Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A Pox On All Our Houses

Illegal Housing ... What are the Real Issues?

by Roy J. Mezzapelle

What is illegal housing? Sounds like a simple question, but it is actually quite complicated. The simple definition of illegal housing is any housing situation that is in violation of any of a number of laws, codes, or ordinances. The complicated part is what illegal housing has done to our community and many like it throughout Long Island, and what to do about it.

In the past month, I've had the opportunity to appear on News12's "At Issue", be interviewed by Newsday and the Long Island Press, and was the first to testify before a (Nassau County) Grand Jury to discuss this very complex issue. One thing was very clear during all of these events, no one is really seeing the big picture on this topic.

If I were new to Long Island, and relied on the "media giants" for my news, I would swear the illegal housing problem consisted of dozens of day-laborers packed into single-family homes. This is so far from the truth, it's hard to believe the media is focusing so much attention on the two recent cases in Suffolk County. While dozens of people in a single-family home certainly creates a problem, the bigger problem is having two or three families in every third or fourth home in a community - especially families with school-age children - adding to the ever-increasing school budgets. Although both situations are illegal, you know where the focus is going to be. What the media has failed to report is that illegal housing spans every race, religion, culture, political affiliation, etc. In fact, it seems that unless the "renter" is Latino, it's not even newsworthy.

When did this become a witch-hunt against the Latino community? The media must refocus on this issue if they are to present the problem in a fair manner. The big picture I referred to in paragraph two is that even without the influx of immigrants or families moving here from outside of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, we would still have a housing shortage and illegal housing problems, just from the children of the those who moved to Long Island in the 50s and 60s. Then factor in that these children are now having children, and you can see the explosive growth problem that we are dealing with.

Picture this. Let's go back 50 years and build Elmont as a self-sufficient community from the ground up. Build 10,000 single-family homes and put one family in each. Now build a brick wall 50 feet high around the entire community - no one gets in and no one gets out, EVER - and you can't build any more homes because there is no room left to do so. Leave all the stores and schools where they are. Now, accelerate ahead 50 years. Where are the kids and the grandkids living? Basements? Attics? Converted garages? Now use the same example, only this time build the wall around Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Getting the big picture?

Now remember, the kids I refer to in the example are now adults and are Elmont's teachers, and police officers, and nurses, and store owners, etc., all law-abiding, professional, middle class families or individuals - yet they are all now living in illegal housing situations. Why? There was nowhere else to go, and government didn't step in to address the problem - no planning - yet these red-blooded, middle-class Americans, born and raised on Long Island, are a large portion of the renters. Now add politics to the mix. What governmental agency is going to evict anyone fitting the above description? Can you picture the headlines if Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray enforced the housing code on a police officer, or a teacher, or a volunteer firefighter, or a senior citizen, or a family with some kid in the little league, even if they ALL lived in illegal housing situations? And lose all those votes? Never!

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy certainly made headlines when he had dozens of day-laborers evicted from their illegal dwelling. Mr. Levy was in a no-win situation. He chose to act and, right or wrong, he was criticized for it. Had he done nothing and even one of those individuals perished in a fire, he would have been criticized for knowing about the situation and not doing anything. But at least he did SOMETHING!

It has been nearly four years since I formed the Elmont Quality of Life Committee. Since that time we have seen the birth of The Tri-Community Alliance, and we've seen that grow into The Community Alliance. Dozens of communities and hundreds of concerned citizens, and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of complaints submitted to the Town of Hempstead. "Tell us where the problems are, and we'll take care of it," we were promised over and over again. Well, we told them and still the problem gets worse. When residents take time out of their personal lives to help government address a problem, and get little to no action in return, that is unacceptable.

It is government's job to enforce the law. It is not the problem of the law-abiding citizen to determine what to do with people who are living in illegal situations, although it seems it is certainly our problem to shoulder the ever-increasing tax-burden for them to be here. Until a tax base can be established for these families living in illegal situations, I believe that enforcement of the law is the only way to get a handle on this problem.

The Town of Hempstead has failed us miserably. Lip service instead of action. New laws enacted and put on the shelf with the old ones. Empty promises, mailings, public relations campaigns, photo shoots - in other words, business (politics) as usual.

I'm really looking forward to the upcoming election. Win or lose, I can't wait to hear Kate Murray tell us everything she's done to improve our quality of life in Elmont - especially to address the illegal housing issue. After that deafening silence, maybe Harvey Levinson can tell us what to expect if he is elected Supervisor.

So to wrap this up, the story is that unless we can convince people that we just may have to build vertically, Long Island will never have enough housing to legally accommodate all its residents, and as long as the Town of Hempstead and other townships ignore the illegal housing problem, the burden to the non-renting single-family homeowner will go up and up and up until we are all forced to move.

The writer, who serves as Co-Chair of The Community Alliance and Chair of the Elmont Quality of Life Committee, is Publisher of the Elmont Herald, where this article first appeared.
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Stick in your two-cents on the illegal housing crisis, and other critical issues that impact upon our quality of life. Add your comments to this Blog. Submit a "Guest Blog" of your own. Write a Letter to the Editor of Newsday and the local community papers. Attend a meeting of the Town Board and speak your mind (next Town Board Meeting, Tuesday, September 6, 2005 at 7 PM at the Meeting Pavilion at Town Hall in Hempstead).

Be a real part of the solution. Stand up. Speak out. Stay involved!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Slow Children At Play

Stop, Look, Listen, and SLOW DOWN!

Pity the slow children. There is no Labor Day telethon to raise money for a cure. No one has rushed in to take up their cause. We are reminded, on a daily basis, at every turn, around every corner, that they are among us.

Slow children. They are among the rich on Long Island’s Gold Coast, and can be found in the poorest communities along the oft-forgotten South Shore . The malady does not discriminate based on wealth, class, race, or ethnic origin. Alas, slow children cannot even be profiled (sorry, Peter King). You cannot help but spot them, though – even as you try (as proscribed by law, no less) to avoid them.

Indeed, the signs are everywhere. SLOW Children At Play. Notice how the condition is always highlighted, as if we need to be reminded that our residential neighborhoods are amuck with SLOW children.

Seldom are they actually at play, however. Oh yes. The signs are there – in bold black lettering upon a cautionary yellow background: SLOW Children At Play. Don’t you believe that for a moment. Do you ever see them on the streets? Is anyone actually playing? Do you even bother to take your foot off the accelerator to look?

No, these slow children are but invisible victims of a society that couldn’t care less. Like the homeless, the poor, and the Long Island taxpayer (who will soon be both homeless and poor), the slow children in our communities go unnoticed.

Sure, every once in a blue moon a slow child will bound into the street to chase after a ball or to jump in a pile of leaves. They don’t seem slow – and at least they look like they’re at play. Don't be fooled by what is clearly a genetic disposition to appear fast and at play.

Pity the slow children. For they have no support groups, no governmental agencies to place them in the fast lane, and little hope of getting up to speed. They do, however, have ice cream trucks – among them, Mister Softee, operated by strange men with beards wearing turbans with obvious links to Al Queada, that beckon all SLOW Children to partake in frosty treats. [The plot thickens. Call Homeland Security. Raise the terror alert to Magenta!]

Why, here on Long Island , many towns and villages have given up on the very notion that these slow children – OUR slow children – are at play at all. Some of those signs that alert us to the sad truth that there are SLOW Children At Play are now being replaced – slowly, of course – by other signs. Signs that simply urge us to Watch For SLOW Children. It is as if these slow children have become a side show at the circus. A menagerie, if you would. Something to be gawked at. Please try not to stare!

Over the years, as this disease progresses (slowly), and slow children develop into slow adults, entire communities are being overrun by slow people. The signage, now seen in hamlets and hovels across America, proclaiming SLOW Children At Play and Watch Our SLOW Children, are being replaced (slowly) by signs with a single, yet most telling admonition – SLOW!

It could very well be – and studies conducted by the Rauch Foundation and the Center for Governmental Research bear this out – that a slow child or slow adult lives in your very neighborhood. Your next door neighbor may be slow. Perhaps your own child. Definitely, your local legislator. You yourself? [Sure, you’re slow. Given proper care and guidance, however, you may just catch on one of these days.]

With so many slow children becoming slow grown-ups in our communities, is it any wonder that their “play” extends to the hallowed halls of State, County and local government? Hence, the signs seen along the highways and byways, wending their way to legislative chambers around New York State – SLOW People At Work (fines doubled in a slow person work zone).

In just a few weeks, our children will be headed back to school – as in, Schools Open ~ SLOW Children Crossing. As summer wanes, these slow children may no longer be “at play” (or in hiding, waiting to dart out at unsuspecting motorists). Still, it is incumbent upon us, as the guardians of the challenged and meandering, to continue to Watch Our SLOW Children (as if slowness as a disability was something to be proud of), and to make it our business to simply slow down. . . .

This has been a public service announcement paid for by The Community Alliance. NOW read the damn blog, will ya?

Monday, August 29, 2005

"Paying More Than Your Fair Share of Property Taxes Is Like...

. . .Throwing Money in the Garbage!"

So says the latest Murraygram to arrive in the mail, once again spinning the Murray-Mail-Meter* faster than the tote board on the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

At least the third such Property Tax "Guide" to have been posted by the Town of Hempstead in 2005 under the guise of "public service," the four page color brochure tells it as only the Townies can: "Hempstead Town does NOT set your assessment!...But we can help you lower your taxes and save!"

No, the Town does not set the Assesment. It does, however, set the tax rates, which ultimately determine how much taxes you will pay to the Town and its multitude of taxing sub-divisions. Of course, nowhere in the Murraygram are the words "tax rates" so much as mentioned.

The Town Supervisor encourages residents to contact the Nassau County Department of Assessment (516-571-1500) to obtain applications for property tax exemptions. Good idea. And while folks are on the line with the County Assessor's office, they should ask for information on who sets those all-important tax rates for TOWN Highways, TOWN Building & Zoning, TOWN Lighting, TOWN Parks, TOWN Public Parking, TOWN Refuse Disposal, among other TOWN taxing jurisdictions. [HINT: These tax rates are NOT set by the COUNTY or the ASSESSOR!] Then ask who sets the tax rates for the TOWN Sanitary Districts, and the other SPECIAL taxing jusirsdictions - staffed by the TOWN, run by the TOWN, and over which the TOWN Supervisor claims she has no control.

Odd, isn't it, how the Town is constantly telling us about things over which they have or allege to have absolutely no control, while the Town Supervisor pledges to propose a 2006 budget that freezes ALL TOWN TAXES - with an asterisk denoting that the "freeze" will apply to "all Town taxes under the Supervisor's control."

The problem is we have a Town government that is out of control. A local government bloated with high-paying patronage jobs, outmoded Special Districts, and seemingly no desire to take back control over essential services ostensibly provided by the Town of Hempstead, or at least held out to the public under the Town's name and seal.

"Control," in terms of impact upon our quality of life, appears to be outside the realm of the Town Supervisor. Whether we are talking about reviving our "Downtowns," eliminating illegal accessory apartments, or simply picking up the trash, the price homeowners pay for this lack of control is far greater than even that which appears on the bottom line of our property tax bills.

Kate Murray is right about one thing: "Paying more than your fair share of property taxes is like throwing money in the garbage." Those of us who live in one of the Town of Hempstead's Sanitary Districts can certainly attest to that!
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*For the period of May 1, 2005 to August 29, 2005, the Murray-Mail-Meter [an unofficial calculation of the cost of postage for Town mailings that are more political than public service] tallies in at $291,600.00. As for the cost of material and production, who cares? Just keep those cards, letters and 8 1/2" x 11" glossy Murraygrams coming!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

An Open Letter To The Elected

Elmont Community Leader Speaks His Piece

Now is not the time for lies or pointing fingers. We all know who did what and how we got to this mess. Elmont, Nassau County, Long Island is heading into a serious storm and I am not talking about the weather.

School taxes, high cost of living, energy prices are forcing the middle class to run off this Island. It is time that our politicians read our letters, listen to our complaints and fix these serious problems. We the taxpayers should stop looking for rewards or approval from our elected, instead we should be looking for solutions, new ideas and a new direction. I am sorry if I hurt your feelings and I don't support you or your ways, this is too important to me, my family and my community.

This is no longer a joke and, yes, I do sometimes come off strong, but guess what, it doesn't matter to me who wins the election just as long as you realize something more needs to be done.

Yes, we all know one another, and yes, we are friends, but friendship and your position to lead and solve problems has to be seperated. You have won friends by giving money or passing a bill or promising to solve our problems and yet the middle class is getting wiped out. You tell us lies to get re-elected and you tell us that this is what people want, and I tell you this is not what people want. We don't care about all the taxing districts, we need relief and consolidation. We don't care about all your friends who have jobs in the town, we can't afford to pay for it any more. We don't care about school boards and them wasting money on themselves, we want our children and grandchildren educated at a cost we can afford. We don't care about your mailings to our homes, but we do care about how much you are spending.

Don't tell me that someone has raised taxes when it was you who brought all of us down. Don't tell us that you are holding the line on taxes than raise all the other taxes. You know it's sad when you get a tax bill that tells the truth, and my bill this year shows lower taxes in the county portion and much higher taxes in the town portion. So I don't need to hear your lies, I can read them for myself. So pardon me for not kissing your rear, but I am fighting for my family and my true friends.There is no time left, everyone needs to open their mouth and speak out.

If you don't have a solution then you are part of the problem and you need to go. Listen people, your taxes will double in the next 5 years and that is no lie you can see where we are heading just by your tax bill every year. The STAR program has done nothing - you lost that after the first year when your school taxes increased. We can no longer afford to pay for Education with a regressive property tax and we can no longer afford to support the old ways. This is 2005 and 1939 is long gone. Please spare us your lies and mailings, the people of Elmont and Long Island are smarter than you think. Don't insult us any longer.

Patrick Nicolosi
Elmont, New York

The writer is President of the Elmont East End Civic Club. This Guest Blog first appeared as a Letter to the Editor of the Elmont Herald, and has been republished with the permission of the author and the paper.

Have something to say about your community and the people who make the decisions that impact upon your hometown? All viewpoints and perspectives are welcome. Bring it on!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Inherit The Wind [or, The Meek Shall Inherit Hempstead Town]

“He who troubles his own house shall inherit the wind.”
-Proverbs 11:29

Creationists continue to make the argument – much to the chagrin of adherents to Darwin’s evolutionary theory – that life here on earth is so complex, there must necessarily have been a higher hand at play. [SEE New York Times, In Explaining Life’s Complexities, Darwinists and Doubters Clash.]

While many of us thought that the debate had been settled with the Scopes Monkey Trial, let no one dispel the fervor with which Creationists – science and reason tossed hastily into that wind – advance “hand of God” over “survival of the fittest.”

Heck, I’m no Mathew Brady – and certainly no Williams Jennings Bryant – but I can tell you, with most certain conviction, that evolution is bunk. Nothing changes over time. Once the plan is laid, everything follows the script. Evolved from Apes? Nonsense! If Apes were as dumbstruck as us humans, they’d be extinct by now!

Forget the National debate, the inspiration of the ignorant who, but for the dogma, wouldn’t know an amoeba from a two-headed serpent. All we need do is to focus the microscope on that microcosm of single-celled organisms – Hempstead Town Hall – to lay to rest, once and for all, the absurd notion that there ever was such a thing as evolution.

Inbreeding aside, Town Hall provides the proving ground to demonstrate that the more things change, the more they stay the same. A single cell – call it the Nassau County GOP – placed, by Divine right, in a petrie dish in Hempstead in 1907, and left to its own devices. Fast forward to 2005, nearly a Century after this immaculate deception, and bear witness to the complexities that only a higher authority (with one heck of a wicked sense of humor) could have wrought.

No sir, it is not possible for such a complex system of patronage, taxation and governmental inefficiency to have “evolved.” Don’t be foolish. Only the Creator could fashion a family tree where nearly everyone on payroll is related. Only the Maker, through his “I’m Impotent” vision, could have brought forth Sanitary Districts, Water Districts, Lighting Districts, Sewer Districts, you name it, we’ve got a district for it! Only the Almighty, in his infinite wisdom (who are we to question?), could make us believe we are feasting on filet mignon when, in fact, we are gnawing on whale blubber. [“Thou shalt pay twice as much to eat fat, and thou shalt enjoy it!”]

Evolution? Ha! At Hempstead Town Hall, by the graces of the all powerful Designer (no Halston He), time stands still. The illegal accessory apartments complained of twenty years ago – as surely would have “died-out” in a Darwinian universe – confound science. They persist and proliferate, as is the plan of the architect of man’s brief foray in this township.

As if one needed further evidence that evolution is a myth – a left-wing, pinko, New York Times conspiracy contrived by the Hollywood elite and perpetuated by the Michael Moores of the world – let us do a case study of the static. The Courtesy Hotel - West Hempstead’s puddle of stagnation, out of which, most assuredly, new life would have by now arisen had evolution played a role in Hempstead Town’s development.

For more than 10 years, local residents and activists have been calling for the closure of the infamous Courtesy Hotel – a hotbed of crime, the only punishment for which inures to the detriment of the community.

Calls to “Condemn the Courtesy,” having prompted over the years Town Hall diatribes, citizen Petition drives, and much dribble for the local media, yielding little forward progress, the boiling brine from which all life is said to have sprung notwithstanding.

A decade and several months later (a speck, of course, on that evolutionary timeline, despite the myriad arrests for drug trafficking, prostitution, rape and assault), the battle to shutter the Courtesy rages on.

Assurances from Town Hall that “we’re working on it.” Passing homage to Darwin in the taunts of “these things take time.” Ten long years of stirring the pot, looking for signs of life incubating in the womb of community. Nothing.

And then, just when all hope seemed lost, Divine intervention.

Town Supervisor, Kate Murray, “buoyed” by a Supreme Court decision, announces on June 8th that a “Blight Study” (unlike any Blight Study done before. And, believe us, they’ve been done before) is underway in the area of the Courtesy, its findings to be made public within a week’s time. [No word as of August 21st. True, the Lord works in mysterious ways, but is not a week still 7 days? Then again, how long is a day in the Biblical scheme?]

But never mind the Blight Study. There are greater revelations still. The Town Board will hold a hearing – and no doubt, a vote – on Tuesday, September 6th (7 PM at the Town Meeting Pavilion) - to consider what, only yesterday, was unthinkable and untouchable – a Condemnation Proceeding.

It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to predict the outcome of that vote: 7 in favor of going the Condemnation route, none opposed. [Barring, of course, word from the Designer to Councilman Santino that the people of West Hempstead are destined to “enjoy” another thousand years of the Courtesy, and shall be “willing” to pay the price, accordingly.]

“Yes,” you say. “There is a God!” To hear community leaders posture it, this is the biggest news from the Town since the electric vacuum cleaner was invented (which just happens to be the very same year the GOP came to dinner at Town Hall and never left – 1907).

Still, we have to ask the tough questions: Why now, when the masses have been clamoring for Condemnation for over 10 years, all the while being chided by Town officials, "No, no, no. That's not the way to go?"

Why has the previously unacceptable and heretofore unpalatable suddenly become the raison d'etre for the goobers (get it? “Raison.” “Goobers.” Oh, never mind!) at Town Hall? Those same "tools" – the power to both create and destroy - were available to the Town long before the Supreme Court opined on Eminent Domain. Why were they never used?

What, pray tell, has given the Town this sudden urge to tweak what has always been nature’s course. To meddle with what is? To dabble where no other dared? [While Kelo vs. City of New London may have "buoyed" Supervisor Murray, it didn't change the law or make new law on the taking of private property. The Court simply reaffirmed what towns and municipalities have been doing for years. Of course, we should give the Town Attorney's office the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they just didn't know the law or simply failed to understand it!]

Even after moving to condemn the similarly unsavory Oceanside motel, having won a much ballyhooed victory in the “taking” of this no-tell motel, Town officials refused to take the same action against the Courtesy, citing the "costs" to the West Hempstead community. Why this abrupt (but surely not unexpected) Epiphany?

Ah, the Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away – by Eminent Domain, no less!

And what ever became of the Town-commissioned "Blight Study," the results to serve as the basis for immediate action to close the hotel under the Town's Urban Renewal Ordinances? Heaven knows. For us mere mortals, that there was a study is information enough!

Action that should have been taken more than a decade ago - with closure of the Courtesy to have likely followed within 18 months (typical time frame for such proceedings) - is now the fodder of a Town Hall horse and pony show. Intended to showcase all that the Town of Hempstead is "doing" for a community that has come undone, the peculiar timing of this new-found zeal to close this Devil’s lair - just 9 weeks before a critical election for the Town Supervisor – is both dubious and unsettling.

Ah, but the Designer has it all figured out. A community’s collective prayers answered – albeit far removed in time and space from the lips of the faithful who first uttered those pleas. [Well, at least we didn’t have to wander the desert for forty years!]

Expecting a miracle in West Hempstead – or elsewhere in Hempstead Town, for that matter? Don’t put away your Rosary or hang up your prayer shawls quite yet. In fact, don't be the least bit surprised to see this election season come and go, as surely as fall flows into winter, with the Courtesy still flourishing, and a community's essential revitalization still floundering. Just as long as they’ve got your vote on November 8th.

Feeling had? Helpless? A victim of a cruel hoax? Don’t worry. There’s absolutely nothing any of us mere mortals can do. We are but sinners in the hands of an angry God. The by-product of this all-pervasive Intelligent Design. That very same Intelligent Design that has pre-ordained the GOP as the sole and rightful occupants of Hempstead Town Hall, and has left for the rest of us to, well, inherit the wind!

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Birth And Death Of America's Oldest Suburb

Historical Marker In Levittown Denotes "Birth Of The Suburbs"

Much of Nassau County, America's oldest suburb, is now beginning to feel its age - infrastructure failing, economic growth creaking, green spaces balding, and more than just a little "hair" growing out of its ears.

Levittown, springing up as the post-WWII answer to urbanization - the affordable houses for our returning GIs - is often heralded as America's first suburb, a bedroom community of quaint single-family homes, many with white picket fences, exemplifying to many what was, some sixty years ago, an attainable and sustainable American dream.

Recently, Town of Hempstead Supervisor, Kate Murray - joined by representatives of the Levitt Corporation and a local Boy Scout (you always need a Boy Scout), as well as other dignitaries -"planted" an historical marker at Levittown Village Greens, same commemorating the birth of the suburbs. [SEE Town News, The Birth of the Suburbs Happened in Levittown.]

Supervisor Murray, in her address at the planting ceremony, called her hometown of Levittown America's first planned suburban community. "Levittown is the product of an enormously innovative vision that helped define the suburban lifestyle," said Murray. "William Levitt actually was a pioneer of smart growth principles, creating walkable communities that featured convenient village green shopping and recreation."

Indeed, Levittown was a prime example of both planned development and smart growth, its favorable mix of retail, residential and recreational uses serving as models for planned communities throughout the nation.

Smart growth, as we envision it today, was born in the heart of the Town of Hempstead, with Levittown its shining beacon. What a shame that such planned development languished in Levittown, destined to die a slow, torturous death before Zoning Board and Town Board, where "smart growth" was and remains but an oxymoron.

What should have been the basis for a visionary master plan for the development of the rest of the Town of Hempstead, Levittown stands as an almost timeless monument to innovation lost and creativity gone awry.

Juxtapose the neat rows of houses with their stately lawns, the community parks, the pools, bowling alleys and retail shops of Levittown, with the sprawl, blight and catch-as-catch-can "development" of communities that de-evolved in the post-Levittown era. The Baldwins. The Elmonts. The Roosevelts. The Uniondales. The West Hempsteads. To name but a few of the unincorporated areas of the township where eyesore trumps vision.

While, as Jack Abdo, Vice Chairman of the Levitt Corporation, observed, "The same principles of quality and value that guided William Levitt in the creation of Levittown are still at the essence of everything Levitt Corporation does today," it is pitifully obvious that those guiding principles have neither been adopted by, nor so much as made passing reference to in the "planning" of, America's largest township.

Where are the village greens (or, for that matter, any green) - so prevalent in Levittown - in the "step-child" communities of Hempstead Town? Where are our tree-lined boulevards down which we could take a pleasant stroll on any given Sunday? Where is the "dynamic forethought" of a William Levitt? Whatever became of the "planning" of that "great American hamlet?"

The marker planted by the Supervisor in Levittown's East Village Green reads as follows:

"The dream of owning a home came true for thousands in Levittown, America's largest suburban development. Designed to provide returning World War II veterans and their young families with convenient shopping and recreation, the East Village Green was one of seven greens built between 1948 and 1951. The East Village Green opened in April of 1950, contributing to a suburban fabric that made Levittown an innovative and uniquely American community."*

That "dream of owning a home" on our Long Island has faded to memory for most - home prices rising out of reach; taxes soaring out of control; the vision of a suburban community abruptly turned nightmare by longstanding oversight, benign neglect, and outright abandonment.

"As a Levittowner and a local public official, I am proud of the legacy that has come out of William Levitt's vision," concluded the Supervisor. "This community continues to represent the very best of the suburban experience. Just as I spent much of my idyllic childhood at this and other local village greens, future generations will also be the beneficiaries of all that comes with growing up in America's largest suburban development."

Yes, the idea and ideal of the American suburb was born, right here in Hempstead Town, lo those many years ago when William Levitt and his crew broke ground on those not so fertile plains of Hempstead. For little more than $8000, you could own a piece of that American dream, and buy into the hope that this dream of suburbia would grow, would endure, would fluorish for generations.

The legacy of Levittown should never have ended where it all began. And that great American Dream should never have been set down the path to the great American tragedy. Perhaps the marker planted in Levittown should have read: "Here Lies The Dream Of Suburbia - Born 1945 ~ Died Slowly And Prematurely, 1951 - 2005."

We have seen the vision of Levitt's suburbia - its birth, its maturity, and its now waning life. It is tough, almost unbearable at times, to watch the dream die, especially when it never had to be this way at all.

*It has not been reported whether the historical marker as planted bears the inscription, "Kate Murray, Supervisor."

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Even The Fish Are Leaving Town!

Fish Feign Death In East Rockaway To Escape Hempstead Town;
Hundreds Flee - Thousands Die Trying

Special to The Community Alliance

East Rockaway, NY - They were washing up on the banks of the Mill River like so many salmon against the stream - carp, perch, bass, gefilte - all presumably dead as the result of high temperatures and low oxygen levels. [SEE Newsday, Troubled Waters.]

"That's not the whole story," said an irate shrimp gasping for air. "High temperatures? Fuggetaboutit. Its high taxes, stupid. We just can't hake it. We can't afford to swim with the fishes any more in Hempstead Town."

While the media - Newsday among them - reported that the fish kills are naturally occuring events, others, including a striped bass who spoke on condition of anonymity, told another story.

"Dead, shmead. Who's dead? We're just trying to get away under cover of darkness. Look, don't you see our eyes are open? We see the taxes spiraling out of control. We see the reckless development, decreasing our open spaces. Sure we lack oxygen. They've torn down all the trees to build parking lots. We've got all these fish from the illegal caves in our schools, packed in like sardines. And even though we've got gills, man, we can smell that garbage at the Town's Sanitary Districts. Stinks like dead fish. Er, I didn't just say that, did I?"

Local officials poo-pooed (a term of art that has come to pass for the actions of Town government) the apparent demise of so many fish at one location, wholly dismissing the idea that the fish were actually taking flight from the Town's neglect.

Reached for comment at Hempstead Town Hall, Councilman Tony Santino responded to the fishes' charges. "They're all a bunch of blowfish," said Santino, floundering for an appropriate response. "These crustaceans would give up twice as much oxygen just for the privilege of swimming in our polluted waterways. What's more, they enjoy the heat. Lousy crabs."

Meanwhile, Charlie "the Tuna" Schwartz, a spokesfish for the underwater community, portrayed a more dire predicament.

"We fishes are thoid-class citizens in da Town of Hempstead, right behind residents of da Town's unincorporated areas. We gurgle on Kate Murray's hotline until da blue fish are blue in da gills. Nutin'. What are we, smoked salmon? We dezoive better."

There appears to be a Squid Pro Quo of sorts for the fish of Hempstead Town, where every cod is heard to say, "carp diem," and the minnows are bubbling, "caviar emptor." "The call came in just da udda day from Louie da Lemmie," said an exuberant Charlie. "We got an offer from a river in Tennessee. Low taxes. Clean water. Less than six Commissioners per square mile. Dat's da life. Veni, Vidi, Fishy - I came, I saw, I'm outta here! Who needs this carp? Oops. Sorry."

Town Supervisor Kate Murray, who refused to be interviewed for this story, could nonetheless be heard over the telephone in Santino's office. "Tell them to bring those dead fish to my office at Town Hall. Yea. Fish fry Friday. Joe, get the tartar sauce..."

As for the media's failure to report the fishes' side of the story, amidst charges of a cover-up, a migrating white perch - suitcase under one fin, a copy of Newsday being waved by the other - couldn't help but lambast reporters on the scene. "I wouldn't pay a clam for this paper. Don't believe everything you read. Why, Newsday isn't fit to wrap dead fish in! Oh, oh. I didn't just say that, did I?"

Stay tuned to The Community Alliance blog for more on this extraordinary fish tale. Film at 11. Clambake at Midnight...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What If They Held An Election And Nobody Voted?

Sanitary District 6 "Election" Day Passes With Barely A Whimper

Fred "Sandy" Senti coasted to victory yesterday in his bid for re-election as one of six paid Commissioners in Sanitary District 6. Never mind the final vote count. It really doesn't matter. Senti was unopposed. A single vote would have put him over the top (or at least in a run-off with a "write-in" candidate).

With all the hoopla and fury over exorbitant and disparate tax rates in the Town of Hempstead's multiple Sanitary Districts - where some residents pay double the tax rate of those serviced directly by TOH Sanitation - one would think there would be sufficient outrage to at least foster token opposition. With 35,000 "stops" in this patronage-riddled fiefdom, one would surmise that at least a single candidate would surface to challenge the status quo.

Ah, to think and surmise. Too much time and energy. We've got more important things to do than take on the status quo, upset the apple cart (where last year's bad apples, harvested for 2 cents a pound, are being peddled to us for $2.99 apiece), or, heaven forbid, vote (they still permit "write ins," if only in protest).

Why, even the local civic associations - and there are a multitude within the artificial boundaries of Sanitary 6 - remained virtually silent. Nary a mention of the election, let alone so much as a paltry attempt to stir the community to action.

In a community that should be up in arms over the abuses - and yes, they are abuses - of local government, there is a growing malaise, spreading like a malignant tumor smothering senses and thought processes alike. We say we care, yet do no more than grumble. We live, sometimes paycheck to paycheck, often surrounded by conditions no better than sqaulor, yet fail to take even the smallest steps forward to improve our quality of life. We have borne witness to the near-demise of suburbia - and, in many ways, its "planned" annihilation - yet remain tethered to a sputtering machine, mistaking life-support for that which, in reality, has taken away not only our ability to breathe on our own and to think for ourselves, but even the mere will to live.

As for the civics, their failure to make any noise on the glaring issues that mire our community in the muck is perhaps more disconcerting that the self-absorbed contentment of the general populace. True, the civics reflect the communities they serve, but at what point do we begin to take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we like what we see? Our efforts to "partner" with the politicos rather than to fight City Hall - suggesting that we can catch more bees with honey than we can with vinegar - has rendered many a civic association into little more than a "mini-me" to the occupants of Town Hall. Too much time spent patting the pols on the back as they patronize us with promises rather than taking them to task on the salient issues of the day - praise-heaping supplanting much needed pot-stirring. Yes, we have caught many bees over the years, but not a drop of honey to be had. [And that sting - Ouch!]

We've become, in effect, apologists for the failures and inadequcies of our government, rather than the protagonists of beneficial change. Good for them. Very bad for us.

Let no one say we are complacent. Perish the thought. We are comatose. Dare we say, in some instances, absolutely brain dead. Someone please show us mercy and pull the plug!

By the way, a call this morning to Sanitary District 6 revealed that, while the vote count had yet to be completed (nearly 12-hours after the polls had closed), the tally thus far is 859 votes for Commissioner Senti, and 3 "write-ins," including one for Tom Suozzi. The victory, of course, is hallow where there is but a single candidate on the ballot, and the process about as wholesome as elections held by dictatorships under the guise of freedom of choice. [You can choose between the guy on the ballot and not voting!] For the 862 residents of Sanitary District 6 who voted, there is a rejoice of sorts for democracy in action. For the rest of us, there can be only lament for democracy's inaction!

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Where's The Fire?

Fire Hydrants On The Fritz In Town of Hempstead

Apparently, the Town of Hempstead is not only lax in the areas of Code Enforcement, zoning/land use, and in generally maintaining a quality of life to which we would like to become accustomed (or at least one commensurate with the amount of property taxes we pay), they also seem to have a problem maintaining fire hydrants in working order.

According to a report in Newsday [Broken Fire Hydrants a Hot Campaign Topic], several hydrants in Oceanside were either broken or had no water pressure, hindering fire fighting efforts and placing life and limb in peril.

While a lack of water pressure - especially in the heat of summer - and a broken hydrant now and again, would not in themselves be unusual or, for that matter, newsworthy, it appears that this isn't the first time these particular hydrants have been down, with incidents having been reported to the Town of Hempstead as far back as 2003.

Now, its one thing for the Town to carve out an exception to its own zoning laws so that a store owner along Long Beach Road can hang an outrageous sign or eliminate a dozen parking spaces, but when the lives of our firefighters and building occupants are put in jeopardy, we've got a real dilemma on our hands. When local firefighters - our first line of defense in the community - are heard to complain that "the Town dropped the ball," you know that something is terribly wrong.

This all fits well, of course, into the Town of Hempstead's Band-Aid approach to issues ranging from illegal apartments to "downtown" beautification - if someone complains loud enough, we'll react - until the next time the same problem rears its ugly head.

Newsday quotes a 15-year veteran of the Oceanside Fire Department, Stephen Capobianco, who was reported to have said, "Firefighters are resilient. They work around problems. But if you know there's a problem and you don't do anything about it, you're putting them at undue risk."

And where's Town Supervisor Kate Murray as fires rage and water trickles? "Not available to comment," says Town spokesman, Mike Deery.

That about sums it up for the way the Town of Hempstead, in its reactive rather than proactive mode, handles the issues - from the life-threatening to the simply annoying - that impact upon every aspect of our quality of life. They know there are problems. They just choose to do nothing about them, all the while telling us what a wonderful job they're doing for us at Town Hall. Yes, they do nothing quite well, thank you, and we foot the bill. Let's hope that no firefighter, in O'side or elsewhere, has to pay for the Town's "good job" with his or her life!

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight?

Absolute Power Corrupts - Absolutely!

Rick Brand, in his Politics & Power column of Newsday's August 8th edition, takes aim at Harvey Levinson, the Democratic candidate for Town of Hempstead Supervisor, for what Brand characterizes as an orchestration of the failed bid to unseat a sitting Commissioner in Sanitary District 2. [SEE Candidate's Idea Gets Trashed.]

Its a rather bizzare - if not factually inaccurate - take, made even more absurd by the side-bars of the likes of Joe Mondello, GOP County Chair, and Democrat Joe Scannell, both of whom refuse to see the forest for the trees. Maybe its a "Joe" thing - that old ignorance is bliss. Sure, upstart candidate Laura Mallay, president of a local civic association, didn't take down the machine Commish (given a few more weeks to "get the word out" and an election that folks were actually aware of, she just might have), but she carried the banner - as a civic activist, not as anyone's "recruit" - publicizing a bread-and-butter issue that only Harvey Levinson had the courage and the gumption to bring out of the shadows: That we are being ripped off, and quite handily, by these unnecessary taxing jurisdictions.

We expect Mondello to characterize Levinson and the Dems as "the gang that couldn't shoot straight." That's his job and his mantra. As for Democrat Scannell, could be he believes that the inequities of the Sanitary Districts, and other sordid taxing jurisdictions, are non-issues. Or maybe he's just not willing to risk political capital on matters of such great significance that they rattle the very core of politics as we have come to know it on Long Island.

As we see it, the key determinate in this election was the Sanitary District's use - or should we say, "misuse" - of taxpayer resources in mailing out a political flyer to all residents prior to the election. Period. It is just very, very difficult to compete with that if you are an underfunded challenger, claims of support from the Dem funded autocalls (made after the machine-mailer was sent out, in an effort to address it) notwithstanding.

The bottom line is this: When a powerful political machine defeats an underfunded, virtually unknown reformer, that's usually not news. Why Rick Brand decided to frame the outcome as a surprise is beyond us. Then again, this is August, when political news is scarce, and there's slim pickins for even the best of the pundits.

Perhaps the issues raised by Harvey Levinson - such as the bane of illegal rentals and the true cost to all of us of the Sanitary Districts - won't resonate with voters in the fall classic come November 8th. Maybe we'll continue the tradition of voting against our own best interests, financially and otherwise. That would be a real shame, considering the impact such long-neglected issues have on our quality of life and on our pocketbooks.

Oh, and by the way - "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight," based on a novel by Jimmy Breslin, showcased the likes of Jerry Orbach and Robert DeNiro. Not too shabby company for Harvey Levinson and the Dems to be likened to!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Random Searches, Random Thoughts

Yes, These Are The "Dog Days. . ."

These random searches of subway riders in New York City are really beginning to pay off. Yesterday, police arrested a 92 year old grandmother of four from Hoboken. Seems she had a pair of crochet needles in her bag. The charge: Conspiracy to knit an Afghan!
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George Carlin on the new Iraqi Constitution:

“I think we should just give the Iraqis our Constitution. It worked well for 200 years, and we’re not using it anymore anyway!”
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Give Me Liberty . . .

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
-Benjamin Franklin

"No private rights are so unimportant that they can be surrendered with impunity to the caprices of government ... the principle of public utility is called in, the doctrine of political necessity is conjured up, and men accustom themselves to sacrifice private interest without scruple, and to trample upon the rights of individuals in order more speedily to accomplish any public purpose."
-Alexis de Tocqueville

“Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
-William Pitt

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent . . . the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."
-Justice Louis Brandeis

“I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”
-Thomas Jefferson

“Truth : the most deadly weapon ever discovered by humanity. Capable of destroying entire perceptual sets, cultures, and realities. Outlawed by all governments everywhere. Possession is normally punishable by death.”
-Richard Childers

“The antidote for misuse of freedom of speech is more freedom of speech.”
-Molly Ivans

“They came for the communists, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a communist; They came for the socialists, and I did not speak up because I was not a socialist; They came for the union leaders, and I did not speak up because I wasn't a union leader; They came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me.”
-Martin Niemoller

“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air however slight lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
-Justice William O. Douglas

"Times of tragedy and war naturally bring out strong emotions in all of us. Yet we must be careful to preserve personal liberty and privacy rights in the months ahead. Sometimes the people are only too anxious to sacrifice their constitutional liberties during a crisis, hoping to gain some measure of security. Yet nothing would please the terrorists more than if we willingly gave up some of our cherished liberties because of their actions."
-Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX)

"The whole notion of loyalty inquisitions is a national characteristic of the police state, not of democracy. The history of Soviet Russia is a modern example of this ancient practice. I must, in good conscience, protest against any unnecessary suppression of our rights as free men. We must not burn down the house to kill the rats."
-Adlai Stevenson

“Things are more like they are now than they ever were before.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower (also attributed to Yogi Berra)

COMING UP: Random searches of your houses; random wiretaps; random sorting through your mail; random checks to see which books you've taken out of the library (wait, they can already do that)!


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Where's Kate?

Stop The Presses! Hempstead Town Supervisor Misses Photo Op.

With all the photo opportunities in which Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray unwittingly finds herself – from Senior Centers to ribbon cuttings to the awarding of Citations to everyone from artists to zoo keepers – it is somewhat mind-boggling to learn that Smilin’ Kate missed a grand opportunity to step before the cameras, and, of no less moment, to perhaps benefit the people and communities of Hempstead Town at the same time.

When Hillary Clinton toured Long Island on Tuesday, on what was, for all intents and purposes, a campaign swing, county and town leaders sojourned with her – not merely to be seen and photographed, but more importantly, to be heard on critical regional issues such as housing, the environment, downtown revitalization and other immediacies impacting upon America’s oldest suburb. After all, like Hillary or not, she is a source of significant power in Washington, and a key to securing federal funding for much needed suburban renewal. [We need only point to New Cassel in the Town of North Hempstead as an instance where local and federal governments have teamed up to garner funds for a major revitalization project.]

Conspicuous by her absence at the varoius Long Island conclaves, however, was one Kate Murray, Supervisor of America’s largest township.

In an editorial, Newsday opines: “Give credit to the Democratic county executives of Nassau and Suffolk, Thomas Suozzi and Steve Levy, for helping Clinton's staff energize the session. Kudos especially to the Republicans who overcame partisan suspicions to attend: town supervisors such as Oyster Bay's John Venditto, Smithtown's Patrick Vecchio and Islip's Peter McGowan. Brookhaven's John LaValle missed it to attend the birth of his first child, but Hempstead's Kate Murray dissed everybody by just not showing up. Too bad for Hempstead.”

Too bad for Hempstead, indeed! Has Kate Murray gone camera shy? Was there a more compelling appointment to be attended? At least dispatch a Sanitation Commissioner or two.

Fact is, the Town of Hempstead has a history – or should we call it a phobia – when it comes to playing nice with other levels of government (particularly when that other government is not in GOP hands), stemming, we surmise, from Town Hallers’ innate belief that the world begins and ends on Washington Street. [Of course, they still believe that the world is flat, but hey, it has worked so well for them for the past 100 years…] Take, for instance, the Town’s failure to accept – or to even apply for – monies distributed by Nassau County early on in the Suozzi administration, which monies were earmarked to bolster Code enforcement. Every other township in the County, as we recall, reached out and was rewarded accordingly, while the Town of Hempstead was, as is typical, a no-show. [“Who needs money for Code enforcement? We can do – or not do – quite nicely, thank you, with 8 Building Inspectors for the entire township.”]

For as long as one can remember, Town of Hempstead government has considered itself an island unto itself, indifferent to the concerns of the outside world, and isolated from that world’s growing acknowledgment that if we don’t work together, rowing in the same direction at the same time, we’re all going down with the ship.

At a time when intergovernmental partnership and cooperation is not only desirable, but essential, the Town of Hempstead, staying the course, goes it alone. And it shows. It shows in our downtowns and along our Main Streets, where a 1950s attitude toward zoning and development has translated into a 21st Century disaster. It shows in our residential neighborhoods, as the ideal of suburbia – the American dream of ownership of a single-family home where the grass is green and life is idyllic – has evolved into the nightmare of illegal apartment rentals and a quality of life second only to Fort Apache in the Bronx. It shows in our wallets, where the almighty dollar shrinks under a tremendous tax burden of a Town government that has grown, by the Supervisor’s own admission, beyond the control of Town Hall. And it shows, most demonstrably, perhaps, in that arrogance and disdain for the electorate, treated like drooling idiots as we are told to “enjoy” being ripped off by a government that cares more for itself than for the governed.

So, Kate Murray was missing in action on Tuesday, presumably fiddling elsewhere while Hempstead burns. Watch for the photos in next week’s papers and the 8” x 11” glossy in the mail. Truth is, it really doesn’t matter anymore. Could be that even the powers-that-be at the once omnipotent and ubiquitous political machine can now read the writing on the wall at Town Hall. More likely (as we question whether they can read at all), they’re simply thumbing their noses at all of us.
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Join the search for Kate Murray. Ala the “Where’s Waldo?” series, The Community Alliance looks for the Hempstead Town Supervisor. Spot Kate in a photo - at the Levy Preserve, at the skateboard park, or slathering suntan lotion on Joe Mondello’s back at Lido Beach? We want to know about it. The person who spots the most Kate Murrays, between now and August 31st, wins an all-expense paid (by the taxpayer) trip to the Sanitary District of his/her choice (recycling not included).

NEXT WEEK: Clear the beaches, Kate. Here comes Hurricane ‘Harvey!’

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Boycott Exxon-Mobil

The Community Alliance Calls For National Boycott Of Exxon-Mobil

Few things impact upon our quality of life as that which hits us in the wallet, and nothing stings the pocketbook these days quite as hard as the price at the pump.

$61 a barrel – yesterday. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? All we can tell you is, what not all that long ago in the collective memory was 45 cents per gallon (okay, 45.9 cents. What’s with that .9?), is now hovering around the $2.55 per gallon mark.

We can’t stop buying gas. An incomprehensible (if not reprehensible) energy policy has made America more dependent upon fossil fuels than ever. Writing letters to Congress or the FTC asking for regulation, investigation into price gouging and profiteering, and to otherwise stop the madness, go straight into the circular file. So what if we, the people who consume untold millions of gallons of gas every week, targeted a single supplier – cutting off the greenbacks that flow into its coffers? Not a one day embargo, mind you. Not a week of filling up elsewhere. A boycott until it hurts their wallets as much as it hurts ours.

First, of course, we have to select our target. One of the major players. A company, say, that profited to the tune of $25.33 BILLION off our backs in 2004, and recently announced record 2005 2nd Quarter earnings of $7.6 BILLION, a 32% rise in quarterly profits over the same period in 2004. [Sure, it costs plenty for R & D, to drill, pollute, increase global warming, pay off regulators, legislators and lawsuits, and otherwise refine and distribute. Consider, however, that Exxon-Mobil had a gross profit margin in 2004 of some 46.8%. That’s some tiger in our tank, eh?]

All right, Exxon-Mobil it is!

Okay, so one guy (you know, that one person who can make the difference) boycotts Exxon-Mobil, and buys at Shell, Gulf or Valero (where a prudent buyer can save 5 cents off of every gallon). Not a dent. If that one person, however, gets five people – or ten people – to boycott Exxon-Mobil, and those people line up another ten, and so on… Well, you know how the Six Degrees of Separation works.

We’re no Cesar Chavez here, and maybe a boycott of Exxon-Mobil won’t do for the American consumer what the boycott of grapes did for the farm worker, but, man, its worth a try, isn’t it? This is grassroots organization at its core. An empowerment of the American people!

To think, the will of migrant workers, combined with the vision of one man, energized a national movement and brought an entire industry to its knees, improving the working conditions for thousands who theretofore had no voice and little future. All of this without benefit of the Internet, no less!

Imagine the will of millions of gas-guzzling Americans, each connected to millions of other Americans through the wonders of the Internet, boycotting Exxon-Mobil, and asking friends, family and neighbors to do the same. Yes, the tiger can be tamed!

It won’t happen overnight (a giant with 2nd Quarter revenues of $88.57 BILLION won’t curl up on the floor and die), but if the numbers joining the embargo over time are large enough, the hit to Exxon-Mobil’s bottom line will, given time and perseverance, be significant enough.

As Americans, we are used to the trials and tribulations that accompany our continuing revolution. Heck, we thrive on it. We take on the challenges to our quality of life as a kid takes to a Tootsie-Pop®, and fear no evil – not even the mega-moguls at Exxon-Mobil.

The message sent to Exxon-Mobil, and through their eventual financial pain (this may take a while, folks), to the other producers and suppliers, will be clear: “We won’t be taken advantage of anymore.”

The seed has been planted. Whether the boycott of Exxon-Mobil ultimately succeeds is now in your hands. Spread the word. Engage everyone you speak to, e-mail or otherwise communicate with. Ask those at the workplace, at your house of worship, in your club, fraternity or neighborhood card game to join the boycott. [Perhaps we’ll even gain the attention of the local press and the national media. Today Long Island, tomorrow Letterman! :-)] Keep an eye on the goal of driving down the price at the pump. The power at the pump - as in the voting booth - is ours.

BOYCOTT EXXON-MOBIL! [For more on the dastardly doings at Exxon-Mobil (as if you needed more of an incentive to join the boycott), visit]


Monday, August 01, 2005

Where Have All The Voters Gone?

Gone To Greener Pastures, Every One . . .

Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights.
- Thomas Jefferson

The Carolinas. Georgia. Virginia. Florida. Pennsylvania. NYC. Lifelong Long Islanders are picking up stakes, leaving our island in droves. Out of what many perceive as today's Dust Bowl, like so many Tom Joads taking to the open road, the home grown seek refuge from the ever-deepening storm, the ever-widening divide.

They're voting with their feet, folks. And the complaints expressed on issues, from housing woes to traffic jams, are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. From unconscionable taxes to an unresponsive Town Hall, residents are throwing up their hands, packing their bags, cashing out on the equity in their homes and moving on. [Except for the youngins', who, if they can't reclaim the old bedroom or pitch tent in the backyard, are placing roots elsewhere right out of college.]

The questions we're hearing most from the peanut gallery are (1) Does anybody out there really care about us? and (2) What are "they" doing about...?

We are convinced that people do care - and we gratuitously include our elected officials in this blend of community advocates. [They must care. If not, why would they take the abuse? (Unless, of course, they have family members who are earning big bucks as Sanitation Supervisors.) Never mind, then.]

There is, to say the least, plenty of talk about what "needs" to be done to fix the infrastructure, to make our island more hospitable, to provide a life-friendly environment for our parents, our offspring, ourselves. Strengthening and enforcement of the law; creation of a broad base of affordable housing stock; economic redevelopment; the re-establishment of our downtowns; a comprehensive transportation plan; an equitable alternative to the onerous property tax; a true and workable "Master Plan" for Long Island - among other initiatives. Just turn on your local programming on any given evening and you will no doubt find the planners, the economists, the NPO chiefs, the public officials and even the "God Squad" hashing out the issues, joining in the great public debate.

Now it is time for "them" - as the "they" in "What are 'they' doing about...?" - to channel the talk into spirited and decisive action. To execute upon the long-term vision with realistic, practical plans; to begin to implement far-sighted initiatives in short order.

Affordable Housing, Long Island Style
On the affordable housing front alone, we can, and we must, move with all deliberate speed to do more. [As a relevant aside, by "affordable housing," we're not talking about a 1960s, "throw money at it" housing project approach. The widely held, and perhaps inevitable misconception when "affordable" and "housing" are linked. We're talking about housing that's affordable to our children, our parents, and, yes, even to us.] We must look beyond the spot building of two houses here and three houses there - the stuff that photo ops are made of. We have to reinvent the mindset that suburbia cannot tolerate either high-density or the responsible mix of residential, retail and recreational use.

In reality, today's suburban landscape has already been compromised (what is the number of "open space" acres left in Nassau County, for instance? 42?). We are living in a "high-density" environment, surrounded by a hodge-podge of unrestrained and unrestricted land use. Do not tell us that we cannot do better. We certainly can, and we will.
And what, pray tell, are "they" doing about the upwardly spiraling property tax? Advocates of replacing the school property tax, as a starter, with a nominal income tax, call for a serious study. Seems we can't even muster the will to examine the issue, let alone to tackle it. Opponents berate an income tax as an unacceptable alternative, yet, other than belittling its proponents, offer no viable alternative of their own.

And so, we are staring straight in the face of a school property tax that will (not may or might, but WILL) double before the decade is out. [If you don't believe it, just do the math.] School Districts aren't going to do a darn thing about it, assuming they could hold that line on costs. [Mention the word "consolidation," and everyone shudders. After all, we need 126 separate School Districts on Long Island. And heaven forbid we should do without at least three or four Assistant Superintendents in each School District (every one a "Dr."), easily earning six figures a piece, and Superintendents who garner twice that.] Albany won't touch anything that smells of "tax" (they'll just keep showing you - on paper - how much the STAR Program has "saved" you). And Town government not only refuses to admit that we have a problem called the property tax, Town Hallers compound the problem through the proliferation and safeguarding of those semi-autonomous, answerable-to-no-one patronage feifdoms known as the Special Districts.

We overlook - or blatantly disregard - the fact that those who are hurt most by the property tax - seniors, the young workforce, and those who are on fixed incomes - are the very people who would benefit most by replacing a regressive tax with a progressive tax. Not to mention the so-called middle-class, being squeezed from both ends and played against the middle. You don't have to be Alan Greenspan to figure out that where income does not keep pace with the runaway increases in property taxes, at some point you simply can no longer afford to pay the taxes. [Many of us have reached that point already.]

Why pay $10,000 per year in property taxes for a 60' x 100' postage stamp upon which sits a 50 year old dilapidated cape - in an area where quality of life, by any measure, is abysmal - when you can relocate to, say, North Carolina, and pay $2800 in taxes for a 3 acre parcel improved with a magnificent 5 bedroom, 2 fireplace home, with wraparound porch? Its either that, or rent out the attic and the basement just to pay the tax man!

For many, the issue has been raised to the level of a rhetorical question. Why stay and pay when you can get away and play - and for a whole lot less in taxes and a heck of a lot more in the quality of life division? "As you always used to say, Grandpa, 'If you can find a better quality of life, buy it!'"

Those of us who are not quite as savvy - or are otherwise constrained (condemned?) to work this land - are split into two camps. The first, mad as hell and rearin' to take on Town Hall, the County Seat, and the powers-that-be in Albany. The other, contented as cows, willing to chew their cud, while the agribusinessmen (formerly known as "farmers," before they started getting subsidies not to farm) plot their slaughter.

Truth is, the "they" in the inquiry, "What are they doing?" is "us!" [Or is it are "us?" Sorry, nary an English major among us. :-)] We have to do our part - raising awareness; stirring the debate; precipitating beneficial change; encouraging our neighbors to vote with their heads and their hearts, and not with their feet.

Ours must truly be a door to door - or e-mailbox to e-mailbox - campaign, combating complacency, rooting out indifference, rousing the otherwise apathetic to their feet - not to move them to a new homestead, but rather, to get them to take a stand - and cast that ballot - for their old hometown.
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Click HERE to request a Voter Registration form by mail.

Click HERE to download a Voter Registration form for completion and mailing to the Board of Elections. [Adobe Acrobate required.]

Click HERE to complete form online for printout and mailing to the Board of Elections.

Contact the Nassau County Board of Elections:
400 County Seat Drive
Mineola, NY 11501