By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/WFAN.com
NEW YORK (WFAN) — In less than a week the Nassau County arena referendum will be decided and how it will turn out is still anyone’s guess. This is not the best of news for Islanders fans.
Rather than spending the next 1,500-plus words explaining both sides of the referendum debate I would instead like to fire off a missive to those who may think their voice doesn’t matter or as of this moment don’t care enough to make themselves heard.
At this point, six days to go before next Monday’s vote, I think it’s safe to say people ready to vote know where they stand and odds are their minds will not be changed. It’s the people that have yet to really express themselves that can make sure the Islanders are playing in Nassau County for at least the next 34 years.
I’m talking to you, 18- to 30-year-olds. I have read all over that you keep leaving Nassau County because of the lack of opportunity. Many of you are disgruntled and have been brainwashed into believing you can’t take control of your lives. I’m not saying a “yes” vote will make you financially solvent for life or help you get a house in the Hamptons, but a vote in the affirmative certainly won’t do anything to hasten your departure or keep you from at least considering a spot near Dune Road.
On the other hand, just bowing down to the status quo certainly will.
If the Islanders do not get this arena a crime will have been committed. And the guilty parties will be the very people who could have easily made this upcoming vote be more like Secretariat down the stretch at Belmont rather than a photo finish that will reveal someone winning, in all likelihood, by a nose.
I don’t know how much stock to put into this past weekend’s Newsday poll that showed that slightly better than half the people asked the question about the arena were against the idea and 12 percent were still undecided. I’m not up in arms over this poll because only 600 some-odd registered voters were questioned and the majority of them were over the age of 50. This demographic is by and large not the group of people that goes to the Coliseum for hockey or concerts. These are the people who are thinking mainly with their wallets, when in actuality their financial nest egg wouldn’t even be impacted by a new arena.
Many of these people own stock in the NIMBY movement. Many think the notion of a reported $16 tax increase is actually reason enough to let the Islanders leave, that this is about principles in a tax-obliterated municipality. Never mind those independent reports suggesting Nassau will lose $243 million in economic activity per year and more than 2,660 jobs. None of that really matters, right?
Still others are buying into political rhetoric, hating what the other side is saying simply because they’ve either been told to hate or because they are still annoyed that their elected representatives didn’t come up with the idea in the first place. There’s another group out there that doesn’t believe economic projections that show the arena costing a maximum of $13.80 a year per household, even though the arena revenue estimates are 30 percent less than a study commissioned for the Lighthouse Project.
Lastly, some of these people still think financial welfare should not be given to a multimillionaire professional sports franchise owner, one they seem to always conveniently forget already tried to privately finance a project nearly 10 times the cost of the current one on the table only to be told “no,” and who will be paying for the proposed arena through revenue sharing if all goes according to plan.
These people are not going to budge. It’s mind-boggling, but I know it and you know it. But what’s even more odd is nearly two-thirds of the people polled by Newsday think the Islanders are worth saving. It’s just that many of them don’t want to stick their necks out to actually offer a lifeline, mainly because of the reasons I stated in the paragraphs above.
Let’s understand this. The franchise is worth keeping, the vast majority seems to think, but a good number of people are too afraid to back up their words with action? I got news for everyone. This is how a society stays in neutral. And the bigger problem is this vehicle is between gears on an upward slope. If you vote “no” or stay home saying you like the Islanders and all that an arena could offer but don’t want to be bothered that vehicle will almost certainly begin to roll backwards, taking the rest of the county with it.
You may not notice right away the damage the ensuing crash will cause, but rest assured it will be permanent.
The Islanders are going to attempt to dazzle the masses this week with a pro-arena media blitz. They will hold a rally at the Coliseum at the end of the week. They will trot out every legend that’s ever pulled on the crested sweater. They will scream at you repeatedly how a “yes” vote will more than save the Islanders; it will also prevent Nassau County from slipping further into the dark ages — and they would be right.
But while I applaud them for this I think it’s coming a day late and a dollar short. Not too late to secure a victory, mind you, but too late to make this the landslide victory many think it should be.
All that said, I do agree a win is a win is a win. The battle with the Nassau Interim Finance Authority for final approval will be a knock-down, drag-out affair regardless if the referendum passes with 51 percent or 90 percent, mostly because no matter what anyone says or does these things are always decided by politics. But the idea of the people being overwhelmingly in support of an idea in theory should be enough of an impetus for any ruling body to throw up their hands and say we’re pulling a France here and surrendering.
But that is not going to happen.
So now this whole thing is simply a case of survive and advance. It’s the NCAA tournament. There will be no style points awarded for margin of victory and no individual award given to most valuable PR guy.
Regardless of the job you think President Barack Obama is doing, he won back in 2008 because young people in record numbers wanted the idea of change. The situation in Nassau County is the same type of deal, albeit on a much smaller scale, obviously. The caveat here is this new arena, unlike running a government, does not have a billion moving parts. When it’s decided it’s decided. If it’s built the county will move forward, jobs — regardless if they are short term or long term — will be created and a guaranteed revenue stream of $14 million-plus per year will roll in regardless of how much money the Islanders make.
The other side simply has no counter to this. Those people have proposed nothing to fix the situation. By all accounts they appear ready to just let the county’s hub turn into a sand and crumbled asphalt eyesore, an even more gaudy one than it is now.
If the arena is not built, the county will almost certainly continue to move backward. Do you honestly think the hub will become this booming money maker inside of the next decade, what with all you know about how things work in Nassau? I’d bet you any amount of money if the Islanders left and the arena was eventually closed down, which would probably be the case because whatever revenue it was generating would dry up instantly, the county would turn right around and tax you, the resident, to make up the difference for that $243 million per year in economic activity now gone. And trust me, it will be more than $16 a year.
So to all the young people out there who have a general apathy towards politics and decision making, you really need to have the light bulb go on here. You need to vote “yes.” It’s that simple. You need to tell all of your friends to come out and support this plan. You need to tell them, regardless if they like the Islanders or not, to trust you. It’s sometimes difficult for young people to have conversations of substance, but now is the time to try.
You need to convince your friends to take control of a small part of their future. Nassau County’s younger generations need to spit in the face of this “no” culture and think about all the positives associated with saying “yes.”
This is about a lot more than saving a hockey franchise. It’s about making progress. It’s about no longer spinning your wheels in the mud of county government.
You don’t have — nor should you have — the luxury right now of being close to retirement age and thinking you are going to take every last dollar you have saved to the grave. You can do something that’s in short supply: you can, in your own little way, begin to make the next generation feel secure, feel as if it eventually won’t pass that point of no return.
You can begin to help what has become No-ssau County turn back into Nassau County again.
(The opinion here is that of the writer. It does not speak for WFAN.com or CBSNewYork.com as a whole)
Please read more columns by Jeff Capellini
Both sides have presented their cases in this arena debate. Where do you stand? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.