Hoisting Atrophy

When watching current County Executive Ed Mangano and former county executive Tom Suozzi fight to be the one to circle the bowl next, it’s hard not to get caught up in the partisan bickering.

suozzi manganoIt’s the most wonderful time of the year. If politics is your sport, nothing compares to retail politics at the local level. No irrational exuberance surrounding national figures with long coattails or embarrassing blowback; just a good, old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground slugfest where committee members rule the day. This year’s election is one where ideology takes a backseat to patronage in the battle of the bureaucrats. This is small ball, baby.

It’s been a while since I pulled my thoughts out of the national and international clouds to take a look at what is happening here at home. So forgive me as I reminisce for a moment before handicapping the county executive race in Nassau County, far and away the most interesting local political story of the season.

A little more than a decade ago I ran for mayor in my hometown of Glen Cove. In doing so I found myself on the opposite end (and losing side) of the Suozzi family machine. While this was my adopted hometown, I was a so-called carpetbagger living in the feudal regime run by generations of Suozzis. The race was so parochial, my opponent even sent out a campaign flyer that told the good citizens of Glen Cove that I was untrustworthy because I was born in Canada. Glen Cove is the land of homemade pasta sauce, not maple syrup. I never had a chance.

As a Republican candidate (hard to believe, I know), I briefly found myself in the fascinating world of the Nassau County GOP. My first (and last) general meeting at GOP headquarters in Westbury was as if I had set the dashboard clock on my DeLorean to 1950. The nearly all-white and graying crowd milled about greeting one another with hearty slaps on the back while the power brokers huddled quietly in the corner of the room whispering among themselves and occasionally surveying the crowd. Gradually, everyone took a seat in a folding chair facing a large map and a podium where chairman Joseph Mondello presided over the meeting.

“This is a business!” he bellowed on more than one occasion. Mr. Mondello’s countenance would move from ashen to crimson within seconds as he addressed the audience alternately with the coolness of a CEO and the vigor of a college football coach. The overarching message was that we were to adhere to the script, send our money directly to headquarters and essentially fall in line.

pullquoteThe lessons I learned from this experience will stay with me forever. My 15 minutes of fame in Glen Cove has all but faded away, allowing me near perfect anonymity as I watch the lawn signs sprout up all over town with this year’s crop of candidates. My hope is that the politicians who occupy positions on the ballots, whether it’s Brookhaven, Southampton or Glen Cove, have gone to where the action really is: knocking on doors. There is no more authentic or humbling experience than standing in someone’s living room and listening to what they want from their local officials.

Which brings me to the two men atop the Nassau County ticket who are appropriately playing small ball, and in doing so, missing the larger picture altogether.

When watching current County Executive Ed Mangano and former county executive Tom Suozzi fight to be the one to circle the bowl next, it’s hard not to get caught up in the partisan bickering. And there is some great “inside baseball” going on here. Suozzi says Mangano is responsible for Nassau’s $2 billion debt. He’s not. Mangano claims to have presented balanced budgets. He didn’t. Suozzi attacks Mangano for being soft on gun control. This is grasping at straws. Mangano asserts that he has made progress on the property tax assessment issue. He hasn’t.

The biggest disconnect of this race, however, is ideology. The truth of this contest is that the two parties these men represent are indistinguishable from one another.

The assessment situation is fixable. But it must come from Albany—and the nine Long Island senators hold the key. Unfortunately, neither Mangano nor Suozzi will cop to this admission because each is cozy with law firms that extract exorbitant fees from tax grievances.

Both men share an antipathy toward labor and favor privatization. Mangano spends an inordinate amount of time cozying up to donors and Suozzi spent his political off-season consulting for an investment bank and commissioning works of art. In everything they have done and represent, they are shills for corporate America and complicit in an overall scheme designed to liquidate taxpayers, privatize public works, and ride the status quo deep into the ground.

It’s hardly their fault, mind you. Our troubles in suburbia are so thick that there is an air of inevitability to our decline. Mangano and Suozzi know it, which is why this is the ultimate bureaucratic contest. As voters, this election comes down to which starting lineup you want on the field playing in a game that won’t affect the outcome of your season. Got a buddy sandwiched in a cubicle in North Hempstead waiting to return to a cushy county job? Vote for Suozzi. Have a relative in the county who needs three more years to pad his or her pension before retirement? Vote for Mangano.

Want real change and a chance to redefine our future? Sorry. Not on the ballot.

Either way, I’ll be glued to my television as usual, watching Jerry Kremer and Larry Levy narrate the inevitable. And loving every minute of it.

Leadership on Long Island (Or Lack Thereof)

What drives me batty is that, if nothing else, Mangano had the playbook in his hands. Anyone paying attention knew that 2011 would be the year everything blew up in Nassau County. Instead of dilly-dallying about whether his administration could find a magic revenue pill to salvage the day, Mangano should have shouted, blamed and threatened the world and thrown himself at the mercy of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) within the first 100 days of his term…

There's someone missing from Newsday's photo of County Executive's with budget trouble. Can you guess who it is?

Let’s bring this year in with a bang and drill deep into the black hole that is the leadership void on Long Island. It’s time to take aim at those at the helm of our ship and offer some honest feedback, which is difficult to come by of late.

Quite frankly, considering the enormous challenges we face, I’ve been trying to mind my Ps and Qs while watching and waiting for Long Island’s leaders to genuinely coalesce throughout 2010. Now, just moments into the New Year, my bottled up frustration has punched out my cork of politeness and sent it ricocheting across the room. The bubble that broke the cork? Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano.

Mangano came to office as the underdog archetype with the weight of the world, or at least the Island, on his shoulders.

Yet instead of hoisting up Nassau like Atlas, he has allowed himself to be driven into the ground by a thousand ball-pein hammers. When former County Executive Tom Suozzi was first elected, he shouted at the heavens, took the blame game to new heights and threatened union leaders and lawmakers alike. He made such a racket he was able to muscle through a double-digit property tax increase and have everyone thank him in the process. His political acumen and prowess were matched only by his hubris.

Eight years and several hundreds of millions in blown surplus dollars later, Glen Cove’s favorite son was ousted from office by the demure Mangano, who is as modest as Suozzi was pugnacious. What drives me batty is that, if nothing else, Mangano had the playbook in his hands. Anyone paying attention knew that 2011 would be the year everything blew up in Nassau County. Instead of dilly-dallying about whether his administration could find a magic revenue pill to salvage the day, Mangano should have shouted, blamed and threatened the world and thrown himself at the mercy of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) within the first 100 days of his term and offered the following statement:

After reviewing the catastrophic state of affairs my predecessor (Tom Suozzi) left behind, I have determined that Nassau County is, to put it simply, screwed. Unlike him (Tom Suozzi), I cannot in good conscience raise taxes on the good people of this county—as was my pledge—as they have already paid more than their fair share for Nassau’s (his) political misdeeds. Therefore, I have requested the full assistance of NIFA and will submit to their recommendations completely so we may put our troubles behind us. God bless us all.

But, no. Mangano instead took the high road toward the inevitable, and he has created his own political nightmare to match our fiscal reality. He did such a terrible job explaining to Nassau residents how the former administration taxed its way to a surplus it later spent without fixing any of the structural problems that have plagued the county that even Newsday is comparing Mangano to Tom Gulotta, and omitting the Suozzi years entirely.

In other news slightly to the east of Nassau, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy is still fighting with everyone.

If you have any questions for either Mangano or Levy, you’ll have your chance to ask them at the Long Island Association’s County Executive’s Report at the (where else?) Crest Hollow Country Club on January 12! Which brings me to the next same-old-tune on my hit parade: the LIA. It’s been relatively quiet at the Island’s most prestigious association so I decided to take a gander at their website to see what’s new on the agenda. Let’s see…last entry under “Legislative Action”—2007. Check. “Regional Priorities?” Housing. Just housing. Check. Oh, wait, you can peruse their new ideas under the helpful heading, “Innovate Long Island,” and read a report from 2006 because, you know, not much has happened in the world since then. In fairness, Long Islanders can get some gardening tips from the latest blog entry of March 25, 2010. At least we know they’re not wasting any money on a webmaster.

My most recent “OMG” moment came a few days ago reading one of Jim Bernstein’s business columns in Newsday. Bernstein interviewed LIA head honcho, Kevin Law, one of the brightest and most amiable figures on the Island. Asked what he was dreaming up for the New Year, Law said he was thinking about “a destination center” that “Long Islanders and tourists could use as a meeting place, a place to shop and dine, and also a place where the New York Islanders could play hockey.”

Do you hear that sound? That’s the sound of Charles Wang beating a hockey stick against The Lighthouse Development model, taking his puck and going home. Let’s just pretend Kevin didn’t say that and move on. (I love the guy so he gets a pass. I’m playing favorites, I know…but it’s my column.)

We’re better than this, or at least we should be. We don’t even need new leaders, we just need them all pulling the oars at the same time in one direction.

As for the answer to the question above… Ta Da!

Peek-A-Boo! Tom Suozzi, former Nassau County Executive and current Newsday/Cablevision Consultant!

Shut Up And Vote

My family moved to the United States from Canada when I was 4 years old. Growing up, I can vividly recall a small plaque with the Pledge of Allegiance on the wall of my father’s office. Every day for months before my 10th birthday, I read it aloud and tried to memorize it. Finally the day came when I would speak these words aloud to someone other than my parents.

My parents, my brother and I shuffled into a busy courtroom filled with faces from all over the globe. I can remember straining to hear all of the different languages being spoken around me and staring at the solemn, stoic faces so different from my own. My family was here to seize the American Dream but whenever I think of that day I wonder how many of the people there were seeking refuge from persecution and tyranny. Did the “mighty woman with a torch” light their way as she did ours? Coming from a stable, progressive country like Canada will never compare to the journey most immigrants take; even still it stands as one of the most significant days in my life.

When it was our turn to stand and speak, I pledged my allegiance to the American flag in the loudest voice I could muster, as though any reticence would thwart my chances at citizenship. As an American I continue to speak loudly through this column and with my vote, and I was as thrilled on Tuesday to participate in our local elections as I was to be in that courtroom 26 years ago.

Unfortunately for Long Island, this past Tuesday, less than a third of us cared enough to weigh in.

Low voter turnout was no surprise and all parties recognized this as a benefit to the Republicans. Election results were upside-down from North Hempstead to East Hampton and everywhere in between. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Nassau County Conservative Party, whose members were clearly ill informed about county executive candidate and potential spoiler Steve Hansen. The ones who bothered to show up moved steadily down the row without realizing that Hansen and Nassau County Conservative Chairman Roger Bogsted work directly for Suozzi’s administration, the one person who knew better than anyone just how close this race would be. Now, less than 300 votes separate Tom Suozzi and Ed Mangano for Nassau County Executive.

Armchair pundits all over Nassau County are wide-eyed, already retiring Suozzi’s jersey and raising it to the rafters. Win or lose, they consider him the Democratic reincarnation of Tom Gulotta. Either way, Suozzi’s undoing in this election was in pushing through the energy tax instead of simply raising property taxes. The electorate clearly felt “back doored” on this levy and the Republicans used it as the primary wedge in the campaign. The only thing more egregious to voters than high taxes is trying to hide them. When every dollar counts in a household, there is no hiding additional taxes and fees, particularly when there is no offsetting service being provided.

There were several lessons learned—or at least reinforced—on election night. Linda Kabot illustrated that while the President of the United States can be caught with his pants down, you can’t (allegedly) drive drunk on the roads you’re in charge of. Character matters more when it’s close to home. John Jay LaValle proved that timing is everything. He timed his departure and return impeccably. And we were reminded that by nature Democrats and Republicans are fire and ice, respectively. Democrats need a fire lit beneath them to get out the vote, whereas Republicans and Conservatives are predictably obsequious.

The most unfortunate lesson is that neither fire nor ice was enough to motivate nearly 72 percent of the eligible voters on Long Island. My guess is that those who stood with the 10-year-old boy, 26 years ago, and the thousands who stood there before and after that day, exercised their right.

The Case for Tom Suozzi

It is imperative that Tom Suozzi wins his upcoming bid for reelection. My reasoning for this is simple: that a vote for Suozzi will serve to hasten our descent into an economic cataclysm. And that may be precisely what we need.

The deciduous state of our local economy reveals nothing if not a general state of malaise, or form of financial purgatory. Any attempt at recovery, whether employing conservatism or progressivism, will only break against the middle, further paralyzing government, industry and the individual. As a mature region we have no choice but to fail, utterly and completely, before we can rebuild. You cannot salvage a failing system for a sustainable period by altering it or adding to it. It must be replaced.

Suozzi’s opponent in this election, Republican Ed Mangano, has many of the right ideas but is still tied to the last, gasping vestiges of a broken system. Insurgency provides clarity for the opposition during a campaign but there are too many pigs that still feed from the trough that was the Republican machine. The only pig that wound up on the spit was Tom Gulotta, while nearly everyone else survived, marking time in the Republican havens of Hempstead and Oyster Bay. The patronage in these towns makes the impossibly petulant John Kaiman of North Hempstead look like a financial genius.  

The Nassau Democrats under Tom Suozzi and Jay Jacobs broke the Republican machine as they promised they would. Then they did the unthinkable with their mandate and replaced it with a new, shiny model. And boy does it hum. Nassau County’s newly reported 2009 structural deficit is almost $170 million. As if this isn’t staggering enough, consider that just five years ago the county was sitting on $284.8 million in reserves. This is more than a dip in sales tax—that’s a more than $450 million operating swing since the end of Suozzi’s first term alone. The Suozzi/Jacobs machine is indiscriminately destroying everything in its path. A vote for Mangano would be the responsible thing to do if our goal is to prolong the inevitable.

It takes teamwork to make the dream work and hubris to kill it. So let’s get on with it then.

We need Suozzi to continue destroying the county because we are still too close to what was. What we require is distance from our successes. A distance that inspires creative thought and attracts new talent. But if we remember what it was once like, if we allow ourselves to wax poetic about the glory days, then we rob ourselves of the hunger for change. Everything that this suburban dream once represented must be brought to its knees and become wholly untenable if we are to get out from under the crushing weight of debt, patronage and mismanagement. No sense bickering about it now, there are bridges to burn.

We cannot allow ourselves to look over our shoulders and wonder what brought us here. The answer is quite obvious and there’s nothing more to gain from our mistakes but to allow those who made them to bring it to an end. Suozzi has delivered his dream of a new suburbia, even if it’s not the one he fully intended. But he is not to blame. He told us everything we wanted to hear with impunity because lying isn’t illegal. In fact, it’s rather polite. Had we watched his actions more carefully, instead of listening to his words, we would have seen for ourselves what was to come. If we understood the creature that is Tom Suozzi more completely we would have seen an adroit political figure who seeks only personal gain. Naked ambition such as this is a commanding and necessary attribute when a clear and precise path is discernible. It is called for in matters of war or human rights—battles between good and evil, right and wrong.
Naked ambition absent a defined and popular objective feeds only on itself thereby facilitating its own decline. It needs only to be married with time.

To rebuild a progressive and robust economic system in this place requires the abrogation of several structural impediments such as inordinate layers of government, a broken zoning infrastructure and extravagant political patronage. At one time these were not impediments but characteristics of a burgeoning suburban economy, a system designed to support a wide economic and political infrastructure. A system now crumbling under its own weight. Unfortunately, the current leadership in both parties is alike in that they were all there for the rise; they remember what it was like to experience absolute growth. It’s all they know. The Republicans skipped an entire generation of new blood in protecting their fiefdoms at the height of power. The Democrats simply had a lot of catching up to do and grabbed power with reckless abandon while pointing their fingers in every direction but their own.

The great mistake on both sides is not in wanting the past to return but in believing that the local economy is cyclical. It is not. The American economy as a whole may indeed be cyclical but the road to past American economic recoveries was paved with losses suffered by localities and the shifting tide of industry and innovation. Our local officials have laid down their arms of ingenuity at the altar of inertia, leveraged our future and chose slush funds over rainy day funds. All because they believe it will get better. But it won’t. It can’t. Not until we have ridden it to the logical and bitter conclusion—complete decimation.

In the end, Suozzi will prove to be neither visionary nor charlatan. I submit that he is, in actuality, nothing. There is in him an emptiness fueled by intangibles; he is a charade in a suit that ceases to exist when the audience takes leave of him. We can only see him now because he is the purest reflection of the things we still want or wish to be, brought to life by the words he speaks and the manner he presents them. By definition of his nature he cannot possess any discernible principles except the ones that suit the moment. He is an assiduous student of the wind, sensing shifts imperceptible to you and me.

As his subjects we are frogs in boiling water, incapable of understanding impending doom because in the pot the heat rises slowly, insidiously. And then, blackness. We won’t take notice of precisely when he left the pot unattended, only that he wasn’t there when it came to a boil. He will mention us as the reason that his career must be advanced. So that he may prevent further economic bloodshed because unseen forces tied his hands. He will implore his new audience to help him, to pitch in, and that he will share in the sacrifice for the greater good. The role of martyr suits the politician with naked ambition because it too implies that he must rise above the broken system to be in a position to fix it. Or, plainly stated in this instance, Fix Albany.

I am as much pragmatist as prophet where this is concerned. It gives me no comfort to be either, because this is my home. But so long as we are comforted by the figure looking back at us with the proper empathy and concern, and as long as our decline is skillfully managed from behind closed doors by power brokers who share in his political gain, he will continue to win. And our pot will continue to boil.

I’m an ardent admirer of his skill and believe wholeheartedly that of any politician in New York State, Tom Suozzi has the clearest vision of ascent. His ambition will set the course normally charted by one’s moral compass and, in fact, little may stand in his way. Therefore we must return him to this office so that he may don the appropriate formalwear as captain of this Titanic and ride the final wave into obscurity. Absolve him of his financial transgressions by defeating his reelection bid and we will be left to pray that real calamity awaits him at the next doorstep so that his directive is clear. Only then can he achieve lasting greatness and be forgiven for the price we have all paid for his ambition.

Don't Believe the Hype

I'm telling a lie thiiiiiiiiis big

I, for one, could use a break from all the bullshit the government is trying to pass off on us. It’s toying with the American psyche and causing mass confusion from top to bottom. Every person, every corporation and every layer of government is living off the fat of the stimulus package and acting as though everything is OK.

Americans clearly believe that things are looking up, as consumer spending rocketed back for the month of August. Despite near-double-digit unemployment, factories running at fractional capacity, historic foreclosure rates and an expensive double-down bet in Afghanistan, the American consumer peeked out of the hole and didn’t see its shadow.

Congratulations America, the recession is over! Why do we think it’s over? Because the Fed said so. How clever. Look what our government can do when it pumps $800 billion of our children’s dollars into the economy in just a few short months—instant confidence. Don’t get me wrong, bully for the retail sector, but in the meantime, local, state and federal government are sneaking up behind us with black masks on and revolvers at our backs.

Take, for example, Nassau County, which now taxes energy consumption in our homes, gives us tickets for rolling right on red and fills in budget gaps with federal stimulus money. County Executive Tom Suozzi claims he can now magically hold the line on taxes even though budgeting to increase spending (amazing) while waiting on revenue-generating items that require approval from the (incompetent) New York State Legislature. Here’s the worst part:  Most of us are going to buy into this and probably put this guy back in office in November.

Not only did Suozzi raise our taxes an egregious 19 percent at the start of his term, but he stepped into the largest sales tax receipts in Nassau County history. In short, the two biggest reasons for revenue growth during the past eight years were from the same source: the taxpayer. Even though he campaigns on having reduced waste and abuse, he spends far more than the Gulotta administration did in 2001, and has taken on so much debt that it can no longer be serviced. During the good years, when he was flush with and drunk on our tax dollars, he blew it all.

Giving Suozzi this money was like giving your pension to your degenerate uncle and sending him to Vegas. He put it all on black but it came up red and now we’re fucked.

Instead of paying down debt, he took on more. Instead of addressing the broken tax certiorari process, he let it ride and made law firms rich on our backs. His answer to everything is to point the finger at Albany, which is like blaming the stupid kid in class for making you dumber. Albany’s answer to the crisis: tax our fishing permits, soda, bottled water, cell phones, bridges, tunnels, stores, gas, smokes; whatever they can get their grubby hands on. Now that state and local government have exhausted the taxpayers’ stash, they look to get a fix from the federal government and inject stimulus money into their collapsing municipal veins.

Unfortunately, Congress is a little strung out itself from arguing over a $900 billion healthcare bill that does everything but address the real issues with the healthcare system. A bill that screws doctors, small business owners and patients who already have health coverage in order to protect pharmaceutical companies against generic drug manufacturers and keep private insurance companies busy processing paperwork. Maybe they should have a death panel that euthanizes every Senator that passes this piece of garbage.

Hopefully the healthcare bill will fund treatment for our addiction to stimulus money because it’s dulling our senses and making us immune to some outrageous happenings in government. When $800 billion in bailout money and $900 billion on bad healthcare seem like no big deal, you know we have lost touch with reality. When local government starts taxing the energy we use in our homes, the fish we pull from the sea, and water without a peep from the taxpayer, we have slipped into a coma.

And if we believe that this recession is over because the Fed said so, just sign the DNR form now.

The Heavy House Part III: Return of the Jed, I

lukeskywalkerThis is the final installment of my “Heavy House” column series covering the Lighthouse Project, but only the beginning of our coverage in the Press. A column allows the creative freedom to express opinions about this or any subject, but our news coverage will provide greater insight into the progress of what may or may not be a turning point in the future of development on Long Island.

For the moment, acrimony between the various stakeholders of this project is taking center stage. While I relish the role of armchair warrior because of the clarity it provides, it is also an uncomfortable seat when you see smart people who can’t seem to get out of their own way. I’m talking about the people so close to this project that it appears they can’t see the forest through the trees. County Executive Tom Suozzi has grand visions for a new suburbia. Charles Wang has the land, assets and means to make significant strides toward smart growth. Scott Rechler has the experience and ability to re-imagine our community. Kate Murray has the tools and political support to move mountains in the Town of Hempstead. And Long Islanders have the need to move toward a more intelligent future. In short, we all want the same thing.

When Robert Moses planned our little slice of heaven he did so with all the resources and facts that were available to him. One can easily argue that his motives were provincial and at times even racist, but no one can dispute his legacy of exerting unprecedented control over some of the largest public works projects in the United States. The challenge before us today is to re-plan the Island based upon dwindling natural resources and a crumbling infrastructure. This takes great vision. With that, I humbly (OK, obnoxiously) propose several guidelines as a launching pad for a new tomorrow with the Lighthouse Project as a proving ground.

Open space. Instead of a ballpark or other manicured garden areas, let nature exist, well, naturally. The brilliance of Frederick Olmstead’s Central Park design is that is was “created” as the Earth intended it to be. It wasn’t carved in pieces—it was enhanced. We have a tendency to pave over everything in sight and work diligently to recreate so-called natural landscapes that require an incredible amount of energy to maintain. It’s interesting to note that it was actually a young Robert Moses who revitalized Central Park in the 1930s after it had fallen into disrepair under siege from rampant vandalism.

Smart Growth. The basic theory of smart growth is to create an environment where people can live, work and play. I would add one more item to the list— harvest. Community growing areas are tantamount to the re-visioning process. Instead of putting in fountains and statues, set aside a couple of acres to harvest the land. Take Will Allen (www.growingpower.org) from Milwaukee who supplies locally grown produce to thousands of urban families from city-based gardens. Given our natural resources, can’t we do the same or better?

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). A building code is not a master plan. Long Island needs a plan that encourages pockets of development that are energy efficient or—best case scenario—energy independent. Instead of carping at developers for attempting to maximize profits through high-density designs, encourage them to do so. Want to build a six-story building? Current building codes essentially mandate basic LEED certification as it is. Want to build 10 stories? Build to the Gold LEED standard. Want 16 stories? Build to Platinum LEED standards. Want to add in commercial space and, oh I don’t know, a coliseum? Get serious about cleaning and recycling water to protect how our aquifers are recharged. It’s like creating the tangible version of carbon offsets. More than any other incentive—from low-cost bond issuances to PILOT programs—developers want density. The greater the density a developer seeks the more they should be required to build in a self-sufficient and sustainable manner.

There are scores of topics to be considered, with these three only scratching the surface. While this is the last Lighthouse installment in this particular column series, we intend to highlight many more of these types of initiatives. If you listen closely and eliminate the politics from this project you will realize that everyone wants the same thing: Safe, smart, efficient and environmentally sensitive development that will shape the way we interact with the land and help create a sense of community. Arguing against any of these principals would be silly. Unfortunately, everyone is so busy posturing and yelling that it appears the voice of reason is being drowned out.

There is one underlying theme to every single issue that surrounds the Lighthouse Project. That is the inescapable fact that Long Island has no master plan. Robert Moses can’t help us now and frankly he probably wouldn’t even know where to begin. For example, the last comprehensive study on our groundwater supply was the 208 Study in 1977. I was 4 years old. Our idea of development has been strip malls, single-family housing units and golf courses, which brings me back to the point of the first installment in this series: We need a new regional planning board.

This is about so much more than the Lighthouse; as the oldest suburb in the nation we will live and die by what happens next. No matter what, the other suburban areas in this nation will be watching and taking our lead. The only question is whether they will be following it or walking away from it. Either we come together to establish a sustainable plan for the future or sit by idly while the youth of Long Island continue to vote with their feet and leave us in droves.


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.