The Islanders' move to Brooklyn has emerged as an issue in the race for Nassau district attorney, with Democrats pledging to spend money to highlight Republican Kate Murray's role in blocking the $3.8 billion development around Nassau Coliseum that the team said was needed for it to remain on Long Island.
Murray, the Hempstead Town supervisor, is dealing with renewed criticism on social media from angry fans who blame her for the Islanders' departure. And acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the office, is trying to capitalize by welcoming those fans' support of her, despite what's driving it.
But Murray argues that her critics overlook the complexity of the yearslong saga that led to the hockey team's decision to leave, saying the fans "give me a lot more power than I have."
An impact at the polls?
Political and sports business experts say Murray will have to often address the complaints of frustrated fans. But they are split over the potential impact of the issue at the polls in November.
"Lots of people say that sports do not mean that much, but it is big money and it can be big politics," said Lee Igel, co-director of the New York University School of Professional Studies' Sports and Society Program. "Sports do matter, because they get people fired up, especially if a politician had anything to do with their team staying or not."
Stanley Klein, an LIU Post political science professor, said Islanders fans, with the team's move still fresh, will surely "have a voice" in the campaign.
"The real passionate ones will stay passionate and will not vote for her," said Klein, also a Suffolk GOP committeeman. "But is it a big enough group to determine an election? No."
Murray, who announced her candidacy for district attorney May 4 -- nine days after the Islanders played their last game at Nassau Coliseum -- became Hempstead supervisor in 2003. A few years afterward, Islanders owner Charles Wang sought town zoning approval for his privately funded, county-backed $3.8 billion Lighthouse project.
It would have renovated the 40-year-old Coliseum in Uniondale and built 8.8 million square feet of additional retail, hotel and housing units on 77 acres of surrounding land. Wang said that level of development was needed to make the arena component financially viable.
But Murray opposed the plan, saying it would have a major impact on traffic, the water supply and the environment.
Hempstead's GOP-led town board pressed for a drastically scaled-down proposal, which Wang resisted. In 2012, a year after a referendum to allow the county to borrow $400 million for a new arena failed, Wang announced he was moving the Islanders to Brooklyn in 2015.
"I think a lot of people who are Islanders fans think the [Lighthouse] proposals had to do with rehabbing the Coliseum or rebuilding a new one, and that was it," Murray said in a recent interview. "It was far from it. It was a mini-city, 2,300 apartments, and you would never get across Hempstead Turnpike with the traffic. . . . It simply was not sustainable."
Nassau Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs, who backs Singas over former Manhattan prosecutor Michael Scotto for the party nomination to face Murray in the district attorney election, said the county party "absolutely" will spend money to highlight the Islanders issue.
"Wang was going to spend his money to rebuild the Coliseum and it could only be done as part of a larger redevelopment to make it economically feasible. The one thing stopping it was Kate Murray," Jacobs said. "We are going to be reminding people about that."
County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello didn't respond to a request for comment last week. But a party source predicted that the issue won't hurt Murray, who was re-elected by wide margins in 2011 and 2013, after it was clear the team would not stay in Nassau.
"It's a very small group of die-hards," the GOP source said of fans who attack Murray online. "The proof of their impact is in the last couple of elections, where it didn't make a difference."
Social media sentiments
Still, practically every time Murray's name appears on Twitter, Islanders fans respond in bunches, no matter the issue.
Earlier this month, when Murray tweeted the telephone number of a county police tip line to report graffiti vandals, one fan posted: "I'd like to report the theft of my hockey team."
Singas was quick to get involved. In one tweet this month she wrote, "Thank you #Islesnation for all your support," and released a statement predicting she'd be enjoying fans' post-goal "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant on election night this fall.
Joe Lozito, a North Bellmore resident and outspoken Islanders fan who says he met his wife at a home game in 1992, acknowledged that his anger toward Murray prompted him to offer to help Singas, whom he had never heard of.
"I don't know anything about this woman and here I am throwing my full support her way," said Lozito, 44, who also was honored by the Islanders in 2011 as a "hometown hero" for subduing a knife-wielding man who had attacked him on the New York City subway.
"You're going to get a lot of people who don't normally vote," Lozito predicted. "If [Singas] wins, a big part of it will definitely be from Islander fans."