Queer “Aye”

Congratulations to those directly affected by the gay marriage legislation. May you enjoy the same comfort and freedom to love your partner that I am allowed under the law to love mine. This was an extraordinarily human thing to do and I’m proud to be a New Yorker.

Gay Marriage Legislation Passes In New York
Gay Marriage Legislation Passes In New York

While the Long Island delegation found itself on the wrong side of history tonight, history was indeed made in New York. Chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” rang out after the final tally just moments ago as the New York State Senate confirmed the legislation 33 to 29 that will allow same-sex couples to marry in the state of New York. It’s a historic moment for a state that boasts one of the largest gay populations in the nation though efforts to bring a bill to pass have been thwarted until now.

Senator Ruben Diaz Sr. of the Bronx gave a rambling, and at times incoherent, speech against the bill that was interrupted several times by Lt. Governor Duffy, who attempted to maintain time limits on those wishing to explain their votes. Diaz was the lone democrat to vote against it. Four Republicans crossed party lines to vote in the affirmative, including Buffalo Republican Mark Grisanti who apologized for his prior vote against gay marriage stating that he had heard both sides of the issue, taken the message of advocates for the bill to heart, and changed his stance.

In the end, the ugly procedural mess that is Albany politics came together at the 11th hour of this session to approve a bill gay and lesbian couples have only dreamed of in New York. The unlikely hero of the affair is Governor Andrew Cuomo who continues to wield his political capital effectively to marshal support for his initiatives despite vehement opposition at times from special interest and religious groups.

New York is officially the largest state in the union to pass same-sex marriage legislation, which will undoubtedly ignite a firestorm of public outrage in conservative parts of the country while at the same time providing incentive for other states to follow suit. And while the Long Island delegation voted against the measure, kudos must be given to presiding officer Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre for bringing the bill to the floor since he clearly knew the outcome prior to its passage.

On a personal note, congratulations to friends and advocates of this bill and to those who fought for the rights of couples to determine their own path in this world. Moreover, congratulations to those directly affected by this legislation. May you enjoy the same comfort and freedom to love your partner that I am allowed under the law to love mine. This was an extraordinarily human thing to do and I’m proud to be a New Yorker.


Solar’s Time Is Now

Introduced by our own Long Island Assembly Member, Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), the Solar Jobs Act will help offset what is currently the most expensive and polluting slice of New York’s electricity mix, peak generation, with reliable power from the sun.

The calendar says summer isn’t even officially here and Long Islanders are already looking for relief. From the heat, sure, but also from those jaw-dropping summer electric bills that are starting to come in the mail.

The market cost of electricity is continuing its relentless upward trend, which doesn’t bode well for Long Island, where we already pay some of the highest utility rates in the nation. Those bills are particularly high in the summertime, since many of us rely on air conditioners to cool our homes and offices. And adding insult to injury, energy costs nearly double on the hottest days when LIPA switches on those more expensive “peaker” power plants to meet the increased demand.

Who pays? All of Long Island – businesses, residents and government. High energy costs are a serious concern for our fragile economic recovery, and they will only continue to rise unless New York State gets serious about a smarter long-term strategy. Fortunately, there is a solution all around us in the form of clean and abundant solar energy – if only Albany would give the green light.

Right now, our state legislators are weighing a major initiative, called the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act, that will finally make good on our state’s solar potential. It’s a simple, market-driven proposal that calls on utility companies to gradually increase the amount of solar energy they purchase over time. The goal is to install 5,000 megawatts of solar capacity by 2025, enough to power more than 500,000 homes and get the Empire State back on top.

Introduced by our own Long Island Assembly Member, Steve Englebright (D-East Setauket), the Solar Jobs Act will help offset what is currently the most expensive and polluting slice of New York’s electricity mix, peak generation, with reliable power from the sun. Furthermore, by keeping energy dollars invested in the state, this legislation will have significant immediate and long-term benefits for our economy. It will create 22,000 new local jobs across a broad range of skill levels and generate an estimated $20 billion in economic activity. 

For Long Island, that means more jobs at local companies like KPS Solar. And by drawing on lessons learned in other states, the Solar Industry Development and Jobs Act is designed to deliver those high economic returns at a low cost to ratepayers.

Perhaps most importantly, this legislation will finally give solar energy the policy foundations needed to build a strong, self-sustaining local market. All across the country, states that have effective solar policies are seeing lower energy costs – which, in turn, drives additional demand for solar that lowers its cost even further (what economists call a “virtuous cycle”). In those states, utilities are already signing contracts for solar power that are at or below the price of natural gas. The Solar Jobs Act would effectively move New York’s solar industry beyond one-off projects by steadily building a robust new energy economy.

This solar initiative is far from pie in the sky. In fact, just look next door to see how well it is working. New Jersey implemented exactly the kind of solar program we are contemplating right now, and as a result, the Garden State installed more solar capacity last year than the Empire State has in its entire history. New Jersey now generates more than six times as much solar energy as New York. And because it has a first-to-market advantage, New Jersey has one of the most robust clean-energy sectors on the East Coast – including all those green jobs that should be ours.

The clean-energy future that Long Islanders have wanted for years could be a reality before legislators break for the summer. The Solar Jobs Act has bipartisan support in the Assembly and Senate, and is sponsored by 17 members of Long Island’s delegation (3 Senate, 14 Assembly). Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) will play a critical role in its passage, and he has been supportive in recent discussions. The Solar Jobs Act also fits perfectly within Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign promise to help create a thriving innovation economy.

In other words, there is no good reason New York can’t get this bill done in June. The Solar Jobs Act opens the door to a smarter, safer and more economical future. If Long Island continues to rely on fossil fuels, electric bills will only go up and up with each passing summer. The sun, on the other hand, is NOT raising its rates this year; sunlight will always be free and solar energy is getting cheaper all the time.

Kevin MacLeod, president of KPS Solar based in Bay Shore and staunch advocate for alternative energy, contributed to this article.

Where Have You Gone, Robert Moses?

Having a building or park named in one’s honor is nice, but it is still not as cool as a statue. Let’s face it: A statue requires true greatness that stands the test of time – not just the ability to squeeze some money out of a budget in Albany.

They just don’t make great Americans like they used to.

That’s the only conclusion one can come to when you consider this: When was the last time somebody suggested that a statue be erected in somebody else’s honor? Taking things a step further, when was the last time you heard a suggestion regarding a statue honoring a Long Islander? Have you ever heard of someone suggesting that a statue be built to honor a Long Islander?

Well, there is one: a seven-foot (or so) statue of Robert Moses just west of Babylon Village Hall on Montauk Highway. He looks pretty dapper, for a statue. It’s there because Mr. Moses lived in Babylon Village when he wasn’t traversing the State as the last “Master Builder,” wreaking havoc on politicians and neighborhoods simultaneously, forsaking mass transit for his beloved parkways. The statue was the Village’s way of honoring a famous (at least in New York State circles) local resident, but chances are pretty good it will also serve as the last statue ever erected to honor  a man (or woman) who has walked among us.

In fact, I do not know of any other statues on the Island, and I travel the Island pretty extensively. In New York City, on the other hand, there are approximately 159 statues – give or take a bust – in the five boroughs, according to newyorkcitystatues.com. The city folks might have gotten a little carried away at some point, however. There are four statues of Alexander Hamilton alone, for instance. There’s also one of Chester Arthur, a New York native and the 21st President of the United States, as well as three of his contemporaries in Madison Square Park.

I suppose the modern-day equivalent to bronze immortality is having a building or park named in your honor. There are plenty of instances of that across the region – mostly for politicians. There’s Dean Skelos Park in Rockville Centre, Ken LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University and my personal favorite, the Al D’Amato Courthouse in Central Islip. And only those truly captivated by trivial information can appreciate the fact that that the Hauppauge Industrial Park is officially known as the John V. Klein Hauppauge Industrial Park.

Both Sens. Skelos and LaValle are still in office, so you have to hope they don’t suffer the same indignity the Town of Islip had to endure when the town leaders were forced to scrape Town Supervisor Pete McGowan’s name from the front wall of MacArthur Airport’s main terminal. Turns out flouting the law is frowned upon when considering one’s bid for immortality.

Having a building or park named in one’s honor is nice, but it is still not as cool as a statue.  Let’s face it: A statue requires true greatness that stands the test of time – not just the ability to squeeze some money out of a budget in Albany. Being statue-worthy means providing bold and innovative leadership through turbulent times; anyone can lead when times are good, and as somebody once pointed out you never see a statue built to honor a conformist.

Washington, Lincoln and, yes, Alexander Hamilton, all earned their statute stripes. So did Moses, for that matter, although an argument can be made that his documented disdain for minorities and mass transit have made it rather difficult for Long Island to change with the times.

But what Long Island leader – past or present – can claim to be statue-worthy? Given the fragmented nature of our region, is it even possible for one individual to provide the leadership required to inspire a statue?  And what does it say about the times we live in that nobody will be worth remembering a 100 years from now?

Like I said, they don’t make great Americans like they used to anymore.

By Michael Watt

Political Football

Republicans do the Hora during the election

The Republicans are inching closer to control of the New York State Senate. This is less of an ideological victory of sorts than it is an interesting development in the ongoing power-play of regional interests. At stake are redistricting and determining the identity of the “third man” in the room in Albany. For Long Islanders, it’s about money.

The political and corporate leadership of the Island have long opined over our funding imbalance. In short, we send more money to Albany than we receive. Unfunded mandates, the support of New York City schools and the staggering burden of Medicaid forces local municipalities to install punitive tax measures on businesses and residents. This, of course, is an affront to our sense of fair play. That said, no one would switch places with any community north of the Tappan Zee.

The state as a whole continues to flounder on the eve of another Cuomo administration. And while everyone expects Gov. Cuomo of the Andrew persuasion to be hard-charging, there appears to be little for him to charge at. Layoffs of government workers are a given and public contracts will be broken and battled over in court. Closer to home on the tiny island next door, the astounding resurgence of the financial industry in New York City isn’t enough to cover looming budget gaps in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s out-year forecasts. Identifying new sources of revenue or trying to figure out where budgets are going to be slashed is anyone’s guess. But insiders are hardly in the prognosticating mood. Instead, everyone is keeping their heads down so as not to be noticed by the governor-elect, in the hopes that avoidance equals survival in what will likely be a bloody term.

Cuomo, who strode to Election Day on the “compared to the last two guys and the cast of lunatics I’m running against you have no choice but to pick me” campaign, has remained radio silent on his plans for straightening out our fiscal woes. His non-endorsement of fellow Democrat, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, speaks volumes about his intention to govern in a tight-fisted manner. This pales in comparison to the copious amount of ink spent trying to predict whether Cuomo will bury the hatchet with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the back room or in the back of his head. Either way, front row seats are cheap as we fast approach the Albany cage match of the new millennium.

All of this brings us back to the issue of money and whether Long Island will hold onto its share or part with more of it. The reality is we simply cannot afford to be the state’s piggy bank any longer. Nassau County is teetering on the brink of disaster, and the back-channel chatter of insolvency is getting louder. Even Suffolk County, which has enjoyed the benefit of a more equitable property-tax assessment system as well as having the most frugal county executive in its history, is showing signs of economic stress. 

The great hope is that fate has intervened in the form of the reconstituted Republican delegation from Long Island. With Senators Brian Foley and (likely) Craig Johnson both falling on the “MTA commuter tax” sword, the scales may have positively tipped in the Island’s favor. While I know little about Foley’s successor, Lee Zeldin, I have had the opportunity to get to know Jack Martins, who finally appears to be close to solidifying Johnson’s ouster in a hotly contested bid now a month past the November elections. Martins has been an astute and effective mayor in Mineola where he has carved out a solid niche as a forward-thinking executive. Whether these skills are applicable in a legislative role in Albany remains to be seen. But history has shown that when the LI delegation speaks with one voice (and Republicans rarely vary from the provided script) it is a juggernaut.

Again, this has little if anything to do with ideology—the Long Island delegation could all be from the Rent is 2 Damn High party for all I care—but it has everything to do with strength in numbers. If Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) is indeed the third man in the room and he has a strong offensive line giving him enough time in the pocket, we stand a better chance of holding our ground while the rest of us figure out how to reinvigorate the local economy before the play clock runs out. Sorry for the hackneyed sports analogy but amidst my normal political ruminations, I’ve got Jets-Patriots on the brain.