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Michael Miller

Viewpoint

By Michael Miller
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Bigger Than One Building

It is always 1961 in Nassau County. We only hear 1961 solutions from our decision makers.

The new shopping mall going up in the imaginary “Hub Area” announced its first major anchor, and it’s a store that will be relocating from the somewhat older mall 2,000 feet up the road. This will be hailed as “job creation” by officials in Mineola and Albany.

A mile away, Nassau Coliseum and what little is left of Mitchel Field cry out for 21st century solutions. Last week’s failed bond vote gives us another opportunity to figure them out.

County Executive Mangano, coming off a difficult and uncomfortable situation, is about to make things even worse by doing what his predecessors always said would not happen: He’s throwing open a race among private developers to toss together any plan for a new arena that seems salable at this point. This will be hailed as “Visioning” in press releases.

This whole August referendum process has been bizarre. Consider Mr. Mangano’s calls for major public works spending in order to stimulate job growth and revenues at the same time his own national party was pushing us to the edge in opposition to that precise philosophy.

Actually, the referendum is in some ways a page right from Washington’s book. The vote itself was largely meaningless in any legal way. Its apparent purpose was to give a blanket public imprimatur to specific decisions that would be negotiated later in government offices, where Serious People can carve up things the right way.

The crumbling county infrastructure helped save Mr. Mangano from even more discomfort. An incredibly powerful late afternoon storm, including Biblical-level hail, swept through parts of Western Nassau. Severe flooding on major roads depressed turnout enough to keep the loss below a two to one level. We may need a new arena and convention venue , but we also need to figure out how we’re going to fix and maintain everything else the county owns.

There were disturbing aspects of the expensive, backfired campaign to get the bond approved. In some other county, there might already be public hearings scheduled to figure out who was laying out some of the money, why they felt they had to make misleading claims and why so many materials sported a county logo. There won’t be hearings in this county. Some “Vote Yes” advertising turned off or outright confused enough people to help blow this thing.

It was likely a big mistake to place the emphasis on “Let’s build a Coliseum for the Islanders.” They shouldn’t have even referred to it as a new “Coliseum.” We already have one of those. We have the hockey team. The county’s still technically bankrupt. If it had been called the Harry Potter Explosion of Amazing Things Centre, more people might have seen it as something new and interesting, and not just a replacement for something we already have.

Like almost everyone else in politics, they kept saying “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” but not “Good jobs, jobs that you want your kids to get after graduation, that will keep them here.” We have school districts in this county where parents show up to school board meetings demanding explanations if not enough graduating seniors are accepted into certain universities. These families aren’t really envisioning their kids wearing an orange vest in an arena parking lot.

Readers who are relatively new to Nassau County may not realize how long this has been going on. The situation with the Islanders and their lease and the Coliseum and the management company has been a continuous public issue since 1991. Every year there has been a plan, a deal, a broken agreement, a giant real estate scheme, recriminations and sometimes all of it at once.

We still have no meaningful research, discussion or dialogue over what this county actually needs at Mitchel Field, likely our last best opportunity to take some semblance of control over this county’s future in a new, changing regional and national environment. Some suburbs, locked into the failed idea that you build out everything to increase revenues, aren’t making it.

This is bigger than a hockey team, or one building.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: millercolumn@optimum.net