Friday, December 30, 2005

A Year In The Life

A Look Back At One Community's Quality Of Life

If we're going to take the full measure of quality of life in our respective towns and hamlets, assuming such niceties can be quantified by means other than the rectal thermometer, then perhaps we should have a closer look at how a single community fared in 2005. You know -- "up close and personal."

Let's pick a community at random. Say, um, West Hempstead -- that unincorporated stepchild of the Town of Hempstead that lies just to the west of, er, Hempstead. Yes, take West Hempstead -- please!

West Hempstead. Home of storage facilities, laundromats, illegal trailers and dumping grounds made a permanent part of the landscape, and the illustrious Sanitary District 6 (whose parking lot across the crater-filled Cherry Valley Avenue, littered with papers, plastic bags, and glass shards from broken beer bottles, boasts no fewer than a dozen spots for "Supervisor Parking Only").

As 2005 rolled in to West Hempstead's hole-in-the-wall LIRR station (not to worry, that fresh coat of paint is coming this spring), West Hempsteaders lived in the shadows of a crime-ridden no-tell hotel (the Courtesy), saw illegal accessory apartments proliferate as code enforcement waned, paid three times the going rate to a local Sanitary District for the privilege of having their garbage picked up, clamored for the reconstruction of Hempstead Avenue, waited for that first shovel of dirt to be dug at the site of the new library, and bore witness to unprecedented property tax hikes. Hey, it was a start!

Now, the door to 2006 having creaked open, and finding themselves kicked over the threshold, West Hempsteaders begin the new year in the shadows of a crime-ridden no-tell hotel, seeing illegal accessory apartments continue to proliferate as there is no code enforcement, paying four times the going rate to a local Sanitary District for the privilege of having their garbage picked up (what is it now, 8 days a week?), attempting to navigate the rocky river bed that is Hempstead Avenue (and when it rains, summon the ark), waiting for that first shovel of dirt to be dug at the site of the new library (or at least some "sign" that a library is to be built), and battening down the hatches in preparation for the coming "freeze" in property taxes.

Seems that some things – indeed, most if not all of them – haven’t changed a bit (except for those property taxes – they just keep going up). Forget the Sci-Fi Channel. This is The Twilight Zone Marathon!

When last we left West Hempstead, its inhabitants chugged along, on public roads that are not likely to see a penny of that $114 million Highway bond money, drinking their cups of daily grind, looking out over the toxic trash heaps at the ATV Carting waste transfer station, basking in the glory of ticker tape parades (more like old truck tires and National Wholesale Liquidators' flyers than either ticker or tape) down that most beautiful of boulevards, Hempstead Turnpike, and dining resplendently at the Venus. Nothing but the best for the people of West Hempstead.

This is not to say, of course, that nothing of merit -- let alone of newsworthy interest -- happened in West Hempstead in 2005. There were those glorious summer concerts in the park, bringing music to the ears and attention to that local "passive" patch of green; the annual Street Fair & Harvest Festival, a showcase beckoning the world -- or at least those from Franklin Square -- to the community; and those "20 MPH" speed limit markers, painted on the roadways near West Hempstead's schools in the hope of slowing down traffic. [They don't, but it was a good thought.]

With two active civic associations, a chamber of commerce (sort of), and myriad community organizations -- from Kiwanis to Knights of Columbus, Lions to Rotary (and dare we forget the Elks? They even have a building in West Hempstead, complete with elk!) -- there are those handful of West Hempsteaders amidst the complacency and apathy of the general public, who, like that little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike (that's "dike," not "dyke" -- uhh), are trying to hold back the next wave of the Tsunami.

But wait, there's that planned police booth coming your way in West Hempstead, right there on the debris and shopping cart strewn MTA right-of-way, to be crammed in between the storage facility and the Courtesy, just to the left of the admiring throngs of homeless -- who themselves are overlooked, by resident and officialdom both, much like the weeds and trash that adorn the MTA property and neighboring entranceway to the community's so-called railroad station. Lovely.

The Courtesy is being condemned, right? The MTA right-of-way is being cleaned up, is it not? They're finding homes for the homeless, aren't they? Yeah. And the Messiah is coming -- just not to West Hempstead.

If this blogger entertained, even for a split second, committing hari-kari for having failed to achieve the goals aspired to in The Community Alliance's 2005 State of the Community address, then what the heck -- pass the Samurai to those who represent West Hempsteaders in the hallowed halls of government. Walking along West Hempstead's "Main Streets," we can safely say that the initiatives -- planned, stated, and on the drawing board for the better part of the last quarter century -- have not been carried out, followed through, or so much as dusted off.

Face it, West Hempstead -- for all the "we care" mailers they send, the message, though largely disregarded by an oblivious electorate asleep at the voting booth, is all too clear: "We couldn't care less!"

Perhaps all the "care," "concern," and platters from all the Coliseum Delis in the world wouldn't make a difference at this point in a community like West Hempstead. Maybe we need to bring in the bulldozers and simply start over. Or it could very well be, as some suggest, that West Hempsteaders "enjoy" living in a community whose business and commercial districts are not bordering on mere brownfields, but are fast becoming festering sewers. If only they would pick up the litter from the streets as they do the garbage from the curb, it would be an auspicious beginning. Wait. That's Highways, not Sanitation. West Hempsteaders would gladly pay twice... And mark our word, they will.

Few would question whether the West Hempstead community can do better -- much better -- on many fronts. It can. Some would ask, in light of the steadfast resistance to change and the apparent contentment (or is it resignation?) among the populace, whether there is the gumption to do anything more than to march in place. There is. There must be.

Without a doubt, West Hempstead could have been a model for suburban renewal. Perhaps it could still be, were those in the position to alter this community's future not so mired in the ways of the past.

I would say, to anyone out there who might still be within earshot -- and you can note this as this blogger's epitaph, as it has been said many a time (hope you can fit it on the tombstone) -- "the status quo is never good enough; there is a vast difference between 'staying the course' and changing it, and, while looking forward is good, moving forward is even better!"

There are many folks in West Hempstead who have accepted the challenges faced by this once shining and now somewhat tarnished suburban hamlet by the pond. People, like the West Hempstead Civic Association's Rosalie Norton, the Cathedral Gardens Civic Association's Scott Jablow, the Chamber of Commerce's Greg Yuknek, the Friends of the Library's Kathy Dunne -- among others of distinction who will not be mentioned in this particular blog (you know who you are, and so do we) -- who are, if not actually making a difference, at least trying.

Still, it will take much more, and many more of us, to revitalize not only West Hempstead, but much of Long Island's lost suburbia, ravaged by too many years of neglect, indifference, and a willingness to accept "what is" over "what could be."

As this trip down Memory Lane (or is it Woodfield Road? Can't tell. The street signs are missing) sputters to its end, and this blog bids West Hempstead adieu, The Community Alliance asks, "What price are we willing to pay, and for how long, for mediocrity?"

"How's your community's quality of life?" Send us the tales -- of both woe and glee -- from your hometown. Don't be afraid to join in and speak out. Why, you can even Guest Blog, if you'd like. It is, after all, your community. Why not make the best of it?
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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Another Auld Lang Syne

New Year Ushers In Hope, Determination

At this time of the season, it is a media tradition to offer a restrospective of the year passed. Been there. Done that. No Best of list here. [A&S Bagels in Franklin Square is our hands down favorite.] No Person of the Year or even Person of the Century [We were considering ncres4change, the commentator who made us laugh, made us cry, and, above all, made us think -- but how could we do that without giving at least honorable mention to chester arthur, franklin square resident, town hall insider, and, of course, our resident "poster" boy (that's a good thing), Pat Nicolosi?]

We're not even going to offer a 2005 necrology -- you know, that laundry list of names and faces scrolling down the screen to which we summarily gasp, "Oooh. I thought he died years ago!" We will miss you, James Doohan, Eugene McCarthy, Rosa Parks, Richard Pryor, and Michael Vale -- the "time to make the donuts" guy, who left us at 83 years of age (apparently, he made many more donuts than he ate).

We will offer a profound "thank you" to all who contributed, in ways both meaningful and immeasurable, to the good of community -- from the community advocates and civic stalwarts who daily chart tomorrow's course, to the elected (and their challengers) who truly put people before politics, to the members of the free press, who do their darnedest to keep us all "in the know," to the Guest Bloggers and comment posters whose prose (and anti-prose) give us pause to reflect on the true meaning of community spirit.

If we need or want anything in the coming year, that "wish" for 2006 would be for twice as many civic activists on the local scene. Dare we ask for ten-fold? An outpouring of those who understand that the status quo is never good enough, that there is a vast difference between "staying the course" and changing it, and that, while looking forward is good, moving forward is even better!

Yes, we could use a few more community crusaders, especially among the main stream civic organizations. Oh, don't get us wrong or your feathers all ruffled. The civics, as a rule, do a fine job in promoting the public good -- if but only by sponsoring the passing parade down Main Street. Genuine, enduring change, as the future of sustainable community dictates, requires more than the ephemeral, however. It calls for civic leaders who are more adept at putting the finger on the pressure points of government, than in placing that proverbial pat on the back. We, as the voices of community, need to be less concerned about offending either elected official or bureaucratic drone, who, themselves, should be more concerned about offending the people they serve.

"You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar." [Catching trout, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.] We hear that line (about the flies, not the trout), over and over and over. Truer words were never spoken. Then again, what will you do with all those flies once you catch them? They buzz around, land on the food, all but ruin the picnic, and then, before you turn around to swat them, there they are, dead as door nails, short-lived pests that are here today, and caught in the great window screen of tomorrow.

The long-term gains come -- and they do come, when we keep the heat on -- only when we, the people, demand more than they, the elected, expect to give us. It is always "the squeaky wheel that gets the grease." We aim to continue to be that squeaky wheel in 2006 -- to make it to the Enemies List of more than just a single elected Town official -- and urge each and every one of you to be a critical spoke in that wheel.

Community, like democracy, is not a spectator sport. It is not enough to sit on the sidelines bemoaning the numbers racking up in the loss column, or to merely echo the sentiments of those who, against the best interests of community, would call for change while steadfastly maintaining the status quo. [Why, just the other day this blogger received a letter from the local Chamber of Commerce requesting dues for the coming membership year. The letter, penned by the Chamber president, appeared as little more than a regurgitated Around The Town piece. "We're working with the Town to..." To what? To do the very same things we were promised would be done over the last decade or two? Give us a break.] Frankly, we need less patsy from the peanut gallery and more pit bull!

As all politics is local, so is all government -- for all government begins with a single vote. It is up to us to make certain that government does not stop there. In 2006, we are determined to make every eligible voter a registered voter. With your help, we will succeed in this endeavor.

We will, in the year ahead, continue to blog, to broadcast, and, who knows, maybe even to podcast, getting the message of community out to the masses. [If only we were syndicated!] Today, we are 4864 e-mail addresses and countless "forwards" strong. The "hits" number in the thousands, weekly. In 2006, with any luck -- and the persistence of the faithful -- we will triple that number. [Not that anyone is paying attention, but that's okay. When they least expect it, we'll be right there behind them!]

We're going to keep on making noise, bending ears, reddening faces and raising eye brows and blood pressure -- 'cause nobody does it better. We'll keep jumping up and down, screamin' and kickin' (if that's what it takes), until we see some real progress on the community front. We're going to insist that the County put "development" into downtown redevelopment. We're going to demand that the State Legislature and the local school districts undertake necessary measures (well beyond that fallen STAR) to lower -- not "freeze," LOWER -- the school property tax. We're going to exact upon Town Hall the full power of pen and populace until action is taken to rid our neighborhoods of illegal accessory apartments and to provide residents with more than piecemeal platitudes passed off as affordable housing.

In 2006, we will again confound the pundits by punditing them one better. We will not pretend to be all-knowing, not even in the "truths" we self-proclaim to be most evident. We will not boast that we have all the answers, but we've certainly got enough problems to go around so that we can all share in taking credit for the solutions.

On these cyberpages, in the year that harkens just around the corner, you will likely hear from the mighty and the fallen, the hopeful and the hapless, the bold and those who, with a simple hand up, may be emboldened.

We will opine, dissect, disgorge and, as necessary, cast stones from this fragile glass house we call community, recognizing, to paraphrase Billy Crystal (formerly of Long Beach), that without Goliath, David would just be some punk throwing rocks.

Agree or disagree, either with method or madness (come on. You've gotta have some opinion), we hope you will take up the cause -- or at least take offense and strike back -- as The Community Alliance marches ever forward into a new year, with a new vision, with boundless determination, and that same old passion for our Long Island community.

Happy New Year, one and all. Now get back at it, will ya? The work of community is never done!
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Coming soon (to a theater near you), the cinematic blockbuster of the year: KING KATE.
The Community Alliance blog returns in 2006. Stay tuned. . .

Friday, December 23, 2005

How To Address School Taxes

The Answer Is Accountability

The Nassau County Civic Association, whose mission, in part, is "To encourage the wise and efficient use of taxpayer dollars," offers a Guest Blog on the issue of school financing.

While many issues are important, the high burden of taxation is one of the most important issues facing Long Islanders. It is not complicated but rather simple; people can no longer afford to live on Long Island. While each taxing jurisdiction attempts to minimize the result of their tax increase, the cumulative tax burden in New York is the highest in the nation as reported by the Citizen’s Budget Commission’s last year. As indicated on each resident’s tax bills, the largest component is school taxes.

The discussion about taxes is not complete unless we address the basis for our current assessment system. Nassau County settled a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Clinton Justice Department (Civil Rights Division) which alleged that Nassau County discriminated against blacks based on the property assessment system. As the assessment system was inconsistent and unfair to ALL Nassau residents and the cost to defend the suit was prohibitive, the county settled. The agreement called for the re-assessment of all property in Nassau County.

The initial re-assessment was completed approximately 3 years ago. The court settlement allowed for commercial property to be phased in but not residential property. As such, yearly residential re-assessments continue. State law allows for an assessment increase of a maximum of 6% per year or a total of 20% in five years. The county has violated that provision. There is currently a case pending before an appeals court seeking to compel the county to adhere to the law and re-assess the properties in accordance with the law. This is why assessments have increased dramatically. As your total tax bill is based on your assessment, increased assessments mean an immediate increase in taxes. With yearly increases in school and town taxes along with a county property tax increase two years ago, it adds up to a large tax burden.

What really complicates the re-assessment process is the fact that it is done every year. This leads to instability and a quickly escalating tax burden. Even if your taxes are grieved (tax certiorari), your assessment is not immune from increasing the following year due to re-assessment. The only people making money are the attorneys who file the appeals and charge a fee in the amount of 50% of the total tax reduction. Unfortunately, this past April, the Nassau County Legislature voted 10-9 along party lines to continue the yearly re-assessments of residential properties.

In 2004, Nassau taxpayers received double digit tax hikes. The reason; most school districts did not provide an estimate of the actual tax rates and instead made tax levy projections. Thus voters who supported passage of their local budget were misinformed as to the size of the actual tax increase. During the time of the budget votes, school districts cited two reasons for not providing an estimate of the tax rates; the complexity of estimating rates based on annual fluctuations of property value assessments and the lack of information relating to state aid due to the late state budget.

According to a Newsday article in November, 2004, “Of 54 Nassau school districts posting tax bills in recent weeks, 48 had residential tax rates rising faster than overall tax levies.” This represents the amount of revenue raised from local property taxes which is separate from state and federal aid. Accordingly, the majority of school districts had a surplus. The article went on the say that Garden City and Roosevelt were able to accurately predict their tax rates. As these districts are similar to the other 52 districts, why did the majority of districts fail to disclose their tax rates?

Local school boards are responsible to produce a yearly budget that is fiscally sound and reasonable. The basic funding sources for a school budget are state aid, federal aid and revenue from property taxes. Even though federal aid has increased, state aid has decreased. This is the reason cited by school districts for the increased reliance on property taxes which place the burden more directly on the backs of property owners. While this dynamic would necessitate more lobbying of our state legislators by the school board, it would also require fiscal restraint and the implementation of financial efficiencies to keep any tax increase to an absolute minimum.

The majority of school budgets list the salaries for school administrators; however the amount listed is their current salary. The only way to determine what the new salary increase will be is to wait for next year’s budget which will show the increase. Furthermore, the salaries for the other district employees are allotted to other budgetary lines. While the stated basis for this practice is to allow districts flexibility in negotiating with the employee unions, it does not allow for transparency. Last year, all 54 Nassau school districts were asked to post their line item budget on their district websites yet only small number have done so. If the Town of Hempstead and Nassau County can post their budgets on the web, why can’t school districts?

Like other entities, school districts have fixed and variable costs. Some costs such as the expense of mandated programs are fixed, however other costs such as employee salaries and benefits can be negotiated. Even annual increases for fixed costs can be minimized.

A favorite argument for high teacher salaries is the ability of a district to attract good teachers and stay competitive in the market place. When New York City (which pays less then most suburban districts) announced that it was looking for 5000 teachers, it received 30,000 applications. As to benefits, most school employees contribute on average between 10-15% to their annual health care benefits. While a large majority of residents would like to pay our teachers a high salary, we simply cannot afford it.

Districts should negotiate contracts that reflect fiscal reality. Some suggestions; require employees to contribute more for their medical benefits, reduce the starting salary for new employees, reduce the number of salary steps, eliminate longevity pay and eliminate five figure annual salary increases and perks for administrators.

The cost of energy has increased due to the cost of natural gas and oil. Districts can convert their lighting to low energy bulbs and light switches that turn off the lights when no one is in a room. The use of solar energy and related equipment should be considered.

The “No Child Left Behind Act “which requires state testing for all children in grades three to eight in English and Math is a mandate. The issue in dispute is whether it is unfunded, under funded or fully funded. The requirement was enacted to provide a snap shot of how a school is performing. I would argue that while there are some costs for testing, federal funding for education has risen 43% over the last few years according to a Heritage Foundation Study. A look at the federal education budget over the last 10 years validates this point.

Out of all taxing jurisdictions, school districts give voters the ability to have a direct say in any tax increase. Even with this power, the turnout this past May as reported by Newsday was approximately 18%. While that was an improvement over last year, more residents need to get involved and vote.

For two consecutive years, almost one third of all school budgets were defeated. The average rate of increase was 2-3 times the rate of inflation with tax increases of 6-9%. Even when residents voted no, a majority of districts re-submitted the same budget and warned parents that a 2nd no vote would impact their children.

Many parents are under the false impression that a "no" vote actually reduces the budget. While it may reduce the proposed increase, a contingency budget is enacted. This allows for an increase based on the Consumer Price Index which was 2.7% or a budget cap of 3.24%. As some districts have actually authorized amounts above the specified budget cap, this year the New York State Education Department began monitoring districts for compliance with the law.

The last component of this debate is fiscal accountability. Due to a lack of mandated fiscal oversight and independent review, many scandals have emerged. The Roslyn scandal has proven that increased funding does not necessarily improve the quality of education. Between seven and eight million dollars in spending were deemed questionable. These funds could have been used to limit the growth of local taxation. With state lawmakers struggling to address the recent legal victory of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, it is imperative that school funding be fair and adequate throughout the state. It is also imperative that the level of taxation adequately reflect what is absolutely necessary. Therefore it is essential that the legislature enact fiscal reforms that put in place strong financial controls and procedures that ensure accountability by local school districts.

While Lawmakers recently passed several proposals, much more needs to be done. The Nassau County Civic Association, Inc has proposed several initiatives to ensure fiscal accountability. The reform package is as follows:

We believe that General Municipal Law and or Educational law should be amended to require that each and every school district post its full line item budget on the internet and a hard copy to their local public library. This will ensure that local residents are fully informed as to how their tax dollars are being utilized. This openness will encourage greater accountability by the district and will facilitate public participation as this information is readily accessible. Since many districts already have their own websites and have their budgets and other financial information in an electronic format (Lotus, Excel), the cost would be insignificant.

Most school boards use Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. While these standards are sufficient for other entities, they do not provide the same level of accountability as imposed on companies that trade on the stock market by the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. This act requires that the CEO or CFO swear under the penalty of perjury that their financial statements are true and accurate. As school boards are considered local governmental entities, the implementation of Government Accounting Standards Board Principles (GASB) will ensure stronger fiscal accountability. Nassau County has implemented this form of accounting which has helped restore fiscal order to county government.

This new accounting change can be promulgated by the New York State Comptroller; however he has not moved to make this change. We would recommend passage of an amendment to General Municipal Law, section 36. In addition, a requirement should be implemented to mandate two certifications; each and every school board member and treasurer must certify under oath that the school financial statements are true and accurate to best of their knowledge and that each has complied with their various fiduciary duties as a board member or officer. The second should contain a perjury clause along with the following; “I, John Doe did not breach my duty of care, duty of loyalty to the residents of Anywhere School District and have complied with all required financial reporting provisions.”

Educational Law and or General Municipal Law should be amended to impose a clear duty on each and every school board member or officer to report fiscal misconduct of any other board member, officer or school employee relative to school financial matters. This shall include the thief, misappropriation of school funds, property and or proprietary information. Violations shall constitute a class A misdemeanor.

All school districts must promulgate and maintain a code of ethics with an annual certification that school board members or officers are in compliance with the code. This code must require that any conflict of interest must be publicly disclosed. Compliance should be governed by a state conflicts board. This should include but not be limited to vendor relationships, contracts for services or goods, financial interests, school employees, etc.

All school districts should be required to provide full disclosure of all entities that have a relationship with a school district. This shall include but not be limited to providing services, receiving services from the school district and or the use of school property for any purpose by an entity.

Educational Law should be amended to permit a private right of enforcement by any school district resident pertaining to a breach of duty or knowingly filing a false certification by a school board member or officer relative to their fiduciary duties. This would be similar to the federal False Claims Act. This would allow a citizen to litigate an action of behalf of the taxpayers to recoup the value of any benefit that was wrongfully received by the respondent and or seek restitution of any lost monies owed to the school district. This private right of enforcement would include the imposition of reasonable attorney fees and court costs to be borne solely by the respondent.

The final initiative is a mandated audit every two years by the New York State Comptroller’s office. Unfortunately this would require additional state funding and would be expensive. Consideration should be given to requiring all districts to have an internal auditor (which is currently optional) who must report his or her findings to the State Comptroller. If further investigation is warranted, this will trigger a separate audit by the comptroller.

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.”
~Thomas Jefferson.

The issue of accountability is an important aspect of honest government. Government can only be honest by being open and transparent. Accountability is also an action word. It requires the participation of voters, school districts and our elected leaders.
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Our thanks to the Nassau County Civic Association, not only for this thorough and thought-provoking opinion piece, but moreover, for joining in the ongoing debate on issues that impact on the quality of life of our community.

The Community Alliance encourages residents, whether in their individual capacities, or as representatives of civic groups, school boards or government, to stick in their two-cents on the issue of school financing, this in the hope that, together, we can find ways to save that two-cents (or more) on our property taxes.

Today's e-Poll: No registration required. And you don't even have to leave your seat to vote!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

From A Distance

Bette Midler

From a distance, the world looks blue and green
and the snow-capped mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream
and the eagle takes to flight.
From a distance there is harmony
and it echoes through the land.
It's the voice of hope, it's the voice of peace,
it's the voice of every man.

From a distance, we all have enough
And no one is in need.
There are no guns, no bombs, no diseases,
No hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace
They're the songs of every man.

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance.

From a distance, you look like my friend
Even though we are at war.
From a distance I cannot comprehend
What all the fighting is for.
From a distance there is harmony
And it echoes through the land.
It's the hope of hopes, it's the love of loves.
It's the heart of every man.

God is watching us
God is watching us
God is watching us from a distance.

No one is safe from the wrath of this blogger -- not even God! [Sit down, Joe. I wasn't talking about you!]

This blogger cannot tell you whether there is a God, and if there is, I won't be so presumptuous as to insist that you pray to Him -- or Her. Perhaps your God answers to Allah, Hashem, walks on water with the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, or is simply that voice within. Faith, taken for what it is and for what it could be, is for you to perceive, accept, understand, tolerate, and even question -- especially question (or not, if your belief gets you through either night or day -- or both -- so be it).

Are we but "sinners in the hands of an angry God," as Jonathan Edwards opined (no, not that Jonathan Edwards, although to some, he may be considered "all-knowing"), or can we declare with absolute conviction that "Holiness is doing God's will with a smile," as was the credo of Mother Teresa? Can't tell you -- and neither should anyone else.

This blogger, for all of his blasphemous posts, is more inclined to adhere to Einstein's theory of theology: "I cannot conceive of a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgment on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science. [He was speaking of Quantum Mechanics and the breaking down of determinism.] My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance -- but for us, not for God."

If, in fact, God is "watching us," then, who is watching God? Where God sits in judgment of man's deeds, holding us accountable (if not in this life, then in the next), should not man, created in God's own image, sit in judgment of the Almighty? Where does that line between bystander -- a witness to all that transpires -- and intervenor -- with a duty to act -- get drawn? Truly, the power to create is the power to destroy. [It often boggles this blogger's mind how One could plan and take full credit for the Great Flood (remember Noah?), yet claim no responsibility for the Tsunami or Hurricane Katrina. ("Oops. Nodded off for a second there. Sorry!").]

For much of the turbulent 60s, God was proclaimed by many to be "dead." ["Just resting my eyes. Oops. Missed another one. Sorry."] As we plod our way into the 21st Century, God has come back with a vengeance. A potentate with a mission -- on everyone's side. God wants you to pray. God wants you to strictly interpret the Constitution. God wants you to destroy the State of Israel. God wants you to boycott Target. Funny, and oh so odd, all the things we do in the name of God. [He should have gotten a trademark back in Biblical days, when He was still speaking to us through burning bushes. He'd be sitting pretty today behind those pearly gates!]

Suffice it to say, if there is an Eternal One, there is within that Creator, as in the created, the gift to bestow great and wondrous benevolence, and the capacity to deliver acts of horrific, unspeakable destruction.

If "thou shalt not take God's name in vain" was subject to strict interpretation, perhaps whatever it is we name our God -- whether personal or universal -- would not be invoked so as to sanctify Jihads, restraints on personal liberties, judicial appointments, and the ruthless demonizing of defenseless aquatic, chiefly marine invertebrate animals of the phylum Porifera, characteristically having a porous skeleton composed of fibrous material or siliceous or calcareous spicules. Aw, what the heck. It makes good banter on the Fox News Network, fills the pews with the holy rollers, and raises, well, that old proverbial stand-by, "more money than God."

Yes, "From a distance we are instruments, marching in a common band, playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace -- they're the songs of every man." But, that's from a distance.

This blogger cannot tell you if there is a God, let alone if He is watching us. Believe as you will -- or as you will not -- it remains for us to watch out not only for ourselves, but for all -- both the large and the small -- who inhabit and inherit this twirling sphere of swirling gases, azure seas, and impenetrable rock.

On behalf of everyone at The Community Alliance (anyone at The Community Alliance?) -- Okay, on behalf of this blogger alone, Happy Holidays, Festive Festivus, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Chanukah, Eid Mubarak, and, er, oh yeah, Merry Christmas. [To those who choose to celebrate nothing at all -- as is your right -- simply have a nice day! :-)]

May the New Year usher in a world at Peace, and let there be Good Will To Men, Women, Children, and every God-forsaken #@%&*! sponge on this good earth!
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Click HERE (or not) to join us in a "Prayer" For Peace -- in the language (and with a reverence) of your choice.
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The Eve Of Destruction

Nassau Dems Form Unholy Alliance As Corbin Courts Party Collapse

If politics makes strange bedfellows -- and believe us, it does -- then Roger Corbin, the liberal Democrat from Westbury, and Peter Schmitt, the Nassau County Legislature's raucous mouthpiece for the GOP Machine, give new meaning to that perfect sleep number.

If the media reports are accurate [SEE Newsday, Party Leaders Agree To Back Corbin], as they would appear to be, then Corbin is about to catapult from virtual anonymity to leader of the Democratic majority in Nassau County's oft times stalemated Legislature -- a body second only to the paralytic New York State Legislature in being unaccomplished, virtually since its inception a decade ago.

Whether Corbin is up to the task or deserving of either the accolades bestowed upon him or the hefty monetary stipend that comes with the leadership position, is almost beyond the point here. That Judy Jacobs, the current Presiding Officer, has managed to sail this leaky craft through many a rough sea, all to the benefit of County residents, is worthy of much consideration by her fellow legislators in voting to give her their continued nod of approval. Frankly, she has earned the trust of the people and the Party, and deserves the top spot.

What is troublesome, and should stand as most disconcerting to those who espouse good government, is Corbin's willingness -- and that of his fellow Democrats, Lisanne Altmann and David Denenberg -- to make a deal with the Devil. [And whether that Devil is Republican Party Chair, Joe Mondello -- "He whose name shall not be spoken" -- or the Devil's disciple, Peter Schmitt (President of the Gary DelaRaba Fan Club), Dems should be more than a bit leary of forming an alliance with those who have a proclivity to put self-interest before the public good.

Over the years, the Nassau County GOP -- from its one-time epicenter in Mineola to its last bastion of infamy in Hempstead Town -- has had as its mindset one of two objectives: Hold on to absolute power, or get it back at all costs. Some things never change.

Who knows what promises have been made -- or shall, in all likelihood, be broken -- in Corbin's negotiations under guise of coalition building. [In theory, coalitions and consensus-seeking are politic's answer to playing nice, but this coalition smacks of Neville Chamberlain's futile and failed attempt at appeasement to stave off the Nazi menace.]

That Roger Corbin would cut a deal with Peter Schmitt, as unseemly as this is, should surprise no one. If there is a loyalty here, it is neither to Party nor constituency. Perhaps this indecorous alliance is best characterized by former Suffolk Republican chairman Howard DeMartini, who helped orchestrate many a failed coalition in that county's legislature, as "self-serving." As DeMartini -- now wisely retired from political life and residing in Florida -- told Newsday, "You have one or two going out cutting a deal for themselves. They are saying, 'The hell with party unity or the will of the voters. I'm doing what is best for me.' Nassau has now caught the same disease that infected the Suffolk Legislature and the result will be governmental chaos."

Word on the street has it that Corbin and his legislative cohort, Lisanne Altmann, put this "coalition of ideas" together. A regular brain-trust. Seizing upon the opportunity, the fox (played here so cunningly by Peter Schmitt) donned the Grandma suit and jumped into bed with "buck" Roger.

Corbin is clearly out for himself here. No shame in that. After all, if you don't toot your own horn, who will? That Altmann joined the cabal is of no great surprise. She's always been a bit of a flake. The shocker -- and perhaps the most glaring aspect of the Democratic estrangement -- is the apparent support of David Denenberg for what amounts to a palace coup. [Not that we're against such coups, by any means. Indeed, we've been calling for one within the Nassau GOP for years, to no avail.] David may believe that rocking the boat and shaking things up is a good thing. It often is, but it must be done for the right reasons, and those who join in the coup -- yesterday's enemies who now call you "friend" -- must be motivated by something more heavenly than the simple power play.

Even assuming the best of intentions from all participants in this awkward dance, you don't overthrow the sitting Queen -- especially one who serves her public well -- and replace her with the court Jester. Not that Corbin is a clown or a puppet, but, if you look behind the scenes, you can clearly see that old marionette-master himself, Joe Mondello, pulling the strings. That's a destructive path for this Legislature to take, and, to put it mildly, bad news for the people of Nassau County.
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e-Poll of the Day: [Feel free to jump right in, folks. We're not monitoring how you vote (that's George Bush and the FBI/CIA), or seeing who is naughty and who is nice (that's Dick Cheney's job) -- Ho, Ho, Ho.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Taking The Pulse Of Long Island

The Community Alliance e-Poll Seeks Opinion of Long Islanders

While some may question whether Long Islanders have a pulse, given that few issues seem to resonate sufficiently so as to motivate the masses to action, we at The Community Alliance believe that there is indeed life out there beyond the LIE and Southern State -- albeit that pulse is, at times, rather weak.

And so, from time to time, we'd like to query residents (not that there's anything wrong with that :-) as to their views and opinions on hot button issues of the day.

Toward that end, we are initiating an e-Poll through which you can register your vote -- and offer comment -- on matters impacting upon your community, your wallet and your future here on our Long Island.

Our e-Polls are not scientific, and are not intended for any purpose other than offering blog aficianados the opportunity to register their opinions on a wide range of topics that, collectively, fall under the umbrella of "quality of life."

In line with our current initiative geared toward lowering or eliminating the school portion of the property tax, and seeking fair and equitable methods of funding our children's education, we begin here with a simple Poll question: Should public money (tax dollars) be used to finance private schools?

Be mindful, this is not a debate on the issue of Church and State (i.e., using public money to fund parochial school programs), although this certainly can be a consideration in forming your opinion on this subject. For purposes of this e-Poll, we simply want to know whether the taxpayers should bear any part of the financial burden, through whatever means (i.e., vouchers, providing transportation, paying for textbooks), of maintaining and/or operating a private school or private school system.

Please be kind and vote only once, enabling us to get a more or less "fair and balanced" (as loathe as we are to utter those words) sense of your gut reaction.

Once you have voted in our e-poll, feel free to comment, both on the e-Poll and on this blogspot, and to share your views on this and other issues as may, over the course of the next few months, be presented.

In the coming weeks, we will be taking a closer, more in-depth view of the critical issues of school financing and the school property tax. Your input, inclusive of Guest Blogs on these most compelling subjects, is encouraged and always welcome.

We hope you will not only vote your mind in The Community Alliance e-Polls, but that you will help to motivate others to become more involved in their own community and beyond by e-mailing this blog to your Long Island family, neighbors and friends.

Remember, the more who know, the smarter we grow!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Silver Is The New Black

Talk, More Talk, And Delivering Taxpayers From Evil

Every year there is a new "in" color. You see it in everything from cars to PlayStations. Last year's "in" color was black. This year, silver is the new black. Next year, its black and blue, at least for Long Island's taxpayers!

If silver is indeed the new black, then State Senator Dean Skelos is the new Kate Murray, at least in terms of mailings at taxpayer expense. Three -- count 'em, 3 -- mailings from the State Senator in as many weeks. Color photos and all, Senator Skelos lets the residents of the 9th Senate District know, in big, bold print delivered to their mail boxes -- what he's done fighting Medicaid fraud, creating high-paying jobs, and increasing aid to our school districts. The 2006 campaign has started already, and boy are we, the taxpayers, going to pay for it!

In last week's Skelosgram, our State Senator -- on the job for nearly a quarter of a century now -- told all how he's keeping our school property taxes down by increasing the STAR deduction as well as uping the ante in State Aid. Is it only this blogger's imagination, or is the light from that STAR growing more faint and distant by the day? Increases in State Aid are barely keeping up with the increased costs faced by our school districts, including, most notably, mandated programs and initiatives that remain unfunded by the State. And all the hullabaloo aside, has anyone in this neck of the woods seen their school property tax decline?

Not that we don't appreciate the help, Dean, but geez, its obvious to all but our Governor and State Legislators that whatever it is you say you're doing to better our lot -- particularly on the school aid and property tax fronts -- just isn't doing the trick. Time to take a different approach? We certainly think so.

The latest Skelosgram -- a community-specific piece entitled "Delivering for WEST HEMPSTEAD" -- put the icing on the cake.

According to the Senator's mailing, West Hempsteaders have much to cheer about. This includes $50,000 for the West Hempstead Streetscape Project (wasn't the Town of Hempstead supposed to pick up that tab? Guess the big bucks went to Kate & Company in their recent raises). This Project calls for "new sidewalks, brick pavers and decorative lighting (Victorian, no doubt) along Hempstead Avenue by the new public library." What new public library? West Hempsteaders passed that $9.5 million bond initiative for a new library over 3 years ago, and ground has still not been broken. Why, there's not so much as a sign proclaiming "FUTURE HOME OF THE WEST HEMPSTEAD PUBLIC LIBRARY." Oh, its coming. So is Christmas -- and the 4th of July.

Still, its a nice gesture on the Senator's part. Please put that 50 thousand in an interest-bearing account until such time as the new library is built. [Maybe Hempstead Avenue will actually see its promised reconstruction by then.] That should give the community at least $100,000 in Streetscape funds. Maybe we can get the Town to match it!

Next on the Senator's "look what I've done for you" list , "...the Long Island Rail Road will repaint the West Hempstead train station this spring." Well whoop-de-doo. Has anyone seen that hole-in-the-wall in West Hempstead that the LIRR dares to call a station? Surrounded by litter, abandoned shopping carts, broken bottles and sordid debris -- hidden only in the warmer weather by overgrown vegetation -- the West Hempstead Railroad station and environs -- including the infamous MTA Right-of-Way -- are little more than community eyesores. And while millions upon millions of dollars have been and are being spent to rehabilitate, update and refurbish LIRR stations from Long Beach to Garden City, the West Hempstead station, where "maintenance" continues to be a dirty little word, will get a fresh coat of paint. Make it Dutch Boy, will ya, Dean? And how's about a nice shade of blushing pink?

The piece-de-resistance in this week's Skelosgram concerned one of West Hempstead's most disgraceful landmarks -- the Courtesy Hotel. Or should we say what WAS one of West Hempstead's most disgraceful landmarks. Great news, West Hempstead! The Courtesy Hotel is no more. In fact, it has been demolished. [This sounds like the work of the Dynastic Duo. "To the Fat Cave, Tony..."] Yes, the Courtesy has been demolished. But don't take our word for it -- or dare to believe your eyes as you pass by the Courtesy today, tomorrow or the next day and see the no-tell hotel still standing and open for business as unusual. Just ask Senator Skelos.

There it is, in the weekly Skelosgram -- "To fight crime and improve our quality of life in West Hempstead, Senator Skelos worked with the Town of Hempstead to demolish the Courtesy Hotel." [Emphasis added.]

So, if you should pass by the corner of Woodfield Road and Hempstead Avenue one of these days, and think you see the old Courtesy Hotel beckoning the prostitutes, the drug dealers, the wretched of society yearning for that free Continental breakfast, not to worry -- its just a figment of your vivid imagination (much like our daily delusion that all is well in Hempstead Town). The Courtesy Hotel has been demolished. So there! [Do you think Dean may have confused West Hempstead with Oceanside? Whatever...]

Of course, just to be on the safe side, Senator Skelos has "secured a $35,000 state grant for (a) new police booth" to be located -- where else -- on the no-man's land commonly referred to as the MTA Right-of-Way adjacent to the Courtesy. Tell us, Senator. If the Courtesy has been "demolished" -- or, with any resolve on the part of the Town, actually to be closed sometime in the future -- why do we need to spend $35,000 for a police booth on this site?

Ah yes, the quality of life is improving every second in West Hempstead and in the 9th Senate District. If you can't feel it in your bones, or see it with your own eyes, at least you can read about it in the weekly Skelosgram.

Please be sure to e-mail Senator Skelos or give him a call at (516) 766-8383 to say "Thank you!"
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More Talk. Any Action?

Meanwhile, back at the County Seat... Comptroller Howard Weitzman calls for further discussions relative to the management and attendant expenses of some 200 Special Districts operating semi-autonomously in Nassau County. You remember some of those independent taxing jurisdictions, don't you? Try Sanitary Districts, for one (or ten. Pick a number. Let's call it '57').

Newsday reports that "Nassau Democrats and Republicans joined Monday in calling for a nonpartisan conference on ways to maintain services provided by special tax districts while reducing the cost to taxpayers." [SEE, Special Tax Districts Up For Debate.]

North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman, a Democrat, and Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, a Republican, sent representatives to Weitzman's press conference. The Chairman of the County's Board of Assessors, Harvey Levinson, was there. County Exec Tom Suozzi sent a memo supporting a pow-wow on the Special Districts, and State Senator Michael Balboni, a Republican, offered his support, reportedly saying, "Everyone has to be involved to give people relief and still deliver services."

No report of any representatives of the Town of Hempstead -- where Special Districts thrive and residents "enjoy" paying two, three or four times the going rate just to have them -- having either attended the Weitzman news conference or offering support for (or even acknowledgement of the need for) a nonpartisan conference on the matter. Only silence from Hempstead Town Hall. Surprise, surprise, surprise. The silence of the yams...

Comptroller Weitzman has issued his latest report on the Special Districts entitled, "The Case For Reform." [Adobe Acrobat required.]

The report tells us what most residents already know and painfully experience -- that there are too many cooks ("I am not a cook"), too few watching the pot, and we're being overcharged for the ingredients.

Audits, conferences, press releases, Murraygrams, Skelosgrams, and still, its the same bad news on the doorstep day after day -- the same awful hit from the tax man, year after year.

School Property Tax -- Call a conference on it. Special District mismanagement -- call a conference on it. Words as a substitute for action -- read the latest newsletter from your State Senator, Town Supervisor, or County Legislator. Better yet, catch the clip on News12, Evening Edition, of today's press conference on the same issues we talked about -- taking little or no action -- yesterday.

Talk is good. Debate is necessary. Conferences are all the rage -- especially if you can get a free lunch out of it. Still, what is needed most is ACTION -- defined as "The state or process of acting or doing; Something done or accomplished; Organized activity to accomplish an objective; The causation of change by the exertion of power."

As for The Community Alliance's plan of action - - Find out all about it after the holidays. We'll issue a release, alert the media, call a press conference, and send a blog to your e-mail address.

Let's talk. And then, at long last and with all deliberate speed, for goodness sake, let's act!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Participate In The 'Relay For Life'

Join The Fight To Find The Cure

The American Cancer Society's Relay For Life is a fun-filled overnight event designed to celebrate survivorship and raise money for research and programs of the American Cancer Society. During the event, teams of people gather at schools, fairgrounds, or parks and take turns walking or running laps. Each team tries to keep at least one team member on the track at all times.

Long Island residents are encouraged to participate in Relay For Life events and programs, and in so doing, to engage in the battle against a disease that attacks women, men and children, devastating lives and upending families.

In the Long Island region, Relay For Life events will be held as follows:

April 1-2, 2006 - Relay For Life of Lawrence

May 5-6, 2006 - Relay For Life of Farmingdale

May 12-13, 2006 - Relay For Life of Kings Park

May 20-21, 2006 - Relay For Life of Lindenhurst

June 3-4, 2006 - Relay For Life of Port Washington

June 9-10, 2006 - Relay For Life of Locust Valley

June 10-11, 2006 - Relay For Life of Plainview/Old Bethpage

June 17-18, 2006 - Relay For Life of West Hempstead

Other ways to help:

Celebration on the Hill - September 19-20, 2006. Join 4000 Celebration Ambassadors in a march on Washington.

Walk for the Cure. Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. October 16, 2006 at Jones Beach State Park.

Send an e-card with Daffodil Days.

Please promote and publicize these events in your respective communities, and find a way to get involved that fits your schedule and lifestyle.

Cancer impacts on every one of us. Let's take the lead on our Island to wipe out cancer in our lifetime!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Elmont Elevating

A Case Study In "Smart Growth" And Suburban Revitalization: Town Meeting Offers Elmont Residents New Ideas/Approach/Vision

More than 80 enthusiastic “stakeholders” wanted to know, “What’s the next step?” in the community visioning process for a better Elmont at the Town Meeting sponsored by Elmont Quality of Life (EQL) Committee November 29th. They were ready to make Elmont better.

Residents, civic and business leaders, and representatives of elected officials listened to and viewed a presentation by Sarah Lansdale, Executive Director of Sustainable Long Island, and Sol Marie Alfonso Jones, SLI's Director of Programs, on the partnership that can be created to work effectively to empower Elmont residents to work for and implement plans for “dream community.”

“Think about Elmont 10-20 years down the road,” challenged Alfonso Jones. “What would your dream community look like? How can we plan for smart growth?”

Last February, Ali Mirza, a local businessman and recent candidate for Nassau County Legislature, had invited Sustainable Long Island (SLI) to a meeting in Elmont, and interest in what they have accomplished in other communities mushroomed and they were invited to other meetings to talk about partnering to help grow economic diversity, environ-mental health and social equity in Elmont.

SLI facilitates by networking and reaching out to communities, encouraging municipal involvement, and utilizing its resources to help vision, develop and implement plans to create better communities. EQL became the contact in Elmont.

A power-point presentation highlighted SLI’s work in Huntington Station, “The Gerard Street Partnership,” showing total community involvement in all stages of visioning, planning and implementation. The stakeholders were engaged at every level, from identifying needs, developing a plan, then going on a walk through of the town to see things from other perspectives.

The process, explained Alfonso Jones, can take 6-12 months to develop a plan to address Elmont’s needs, to work toward making the right decisions for smart growth.

EQL member Sandra Smith summed up the discussions that have been taking place with SLI, saying that the consensus was that Hempstead Turnpike should be the starting point. The results of the survey printed in the Elmont Herald, concurred that cleaning up, beautifying and encouraging business that would enhance the appearance of Hempstead Turnpike were a priority. The audience agreed.

More community members must become involved in the visioning process so that everyone (all residents and businesses are stakeholders) is heard. Once the visioning is complete, the information is synthesized, and professionals will create images for the communitys review. Once the plan is developed, it is unveiled to the community for further input, presented to the Town Board for adoption, and then implemented.

Lorraine Ferrigno asked how effective can a plan be in the unincorporated hamlets of the Town? How can the Town enact zoning laws, for example, that would only impact Elmont?

When a community develops and embraces a plan and brings it to the Town for support, explained Alfonso Jones, and SLI has been able to secure funding for the proposals, the Town Board adopts and supports the plan. It makes a commitment to the people of Elmont.
As a follow-up, Scott Cushing from Assemblyman Alfano’s office asked, “How do you work with individual property owners to ensure that they will cooperate with the effort?”

Mirza noted that if business owners are part of the process they will understand what type of business the community wants. “Businesses want to make a profit, so businesses we want and need will come.”

SLI has already begun reaching out to our elected officials. Representatives of Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s office, Assemblyman Tom Alfano’s office, and Town Councilman Ed Ambrosino’s office, were in the audience.

Elmont resident Steve McManus suggested that since Belmont Race Track is the first thing people see when they enter Elmont, they should also be involved in this renewal process.

The meeting was over at 9:00 PM, but attendees could be heard discussing ideas and sharing thoughts to make Elmont a better place to live, work and play long after the meeting ended.

SLI will continue to reach out to the community for its input. Residents and business owners need to make a special effort to attend the next meeting to become involved. Civics are also encouraged to contact SLI and invite them to speak to their memberships at future meetings.

Reprinted, with permission, from the Elmont Herald. Roy J. Mezzapelle, publisher.
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Residents interested in learning more about the mission and initiatives of Sustainable Long Island can call 516-873-0230 or send an e-mail to The Elmont Quality of Life Committee can be contacted through the Elmont Herald at
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Elmont Elevating, as the project has been gratuitously dubbed by The Community Alliance (there being no place to go but up), represents a crucial next step in revitalizing the landscape of America's oldest suburb.

On the westernmost fringe of Nassau County, Elmont, perhaps more than any other community, has felt the pain and witnessed the devastation of urban sprawl. Its once proud and bustling 'Main Streets' have given way to suburban decline, the bright and shiny yielding to the blight and grimy.

It doesn't take a Master Builder (with history as a guide, we may well be better off without one) to understand that you cannot cure the ills of a community by throwing brick pavers or Victorian lamp posts at 'Main Street.' What is needed is a holistic approach, blending affordable housing, retail stores and recreational spaces, creating the liveable, "walkable" communities that today's visionaries call "smart growth." We call it "common sense."

In New Cassel, located in the Town of North Hempstead, a rebirth of a community long in decline is now underway. 20 years in the making, a willing partnership of community, government, and the private sector has amassed not only some $80 million dollars in "seed" money, but the wherewithal to rethink, redesign and replant the suburban setting. [SEE, A 'New' Day Has Begun.]

Residents of Elmont are psyched. Civic leaders are energized, at the ready to move forward. Private developers, no doubt, will be chomping at the bit to bid on new construction projects. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, prominent in securing funding from Washington for New Cassel's work in progress, has already expressed support for the Elmont project, as have State and County officials. Elmont provides the Town of Hempstead, too often the laggard on the redevelopment front, the canvas upon which it, too, can wield the revitalization brush. In reality, holding all the marbles, so to speak, in terms of zoning and development, the Town must be the first to stir the can of paint, and not the last to touch the palette.

In years past, Hempstead Town officials have been big on mouthing the words of revitalization -- and we've seen the artists' renderings of the 'new' Elmont to prove it -- but way short on putting either real money or purposeful action where that mouth is. Town officials must do more than to tacitly comit to Elmont's rebirth, seeing to it that plans finally move from the drafting board to Hempstead Turnpike and Elmont Road.

For those who do not reside in or about the home of the Belmont Stakes, Elmont offers a glimpse -- not unlike the visions visited upon old Mr. Scrooge -- of what our suburban hometowns are likely to look like and ultimately become should we fail to build -- and rebuild -- sustainable communities. We must heed that vision, and move well beyond it, if our suburban lifestyle is to endure and thrive.

In The Event Of A NYC Transit Strike

County Prepares For Possible Transit Strike

Suozzi Outlines Plan To Help Commuters In the Event of a NYC Work Stoppage

Should the trains and buses stop running in the City of New York come tomorrow morning -- a morning that promises to be raw, slushy, wet and downright nasty -- commuters should be prepared.

Nassau County Executive, Tom Suozzi, has put into place a strategic plan to help commuters manage their daily trek, and to reduce delays, congestion, and the utter chaos that could accompany a stoppage of the nation's most-traveled mass transit system.

Click HERE for information on Park & Ride, Car Pool Staging Areas, Long Island Bus Service, and Long Island Railroad Service. Click HERE for a map of Park & Ride locations and Car Pool Staging Areas. [PDF format. Adobe Acrobat required.]

The Town of Hempstead was going to adopt an Emergency Plan as well, but Town Supervisor Kate Murray opted instead to adopt two Dalmations and a little furball that goes by the name of Princess. [SEE Home for the Holidays.] Such is life in the myopic world of Murray and Santino -- or as the Dynastic Duo is known at the Animal Shelter, Mutts & Butts.

Our advice to those who commute into NYC? If there is a strike, the weather dreary, your mood blue, consider taking the day off (it is a Friday, after all), and start fresh on Monday. As we say here at The Community Alliance, "YOU CAN ALWAYS GO SHOPPING!"

Better yet, take in a movie. Today, Mr. MovieBlog reviews that classic fairy tale come to life (or as Mr. Moviefone calls it, The Passion of the Christ for children), The Chronicles of Murraya: The Elephant, The Witch, A La-Z-Boy Recliner and Two Night Tables To Be Named Later.

Admittedly, the central theme, revolving around a little cherub by the name of Kate who finds a magic lamp, wherein resides the all-powerful Genie Joe, who grants her three wishes, is a bit far fetched and played out.

Kate, portrayed brilliantly by the late Shelly Winters (Mama Cass Eliott having turned down the part after the producers refused to cut her in for 12% of the profits) -- who, in her dual role, is nothing short of dynamite as the aging elephant, Alphonse -- asks the Genie to make her sovereign over all she sees. "Oh Genie Joe of the lamp so glorious, wouldst thou grant me the power of patronage, the divine sanctification of the Sanitary Districts, and 25% off of deli platters and baked goods at the Coliseum Deli? That's just one wish, right?"

Robin Williams, reprising his Academy Award nominated role as the master of the lamp in Aladdin, is nothing short of magical as Genie Joe, the enigmatic crumugin whose powers are a bit rusty and wit somewhat dimmed having been bottled up in a specimen jar for the last thousand years.

"Kate, I'll grant your every wish, but first, you'll have to quit running about Town singing, 'I just can't wait to be King!' From this day forward, you shall be known throughout the great plains of Hempstead as 'She Who Must Be Obeyed.'"

"Can I be the all-knowing?"

"You are the all-knowing?"

"Can I be the Czarina?"

"You are the Czarina?"

"Can I be the..."

"Hey, Kate. You can be the eggman and the walrus for all I care. Give it a *&$@! rest, will ya?"

The audience is in stitches -- literally, as they've just returned from the local Emergency Room having fallen into one of the countless potholes for which Town roads are infamous (that $114 million bond only pays Pavco so much for asphalt) -- for most of the movie's 6 1/2 hours, as Kate and Genie Joe trade barbs, insults and tips on being photogenic.

During one hilarious scene, Kate, staring into a mirror adorning the executive washroom at Town Hall, queries Genie Joe, "Genie, Genie, of the lamp, who's the fairest in the Republican camp?"

Genie Joe retorts, with typical sarcasm, "Why, that would be Don Clavin, the most handsome GOPer, if you ask this maven. Hey, did you buy that outfit at Saks? Potatoe or onion? Don't stop me now, I'm on a roll. Actually, I'm on a bagel, with a schmear. Honey, I'm not sayin' you ain't good lookin', but you gotta lay off what the deli is cookin'?"

Cameo appearances by Mickey Rooney as the Imperial Wizard of Ra and James Earl Jones as the irrepressible Dot Goosby cap off an evening of sheer entertainment, sure to delight aficianados of political shtick.

Perhaps the best part of this fantastic journey through the realm of Republican geist is when Kate opens the night table to find a portal to The Land The Town Forgot (formerly known as Elmont). "Hoooome. Hoooome," drones Kate, reminiscent of ET's faint plea. Unable to fit through the portal, Kate angrily summons Genie Joe. "Genie, I wish I could squeeze through the portal, wisked away to a place where everyone lives in basement apartments, gilded in the gold we bought with last year's surplus."

"Madam," snaps Joe, "I'm a genie, not a miracle worker. You want wishes, I'm your guy. You want to wake up in The Land Of Make Believe, you better call The Great Santino. How 'bout an extra $15,000 in you paycheck, instead?"

"Okay," says a smiling Kate. "I'm down with that!"

See, the prospect of a NYC Transit strike, with attendant chaos and portending calamity, isn't so bad after all. Things could always be worse. And they are, in the Wonderful Land of Odd known as Hempstead Town.

FOR ADDITIONAL TRANSIT OPTIONS AND THE LATEST NEWS, SEE NEWSDAY'S Updates & alternate transit options. For the latest movies, times and reviews, visit

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Good Government Begins With Good People

"Hello, I must be going. I cannot stay, I came to say, I must be going..."
~~ Groucho Marx

Vindicated, at last!

For the longest time we've been "suggesting" that the Nassau GOP form a Retirement Party Committee (surely, they can find a Committee Chair somewhere :-), and show Joe Mondello, the Nassau County capo di tutti capo, the door.

Of course, this was just the rant of a Democrat with a big "D" -- an opinion shared only by the disenfranchised and the disgruntled, and dared to be whispered anonymously on political blogspots and behind tightly closed door.

Now, that door opens up a bit, with even mainstream GOPers suggesting, in the pages of Newsday, no less, that Godfather Joe's time to go has come. [The fact that the Nassau County GOP was MIA at this week's State Republican Party pow-wow was not so much a snub of the Party by Joe Mondello & Company as it was more evidence demonstrative of the fact that Nassau's Republican Party, in the greater scheme of things, is quickly becoming irrelevant.]

John Leboutillier, a former one-term Republican Congressman, joins the growing chorus of GOP Party regulars who sing, not Joe's praises, but rather, his swan song. [SEE It's so, Joe: Nassau GOP needs new leadership].

Not only does Mr. Leboutillier have the temerity to call for Mondello's ouster, intimating that the kingpin's reign has had the effect of a "lingering infection," and that the Party's chief "repeatedly commits acts of political malpractice," he dares to suggest that Nassau County Republicans return to their grassroots, that the Party become "hip to new issues" like urban encroachment and excessive property taxes (Duh. Ya think?), and, would you believe, that (we'd better quote this one) "the party has to renounce political cronyism and endorse government hiring by merit. Having 'connections' has to be replaced by having the skill required to do the job." Oooooh. Can you see them scurrying at Hempstead Town Hall, shouting, "Find a dictionary," as the cronies try to look up the word "merit." "Phew. Here's the dictionary, but the page where 'merit' would appear has been ripped out. For a moment there, we were worried."

Nah, if merit -- or any semblance of "skill required to do the job" -- had anything to do with the GOP's hiring practices (or, for that matter, the practices of government at all levels, regardless of party affiliation), the telephones of community advocates and activists across Long Island would have been ringing off the hooks on November 9th, inviting those most committed to community to immediately send their resumes to Town Hall and the County Seat. Just think, for all the good these gallant stewards of our villages and hamlets accomplish as volunteers, imagine what they could get done if they were on payroll! "Kate, why haven't you called?"

Mr. Leboutillier opines that the next Chairman of the Nassau County Republican Party "must be young, attractive, able to speak well on television and, most of all, not be tied to the past mess that continues to drag us down." Again, we're waiting by the telephone. Ooops. Wrong Party. Never mind!

Far be it for this blogger to say that Mr. Leboutillier is correct. He is, of course, and most Nassau County GOPers, whether publicly or in private, would be prone to agree. The dance may be to a different drummer in Westbury, but the lyrics -- from Groucho's mouth to Joe's ears -- are indelibly the same: "I'll stay a week or two, I'll stay the summer through, but I am telling you, I must be going."
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Another Election, Another Show -- Or Not

Fire District and Water District elections came and went yesterday. Newsday reports that voters turned out in "high numbers," ousting incumbents in more than a few contested elections. [SEE Heated Races In Fire Districts.]

"High numbers" is a relative and rather subjective term, we suppose. In this blogger's Fire District, voting about a half hour before closing time, I was number 31. Moments later, at the polling place for the Water District, I was number 29. Moving up in the world!

Granted, these were uncontested elections, the night was frigid -- and dark, let's not forget dark -- and most folks were content to stay home, presumably stoking the fire rather than voting for its unwitting accomplices.

Yes, there were "upsets," mostly in Suffolk (has Suffolk, in a progressive mode, become the new Nassau?), the impact of firehouse excesses apparently taking its toll. For the most part, though, it was "tow the line" business as usual -- the "all dressed up with no place to go" but the firemen's ball.

Mark Goldstein was, as Newsday put it, "soundly defeated" in his bid to unseat South Hempstead's incumbent Fire Commissioner. The incumbent had been backed by the GOP Machine, while Goldstein enjoyed the support of, er, The Community Alliance. As Ghandi said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." [At present, we reckon, we are at the "laugh at" stage.] Mark, next time out we'll endorse the opposition. That should give you at least a fighting chance. :-)

Change comes, if at all, slowly. In the Town of Hempstead, as News12's Jerry Kremer put it on that other Election night in November (only in Iraq do they have more elections than we do. Ah, we love the smell of democracy in the morning!), it may "take a higher authority." Until such time as God should choose to intervene here (we understand he's busy with more important matters, like placing Merry Christmas on the lips of Greeters at Target), we'll have to rely on those shifting demographics, gradually changing mindsets, and the oh so fickle will of the voters.
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Another Meeting, Another Show. Please do!

The OCEANSIDE CIVIC ASSOCIATION meets tonight (December 14th) at 7:30 PM.

On the agenda, HOME INVASIONS & THE PROPOSED RECYCLING PLANT (or is it The Invasion of the Recycling Plant? Sounds like a bad night on the Sci Fi Channel.]

The meeting will take place at School #8 located at 3252 Fulton Avenue, Oceanside.

Visit for all the details.
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This Just In . . .

Consider this an endnote, or, perhaps, just the beginning of the end: At yesterday's monthly meeting of the Hempstead Town Board, Supervisor Kate Murray was voted a $15,000 raise. [What are we up to now, around $130,000?] That's an increase of about $800 for each of the 19 percentage points the Supervisor defeated Harvey Levinson by!

No doubt, every Town of Hempstead homeowner will garner from his or her respective employer a corresponding 12% increase in salary -- they'll need it, just to cover the additional property tax. We surmise that Kate Murray's "freeze" does not apply to salaries at Town Hall.

And so, the Supervisor of America's largest township now commands a salary greater than that of the Nassau County Executive.

The Town Board members gave themselves a raise, too -- only $5000. Heck, they deserve every penny. Hope there's something left over for Kate's friends and family. Oh, suffer the poor Republican Committeemen.

We could go on and on about this, but we're certain you'll be receiving a Murraygram in your mailbox real soon with all the juicy details. The caption above Kate's photograph will likely read, "RAISES FOR EVERYONE AT HEMPSTEAD TOWN HALL!" There is reason, indeed, for Kate Murray to smile. . .

Monday, December 12, 2005

"The Star Thrower" Lives In Each Of Us

The Community Alliance Looks Back At 2005

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ~~ Margaret Mead

It was in February of this year that The Community Alliance, Long Island's premier quality of life watchdog group (if we do say so ourselves -- and we do! :-), offered its State of the Community address, a forward-looking "wish-list" of hopes and desires for the community we call home.

Looking back at the initiatives we sought, the causes to be championed, and the desire to witness the "rebirth of the suburban way of life our parents and their parents before them envisioned," we can safely say that, with few exceptions, we bore witness instead to what can only be characterized as the afterbirth.

From the scourge of illegal rental apartments to the dearth of affordable housing, we've heard much talk, but far too little action. On School Aid and School Tax, there have been rumblings and ruminations, but woefully little in the way of substance. Economic redevelopment seemed stalled along the highway as we embarked on our "journey of renewal," and efforts to "take back our Town" in the name of democracy were blown to bits by autocracy's dirty roadside bombs.

All in all, with hopes dashed at every turn, and the closest thing most of us have to local government serving as little more than a monolithic roadblock to community's progress, it suffices to say that our Long Island community did not fare very well in 2005.

Indeed, were this blogger, say, an elected official in Japan, having failed dismally to advance, let alone achieve stated goals, he might consider hari-kari as a viable opt out. Then again, we are but "the penultimate advocates of community," second only to those we ultimately elect to do our bidding in Washington, in Albany, at the County Seat, at Town Hall, and even at the firehouse. Here on our island, we live -- and sometimes slowly die, at least figuratively -- by the ballot box, not by either bullet or sword (it just feels that way).

Given the paucity of movement along that road to community -- a road paved, perhaps, with the best of intentions, but left to potmark and crumble beneath the weight of benign neglect and bureaucratic ineptitude -- it would be easy for even the most ardent among us to fall into quiet despair; to whither on, or be strangled by, our own vine; to pull down the shades and crawl back under the covers, outrage supplanted by indifference. Few would notice, and even fewer would care, if we, the advocates of community, disappeared from the scene, or if we gave in to that most destructive of human thoughts, that one person cannot possibly make a difference.

Perish that thought. Play into the hands of the very scoundrels and houligans who, in 2005, told us "pay more," "get less," "give up control" and "stay the course?" Not us. Not now. Not ever!

We're no Rosa Parks here, that's for sure, but we do know that when we choose to stand up for the causes of community, as Ms. Parks sat down for the cause of humanity, it is not for the moment we stand -- or sit -- but for all of our tomorrows. We are advocates, making a difference, not for the instant gratification, but for the long run. When Rosa Parks alighted from that bus in Montgomery half a century ago, the world -- both hers and ours -- did not change overnight. It merely began to change, to evolve, to take on the dreams of one person who, in her heart, believed that she made a difference -- if to no one else but herself.

Yes, it is frustrating to, day after day, feel that one is talking -- or blogging -- to oneself. Seems that, since the election, at least, the voices (other than those is this blogger's head) have, in great measure, fallen silent. Do we dismay? Have we, too, grown apathetic? Are we frightened by those who, having fooled 60% of the electorate, have placed us on their "Hit Lists?"

We like to think that this is simply a time for regrouping. A period of introspection and reflection. No one should mistake the calm and quietude amidst the whispering willows as either apathy or aversion to engage the foes of community. There is a rustling in the branches; the constant gaze of militiamen focused on the movements of those who would find it necessary, if not compelling, to overshadow the small, to stymie the fledgling, and to silence the voices of community.

In fact, we would not be at all surprised if, in the days and weeks to come, we begin to hear, in voices strong and clear, stirrings from the underground.

Maybe some or many of the 39 Trustees representing 15 school districts ('57' would be so much easier to remember :-) to whom this blog is e-mailed will be inclined to speak out -- giving a public voice to their public office -- on the issue of school funding. We would surely welcome these voices, and provide them with a forum in which they may be heard.

Perhaps our State Legislators, who hold in their hands the fate of the School Property Tax, will follow the courageous lead of Assemblyman Tom Alfano, not only setting forth a plan for bringing this pitbull to heel, but in seeing that plan to fruition during the coming legislative session.

Perchance our local representatives will see fit to reach beyond the partisan bickering -- or, in the case of those at Hempstead Town Hall, beyond the perceived yet false security of "we hold all the cards" -- to act upon matters such as illegal accessory apartments, the shortage of affordable housing, and the revitalization of "Main Street," issues that not only impact upon our lives and livelihoods, but come to shape and define suburbia.

Or maybe, just maybe -- and this is a stretch here, folks -- you, the good people of our towns, our hamlets, our county, our island, will see your way clear to stand up, speak out, and become a very real part of the solution. We'll leave a light on for you at The Community Alliance. Feel free to blog with abandon.

No, we might not have made much headway in 2005 in achieving those shared solutions to our common concerns. Then again, we will say that, if nothing more, we were most successful in putting those concerns out there, and in getting more of you -- and of "them" -- to listen.

Okay, so, for the most part, they didn't act in our best interests -- or, at least, act with sufficient resolve and fortitude -- in 2005. So what? As the old saying goes, "There's always next year!"

"Next year." We'll be there, blog and all. We welcome you to join us, on the beach, as we throw starfish back into the sea, and on the road, as our journey to community continues. . .
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If you think you are too small or insignificant to make a difference or to be effective, you've never been felled by a virus, naked to the human eye, or spent a sleepless night in bed with a tiny mosquito!