Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Empire Zone Strikes Out

Nominations To Empire Zone Board As Plums Of Party Politics

Cronyism and patronage know no boundaries – not even those of Nassau’s first Empire Zone.

With the nominations now in for the Board of the local Empire Zone – which includes areas within Bethpage (at the former Grumman site), Elmont, Inwood, New Cassel, Roosevelt, Uniondale, Glen Cove, West Hempstead, Freeport and the Village of Hempstead – it becomes apparent that favor and politics – and not the “community activists,” as advertised – rule the roost over who will decide the economic future of these communities.

Nominated to the Board by Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi are:

Suozzi, as chairman.
Pascual Blanco, president of Intra-World Development Associates, Inc., which specializes in community economic development and strategic planning, in Glen Cove.
Daniel Cooper, employee relations specialist at Northrop Grumman Corp.
Chris Fusco, service representative for the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters.
Suzy Sonenberg, executive director of the Long Island Community Foundation, a philanthropic trust.
Roy Smitheimer, executive director of the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District.

Nominated to the Board by Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray are:

Angelo Corva, owner of Angelo Francis Corva & Associates, Architects, based in Manhasset.
Albert D'Agostino, partner at the Valley Stream law firm of Minerva & D'Agostino P.C., specializing planning, land use and zoning.
Kenneth Mott, owner and manager of Harry's Auto Body in Lynbrook.
Cheryl Petri, deputy town attorney for the Town of Hempstead.
Kuldeap Krish Prasad, training supervisor for American Airlines, is a resident who lives within the Empire Zone, in West Hempstead.

We all know, and have come to understand, that patronage and party loyalty play a part in the selection process of appointees to agency boards and administrative bodies. This comes with the territory, and dates back, no doubt, to Biblical times, when God appointed Seth to step in to fill his brother’s shoes after Cain killed Abel.

Still, shouldn’t there be some semblance of merit – or at the very least, a demonstration of commitment to community?

According to the press release sent to the media by Souzzi’s office, the appointees “include business and labor leaders, community activists and government officials.”

Okay, we see the labor leaders, business owners, and government officials, but for goodness sake, where are the “community activists?”

The closest anyone comes here, arguably (though hardly with a straight face), is the nod given by the Town of Hempstead to one Kuldeap Krish Prased, “training supervisor for American Airlines, (and) a resident who lives within the Empire Zone, in West Hempstead.”

He’s not a business or a labor leader – his training duties at American Airlines aside – and while he may have connections to government (as in contributor to the party – in this instance, the GOP), he is not a government official. We must make the assumption, then, that Kuldeap Krish Prased earned his appointment to the Empire Zone Board by virtue of his many years as a “community activist.”

We’ll acknowledge that Mr. Prased resides in a community that comes under the influence of the newly created Empire Zone. But a “community activist?”

Is Mr. Prased a member of the local civic association? Is he active in the affairs of his community? Rotary? Kiwanis? Lions? Chamber of Commerce? [They have something to do with business, don’t they?]

The Community Alliance took an informal (and most unscientific) survey of leaders of the community from which Mr. Prased hails. Surprise. No one has ever heard of him.

So maybe he works behind the scenes – other than on the political campaigns of those to whom he owes thanks for this appointment. The so-called “stealth” community activist. Then again, maybe not. Surely, someone in the forefront of community would have at least heard of Mr. Prased (or found his name on the membership roster of a local community organization, or two). Nothing! This resident of West Hempstead is not even on the radar screen.

And where are the "Community Activist" nominees from Elmont, the Village of Hempstead, Inwood, Freeport, New Cassel, Roosevelt, and Uniondale?

Not a one to be found on the “list” submitted for the County Legislature’s approval. In fact, almost to a person, the nominees do not come from the communities of which the Empire Zone is comprised.

"The leaders whom we have nominated bring varied talents and impressive private sector experience to this very important project," Suozzi said.

You have a nice Board of Directors, Tom, with apparently impressive credentials, but no one (or should we say, no one who is a local "community activist") representing the rank-and-file residents who, ultimately, will bear the full impact -- and the property tax consequences -- of decisions made by this Board.

To say that this list of "nominees" is a disappointment from the community perspective would be an understatement -- surely not unanticipated, but certainly an understatement.

Where among the nominees to the Empire Zone Board are the names of those who toil tirelessly to build better communities, to improve both aesthetics and economics, and who, over these many years, fought the good fight that led to the creation of Nassau County’s Empire Zone? Nowhere to be found, we’re afraid.

The true “friends of community” have been passed over, discarded like yesterday’s trash (you knew we’d get the Sanitary Districts in here somehow); their gallant, and sometimes Herculean efforts dismissed; their commitment to tomorrow overlooked.

We don’t hold it against either Tom or Kate for appointing friends, presuming these friends are qualified. Who else are you going to appoint, your enemies? [Of course, there is something to be said for the old maxim, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”]

As critical to the economic rebirth of Nassau County as the Empire Zone is, however, we would have thought that at least passing consideration for appointment would have been given to the “community activists” who put it all on the line for their hometowns, day in and day out.

Instead, in the politically induced world of patronage appointments, it is apparent that those -- and those alone -- who curry favor, get the call. The only homage paid to the community activists was, sadly, the lip-service of honorable mention by reference in a press release. And that’s too bad, not only for the “activists,” who work so hard for their communities, but for all of us.

Hopefully, going forward, there will be more – or at least some -- tangible input from the real "activists" of the communities within the Empire Zone, and not merely marginal participation through those who may well bring "varied talents and impressive private sector experience" to the Board, but little or no working day-to-day relationship with either the residents or business owners whose lives and livelihoods are central to these communities.

For now, the fate of the respective nominees is in the hands of the Nassau County Legislators, who must give a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” to their appointment.

Perhaps the best we could hope for is that our County Legislators (recently labeled by The New York Times as “a den of goofballs” – they were being kind) continue to follow what has become their modus operandi – not showing up for committee meetings or floor votes. Without a quorum for a vote in the Legislature, our County may yet be safe for democracy!
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So, who can we blame for yet another fine mess we find ourselves in? Our elected officials, who spend more time, energy, and taxpayer dollars on self-preservation and self-promotion than on the will and work of the people they are lawfully bound to serve? Do we fault the electorate – voter and non-voter alike – for abrogating duty and giving us government by mediocrity?

No sir. We say, point that finger in the direction of the guy who forever more will be the root of all evil. [No, not Bin Laden.] Blame Tax Assessor, Harvey Levinson. Its all his fault!

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