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Tue, 24 May 2011

Gloves thrown down in Legislature meeting

Gloves thrown down in Legislature meeting
May 24, 2011 9:42 PM By DAN JANISON dan.janison@newsday.com


From its opening minute, Tuesday's meeting of the Nassau Legislature brought to mind the ancient one-liner about going to a heavyweight fight and seeing a hockey game break out.
This time, fans ready for a hockey event found themselves watching a marathon political brawl.
By midmorning, most seats at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building were filled with trade-union members and New York Islanders fans coming fresh from a rally to boost a bond referendum aimed at rebuilding the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
That made sense; the issue topped the agenda. But instead of starting with discussion on the proposed August referendum, presiding officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) switched the order.
He had the house lead off with item No. 9, involving the GOP's controversial bid to have its legislative district map adopted for November's election.
"Shame on you! Shame!" shouted Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury). Gavel in hand, Schmitt pushed the revised agenda forward. Democratic legislators resistant to the redrawing plan protested. They tried hard to grill Joseph Nocella, counsel to County Executive Edward Mangano, about exactly how the map plan came to be drawn behind closed doors before its appearance last month.
Several times over the next few hours, you could picture the legislative version of pads, gloves, sticks, face masks and shirts flying off the players and littering the ice as partisans duked it out in Mineola. To dispute Nocella's Schmitt-friendly testimony, Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) pounded home the point that census deviations -- the basis of arguing for immediate redrawing -- were no different from the last redistricting 10 years ago, which took effect in 2003, not 2001. Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick) alleged Republican improprieties in software and consulting procurements related to redistricting. Schmitt would parry shots aimed at Nocella, sitting in for County Attorney John Ciampoli, who's hospitalized.
As the meeting wore on, the most vocal onlookers seemed to have become opponents of the Schmitt plan, heckling and cheering, as the Hub audience waited its turn. Witnesses who took to the microphone criticized the redrawing process. Lisa Tyson of Bellmore, director of Long Island Progressive Coalition, said: "This is a power play, period."
They faced off over the arena by midafternoon. County Executive Edward Mangano, a former legislator, on hand to give his slide-show pitch for the bond proposal, was welcomed by Schmitt. "I don't know if you really want to be here," quipped Schmitt. "Well," Mangano bantered, "I was listening a little bit -- and I can't say it's great to be back."
Most still in the audience now seemed to be rooting for the home majority, citing jobs. After Wayne Wink (D-Roslyn) and others suggested it might be better to hold the vote in November, Paul Leo, representing the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, said, "Each day that we stall this process is another member that is losing their health care, or their house is going into foreclosure, or they're not able to make payments on their vehicles." Delay, he said, would be an injustice.
The sales pitch of the deal's proponents was clear enough: A development project that purportedly pays for itself, a magnet for exciting events. Complete with team jerseys and rallies, it sounds in broad ways like the New York Jets' push for the West Side Stadium more than seven years ago.
That one didn't happen, of course. For this one, the drive has just begun, with vetting in various arenas still to come.


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