Is the Left Wing to Blame for Nassau County’s Lighthouse Failure?
By Evan Weiner
April 18, 2010
(New York, N. Y.) -- Are there too many left wingers involved in Charles Wang's bid to build the Lighthouse project which includes a renovation of the Nassau Coliseum for Hempstead Town Supervisor, the Republican, Kate Murray's liking? As implausible as that might seem and as ironic as that might seem as Wang's National Hockey League's New York islanders have a major problem at left wing, one very prominent Republican insider who has intimate knowledge of the Islanders-Nassau Coliseum lease for decades said there are too many left wingers involved in Wang's bid to gain approval from Murray and Hempstead to build the Lighthouse Project.
The “Political Wise Guy” does think that eventually Murray and Wang will come to some sort of resolution but the left wing problem is real. The political wise guy information came after a Quebec-based business knocked down a rumor that they were about ready to buy the Islanders and move the team to Quebec City on Friday.
As far as anyone can tell, Wang has not brought in the Republican's top left wing target, George Soros or MoveOn.org. There has never been affirmation that Wang and his developer Scott Rechler have the funds needed to complete the project or who are the financiers helping them. It is totally unclear how or why Murray and the Nassau County Republicans came up with the left wing excuse.
But the left wing issue should be part of the equation.
Perhaps Murray and the Nassau County GOP have looked at the supporters of the project which includes an awful lot of unions, academia, clergy and Democrats led by people like the Long Island Federation of Labor. Labor and education seem to be the mortal enemies of the both the local and national Republican Party these days. Wang looked like he has making headway with Nassau County, the entity that owns the land he is seeking when Thomas Suozzi was the County Executive. Suozzi, a Democrat, lost in an effort to win re-election to Republican Ed Mangano. Mangano has been almost Harpo Marx-like in his comments on rebuilding the Coliseum and the Lighthouse Project.
In the end, it is Hempstead that has to approve the plan, not Nassau County.
Neither Murray nor Mangano nor the GOP have ever used the "left wing" card until now but the Republicans in Nassau were not very happy when Suozzi changed the terms of the Islanders lease before he left office and gave Wang additional revenues out of the old white building that was located on old Army/Air Force base.
The highly influential Republican insider's should clearly put Murray on the spot. The local media should be all over Murray and ask a simple question. Is it true that Hempstead will not approve the Wang-Rechler plan because there are too many left wing elements surround the developers? The Lighthouse Project has dragged on for years now yet it remains at best a lukewarm news item for Long Island's major media outlets, the Charles Dolan-owned newspaper, Newsday, and the Charles Dolan-owned cable television outlet, News12.
(Disclaimer, I was a an Op Ed contributor for Newsday, along with the Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel between 2001 and 2005 when the three papers were owned by the Tribune Company. Dolan's SportsChannel entity through his program director Michael Lardner turned down a television project I created in the late 1980s.)
Neither Newsday nor News12 are first rate news operations. Dolan purchased a newspaper that was laying off workers and cutting back coverage. The paper is a mere shell of what it was before the Tribune Company decided that it was not making enough profit and laid off reporters and other workers. News12 Westchester and News12 Connecticut specialize in police runs and don't do any in depth coverage of ongoing issues. Dolan's News12's subscribe to the murder, mayhem, sports, entertainment and weather theory of news and giving the people want they want. TV documentaries are not a part of the Dolan news game plan.
It is not likely that either of Dolan's news arms will go after Murray to find out if the Lighthouse Project is being held up by partisanship based on some evidence that two reporters the reassigned after complaints by Suffolk County Executive, the Democrat turned Republican Steve Levy who is running for Governor in New York as a Republican. If Newsday folded like a cheap suit when Levy balked at coverage, will the paper stand up to Murray?
But it is a job of a reporter to get to the bottom of a story and if the Political Wise Guy who was working on making the Nassau Coliseum profitable when the place was less than 10 years old without hesitation brings up the left wing issue, then there is a story worth pursuing.
By the way, Murray is a public worker and was hired by the people. She should be subjected to tough questioning if her boss decides he or she has questions of the Supervisor.
Politicians happen to work for people, people don't work for politicians. If it is true Murray is holding up the building process on political gamesmanship and not the merits of the case, she ought to be held accountable and that is where Dolan's media entities come in. Of course, there are many conflicts in the whole Dolan matter. Murray's Town of Hempstead has to renew Charles Dolan's Cablevision license to operate a cable company every number of years. Dolan has amassed a lot of power because he has relationships with virtually every municipality in Nassau and Suffolk County.
The Islanders franchise has never been about hockey. Hempstead or Uniondale where the Coliseum is actually located had some land and decided to develop an arena. The National Hockey League in 1971 was confronted with the news that a rival league, the World Hockey Association, was forming and the NHL decided to deny the new WHA a foothold in the New York City marketplace and "expanded" into Uniondale.
The Nassau Coliseum has always been a home for political patronage for Nassau GOP.
Nassau County Republicans awarded a no-bid concessions contract at the new arena to a prominent GOP contributor in 1972. The arena was a money-losing venture from the very start. The prominent GOP contributor was found in 1973 to have underpaid the county in concession revenues.
The GOP put their operatives in the Coliseum, gave them jobs and found themselves defending huge deficits at the new building.
The Coliseum was a dumping ground for political patrons.
Meanwhile the Nets and Islanders owner Roy Boe was underfunded and the basketball team was losing money. Ultimately Boe would agree to join the NBA with three other ABA teams in 1976 at a price of $3.2 million for the right to be an NBA team and then there was a $4.8 million charge for “invading” the New York Knicks territory. Boe could not afford the bills and sold his main draw Julius Erving to Philadelphia. Boe’s Nets would never recover from the merger and sale and Boe sold the team to New Jersey interests who moved the team to Piscataway, New Jersey in 1977. The Islanders nearly suffered the same fate in the late 1970s and were saved when a minority owner John O. Pickett stepped in.
Pickett’s team was aided by a huge cash infusion from the relatively new cable TV company, Charles Dolan’s Cablevision, and the team’s finances stabilized.
The Islanders franchise was a combination, GOP business and cable entity and Dolan was able to use the big money contract as a loss leader for his SportsChannel enterprise by pointing out to the various towns, villages and municipalities that enfranchised Cablevision in Nassau and Suffolk County that we had local programming nobody else did---the Islanders.
Dolan also hired political operatives---mostly Republicans—to help expand Cablevision on Long Island.
At the same time, the Coliseum was losing money. The Hempstead Town Supervisor, Alfonse D’Amato brokered a deal that gave Hyatt Management a five-year contract to run the Coliseum. The deal started in 1979 and D’Amato promised that the county would show a profit on the venue with Hyatt. D’Amato was wrong and the building lost money in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982. D’Amato was gone by 1981 as he was elected to the Senate. His successor Thomas Gulotta wanted Hyatt gone but Nassau County Executive Francis Purcell extended the Hyatt deal, the company was now called Spectator Management Group, through 2015.
By the mid-1990s, the Islanders franchise became part of a real estate package that piqued the interest of a New York City developer, Howard Millstein. Pickett sold the Islanders to Millstein and Steven Gluckstern in 1997 and the New York City developer planned to build a new arena on the property along with other structures. Millstein and County Executive Gulotta worked out a deal which fell apart at the last minute. Unofficially the word was the two sides could not agree on who was going to build the venue, Millstein wanted his people, Gulotta wanted his people.
Millstein tried to get out of the lease that gave the hockey team no share of parking and concession revenue. Millstein and Gluckstern sold the Islanders and the Dolan cable TV deal to Wang in 2000.
In 2007 Wang proposed the “Lighthouse Project” which would have rebuilt the Coliseum and developed the land surrounding the building. The project has been in political limbo since then and no one is talking right now.
But someone has talked, albeit off the record, a political wise guy in the know. Someone now has to talk to Murray and get her to deny that there are too many left wingers involved with the Wang-Rechler plan or if there is another motive in delaying, delay and delaying a decision on the Lighthouse Project.
There is something wrong when any political decision, whether it is made in Hempstead or Washington is caused by political partisanship rather than the merits of the issue. It is time someone asked Murray the question as to why the Lighthouse has been held up and whether it is because there are too many left wingers in the bid?
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator, columnist and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org