Henican: Being No. 1 isn't everything, it seems

A Long Island Rail Road conductor holds the

A Long Island Rail Road conductor holds the doors as MTA passengers exit an eastbound train at the Hicksville LIRR station. (July 19, 2010) (Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin)

Ellis Henican

Newsday columnist Ellis Henican Ellis Henican

Henican is a columnist for Newsday. He also is a

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Big sigh, please.

This week's two big revelations: Long Island no longer has the busiest commuter railroad in America. But we do still have the most overpaid educators in the state. Nine of the top 10 public school employees are living large right here.

Take a bow. You paid their salaries and benefits. We're still No. 1 - in something!

The issue of sky-high Long Island school costs requires some genuine fiscal soul-searching. And that's unlikely to happen anytime soon, as long as every postage-stamp-sized plot in Nassau and Suffolk counties has its own micro-school district. In other words, don't hold your breath.

But inside the bragging-rights contest for commuter rail superiority is a trend that's really worth fretting about. It isn't just that Metro-North recently has been carrying more passengers than the Long Island Rail Road. It's the reasons.

Oh, we have some easy excuses, like the rush-hour traffic jams on the main lines, and because Long Island is hemmed in on three sides by water, it can't sprawl the way Westchester County and Connecticut can.

But it's the relative vigor - or lack thereof - of the eastern and northern suburban economies that's doing us in. Westchester and Connecticut are bouncing back from the recession far more briskly than Nassau and Suffolk counties. Their two big corporate centers, Stamford and White Plains, are drawing more and more reverse commuters from Manhattan and the outer boroughs. What do we have that can compete?

We can complain about LIRR service cuts or droopy on-time performance. But the real factor in commuter-rail traffic is JOBS. There aren't enough here yet, and our neighbors are getting more.

It's an ironclad law of modern society: Call it the empty train-seat rule. When employment's up, commuter travel goes up, too. And there's a corollary: People who are working nowhere have nowhere to go.


MIGHT HELP

1. Fewer yappy passengers

2. More bar cars

3. On-board cell-phone civility

4. Ear buds that keep the sound IN the wearer's ear

5. Snoring cars

ASKED AND UNANSWERED:

Where do those Huntington Public Library bedbugs think they are? The Waldorf-Astoria? . . . Does Facebook cause crime or solve it? . . . Can Nassau County Exec Ed Mangano get you a sweet job in the new Cuomo administration? Isn't "employment broker" the real meaning of "transition-team member"? . . . How's that slow count coming in the Martins-Johnson race? Will we have an actual winner by, say, the end of the State Senate term? . . . Will Busta Rhymes protégé Reek Da Villain give LI back its cred as an incubator of young rap talent? MTV's already taking notice . . . With Riverhead Resorts' indoor ski slope in final meltdown, what other outdoor activities can be brought inside? Indoor parachute jumping, anyone? Indoor NASCAR? . . . New military program? "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Until the Supreme Court Finally Makes a Permanent Ruling in the Gay-Soldier Case"? . . . With all the talk of bullying, isn't the comic-world ready for a new anti-bullying superhero? How about "In Ten Years You're Gonna Work For That Kid-Man?"

E-mail ellis@henican.com

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ELLIS' LONG ISLANDER OF THE WEEK

JOHN AZZATA

Facebook hadn't even been invented 26 years ago when 15-year-old Kelly Morrissey disappeared from Lynbrook. But Nassau homicide commander Det. Lt. John Azzata is tech-savvy enough to understand: New technologies can sometimes solve old crimes. Just ask the thousands imprisoned - and others freed - on the strength of DNA evidence. Kelly's trail has grown ice-cold since 1984. But her family didn't forget. And neither did Azzata. Recent postings on a roller-rink's Facebook page mentioned Kelly's disappearance. And who knows? Maybe somebody remembers something. Azzata did: He remembered that, wherever technology marches, homicide cases are never over until they're solved.