Coliseum comes down to partisan politics

When Democratic ex-County Executive Thomas Suozzi pushed for an ambitious "Nassau Hub" development -- including a new Coliseum -- between 2005 and 2009, the Republican leadership of the Town of Hempstead took a wary view of its scope.

Now, the man who unseated Suozzi, Republican Edward Mangano, and a GOP-led legislature have put a less-sweeping, $400 million Coliseum-and-ballpark borrowing referendum on a special ballot for Monday. And Democrats are issuing some of the loudest fiscal warnings.

The arena question may be about jobs, tax revenue, public costs, or benefits. But it is also a fact of life that one major party is reluctant to cede any credit for success to the other. Their Hub roles have largely reversed.

"It's a shame that it's turned into a political football," James Castellane, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Building Trades Council, a major supporter of the proposal, has said.

Castellane might have called it a political hockey puck -- and the point would have been the same. Opponent Jay Jacobs, the state and county Democratic chairman, has declared: "Ed Mangano and the Republicans want us to bail out a billionaire -- by raising our taxes."

"No matter how he spins it," legislative minority leader Diane Yatauro (D-Glen Cove) added, "Mr. Mangano is asking county residents to vote themselves a tax increase."

For his part, Mangano said this week the voters and the legislature will "weigh it on the merits. Politics should stay out of it."

The climate is charged. County finances are under a state panel's supervision. Anti-tax, anti-debt and anti-spending sentiments are potent. Mangano and allies argue this plan would more than pay for itself -- with a guaranteed share of county revenue to buttress sales and property taxes and a local economic boost.

Businessman Charles Wang has played a central role in both Suozzi and Mangano's proposals. Wang, whose Islanders hockey team would use a new arena, expressed frustration, telling Newsday: "If the Democrats like it, then the Republicans have to not like it; if the Republicans like it, the Democrats can't like it."

Partisan walls can still show cracks. In the Suozzi days, Assemb. Rob Walker -- now Mangano's top deputy -- endorsed the $3.8 billion Lighthouse project. Also, Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) voted to put the referendum on the ballot -- the only Democrat among eight to do so.

If voters approve the borrowing, it will still need two-thirds approval of the legislature -- two more votes than the current GOP majority. Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) has said terms of the Islanders' deal would first need to be clarified.

The Islanders' lease of the 39-year-old Coliseum expires in 2015. "Vote Yes" forces cite the prospect of losing the National Hockey League franchise and current jobs to another locale.

The real-estate-backed Association for a Better Long Island -- funding "Vote No" ads -- calls it a "real estate deal that we pay for."

Islanders senior vice president Michael Picker said: "Recognize the reality. The Islanders' lease ends . . . There is a need for an economic engine . . . Nothing will be built on that site any time soon unless there is some drawing power like an arena."

Rejection would increase pressure for higher taxes and further cutbacks, he said.

Turnout becomes key. Both parties' operatives say they are eager to see if it carries, by what margin, in which districts, and who votes. All that could bear on the politics to follow.