The recent political chatter about “Obamacare” before the Supreme Court of the United States got a great deal of media attention. President Obama added fuel to the fire when he declared, “Ultimately, I am confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
For someone who was a law professor those words were absurd. Even if a bill passed unanimously in the house and senate, it could still be overturned – if the law was in violation of the Constitution.
Giving up is not “reform.” County Executive Ed Mangano’s proposal to transfer property assessment from the county to the towns might possibly speed up assessment decisions by replacing one large and overwhelmed bureaucracy with several somewhat smaller ones. It will likely recreate problems that were major motivations in creating our highly centralized county government 75 years ago.
The 1938 county charter merged the town Boards of Assessors and the County Board of Equalization, ending three decades of complaints, lawsuits and hard feelings about the lack of specific, uniform levels of property assessments between the towns. In a tax system screaming out for simplification, clarification and a sense of certainty, spinning off assessments to the towns will reintroduce “equalization” as an annual issue. Tens of thousands of residents are still trying to figure out why their assessment went down but their tax bill still went up. The division of taxes heading up the tax food chain in an equitable manner is the most complex subject in local government, and it’s all going to make people very sad, particularly in villages and school districts that are split between townships.
Manhattan District Attorney (D.A.) Robert Morgenthau was facing a spirited Democratic primary challenge from a former judge in 2005, but his opponent had trouble finding anything substantively negative to say about Morgenthau.
The reason I know this: a city-based tabloid newspaper reporter called me weeks before the election, asking whether it was legal to have a Manhattan driver’s license while at the same time registering and insuring a car in Dutchess County, where auto insurance premiums are much lower. The answer: yes, so long as the insured vehicle is primarily garaged in Dutchess County. I was the director of public affairs for the New York State Insurance Department at the time and knew immediately the question pertained to Morgenthau because he met those criteria.
Written by Michael A. Miller Friday, 25 January 2013 00:00
After an ongoing controversy about the future of recreational and catering facilities in the “Roslyn Country Club” section of Roslyn Heights, the North Hempstead Town Board has created a special district to run a tentatively named “Levitt Park at Roslyn Heights.”
Levitt & Sons, homebuilders, was a family-run business. But from the late 1930s on, the front person in every way was William J. Levitt, one of the sons. Bill Levitt was a complicated figure, a man of multiple dimensions and motivations. This was a man who, prior to the Second World War, sold homes in Manhasset with restrictive covenants banning sales to Jews, even though he himself was a Jew who lived in Manhasset. This man had layers.
Whatever they did, for good or bad, the Levitts were certainly not alone in how they thought, enabled by the local political establishment. The Roslyn Country Club colony couldn’t have been built without a border change that took it out of the Village of Old Westbury.
The Country Club colony, sold in two phases in 1949 and 1950, was presented by the Levitts and their public relations machine in tandem with the immense Levittown project. The two projects shared newspaper advertising, and the main sales office and demonstration model for Levittown was walking distance from Roslyn Country Club. A Levitt company selling strategy was to include recreational facilities in their new developments; they built six swimming pools in 1949 alone.
Half the Roslyn Country Club land sat on the former Draper estate, and the mansion was refurbished and made into a neighborhood clubhouse. When the houses were sold, Levitt reneged on promises (according to a State Supreme Court referee ruling in 1958) and sold the clubhouse to a private company. That’s another connection to Levittown. In 1953, after town governments refused to pick up the costs, Levitt closed Levittown Hall and some pools and playing fields, causing an ongoing controversy over park districts and fees.
There was no special, personal connection between the Levitts and Roslyn Heights. It was strictly business. That was Bill Levitt’s public mantra in defense of his actions.
From the first moment the Levitts applied for mortgage insurance on Levittown houses in 1947, they were pressured by state and regional Federal Housing Administration officials to drop their formal racial exclusion policies. By 1949, these officials were publicly suggesting that Washington should grant them the power to withhold support. The policy was dropped for new sales, but was enforced through existing deeds and leases to varying degrees until 1953. For half a century, the sins of the Long Island housing-real estate-political complex marred reputations of good people in Levittown.
The Levitts were wrong. They didn’t need the race clauses to sell their houses. In 1963, two weeks before Dr. King gave his famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial, there was Bill Levitt, Spokesman of the Industry, in headlines across America defending the right of builders to refuse to sell to African-Americans where segregated neighborhoods were the custom. He considered Long Island to be one of those places, and Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, where Levittowns II, III and IV went up, amid picket lines and state government lawsuits. There’s no clear evidence that Bill Levitt was personally bigoted. He made it clear that it was strictly business, which probably makes it all worse.
Levitt & Sons finally adopted an open-housing policy in April 1968, five days after Dr. King’s assassination.
It wasn’t Bill Levitt’s job to enlighten a population or broaden people’s minds. The Levitts made houses. It was the people who lived in those houses who made communities. The park’s name should reflect that.