Monday, July 25, 2011
Posted by Nick at Monday, July 25, 2011
(Warning: This is a long one, and not my usual tone. No jokes, no "areener," nothing but an impassioned plea to Nassau County's electorate. I've sent this to every newspaper on Long Island as well)
I want to share a story with you that frames my thoughts about this referendum and where my endorsement will fall.
I was in the middle of a business trip to San Francisco in February of this year, waiting to meet a dear friend for dinner outside an Indian restaurant in Lower Pacific Heights. Multiple groups of people - maybe about 10 - passed by me as I leaned against the brick wall of the restaurant. I couldn't hear their whole conversation, but what I picked up was unmistakable. Every group was talking about doing a startup in San Francisco with that almost naive optimism that comes from someone convinced their idea will change the world (I'm infected with it myself; I'd know it anywhere).
I was struck by this experience all throughout a lovely dinner, and in the post-dinner conversation my friend startled me. Out of nowhere, she asked me what ever came of "that arena thing I blogged about a couple of years ago" - did we win, or lose?
Stopping and casting my gaze downward, I mumbled "We lost."
She surprised me further by looking at me and saying, in a tone that suggested both shock and exasperation, "Why?! It seemed like a perfect deal!"
That's a question, isn't it? I had never dwelt on the dead Lighthouse Project for long enough to come up with a pithy synthesis of what had happened. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had a moment of perfect clarity, and blurted this out:
"Because there are people who would let Long Island sink into the ocean, while they sat on their decks and preened to nobody in particular about what a great place Long Island is."
I think my friend was as startled to hear this line as I was to have said it, and it prompted a deeper conversation on the mindset and belief system that was the Lighthouse Project's undoing. I was almost exasperated that I wasn't getting through to her, until I had another moment of perfect clarity.
She doesn't understand.
She can't understand.
That world, and that mindset, are foreign to someone born and raised, as she was, in the go-go, can-do world of the Bay Area, a world where dreams come true for young entrepreneurs practically every day.
But that world, and that mindset, have given rise to a hideous disease that has taken control of Long Island's very soul. The region that gave birth to the entire concept of a suburban life and symbolized the can-do optimism of post-World War II America has become a time capsule, frozen in time by its own self-defeatist ethos. Grand visions are not welcome here anymore, and any attempt to re-set this once-runaway train that now has its emergency brake permanently on are crushed and broken under a misguided ideology that wafts to the heavens like a terrible prayer: "This is Suburbia."
Long Island has been in a crisis for many years. The region Charles Lindbergh carried with him across the Atlantic, that came to epitomize the ideal in American life of a suburban house with a white-picket fence, that left a piece of itself on the moon with the Grumman-designed Lunar Module, lost its identity somewhere along the way and now defines itself by what it isn't.
"We are not the city."
"We are not for young people or renters."
"We do not want to be a 6th borough."
"We do not welcome big ideas."
Residents constantly complain about issues such as choking property tax rates, yet they continue to elect and re-elect the same venal politicians who provide lip service to these issues while continuing to support and expand the very system that perpetuates them. Partisan hackery has taken the place of true statesmanship and a willingness to band together for the common good.
Even the area's only remaining professional sports team, the New York Islanders, are an accidental team playing in an accidental arena. The Islanders exist wholly because Nassau County wanted to keep the upstart WHA out of the soon-to-be-built Nassau Coliseum, and the NHL was all too willing to oblige. Therefore, after a territorial invasion fee of $4 million to the New York Rangers, the Islanders opened play in 1972 in the brand-new Nassau Coliseum.
The Coliseum itself is a compromise and an accident that became obsolete minutes after the ribbon was cut. County Executive Nickerson, who envisioned a county-wide destination on that land ever since it was ceded to the county by the Kennedy Administration in 1962, was rebuffed in his efforts to build a 20,000 seat arena with an underground station for the Long Island Rail Road. Some undoubtedly assumed the Islanders were a placeholder and would leave the area as a distant memory once the WHA folded and a major metropolitan area came calling.
Then, on May 24, 1980, a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity.
Stanley Cup Champions!
Three additional championships later, the Islanders were here to stay, and discussions about replacing Nassau Coliseum began shortly after the 4th banner was raised to its already-aging rafters. In fact, to illustrate how truly absurd this situation has become, just imagine a new arena had been built in the mid-1980s after the Dynasty. The time to replace THAT building would be drawing near.
The team has not had similar success in recent years, but it is still a part of all of us, possibly even moreso for me. You see, I began following hockey in 1992 as a young boy, and I was so excited when David Volek scored his overtime winner to eliminate the two-time defending champion Penguins that I ran upstairs to tell my parents, tripped on our living room carpet, and tore a gash above my left knee by hitting the corner of our coffee table. That scar, and the Islanders, are a part of me forever, and this team has for too long been used by both sides of the aisle as a political football instead of a symbol for Long Island and a $250 million per year economic engine for Nassau County. For too long, fans have been talking about NIFA, supermajorities, and Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statements instead of Tavares, Streit, Strome, and Niederreiter.
I can't deny my passion, but this issue is bigger than merely a hockey team. It goes beyond politics. It is about a grander vision for what Long Island will be in the future, and that is why I urge you to vote YES on the new arena Monday, August 1.
I and many others wished the Lighthouse Project could become our shining utopia, but as we know, "utopia" has 2 roots in classical Greek, one meaning "the good place," and the other meaning "the place that cannot be." The Lighthouse Project was our "good place," but political jockeying and the feelings I outlined in the beginning turned it into the "place that cannot be."
This referendum must not be considered against a now-dead development proposal; it must be weighed against the cost of doing nothing.
Independent reviews have cut through the scare tactics and presented us with a stark choice. For example, the Office of Legislative and Budget Review pegs the cost of a new arena at a maximum of $13.80 per household per year.
The cost of doing nothing and losing the Islanders and Nassau Coliseum? $16 per household per year, with $243 million and 2,660 jobs projected to disappear from the Nassau County economy should the team move and the arena be shuttered. When presented with that choice, how can you choose nothing over something?
I do not believe this arena will be a cure-all for Long Island's problems, but it can serve as the first step in an admittedly long journey. This decision can lead to other good decisions and smart ideas that will define how Nassau County chooses to be suburbia in the 21st Century. That is the world I choose to believe in.
Voters will be faced with a stark choice when they go to the polls on Monday, August 1. They can continue the defeatist woe-is-me that has infected this island, all under that poisonous rallying cry of "This is Suburbia," or they can stand up and say enough is enough.
I say enough is enough.
I choose to stand for building something instead of tearing it down.
I choose to stand for optimism instead of pessimism.
I choose to believe Long Island can be better than it is now.
I choose to believe one good decision can lead to others.
The choice is clear: Please vote August 1, and I urge you to vote yes. For Long Islanders, not the New York Islanders. For citizens, not for Democrats or Republicans. For what Long Island can be, not for what it was. For the belief that our best days can still be ahead and we can choose to stand for something, rather than falling for everything.
We, at this time, at this moment, can stand up and break the cycle that has gripped Long Island for generations, and help set us on a path that will hopefully result in our children being as mystified by the self-defeatist ideology as my friend in San Francisco.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time.