"The only monster here is the gambling monster that has enslaved your mother! I call him Gamblor, and it's time to free your mother from his neon claws!"
-Homer Simpson, "$pringfield"
Ed Mangano finally revealed his most substantive thinking on the problem of the Nassau Coliseum property since he was sworn in as County Executive.
When I read it, I had to check the calendar to make sure this wasn't April Fool's Day.
You all read it correctly in Newsday (subscription required): Ed Mangano revealed negotiations with the Shinnecock Nation to build a casino, resort, and a new hockey arena on the Nassau Coliseum property, "should the Lighthouse not succeed."
I'm going to try to split this out into logical groupings: initial reaction, interpretation, whether this could ever actually fly, and moving forward.
When I first heard this, I thought the new County Executive must be kidding, because the issues with putting a casino in such a central location in Nassau County are almost too numerous to list.
Connecticut required both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun to be built in less-populated areas that are accessible via highway.
Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead put on a very good show complaining about the traffic that a completed Lighthouse Project would bring, trying to scare residents with a dark vision of a car-choked suburbia that in essence would no longer be suburbia. A casino, which would operate 24/7 and attract large busloads of people from all over the region, would almost certainly create much more of a traffic nightmare than the Lighthouse Project ever could.
According to my friend B.D. Gallof, Gamblers Anonymous reports that gambling addictions among young Long Islanders have reached near-epidemic levels. T he County Executive's proposed solution to this is to place a casino directly in the middle of two colleges (Hofstra University and Nassau Community College), and within easy driving distance of multiple other colleges and even high schools, including Uniondale High School, Hempstead High School, Sacred Heart, Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, and my alma mater, Kellenberg Memorial.
I also thought about the opposition to the currently-proposed project. There are many people who consider the Lighthouse Project as something that would create "impossible" issues (a meme loyally parroted by a now-departed newspaper reporter). In addition, as the months-old disputes with people who wanted to make me the issue (speaking of which, Christine Mullaney, I'm still waiting for your email, nearly 7 months later) show, there are people in the village of Garden City who consider light rail and small apartment buildings blight. What would these individuals think about a casino?
More than anything else, I couldn't help but think of what a wasted opportunity this ridiculous casino idea would represent. Would the County Executive seriously propose to take the most widely-supported large project in Long Island's history, a project that promised to catalyze development and social change to address Long Island's major issues, and replace it with card tables and slot machines? Is he really prepared to push the panic button and say Long Island can't solve its problems without resorting to the oldest revenue-generating scheme in the book? Would he really transform a proposed suburban oasis into a property known to attract crime, drugs, and other vices, and place it right in the middle of the County?***
Seriously, I'd star in the print ads myself if this garbage ever actually got off the ground. Once I moved off Long Island (and trust me, it's coming), I'd pose for a print ad holding a sign that said "ED MANGANO CARES MORE ABOUT A CASINO THAN KEEPING ME ON LONG ISLAND."
Ed Mangano's official Twitter account (@edmangano, for those who don't follow him) asked yesterday what Nassau County thought of this. I told him that I thought it must be a joke, but nobody is laughing.
***It's worth noting I'm not against casino gaming in its entirety. My biggest problem with gambling is that I'm bad at it. However, there are proper locations for a casino, just like there are proper locations for anything else, and I can't see a casino working in that particular place.
This decision smacked of an administration in Mineola that pushed the panic button. Casino gaming is seen as a cheap way to revitalize a downtrodden area, but casinos can only generate any stimulative effects if they cater to tourists, and almost all economic activity is generated at the casino complex itself.
This must be the time of year that brings out the crazy in our elected officials, because it was last March when the Town of Hempstead hallucinated that President Obama's stimulus funds could be used to pay for a new Coliseum, and they actually had the gall to chide the Lighthouse for not putting Islanders fans first.
Speaking of the Town, Kate Murray professed to be "surprised" by the County Executive's announcement. Surprised? Seriously? If I were working in good faith on a vision for the Coliseum site only to see Ed Mangano ride in from nowhere with a casino fantasy, I'd be a lot more than surprised. B.D. has promised follow-ups from the Town, and their reactions will be telling.
More than anything, this smacks of a Nassau County looking for the easy way out and never acknowledging the County's role in getting us to this point. Ed Mangano wasn't in office when the Coliseum was built through a compromise (remember, original plans called for something more like Joe Louis Arena in Detroit with an underground station for the Long Island Rail Road), nor was he in office when arena management was bungled repeatedly. It was reported during the "pigs at the trough" crisis over 11 years ago that Nassau County only spent $50,000 per year on Coliseum maintenance, when similar government bodies were spending upwards of $2 million per year. Nassau County has never acknowledged its role in this mess, and it once again is trying to get something for nothing - but this time they are seemingly ignoring ancillary costs to the community.
I also began to wonder if this was the culmination of what we had long feared: that the Republican Party might not want people to live at the Coliseum site. Remember, last year sources said the Town of Hempstead was asking about the political affiliations of people who are predisposed to living in that type of housing. In the same vein, other connected Republican sources spoke about a desire to block housing at the Coliseum property to prevent "a bunch of New York City Democrats" from moving in. It's worth questioning, then, if the current administrations genuinely want to address the problems the Lighthouse Project promised to catalyze. It says something if they genuinely believe a casino is a better outcome than a few thousand people who may or may not belong to the other political party.
It could also be an attempted retribution at a Lighthouse Development Group that fully hitched its wagon to Tom Suozzi's fading star and allowed the doomed Kristen McElroy to shake hands inside Nassau Coliseum on game days.
By the way, it's not surprising the NHL is ambivalent about the proposal; I'm only surprised that people would be surprised. The NHL wants healthy franchises and new buildings, and they don't care if a building is financed by a casino as long as the arena itself isn't a casino.
Could This Fly?
When the story first broke yesterday, many readers and observers, wondering if this was simply a ploy, asked the right questions, wondering if this was even a feasible plan to begin with. I want, desperately, to believe that this ridiculous stunt is a red herring, and while there is evidence that it could be, there is also a mountain of evidence that it isn't.
First of all, at least in my theory of negotiating, you present an alternative that makes sense in order to motivate the other side into negotiating. Something so patently ridiculous, and which has drawn swift condemnation from almost everyone, doesn't motivate Charles Wang to come to the table with the intent of making a deal. If that had been Mangano's plan, he could have just as easily made a big show of meeting with Mack-Cali, a commercial real estate developer with vast resources whose founder was found to be a large donor to the Mangano campaign post-election by....this web site.
Some wonder if this is a ploy, but by the Shinnecock Nation rather than Mangano himself. After all, the Shinnecocks, whose reservation is in Southampton, have been trying unsuccessfully for years to build a casino in Suffolk County. However, this doesn't make sense either. If the Shinnecocks were using this for pure PR, they would have been ready with a statement, but we haven't heard anything from them. They seemed to be caught unaware, just like Messrs. Wang and Rechler (one source close to Rechler said that Rechler wasn't informed of this in advance). Looks, on the surface, like it's all Mangano.
I was pinged by another reliable source shortly after this broke who helped to put this in deeper perspective. This source told me the Shinnecock Nation is deeply connected to Al D'Amato, and this could be an issue of cronyism. Expect more on this as we fire up the ol' investigative arm.
Building on this, we can't forget the meeting that the Assembly Republicans sponsored last April 4 at Nassau Coliseum. I couldn't go, but B.D. pinch-hit for me, and he mentioned at the time that casino gaming was one of the priorities for those hoping to increase Long Island tourism.
Too crazy to be a ploy? Check.
Shinnecocks and Lighthouse not prepared in advance? Check.
Shinnecocks connected to Republicans? Check.
Casino gaming a Republican priority? Check.
I think that's enough to take this very seriously.
I expect to see a resolution on the Lighthouse once and for all this year, but in an ironic twist of fate, Ed Mangano may have just done the Lighthouse a monumental favor. As we said, the opposition, which never topped 25% in any opinion poll, is largely centered around a few Property Owners' Associations in Garden City who are deeply concerned about blight. I'd have to imagine the Lighthouse Project looks pretty good when the most viable proposed alternative is a casino, and it may lead to a unified push for Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead to reach an agreement with Charles Wang.
In the same vein, this patent nonsense could be the last push for Charles Wang and the New York Islanders to seek other options. Many frustrated hockey fans push Queens, but, to borrow an old phrase, the arena currently under construction in Brooklyn is a bird in the hand. In addition, sources say Charles Wang and Bruce Ratner do have a cordial relationship, and while Mr. Wang may not want to play second fiddle he could be persuaded by his ultimate prize: a piece of the soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov purchased 80% of the Nets, leaving 20% to Bruce Ratner. One wonders if a stake in the Nets and the Atlantic Yards development could push Wang to the Atlantic Terminal and away from the Hempstead Plain. With the rhetoric still flying from the Town and a County suddenly interested in looking elsewhere, it could also represent the final nail in the coffin.
I think we should examine where this goes, and whether the casino proposal has legs from the County perspective.
This came as a shock to the system, as many saw our shared Island dream potentially dissolve into dice thrown across a craps table. I'm still hoping this is a ploy, despite the evidence to the contrary, but that doesn't mean we can't share our opinion. The County Executive must understand this kind of ridiculous proposal can't fly in that location, and if he continues to believe it is a good solution, it might raise fair questions about his handling of the situation and his knowledge of the issue.
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