State Assembly races are typically run in near-anonymity, but make Billy Joel a campaign issue and you’re bound to get attention.
Last week, Dean Hart, a Democratic challenger in the 15th Assembly District who is known for making unorthodox announcements, proclaimed that he would spend up to $1 million of his own money to install a “giant marble statue” of the Hicksville-raised Piano Man in front of the renovated Nassau Coliseum, scheduled to reopen in the spring.
“Next to Teddy Roosevelt, Long Island really doesn’t have a more famous or popular person,” Hart, a wealthy Glen Head optometrist, said in a statement. “I can’t think of a better way to unite Long Islanders than erecting this marbled monument before Billy opens up the new Coliseum in April.”
The news release may have gotten more coverage than those from all of the other state assembly races combined, warranting mentions in music trade blogs, The New York Times and even London’s Daily Mirror. The Huffington Post declared: “Most Long Island Politician Ever Attacks Opponent for Not Loving Billy Joel Enough.”
Hart tried to tie the issue to his opponent, Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head). Hart said a bill Montesano sponsored last year — to name a stretch of Route 106/107 in the Town of Oyster Bay after Joel — never passed in the Assembly despite passing the Senate.
“My opponent is either impotent or simply not trying, because everyone loves Bill Joel,” Hart said.
What Hart failed to note was that Montesano didn’t cause the measure to stall — it was Democratic Assembly members, who cited a policy of not naming roads or bridges after living figures. The GOP-led Senate has no such policy.
“This guy, he does all kinds of gimmicks and stunts to get a headline,” Montesano said of Hart. “If I were Billy Joel, I’d be annoyed he’s using my name to get a headline.”
Hart, who ran unsuccessfully for the Nassau County Legislature last year, has handed out plastic handcuffs to protest local government corruption, brought a donkey to the county Democrats’ nominating convention and printed the face of an embattled Oyster Bay official on toilet paper rolls.
“He doesn’t deal with any of the issues,” said Montesano. “If he has a million of his own dollars to spend, I’ll sit down with him and tell him all the worthwhile causes he can support.”
Hart, though, said in an interview that it doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.
“Maybe government should make us feel better and have a little fun, too,” Hart said.
He noted that officials have suggested that a veterans-themed statue is most likely to be erected outside the arena, whose full name is the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
“So let’s have Billy Joel on one side and the veterans on the other,” Hart said.