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Editorial: Election can help reverse Long Island's stagnation

Thomas R. Suozzi at the Committees Fall Gala

Thomas R. Suozzi at the Committees Fall Gala addressing those in attendance at the Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury. (Oct. 7, 2013) Credit: Uli Seit

As voters cast ballots Tuesday, heads could well be spinning with slogans and sound bites. But there are bigger issues in play.

This week the Half Hollow Hills school district announced plans to close two elementary schools, citing declining numbers. Total elementary school enrollment in the district was 4,614 during the 2007-08 school year, and is projected to drop to 2,774 by 2017-18. That's a decline of 40 percent in one decade.

Half Hollow Hills is part of a trend. Since 2011, elementary schools in at least six districts have closed, and parochial schools have been shuttering too. About 70 percent of Long Island's school districts saw declines in elementary school enrollment in the past six years.

Those numbers make much of the 2013 campaign meaningless noise, about pay raises and assessment grievances, who kept taxes flat and who raised fees, who voted to borrow how much, and for what.

We are voting on the future of Long Island.

That's why the school closings are the canary in the coal mine of our politics. How has Long Island, the nation's first suburb and at one time it's greatest, become such unfertile ground? Our parents leave, our grown children leave. With so much of our family structure disappearing, the reasons for staying unravel.

Housing values are not soaring as they once did. Smart growth is drowned out by dumb opposition.

There are bright spots, places to go and things to do in our more vital villages, and the incomparable beaches. But there could be so much more.

Long Island won't become like the dying upstate. Not quite. New York City, the desirable East End and the North and South shores provide stability. The once sought-after communities away from those attractions -- the ones built by solid middle-class jobs and highly rated school districts -- are in danger of decline.

This year's election battles have put off an aura of hopelessness. For many, the talking points haven't changed in 20 years. Our neighbors move South, where taxes are lower. Our young adults leave for college and never return, searching for greener pastures elsewhere.

It's not all lost. Some vision is beginning to peek through, but it needs support. Former Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi may have been before his time a decade ago when he started touting cool downtowns, transit-oriented growth and recruiting high-tech businesses to replace our lost aviation and manufacturing base.

Now the idea has caught on enough that Republican incumbent Edward Mangano supports downtown residential development projects, even if it only means rehabbing eyesore industrial buildings.

There are candidates who see the big picture. Suozzi has comprehensive plans, professional skills and the proven ability to surround himself with the best and brightest talent. In Suffolk legislative and town elections, search out the candidates with good ideas about how to grow tax bases and create sewer systems that can increase commerce and create the jobs that will reverse our brain drain.

Long Island made its reputation as a great place to raise a family and educate kids. Do we want a future where the best use of those shuttered elementary schools will be nursing homes? Our Island must have a bigger, better and more vibrant road forward.

Please vote for the candidates who can map that bright path.