The Town Of Hempstead Needs Lance Armstrong
Thomas Friedman had a nice Op-Ed piece in today’s New York Times. [SEE, Learning From Lance.]
Ostensibly, it spotlighted the pinpoint focus and detailed planning engaged by Lance Armstrong (who wore the coveted Yellow Jacket for the 7th year in a row at the grueling Tour de France), juxtaposed against the apparent lack thereof by the U.S. government – in areas seemingly vital to both our economy and our national defense.
Whether or not you agree with the politics, the thought-process (of which there is evidently little inside the Beltway) merits consideration on the local level.
Sure, one would think that the president – and Congress, for that matter - would have a strategy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, to stabilize Iraq so we can actually get on with the war against terror, and to keep jobs in the good old US of A, so we don’t have to speak with someone in Bangladesh every time our Internet service goes down.
Same said, for sure, as we think local and act local. When illegal housing has been a problem for some twenty odd years (okay, they were all odd), one would presume that our local leaders would come up with a workable strategy – as Thomas Friedman put it, “to thoughtfully plan ahead and to sacrifice today for a big gain tomorrow.”
Yes, we are caught up in eternal NIMBYism – “build that affordable housing, but not in my backyard,” but if we’ve been complaining about the very same issues for the past two decades and they’re only getting worse, clearly we have neither followed Lance Armstrong’s lead nor kept pace with the ever-changing realities of the new suburbia.
This is not to say that we want to see Kate Murray or Harvey Levinson don their racing gear and head off on tricycles through the hills and dales of the Hempstead Plain (or, come to think of it, to have the race for Town Supervisor decided by the outcome of a sporting event. We can picture that Tug-of War, and it ain’t pretty), but the fact remains that the tried and true – or even the attempt to fix the tried and true – simply doesn’t cut it.
We have no doubt that if Kate Murray had a magic wand [Be nice. We’re not going there – today!] she would wave off the evils of illegal housing, outrageous property taxes, unchecked zoning violations and, yes, those outmoded Sanitary Districts. [Why, if Kate had that wand, and her druthers, she’d probably whisk into oblivion some of the very irritants who surround her at Town Hall – assuming they showed up other than to collect a pay check.]
For better or for worse, there is no magic wand, and our Supervisor – who is, by any measure, astute, charismatic, engaging and photogenic – is rarely left to her own devices in terms of exerting enough “willpower to triumph” over those cancers that now ravage, and threaten to consume, America’s largest township. In short, that “strategic focus” is missing at Town Hall.
Whether the result of complacency – 100 years of one-party rule will do that to you – or the benign neglect that flows from a party leadership that long ago made the decision to forego the south shore in favor of points north, what has become clear is that Hempstead Town Hall lacks both direction and focus, with the best laid plans (many of which were laid eons ago) falling by the wayside or gathering dust in the catacombs.
We don’t blame Kate Murray – although, at times (all right, at all times), it may appear that way. It is not a lack of smarts, of ability, or of any personable attribute that distinguishes a passive government from a proactive one. We consider Kate Murray to be among the best and the brightest on all of these counts. [And while we kid her for being “smilin’ Kate,” face it, that grin is contagious.]
No, misogynists that we may be, Kate-bashers all, the problem is not Kate Murray. The problem at Hempstead Town Hall is a failure – more like a refusal - to let go of the past, and an innate need to preserve, at almost any cost, the status quo. Say anything, do anything – or do nothing at all – just to preserve the status quo.
There isn’t a soul at Town Hall who doesn’t recognize the fact, for instance, that the Sanitary Districts are dysfunctional, and downright cost inefficient. True, as well, for Water Districts and the many other “Special” Districts that tax greatly but provide residents with little in return. Attempts to justify their continued existence, whether advanced by District Counsel, a local Councilman, or sitting Commissioners, are both laughable and preposterous. Yet, the basic instinct to protect these fiefdoms – and the stream of party loyalists they produce – overrides even the mere consideration of initiatives that may change the very essence of the way the Town of Hempstead conducts business, provides services and tackles community problems.
So, when we, as residents and community activists, raise our voices to complain – whether about longstanding problems, such as illegal rentals, or of the more ephemeral, like accumulating trash along “Main Street” - we get a friendly nod, a pat on the back, and a temporary, often knee-jerk response – what we at The Community Alliance have dubbed “the Band-Aid approach.”
Kate Murray once asked a gathering of local civic leaders, “What would you want us to do in a perfect world?” Kate, in a perfect world, you’d have Mike Deery call a news conference so you could boldly step up to the microphones, and firmly make the following statement:
“My name is Kate Murray, and I stand before you to say that this is not Joe Mondello’s Hempstead Town. Heck, Joe Mondello doesn’t even live in Hempstead Town. The hell with Joe Mondello. Ladies and gentlemen, this is YOUR Hempstead Town. Today, we concede to a pattern of inertia. We accept, at long last, responsibility for holding America’s largest township in place, as the rest of the world moved forward. We acknowledge than we can do more, take less, and hold the line on those @$#%!* mailings.
“Today, we begin to clean house at Hempstead Town Hall. The folks you voted out of office years ago, and who found refuge on the Town payroll, are gone, their positions filled by qualified residents – Democrats, Republicans and the unaffiliated – who will not only show up for work every day, but will work for you every day.
“Today, we take the first steps to consolidate the Sanitary Districts under Town of Hempstead Sanitation, assuring that every homeowner enjoys the same level of service, and every homeowner pays the same tax rate.
"Today, we are pleased to announce that the Town has hired twenty new Building Inspectors, assuring that every hamlet and unincorporated area will have the dedicated Code enforcement its residents pay for and deserve.
“Today, we pledge to hold that line on ALL Town taxes, and to take control of every entity that bears the name and seal of the great Town of Hempstead.
“Today we not only make the promise, but begin to live the promise, that those elected to serve the people of the Town of Hempstead will not only aspire to do the job, we’re going to get the job done.
“In the Town of Hempstead – in YOUR Town of Hempstead - the buck will not only stop here, with your Supervisor, it will stop, and linger longer, in your wallets.
“Today, we return the Town of Hempstead to the people of Hempstead Town!”
Okay, we can all wake up now. . .
When “change” becomes a four-letter word, and the fear generated by the prospect of change brings out a barrage of lies, misrepresentations, half-truths and the completely inane, we have to ask ourselves one simple question: Can we do better? At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to try.
For all intents and purposes, there has been no change – either in power or direction – at Hempstead Town Hall since 1907 (the year the electric vacuum cleaner was invented). A house, especially one that local government calls home, should at least be broom swept (if not vacuumed) once every hundred years, don’t you think?
To quote Thomas Friedman, if out of context, “maybe we have the leaders we deserve. Maybe we just want to admire Lance Armstrong, but not be Lance Armstrong. Too much work. Maybe that's the wristband we should be wearing: Live wrong. Party on. Pay later.”