Spencer Rumsey

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Spencer Rumsey, the Long Island Press’ senior editor, has worked on dailies, weeklies and monthlies, including New York Newsday and the New York Post, the East Village Eye and the supermarket tabloid Star Magazine. Starting at the Press in 2010, he’s written award-winning stories on planning, politics and policy, to name a few topics, and he’s taken on a wide range of targets in his Press blog, Rumsey Punch.

John Kasich Draws Thousands to Huntington to Hear Him Defend His Uphill Campaign

About 3,000 people braved the cold rain to pack the Paramount Theater in Huntington Monday evening to hear Ohio Gov. John Kasich say that he was determined to prevent Republican frontrunner Donald Trump from becoming the party’s presidential nominee.

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Hundreds more people were turned away after spending hours online—and on the road—to be see the longshot candidate who’s trailing in the polls behind Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). At one point the line had stretched around the block, police said.

“We’ve been here for an hour and a half,” said Gail Carey, 63, who’d come from Lindenhurst, and made it to the front door in the lobby before she was told that there was no more room inside. “There were like 200 people behind us.” She was still hoping for a chance to see her favorite GOP candidate.

“I think he’s amazing,” she told the Press. Asked if she would ever vote for Trump, she called that “a laughable question.”

Carey was grateful for another woman lingering by the front door, Waed Ramadan, a 22-year-old from Farmingville, who’d shared her umbrella as the two women had waited in line outside. Ramadan said that although she was a registered Democrat, she was still undecided.

“I just wanted to see what was up,” she said. “I like that he seems normal, in terms of the Republican Party.” In a November face-off between Trump and Hillary Clinton, she’d support the latter.

Owen Marsh, 18, had driven from Scarsdale to see Kasich and struck out.

“This is the first election I get to vote in, and this is the candidate I wanted to see,” he said. “He’s a very common-sense candidate. He has a proven record and more experience than anyone else running for president.”

Marsh said he liked Kasich because the Ohio governor wouldn’t continue the partisanship that has divided Congress.

“He’s definitely someone who can compromise and get his ideas done as well as work both sides of the aisle,” said Marsh, adding that he would not support Trump if the billionaire were to get the nomination.

So far, Kasich has only won the Buckeye State, where he calls the governor’s mansion home. He is far behind in the number of delegates he’ll need to head the top of the ticket at the GOP’s convention in Cleveland later this summer. In Huntington, he insisted that he has the best shot to defeat Hillary Clinton in November, assuming that the twice-elected former U.S. Senator from New York and former Secretary of State, holds back a strong challenge from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to clinch the Democratic nomination.

Before the tallies from the April 5 Wisconsin primary are counted, Trump has 736 delegates, Cruz follows with 463, and Kasich trails far behind with 143. The winning total is 1,237 and Trump, a native New Yorker, is more than halfway there. By all accounts, Kasich needs a strong showing at the April 19 primary in New York, but a recent Quinnipiac Poll had him at 19 percent, Cruz at 20 percent and Trump at 56 percent, with only 4 percent undecided.

Earlier in the day, Kasich had appeared at Hofstra University’s David S. Mack Student Center and visited Sagamore Hill, home of Theodore Roosevelt. At the town hall he told the audience he drew strength from TR’s example of “perseverance” in the face of opposition. He also recounted that when he was a teenager he’d wrangled a chance to ask President Richard Nixon a question at a public event, but he never got around to telling the Paramount crowd what he had said.

Timing was tight because Kasich was going live at 7 p.m. with Greta Van Susteren, host of Fox News’ On the Record. At 8 p.m. it would be Bill O’Reilly’s turn for his top-rated cable news program, The Factor. Then he’d yield the screen for Megyn Kelly, who was in Wisconsin for a one-on-one with Cruz, who’s leading in the Wisconsin polls and reportedly angry that Kasich won’t bow out of the race so he could have a better shot at taking down Trump, who was set to spend an hour with Sean Hannity starting at 10 p.m.

On stage at the Paramount, Kasich sat on a stool facing Van Susteren as New Yorkers looked on. He had a long career at Fox News, which Media Matters said helped him secure the Ohio governorship in 2009 after he’d left Congress in 2001. He’s the fourth Republican presidential hopeful, after former candidates Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, with ties to Fox News, which is headed by Roger Aisles, the longtime chairman who once worked for both the Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kasich was a frequent guest host for The O’Reilly Factor. According to Media Matters, Kasich was paid $265,000 in 2008 for his work at Fox.

To reporters covering the Kasich campaign on Long Island, the Ohio governor said Cruz was “a smear artist.” Cruz has claimed that he’s the only viable Republican alternative to Trump. On the other hand, Trump has said that Kasich is cutting into his support.

“I’m not dropping out,” Kasich said in Huntington, because “nobody is going to have enough delegates to go to the convention and win on the first ballot.”

He still has a very uphill road to climb, and he’s counting on New Yorkers to get him one step closer. On Monday, he may have lost 17-year-old Katie Reilly from Huntington, who said her birthday is in August so she would be able to vote in November.

“I’m really upset that I didn’t get to see John Kasich tonight,” Reilly told the Press. “I don’t even get to see him after waiting an hour and a half in my home town! He should have done another show so he could have gotten more votes, because he really needs them.”

Nobody, not even the Ohio governor, would dispute that.

(Photo credit: The Paramount/Facebook)

Oyster Bay Brewery Brings New Nightlife to a Sleepy Downtown

Oyster Bay Brewing Company

T

he hamlet of Oyster Bay used to be a place where the sidewalks seemed to roll up at night. The rap was that it was the kind of downtown where cool things go to die—if they ever came alive in the first place.

But you can kiss that reputation goodbye because when the Oyster Bay Brewing Company opened the doors to its giant new digs over a month ago, there was something new in the air—and it wasn’t just the aroma of fresh hops. Now the village is literally hopping at night, and the weekends have never been the same.

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“The craft beer business is so hot that breweries are a destination in themselves,” Gabe Haim, one of the co-owners, told the Press. “So we are bringing in people who don’t normally come to Oyster Bay.”

These days they can’t keep the crowds away at the brewery, and Haim, 33, and his partner Ryan Schlotter, 34, like it that way. They opened the original brewery in 2012 but it was a tight squeeze.

In February, the company moved around the corner to a new home on Audrey Avenue that is five times the size of its cramped quarters on South Street. Instead of cramming a tasting area and brewery equipment into 1,400 square feet, the company now has 6,000 square feet to play with. The old bar was maybe eight-feet long but the new one runs 30 feet, with 24 tap lines. Instead of brewing batches of 100 gallons—the limit at their old venue—they can now make beer in thousand-gallon batches. For those keeping track, a barrel has 31 gallons. The plan this year is to make more than 2,000 barrels. When the brewery began, the most they made annually was about 500 barrels. More variety is also on tap.

“We have some new lagers that are coming out. We have some specialty beers, some double IPAs,” said Haim. “At this point, we’ve got plenty of space so the sky’s the limit.”

He and his partner, who hold down day jobs at Rallye BMW in Westbury, are very happy to see Oyster Bay’s downtown spring to life. They do their brewery work at night and on the weekends. The brew masters start practicing their craft in the morning, although the tasting room doesn’t open until 1 p.m. It closes at 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursday, but stays open an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays, while shutting down at 8 p.m. on Sundays.

“We never had this type of crowd before,” added Katie Mattner, the tasting room manager and events planner. “Now we’re getting local people who come here to hang out. People have walked in and said, ‘Whoah! Is there a party here tonight?’”

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In the past, Mattner said, “People would come in for a tasting and maybe a couple of pints and then leave. Nobody would stay more than an hour or so. But now people are here all night! So many customers have been coming to us and saying, ‘Thank God, you opened because this town really needed something.’”

By all accounts, many more people are indeed coming to Oyster Bay. They’re shopping, touring Teddy Roosevelt’s recently restored Sagamore Hill homestead nearby, and then visiting the tasting room, grabbing lunch or dinner at the restaurant next door or bringing in pizza from down the block. The brewery doesn’t offer food itself but it certainly encourages customers to BYOF, so to speak.

“For a town that I would say has been relatively sleepy for the last however many years, there’s three new restaurants opening in town,” said Haim. “I think we’ve given people some confidence in the ability of a business to survive, and part of it is with the people we bring into town.”


“The craft beer business is so hot that breweries are a destination in themselves”


Just a few doors from the brewery is the address of Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, who has nothing but praise for his new neighbor.

“The newly opened location of the Oyster Bay Brewing Company is a perfect example of the entrepreneurial spirit that has kept, and will continue to keep, businesses flourishing in the Town of Oyster Bay,” said Venditto in a statement. “Since 2012, the company has become renowned for their dedication to producing the highest quality product around, while remaining true to their Gold Coast roots and staying thoroughly New York at heart. It has been a valuable addition to the Town of Oyster Bay.”

So far, the supervisor has reportedly not been seen in the new tasting room but they have a stool ready for him, just in case. On the other hand a few members of the Islanders hockey team have shown up. Haim and Schlotter are “huge” Islanders fans, and named their ale, Barn Rocker, after the Nassau Coliseum, because “rock the barn” used to be the rallying cry there. These days you can get this ale at Barclays Center in Brooklyn—and at Citi Field, too.

Having an expanded base in Oyster Bay makes it all possible.

“It’s great for us and it’s great for everybody around us, including residents and not just businesses,” said Haim. “It’s great to live in a town where your downtown is bustling.”

President Obama Picks ‘Centrist’ Judge To Fill Vacant Supreme Court Seat

Obama Merrick Garland
President Barack Obama announced his nomination of federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died at a Texas resort in February.

On a sunny day in the Rose Garden Wednesday, President Barack Obama exercised his Constitutional duty, telling those assembled at the White House he’d nominated federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland to fill the U.S. Supreme Court seat left vacant when conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died at a Texas resort in February.

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The 63-year-old fellow Chicagoan—as both he and the president pointed out—is currently the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which Obama said is often regarded as “The Second-Highest Court In The Land.” Legal observers have called Garland a “centrist” and a “moderate” jurist.

“I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness and excellence,” said President Obama, noting that Garland has “earned the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle,” and just as tellingly, that “he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately.”

Obama noted that the Senate is about to take a two-week recess for the Easter break, but he will go to Capitol Hill on Thursday to ask Republicans there to give Garland a fair hearing and then schedule an up or down vote—something that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have so far refused to do.

“When they return, I hope that they’ll act in a bipartisan fashion,” said Obama. “I hope they’re fair. That’s all. I hope they are fair.”

When it was Judge Garland’s turn to speak at the podium, he was visibly moved by the occasion.

“This is the greatest honor of my life, other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago!” Garland began, pausing to hold back his emotions as he was flanked by a beaming Vice President Joe Biden and a more somber President Obama. “It’s also the greatest gift I’ve received except—and there’s another caveat—the birth of our daughters, Jessie and Becky.” He mentioned that his oldest daughter was hiking in the mountains and out of cell service range when the president called about the nomination, provoking some light laughter rippling through the audience.

“To me there could be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court,” said Garland. He credited his family for getting him to this point, citing his father “who ran the smallest of small businesses from a room in his basement,” always impressing upon him “the importance of hard work and fair dealing,” and his mother, who instilled in him and his siblings “the understanding that service to the community is a responsibility above all others.”

“I know my mother is watching this on television and crying her eyes out, so are my sisters, who have supported me in every step I have ever taken,” he continued, almost doing the same. “I only wish my father were here to see this today.”

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During Garland’s confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Obama pointed out, “he earned overwhelming bipartisan praise from Senators and legal experts alike. Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported his nomination. Back then, he said, ‘In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.’ He actually accused fellow Senate Republicans trying to obstruct Merrick’s confirmation of ‘playing politics with judges.’ And he has since said that Judge Garland would be a consensus nominee for the Supreme Court, who would be very well supported by all sides and there would be no question Merrick would be confirmed with bipartisan support.”

The president noted that in 1995 a majority of Democrats and Republicans had voted to confirm Garland to appeals court, where he has now served more than 18 years. The tally was 76-23, and it’s been reported that Grassley was on the nay side.

In a brief biographical summary, Obama recounted that Garland, who was born and raised in Chicago, had gone to Harvard, graduating summa cum laude, and then onto Harvard Law School, where Garland paid his way “by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and, in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection.”

Standing beside the president, Judge Garland nodded and put his hand to his chest, drawing laughter from the crowd. “Been there!” added the president, as he continued recounting Garland’s record.

After law school, Garland clerked for two of President Eisenhower’s judicial appointees, including Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. Then Garland joined a law firm and earned a partnership within four years.

In 1989, the president said at the Rose Garden, Merrick “made a highly unusual career decision. He walked away from a comfortable and lucrative law practice to return to public service. Merrick accepted a low-level job as a federal prosecutor in President George H. W. Bush’s administration. Took a 50 percent pay cut. Traded in his elegant partner’s office for a windowless closet that smelled of stale cigarette smoke.”

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Garland’s sterling record as a federal prosecutor, where “he quickly made a name for himself going after corrupt politicians and violent criminals,” explained Obama, took him to the Justice Department, where he oversaw “every aspect of the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing in the aftermath of that act of terror.” The 1995 attack on the Aflred P. Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people, including many children who were in a daycare facility there.

“He led the investigation and supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice,” said Obama, praising Garland for “the pains he took to do everything by the book,” because Garland didn’t want to take any chances that “someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality.”

Recounting his experience handling the bombing investigation, Garland told the Rose Garden audience, “I saw up close the devastation that can happen when someone abandons the justice system as a way of resolving grievances and instead takes matters into his own hands.”

Reaffirming the American people’s faith in the justice system seemed to be the unofficial theme of the day.

“Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution invests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice—particularly one to succeed Justice Scalia, one of the most influential jurists of our time,” said Obama, who added that the members of the Supreme Court are “the final arbiters of American law. They safeguard our rights; they ensure that our system is one of laws and not men.”

Obama said that the decision whom to nominate to the Court required him to set aside “short-term expediency and narrow politics,” and he urged the Senate Republicans to do the same.

“I know it is tempting to make this nomination simply an extension of our divided politics, the squabbling that’s going on in the news every day,” the president said. “But to go down that path would be wrong. It would be a betrayal of our best traditions and a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents.”

The immediate reaction to the nomination seemed to fall along party lines.

“If Merrick Garland can’t get bipartisan support, no one can,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, New York’s senior Democrat, in a statement. “He is a thoughtful jurist with impeccable credentials who has already garnered overwhelming bipartisan support for a job that requires nearly the exact same criteria as a Supreme Court justice. He gets the impact of the Court’s decisions on hardworking Americans in the real world. We hope the saner heads in the Republican Party will prevail on Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell to do their job and hold hearings so America can make its own judgment as to whether Merrick Garland belongs on the court.”

“President Obama has done the right thing by taking the first step toward filling the vacancy on the bench and nominating someone he believes is extremely qualified for the job,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the state’s junior Democrat, in a statement. “Now it is time for the Senate to do its job, hold hearings, assess his qualifications and vote on his nomination in a timely manner. The cases before the Supreme Court are too important to go months without a justice and we owe it to the American people to hold hearings and vote on the nomination.”

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But Wendy Long, the nominee of the Republican, Conservative and Reform parties to challenge Sen. Schumer in the November election, insisted that the Senate should not act on the president’s nomination.

“Judge Merrick Garland seems like a good man,” said Long in a statement. “That does not mean he should be elevated to the Supreme Court, especially for the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, when Americans’ rights such as the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment and the expansive use of executive power to alter immigration and other laws is at stake, and especially in the midst of a contentious presidential and Senate election.

“There is no way that Obama and Chuck Schumer would allow anyone to ascend to the Supreme Court whom they were not confident would be a vote for their liberal activist agenda that has already done so much damage to our country and our Constitution,” Long continued. “It is much more decent to Judge Garland not to put him through the wringer of a confirmation process that is ultimately going nowhere.”

But New York’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat, vehemently disagreed.

“Failure to fill the vacancy would undermine the rule of law and ultimately impair the functioning of state governments within our federal system,” said Schneiderman in a statement praising the president for picking Garland. “The Senate should move forward, do its job, and hold a hearing and a vote without unnecessary delay.”

“A delay in filling the ninth seat on the nation’s highest court will impact the Court’s ability to resolve disputes when the justices are split four-four,” said David P. Miranda, president of the New York State Bar Association, which has 74,000 members, making it the largest bar association in the country.

“The late Justice Antonin Scalia made that point in declining to recuse himself in Cheney v. US. District Court for the District of Columbia,” said Miranda in a statement about the Garland nomination. “[Scalia] explained what would have happened if he recused himself while sitting on the Court of Appeals: ‘There, my place would be taken by another judge, and the case would proceed normally,’ Scalia noted. ‘On the Supreme Court, however, the consequence is different: The Court proceeds with eight Justices, raising the possibility that, by reason of a tie vote, it will find itself unable to resolve the significant legal issue presented by the case.’

“Scalia was writing about how a single case might be affected by a temporary vacancy,” explained Miranda. “The argument to fill the vacancy created by his death is even more compelling, because it impacts an entire term of cases, not just one case. Justice Scalia’s words live on after his passing. The process should move forward expeditiously.”

“This is precisely the time when we should play it straight and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves because our Supreme Court really is unique,” said President Obama at the Rose Garden announcement. “It’s supposed to be above politics. It has to be—and it should stay that way.”

Then he paused.

“To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise? That would be unprecedented,” Obama said. “To suggest that someone who has served his country with honor and dignity, with a distinguished track record of delivering justice for the American people, might be treated as one Republican leader stated, as a political piñata? That can’t be right!”

Whether the Senate will take up the nomination remains to be seen. The president said he hopes that Judge Garland can take his seat on the Court by the fall.

For The Whitmore Group’s James Metzger, It All Started With A Brooks Brothers Suit

James Metzger The Whitmore Group
James Metzger, chairman and CEO of Garden City-based The Whitmore Group, Ltd.

Two years after he’d graduated from Hofstra University as a history major in 1983, All-American athlete James Metzger—the future chairman, CEO and founder of The Whitmore Group, Ltd., in Garden City—was still tending bar in Bethpage when his determination to dress for success finally paid off. His friends had thought he was nuts when he spent the money he’d saved from serving drinks to buy thousand-dollar Brooks Brothers suits, but the last laugh was on them.

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That Metzger would later launch one of Long Island’s leading insurance brokerage firms was the farthest thought from his mind the day he stood on line at Brooks Brothers. He had already landed a sales job in the insurance industry but was making more money tending bar one night a week, so he was reluctant to give it up. In that same line of customers he saw one of his largest potential clients, whom he’d already pitched, and here they had something in common.

“We were both buying the same tuxedo,” Metzger recalls, with a laugh.

Within two weeks, he’d landed the account.

But it was what happened next that ultimately changed his life. It was a typical, busy Friday night, and Metzger was working behind the bar, when he spotted the same client come walking in. Thinking fast to create a favorable impression, Metzger vaulted over the side to greet him.

“Jim,” said the surprised client. “What are you doing here?”

Metzger explained that he was part owner of the bar and checking out some inventory. Still improvising to keep the ruse going, Metzger quietly asked the other bartender if he wanted to work alone that night; he readily agreed, since he’d clear $500.

From a payphone near the bar, Metzger then called his boss and said he had to see him tomorrow. For the finishing touch, he bought his new insurance client a drink, still posing as a part-owner of the establishment. When he met his boss the next day, Metzger told him why he had to quit:

“I said, ‘I’m making a lot more money tending bar, but I got a job in the insurance business, and one of my largest clients came in.’ That was the last night I ever tended bar.”

He says he’s still friends with his former boss, he still buys suits off the rack at Brooks Brothers—and he claims he’s still the same size, 42 Regular.

“I was fortunate that I found a profession for which I was well-suited, literally and figuratively,” he tells the Press.

When Metzger launched The Whitmore Group in Roslyn Heights in 1989, he had three employees. Now his office is in Garden City, employing almost 90 employees, handling $140 million in premiums annually, and insuring $3 billion worth of fine art in private collections, to highlight a few noteworthy benchmarks.

“My business is 30 times the size it was when I started,” Metzger says, adding that his company is now licensed in 48 states. When he began, the funeral industry was 95 percent of his firm’s commercial property and casualty insurance offerings, but today it’s about 15 percent.

“We have a very large niche in personal insurance, health insurance, life insurance and estate planning,” he explains.

The Whitmore Group has also expanded into real estate, construction, and the hospitality industry. Metzger chose the name for his company when he stopped one day at a pharmacy in Westchester during a business trip upstate, and happened to pick up a list of the 400 richest men in America.

“I liked three names: Cambridge, Hamilton, and a guy named Jerome Whitemore III,” he recalls.

The first two were already taken by corporations, so he selected the third and changed the spelling to Whitmore. He added “Ltd.” to the company, he says, “so it sounded British!”

To anyone who asked about its origins, Metzger would explain that Whitmore was “the name of a gentleman on the board of a Fortune 500 company who was from Liverpool, England, and that he was my financial backer!” Metzger laughs. “That’s the story I tell people.”

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Metzger grew up in Melville and first made his mark in sports as a star athlete at Half Hollow Hills High School in Dix Hills, where he was the school’s all-time leading scorer and rusher as a running back on the varsity football team. He also started for the varsity basketball team when they were in the county playoffs. In 1977, the year he graduated high school, he won the Lt. Ray Enners Award as Suffolk County’s outstanding lacrosse player. In further recognition of his prowess, he was the only high school athlete picked to play in both the North-South All-Star Football game and the North-South All-Star Lacrosse game. As a sophomore at Hofstra University, Metzger was named to the 1980 Division 1 All-American lacrosse team.

He claims that he weighs today what he weighed when he played lacrosse at Hofstra.

“I think if I put my uniform on today I would look the same, but I wouldn’t have the same results!” he says, admitting that he’s cut back on working out and is focused more on maintaining a healthy diet, although he insists his knees are still “perfect.”

As for the business outlook on Long Island, he’s bullish.

“We’re in challenging times, but there are a lot of opportunities on Long Island,” says Metzger. “But you better be up for the game, because it’s ultra-competitive. You’re in the major leagues here.”

Metzger says that The Whitmore Group is one of the last privately held firms of its size, and for now, he’d like to keep it that way.

“One of the keys to the relative success I’ve had is that I hire people smarter than me…who have expertise in areas in which I don’t,” he says. “I rely on them and I get out of their way. I respect them and I appreciate them, and I’m willing to suffer the consequences if I’ve misjudged them. I trust my instincts, and my instincts have been good to me.”

Metzger says he’s made many mistakes in his career, but he’s benefitted from them, too.

“You learn more from your mistakes and your losses than from your victories,” he says. “I truly believe that!”

And James Metzger has the winning record to prove it.

Long Island Municipalities That Get It Right: What Do They Know That Others Don’t?

Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman

Across the Island some municipalities are clearly ahead of the pack. These communities possess the good fortune to have visionary leaders, courageous council members and the right combination of assets, infrastructure and drive to make a difference in people’s lives.

When you look for local role models, a few stellar examples quickly come to mind: Jack Schnirman, Long Beach city manager; Paul Pontieri, mayor of Patchogue; Francis X. Murray, mayor of Rockville Centre; and state Sen. Jack Martins, the former mayor of Mineola. They didn’t all face the same problems, but these guys knew how to get it right.

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For Long Beach, Jack Schnirman faced a daunting challenge. As city manager, he wasn’t an elected leader but he was responsible for getting all the parties on board so he could right the city’s precarious finances. He inherited a $14.7 million deficit and he turned it around so now the city has a $7 million fund balance. Long Beach just got its eighth consecutive positive credit action from Moody’s. Not only did they upgrade the city’s bond rating, they gave the city a positive outlook going forward.

By comparison, Nassau County is under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) because of its chronic failure to balance the books. The Town of Hempstead’s credit rating has been downgraded many times, and Moody’s just withdrew its rating for the Town of Oyster Bay due to irregular filings—town officials say a computer broke down—and Standard & Poor’s is contemplating doing the same. In the town’s defense, a withdrawal is not the same as a downgrade, but it’s not an encouraging sign. Both ratings agencies have given the Town of Oyster Bay until the end of March to get its financial filings in order before they issue their ratings.

“We are proud to be one of the municipalities moving in the right direction,” said Schnirman.

On his watch, Long Beach declared a fiscal crisis, working with the city’s employees to achieve some contract concessions and downsize the workforce. Then came Superstorm Sandy. Still, by all accounts, Long Beach has managed to rebound—and been rewarded by consecutive good bond ratings. Schnirman praises the city council for “fiercely advocating for the resources to rebuild our city the right way with stronger infrastructure to protect ourselves from future storms.”

To Schnirman’s credit, he navigated the city through the aftermath while staying within Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tax cap of either a 2-percent limit or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. In Long Beach, the allowable tax increase is .47 percent because inflation is so low.

“The challenge is that it caps revenue but it doesn’t cap expenses,” he explained. “Many of the fixed costs go up every year far greater than the size of the cap, so it necessitates constantly making cuts and difficult choices and being creative in order to live within it.”

But Schnirman has been able to make it work.

Handout: Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman
Handout: Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman

“Jack has brought exceptional professionalism to the management of the city’s finances, and the repair and development of its infrastructure,” said Lawrence C. Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies. “He was one of the heroes of Sandy.”

Looking around the Island, Levy singles out Rockville Centre Mayor Francis X. Murray for what he’s done for his community.

“Fran Murray is one of those mayors who has come to realize that the future of the village lies in making even better use of a strong downtown,” explained Levy. “He has understood that a lot of people want to move to Rockville Centre, but not everybody wants to live in a traditional, single-family house. They want rental apartments. They want to be able to walk to restaurants, to the movie theater.”

Murray’s solution was to go vertical to solve the parking problem as well as add more apartments. Critics said Murray’s plan calling for more density was untenable, making the dire prediction that “Queensification” was about to transform their village, but it did not come to pass, as Levy observed.

“Rockville Centre could be a model for downtown development rocketing a whole village!” said Levy. And he should know, because he now calls the village home.

State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) first made waves in municipal circles when he helped transform Mineola as mayor by focusing on its downtown.

“He used to have political leaders and other supporters whispering in his ear that if he goes ahead with his proposed high rises [downtown], his promising career would come to an end,” Levy said. “He just didn’t listen. He decided this was best for the village. People would see it and the payoff would be huge.”

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They did and it was. Martins won his mayoral re-election by “an enormous margin,” Levy observed, then he won his state Senate race by defeating an incumbent Democrat and now he’s running for Congress to fill the empty seat vacated by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills). In some sense, things started looking up for Martins when he embraced high rises.

Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri faced a different problem.

“I think Paul Pontieri had the hardest row to hoe,” said Levy. “He started with a village that was deeply down on its heels and almost hopeless.”

Among his initiatives in Patchogue, Pontieri brought in a cultural arts center, encouraged developers to offer relatively affordable residential options, and created a vibrant, younger feel to the downtown.

Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri
Handout: Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri

“But he had to go to war with the political and business and civic establishment,” Levy said. “He was willing to put his career and his mayoralty on the line, and he has been validated and vindicated over and over again. People often refer to him as the poster child for the new suburbia of Long Island.”

Pontieri himself puts it more humbly.

“I lived in Patchogue my whole life so I knew we had the bones and the strength to get something done,” he said. “What I saw were blighted properties that could be turned into opportunities.”

He got upgrades for the village’s sewage treatment plant to accommodate higher density. Or, as Levy put it, “He not only saw above ground—he saw below ground!”

Pontieri knew he had to revitalize the village’s downtown. “Nothing comes into a town that is empty. You need to put feet on the street,” he said. And there was another stark reality, which may sound ironic today. “We had a parking problem—there were empty spaces.” In fact, about 2,000 of them, he said.

But a decade ago in came Copper Beech Village, developed by Pulti Homes of New York, on a 5-acre site with 80 units of affordable housing—16 per acre. Suffolk County chipped in $3.3 million to help Patchogue acquire the land from the previous homeowners. Then other high-density developments started sprouting up.

“Once Pulti invested the first $5 million, it said that we’re worth investing in,” said Pontieri. “We cleaned up five acres of blighted property and put in 80 families with an average age of 38 years old.”

Young families are vital to the future, Pontieri says.

“The communities that fight this, they’re going to be the ones without the Little Leagues, because young families won’t have a place to start or invest in,” the mayor said, pointing out that his vision comes with some self-interest as well. “Someday I’m going to want to sell my house, and I’m hoping that one of these kids who’s invested in this village will look at my home and want to buy it!”

Villagers started to get with the program he laid out once they could see the caliber of the development, the attention to design and details.

“Let the developers make the money they need to make and they’ll stay with the project and give you quality,” Pontieri said. “Squeeze them too much and you end up with what you deserve.”

Can other villages do what Pontieri did with Patchogue?

“They can duplicate it,” the mayor insisted. “Don’t just listen to the gray-haired guys in the audience saying, ‘No!’ Understand that there’s a majority of the population out there that’s looking for change.”

What these leaders have in common, Levy said, is “They’ve dared to be different.”

Reimagining Retail: How Ron Koenigsberg Is Revitalizing Retail Shopping On Long Island

Ron Koenigsberg
Ron Koenigsberg, president of American Investment Properties, one of the leading niche brokerage firms in the region, is launching a new partnership, the Long Island Investment Group, to revitalize retail shopping on Long Island.

Ever since childhood when he’d watch his father survey buildings and construction sites, Ron Koenigsberg has had a passion for real estate.

Now this highly regarded commercial real estate broker, based in Garden City, has found a new outlet for his passion—repurposing retail shopping centers across Long Island.

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As the president of American Investment Properties, one of the leading niche brokerage firms in the region, Koenigsberg is launching a new partnership, the Long Island Investment Group, to “implement what’s been bothering me,” he admits, since 2005.

The revelation came to him when he was driving home about a decade ago and realized that even though he was one of the leading salesmen of shopping centers on the Island, he was still buying everything he needed online.

“I’m saying to myself: ‘I need another business because I’m finished. Retail shopping centers are not going to make it,’” he recalls. “I think I was a little bit ahead of the curve.”

Koenigsberg may have been right about that, but now the trend in retailing is much clearer, as the once-mighty giants in the retail mall world close up shop one by one.

“People who sell goods in the brick and mortar stores are not making it,” says Koenigsberg. But that doesn’t mean it’s Armageddon for retailing, or, more importantly for someone like him, the end of commercial real estate as he and his real estate peers have known it.

Instead, Keonigsberg bided his time and did his homework. He took a hard look at the Long Island landscape and saw something different—if only he could reconfigure it. He waited for his chance, and now that the economy is finally coming out of the Great Recession, he has the capital to make his move.

“We’re able to buy shopping centers at or below replacement costs,” says Koenigsberg. “We see it as a great opportunity at this very moment to be purchasing Long Island retail centers.”

He explains his modus operandi:

“We’re purchasing properties that are suffering and using our strategy to re-engineer these [poorly performing] strip centers into high-demand, service-orientated tenants that provide services, not goods,” he says.

Ron Koenigsberg
Ron Koenigsberg, president of American Investment Properties, is launching a new partnership, the Long Island Investment Group, to revitalize retail shopping centers across Long Island.

Koenigsberg finds the shopping centers that are losing their tenants, where the vacancy rates are high, that are mismanaged, and in serious need of an upgrade. Then he’ll dig deeper. Perhaps the partners no longer get along and want to sell the property, or the center is in an estate sale or a divorce proceeding. He checks out the locations and sees if he and his partners can maximize the value.

Their acquisition criteria tend to be very specific at this point. They’re looking for shopping centers with about five to 10 stores of around 10,000-square feet each, relatively small compared to a regional mall. But they want the traffic to be 20,000 vehicles a day for the property to make the cut, and the center should have a ratio of 3.5 parking spaces to every 10,000-square feet of retail.

“We’re going to walk before we run,” he says. “Eventually we’d like Long Island Investment Group to be a major player, but I think that’s a 10-year process.”

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One clear advantage Koenigsberg has with this strategy is that he doesn’t have to worry about rezoning these “tired” B- and C-grade properties. His group plans to take the shopping centers as they are, so he doesn’t have to worry about appearing before a local planning board, because he won’t need any variances. Once the site is 100-percent acquired, Koenigsberg and his partners in this venture will come in and fix up the site with their value-added upgrades, bring in new high-demand, service-oriented tenants that perform better than the current ones, and grow the net-operating income of the center over time.

“If we are able to isolate that property in Great Neck, or Roslyn, or Merrick, or East Northport, where the demographics warrant it, we’d love to raise the rent $12 to $15 per square foot,” Koenigsberg says, “but realistically we understand that we’re buying properties all over Long Island and it may result in only a $4 to $6 bump.”

For Koenigsberg, the ideal tenants bring in a lot of foot traffic. He cites urgent care centers where people seek treatment for minor medical needs, and cell phone providers where customers want their new products activated immediately. And, of course, he’s including decent food and drink establishments.

“You can’t change the experience of going out to a restaurant,” he says. “You can’t get that online!”

This new venture has barely begun, but Koenigsberg is confident it can succeed.

“What we are is a dynamic, successful, decades-old brokerage firm that sees an opportunity in this marketplace and we’re going about doing it,” he says. “Now that the economy is finally coming out of recession, we can follow our passion.”

Employment, Revenue & Economic Confidence Up On Long Island

Long Island Business Growth
Employment, Revenue & Economic Confidence Are Up On Long Island!

There’s good news on the employment front, at least on Long Island, especially compared to past years.

Long Island’s unemployment rate, not seasonally adjusted, was 3.9 percent in December 2015, down 0.5 percentage points from a year ago, according to Shital Patel, labor market analyst for the Long Island region at the New York State Department of Labor. Nassau County’s rate decreased by 0.4 percentage points to 3.7 percent, while Suffolk County’s rate decreased by 0.5 percentage points to 4.2 percent. By comparison, New York State’s rate was 4.7 percent and the national rate was 4.8 percent.

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Nassau County had the third-lowest unemployment rate in New York State, only Tompkins County (3.4 percent) and Columbia County (3.5 percent) were better. Since December 2014, private sector jobs in New York State grew third-most rapidly in the Nassau-Suffolk region (+1.9 percent), topped by New York City (+2.3 percent) and Orange-Rockland-Westchester (+2.1 percent).

Statewide, the sectors recording the largest job gains were educational and health services, with 73,400 more since a year ago, followed by 27,000 in professional and business services and 26,700 jobs in construction. By contrast, the government sector lost 3,800 jobs, and manufacturing shrank by 2,400 jobs.

On Long Island, the metrics show some bounce since the recession, according to several key indicators.

In the first Long Island Business Leaders Survey, sponsored by The Long Island Association and conducted by Siena College Research Institute, 31 percent of the 248 CEOs in Nassau and Suffolk who responded to the poll said they plan to hire workers this coming year, while 9 percent foresee layoffs.

“The spring is in the step of many of Long Island’s CEOs,” said Siena College Research Institute Director Don Levy. “Nearly four in ten are bullish about the future, while only one in five remain negative on the economy. Just under half, 48 percent anticipate revenue growth and 41 percent expect their profits to increase in 2016.”

“The good news here is that the CEOs are more optimistic than pessimistic,” said Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association. “They’re certainly more optimistic than they are in upstate New York.”

Law cited the 3.9-percent unemployment rate as a figure that “most regions of the country would die for,” he said. He noted that sales tax revenues were growing in both counties, whereas half the counties in New York are seeing declines.

“What I was glad to see, as a CEO myself, we recognize how valuable our workers are,” added Law. “They’re well educated and well trained. One reason the CEOs put up with some of the high costs of doing business on Long Island is because of our great workforce. They also like our environment because a bad environment is not attractive to the business community.”

The Siena Survey only polled companies with sales between $2.5 million and $200 million.

“I know it excluded a lot of small businesses,” Law acknowledged, but originally the cut-off was going to be $5 million and the LIA broadened the parameters.

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On the negative side of the balance sheet, the survey found few CEOs expressing much faith in government, whether state or local, for improving the business climate on Long Island. Ninety-two percent said that local municipalities do a poor or fair job of aiding business development here.

“I’m not defending it,” said Law. “It just takes forever to get a permit approved.”

He said there’s been progress at the county level but the local zoning boards have a lot of catching up to do.

Despite all the red tape and other hassles, a majority of Long Island businesses are committed to remaining in the region as their confidence in the economy continues to increase, according to the AVZ 2015-2016 Economic Survey & Opinion Poll. Conducted by Albrecht, Viggiano, Zureck & Company, P.C. (AVZ) in partnership with Long Island Business News, the results were formally presented at the HIA-LI 22nd Annual Economic Summit at the Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge on Feb. 11.

The survey found 63 percent of the respondents saw an increase in revenue in 2015; 61 percent forecast some increase in revenue this year; 90 percent raised their prices for products or services last year; 86 percent granted raises of up to 4 percent to their employees (6 percent gave raises of 5 to 9 percent); and 46 percent of the companies plan to hire this year. More than half of the respondents have been in business for more than 30 years; 84 percent of the businesses have been operating for more than a decade.

“The success and longevity of Long Island businesses are so vitally important,” said Terri Alessi-Miceli, president of HIA-LI, the Hauppauge Industrial Association of Long Island, whose headquarters are in the Hauppauge Industrial Park, one of the largest industrial parks in the United States. “2015 proved that Long Island businesses are committed to remaining in the region, with a substantial increase for economic confidence, which this year received its highest rating since the recession began in 2008.”

The researchers asked the respondents to rate their confidence in the Island’s economy on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most confident. The survey found that the businesses’ confidence level was 6.1 last year, compared to 4.9 in 2008. Since 1995, the highest rating was 7.2, reached in 1999 and 2000.

Looking ahead, for the second year in a row the survey found that healthcare is regarded as having the greatest potential for growth on the Island, with 43 percent of the respondents being bullish on this sector’s prospects as compared to the next sector, technology, which garnered 34 percent.

Those job findings don’t surprise Keith Banks, president of Lloyd Staffing, an employment agency based in Melville, who said that healthcare and technology are continuing to grow.

“We do have a well-trained and skilled workforce,” he said. “What we haven’t seen is a particular organization that has come here or sprouted here that has had a ‘hockey-stick’ trajectory in terms of growth in its number of employees, going from 500 employees to 1,000 employees over the course of 12 to 18 months. We just haven’t seen that type of growth around a company or around an industry since the recession.”

Banks is seeing “some momentum” in bio-tech, as companies nurtured in the Island’s incubators look to expand. “But it’s not out of the box growth,” he cautioned.

Northwell Health, formerly North Shore-LIJ, is by far the largest employer on Long Island and the largest private employer in New York State, with more than 61,000 employees. There are 31,150 employees at their hospitals and facilities in Nassau and Suffolk—and that number is rising.

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“Our workforce will continue to expand on Long Island and throughout the metropolitan area in the years ahead,” said Michael Dowling, president & CEO of Northwell Health. “Every week, between 100 and 150 new employees join Northwell Health. Our growth area continues to be in the area of outpatient services, as more and more care is delivered outside the walls of our hospitals. Moving forward, there will be a much greater focus on managing the care of the people and communities we serve, rather than only treating them when they are sick or injured.”

Nancy Engelhardt, founding director of the Energeia Partnership, the Academy for Regional Stewardship at Molloy College, says the Island’s economy is “resilient” but it’s lost a lot of high-paying jobs and filling that need “remains a challenge.” But she’s not undaunted.

“I’m very optimistic,” Engelhardt said. “I see a lot more partnerships and collaborations happening, and people coming out of their silos and talking about how to deal with a lot of the issues on Long Island together.”

New Study Finds Growing Need For Apartments, Co-ops & Condos On Long Island

A rendering of what Wyandanch Rising could look like someday, with plenty of affordable housing options within walking distance of the LIRR. (courtesy BHC Architects)

Mind the gap—that’s the message from the Long Island Index’s latest report on the enormous difference between the multifamily housing that currently exists and what our region will need to accommodate all the people who want to live here in the future.

A project of the nonprofit Rauch Foundation, the report estimated that LI could gain up to 158,000 households over the next 15 years but only develop 64,000 new housing units, leaving a gap of 94,000 units. If left unaddressed, this shortage could adversely affect the Island’s economy and its quality of life, the authors of the report said.

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“I just want to emphasize that affordable housing is one of the critical pieces that Long Island needs to move into the 21st century,” said Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation. “I don’t think we’ve done it yet, but other places have done it. Long Island should be a choice for young people [who want to live here]… Now is the time for action on this issue.”

The research was conducted by the Regional Plan Association and HR&A Advisors, Inc., both groups based in Manhattan. Under their definition, multifamily housing means any building with three or more attached residential units and includes both rentals and owner-occupied residences such as co-ops and condos. The researchers did not deal with the issue of illegal apartments since it would be so hard to quantify.

The report, titled “Long Island’s Needs for Multifamily Housing: Measuring How Much We Are Planning to Build vs. How Much we Need for Long Island’s Future,” was released on Tuesday at a presentation in Melville hosted by the Long Island Association (LIA), a regional business group.

According to the researchers, one reason LI’s housing costs are so high is that residential construction has been relatively stagnant, lagging behind northern New Jersey, which “has built significantly more housing over the past 35 years than nearby regions.” As a result, its housing stock is more affordable for young workers and they’ve been drawn away from the Island and the Hudson Valley. From 1990 to 2014, Long Island’s population between the ages of 18 and 34 dropped 16 percent. Researchers said that 72 percent of young Long Islanders say they are “likely to leave the area by 2020.”

One possible explanation for that pending exodus is that multifamily housing production is not keeping up with the residents’ changing preferences, the report asserted, noting that “in only five years, nearly one-third of Long Island residents expect to live in multifamily housing, a significant shift from the proportion of residents currently living in such units.” According to the 2015 Long Island Index Survey, 82 percent of LI’s households live in single family dwellings and 17 percent live in multifamily housing. Five years from now, 67 percent said they expect to live in single family homes and 30 percent expect to live in multifamily units.

The report asserted that “most Americans would like to live in walkable mixed-use communities, where amenities, services and their jobs are a short commute away. Younger households have traditionally driven this demand, but baby boomers’ preferences are beginning to change.”

Three case studies included in the report—focusing on Valley Stream, Hicksville and Babylon—show that what the Long Island Index calls “modest changes in zoning regulations” could encourage enough multifamily housing construction to fill the gap. But therein lies the rub.


72 percent of young Long Islanders say they are likely to leave the area by 2020.


 

“The challenge for the region is that our economic competitiveness is at stake, and yet individual communities will decide which of these various zoning changes to embrace,” said Douzinas. “That necessitates a region-wide discussion to build a broad consensus around what is best for Long Island, and this report is an important step in building that discussion.”

“We really can have a bright future for this region but we need to stay focused on these things,” said Kevin Long, president and CEO of the LIA and co-vice chairman of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council. He noted that increasing multifamily housing dovetails with other efforts to improve the Island’s transportation infrastructure and create more high-paying jobs in the bio-tech industries starting to grow here.

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In Valley Stream, the report noted that rents are unaffordable for many residents despite the surge in high-end, transit-oriented, mixed-use developments. The report recommended establishing a minimum unit size of 850-square feet, increasing maximum lot coverage to 60 percent and increasing the maximum building height from three stories to four stories. These changes would facilitate almost 800 new units of “more affordable, multifamily housing” in the village’s downtown.

For Hicksville, the HR&A and RPA suggested rezoning several commercial zones as multifamily residential zones, imposing 50-percent lot coverage and establishing new minimum unit sizes. In turn, this hamlet could then have about 1,900 new units.

Regarding Babylon, the researchers looked at seven potential sites. They recommended doubling allowable density to 20-to-24 units per acre, establishing a building height limit of three stories, and increasing lot coverage to 50 percent. These zoning changes, described as minor, could provide room for more than 200 new units.

Among the presenters at the LIA’s event was David Sabatino, owner of Sip This!, a coffee shop in Valley Stream, who works on Long Island projects for the Regional Plan Association.

“This spoke to me in several different ways,” he said. “As a small business owner I need foot traffic. I need people living downtown, living near the train station, and I need people investing in my community. As a single family homeowner I need new development and expansion of the tax base to help preserve the things I love about my community.”

He admitted that the zoning changes might be a hard sell.

“It’s a different thinking for Long Island, but it’s something we really need to consider,” he said.

Lawrence C. Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, found the new report both “encouraging and discouraging.”

“It was encouraging because it produces more data that makes the case that smart, forward-thinking people have been making on Long Island,” he said. “It shows that there’s incredible potential for economic growth and empowering individuals. But it’s discouraging because when you step back and say, ‘Well, okay, what is it going to take to get this done?’

“It doesn’t really matter that both county executives, the heads of both county legislatures, the heads of more than half the towns are all on the same page,” he continued. “This is a war of attrition like World War I. It has to be done one village zoning board at a time, which means you’ve got to do the work with the civics and the small business people and the political class and bring them together in ways that we’ve only seen in a relative handful of places.”

But those behind the report remain optimistic.

“What we’ve heard this morning,” Douzinas told the audience, “is, ‘Hey, things are changing and things could even be quite different, and it wouldn’t even cost that much.’ It means doing things differently, which we know is not so easy on Long Island…But look at what the results would be!”

Cranes On Every Corner Of NYC, But Not Much Going Up Across Long Island

Taubman won't get to build a luxury mall after all at the old Cerro Wire property site by Long Island Expressway Exit 43A now that the Syosset Park project is on the table.

By all accounts, New York City is experiencing a building boom that seems to have left Long Island behind, prompting developers to envy the city’s dynamic energy and rue the Island’s usual culprits of bureaucratic red tape, zoning board rigidity and nonstop neighborhood opposition.

“The irony is that 50 years ago you couldn’t get anything done in New York City, but you could get things done on Long Island—and it is completely reversed today,” says Des Ryan, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a business lobbying group. He cited the delays hampering progress at the big-ticket projects such as Pilgrim State Hospital and Kings Park Psychiatric Center.

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“Those are two glaring examples of bureaucracies that can’t get out of their own way,” Ryan complains, noting the equal lack of progress holding Calverton in Suffolk and the Cerro Wire property in Nassau, where the only thing that’s changed is the billboard by its old entrance.

By contrast, Manhattan has so much ongoing construction there seems to be a crane on every corner. In part that’s because the density is so much higher that the only way to build is up, but the developers also benefit from having a central zoning authority to expedite the approval process, and the market is augmented by the city’s having a comprehensive mass transportation system to move people around.

“You have a lot happening in Manhattan,” agrees John Cameron, founder and managing partner of Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP, and chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. “It’s not just the approval process; it’s the vision and the leadership. We need to change the zoning codes and go vertical.”

According to Michael J. Posillico, president of the Posillico Development Company based in Farmingdale, the ratio of development in New York City and Long Island is around 65-to-35 today, but “Ten years ago it was probably 90-to-10 Long Island to New York City.”

“I wouldn’t say the market on Long Island is dead,” he adds, but infrastructure funding for highway and bridge repair and construction “has been very weak.”

Compounding the problem with the lack of investment, Posillico explains, is that Long Island’ zoning is “so inconsistent and variable,” as well as inflexible, that there’s little inducement to dig in and build. It’s the opposite situation in the city.

“When a real estate opportunity presents itself,” he continues, “developers can relatively quickly develop a plan, get it approved and build it.”

Many of the major projects in Manhattan, Cameron notes, involve office buildings being converted into hotels, residential condos and apartments. He knows that’s not realistic on Long Island, but it’s time for a change.

“In the city they have lived with vertical for years so they continue to go vertical. Long Island is height-adverse,” Cameron says. “Any time anybody talks about anything over three stories, four stories, five stories, you’re talking Queensification!”

He explains that Long Island will need to spark development in order to grow the tax base to support the increasing cost of government without breaking the bank of the average homeowner. The challenges are the decaying transportation infrastructure, the shortage of sewers in Suffolk, and the lack of undeveloped areas in Nassau in particular, so development opportunities are limited.

“We need to plan this growth so we can accommodate it smartly and won’t adversely affect our resources,” he advises.

But development is not only needed—it’s vital for the island’s future vitality.

“We don’t have enough development taking place on the Island to grow our economy and satisfy the needs that we already have today,” adds Cameron.

Marc Herbst, executive director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association, Inc., a Hauppauge-based lobbying organization of highway and infrastructure professionals, says that business has picked up for larger firms that can diversify and take advantage of the city’s better economic climate. But it’s been hard for the small or midsize companies based on Long Island, because they’re dependent on municipal funding for projects and that has “been a concern.”

“It’s better than it’s been,” says Herbst. “But the jobs are short-term. They’re mostly maintenance efforts, not major construction, and that’s not long-term stability.”

Herbst says he and his LICA colleagues have high hopes for the mega-projects Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently touted in his State of the State address, but “they’re dreams that are down the road—they’re not for the immediate upcoming construction season or two.”

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On the Island, residential needs are going unmet, particularly in the area of affordable rental stock, Cameron observed, and that means employers have problems attracting young workers to live here when they’re just starting out in their careers and can’t afford single-family homes. He’d like to see more growth near the LIRR transit hubs “so we don’t have to put a car on the road for every new person who’s added to the Island.”

It’s not all doom and gloom, says Mitch Pally, chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute, a building industry trade association of Nassau-Suffolk builders, developers and remodelers, based in Islandia.

“The rental market has substantially increased and the numbers are significantly up,” he explains. “Lots of things are happening, but they happen in small ways on Long Island because that’s the way things are going to happen on Long Island these days. We’re not going out to build an affordable housing complex of 5,000 units in one place. But are there 50 units in lots of places going up at the same time? The answer is, ‘Yes.’…But if you’re waiting for the home run, it’s not going to happen.”

Posillico does not share that rosy scenario, however.

“I would prefer to work in New Jersey than on Long Island—that’s how bad Long Island is!” he declares.

Deploring the exhausting local planning process and the narrow building codes, Posillico warns that Long Island’s past of building bedroom communities and single-family homes is not a formula for a successful future “because you can’t support all these services with the tax base that we have. We need more density in certain locations.”

One problem, he says, is that “‘heightened density’ are still bad words in many towns, and that’s not true in other parts of the country.”

Another problem, even more invidious, is that Long Island’s fractured zoning and endemic opposition has turned off investors, and without financing, no development is going to happen, explains Posillico.

“It’s really a very difficult environment,” he says. “The money’s going to go where it can get a return. It’s not going to go to places where they flip-flop, they fight you, and they delay you.”

Maybe they used to say that about New York City, too, but not anymore.

Rumsey Punch: Bernie’s Got His Groove For Iowa, But Is It Just the Same Old Song for Hillary?

 

 

Damn that Bernie Sanders! On the eve of the Iowa caucuses he rolls out a campaign ad using Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” song for the soundtrack and practically moves my bleeding heart to tears. How could he do that?  Making me fall for that uplifting sentimental claptrap just as I hardwired my political cynicism into a hybrid I call: “Pragmatic idealism.”

I love his ideas, I love the enthusiasm of his supporters—young and old—who know how good it feels to be in a crowd of like-minded people rooting for the same cause. And he uses a song about as old as me to rub it in!

What’s Hillary got? Demi Lovato? Katy Perry? These two celebrity songbirds do nothing for me personally. Back in 1992 she and Bill had Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” but that’s so yesterday! Can’t Hillary’s team come up with something to really seize the moment and remind us that she’s not only the practical choice, she’s the right choice? She has to be our next President and Bernie has to remain in the Senate with, hopefully, a Democratic majority so he and Sen. Elizabeth Warren can actually get something done for a change. It won’t work with Bernie at the top of the ticket. I just don’t see it.

So, I’m trying to come up with some uplifting Hillary campaign songs, and I admit they may be a little morbid considering that I’m thinking about two great music artists who just died, David Bowie and Paul Kantner.

I admit I’m conflicted. I want to suggest David Bowie’s “Heroes” but his line “just for one day” might mean that I think her supporters will caucus and split.

She’d need longevity if she’s going to last through the race, especially if she loses both Iowa and New Hampshire. Only two Democrats have not won those two contests and gone on to win the nomination—one was Bill Clinton, who skipped it, and the other was George McGovern, who, well, only carried Massachusetts in 1972.

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I remember it well. That was the first presidential election I could vote in and I was psyched. Father Robert Drinan, the anti-Vietnam War, pro-choice Jesuit priest, was running for his second term in Congress, and I was hanging out at his victory party outside Boston to fulfill a journalism class assignment to pick a candidate and watch what happens on election night. Then the returns came in. Drinan won decisively. But it was a bloodbath for McGovern. The whole nation, except the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts, had voted for that crook, President Richard Nixon. Did I feel alienated? You bet. But I was 19 and naïve—much more naïve than today’s Bernie supporters, I trust.

So in keeping with today’s theme, maybe Hillary’s campaign might adopt Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans.” On second thought, that song proved too much even for Bowie. As for his “Suffragette City,” I think it might be a little too sexist (and sexy for a grandma) although it does evoke Hillary’s bid to be the first woman elected president.

Personally, I’d cast a vote for Paul Kantner’s “Crown of Creation,” which was also the title of Jefferson Airplane’s third album. He reportedly got inspired to write it after a Democratic operative contacted him in San Francisco in 1968 but it must have proved too radical for Hubert Humphrey’s people. It was probably just a pipe dream anyway. I mean, listen to these lyrics: “In loyalty to their kind, they cannot tolerate our minds. In loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction!” Maybe someone might suggest Kantner’s “Volunteers” since it has that “look what’s happening out on the streets/got a revolution” line, but that wouldn’t work for Hillary. Maybe it’s a song for Bernie, sorry. Perhaps “Somebody to Love”? I just like to hear Grace Slick sing. Oh well, it’s just a thought.

Two years before the Clintons first took the White House, Bernie Sanders first came to Congress in December in 1990 after being the mayor of Burlington, not a huge metropolis. Now that he’s running for president, the question is whether his avowed socialism is a help or a hindrance. His hero, Eugene Debs, the Socialist Party candidate, won almost a million votes in the 1920 election. I’m not sure how many votes Debs would get in a national election this year.

Sanders said during a speech last fall at Georgetown University that “almost everything” President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed was “called socialist.” Sanders is definitely right that FDR’s New Deal programs, which saved the country from desperation and ruin, “have become the fabric of our nation and the foundation of the middle class.” And the bane of the conservative Republicans running for president today.

The Koch brothers, whose influence over American democracy is the subject of Jane Mayer’s new book, “Dark Money,” have reportedly pledged to raise and spend $889 million on the 2016 elections. That’s just two oligarchs. Meanwhile the Republican Party has consolidated its hold on 32 state governments, which controls gerrymandering and voter registration. Is it a hostile takeover? Depends on your politics. I think Hillary, battle-tested as she is, could handle them but she’ll need a hell of a lot of help and right now she doesn’t have a hold on millennial women under the age of 35, if you can believe the polls.

I’m not sure about Bernie’s longevity as a viable candidate when the GOP’s push comes to shove—and they start piling the crap onto his candidacy with all the lies their money can buy. Do Bernie’s supporters have enough moxie to go the distance? I know Hillary does. I’m not sure about him. He’ll need a nationwide movement to make his profound changes stick.

I’ve been around long enough to see movements come and go in America, some left their mark for the greater good, but their supporters had to take the long view. It took American women more than a century to get the right to vote. Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition didn’t get him elected but maybe it helped lay the groundwork for Barack Obama. The anti-war movement didn’t stop the Vietnam War but it did kill the draft. President Richard Nixon finally found a way out of that war but he left a disaster behind, and our Vietnam veterans today are still carrying their scars. Now, they join our Iraqi vets, who drafted themselves to answer the call after 9/11. But President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney mislead them into a Mideast quagmire that had nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden. So many lives lost, so much money wasted, and the war goes on in a different way today. And the only winner is fear.

Once upon a time the great liberal Democrat, Adlai Stevenson, was running for president against President Dwight Eisenhower when a supporter told him he’d given such an inspiring speech that he would surely “get the votes of all the thinking people.” “Thank you , madam,” he replied, “but I need a majority.” With only a minority behind him, Stevenson failed miserably in 1956. Fortunately, the Republican Party at the time was much more moderate than it is today. That’s why what happens in 2016 is so crucial. And what happens this week in Iowa and next week in New Hampshire is so critical.

Fast-forward five decades and, for the left and liberal Democrats, “this tension between committed activists and political realty has worsened significantly,” writes retired Rep. Barney Frank—the first openly gay Congressman—in his recent memoir. The activists believe that the great mass of voters are ready to make a sharp left turn, they just need the right nudge, so to speak. But that’s magical thinking. And I fear it’s what’s driving Bernie’s backers.

Barney Frank has seen this liberal/left divide before.

“I would not only try to dissuade my ideological allies from nominating unelectable candidates but would also argue against undermining our candidates by insisting that they ignore inconvenient political realities, or by denouncing them as betrayers when they took those realities into account,” Frank recalls. “This aspect of my work was much less fun.”

As he says, “liberals are more inclined to hold public demonstrations, in which like-minded people gather to reassure each other of their beliefs… Applauding speakers who denounce the unfairness of a particular situation and rail against the political system is more emotionally satisfying—but very much less effective.”

Here’s Frank’s rule: “If you care deeply about an issue, and are engaged in group activity on its behalf that is fun and inspiring and heightens your sense of solidarity with others, you are almost certainly not doing your cause any good.”

For those who challenge my pragmatic idealism, I have two words: Ralph Nader. Look how bad it got when Al Gore lost to W, because Nader siphoned off too many votes in Florida. I don’t want Bernie to do that to Hillary.

“The white males who used to vote for Democrats have not become philosophical opponents of an active public sector,” says Frank, the quintessential Massachusetts liberal. “They dislike much of what they perceive that the government is doing, but they are even angrier at what it is refusing to do—adopt policies that will reverse the harm they have suffered from the economic shifts of the past decades.

“Reversing these voters’ anti-government sentiments is the challenge for liberals,” warns Frank. “It requires measures that will reduce inequality.” He says we do it without raising taxes on the middle class by reducing the military budget and ending criminal penalties for drug users. I know that both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton want to fight inequality, one more directly than the other, one perhaps more effectively than the other.

But if the Democrats lose the election in 2016, neither will get the chance and it will only get worse. And then we’ll all be left singing a very sad song indeed.