's outstretched hand and signals the start of a new game, one that everyone can win.
I will be at the game tonight - send an email or a Twitter DM if you'd like to know where my seats are. Let's enjoy the game tonight, but let's not forget the work that lies ahead of us.