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.

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.

Long Island Set to Offer Medical Marijuana at Two Dispensaries as New Law Goes Into Effect

The waiting room inside Columbia Care's Medical Marijuana dispensary in Riverhead. (Rashed Mian/Long Island Press)

Little by little, New York is finally joining 22 other states plus Washington, D.C., in offering medical marijuana to qualified patients at tightly regulated dispensaries that are slowly opening across the Empire State. All told, there will be 20 when the program is fully operational. Two facilities are set to open Friday on Long Island, one in Riverhead and the other at Lake Success.

Like Minnesota, New York’s stipulations are very restrictive, permitting the dispensaries to sell the drug only in oils and tinctures—not in smokable or edible form—compared to other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“Our goal is to ensure that New Yorkers have access to the treatment they need through a controlled, regulated process,” State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a press release when the law passed in 2014 as part of the Compassionate Care Act.

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Only patients with 10 medical conditions, such as HIV, AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and cancer, qualify for the medical marijuana certificates given by physicians registered with the New York State Department of Health. The doctors have to undergo a four-hour training course and pay a $249 fee. As of this week 409 patients have signed up in New York and 302 doctors have registered.

Despite the restrictions and the slow implementation of the program, state Assemb. Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan), who has been sponsoring medical marijuana legislation for almost two decades, remains optimistic.

“I would say the glass is three-quarters full, which is pretty good in life,” he said. “Ultimately the law, even as currently written, is going to provide important relief for thousands and thousands of seriously ill patients. I think it could work a whole lot better and serve a lot more patients in need if some of the restrictions the governor insisted on can be changed.”

In the current legislative session, the Assemblyman has introduced some amendments to address these concerns.

“We’re still going to be working to fill the glass,” he told the Press. “I’ve always believed that on this issue the general public is way ahead of a lot of elected officials.”

Advocates for the law hope the health commissioner will exercise his leeway to include at least five more qualifying serious medical conditions and allow doctors to more easily participate in the program. The dispensaries are also on a tight watch to prevent abuse. That intense scrutiny applies to the dispensaries’ suppliers too, noted Gottfried. These producers have to use their own trucks and drivers—not Federal Express, for example—and each truck has to be outfitted like an armored bank truck with its own safe to keep the product locked up. When one driver stops for coffee, another has to remain in the truck at all times.

“You would think they’re delivering plutonium,” observed Gottfried.

Gottfried disagrees with the health department’s insistence that the list of approved doctors be kept secret.

“I don’t think there is any legal justification for doing that,” he said. “The department ought to put it on its website.”

Although there’s no publicly available list of certified physicians, Columbia Care maintains its own list it can supply prospective patients. Potential patients, who are battling debilitating illnesses, are also struggling with the restrictions.

Before they can receive treatment, patients have to locate a physician who has been approved by the state to issue a prescription. In many cases, their primary care doctor may not even know who they can turn to.

“We’ve gotten literally dozens and dozens of calls from patients every day really frustrated and angry that they’re not able to enroll in the program because they can’t find a physician,” said Julie Netherland, a director at the Drug Policy Alliance, which runs the Compassionate Care coalition of patients and caregivers and was involved in lobbying for the bill.

“It is a fairly narrow and restrictive program,” she told the Press. “You can see that there are huge areas of the state that are not well served and Long Island is one of them. It’s a big area and only two are slated to open. The very people who qualify for the program are some of the sickest and most disabled folks in New York for whom travel can be really difficult and burdensome.”

She said it’s very hard to know how many patients would want to participate in the program, especially considering the limited number of qualifying conditions. One of the five dispensary companies licensed to supply the product in New York told Netherland that they estimated 400,000 to 500,000 patients but “I don’t know how accurate that is.”

Patients who qualify have to pay for it out of pocket because medical marijuana is not covered under any health insurance plans. The dispensaries have the option to price the product on a sliding scale in order to subsidize those patients who couldn’t otherwise afford the prescription. The drugs cost between $100-$300.

The drug is taken orally, for now. They expect to roll out vapor and pills in the near future.

“Somebody who wants to use marijuana for recreational purposes in New York does not need to go through this whole health department process to get access to it,” said Gottried. “You can go to almost any street corner. You don’t have to register your name and address with the state if you’re interested in smoking a joint.”

On Long Island, Bloomfield Industries Inc. is opening a dispensary at 2001 Marcus Ave., Suite NI, in Lake Success. Columbia Care runs the dispensary at 1333 East Main St. in Riverhead.

“We think this is a wonderful opportunity for patients and physicians to really examine and take advantage of a new form of health care,” Columbia Care CEO Nicholas Vita told the Press inside the facility Friday morning.

Vita said about 15 patients have scheduled appointments as of Thursday evening. Over next several weeks it will transition to regular business as opposed to strictly appointment based.

“The goal for us is to make sure no one ever comes and leaves empty handed,” Vita said. “If they want medicine, they should be able to get medicine, and that’s something we have the ability to do.”

The facility does not have any signs or markings outside indicating it’s a medical marijuana dispensary. Inside, it’s decorated with succulents and retro furniture.

Columbia Care has four facilities statewide, which is the max under the law. They’re in Riverhead, Manhattan, Plattsburgh and Rochester.

But New Yorkers won’t have the same options patients in other states have.

“There are lots of restrictions on the kinds of medical marijuana that are available in New York that don’t apply to other states,” said Netherland, noting that other states permit smokables, edibles, patches and lotions, as well as dozens of different strains. “That’s important because physicians and patients want the flexibility to be able to match a therapeutic strain to a particular set of symptoms. In New York there are only five strains or brands being allowed for each company. So if you go into a dispensary, you’re going to have a fairly limited selection.

“We all want to see a well-regulated system,” said Netherland. “The problem is that you have to balance that regulation with patient access.” She thinks the state has tipped the balance too far.

“My hope is that as the program rolls out,” Netherland said, “the state will realize that it doesn’t need all the restrictions that it’s put into place and will really change the program in a way that allows the patients to get the medicine they need more easily.”

—With Rashed Mian

Positive Signs Seen in Long Island and New York State Economy

Long-Island-Jobs
Long Island job fair.

With the unemployment rate on Long Island hitting its lowest level in eight years—4.1 percent in November—the labor market is tightening, which could translate to good paying jobs for highly skilled, better-educated workers although wage growth promises to be uneven, experts say.

In his January 2016 report, John Rizzo, Long Island Association’s chief economist, found that consumer confidence and spending have been up overall, compared to previous years, and now housing starts and new home sales on the Island are starting to show encouraging signs because inflation remains “well in check.”

He did express concern about global economic growth shrinking as oil prices continue to fall. How those factors, China’s recent turmoil in particular, will play out on LI remains to be seen, considering that international markets don’t have a major impact on the Island’s economy. As recent days on Wall Street have shown, investors have become quite skittish and that could take a toll in the months ahead.

Although the New York State Department of Labor’s Long Island Region won’t be releasing work force data for December 2015 until Jan. 26, it did report that the number of private sector jobs here increased by 21,600 or 1.9 percent, to 1,130,800. New York’s over-the-year private sector growth rate was 2.1 percent, while the nation’s was 2.2 percent.

Unfortunately, the Island’s private sector job count dipped by 2,200 workers between November and December (not seasonally adjusted), compared to an average gain of 5,200, the Labor Department reported, because “seasonal hiring remained weaker than normal for the retail industry, adding a record-low 1,000 employees when the industry typically hires 4,600 workers in December,” according to Shital Patel, labor market analyst for the Long Island Region at the state Department of Labor.

Part of the decline stemmed from the closure of A&P-owned stores on the Island, which declared bankruptcy in July. Patel also reported that restaurants “also shed a record 1,100 employees in December, compared to an average of 100.”

But workers were making gains in six of nine private industry sectors in December compared to a year ago, according to Patel’s analysis: education and health services added 12,500 more jobs; natural resources, mining and construction had 5,900; professional and business services had 4,700; leisure and hospitality added 1,200; other services added 700, and information showed 100 more.

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According to preliminary figures released by the state Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in New York remained unchanged at 4.8 percent in December, its lowest level since November 2007, and a few clicks below the national unemployment rate of 5.0 percent.

It was a good month for the state, the department found, because private sector job count rose by 13,200, or 0.2 percent, to 7,880,000, a record high.

“New York’s labor market continued on its upward trend in December 2015,” said Bohdan M. Wynnyk, deputy director of the Division of Research and Statistics at the state Labor Department. “Not only did New York State’s private sector job count reach a new record high, but our statewide unemployment rate remained below the nation’s rate in December 2015.”

Schneiderman and Singas Get Unusual Gifts for Their Reform Fight

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas wields a light saber to symbolize her promise to weed out corruption.

In a crowded union hall on a cold blustery night in Nassau County, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas were given the “Champions in Fighting Corruption Award” from the Long Island Progressive Coalition (LIPC).

They each received their own light saber suitable for “Star Wars.”

“I’ve gotten a lot of awards over the years but I never got one of these!” Schneiderman told the appreciative audience with a laugh as he waved his toy saber through the air and pledged to take it back with him to Albany. Singas didn’t say if she intended to use her saber in Mineola.

Schneiderman and Singas were honored for their work exposing unethical practices by Nassau County and New York State elected officials and furthering ethics reform in state and local government. In their remarks, they pledged to carry on the fight.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shows off a toy light saber.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shows off a toy light saber.
The occasion was a cocktail party to benefit LIPC, a grassroots community-based organization founded in 1979, which is affiliated with the Citizen Action of New York.

“During an era when residents have lost their confidence in public officials, we are grateful that we have allies both statewide and locally protecting taxpayers and putting the people first,” said  Lisa Tyson, LIPC’s executive director, at the Westbury headquarters of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, the largest grocery union in the state.

On hand was a who’s who of progressive activists, local labor leaders and Democratic politicians, including former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who earlier in the day formally announced that he’s among the dozen candidates considering running for the open Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), and current Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who so far is the only one running against Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford).

He’s Back! Tom Suozzi Explores Race to Replace Rep. Steve Israel

Former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi announced he's exploring a possible run for Congress (Photo credit: handout)

An already congested Congressional contest just got more crowded as former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi became the latest candidate to join the growing ranks of those interested in succeeding Rep. Steve Israel, who rocked the Long Island political world earlier this month when he declared that he will not run for reelection this November.

The 53-year-old Nassau Democrat, who served two terms as county executive after being Glen Cove mayor from 1994-2001, announced his intention to explore a run for New York’s 3rd Congressional District at a Tuesday morning event held at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. A CPA and lawyer at the law firm of Harris Beach, Suozzi formally filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to form a fundraising committee, an initial step in the process.

“Over the next month or two, I’m going to talk to people in the district, raise some money, really think it through with Helene and the kids and try to make the right decision,” Suozzi said.

Come September he’ll have two kids in college and a son still in high school, so currently weighing on his and his wife Helene’s minds is that the commute to Washington, D.C., is longer than the one to Albany, which he considered making in 2006 before he lost a Democratic gubernatorial primary to then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

In 2009 Suozzi lost his race for a third term as county executive to then-Republican Legis. Ed Mangano, who beat the incumbent by 386 votes. Four years later, Suozzi ended up much further behind County Executive Mangano in a rematch, losing by 59-to-41 percent of the vote.

“I know that people are sick of politicians and they’re sick of politics,” Suozzi tells the Press. “Going back into the arena is not an easy thing to do but I’m frustrated by what I see going on in politics these days and it’s got to be shaken up.”

He took issue with the current campaign rhetoric coming from both the right and the left in the national discourse.

“The Republicans are saying, ‘Let the marketplace take care of it. Let the rich continue to succeed and that will take care of everything,’ ” Suozzi complained. “And I don’t think it’s accurate what a lot of Democrats are saying, which is, ‘Let’s raise taxes on the rich.’ It’s not as simple as that….I want to work together with other people to actually solve real problems that face the people who live in the Third Congressional District.”

At this early stage Suozzi is arguably the front-runner from his side of the aisle since he’s the only Democratic elected official to win county-wide office twice. The district stretches from northern Queens to Suffolk’s Huntington Town but its largest bulk includes Nassau’s Gold Coast.

At this point, a dozen Democrats have expressed varying degrees of interest, and they’re all scheduled to meet Wednesday with Nassau Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs and other party leaders in Glen Cove. Among the contenders are Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Jon Kaiman, former North Hempstead Supervisor; Suffolk Legis. Steve Sterns (D-Dix Hills), who’s term-limited; North Hempstead Town board member Anna Kaplan; Brad Gerstman, a lobbyist; Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove); Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committee member, who co-runs a public relations firm; Suffolk Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Huntington); Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone; former Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper; Todd Richman, a Great Neck businessman and philanthropist; and Laurie Scheinman, a psychologist and philanthropist from Port Washington.

Rep. Steve Israel won't run again this fall because he wants to spend more time writing novels and eating in diners, or so he says.
Rep. Steve Israel won’t run again this fall because he wants to spend more time writing novels and eating in diners, or so he says.

Interest is also heating up on the Republican side. At this early stage the contenders are State Sen. Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), the former mayor of Mineola; Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga); Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station); and David Gurfein, a former Marine and currently president of a health & wellness business.

“Jack’s all in, no question about it,” says E. O’Brien Murray, a campaign strategist for State Sen. Jack Martins, in a phone interview with the Press. “He’s definitely running.”

Although Murray says he’s sure that Nassau Republicans will eventually come around to regard the former mayor of Mineola as their best candidate for the congressional seat, he was quick to criticize the former Nassau County Executive.

“This is the same Tom Suozzi who brought us corruption in his first term, created the energy tax in his second term, and raised taxes 20 percent,” says Martins’ Republican spokesman. “The voters threw him out once and overwhelmingly rejected him the second time when he tried to come back.”

Rep. Steve Israel, a former Huntington Town council member, was first elected to Congress in 2000 when the district included more of Suffolk than it does now after it was redrawn. For two terms Israel served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He resigned that post following the brutal drubbing of Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections, which included the defeat of Rep. Tim Bishop, who had represented the East End of Long Island in the 1st Congressional District but lost to then-State Sen. Lee Zeldin. Until Israel made his announcement two weeks ago, the race for Zeldin’s Congressional seat was the only one on Long Island drawing attention—and money—considering that Republicans hold a 30-seat majority in the House of Representatives and this district was considered a toss-up. Vying to run against Zeldin are Democrats Anna Throne-Holst, the former Southold Supervisor, and David Calone, the former Suffolk County planner and investor.

Now Long Island has two hot Congressional races with national implications in 2016 when the White House is also up for grabs.

Rumsey Punch: Facing His Opposition, Obama Delivers His Best–and Final–State of the Union Address

 

On Tuesday night, when the words rang out through the expectant House chamber, “Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States,” it was hard not to feel the rush of emotion about the historic significance. Here was the first African-American to be elected to the White House and he was about to give his last State of the Union address to the nation. No, he didn’t end racism in America during his tenure in office, as his more naïve supporters may have hoped in 2008. But he proved something to the world, no less: that we could rise above that prejudice in the name of progress.

As Obama made his way to the podium, he was trailed by the Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky’s reactionary Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, wearing an ugly green tie, and looking like a turtle out of his shell. McConnell’s stubborn vow in early January 2009 to not let the president-elect “succeed in anything” should follow him to his grave.

Obama was in a good mood, shaking hands, reaching out, touching supporters, kissing cheeks, and giving Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg a big hug—reminding us that if only we had more liberal jurists like her on the Court, we wouldn’t have Chief Justice Roberts poised to roll back the power of public unions—another item on the conservative billionaires’ agenda.

When the president said “there is red tape to be cut,” that was red meat to the Republican side of the aisle. Not what came next. “But after years of record corporate profits,” Obama continued, “working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.”

When he mentioned making Wall Street pay more instead of trimming food stamps to balance the budget, the reaction got partisan. “Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up,” Obama told the country. “Those decisions are made in boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.” Touche!

Then he doubled down on another issue that’s roiling the Republican electorate. “Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there!” he said, drawing laughter in the House chamber. “We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.”

As he tackled climate change, the lack of Republicans applauding was painfully obvious even while he tried to appeal to their enlightened self-interest. “But even if—even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record until 2015 turned out even hotter—why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?”

Emphatically Obama said that the United States was “the most powerful nation on Earth, period,” and the camera pointed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff seated in the front row. They resembled a gang of thugs or a grizzled old rugby team. Either way, you don’t want to mess with those guys. They didn’t break a smile.

Then Obama took on the issue driving the Republican presidential nominees: al Qaeda and ISIL (aka ISIS). Against the threat, he defended his use of American power, and called on Congress to approve the unauthorized war against ISIS. “Over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands,” he said.

He cited what happened in Vietnam and Iraq, and said, wisely, that we should learn from our mistakes. In fact, if President George W. Bush hadn’t let his quasi-Prime Minister Dick Cheney pull a bait and switch by leaving Afghanistan prematurely to take out Saddam Hussein, it’s doubtful that ISIS would have risen in the Mideast region that his administration destabilized. On Tuesday night, Obama didn’t say, “Told you so!,” although he could have, considering he voted against the Iraq invasion, unlike his 2008 Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Instead, Obama said that “masses of fighter on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages” are not a threat to our national existence. Apparently Obama’s observation lit up the right-wing twitter-sphere, drawing condemnation from the fear-mongering GOP candidates and their bellicose conservative pundits.

Obama turned up the heat when he subtly referred to Sen. Ted Cruz’s plan to carpet-bomb the ISIS state and somehow spare the innocent civilians they’re holding hostage. Because Cruz was on the campaign trail, the camera cut to Cruz’s rival who had actually showed up, Sen. Marco Rubio—a wise move on the Florida Senator’s part since his record of absenteeism has become an issue used against him—but Rubio looked like an impatient high school kid waiting for class to end so he could dash off to recess.

With tight-lipped Vice President Joe Biden seated behind him on one side and smirking House Speaker Paul Ryan on the other, Obama was clearly enjoying himself. In a nice moment, full of portent given the tragic death of Biden’s son Beau, the president made Biden his cancer czar. Biden beamed with gratitude.

Then Obama took on the divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump, without mentioning him by name. He started by pointing out that right at the same spot where he was giving his State of the Union address, the Pope had delivered a speech extolling the virtues of tolerance over the tyranny of hate. Obama expanded on that theme.

“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer,” the president said. “It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.” He reminded the country that “We the People” are the first three words of our Constitution, and that means everybody.

From there his speech took a poignant, lofty turn as he called upon the better angels of our nature to fix our politics, to free us from the rancor that has trapped too many people, and how wrong it is to assert that our political opponents are unpatriotic just because they take a different point of view. He regretted that he didn’t have the eloquence of Lincoln or Roosevelt to bridge the gap, and that the country is more divided now than when he tried to sow the seeds of hope and change.

He urged politicians to tune out the noise of their base and listen to the voice of the people. He reminded them of their duties as citizens to defend the weak. Then, rising to the occasion, he wanted to end on an optimistic note. He pointed out the global appeal of America’s brand of diversity, and how that mix of religions and races has made us strong. And if we embrace those values, our best days will still lie ahead, he insisted.

It may have been his best State of the Union speech, reminding us what he’s accomplished despite hostile opposition that bordered on racism. It got us feeling nostalgic, remembering how he’d stood tall in 2009 when the economy was sliding into the abyss of the Great Recession and Congressional Republicans had gone AWOL. With only Democrats on Capitol Hill lined up behind him, Obama used his presidential power to pass the stimulus package and get the country on the right track back. No, it didn’t go nearly far enough but it was better than doing nothing. For their efforts, many of those Democrats were defeated at the polls as the Tea Party surged two years later.

But look at the country now. Even a conservative columnist like David Brooks has had to admit this: “…America is in better economic shape than any other major nation on Earth. Crime is down. Abortion rates are down. Fourteen million new jobs have been created in five years.”

Let’s not forget that millions of Americans also have health insurance for the first time and marriage equality is the law of the land. That’s truly a tribute to Obama’s leadership.

But there’s a limit to Obama’s lofty oratorical skills. Words alone won’t redress the oligarchs’ concentration of wealth. So it was interesting to see Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), whose campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is predicated on doing something about it, come on camera, however briefly, during the night’s proceedings. He looked like an eccentric Ivy League professor, especially when he pulled a notepad out of his inside jacket pocket. Currently, the Vermonter is leading Hillary Clinton in Iowa’s upcoming caucus and the New Hampshire primary. If those results hold, it could be a very close race between them to succeed Obama and build upon his legacy.

For the Republican rebuttal, the Grand Old Party turned to its third woman in four years, giving the spotlight to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants with a compelling personal narrative that led her to the governor’s mansion in Columbia. As she spoke, it was hard to ignore her blinding white teeth, a shining dental achievement in themselves. But the words she uttered were quite unusual for someone in her role. Of course, she obliged her party by blaming Obama for not accomplishing anything but falling short on the economy, tax reform, urban unrest and the national debt.

But then Haley told her party’s supporters, “We need to be honest with each other and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around. We as Republicans need to own that truth.”

She didn’t stop there, she went significantly further. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices,” the governor said. “We must resist that temptation.” Then Haley issued a clarion call to tone down the extremist rhetoric.

Movingly, the governor recounted the mass shooting last June at the Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, sparked by an angry white man—Haley actually called him “a domestic terrorist”—who had turned his gun on a Bible study meeting and killed nine black parishioners, according to authorities. Gov. Haley praised how her state responded to this hate crime: “We didn’t have violence, we had vigils. We didn’t have riots, we had hugs.”

Just as important she authorized that South Carolina remove “a symbol that was being used to divide us.” And so the Confederate flag no longer waves over the capitol, something that some of us with long memories of the civil rights struggle in the South thought we’d never see. Definitely a positive sign.

So, as pundits parsed the State of the Union speech and the rebuttal, some themes have emerged that will play out the rest of this important, bitterly contentious campaign season: Will 2016 be a year for our best hopes or our worst fears? How the voters answer will determine the future of our country for a long time to come. Let’s hope they heed the president’s call to do their civic duty.

Rep. Steve Israel Won’t Run for Re-election, Setting Off Race to Replace Him

Steve Israel was first elected to Congress in 2000. (Photo credit: Long Island Press)

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) announced Tuesday that he won’t seek re-election in November, citing a desire to frequent some of his favorite New York diners and dedicate more time to writing his second novel.

Now the scramble is on to fill his seat. Israel says he hopes it will remain in Democratic hands.

“Nearly 16 years ago, I was honored to take the oath of office and stand on the House floor for the first time,” Israel said in a statement. “Now, I’ve decided to leave the House in 2017. I hope to continue to be involved in public service, but it is time for me to pursue new passions and develop new interests, mainly spend more time writing my second novel.”

Israel was first elected to Congress in 2000 when he won the race for what is now the 3rd Congressional District, which includes much of Nassau’s Gold Coast and parts of western Suffolk County, after his predecessor, Republican Rick Lazio, vacated his seat to make an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate.

“I want to be a team player and ensure that my district, which is the only competitive district in the House Democratic Leadership, remains in the hands of Democrats when I leave,” he said.

Israel expressed confidence that November’s presidential election will inspire Democrats, who historically don’t vote in off-year elections, to flood the polls.

“It has been an incredible and humbling opportunity to serve my community,” Israel said. “Simply put, it’s time to pass on the torch.”

Israel’s first book, The Global War on Morris, was published in December 2014. His next book, Big Guns, is reportedly a satire on the gun lobby.

The 57-year-old veteran lawmaker grew up in Levittown. He later served on the Huntington town council before running for Congress.

Israel’s announcement comes nearly two years to the day that fellow Democrat, former U.S. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, announced her retirement plans after serving 17 years in Congress.

Democrats managed to hold on to McCarthy’s seat when Kathleen Rice, the former Nassau District Attorney, won a close race for the 4th Congressional seat. On the East End, long-time Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop lost the 1st Congressional District in 2014 to then-New York State Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

Until Israel made his announcement this week, the battle over Zeldin’s seat was drawing national attention from both parties. At the moment, former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and former Suffolk Planning Commission chairman and venture capitalist David Calone are vying to be the Democratic nominee.

The only other Congressional seat fully on Long Island has long been held by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who represents the South Shore of Nassau and Suffolk counties. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) represents a sliver of western Nassau. Both lawmakers routinely fend off challengers by large percentages at the polls.

As for replacing Israel, no candidate has formally declared, although that announcement could come very soon. So far, Democratic names bandied about include former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi; Suffolk Legis. Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills), who’s being term-limited out of the legislature; Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove); and North Hempstead Councilwoman Anna Kaplan. The most prominent Republican to step forward so far is state Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury), the former Mineola mayor who’s said he’s “strongly considering running.” Other potential Republican candidates include Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), Assemb. Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington) and Suffolk Leg. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

This list of wannabees could grow or shrink significantly in the days ahead once the dust settles.

Israel rose to prominence within Democratic House leadership and served as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for two terms. But he chose not to seek another term as chairman following a brutal showing by Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections. At the time, Israel said he had made his decision that spring, adding that the nationwide bludgeoning had no bearing on his decision. He currently serves as chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

Early in 2015, U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) took over as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee after Israel stepped down.

“Steve Israel is a great colleague, strategist, mentor and friend, and he will be greatly missed after he leaves Congress,” said Luján in a statement. “Steve will continue to be an active force this year, a leader of House Democrats, and a champion of the issues that matter to hardworking families on Long Island and across the county. I wish him great luck in the next phase of his career.”

As for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, Israel won it handily despite Republicans’ nationwide gains: he had 58.2 percent of the vote in 2012 and 54.8 percent in 2014. According to the DCCC, the currently configured district would have been won by both Sen. John Kerry and Vice President Al Gore, and the Democrats hold an 8.2 point advantage in party registration over the Republicans: 38.3 percent to 30.1 percent.

“I am fully confident that Democrats will continue to hold this reliably Democratic district, particularly in a Presidential year,” added Luján.

Democrats need to win back 30 seats on Election Day to regain the majority in the House of Representatives. Currently holding 188 seats, it’s the fewest the Democrats have had since 1947, according to Congressional Quarterly.

—with Rashed Mian

War Hawk GOP Candidates Whip Up Fear To A Fevered Pitch In Latest Debate

 

 

If you took a shot every time the word “war” came up in Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, you would have been dead drunk within the first half hour and would have been too far gone to catch one of the best moments on the Las Vegas stage, when U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called out New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for shutting down the George Washington Bridge to keep people—probably Democrats or Muslims or both—out of The Garden State.
Of course, being well fortified with a stiff drink was probably a good antidote for all the fear-mongering running rampant like a virus at The Venetian casino hotel. This crowd wants blood, as long as it’s spilled by “jihadi terrorists in the ISIS caliphate.” Red was the color of the evening—a red dress for former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and red ties for the guys—except that Gov. John Kasich and Dr. Ben Carson obviously didn’t get the memo and wore blue ones instead. Those wimps. When everybody started to get rowdy and speak out of turn, CNN host Wolf Blitzer had his hands full, but he kept them in line. Certainly he did a better job than those losers at Fox Business Network.

To keep us guessing there were some flubs and falsehoods. Christie said he would meet the king of Jordan, but the king he named is dead. More tellingly, Christie summoned up how he foiled a Fort Dix plot but didn’t admit how it was manufactured by the FBI.

Ex-Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush seemed to be going for the nerdy look with his glasses on. His demeanor reminded me of a decent kid who would have been the perfect gentleman as a teenager if he had showed up at your door to take your daughter to the senior prom. To see him as the ruler of the Free World is a stretch, but then who would have thought his brother would ever be elected—certainly not the Bush family!

I give him credit for telling the truth—or at least trying—by calling Donald Trump “The Chaos Candidate” and telling him to his face that “you’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency.” He also pointed out how damaging Trump’s hateful anti-immigrant utterances have been to the country and its image in the world. Too bad he resorted to typical Bush speak when it came time to make his closing argument. He should take a lesson from the candidate leading him in the polls, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Cruz took an adroitly worded, long-winded detour to avoid answering CNN’s Dana Bash about why he would disparage Trump in private conversations to his supporters but swear his admiration to him in public. Did he or did he not think that Trump didn’t have the judgment to be president? Yes, and no. And he sounded believable.

Trump took it in stride—even patting the former Princeton debater on the back—after he himself had been quoted calling Cruz “a maniac” last weekend. “He’s just fine—don’t worry about it!” Trump said of his rival. I guess the bromance was back—at least until the Iowa caucus results come in Feb. 1.

When Cruz said he’d build a huge border wall and, “I’ll get Donald Trump to pay for it,” Trump replied, “I’ll do it!” See, beneath that weird hair lurks the brain of a builder.

But Cruz’s pandering went too far—even for this crew. When Cruz was pressed to explain whether his call to “carpet-bomb ISIS into oblivion” meant he’d pulverize Raqqa, their stronghold, even if it meant blowing up hundreds of thousands of presumably innocent civilians, he dodged that bullet. Instead, he pointed out, “The object isn’t a city… We will utterly destroy them by targeting the bad guys.” And he spelled out his brilliant military strategy further: “We will stop the terrorist attacks before they occur because we will not be prisoners to political correctness.”

You could hear a big sigh of relief coming all the way from the Pentagon. But really, how anybody could support this snake oil salesman is beyond me. He’ll always be the right-wing radical who tried to filibuster against Obamacare so he could read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham on the Senate floor.

Donald “Something Terrific” Trump didn’t steal the show. But he was worth watching—as long as you could forget what some of his followers are reportedly shouting at hecklers (Hint: It recalls Nazi rallies). He did let the others get under his skin, turning red in the face once or twice, especially after putting up with criticism from Jeb!

Trump said that Bush “has failed in this campaign. It’s been a total disaster.” To seal the deal, the billionaire developer reminded him where they both stood in the polls: “I’m at 42 and you’re at 3.” Ouch!

After a heated exchange between U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Cruz over the finer points of Senate amendments—especially whether they’d undermine our First Amendment rights—Bush and Paul seemed like the sane guys in the room. At least for a few moments. I liked that Paul stood up for the Constitution, especially when it comes to the Internet, but when the Kentucky libertarian said our greatest threat is the federal debt, he sounded like a fool.

Carson didn’t have a clue about the nuclear triad, which is key to our defense. I can’t look at Fiorina without thinking of the 30,000 people she laid off while she walked away from her CEO job with a golden parachute worth millions of dollars. I went to college in Ohio, but I wouldn’t want Kasich running our country. He acts like a buffoon. He should be selling used cars in Dayton.

Trump is good for the ratings, but would he even be here in the public eye without his dad’s inheritance and his legion of lenders who couldn’t afford to let him fail? He is indeed the most dangerous man in America without a gun. According to surveys, he leads among white men that never went to college.

But Trump didn’t have the monopoly on simple truisms. Or lies. No, President George W. Bush did not deport 10 million people. Iran has not declared war on us. Yes, Russia has had a naval base in Syria since 1971. Tech companies in Silicon Valley have indeed been asked and refused to let law enforcement get access to encrypted data, despite what Fiorina insisted.

Sure, we live in a dangerous world—there are crazy people in it. But what would this crop of Republican Party candidates have to talk about if they couldn’t distract us with all their inflammatory rhetoric?

How convenient that somebody apparently triggered a shutdown of the Los Angeles school system earlier that day when it fortunately turned out to be a hoax. Did the GOP candidates mention the Paris climate talks—so far the best and only chance humanity has to stop global warming? Or the cancerous concentration of wealth? No, but at least Trump pointed out our crumbling infrastructure needs billions of dollars in investments, and we don’t need another ground war in the Middle East. There’s that word again.

After Christie said he’d shoot down a Russian plane if it ventured into a “no-fly” zone above Syria, even if it risked World War III, that triggered Paul’s best quip.

“When we think about the judgment of someone who might want World War III,” he said, looking at Christie at the next podium, “we might think about someone who might shut down a bridge.”

These candidates are building a bridge to nowhere.