Thursday, February 23, 2006

Submitted For Your Approval. . .

From "Empire Zone" To "Twilight Zone" In One Simple Appointment?

The Town of Hempstead has announced the appointment of Welquis "Ray" Lopez, who for the last 14 months has served as the Town's Commissioner of Planning and Economic Development, as the Town's first Economic Development Zone Coordinator. Lopez will oversee the operations of Nassau's first Empire Zone, together with Evette Tuggle, the Nassau County Coordinator. [SEE Newsday, Hempstead Tabs New Empire Zone Overseer.]

Lopez, who will earn upwards of $112,000 a year in his new job -- if he stays in that position for so long -- is a longtime town official (having served previously as Highways Commissioner), is former head of Nassau County's CASA, or Coordinating Agency for Spanish Americans, and was president, back in the day, of the Welquis Lopez Taxi Company.

Lopez also served as President of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Nassau County, and as part of the Amigos de Pataki team, just in case you were wondering on which side his bread is buttered.

Having lived to tell the tale of a rather unremarkable tenure as Town Highways Commissioner (communities within the new Empire Zone can continue to "enjoy" the same potholes and decaying roadbeds as they did in the day when Mr. Lopez was at the wheel), Lopez tried his hand at the helm of the Town's Department of Planning & Development [we bet you didn't even know that the Town of Hempstead has a Department of Planning & Development] -- replacing a true friend of community, Ray Rhoden, who apparently had a falling out of favor with the powers that be at Town Hall and/or GOP Headquarters in Westbury.

Question: How much "planning" and/or "economic development" have you witnessed in the unincorporated areas of the Town of Hempstead during the preceeding 14 months?

Not to diminish the accomplishments of Ray Lopez in service to the residents of the Town of Hempstead (as soon as such accomplishments come to light, we will clue you in), but we do wonder exactly what it is that makes Mr. Lopez uniquely "qualified" (without so much as tacit consideration or, for that matter, solicitation, of other candidates) to take on what will surely be a monumental task of first impression -- guiding the infant that is Nassau's Empire Zone from cradle to, well, the possibilities are left only to the imagination.

Perhaps most disconcerting in this appointment, although certainly not surprising, is that, once again, Dorothy Goosby, the Councilwoman whose District lies in the very heart of the Nassau Empire Zone (and the lone Democrat on the Hempstead Town Board), claims to have been left out of the loop by the reigning Republicans in the decision-making process that resulted in the Lopez coronation. Now what does that portend for the rest of us who live and/or work in the newly created Empire Zone?

Then there was the process itself by which Mr. Lopez was chosen to serve, as if by divine right -- without search, publication, or, it would appear, so much as a passing thought, simply preserving the status quo by tapping a political partisan who, in his time at Town Hall, has demonstrated no superior talent in terms of creative community building.

Face it, the Town of Hempstead has not exactly stood on the cutting edge of "smart growth," or as innovators in "downtown" revitalization. The brick pavers, Victorian-style street lamps, rustic benches and repaved parking lots, all part of the Town's Streetscape Improvement program, haven't done all that much to enhance either the overall aesthetics or the local economics of "Main Street."

On the other side of the development coin, Town Supervisor Kate Murray recently joined County Executive Tom Suozzi in announcing that four Nassau communities -- Baldwin, Roosevelt, Elmont and Inwood -- each deemed to be economically disadvantaged, would share some $300,000 out of a $1 million "visioning" program fund, designed to get the ball rolling on "downtown" revitalization projects. [SEE, Suozzi and Murray Announce Four Communities to Receive Funds as Part of Countywide "Visioning" Plan to Spur Economic Development.]

Whether the "plans" Tom Suozzi and Kate Murray are looking over "envision" the rebirth of "Main Street," or are the schematics for an elaborate escape route out of the Town and County, remains to be seen.

"Hempstead Town officials know that if our mature suburbs are to thrive and prosper, they need active partners in government," Murray said. "Together the town and county will work so that our communities can realize their fullest economic potential."

Impressive words from someone who is quite capable, in our opinion, of using this seed money to plant so much more than street lamps and benches along "Main Street."

We can only hope the partisan shuffle that resulted in the anointment of Mr. Lopez as Economic Development Czar – the perennial dance card at Hempstead Town Hall – doesn’t slowly turn Nassau’s first Empire Zone into a lightless, vacuous suburban version of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone.

We will be keeping a keen eye on Baldwin, Roosevelt, Elmont and Inwood to see if the Town's appointment augers more than the usual political expediency without resulting economic stimulation. We are ever-hopeful that both County and Town will work together to improve the economic lot and the landscape vistas of one of America's "first suburbs." We are ready and willing to give both Kate Murray and Welquis Ray Lopez the benefit of the doubt. Still, in a township where, historically, planning and development have taken a back seat to partisanship and deception, we have some serious reservations.
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SEE Newsday Editorial, Cooperation in Nassau.

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