Light House a Heavy Lift

lighthouseThe frustration level surrounding the Lighthouse Project is redlining. Charles Wang is ready to move our only professional team off island. Tom Suozzi can’t stop throwing Kate Murray under the proverbial bus. Kate Murray can’t stop the onslaught of criticism being hurled her way through the letter pages of Newsday. The table is set for the Lighthouse Project to take center stage during election season, and that’s bad news for all of us.

Now that it has been moved from the miniature planning model table to political football, the jackals have gathered in the alley like the television news-team street fight from Will Ferrell’s Anchorman. On one side of the crowded alley are the Environmentalists in their turtlenecks and corduroy jackets with leather elbow pads. A handful of them are armed with environmental impact studies and good intentions; most are carrying lucrative consulting contracts at the ready for any developer with a buck and a pen. Across from them are the NIMBY Activists holding signs that say “No.” They’re not quite sure yet what they’re fighting but they’re pretty sure they don’t want it. The Politicians, who are notoriously dirty street fighters, always come late but with backup—several shifty aides, photographers and spinsters form a perimeter around them as they prepare to hurl sound bites and partisan insults. But perhaps the most menacing gang around, the Union, has been there since early morning totally amped up on caffeine. And yes, they brought the rat.

In the center of the fight a hapless civilian and Islander fan. A casualty of war. Collateral damage as they say in the biz. A statistic.

My overarching problem with the Lighthouse Project isn’t necessarily what is being proposed. It’s what we’re missing. This area of the Island commonly referred to as “The Hub” has been batted around for decades and now we finally have a local visionary and a homegrown real estate mogul ready to bring it all together. This is usually where Long Island screws the whole thing up and this is beginning to look no different. What we’re missing here is what we have always been missing and that is a master plan. The Regional Planning Board has been and continues to be the most useless assemblage of talent on the Island. I’m not being facetious either when I say talent. There have been several talented people involved with this board but nothing has ever been accomplished.

A master plan would take into consideration everything that Scott Rechler and Charles Wang are trying to accomplish on one parcel of land. What is preposterous is the fact that we are isolating the Lighthouse Project without some educated governing body taking every facet of this development into play and tying it together with adjacent areas. One aspect of the so-called “Hub” that I have always found disturbing is the notion that we must install a new light-rail system to connect this magical new kingdom with the local mall, train station and Nassau Community College. This might make for impressive drawings and renderings, but in practice we have a community called the Village of Hempstead a couple of miles away from this new “Hub” that already has a robust public transportation infrastructure, zoning that can support greater vertical development and another university sandwiched in between that could benefit from better regional planning.

Our country, and this island specifically, have always had the philosophy of discover, develop, abuse and abandon. We’re constantly seeking to find the next area of expansion to push our population into—yet our population isn’t expanding at the rate we’re developing. This scorched earth policy of development that has abused our landscapes is tearing down our infrastructure and the cracks are beginning to show. Our population isn’t growing on Long Island—in fact it hasn’t grown since the 1970s. The only thing that has grown on the Island is our expectations.

It’s time to plant a new Truffula seed. The problem with handing over open space to developers is our current zoning structure. Developers aren’t evil, they do what they are allowed to do and what the market will bear. What they’re allowed to build are housing units, light industrial and warehouse space and strip malls. Do we really need an additional 500,000 square feet in the Lighthouse Project when the Source Mall is empty and Roosevelt Field is on its way? Nope. Are 2,600 apartments going to house the entire new workforce on Long Island and solve our affordable housing crisis? Nope. Do we need a minor league ballpark that you can’t walk to from the Coliseum or a train station? Nuh-uh. There are several aspects of the Lighthouse Project that are nonsensical in the current environment and in the context of planning for future generations. Having said that, there are several pieces of the project that make a whole lot of sense and we need to ensure that our resident visionaries and real estate moguls are encouraged to build here. But wouldn’t it be nice if this development fit into a greater plan instead of being the only plan on the drawing board?

Suiting Up For A Run

runningmansuitI know it’s all part of the political process, but there’s something so amusing to me when politicians have to don costumes to profess an interest in community happenings. Nothing makes me giggle more than the likes of Tom Suozzi wearing hip waders in a sea of garbage, or Steve Levy touching the top of a solar array as if being able to feel the energy emanating from it. My all-time favorite is seeing any of our public servants in a hard hat, as if their union card is at the ready and they are prepared to singlehandedly hoist a steel beam several stories into the air. I think when you’re elected you actually get a pair of giant scissors in the event a ribbon-cutting ceremony breaks out. 

Several years ago I ran an ill-fated campaign for mayor of Glen Cove. Truthfully, it was a blast and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Just meeting everyone in the city and learning how roads are paved, where garbage goes and who answers the call when the alarms go off at the firehouse is enough to light my candle. Putting my family through the misery of a campaign, on the other hand, was an unfortunate way to gain the education. What got me thinking about the shenanigans of the campaign trail and the silly things politicians have to do to stay elected was a piece of campaign literature from my mayoral run that I came across recently when cleaning out my garage. There I was, standing on the beach at sunset wearing a suit. Why not? What else would any self-respecting office-seeking candidate wear on a warm summer day at the beach?

Yet beyond the hard hats, giant scissors, Michael Dukakis helmets and Cub Scout photo ops is the timeless Tip O’Neill saying that “all politics is local.” It’s shoe leather that wins the day in a campaign. Proof positive of this is yet another colossal upset in Suffolk County under the stewardship of Democratic Party boss Richie Schaffer. Schaffer once again upended the expectations in Brookhaven and got an unknown candidate elected to Brookhaven Town Supervisor. They did it the old-fashioned way: by knocking on doors and connecting with people. Having my own brush with the process I can honestly say there is no greater truth in politics. In fact, it may be the only truth in politics. 

Knocking on doors, however, is its own box of chocolates: You never know what you’re going to get. For example, my fellow candidates and I were surprised to learn how many men answer the door shirtless. When walking on a Sunday (in the narrow window between church services and baseball), we learned that knocking on the front door in the Italian district was pointless. Now, check the side door entrance to the basement and you’re likely to find dozens of people of all ages streaming out of the house like a clown car. This is how I learned that Italian Americans don’t actually cook in the kitchen; that’s what the basement kitchen is for. Politicians who walk in wealthy districts do so at their own risk. Alternately, the poorer the neighborhood, the more likely you are to be invited in for a meal. This is a perilous tactic that assaults a politician’s time and waistline, necessitating yet more walking. There are hundreds of observations to be made about our culture and our neighborhoods when walking door to door in a political campaign, each one more valuable than the next. 

At the end of the day it’s the only way to learn about the community you strive to represent. It’s also the only way to earn people’s trust first and their votes later. And if you work diligently enough, you too will be awarded with a giant pair a scissors, a hard hat and an undying respect for the people you represent.

Stimulate My Package

shorehamAnd now for a tremendous over-simplification about the stimulus package. But first – a rant.

 

According to The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a U.S. based non-profit organization, the US Department of Agriculture considered 36.2 million people in the United States to be “food insecure” in 2007. Food insecurity is defined as “recurring and involuntary lack of access to food.” Of these 35.2 million Americans, 12.4 million are children.

 

One of W’s last acts in 2008 to preserve the banking system was to sign a $700billion stimulus package to save the banking industry. President Obama has already pushed through in 2009 an additional $787billion package to fix everything else.

 

Where was all this money when American children were going hungry in 2007? Oh, that’s right. China. We are borrowing all of this money from a country that routinely allows its massive rural population to go hungry because they have saved their pennies more wisely from selling crap to the United States for the past twenty five years.

 

I think we need to realign our priorities where emergency funding is concerned. Now, on to the stimulus package.

 

So the United States has managed to print/steal/borrow $787billion and is going to shower Americans with dollar bills like strippers in the topless nightclub rotunda of Congress. Cool. As much as I would like to “get me some of that” money raining down from the heavens I have an idea of how we can really kioli this package and ask for what is fair.

 

Twenty years ago environmental and energy advocates on Long Island successfully shuttered the Shoreham Nuclear Energy plant yet we have been living with this albatross ever since. Every year the Long Island Power Authority services the debt on the six billion dollars it took to build Shoreham. We cannot get ahead of it. Every one that moves here receives a little slice of nuclear debt like a finance charge on a parking ticket we all got in the 80’s.

 

Whatever your opinion of the larger-than-life Richie Kessel, he was responsible for transforming LIPA into a forward thinking enterprise and implemented ambitious efficiency programs. There were gaffs along the way and sometimes it appeared to be more about Richie than LIPA but he was an effective leader and persuasive communicator. His demon was the debt left over from the Shoreham debacle; ironically a project he was instrumental in shutting down.

 

Enter Kevin Law. Brilliant, affable and well-connected. Law has assembled an enviable team of professionals that are equally suited to run either county (and have). His team is bent on transforming and streamlining LIPA, but they too are strangled by the Shoreham debt that casts a shadow over us all.

 

This debt has left us with the highest energy rates in the nation. Many businesses can barely afford to stay here and we have little shot of attracting new, major companies who offer significant employment opportunities. Developers struggle too with creating new affordable homes for our young people, in large due to the high cost of energy production on the island. It affects every home owner, every landlord, every business and every municipality. The debt is crushing us and hampering LIPA’s ability to transform the way we think about energy and conservation on Long Island.

 

As awful and backwards as this sounds, LIPA cannot afford to help Long Islanders conserve too much energy because it simply costs too much to be LIPA. Every time a Long Islander installs solar power in his or her home, the rest of us pick up the freight. In a time when the green movement and energy efficiency will provide the best opportunity for Long Island to transform itself as a region, it is the ultimate conundrum.

 

This is where our Congressional leaders can help. Gary, Carolyn, Pete, Steve and Tim… listen up. There are 303 million people in the United States. Congress is handing out $787 billion dollars. That’s $2,590 per person in the U.S. if we were to evenly allocate the money spent among our population. Long Island has approximately 2.7 million people, which means our fair share of the stimulus package should be around 6.9 billion dollars. See where I’m going with this yet?

 

Retire LIPA’s debt.

 

Put money back in everyone’s pocket.

Allow Kevin Law to freely implement conservation and efficiency programs on Long Island.

Make us more competitive in attracting new companies to Long Island and help preserve existing businesses.

 

Go do your jobs and get our money. We never asked for Shoreham. We never asked for this debt. It’s your responsibility to get us out of this mess and give this region a fighting shot to reinvent itself and stay competitive for years to come.

Taking Climate's Temperature

timemagcover1
This Guy's Really Smart and Really Old

This weekend’s NY Times Magazine cover story is about the oft-quoted Freeman Dyson, a scientist who has come to embody the anti-climate change argument. The problem he presents is that he has typically been regarding as a leftist politically. Thus he’s quite the quagmire for global warming theorists because he feels as though it has been blown out of perspective; a dramatic departure from what one would assume his political and emotional leanings are. At 85 and after a brilliant career in the sciences, Dyson is in danger of being painted as a single issue mad scientist because of his feelings and the attention the global warming movement has garnered. He also seems old enough and personally comfortable enough not to really give a shit. It looks rather freeing quite honestly.

(He’s the opposite of my recollection of meeting Dr. Atkins at a dinner party just a couple of years before he passed away. When introduced to him I make the immature mistake of saying something like, “oh, the man behind the diet!” I can tell you that this is not how he wanted to be remembered. But I digress…)

I happen to believe that humans are having a significant impact on climate. But I wouldn’t want to debate Dyson. I’m not equipped to have this scientific conversation but I do have eyes, senses and a memory. I can see that my immediate world looks different than I remember as a kid. Trees struggling to determine when to bud, geese hanging in for prolonged winter stretches, fucked up storm patterns and fewer snow days. Things are, well, different. It’s difficult to determine who is in the right scientifically but frankly I think the argument itself is a waste of time. For some reason the very topic of global warming sparks debate and polarizes an otherwise important discussion.

The biggest boost to green living and the climate change movement would be to stop focusing on it. To steer the debate away from scientific theories of rising oceans and dying polar bears and focus it on the tangible aspects of the problem. Asthma, increased cancer rates and the deteriorating health of our children can be linked to poor air quality from dirty manufacturing processes, a poisonous food supply, backwards farming practices, the disappearance of important ecologies, and more. These are similar, if not identical, agents of global warming. Sick children are hard to argue against. Nothing against the polar bears but my marketing instincts tell me that Rush Limbaugh, Al Gore, Kim Jong Il and Freeman Dyson would all agree that we have compromised our children’s ability to live natural and healthy lives.

Sometimes it not what you say. It’s just how you say it.

What I Meant Was…

tommyd
Tom DiNapoli The Last Honest Man In Albany

Last week I took certain members of Congress who voted for a pay raise to task for rewarding themselves during the steepest economic decline in decades. What I found insulting was that our local Congressional members, such as Representative Gary Ackerman and Senator Charles Schumer, were simultaneously raking the auto manufacturers over the coals and suggesting they work for $1 per year while voting to accept a raise themselves. Because the United States is hemorrhaging money at a far greater pace than the big three auto manufacturers, it just seemed disingenuous.

I then went on to extol the virtues of public servants such as Michael Balboni who gave up a critical Republican seat in the New York State Senate—taking a pay cut in the process—in order to serve as New York’s Homeland Security czar. The article was published in last week’s edition of the Long Island Press on exactly the day Balboni gave notice to the state and announced he is heading to the private sector.

 

Yep. I was that guy. The point of the article, though slightly diminished under the circumstances, remains the same. But I spent a great deal of time thinking about the best way to recover from this and came up with the following scenarios.

Grief. I wrote the article because I feared that he would leave. It was a last ditch effort to try and convince an incredible public official to remain in office and defend our great state against invisible enemies and unforeseen tragedies. Please Mr. Balboni, reconsider for our sake! Pleeeeaaaase!

Incredulity. How could he? Who does he think he is? Shame on Mr. Balboni for forsaking the good people of New York State and leaving us behind for selfish pursuits.

Narcissism. Clearly Mr. Balboni saw something in my article that touched a nerve deep inside of him. He surely misinterpreted my intention to shower him with accolades and decided based upon MY words and insight that he must move on from this post.

B.S. I knew it all along. In fact, he consulted me on the move, which is why I put this article in on the exact date that only Mr. Balboni and his family knew that he was leaving office.

Mea Culpa. My bad.

Denial. Did I say Michael Balboni? I meant Tom DiNapoli. The M-I-C-H-A-E-L-B-O-N keys on my keyboard often times stick together and instead show up as T-O-M-D-I-N-P-L. I sincerely apologize for the confusion. I have since swapped out my keyboard with Jamie from accounting.  

Instead, I’ll call it what it is. Unbelievable (and if you work at the Press – ridicule worthy) timing. The bright side is that I am able to dedicate space again to honor a man I admire greatly and consider a friend. Michael Balboni is the type of person that makes those around him better and it’s hard not to be caught up in his enthusiasm whether he’s speaking about his family, boxing, surfing, or homeland security.

If you have ever spent time in the company of Michael Balboni you know that he is remarkably self effacing and down to earth considering the gravity of the subject matter he studies and represents. His enthusiasm for the simple pleasures, such as his continual pursuit of the perfect wave, is contagious and his dedication to New York has been unwavering for twenty four years. I’m thrilled for his family and thankful that he is continuing in the field of homeland security, albeit in the private sector. And I still think that our local officials would be well-advised to take a page out of his book.

Now, as I was saying about that great Long Island public servant Tom DiNapoli…

Balboni Rising

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Mike Balboni. Politician. Badass.

 

Personally I have never really given much thought to the pay of elected officials because we have the ability to fire them.  But a few weeks ago Congress actually gave itself a raise shortly after its public repudiation of Wall Street and the auto industry. Local Congressman Gary Ackerman even went so far as to say that he considers public servants to be “greatly underpaid”. This is the same Congressman who now pulls in $174,000 per year in active income and reports anywhere between $15,000 and $50,000 in passive income as an owner of the Queens Tribune. Senator and Mrs. Schumer pulled in more than $370,000 from their government jobs and last year received another $94,000 in royalties from the Senator’s book about, well, being a Senator.

 

Ackerman’s grandstanding successfully grabbed headlines when he chastised the auto executives for flying privately to the bailout hearings. He joined a chorus of other lawmakers who recommended that the executives work for $1 per year just as Lee Iacocca famously did when he turned Chrysler around. To be fair, the auto executives deserved to be admonished for being so crass and out of touch as to charter private jets to defend why they should receive billions of taxpayer dollars to save their companies.

 

 

While the auto manufacturers looked remarkably out of touch with consumer demand and market realities, they hardly acted alone in killing consumer confidence and creating upheaval in the credit markets. If we’re going to get technical for a moment, it was the Senate banking committee (which Schumer is likely to head soon), The Federal Reserve, Washington lobbyists and investment banks that deregulated and dismantled our economy and contributed to the collapse of the markets. So under this logic shouldn’t we be asking the banking committee, investment bankers and all of Congress to work for $1 per year?

 

Quite the opposite, actually. Bank CEO’s were given billions of dollars and didn’t have to explain where it went, the Senate banking committee is still in power and Congress got a raise. What a country!

 

Today the hopes of a nation now squarely rest on the broad shoulders of a man who redefines American politics but our troubles at home are ever-present and frighteningly real. That’s why the differences and parallels between the leader of New York State and these United States are so interesting. The nation has its first black President by choice; New York has its first black Governor by happenstance. Both are competent, respected and affable and neither man shrinks from a challenge. Both have warned us of the perils that lay ahead.

 

A few weeks ago in this column I lauded then President-elect Obama to reappoint Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense to ensure a smooth transition in the most sensitive area of government. The same is actually true of David Paterson. He put aside politics in the case of homeland security and retained the services of Michael Balboni as Deputy Secretary for Public Safety.

  

On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be such a bold move since Balboni was already in the position under Spitzer. Yet some viewed Balboni’s original appointment as a political decision as much as a good policy choice. At the time, removing Republican Balboni from his Senate seat brought the New York Democrats one seat closer to a majority. But that was yesterday. Today the seat is in the hands of popular democrat Craig Johnson and the Senate is now under democrat control. Essentially Paterson could have taken the opportunity to fill Balboni’s department with patronage and party loyalists.

 

Instead, Paterson made the right decision for New Yorkers and continued his relationship with Balboni and his staff. It wasn’t long ago that Balboni himself was a high ranking Republican being considered for the State Attorney General’s position or possibly Governor. But a profound knowledge of Homeland Security forged early in his career—when it wasn’t the least bit fashionable—damned him to a position that, believe me, I’m thankful he’s in. When asked to serve New York in this capacity Balboni not only took a pay cut, he essentially sealed his fate with the Republican Party in New York and cast aside years of hard work climbing the political ladder.

 

Hmm. A public servant who serves the public to his financial and political detriment. Obama hasn’t cornered the market on nobility in public office after all. Examples of heroism through service are all around us; sometimes you just need to know where to look. If only Ackerman, Schumer and their colleagues took note. 

Unintended Consequence

The leader of the free world is a black man. Yes, thank you, I do enjoy playing the role of Captain Obvious. So much has been said and written about the meaning of this and how far America has come in making this choice. But there is a sinister side to the top job being filled by an African American that has surfaced recently in discussions among white Americans that is endangering the progress we have made.

Increasingly there are email threads and discussions being held about how this is obviously the end of racism because a black man now occupies the highest office in the land. As though somehow this is the capstone moment to the civil rights movement that indicates some kind of closure—that the struggle has come to an end. I imagine black Americans taking issue with this notion, and rightfully so, but what I’m referring to is an attitude displayed at the water cooler that must be acknowledged and talked about.

There have always been black leaders in this country that transcended politics and represented the race struggle in our society. Throughout this national blemish, and after the time of Frederick Douglas, there was usually more than one leader who represented black America. Booker T. Washington’s influence in American black history is undeniable but even in his time his methods were challenged by fellow black leaders, most notably W.E.B DuBois. Decades later the civil rights movement would also have leaders such as Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. who carried the civil rights issue forward into American consciousness but from different perspectives.

Boxing is my favorite sport as much for how closely it parallels American politics. The civil rights movement evolved through larger-than-life figures who galvanized not only the black population but all of America. The Jack Johnson era gave way to the Joe Louis era. Both men were leapfrogged in our consciousness by a man who would electrify the world. Muhammad Ali did more to raise the profile of African Americans all over the world than perhaps any other figure until Barack Obama.

So what happens when the man who captured the imagination of black America captures the imaginations of us all? Barack Obama no longer uniquely belongs to the African American race like the leaders who paved the way before him. Barack Obama belongs to the world. The man, his family and everything he stands for now screams “America” and it is how the world will identify with us for at least the next four years. If we were all cowboys with a swagger and a ‘shoot first ask questions later’ attitude for the past eight years, we are now part of the Obama movement.

White America was prepared to accept this reality by participating in this choice but it is already coming at a price. I have received email threads about white pride from very normal and respectable people and had conversations with people who now assume that the civil rights struggle has come to an end. But the way in which we speak about race in this country is a strange dance with very particular rules of engagement, though  they may be unwritten.  Jokes about African Americans told by white people are still told with a sly glance over the shoulder or allowed to be only spoken loudly by black comedians. What I have heard more than anything are comments like, “affirmative action is obviously over” and “no more favoritism, we’re all on equal footing.”

America, we need to talk about this… Openly. Your thoughts?

Auto-Neurotic Asphyxiation

I should have turned the radio off.

But the ongoing train wreck that is the Senate Banking Committee held yet another hearing from on high, and it proved too tempting turn away from. This auditory rubbernecking has caused me much consternation this year as I listen to the mightiest public servants in the land plod through testimony attempting to outdo one another with the toughest question or most intelligent preamble to a rhetorical question.

The latest subjects paraded in front of the Kangaroo Court were the chief executive officers from GM, Ford and Chrysler. The committee wasted no time trying to impress them with their vast knowledge of the auto industry and ability to ask long-winded, self- aggrandizing questions. I could hear their fingers wagging through my car radio and hear their aides actually speaking in muffled tones while they ignored the executives who were answering their insipid questions.

My road rage became palpable when one committee member suggested they each take $1 salaries, like Lee Iacocca famously did, until their companies became profitable again. I have a better idea. Since the Banking Committee systematically and autonomously dismantled the regulations put in place after the Great Depression to avoid another economic collapse, why don’t they work for $1 per year?

It’s hard to swallow the committee’s self-righteous indignation when these are the same bastards who tore down the financial markets and have been shifting the blame ever since. It was, after all, the Banking Committee that repealed acts such as Glass Steagall, which efficiently regulated the banking industry since the 1930s.

One of my favorite criticisms by the committee is how U.S. auto manufacturers didn’t respond quickly enough to rising fuel prices by rolling out more fuel efficient cars. Yet it was the same committee that deregulated the commodities market allowing rampant speculation to artificially drive up fuel prices to record highs rendering their product lines virtually obsolete overnight. These same senators are the ones who haven’t been able to rally the United States government to adopt emission standards and follow stricter efficiency protocols that have been seamlessly implemented by foreign nations that are now more competitive in auto manufacturing than we are.

I wonder how many of the Senate Banking Committee members drove away from the hearing in their standard government-issue black SUVs?

I’m no apologist for SUVs and overcompensated executives but it’s time to cut out the negative discourse surrounding the bailout. For that matter, stop referring to it as a bailout and consider it an investment into the workers who carried the nation on their backs and ushered in an era of unmatched American productivity. Besides executive compensation being out of control, another critical problem is that auto manufacturers have essentially become, as I heard described by one pundit, giant healthcare and pension companies that happen to make automobiles on the side. That’s why many claim that bankruptcy is the only solution to lawfully reorganize these companies and allow them to press the reset button. Unfortunately, no one is going to purchase an automobile from a bankrupt car company, which would force the manufacturers to slide from chapter 11 to chapter 7 faster than the attorneys could draw up the paperwork.

Instead, the government must use its power to intervene with the unions and mediate a settlement instead of forcing the automakers into bankruptcy to reorganize. Government should be working alongside automakers to meet more aggressive corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards and provide incentives for American workers to get hybrid and electric vehicles on the road.

As a nation we can decide to view the challenges that lie ahead as problems or opportunities. Let’s get past the blame game with executives pointing the finger at the unions, unions pointing the finger at management and government pointing the finger at Wall Street. There’s no question that executive compensation should be curtailed and bonuses should be forfeited. Once that’s established, let’s get past the punitive portion of the hearings and begin a partnership where we can collectively challenge one another to adapt and improve.

Butt Out

New York digs a hole for itself and looks for the little guy to fill it

buttKing Michael Bloomberg from the neighboring fiefdom of New York City is running out of cash. Well, not him per se but his empire. Having run high on the hog collecting tax bounty from the robber barons on Wall Street lo these many years, his treasury is dwindling. So King Mike is doing what any good monarch would do—get it from the poor. More specifically, the poorest people in the nation.

King Mike believes that New York State is losing millions of potential tax dollars from the illegal sale of cigarettes from New York tribes such as Shinnecock Reservation and Poospatuck to non-native reservation dwelling residents.  He likens the governor’s avoidance of cracking down on Native Americans to him letting murderers go free in the city. Ah. I can see the correlation. 

Here we are hundreds of years removed from the beginnings of the Native American genocide and American politicians are trying to finish the job. Not satisfied with banishing the remaining native people to the farthest reaches of their homeland, our elected officials are still seeking ways to humiliate an entire race of people.

Is it illegal for Native Americans to sell cigarettes without collecting sales tax? I don’t know. Was it legal to purposely spread chicken pox during peace time to systematically eradicate a native population? Was it legal to exile a people to the most resource-poor areas of their homeland and then kill their game and pollute their water supply? Is it legal that one in three Native American women living on reservations today will be the victim of rape during her lifetime and that it will be ignored by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs? Is it legal that the Bureau of Indian Affairs arbitrarily refuses to “recognize” tribes such as the Shinnecock Nation?

To fully understand the Native American paradox of living autonomously within the borders of its conquering nation you must first walk a mile in their moccasins. Native Americans living on reservation land cannot obtain a mortgage since the land beneath their homes cannot be repossessed. As we have learned all too painfully from the current mortgage crisis our economy hinges on the consumer’s ability to create value and equity in his or her home. Absent this single piece, Native Americans are forced to live outside reservation land to achieve the so-called American dream of home ownership. For those who choose to stay on reservation land, options are dramatically reduced.

So are they selling contraband? Maybe. Does the humiliation visited upon them for the past two hundred years justify allowing them to continue the practice regardless of the findings in the court? I think so.

Bloomberg’s castigation of these tribes is a cheap tactic that makes the victim out to be the perpetrator. It reflects a remarkably shallow understanding of the relationship between tribal people in New York and the local government and highlights his total lack of historical perspective. His precious Manhattan was swindled from under the bare feet of Native Americans and still he wants more.

I like this King Michael. I think he’s an intellectual, a visionary and nonconformist. Therefore, I expect more of him.