The Anatomy of Power

The Power List isn’t a popularity contest or an opportunity to place famous faces on the cover of the newspaper. It’s a critical analysis of the inner-workings of arguably one of the strangest, most fascinating places on the planet; a family album of sorts that is interesting only to family members.

When given the task of finding a new home for the corporate headquarters of Canon U.S.A., executive vice president Seymour Liebman had the world at his feet. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, upstate New York. He could have chosen anywhere other than the notoriously prickly and difficult Long Island real estate environment. Instead, he decided to move the vaunted Canon brand from Lake Success to Melville, proving that sheer will can overcome inertia.

Determined not to let politics stand in the way of public safety and pride of workmanship, Terence Hopper battled valiantly to warn elected officials, civic associations and the media about the perilous conditions at Nassau’s near-failing Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant. His efforts, alongside several other concerned workers at the facility, drew critical attention to an almost calamitous situation that could have endangered the lives of plant workers and nearby residents.

For more than three decades the cries of the impoverished Shinnecock Nation members went unheard in their quest for federal recognition that would set the tribe on the path to economic prosperity and restore a sense of pride to one of the only indigenous groups of Long Islanders. Leading the charge on the front lines and behind the scenes was former Shinnecock Trustee Lance Gumbs, who never wavered in his commitment to his heritage despite countless setbacks.

These are some of the stories you will read about in the 9th annual Power List issue of the Long Island Press where we publish a ranking of the 50 most influential people living on Long Island. This year’s list boasts 17 new members, the fewest number of elected officials since the inception of the list, and inducts six past honorees into the Power List Hall of Fame—a distinction given to those who have been selected to appear on the list five times.

The Power List is subjective and not always popular. This is partly due to the fact that while the Island’s population is growing increasingly diverse, the base of power remains remarkably, and unfortunately, homogeneous. Great care is taken to ensure there are no token appointees on the list as each person carries great significance in his or her field; nevertheless, the lack of diversity among leaders in positions of power is unavoidable when we pause to look in the mirror and examine our collective selves.

This is the gospel according to the Press that sparks controversy, inspires debate and alienates a substantial number of Long Islanders not included herein. For those of you not featured on the list, take heart as the list also excludes a couple of billionaires, scores of politicians and every working actor on the Island. There are no life coaches, high school professors or first responders either, for that matter. To be considered one must either consistently wield influence over particular aspects of our daily lives on the Island, or have done something of specific importance that altered the way we think or behave. There are myriad Long Islanders who have tremendous influence in national or even global affairs, but if their actions have little effect on our daily lives on Long Island they will not appear on this list.

The Power List isn’t a popularity contest or an opportunity to place famous faces on the cover of the newspaper. It’s a critical analysis of the inner-workings of arguably one of the strangest, most fascinating places on the planet; a family album of sorts that is interesting only to family members. Your family and friends who live elsewhere will likely care little about this list or the way in which it was compiled. So whatever you do, don’t drag it out like your wedding album or an old home movie to non-Islanders because they simply wouldn’t understand.

For all of our foibles, we Long Islanders are a curious and endearing bunch, making the process of assembling the list and assigning rankings a labor of love. Many of those who appear are subjects of the stories we write throughout the year, for better or worse. These are mostly profiles of people with great character and ambition, and of course, influence. With a list this subjective there will admittedly be more than a few omissions, which isn’t to say they weren’t in the running. Alas, there are only 50 spots on this list for 2.7 million of us.

Regardless of whether you thumb through the issue or read each entry carefully, take a moment to view it from 30,000 feet and examine the list in its entirety. Personally, I think it paints a hopeful picture. A portrait of an Island where people like Terence Hopper put people before politics and public safety before job security. An Island capable of retaining an important employer like Canon because of an executive who believes in us perhaps more than we believe in ourselves. A community that can finally begin to heal shameful and immoral acts of the past by recognizing the right of its indigenous people to take the first step on the path of prosperity.

These are the stories that represent our Island.

CLICK HERE to view the 2011 Power List.

Coliseum Casino: Let It Ride

It amuses me to no end that we can build a refuse-burning facility with a Garden City address down the road, but a casino with a hotel, sports arena and convention center threaded by a coordinated transit hub that connects local retail and commerce is a non-starter.

Foxwoods Casino. Oh no, this just wouldn't do. Too pretty for Long Island. Next!

There is a renewed hullaballoo surrounding the proposed Shinnecock casino at the current site of the Nassau Coliseum. A deserved hullaballoo, I might add. The very thought of a casino in the middle of our bustling, albeit struggling, suburban landscape inspires clamorous debate among the many stakeholders that exist in relatively tight quarters. Even lame duck Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is quacking about building a casino at his beloved Yaphank facility claiming that it’s better suited further away from Nassau County residents.

Unfortunately, it will be a cold day in hell before Long Islanders in either county have a say in the matter. People you have never heard of in positions you didn’t know existed will never allow a casino to be built this close to New York City because it would potentially devastate the interests of the people they represent from upstate New York, Connecticut, Atlantic City and Las Vegas. I offer this, not to quell your enthusiasm but to issue a gauntlet of solidarity and self-determination: either we all get behind this, or we drop it from the start.

So let’s have a debate among ourselves. Long Islander to Long Islander. But allow me to establish some ground rules. First, take the emotion out of the ensuing discourse by recognizing that while there is no magic elixir to cure our financial illness on Long Island, Nassau County in particular, we must not allow ourselves to be constrained by classic NIMBYism. There’s nothing wrong with thinking big. Conversely, big thinking doesn’t always ensure positive outcomes. But the only journey that guarantees failure is one that never begins. Taxpayers can no longer afford pusillanimous behavior from elected officials who acquiesce to a vocal minority. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, Huntington! Oops. Getting emotional. My bad.)

Further, in order to have a proper discussion we must move past the question of legitimacy; that is, whether the tribe has the right to construct a casino on this parcel. For the purposes of examining the potential impact of this type of development, let us assume that it is within their right to strike an agreement with the government to build on this property. Lastly, the only other stipulation I entreat you to heed is to refrain from casting racially motivated aspersions toward members of the Shinnecock Nation. It detracts from the merit of the debate.

Here are my assertions. Let the debate begin.

If you build it they will come. A casino nestled within such a populous community has the potential of being the largest-grossing casino in the nation. Factor in the public transportation access to this area from New York City residents and this is an irrefutable fact. The impact upon the local economy would be seismic. According to a 2008 study published by the Taylor Policy Group of Sarasota, Fla., the estimated impact of the gaming and related industries of the Seneca Nation in western New York is $820 million annually. The study places this figure in context by stating that “the impact of the Nation exceeds that of the [Buffalo] Bills and the [Buffalo] Sabres combined and approaches that of the SUNY Buffalo campus.” This project would create thousands of sustained jobs and provide badly needed work for the local trades, generate healthy revenues to the Long Island Power Authority and local municipalities, and have an incredible halo effect on the travel, tourism and hospitality industry.

A casino would not create a seedy culture. This particular assertion is hotly debated. Casinos conjure up images of mafia hoods and prostitutes. Never mind that you can already gamble in dozens of OTBs, buy lottery tickets on every corner, find a hooker making the rounds in industrial parks, or get a happy ending at any number of corner massage parlors. The moment a high-priced call girl takes up residence on a casino barstool looking for an out-of-town businessman in a leisure suit with a name badge, our puritan alarm sounds and the torches and pitchforks come out. I’m not condoning the use of escort services, but merely pointing out our collective hypocrisy with respect to our view on what’s acceptable and where. Prohibiting this illegal indulgence is far more manageable than scouring Craigslist and cracking down on neighborhood massage parlors.

This actually is the best location for a casino. The modern casino is part of an extensive array of business and cultural services. They tend to be aesthetically pleasing (think Wynn, not Trump) and boost the viability of a convention center, sports complex and entertainment arena. If a gaming operation was paired with a family destination nearby (think Great Wolf Lodge), imagine the combined economic possibilities of family and business travel. I might also remind everyone that Roosevelt Raceway was a gigantic gambling facility. It amuses me to no end that we can build a refuse-burning facility with a Garden City address down the road, but a casino with a hotel, sports arena and convention center threaded by a coordinated transit hub that connects local retail and commerce is a non-starter.

This development would ease traffic. Yup. I said it. The amount of money generated by a full-fledged hotel, casino and convention operation with a family amusement center would fund the long-desired transportation hub between the railroad, Museum Row, and the local shopping destinations. It’s all right there; you just can’t get there from here at the moment.

The Islanders are worth fighting for. This team stood by Long Island for decades. Hell, they even looked pretty good at the end of this season and their prospects for next year are even better. This is our only professional sports franchise. Like I said, the Islanders are worth fighting for.

Hofstra would benefit greatly from this development. Hofstra University is emerging as the largest and most vocal detractor of this project. This is completely understandable given the fears gambling inspires. The two most salient points the University is making are that college kids shouldn’t have this type of access to a gambling establishment and that its proximity will have a deleterious effect on the school’s image from the perspective of parents considering sending their children to the school.

First of all, kids are gambling online and addicted to video games. This will be the addiction cross to bear for this generation. As for the perceptual aesthetic and moral issues of a peripheral gaming establishment, it’s hard to imagine the current “approach” to the University being any worse. I love the Hofstra campus but the immediate surroundings, including the dilapidated coliseum, leave much to be desired. Hofstra is a serious stakeholder that would and should be able to ask for the sun, moon and stars when the infrastructure is fully developed here. President Stuart Rabinowitz has done more to enhance the reputation of this institution, from which I proudly hold a degree, by hosting the Presidential debate, building a medical school and improving the overall academic standing of the school. Hofstra is already bigger than its environs and will continue to be so for decades to come, casino or no casino. Besides, you tell me which option sounds worse to a parent in Nebraska with a child considering a top-notch school in New York:

(A) Columbia University in Harlem,
(B) Fordham University in the Bronx, or
(C) Hofstra University on Long Island.

By now, I’m confident several of you vehemently disagree with these assertions. I welcome your commentsbelow and look forward to continuing the conversation.

With that, let the games (of chance) begin.


New York State Cigarette Tax Report

While New York State is hamstrung by infighting and ineptitude and barely staving off a historic shutdown, this committee issues a report so rife with inconsistencies and backward logic that it could have taken minutes, not months, to produce.

Long Island Press Cover Image about Taxing the Indian Cigarette Trade

In a stunning revelation this week, the federal government has concluded the Shinnecock Indians are indeed Indians. The lightning pace at which they arrived at this determination can only mean we are days away from declaring independence from British rule and uniting the colonies!

This is not another column longing for the day when the United States comes to the realization federal recognition is a bogus, unilateral stamp of approval for a gaming license and has nothing to do with the qualifications of a group’s “Indianness.” It’s as ludicrous as it is insulting. It cannot, however, match the absurdly racist and discriminatory report authored by State Sen. Craig Johnson (D-Port Washington) and released the same week as the Shinnecock Nation celebrates the farcical honor of being told they actually exist.

The report issued by Johnson’s committee is the result of several months of testimony and supposed research into the issue of tax collection on Indian reservation territories within New York State. The fact the committee chose the one week everyone knew the Shinnecock Nation was to achieve, at the very least, a moral victory and celebrate its federal recognition offers keen insight into the scandalously insensitive nature of these lawmakers. While New York State is hamstrung by infighting and ineptitude and barely staving off a historic shutdown, this committee issues a report so rife with inconsistencies and backward logic that it could have taken minutes, not months, to produce.

The only thing that is clear is this speciously crafted report, replete with one-sided arguments, is intended to obfuscate the fact that The Empire State is the primary culprit in squandering enormous sums of potential revenue from cigarette taxes. By affixing his name to this report, Johnson is less of a patsy in this regard than he is a “cleaner”—much like Harvey Keitel’s “Wolf” character in Pulp Fiction, here brought in to clean up Albany’s mess.

Much of the text in the report is written in a decidedly patronizing tone that attempts to assuage the ultimate message to Indian tribes of New York: Pay up or face the consequences. The committee rationalizes this stance by ignoring the numbers given by its own tax department and instead recognizing the more advantageous figures given by people who stand to gain from legislation that would negatively impact the tribes. The testimony of the tribes was an exercise in futility as it is glaringly apparent this committee and the “powers that be” in Albany are determined to continue their centuries-old mission to ethnically cleanse Indians from New York through economic warfare.

Unfortunately, none of this is a surprise. What is utterly disheartening was the conclusion of the 20-page report. The final line of the report simply states: “The State should revoke its recognition of the Poospatuck Tribe.”

First of all, the tribe is Unkechaug. The reservation is Poospatuck. Second, not only is there no legal precedent for this ridiculous recommendation, there have been numerous opinions written by New York State itself declaring this idea (not the first attempt at this) unconstitutional.

This recommendation can only be classified in the following categories:

A)      Stupid
B)      Ignorant
C)      Racist
D)     All of the above

For those of you keeping score at home, the correct answer is “D.” Attempting to revoke the status of a nation that predates our own and eradicate an entire race is the type of Machtpolitik that should evoke terror in our society. We should bristle at this type of caustic political language that stokes the fire of hatred and intolerance. Instead, the headlines referring to Indians on Long Island revolve around speculation regarding the location of a Shinnecock casino now that the tribe is federally recognized.

Recently, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas made a similar remark recommending all Jews leave Palestine and return home to Germany, Poland, the United States, and “everywhere else.” Helen Thomas, at least, had the good sense to hang up her cleats after allowing us to peer into her cold, black soul. Hers was an epic lapse in judgment caught on video by a citizen journalist that went viral. Conversely, the recommendation Poospatuck be obliterated was carefully considered over a period of months and delivered as the kicker in an official government report. There is no apology that can mitigate what was written and every person on this committee has been revealed for what they truly are: bigots. Unlike Helen Thomas, however, I doubt any of them will have the decency to retire.

Shinnecock Recognition

Shinnecock Block

The federal government of the United States of America has given preliminary approval to “recognize” the Shinnecock Nation on Long Island. This approval clears the way for full federal recognition sometime in the spring by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the governing body that oversees relations between the U.S. and the “recognized” Native American tribes within U.S. territory.

Various levels of federal assistance are available to those nations fortunate enough to be recognized by the U.S. government. The carrot dangled before native tribes in this country, of course, is the possibility of obtaining gaming licenses to operate casinos on tribal land or off-reservation land, which is typically held in trust by the government.  

All of the attention over the matter obscures the fact that the whole concept of “federal recognition” is perhaps the biggest sham our country has ever fabricated.

If the U.S. government only now recognizes the Shinnecock as a tribe, then what were they before? When their land was stolen and their people were stripped of their dignity, were they not worthy of our recognition?

New York State, Suffolk County and Southampton town officials have joined in the chorus of vultures from federal agencies peering over their spectacles on the downtrodden nation of Shinnecock, gazing at them with both sympathy and disdain, and have finally welcomed them into the perverse brotherhood of sovereign North American nations. It’s a hollow victory that is a matter of survival, not of pride.

While these grinning politicians break their arms patting themselves on the back, the poorest inhabitants in America have had to swallow deep and present themselves, hat in hand, with court documents, proof of lineage, and ancient land claims to beg the government for a fraction of what was always rightfully theirs. The Shinnecock have sought recognition through the federal system for 30 years and only now that New York State has fallen upon hard times has the path been cleared by the BIA. Frankly, I find it abhorrent in every way. Every statement released by elected officials in New York and on the Island centers around the gaming issue. Every one. If there was ever a doubt as to why this process moved up the line the answer has come pouring out of both sides of every politician’s mouth.

For its part, the BIA uses recognition as a weapon to bestow or withhold basic human and civil rights on a people who have endured 400 years of humiliation and genocide. Yet recognition is a double-edged sword for both the tribe and America. While basic benefits and economic opportunity exist within the promise of recognition, evil lurks beneath the surface. Tribes have a greater ability to present land claims but may also be required to hold certain lands in federal trust. And while they may receive the right to operate gaming facilities on, and sometimes off, native territory, they are often required to pay taxes on all tribal enterprises and open their books. The slippery slope of recognition under the guise of partnership gives the government a foothold in territories they wish they never relinquished to native people; a foothold that may someday prove as fatal to Native Americans as inviting the fox into the henhouse.

When carefully managed, the other edge of the sword brings prosperity that can restore pride and foster cultural awareness within and among the tribes. It also makes them formidable members at the bargaining table, which is at times a source of frustration for U.S. officials who aren’t used to Native Americans having the wherewithal to exert economic and political influence. A highly organized tribe with economic means and determination also possesses a long institutional memory that the U.S. government does not.

I hope the Shinnecock gain the full recognition they seek. Then I hope they build the biggest and most ostentatious casino on the planet right smack in the middle of Shinnecock territory. An edifice so big and so bright it keeps the neighbors up at night and catches errant golf balls from the nearby golf courses that sit on land that was stolen from the Shinnecock Nation years ago.

The Shinnecock know who they are. They always have. Our government simply looks stupid granting them what they, and everyone else, already knew.