Playing politics with the new Coliseum

New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and Nassau New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano after bill to allow residents to vote on the future of the Nassau Coliseum area was approved. (May 31, 2011) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Dan Janison Melville. N.Y. Tuesday January 26, 2010. Daniel Janison,

Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday for 10 years, much of which was spent as a ...

From the start, proponents of the Aug. 1 referendum on whether to fund construction of a new Islanders arena have said that the decision would and should be "nonpartisan."

It may yet be, in some sense. Despite the project's sponsorship by a Republican county executive, some number of Democratic voters can be expected to say yes, believing it would generate jobs and commerce as promised. And some Republicans undoubtedly will choose no -- to protest added public expenses, taxes or borrowing.

But expecting a sudden divorce between government and politics would be foolish. The outcome of this vote -- widely expected to have fewer voters than November's general election -- carries implications in Nassau's partisan universe, as the players are aware.

Denizens of the rival parties both say they are polling on the issue, with mixed results so far that neither side is publishing.

One seasoned official Thursday wondered what would happen if, say, this stand-alone ballot proposal carries countywide -- but fails decisively in certain legislative districts.

After all, the referendum is only a first step. And key legislative and other approvals will loom up the road.

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Would, say, a GOP legislator from a "No" district feel compelled to vote for the Coliseum lease, or its bond authorization in the coming months?

What would it mean for that lawmaker to follow the "will of the people" as expressed in the referendum? Would it be listening to his or her district, or to the entire county?

On the official Democratic side, state and Nassau party chairman Jay Jacobs has already ridiculed the plan, saying, "If the taxpayers believe that they will own anything other than an even higher tax bill, then I have a bridge to sell.

"The only thing the people of Nassau can count on as the truth is that the county is in a financial crisis, but Ed Mangano and the Republicans want us to bail out a billionaire -- by raising our taxes," said Jacobs, referring to Islanders owner Charles Wang.

But Democrats as an organization have yet to commit to an all-out "Vote No" appeal. If the referendum fails, they can spin it as a Republican fiasco. In that case, the GOP could simply say they put the question to the people without fear, and now accept the results.

Bet on Republican operatives who work for a "Yes" to be somewhat shy about making the matter sound "partisan."

If the vote comes up yes, but only by a bit, the Coliseum could become a factor in the fall campaign -- perhaps with a flow of Democratic rhetoric about adding to the tax burden.

So even if the issue in the public's mind transcends partisan lines, Nassau's party operatives will be waiting, analyzing -- and planning around it. This is, after all, a legislative election year, a fact of no small importance.

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