In addition to the interview with Ed Mangano, I also had a chance to sit down for a discussion with Kristen McElroy. McElroy (D-Garden City) is running against incumbent Kate Murray for Town of Hempstead Supervisor.
I wasn't able to record this discussion, so rather than a straight question-and-answer format, I'll present the key topics of our conversation and how Ms. McElroy responded.
Quick aside, by the way: we now know that Kristen McElroy needed to rest at the beginning of her campaign due to a high-risk pregnancy. Thankfully, all health issues are now resolved, and, while things had been done behind the scenes during that time, she is now fully committed to campaigning. Ms. McElroy also reminded me that local elections do not pick up steam until the end of September.
Sincere thanks to Ms. McElroy for the generous sharing of her time, and without further ado, let's get to it:
"Kate Has Been Absent"
McElroy also cited a recent hearing conducted in Massapequa by AQUA, the local water department, to discuss skyrocketing rates. AQUA is proposing to close a budget shortfall by raising water rates 12% in eastern Massapequa, with a 27% hike in fire hydrants also proposed. McElroy criticized Kate Murray for not attending this hearing when many other politicians, including County Executive Suozzi, attended.
McElroy was very tough on Murray, saying that people feel "Kate has been absent...from the mailers you'd think she was everywhere."
The Town of Hempstead has repeatedly touted its achievements in "downtown revitalization," but McElroy criticized their efforts as little more than cosmetic changes like brick paving stones and Victorian street lamps. While acknowledging the changed "look nice," McElroy wondered whether they actually helped to revitalize a neglected area; she mentioned that "[brick on streets] will not help the Town of Hempstead attract businesses."
McElroy suggested that the Town of Hempstead could be proactive in bringing businesses into the area by doing things such as swiftly approving the Lighthouse Project. However, she also expressed frustration that many endeavors in the Town were done "half-assed," She mentioned the need to make real change in many distressed and blighted areas of the Town, including Hempstead Turnpike, whose condition McElroy described as "horrifying."
When pressed, McElroy admitted that it was hard to say exactly what she would do as Town Supervisor to bring about this needed change. She cited the need to interface with the community and discuss what the people want, including the grocery re-development in Elmont and the infamous Courtesy Hotel in West Hempstead. McElroy reminded me that "people want their voices to be heard."
Meeting with Developers
Kristen McElroy criticized Kate Murray's policy of not meeting with developers under any circumstances, even though the Lighthouse is "not a normal project." She pointed out that other towns on Long Island meet with developers for large projects, and in many instances this practice is credited for the project's ultimate success. While acknowledging that it is not possible to meet with every developer, McElroy committed that she would have sat down with the Lighthouse from day 1 - not to be a cheerleader, but in the interest of moving the project forward.
McElroy also doubted the Town's commitment to finish the project in a speedy way, and wondered if it was being done for political reasons, speculating that it could be a result of the Mondello/D'Amato group, a desire to deny Tom Suozzi a political victory, or the fear that the residences will attract more Democrats to the Town.
Overall, McElroy described the Lighthouse Process as "game after game" and called it "irresponsible" - suggesting that such behavior could not be by accident.
McElroy re-emphasized to me that she strongly supports the Lighthouse Project as proposed, and she also acknowledged that the recent scientific polls showing strong support for the project should be kept in mind when dealing with the process. McElroy understands that this is about more than the New York Islanders - it is a project that "will bring good things to the area," including the following:
- Tax Revenue: McElroy acknowledged that "nobody likes taxes" and cited the Lighthouse and its projected $71 million in yearly tax revenue as a concrete action the Town of Hempstead could take to help the issue.
- Jobs: the unemployment rate is "tremendous," and McElroy supports the drive to put people to work.
- Housing: the Lighthouse will bring needed apartment-style and affordable units to Long Island, and it can hopefully catalyze more developments in that area.
- Build Up the Area: McElroy reminded me that the current area is little more than "cement" and claimed the area could support larger density.
- Keep the Islanders home
- Destination Point: McElroy acknowledged the need for a destination point on Long Island, but she reminded me that "there is no point to a destination if people are moving to North Carolina anyway." In McElroy's view, it is most important to keep current residents in the Town of Hempstead.
Finally, McElroy reminded me of the tremendous symbolism attached to the Lighthouse Project. There are two native Long Islanders willing to privately-finance the project, and not doing the project could "chase other developers away."
McElroy re-iterated that she supports the Lighthouse Project as it is currently proposed, but she declined to comment on the current negotiations due to her role outside the process. She expressed hope that "[both sides] are working it out," but she shared her worry that "anything that's being done may become an Election Day ploy." Specifically citing the Courtesy Hotel, McElroy criticized the Town of Hempstead for showing support for neighborhood land developments only through Election Day before the discussions are once again "gone with the wind."
Role of Town Supervisor
A Town Supervisor is not like a County Executive; she is one vote out of seven on the Hempstead Town Council. Kristen McElroy acknowledged that, in the end, she is 1 vote, but she expressed confidence that she could move things forward because, in her view, "Kate Murray is the burden. Council members look to her and do what she's doing." She is not suggesting "[she will] snap my fingers and everyone will be on board," but she believes that the current environment has led to game-playing, disinformation, and an overall downward effect.
McElroy committed to, if she is elected, "do the right thing and make sure the Lighthouse Project is done."
We touched briefly on Garden City, because Ms. McElroy is a resident and many of the most vocal Lighthouse opponents live there. McElroy said she "does not blame Garden City residents because they are so close [to the planned Lighthouse development]." She also said she understood the concerns with safety, traffic, and water, because these things affect all residents who live, work, or play near the proposed site. However, McElroy also speculated that there was an element of fear, and she placed half the blame on area politicians whom she alleges are engaging in "fear-mongering."
McElroy used the example of a targeted Kate Murray mailer sent to residents of Garden City 2 weeks ago about the "proposed" light rail system, a project that has generated controversy and fed opposition to the Lighthouse even though it is not part of the plans and Charles Wang does not want it included. McElroy accused Murray of preying on residents' fears and claimed she was not working for the people of Garden City.
McElroy assured me there must be a way to "work through the anxiety" held by Garden City residents in order to guide the Lighthouse to its ultimate completion - "make [the Lighthouse] happen, but make [Garden City residents] happy."
Kristen McElroy believes pro-Lighthouse residents of the Town of Hempstead should support her for Supervisor because she agrees with and fully supports the vision put forth by Charles Wang and Scott Rechler. In addition, she promised me she would "sit down on day 1" with the developers and "make sure [the project] really happens." She claimed negotiations "should have happened a long time ago," but expressed confidence that, under her leadership, the Town of Hempstead would approve the project and reap the benefits of jobs, tax revenue, and a permanent home for the Islanders.
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