Friday, October 31, 2008

Move Over Joe-The-Plumber

Long Islanders Go To The Polls

On Tuesday, Joe The Plumber steps aside, and all of us regular Joes get to decide who will govern – and by that we mean, who will not only lead our nation in these most difficult days, but represent our community, that which is global as well as local, in a time of uncertainty and angst.

The top of the ticket may well be a done deal in New York, but down-ticket, the races are wide open, and, particularly as concerns the New York State Senate, where the balance of power hangs by a thread, the stakes could not be higher.

The real question here, in the Long Island community, selfish though it may appear, is do we keep a steady-handed Long Islander at the Senate’s helm, and the Long Island delegation well placed, so they can continue to fight for us on school aid, property tax relief, health care, and the other bread and butter issues that impact so greatly upon us, or do we, after generations of one-party control, switch gears, giving the new kids on the block a chance?

In ordinary times, we would be hard-pressed to set aside our credo that the status quo is never good enough; our mantra that one-party rule flies in the face of democracy; that you can’t keep sending the same folks in to do the job, year after year, decade after decade, and expect a different outcome.

These are, however, no ordinary times. For the first time in collective memory, a Long Islander is the second most powerful man in New York (third, if you include this blogger :-)). Senator Dean G. Skelos has, presiding over the Long Island delegation, always stood firm and fast for this community. He is not only a well-respected leader, but a renowned consensus builder, who puts Long Island first. In these times of budget deficits, shortfalls, STAR reductions, and cutbacks across the board, we cannot afford, having come in to our own at long last, to cede that authority to New York City or upstate.

If this sounds parochial or provincial – running against the grain of our conventional wisdom – it is. We admit to having a bias in favor of our own Long Island, and an overriding interest in protecting the homes, the health, the jobs, and the wallets of each and every Long Islander.

Do we cringe when we endorse an incumbent State Senate octogenarian (Caesar Trunzo) who, notwithstanding the fact that he delivers for his constituents with bacon galore, has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel? You betcha. Still, the precarious balance of power in that legislative body, that now, by a single vote, favors Long Islanders, is too important to shift to the other party, where parochial and provincial interests far afield from our own may well dictate policy and redirect fiscal priorities.

Of course, some of our basic tenets cannot – and will not – be compromised.

Peter King – who we see as one of those “anti-Americans” that the California Congresswoman of the lunatic fringe was ranting about – is wrong on immigration, wrong on racial profiling, wrong on waving the flag while stomping on the Constitution, wrong on continually beating up on his own constituents, and wrong on latching on to the discredited Bush doctrine, lock, stock, and barrel. While he’s likely to be re-elected (read as, “you CAN fool most of the people, most of the time”), we endorse Graham Long in his challenge to unseat the King.

Our endorsements are not about party, or about politics, although no one would dare accuse us of being apolitical. They are, first and foremost, about what we believe would be best for the future of our Long Island. Call it, Community First!

But don’t take our word for who would best serve Long Island. You can – and should – check out ALL of the candidates at the League of Women Voters of Nassau County Voters’ Guide on the web at

Finally, if you’re thinking of sitting out this election because “it’s a done deal,” “they’re all the same,” or “what difference could my vote possibly make,” think again. This is no time to sit on the sidelines, a spectator to our community’s future. Not this time. Not this election.

On Tuesday, November 4th, consider what is best for YOUR Long Island. VOTE!

· Barack Obama

· 1st Congressional District: Timothy Bishop
· 2nd Congressional District: Steve Israel
· 3rd Congressional District: Graham Long
· 4th Congressional District: Carolyn McCarthy
· 5thCongressional District: Gary Ackerman

· 1st Senatorial District: Kenneth LaValle
· 2nd Senatorial District: John Flanagan
· 3rd Senatorial District: Caesar Trunzo
· 4th Senatorial District: Owen Johnson
· 5th Senatorial District: Carl Marcellino
· 6th Senatorial District: Kemp Hannon
· 7th Senatorial District: Craig Johnson
· 8th Senatorial District: Charles Fuschillo
· 9th Senatorial District: Dean Skelos

· 1st Assembly District: Marc Alessi
· 2nd Assembly District: Fred Thiele
· 3rd Assembly District: Patricia Eddington
· 4th Assembly District: Steve Englebright
· 5th Assembly District: Ginny Fields
· 6th Assembly District: Phil Ramos
· 7th Assembly District: Michael Fitzpatrick
· 8th Assembly District: Elizabeth Bloom
· 9th Assembly District: Karen Kerr-Ozimek
· 10th Assembly District: James Conte
· 11th Assembly District: Robert Sweeney
· 12th Assembly District: Keith Scalia
· 13th Assembly District: Charles Lavine
· 14th Assembly District: Robert Barra
· 15th Assembly District: Rob Walker
· 16th Assembly District: Michelle Schimel
· 17th Assembly District: John Pinto
· 18th Assembly District: Henry Conyers
· 19th Assembly District: David McDonough
· 20th Assembly District: Harvey Weisenberg
· 21st Assembly District: Thomas Alfano


Nassau County District Court – 2nd District

· Fred Hirsh
· Fran Ricigliano
· Robert Bruno
· Dana Jaffee
· Ignatius Muscarella

Nassau County District Court – 4th District

· Angelo Delligatti

Nassau County Family Court

· Carnell Foskey, Jr.

Nassau County Court

· Norman St. George

Supreme Court

· Robert Lifson
· Edward Maron
· Kenneth Davis

Thursday, October 30, 2008

LI School District Property Taxes Take A Hike

Nassau County Homeowners Get An October Surprise

You knew it was coming. After all, we told you so!

Homeowners in many of Long Island’s school districts – at least in Nassau County, where school property tax bills recently went out – displayed both shock and dismay when they saw as much as a double-digit increase on the bottom line. Ouch!

Of course, this should come as no surprise to anyone, with rising costs for such staples as utilities and transportation (not to mention the staples themselves), coupled with a substantial reduction in the State’s STAR outlays to Long Island school districts.

Yes, the hand that put that STAR rebate check into one pocket, now deftly reaches into the other pocket to take what little may be left in your wallet.

Whose to blame here?

The school districts? Well, curb spending and cut costs to the bare bone, where you can, but someone’s got to meet those contractual obligations (from salaries to insurance), and ante up to pay for the mandates yet unfunded by either the State or the feds.

The State Legislature? With the Assembly failing to adopt legislation imposing a cap – with or without circuit breaker – the continued reliance on an antiquated system of aid formulae that few, even in the education arena, can comprehend, and Long Island getting back less that 25 cents for every single tax dollar it sends to Albany, why, the sky’s the limit for school property tax increases.

We know. Let’s blame it on the Assessor. Harvey, before you retire to Florida, tell us where we can send our property tax bills.

It’s the perfect storm, really. Inaction in Albany. Expenses for school districts, as they are for most of us, going through the roof. Disparity in State Aid, based on a confounding mix of formulae that both time and reason hath forgot, between the nearly full-funding received by upstate districts and the paltry sums that trickle down to Long Island.

The proverbial ship has hit the fan, folks. And with New York’s deficit deepening, and debt mounting, don’t look up the Hudson for anybody to bail us out.

Hey, we warned you about spending that STAR rebate check. Foolish homeowners. You thought you could use that money to put food on the table, make your next mortgage payment, or buy books next semester for your daughter in college. Let that be a lesson to us all!
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From Newsday:

School-tax hikes in Nassau anger residents

More than 75,000 homeowners in Nassau County are getting socked with double-digit -percentage hikes in school taxes - a shock for many in a year when school districts raised tax levies an average of about 4 percent.

While overall district levy increases are the lowest in a decade, 70 percent of individual Nassau homeowners are seeing tax hikes exceeding 4 percent in bills received earlier this month. And about one homeowner in every five is getting an increase of 10 percent or more, according to figures prepared by the County Assessor's Office at Newsday's request.

Tax levies are the total amount raised through local property taxes to pay for school expenses; levy increases may be higher or lower than tax hikes on individual homes.

In response to widespread complaints from Nassau taxpayers, school and county officials explain that much of the rise in taxes is beyond the control of schools themselves.

Contributing factors include a continued rise in taxable values of homes due to a lag in assessments, along with reductions in the state's STAR tax credits, which are paid to schools in lieu of property taxes.

Many homeowners find such explanations difficult to fathom, especially at a time when actual housing prices in their own neighborhoods are starting to sag.

"I went off my rocker!" said Tom Lavin, of Woodbury, a retiree who saw school taxes on his high-ranch home jump 10.7 percent.

A friend, Eleanor Hund, who lives in neighboring Syosset, said she was "shocked" by a 14.5 percent rise in her taxes.

In contrast, the Syosset-Woodbury school budget, approved by residents in May, carried a tax-levy increase of 5.98 percent.

At the time, local school officials said they couldn't estimate the effect of that levy on individuals' property taxes because factors needed to calculate those taxes, such as home assessments, had not been finalized.

State and county authorities note that much of the extra taxes are offset by another form of STAR payments - rebate checks mailed directly to homeowners. In Nassau County, most checks range from $170 to $860 per household, depending on income and other factors, with payments as high as $1,026 for older residents with limited incomes.

Some of those authorities acknowledge, however, that homeowners' burdens could increase substantially next year, if the state cuts back on rebates in response to a weakening economy.

On Tuesday, Gov. David A. Paterson projected next year's state budget deficit at $12.5 billion.

"If the state is short of money, they could cut anything," said Nassau County Assessor Harvey Levinson.

Figures prepared by the assessor's office show that about 233,000 residences out of a total 333,000 in the county got school tax hikes of more than 4 percent, while 76,000 got increases of 10 percent or more. The total excluded about 52,000 residences where tax hikes were affected by changes in exemptions and other special circumstances.

Levinson says he sympathizes with homeowners who wonder why assessed values continue to climb in the face of a weakening market. Assessments, he explains, are based not on current housing prices, but on prices paid in 2006 and the latter half of 2005.

The reason for this time lag: a state law requiring the county to set assessments early, in order to give property owners time to appeal before receiving their tax bills.

Homeowners also are confused, Levinson adds, by the state's practice of dividing STAR money between payments going directly to them and payments going to school districts. The assessor contends that all STAR money should go to schools, because this would make distribution cheaper and allow schools to curb taxes further.

State lawmakers defend the current system, on grounds that it ensures homeowners benefit directly.

STAR rebates do not go to owners of commercial property, however. Richard M. Bivone, whose East Meadow firm provides fire-safety services, saw the school tax bill on one of his offices recently rise 7.7 percent, even though the East Meadow school district raised its levy 4.7 percent.

"It's debilitating, because there's no end in sight," said Bivone, who is president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.

The rate-setting system also creates headaches for school officials, who have only limited control.

"This is one of the most difficult things to explain to taxpayers," said Leon Campo, superintendent in the East Meadow district, "because we're explaining the work of someone else."

Suffolk's tax bills go out in December.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
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The View From John Q. Public:

What were Long Island residents thinking last May when most approved low single digit school tax increases? Did they really think those numbers were going to hold up?

School administrators and boards have known for years how to hide surplus cash. Now they have mastered the art of playing with tax rates and property valuations. Schools put budgets up for vote in May. What people are actually voting on is the total spending amount but schools are always out their SELLING the tax increase amount. In 2008 this amounted to an average 4% increase.

So, how do schools determine the tax rate that they are SELLING to the public? It’s so simple, even a cave man could do it. They take the amount of money they want to take from us, subtract the amount of money they are to get from grants, federal and state sources and divide it by the prior years actual assessed property value which they adjust so they can back into the tax rate they feel they can SELL. Bottom line, they play games with the numbers and can sell whatever tax rate they need for budget approval. Then when the actual assessed values come out in October (like we see today), the real tax comes to light. Some schools like Wantagh and Patchogue have seen through this scam and reject even single digit tax increases.

Schools start working on their budgets in November so as we get into the 2009 school budget season, school boards and administrators will have some huge hurdles to overcome and find new ways to hoodwink the public. I think their time is up! As Newsday helps educate the public on how all this works, schools will also have to deal with huge cuts in grants and state funding. More importantly, the recent economic meltdown attributed to the housing crisis (fueled by inflated property values) will put a real focus on this newly discovered new math!

Robert J. Newman
Patchogue , NY
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What's in your wallet -- and on your mind? The Community Alliance wants to know! Write us with your opinions, viewpoints, and guest blogs at

Remember, blogging is not a spectator sport!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Who Will Assess The Next Assessor?

To Elect Or Appoint? That Is The Question!

Next Tuesday, November 4th, Nassau County residents will go to the polls to elect a president, members of Congress, and State Legislators, among sundry other office holders, from judges to town council members.

Also on the ballot is a Referendum which, if passed, would replace the now-elected (for a 6-year term) Chairman of the County Board of Assessors (commonly known and often misidentified as “the Assessor”) with an appointed (for a 3-year term) Assessor, hand-chosen by the County Executive, and confirmed by the Nassau County Legislature.

The theory behind the Referendum – or at least so much of the thought process as is messaged to the public – is that an appointed Assessor depoliticizes the office, permitting this overseer of the assessment process (as sordid as it is) to do his or her job without having to engage in the customary, and, when it comes to property taxes, always derisive, electioneering.

Opponents of the Assessor-by-appointment argue, with more than nominal merit, that removing the public – whose very property is being taxed through the Assessor’s office – from the equation, chips away at John Q’s right to redress tax grievances, if for no other reason than the Assessor, no longer subject to the whim of the popular vote, would become less responsive to public representation [read as, “We’re being property-taxed to death”], and wholly beholden to the one making the appointment [read as, the Nassau County Executive]. Then again, taxation without representation has become little more than mere cliché, hasn’t it?

Those who favor appointment of the Assessor over election say that not only will the position become less political, but with the elimination of the Board of Assessors, there would be an annual cost-saving of some $250,000. [We’ll never see a penny of that, of course, but, somewhere, the books will reflect – and the County Exec will boast – a savings to the taxpayers.]

Frankly – and we’ve said this before – its not the Assessor that’s the problem, or even how he lands in office. It’s the assessment.

With a complex and convoluted process for calculating the assessment that makes the State’s maze of school aid formulae look like a game of tiddly-winks, we’ve ended up with a system that, at best, distorts home values, and, at worst, systematically robs homeowners of their ability to live in their own homes.

“Fair” is not a word that comes to mind when one discusses the property tax or its assessment, the onerous burden placed squarely upon the shoulders of homeowners, including those who, having bought into the American dream for less than they now pay every year in property taxes, are being taxed into the poorhouse (where at least they’d get “a cot and 3 hot”).

We talk about scraping the assessment system, perhaps in favor of a more equitable local income tax (Shhh. Don’t say that. Someone may accuse us of wanting to “spread the wealth”). We have even had State commissions and local study groups visit the issue, and its component parts, be they related to local government “efficiency” (gag us with a spoon) or a property tax “cap” (not a reduction; just a cap), with reports that praise the virtues of cost-cutting and consolidation, all the while urging across-the-board “reform.” [We suggest the Governor empanel a Blue Ribbon commission to study the meaning of the word “reform.” Then watch for a final report to which all conformist non-reformers can sign on to!]

But we digress. What were we talking about again? Oh yeah. The Referendum.

Whether appointing is any less – or more – political than electing is one for the ages. Are appointed judges, for instance, less political than elected judges? Or is it just the opposite?

And where that appointment must be confirmed by one of the most politicized and polarized bodies in New York, the Nassau County Legislature, could the outcome be characterized as anything but political?

What we are looking for, we are reminded, is transparency and, above all, accountability, from those who govern us, right? Or does the mere appearance of transparency and accountability suffice?

True, the electorate has been dumbed-down over the years, falling prey to campaign small talk that labels, libels, and contorts, but even Joe-The-Plumber can figure out that, in a democracy, elected trumps appointed – and where we elect the wrong person for the job, its our own fault, not the product of a back-room deal or the machinations of a legislature that bickers over minutia and lets die in committee the big stuff.

As you may recall, these guys couldn’t even agree on the appointment of a Poet Laureate for Nassau County. Perhaps, next time around, we should simply elect one!
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From the
League of Women Voters of Nassau County:

Making the Nassau County Assessor an Appointed Position with
Educational and Professional Qualifications Form of Referendum:

SHALL NASSAU COUNTY LOCAL LAW NO. 7 -2008, ENTITLED "A Local Law to amend the County Government Law, in relation to the organization of the Department of Assessment and the appointment and duties of the Assessor," abolishing the County Board of Assessors and replacing the county-wide elected Chair of the Board of Assessors with an Assessor, who would be appointed by the County Executive, subject to confirmation by the County Legislature, for a term of three years and who would be required to meet standards of education and professional experience. BE APPROVED?

Proposed Abstract
This referendum seeks voter approval of a local law to amend the Nassau County Charter, in relation to the organization of the Department of Assessment and the appointment and duties of the Assessor.

The law brings Nassau County in line with most other jurisdictions throughout the State by providing for a single appointed professional County Assessor to serve as the head of the County Department of Assessment. The Charter amendment would abolish the County Board of Assessors and replace the county-wide elected Chair of the Board of Assessors with an Assessor, appointed to a three year term of office by the County Executive, subject to confirmation by the County Legislature, and required to meet professional standards of education and experience and to obtain certification as a New York State certified assessor within three years of beginning his or her initial term of office.

In addition, the proposed law amends former Charter § 607 (entitled "Correction of roll: extension of taxes") to delete obsolete language that provided for the hearing of complaints from property owners. Since the provision is inconsistent with subsequently enacted sections of State law, it has not been used for many years.

The law would become effective on January 1, 2009.

Those who favor the referendum say it will take politics out of the Assessor’s position. There would no longer be a need for the candidate to raise money and run a political campaign, and the Assessor would not be identified with a particular party. The Assessor would have to meet professional educational and experiential requirements, thereby assuring knowledge and experience with the job. This referendum would bring Nassau County in conformity with most of the rest of the counties, 85% of which have professional Assessors.

Those against the referendum say that it robs Nassau County residents of their constitutional right of representation and their right to vote for a policy-making government official. They say that it would effectively eliminate the people’s choice and hand it over to the County Executive; that this law quashes the voices of all 1.3 million Nassau County residents. The key factor is accountability. We should leave the choice in the hands of the taxpaying voters, who should retain their right to select and elect the County Tax Assessor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

We Didn't Start The Fire

Special District Budgets Come Under Fire Anew

Well, if its Autumn, can special district elections -- at least in the fire and water districts -- be far behind?

As costs rise, particularly for fuel, budgets skyrocket, and the taxpayer/homeowner braces for yet another hit.

Yes, there is now more transparency, with fire district budget hearing dates required to be posted online by the respective townships in which they operate. But how many citizens (a) are aware of these postings, and/or (b) actually attend the budget hearings?

Whose fault is it when special district budgets rise, seemingly without limit? Okay, its the stupid economy, where we all pay more just to keep pace. More than this, however, it is the benign neglect, not so much of local government -- though they could do much more by way of oversight -- but rather, on our part, in turning the other cheek when it comes to watching where our money goes.

In these uncertain times, we should, by all rights, be guarding our wallets more dearly, and watching the pot more closely.
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From Newsday:

Fire district budgets on the rise

As taxpayers across Long Island get a chance today to see how fire districts spend their money, a sampling shows volunteer agencies' budgets have continued to rise over the past four years at a steady pace.

"I don't know what's driving those increases without looking at each one individually," said William N. Young, counsel for the Association of Fire Districts of the state of New York. "Maybe it's the cost of fuel . . . Or maybe a bond issue passed by some, which would drive up the budget."

Fire districts are required by state laws enacted in 2007 to hold public hearings on the third Tuesday in October. Today fire districts will explain to residents what it costs to operate their district.A sampling of 50 fire districts shows budgets have risen by an average of 21 percent. In the Syosset Fire District, the rise in costs, about 38 percent over four years, can be attributed to a wide range of necessary expenses, said spokesman Robert Leonard.

The $7,108,700 budget is a 3.9 percent increase from last year, officials said.

"Over this period of time, we have had several capital programs, all passed by referendum, enacted to ensure the highest levels of response," Leonard said, including the leases on fire trucks, ambulances and purchases of equipment.Commack Fire District budget has risen about 50 percent over the past four years, to $3,638,427. A phone call seeking comment was not returned.

Hicksville, which at one time had the highest costs on Long Island, has decreased its budget by 7 percent in four years to a proposed $5,658,000.

"While we are always conscious of the bottom line, the safety of our residents as well as the volunteer members remains a top priority," Fire Commissioner Harry J. Single Jr. said in a statement yesterday.

Fire districts, and fire departments contracted by towns, must post the hearing time and location of meetings on town and district Web sites, message boards located at town halls and firehouses, and publicize the meetings in local newspapers five days in advance of the hearing.

As of yesterday, only the Town of North Hempstead did not post fire district hearing notices on its Web site, as required. Most districts or incorporated fire departments posted the information on either or both Web sites - the town and individual fire district sites. Young said many of the Web sites are run by the fire departments, not the districts.

The additional transparency regarding financial disclosure started with legislative bills, most enacted last year, that were introduced by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) after a series of Newsday stories on the lack of fire agencies oversight. Before 2007, the districts were not required to present their budgets to the public.

Louise Delgado, president of the Suffolk County Fire Districts Association, said he sees a great change in district officials' attitude toward the new transparency laws."The taxpayer needs to know how their money is being spent, and why it's being spent," he said. "With the hearings, now they can."

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
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Postings of Fire District Hearings by Town:

Town of Hempstead

Town of North Hempstead

Town of Oyster Bay

Town of Babylon (no posting)

Town of Brookhaven (no posting)

Town of Riverhead (no posting)

Nassau County Fire Districts

Suffolk County Fire Districts

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Politics Of Anger

When Hate And Fear Suppress Hope And Future

Be careful what you say. Your words may come back to haunt you.

Vitriolic personal attacks have become all too commonplace in political campaigns. Character assassinations override the issues in the minds of candidates – especially when a grasp of the issues escapes their reach.

Negative ads. Baseless innuendo. Fiction substituted for fact.

“He’s not like you or I…” “He pals around with terrorists…” “He doesn’t see things the way we do…”

Gasoline poured upon the fire, and then, shock and surprise when the conflagration threatens to consume candidate, supporter, and country.

“He’s a terrorist…” “Kill him…” “Take off his head…”

Rally turned into lynch mob. Hatred stoked. Fears played upon.

A nation with a not so distant history of lynchings, cross-burnings, and presidential assassinations incited by those who would label such mongering patriotic.

In desperation, the fire is started, with the thought, as ridiculous as it may seem, of warming the home. All too soon, its flames burn out of control, embers threatening to burn down the entire house – divided as it may stand.

Even those who lit the match realize they’ve gone too far. “You need not be scared…”, they say, to the dismay of the angry mob.

Too late.

Like a wildfire fanned by the Santa Ana winds, the fires of hate, fear, and loathing scar the American landscape, destroying everything in their path, and threatening the very fiber of our democracy.

“If we don’t go on the attack, we’ll lose the election…”

Folks, when all you’ve got to offer up is hate, fear, and mindless supposition, you’ve already lost. Frankly, we all have.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Trifecta Of Evil

Town of Hempstead Legalizes Illegal Signs, Hires Town Attorney's Son, And Puts Seniors On Hold

Only in the Town of Hempstead!

We've long complained about all of those illegal campaign signs -- from the billboard-sized placards on fences and sides of buildings, to the "lawn" signs and "bumper" stickers adorning utility poles and electrical boxes -- standing in violation of Town Ordinance prohibiting the posting of signs, even on private property, without permit.

Not anymore, folks. The Hempstead Town Board -- the people who have brought blight to your backyards, perenially put pets before people (hold those letters from PETA), and who championed full-employment in Levittown -- has gone ahead and made those annoying, eye-polluting, and oft-times dangerous to drivers and pedestrians alike campaign signs you see plastered all over town LEGAL. [Pssst. Its still illegal to steal those lawn signs, but don't tell public safety -- or the Town Highway Department -- we said that.]

And if any of you thought that patronage was dead, oh boy. The Town of Hempstead has outdone itself, even by our standards.

Seems that Ed Ra, son of Town Attorney (and/or was that counsel to Sanitary District 6?) Joe Ra, has been put on payroll ($65,000, for starters) at Town Hall. And we thought they weren't hiring? Say it isn't so, Joe! Heck, its only the taxpayers' money. Spend on!

And while heretofore illegal signs were getting the thumbs up, and disenlightened nepotism the customary wink and nod (well, at least Ed Ra isn't from Levittown), Town of Hempstead seniors were being put on hold, the Town Board reserving decision on a proposal to lower the age for residency in an East Meadow senior development.

Hey, those seniors can wait. We need to keep those lawn signs blooming and ye olde patronage mill a-grinding. The old folks love us, no matter how we stick it to them.

Well, at least the Hempstead Town Board, in its infinite show of support for our communities, has approved an urban renewal plan for Baldwin (you know, those brick pavers, stylized benches, Victorian streetlamps. The works).

Wait. Didn't Kate Murray & Kompany approve similar urban renewal plans for the suburban hamlets of West Hempstead and Elmont, with those communities, months, if not years later, still having absolutely nothing to show for it?

Oh, stop grumbling, boys and girls. Be proud to be a part of America's most blighted township, where illegal signage now ranks right up there as facade improvement, and everyone, if not everything at Town Hall, is (a) relative.

And seniors, despair not. We'll get back to you on housing sometime before the appointment of the next Town Supervisor. Stay tuned...
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Hempstead Town Board OKs Baldwin urban renewal measure

The Hempstead Town Board yesterday unanimously approved the go-ahead for an urban renewal plan in Baldwin, a town code amendment allowing campaign signs without permits, and the hiring of a top employee's son. And it reserved decision on whether to lower the age requirement for a senior housing complex.

The Baldwin vote approved the town's acquisition of a property and subsequent sale to Garden City-based Engel Burman Group as part of an $18-million revitalization plan of the blighted area along Grand Avenue. The plan aims to make the area a destination for shoppers from outside the community, with new businesses in place next year.

The amendment to the town's building ordinance allows campaign signs to be displayed 60 days before and 10 days after an election, without a permit, if the sign is 32 square feet or smaller.

And the hiring involved Edward Ra - son of Town Attorney Joseph Ra - who was named a $65,000-a-year deputy town attorney, assigned to the town's Engineering Department to work on legal aspects of environmental reviews. Ra interned for the town board in 2005.

The vote to reserve decision involved a request to grant the Seasons at East Meadow permission to offer its condos for sale to people as young as 55. The development was initially approved with a minimum age of 62, as required for town Golden Age housing. In November 2006, the town board approved the firm's application to build the 416 two-bedroom unit senior housing complex. Such zoning requires fewer parking spaces per unit than multifamily developments without age restriction. The developers' attorney, Albert D'Agostino, presented experts who said that no more parking would be needed for the expanded age group.

He blamed the slow sales on the economy. Shareholders in the firm that's building the Seasons include former State Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, his son, Christopher, and D'Amato's brother, Armand. D'Agostino had his $106,700 annual pension revoked by the state comptroller last month when the state determined he was not an employee of the school districts and local governments for which he had done independent contracting work. D'Agostino is fighting the action.

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

Friday, October 03, 2008

All Politics Is Local - - No, Really

Putting Community First

If the time-honored adage is true, and “all politics is local,” the races in New York’s 9th Senatorial District and 21st Assembly District are, to paraphrase News12, as local as local politics gets.

Indeed, the incumbents, Majority Leader Dean Skelos in the Senate’s 9th, and Tom Alfano in the Assembly’s 21st, face-off on November 4th against two relative unknowns, both of whom hail from the same hometown, West Hempstead.

Roy D. Simon, Jr., a professor of ethics at Hofstra Law School, is vying to unseat the widely popular, and increasingly more powerful, State Senator Dean Skelos. Alan Smilowitz, an attorney in private practice, is challenging the soft-spoken but hard-hitting Tom Alfano, for his seat in the Assembly chamber.

To say that the odds against both Simon and Smilowitz are long, given the power of incumbency and the popularity of two public servants who serve their constituencies with distinction, is an understatement.

Add to the mix the relative obscurity (okay, complete obscurity) of the challengers – who, even among their neighbors, are hardly household names – and the attempt on the part of these Democratic contenders, obviously offered up at the altar of sacrifice on behalf of their Party, to climb the proverbial Everest, falters and fails at the base camp.

And what of the West Hempstead connection? Is there an anti-Skelos sentiment or an oust-Alfano mindset afoot in this typically conservative and traditionally Republican stronghold? Hardly.

Both Skelos and Alfano enjoy almost universal support among those they represent – with West Hempsteaders being no exception.

On the issues, from record aid to education to an affordable prescription drug program, fighting for property tax relief to providing community grants to revitalize localities and grow the economy of our towns and hamlets, Dean Skelos and Tom Alfano have stood in the forefront of the local scene, not only talking the talk on State Street, but walking the walk on Main Street – call it Hempstead Turnpike, or otherwise.

The record of both men, often working as a dynamic team, is replete with accomplishments that shine brighter with each successive legislative session. Skelos’ rise to the ultimate seat of power in the Senate – a heartbeat away from the Governor’s office – was occasioned as much by intellect and the ability to get the job done – both in Albany and here at home – as it was on his political acumen. And Tom Alfano’s easy-going manner and endearing charm, winning over the hearts of his constituency, by no means diminishes his capacity as a tough street fighter who mans the barricades of community.

But it is those local issues that have been and remain the mainstay of the focus of Dean Skelos and Tom Alfano, and the backbone of enduring support as voters reaffirm their confidence in these two forceful leaders.

In West Hempstead, Skelos and Alfano have been outspoken opponents of the Town’s mishandling of the Courtesy Hotel, ardent supporters of the revitalization of Hempstead Avenue, and, year after year, advocates for our children, in word and deed, lessening the tax burden of homeowners by providing our public schools with the money they need to provide a top-notch education.

This is not to say that Messrs. Simon and Smilowitz lack the character or qualifications to serve the good people of SD 9 and AD 21, respectively. We are sure both gentlemen measure up, and are, to borrow the phrase, “likeable enough.” Indeed, their willingness, if not desire to serve the public good is to be applauded.

Unfortunately for Simon and Smilowitz, their obscurity is eclipsed only by their conspicuous absence from the community stage.

Those who, for what seems like eons, have pledged time and talent to West Hempstead’s civic associations, chamber of commerce, PTA groups, and the other organizations that must be considered as the root of community activism, are hard-pressed to say they’ve so much as heard of Roy Simon or Alan Smilowitz, let alone to attest to the activism or advocacy of these gentlemen on the causes near and dear to the West Hempstead community.

Where Skelos and Alfano have taken a stand, Simon and Smilowitz have yet to stand up. And that, at least for those of us who, as a matter of course, put community first – and expect our elected officials to do likewise – is more that a little disconcerting.

That New York is likely to go Democratic in a big way on November 4th, with the head of the ticket raking in the votes and, perhaps, carrying wide-sweeping coattails, the vote down-ticket matters.

“Change” may be the buzzword in this election, but experience counts and results matter. And being present and accountable locally, as advocates and activists, trumps all.

Here on Long Island, the vote down-ticket is crucial, and keeping the likes of Dean Skelos and Tom Alfano as our representatives in the State capital should be paramount in the minds of the electorate.

The Community Alliance endorses Senator Dean G. Skelos in the 9th SD and Assemblyman Thomas W. Alfano in the 21st AD.
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