It was the best of days; it was the worst of days. Ok, it was just the worst of days had you been a NY Islanders fan the last 15 years. From ownership woes, to a General Manager who traded all the youth and talent away like a deranged gambler, to a venue that was built in the early 1970s that is rundown even more than the constitutions of the many fans who look for hope still from around a corner.
When Charles Wang came along to buy the Islanders, he knew what was on his hands was a mess. Of course, years later, as the Islanders still leak millions; he cites that he regrets the purchase. Yet, from that regret is a sweeping land deal that that has been struck with Nassau County that would have the Islanders dilapidated venue refurbished as part of a smart growth cluster that is branded The Lighthouse Project.
This project has taken years to get going, including several years within Nassau County to kickoff. But, the cacophony did not get shrill until it launched from the Democrat hands of the County into the hands of the Republicans of the Town of Hempstead. There began a series of events that has had many an Islanders fan on a rollercoaster, all-waiting for the wild ride to end.
While Nassau County had overturned Republican rule several years back thanks to a mess of debt that still has the County in trouble, the Town of Hempstead lies as one of the few untouched strongholds to which has not tumbled. The Town of Hempstead controls the zoning permits, and despite the Nassau County democratic push by Tom Suozzi, the Nassau County Executive, who has had this Hub smart growth dream for years, the ToH stands unwilling to roll over. It is by this very stance that caused the Lighthouse Project itself to react back early this year in a public capacity of ire.
This ire and subsequent public vent, riling fans, caused the Town of Hempstead to adopt a defensive posture ever since. Why wouldn't the ToH work with us to smooth out the process, came from the Lighthouse. The ToH adopted an aloof and patronizing tone, looking to stay out of the mix until it was their time to review it. Even more interesting, per a source within the ToH, many thought it wasn't going to happen, thinking the Wang project a giant lark, failing to foresee the need for a new venue on LI, despite many young Republicans on LI also clamoring for it.
Meanwhile, the County chimed in to press the matter, digging the project, the venue and fans now deep in a politicized issue between two forces that had been tangling on the vision of Long Island for years. The result to this battle has been the lack thereof.
When battle erupted, the Lighthouse Project and NY Islanders owner looked to the fans to rescue them. Public outcry had an entrenched interest, where fans could be a difference maker to what was mostly an unmovable force meeting an unstoppable object. Over the summer, thanks to fan support and the plying in to the issue by Governor Patterson and Senator Chuck Schumer, the ToH blinked, all vying for a position to be seen by cameras at public stops. By some sources, the ToH had not taken the project as a serious supported project until they got droves of complaints, email and calls by fans outraged at every bizarre move the ToH made.
In early summer, pushed by Tom Suozzi, the two sides met and shook hands. It abated a fan base blowback with hope. However, as deadlines came, the Lighthouse project and Charles Wang got antsy and spoke out again. The rhetoric began anew, and two sides wrestled within the media and blogosphere with many carrying water to either side, as a team fan base twisted in the wind. Was the shaking of hands merely a device by the Town of Hempstead's Kate Murray to stop NY Islander fans to coming to her re-election campaign kick-off rally?
Both the democratic Governor of New York and Senator both spoke on the project's behalf later this past summer. Once those cameras were on, the ToH showed up, shuffling themselves to be visible in the photo op with Gov Patterson. It was then that the Lighthouse perceived it was their advantage.
The big hearing where the ToH town board was officially hear all was scheduled in August. There was a big show of solidarity by the NY Islanders, their owner Charles Wang, and Nassau Exec. Tom Suozzi as they all walked from Nassau Coliseum to the hearing on Hofstra University’s campus. This hearing was finally the Town of Hempstead's Town Board voice. They were those who would ultimately vote on it. It was a wakeup call to the Lighthouse and the fans to who really controlled the situation as they beat drums of traffic and water issues.
Sadly, the Lighthouse was warned that this was coming. In a meeting between Lighthouse principals and the ToH, the ToH asked for the size and scale of the project to be reduced. Both Wang and his Lighthouse lead Mike Picker told them a resounding no. The ToH equates the Lighthouse Project to being a small city. The town board has asked for a "comfort level" in reduction so that they won't get blowback from their constituents, per sources.
Meanwhile, the Lighthouse Project contends in the months of silence by Kate Murray and the town board, they could have worked it out then, avoiding this standoff. The contention is solid, but so has Kate Murray's hands off approach that was foreshadowed years ago when Charles Wang first tried to approach them to avoid politicizing the process. Kate Murray, even then, backed away citing that she could not assure anything since she would preside over that process.
However, one wonders if she used those words to maximum effect so that she also sabotaged the process to take long enough to reach an election that assured her continued dominance over the ToH, as well as a fight to take back Nassau County's Legislature. Per Republican and Democratic sources, this past election was pivotal for the ToH since electoral maps would be redrawn.
Charles Wang had set a self-imposed deadline of what he called "certainty" on October 3rd. That coincided with a season opener that once again propped out Tom Suozzi to drop the puck at a game where fans made signs that were geared to provide a wonderful photo op of protest by fans to build the project.
That date came and went. No certainty exists. The elections came and went, Kate Murray and the ToH's rule assured. Tom Suozzi between a rock and hard place, trying to lay down groundwork for his political recovery in a recount that many insiders feel will fall to the Republican challenger, Ed Mangano.
The political texture of the standoff between both sides is self-imposed, as both wait to see how the recount pans out. NY Islanders fans forced to swallow a spring and summer of hard lines, now within a blanket of media silence by the Lighthouse Project as meetings occur post-hearing, between them and the ToH to find what must be adjusted on the size and scope of the project that would allow the split town board to vote their way.
Meanwhile, Queens and Brooklyn are touted places by those who carry the water for leverage for the Lighthouse. ToH proponents seem to be leaking that other developers might be interested in developing that land. This was leaked months ago, but Newsday, Long Island's local paper, just finally ran a piece on it. What is missing from their piece and from most bloggers is that some of those developers might be going behind the back of Charles Wang to his own partner, Scott Rechler. A failsafe?
Meanwhile, as Newsday touts the Nasau Coliseum venue on their newspaper cover just last Monday, not one of those developers ever mentions the venue at all. Whatever other land deal that takes place will not address Long Island's need for a sports complex, convention center or music venue. So, it solves nothing, and the article, by an investigative reporter no less, basically says nothing that hasn't come floating out about since September.
Whatever the case, there is not much failsafe for hockey fans on Long Island. A fan base that has been used and abused over money, party politics, and as a crowbar to un-wedge what has been stuck on Long Island for decades...
Politicians’ head up their own asses.
As Tom Suozzi, Democrat, falls from grace, one wonders if we will hear the final words:
It’s a far, far better thing I do than I have
ever done. It’s a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
All NY Islanders fans know of for the last 15 years is the type of pain, frustration and angst that teams like that Hartford Whalers and the Quebec Nordiques. Except for one glaring caveat that the NHL will not be able to sweep under a rug...The Islanders are not only a cup winning team, but a huge dynasty in the 1980s. Not to mention, the Long Island fanbase is very strong. Per the NY Islanders, last year they were the 5th most visited US NHL website at one point.
Moving is not an option. Yet, currently, the NY Islanders and their fans sit in the middle of a hodge podge wondering if and when a guillotine blade is to drop.
BD Gallof has written extensively on the Lighthouse Project and the Town of Hempstead, besides the NY Islanders. His work can be found here.