Thu, 08 Sep 2005

$22M stalemate in Nassau - Newsday

$22M stalemate in Nassau

Lawmakers battle over plan for funds slated to help needy, further delays could cause them to lose it all

September 8, 2005

Political infighting at the Nassau Legislature yesterday held up approval of $22 million intended to help the needy, raising the specter that the federal funds may be lost if a consensus is not reached soon.
During committee sessions and a meeting of the legislature last night, lawmakers could not agree on a spending plan for the Community Development Block Grant funding and put off a decision until Sept. 19.
The stalemate came after a day filled with threats of civil unrest and lawsuits, references to slavery and apartheid, and pitted two black legislators against the one black member of the Hempstead Town board, all Democrats.
Legislators Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) and Roger Corbin (D-Westbury) began by urging their colleagues at the minority affairs committee to vote against the plan to spend $18 million in block grant funds, and $4 million in other federal funds. County officials agree the $22 million is available from HUD.
The two lawmakers argued that the Republican-controlled Town of Hempstead, which is due to receive $5.4 million, had not produced a comprehensive redevelopment plan for Nassau Road in Roosevelt, or properly addressed concerns of other minority communities.
Their arguments had persuaded majority Democrats on the committee in July to table the application for the funds. Nassau had applied for the money last month, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rejected the application Aug. 18 because the legislature had not authorized the spending plan, and gave the county 45 days to remedy the problem.
Yesterday, Corbin likened the treatment minorities receive in Hempstead to slavery, the disaster in New Orleans, and apartheid in South Africa.
But Hempstead Town’s special counsel, Harrison Edwards, said that if the county does not approve the plan, it will be violating its contracts with the 31 governments and agencies scheduled to receive a share of the money.
The rhetoric escalated when Dorothy Goosby, Hempstead’s only black board member, who represents Roose- velt, appeared at a news conference called by Corbin and Abrahams outside the county executive building in Mineola. Goosby complained the legislators had not talked to her or appeared at any public hearings for developing the plan. "We have a comprehensive plan," she said.
At the news conference, Corbin and Abrahams introduced lawyer David Bythewood and said the administration of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi had agreed to hire him to conduct a study to determine whether Hempstead has been spending its federal money properly.
Afterward, minority leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said his delegation will not vote for the HUD application as long as any lawyer hired by the administration is reviewing Hempstead’s spending. "That is not the role of the administration. That is the role of HUD," Schmitt said. He also noted the administration had not issued a request for proposals to hire Bythewood as required by county rules.
But Suozzi’s counsel, William Cunningham, said such a formal process is not needed. He said there are three lawyers in the mix and that "We have not retained anyone" at this point. "I’m telling you no one has been hired. We have agreed that we will hire," he said.

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