We’re in uncharted territory here. We’re way past Exit 73. No one knows what will happen next, really.
I know that we’re all being told that “the worst is behind us” and things are stabilizing or improving. I hope so. I want it to be so. But I don’t want to be delusional about it, as some of our decision makers seem to be. Anticipated bank failures, commercial real estate meltdowns, mounting household debt and falling personal income. Pick your most ominous signal. Collect them all.
In December 1931, Nassau’s County attorney and county treasurer sat at a desk and called each of the 60 banks then in existence in this county. The county government needed some short-term loans totaling $1.6 million to meet some end-of-the-year obligations. One by one, every one of the banks turned them down. The county was able to get almost all the money from New York City banks, but a month later even that source dried up. Local governments at that time ran up much less long-term debt than they regularly do today, but they still relied on short-term borrowing against anticipated tax collections to get through the year. Credit was disappearing everywhere.
1. Senator Gillibrand has been in office for six months and now has eight official district offices around the state, which is five more district offices than Senator Moynihan had after he held the seat for more than 20 years.
2. This is what insiders sometimes call, “the permanent campaign.” Yes, taxpayers pay for the offices. Do they exist to take more information in or to merely shoot more public relations material out?
1. Nassau County has a natural and historic “Hub.” The problem is that it’s in a place that some people don’t want it to be. Until the 1960s, when officials busied themselves with removing the last remnants of the old rail links between Mineola, Garden City and Hempstead, the Village of Hempstead was always considered the county’s hub. I’ve collected dozens of articles and advertisements from daily newspapers, from the 1920s into the 1950s, that actually use the phrase “Hub of Nassau County” to describe Hempstead. To my surprise, I’ve found dozens more that call the village the “Hub of Long Island,” a phrase I didn’t know. A concerted effort was made to cut Hempstead out of the “hub” picture decades ago, and it continues today.
It isn’t the worst plan you could come up with for 150 acres, this Lighthouse Project, believe me. It’s just that after 48 years of plans, studies, hearings, meetings and debates, some of us can’t believe that we’re going to have this on that space. More of the same, except taller, with a canal. The design doesn’t comes out of the public meetings and work sessions we started with seven years ago and which got dropped. Instead, it comes from hired guns with two priorities: First, maximize the potential profit on that acreage. Second, make sure it’s something that can pass. Two tall skyscrapers sound a lot better than one really, really tall skyscraper, so now that’s what we have.
1. Since 2007, New Yorkers have lost two statewide officers and a U.S. Senator. There is a lot of talk about changing the law to require special elections to fill vacancies in any statewide office. As well-meaning as this idea is, I think the only thing that might have made New York politics worse in 2009 would have been suddenly dropping a $40 million campaign to replace Senator Clinton on top of everything else.
In this morning’s daily paper, an official at a local agency refused to comment on a situation and really ticked me off. If you are an elected or appointed official, start practicing ways to avoid saying that you have no comment. “No comment” will never do anything but make a situation worse.
I see this more and more. Between July 1 and July 24 of this year, the phrase “declined to comment” or “refused to comment” appeared in at least 41 Newsday articles involving state or local government. That’s almost twice as many refusals or declinations in articles from July 1999.
As of this weekend, there will be 100 days left until Nassau County residents will cast ballots for something like 46 county, city and town offices, plus some judgeships, on November 3. Right now, it looks like maybe two or three of these campaigns are going to be strongly contested by both major parties. Maybe. The parties aren’t playing fair with the people of Nassau County, which is a big part of why this county has run up a streak of disturbingly low voter turnouts. None of New York’s larger counties have had fewer incumbents defeated or even seriously challenged since 2000.
1. This is being written minutes after it was made official that Senator Pedro Espada is back with the State Senate Democrats, as the party’s floor leader, no less. Over the past several weeks, Democratic Senators made some public statements about Senator Espada that could not be written in this newspaper without checking with counsel. Senator Craig Johnson’s mass e-mails made several highly negative references to the “Espada Republicans.” Now, Democrats, Mr. Espada is all ours again, as Majority Leader.
In February 1932, petitions were circulated to begin the process of incorporating the Wheatley Villa neighborhood and a few other North Westbury properties lying between Jericho Turnpike and the Northern State Parkway. This was kept on the lowdown, but word got out with the petition drive only two signatures short of the required number, and residents living south of the parkway and north of the railroad sprung into action. They wanted village services and didn’t want to lose the excellent Wheatley Villa tax base. Within a couple of days, this Middle Westbury group printed and circulated their own petitions calling for a village between Jericho Turnpike and the railroad tracks, filing the petitions at the Town Clerk’s office before the North Westbury group knew what was happening. Meanwhile, the people living south of the railroad tracks were ready to organize opposition to any village that left them out. The one thing that all three groups agreed on was that the neighborhood on the other side of the cemetery, described in a contemporary newspaper article as “a large section populated by Americans of foreign birth,” should not be in the village.
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Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org