The Port News talked with our County Legislator Craig Johnson this week for an update on issues facing Nassau County.
As Vice Chair of the Committee on Economic and Community Development and Labor (and acting chair since the resignation of Legislator Patrick Williams), Johnson is very involved in finding ways to foster economic development in the county. "It is critical," he said, "that we explore new ways to attract new industries. We need the tax base." He is taking an activist approach, meeting with business leaders, state officials, labor chiefs and others to mount creative initiatives. Johnson suggested that some of the old industrial sites might be transformed into office parks that would attract high-tech enterprises. "I want to create a public-private partnership," he said.
Johnson also serves on the Nassau County Sport Enterprise Tourism Board formed by the county executive; he is the Democratic legislative representative. The board explores ways to attract tourism, events and related businesses.
Johnson supports an important initiative just announced by Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi and the legislature's Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs. A bipartisan agreement was reached to consolidate county government into five campuses. Johnson pointed out that a major problem with county government is that it is so spread out. "Where does a citizen go for help?" he asked. "You may have to go for housing to Hempstead, for something else to Mineola, and so forth." He also pointed out that many county office buildings are falling apart. "They are decrepit," he commented, "and in many cases we are paying above-market rents." Through a competitive bid, the county hired Insignia/ESG and formed a Real Estate Advisory Panel to consolidate, rehabilitate, and, where appropriate, sell excess real estate. Johnson was quick to point out that the latter plan is not a "gimmick" to solve the budget crisis.
The creation and preservation of open space is another important issue for the county. Johnson says, "This is one of our biggest problems." He voted for the creation of an Open Space and Park Advisory Committee, where county residents come together to evaluate open space needs and present recommendations to the legislature. He suggested that one possibility for the creation of open space would be to set aside a small portion of the revenues from the sale of county property (discussed above) to buy open space.
The county's financial situation is, of course, still one of the legislature's primary concerns. (Johnson serves on the Finance Committee.) "For the past two years, we've been working very hard," he said. He added that at first there were "growing pains" while the Democratic county executive and the Democratic-controlled legislature worked things out. "We represent very different constituencies with distinct interests and we have different ideas about how to get things done. But now we're seeing teamwork that will make the dream work." Johnson said that he voted for the plan, which he believes is essentially sound, and kept the state from taking over. "But," he said, "I have some reservations and concerns. The plan contains revenue increases, but I have not yet seen movement on the other side. There are supposed to be labor concessions in 2004-5, but I have not seen tangible results yet." Johnson will continue to monitor the implementation of the plan, making sure it conforms to the budget and seeing that the "words translate into reality." Regarding reassessment, Johnson recognizes that it may create difficulty for some homeowners. "We had to do it," he said, "it was mandated by a court order. It should have been done a long time ago. The county basically had 65 years to do this." Johnson advocated for the reassessment notices to go out early (Port News readers should have received theirs by now.) He encourages those who have questions to appeal to the telephone number on the notice, and suggests the senior citizens who have a hardship apply to the county's Senior Citizen Affairs to explore options for protecting themselves.
One of Johnson's current "pet projects" is working with his fellow legislators to put the final touches on legislation that will phase in a full prohibition on smoking in restaurants. "Given the research on the devastating effects of second-hand smoke," he said, "it is time to be aggressive."
Another current project he is putting together, with his father, the 2002 Barbara Johnson Memorial Breast Cancer Seminar to take place in the fall. Barbara Johnson, Craig's mother, faithfully served this district for many years before succumbing to breast cancer in 2000. This year the seminar includes Dr. George Raptis, the head of Mt. Sinai Oncology, who will discuss innovations in treatment technologies. It will also include professional counselors who will discuss the emotional impact of cancer on the patient and his/her family. Johnson especially urges families of cancer patients to attend. Johnson said that he is strongly in favor of expending funds to seek out the causes and prevention of cancer. "We need to spend more money on research," he said, "the answers are out there. And in the long run it will save money."
He mentioned that Baxter Park will be renamed the Barbara Johnson Memorial Park. The tentative date is October 13, Pride in Port weekend.
Craig Johnson clearly loves his job as our representative to the county legislature. In addition, he is an attorney with the firm of Reisman, Peirez & Reisman LLP. However, he said, "being a father is still my favorite job."