Battle for new Coliseum hits high gear

Signs to support the new coliseum project are Signs to support the new coliseum project are posted on the Hempstead Turnpike on Thursday, July 7, 2011 in Levittown, New York. (Photo by Howard Schnapp) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The battle over Nassau County's move to borrow $400 million to build a new Nassau Coliseum is reaching high gear.

With a little more than three weeks to go before an Aug. 1 referendum, proponents including labor unions have mapped a plan that includes a flood of phone calls and door-to-door campaigning.

"This is a very coordinated effort," said James Castellane, president of the Nassau-Suffolk Buildings Trades Council. "This is just as important to us as a presidential election."

Opponents, led by the Association for a Better Long Island, which represents the real estate industry, are contemplating a major advertising buy to oppose the project. "All options are on the table," said ABLI president Desmond Ryan.

The election comes at a critical time for the cash-strapped county, now under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board that must approve the borrowing.

County Executive Edward Mangano and Islanders owner Charles Wang are pitching the project, which also includes a minor league ballpark on 77 acres in the heart of Nassau, as a boon to bring in millions of dollars a year in new revenues.

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Currently, proponents appear to be the most active.

Unions rally for plan

Labor unions, which are counting on the development for construction jobs, are gearing up to provide the ground troops to support the referendum.

Castellane said 25 of his 36 unions -- representing 45,000 people -- will participate in a phone banking operation. Many of the union's out-of-work construction workers will call their members to urge passage, he said.

The workers, who will not be paid for their efforts, have begun distributing fliers highlighting the benefits of the project and will go door-to-door campaigning, Castellane said. The literature has begun appearing along Hempstead Turnpike near the Coliseum and in local businesses. In the final days before the vote, a billboard truck promoting the vote will circle the county.

The Islanders, the most well-financed supporter of the project, declined to comment on any media buys, although a recent ad in Newsday urges passage of the referendum. The team's promotion of the vote is focused on the Islanders' website, social media sites and blogs.

A fact sheet on the proposal was emailed this week to fans.The county will cede heavy campaigning to the Islanders and does not expect to spend resources to actively promote the vote, said Brian Nevin, spokesman for Mangano, a Republican. The county will host five public meetings on the proposal next week.

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Nassau County Industrial Development Agency executive director Joseph Kearney said the agency will not promote the vote but backs business development in the hub.

The biggest push against the project could come from the Association for a Better Long Island, which opposes public financing of a new arena. "We will be making a decision within the next two weeks whether we want to . . . arm our missiles to launch," Ryan said.

Others in opposition

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A number of small grassroots groups, including the Nassau County Libertarian Party, have distributed fliers against the borrowing.

State and Nassau County Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs has been one of the loudest opponents of the proposal, criticizing the potential property tax increase and the timing of the vote on a Monday in August.

Nonetheless, Democrats do not expect to campaign against the vote, arguing the measure will likely fail and if it does pass, they control the development's ultimate fate. At least two Democrats would need to approve the bonding, a prospect Jacobs described as unlikely. "We don't want to spend resources on something that is not going to pass," Jacobs said.

With James T. Madore

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