It took just about 20 minutes for Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman to deliver his State of the County message. And while there were lots of self-congratulations, his “accomplishments” a full year after taking office are thin and superficial – especially when compared to what should have been on this list.
Long Island ranks fourth among major American cities for exposure to the physical and economic risks of climate change, as reported in Newsday. But while the former County Executive Laura Curran brought Nassau into the state’s Climate Smart Communities program to make it eligible for projects to mitigate damage and make the county more resilient, what has Blakeman done?
The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s Climate Smart Communities Grant program just awarded $11.6 million to 25 municipalities, none in Nassau County. (Brookhaven got $910,000 for flood mitigation.)
What has Blakeman done to try to get some of that $4 billion in contracts to build five offshore wind-farms off Montauk Point and Long Beach?
There is still $385 million in federal American Rescue Plan pandemic relief aid available to the county. What has Blakeman done? At minimum, he should have actively engaged stakeholders and done what the Democrats have urged: form a public committee to guide the spending.
The only economic development initiative that seems to excite Blakeman is Las Vegas Sands’ proposal to turn the Nassau Coliseum site (remember when the Hub was envisioned to be a tech business hub and self-contained planned housing community?) into a casino and resort venue, so long as it is “world-class.” Never mind that the community is against it.
“To keep costs low, especially for seniors, vets, young people, my administration is focused on expanding the tax base, driving local economic activity and bringing the biggest, most prestigious business here,” Blakeman declared. “Nassau County is bigger than 10 states by population, GDP larger than 45 nations in the United Nations. My administration is committed to doing big things – attracting people to Nassau County is a priority.”
Well, that’s just wishful thinking unless there is housing, transportation, infrastructure to support it – a cohesive plan, of which transit-oriented housing development (a focus of the $10 million downtown Revitalization Initiative grant program) has been a key element going back to Tom Suozzi’s administration.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has put out just such a plan, requiring municipalities to increase housing stock by 3% over three years, and providing millions of dollars to pay for the planning and infrastructure to support it. At the same time, she has invested heavily in developing Long Island’s life sciences industry and clean, renewable energy (off-shore wind), already supported by billions of dollars in transit infrastructure (Long Island Railroad’s Third Rail and Grand Central Madison).
“I look forward to working with governor to create jobs, prosperity for our residents,” Blakeman acknowledged.
But he made clear his opposition to Hochul’s housing plan as destroying our “suburban way of life” because it would mean adding 38,000 units (100,000 new residents) over three years. And yet, Blakeman and the Republicans chide Democratic policies for people moving out of Long Island because of the high cost of living. So what’s your plan? What’s your alternative?
He also opposed the proposed increase in the MTA payroll tax from 34 cents to 50 cents per $100 of payroll. We love to boast how easy commute bolsters our suburban quality of life and our home values, but who does Blakeman believe should pay for it?
Blakeman campaigned on promising to lower property taxes (by over $128 million, the amount of budget surplus from Curran’s administration) and fixing (again) the “broken” assessment system (broken because the last reassessment tried to correct structural inequities that have existed since the assessment system was created).
Instead, hundreds of homeowners received erroneous tax bills; a church in New Hyde Park was charged nearly $1.2 million in taxes it did not owe, and Blakeman has frozen the assessment rolls again (after criticizing Curran for freezing rolls in the midst of unprecedented market volatility due to COVID).
Blakeman began his administration with ostrich-like denial of the coronavirus pandemic which has so far killed 9,000 Long Islanders, declaring, “Nassau is open for business.” It is the same with the opioid crisis.
Nassau County was able to recoup $78 million from the drug companies that instigated the opioid crisis. Blakeman said his administration is spending $15 million to combat opioid addiction through treatment, community organizations focused on education and treatment. “Working together we reduced overdoses by 30%, but that’s not enough.”
And he couldn’t resist an opportunity to nationalize the problem and dig at President Biden, “But 30% of fentanyl comes through the border. That must stop.” (The administration has interdicted a record 14,000 pounds of fentanyl at the border.)
But has anyone heard anything from the county executive speaking out or showing any kind of leadership about the fentanyl danger? Or even his health commissioner? He even rejected the Democrats’ proposal to require low-cost fentanyl detecting strips be included in every Narcan kit distributed by a county agency.
And if Blakeman were really interested in stemming addiction tragedies – and gave a whit about what residents want – he would not have been so cavalier in refusing to renew the lease for Five Towns Community Center.
“For months, the process of determining the future of the Five Towns Community Center has been marred by a lack of communication from the county executive’s office and this has caused many residents to feel like their voices are not being heard,” Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages (D–Lawrence) said.
And while the county executive’s bombastic rhetoric on issues of crime have indeed garnered attention, his administration has done little to enhance public safety – major crimes increased by over 34 percent yet Blakeman ignores Democrats’ proposal to enhance community policing by funding 110 more police officers, and he is advocating for more guns in public spaces, not fewer.
Blakeman did, however, laud the renewal of the contract with the police union, and gave a big shout out to Commissioner Patrick Ryder – huge backers of Republicans.
His administration has mainly consisted of holding concerts, parades, photo ops and handing out proclamations.
“All of this is indicative of an administration that lacks a coherent vision for the future and insulates itself from the public,” Democratic Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove) said in the Minority’s rebuttal to Blakeman’s address. “At a time when Nassau County has a projected surplus of $120 million and $385 million in American Rescue Plan federal funds at its disposal, the risk of missed opportunities is great. What is even more worrisome is that the county’s surplus is being misused to give jobs and money to political allies and promote partisan campaigns in violation of local, state and federal laws.”