Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Grand Ideas Or No Idea At All

For Tom Suozzi, Its The Bold Vision Of A Revitalized Nassau;
For Greg Peterson, Its A Trip Down Memory Lane

Ask County Executive Tom Suozzi about his vision for Nassau's future, and he'll captivate you for hours. After all, economic redevelopment and "Bringing Nassau Back" have been the cornerstones of his tenure.

Full of youthful enthusiasm -- and, sometimes, of himself -- Tom will tell you about his accomplishments (such as bringing Nassau County back from the brink of bankruptcy, to the beginnings of a comeback for Nassau's long-neglected parks, to the elimination of hundreds of millions of dollars in waste that was the hallmark of the previous administration -- an administration that gave Nassau the dubious distinction of being "the most mismanaged county in the nation").

Beyond this, Tom will expound upon his dreams and hopes for our County's tomorrows, among them, rebuilding the infrastructure of America's oldest county; creating that "New Suburbia," with its vibrant communities, quality schools and viable tax base; commiting to a strategy of "smart growth" in redeveloping Nassau's "Downtowns," strengthening the local economy, and
situating affordable workforce and senior housing in the communities where it is most needed.

True, much of what Suozzi envisions for the County remains just that - a vision. Economic redevelopment appears to have stalled on that long bus ride through the County's Development Zones, and the County parks - particularly the "inactive" ones - although improved, still lack the attention they desperately need and deserve. Still, at least there is a vision. No paucity of big ideas, as are necessary to restore luster to a grand county.

Now, ask Greg Peterson for his vision of Nassau's future and -- after that deer-in-the-headlights look -- you get little more than a nostalgic journey through the County's less than illustrious past. Indeed, if Tom Suozzi's mantra is Bringing Nassau Back, then Greg Peterson's credo has to be Taking Nassau Back. Back to the dark, gloomy, dismal days many of us would rather forget, yet dare not!

According to Peterson, our parks are a mess, property taxes are up, there are nearly 600 fewer police officers on the street, and the paint is peeling off the courthouse walls. Why, Greg Peterson has, to the dismay of the world's greatest city, called Nassau County "the 6th borough of New York City!"

Funny how Mr. Peterson goads Tom Suozzi on the condition of the parks and County facilities. Perhaps he has forgotten the mess the prior administration left us. Why, the former Commissioner of Parks & Recreation under Tom Gulotta didn't even know that West Hempstead's little patch of green, Hall's Pond Park, was a County park. Having been shown the maps, the Commissioner's response to community complaints was, "Well, its an 'inactive' park. What do you expect?" The community expected more!

Property taxes are up. You bet, Greg, and chiefly due to the increase in school district taxes, coupled with Town tax hikes disguised as "holding the line" tax "freezes," and the outrageous burden of those invisible taxing jurisdictions, the Town's Special Districts.

What really galls us is Mr. Peterson's bald-faced allusion to increased crime and a decreased police presence. Just ask Nassau County District Attorney, Denis Dillon - a fellow Republican - and he will tell you that major crime is DOWN in Nassau - at its lowest point in 30 years - and has gone down each year since 2002. Noteworthy, the County, under Mr. Suozzi, has hired 337 Police Officers in the past two years, the maximum number of new hires allowed under the PBA contract, and will hire another 120 officers - again the maximum allowed under the PBA contract - upon the graduation of the next class of recruits. Fact is, the Suozzi administration has hired twice the number of Police Officers than did the previous administration during its last 4 painful years in office! [And don't let PBA Prez Gary DelaRaba, NC Legislator candidate Jeffrey Katz, or anyone else tell you otherwise.]

What emerges out of the often murky waters of a political campaign is quite clear -- the race for County Executive is one between big ideas and no ideas at all (or, at best, old ideas that got the County into trouble in the first place)!

Perhaps the following, excerpted from Newsday columnist James J. Keating's article, Peterson Campaign Needs To get Specific, sums it up best:

Peterson had been a big cog in the machine since the early 1970s - on the Hempstead town council, then elected town supervisor in 1987. Peterson replaced Joseph Mondello, the current Nassau County Republican Party chairman, as the Board of Supervisors' presiding officer in 1993 and served on the board until it was dissolved in 1996.Shortly after winning re-election as supervisor in 1997, Peterson resigned to succeed Mondello in the luxurious patronage position of running Nassau County OTB. Later, Peterson became a law partner of Mondello's.

Does anybody else see a pattern here? This hardly indicates a new, revitalized Republican era. But we shouldn't assume too much. Perhaps Peterson has a solid policy agenda that will make a real difference for Nassau County's future.

If he does, it's been a well-guarded political secret. Campaign Web sites usually are good places to discover the fundamentals of a candidate's policy plan. But Peterson's is more about platitudes.

So, I spoke with Peterson last week. He talked a good game, noting: "The Nassau County taxpayer has had it. They're getting killed." We all know that, so what were some specifics?

He expressed distaste for further tax increases and promised to freeze taxes and limit reassessments to every five years. That's more status quo than much-needed relief.

Peterson talked about the need to "reduce the size of government, not increase the size of government," including ending "duplication of services." Sounds good, but details were lacking. Instead, he spoke of the past - eliminating two departments and consolidating four others while Hempstead supervisor. That's fine, but looking ahead and staking out clear ideas and alternatives are critical for a challenger.

Like so many other politicians running for office, Peterson confessed: "Do I know specifically each and every department at this juncture as I'm talking to you? No." But why not?

Voters deserve candidates who know specifically what's going on in government and offer specific solutions. Yet such politicians are rare exceptions on Long Island. In fact, many politicians, even after being elected to office, seem to have few clues as to how taxpayer dollars are spent.

I also asked Peterson, why should voters expect something different given the mess Republicans left behind in the county?

Again, he highlighted his town record, and then basically blamed former County Executive Tom Gulotta, Suozzi's Republican predecessor, for taking advantage of the new county legislature at the time. Peterson also protested that it is "not fair" to blame the whole party for "one person's errors." He added: "I wasn't in that mess." That's tough to swallow given Peterson's lengthy duty on the Board of Supervisors. And were fellow Republicans just blindly misled by Gulotta?

Some critics have said Peterson's campaign has been lackluster or even nonexistent. That might be because he has little substantive to say...

To be fair, Keating is no fan of Tom Suozzi, either, concluding, "If you're looking for the status quo coupled with Republican machine experience, then Peterson's your guy. If you want the status quo coupled with lots of ambition, then it's Suozzi."

Obviously, we see the choice somewhat differently: If you're looking for a time-machine back to the days when the GOP machine (of which Greg Peterson was and is an integral part) ran our County into the ground, then Peterson's your guy. If you want an ambitious agenda coupled with the vision and fortitude to see it through, then it's Suozzi.

Yes, Greg Peterson would fashion himself as a modern-day Juan Peron, returning from a self-imposed political exile to offer crumbs to the peasants he and his GOP cronies kept impoverished. Peterson would have us remember a past that existed only in the minds of those who ran the political machine and kept its gears oiled, the illusion of "times were better then."

To succeed, Peterson must hope for a collective memory lapse such that we forget that, as one who sat on Tom Gulotta's Board of Supervisors -- rubber-stamping both budget and policy -- he was part and parcel of yesterday's problems.

The last GOP administration left as its legacy decay, decline and default. As a community, concerned with quality of life as well as bang for the buck, we should be loathe to readily return to such a bleak era in our County's history.

We beleive that we cannot go back to the days of yore -- replacing a King's fallen pawn with one whose last act in elected public office was resignation.

Tom Suozzi's vision and enthusiasm to take Nassau forward into the future are grand, indeed. Perhaps as big as the man's sense of self, if not more so. Let us say this, it takes a big man with a grand vision to accomplish great things. Voters should give Tom Suozzi the opportunity to continue to think big, and to act accordingly.

The Community Alliance gives a big "thumbs up" to Tom Suozzi. On November 8th, you should too!

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