Blakeman calls it a power grab by Democrats
The few weeks before one-house budget resolutions are presented by the Assembly and Senate are always rife with scuttlebutt, but this year one big play pushed by State Sen. Kevin Thomas largely flew under the radar.
Thomas is sponsoring a move to shift control of the Nassau University Medical Center board from Nassau County, where the county executive has most of the power, to the state, where the governor would control appointments. It would result in a dramatic shift of power.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s response to the idea, in a text to The Point Tuesday, laid bare the political stakes:
"This power grab is nothing more than a blatant attempt to steal local input from the county that guarantees the bond indebtedness. If this legislation changes the control structure of NUMC, then the county will take immediate action to relieve itself of the guarantee of the underlying bonds. This is an obvious step toward closing the hospital by Democrat leadership in Albany."
Democrats, though, would argue the opposite. The man considered most likely to engineer a turnaround, nursing home operator Edward Farbenblum, was just removed as board chairman, to be replaced by investment company executive Matthew Bruderman, a major Republican fundraiser.
With over $1 billion in liabilities, huge annual deficits, and poor ratings on its medical care, change of some kind is likely coming to one of New York State’s three remaining public hospitals under county control, including possible closure.
Thomas says that’s what he wants to avoid, though he knows it will be an uphill climb to get the state involved.
"That was true with getting the state monitor at Hempstead [schools], too, and this is the same kind of priority," Thomas said. "We have to have a safety-net hospital and NUMC needs more oversight of the kind the state can best provide. It’s losing money left and right and it can’t go on like this."
Thomas said Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office is "open to the idea, and listening." But the real key might be where the hospital’s union, the CSEA, lands. Thomas says he’s "still talking" to the union, which has 3,000 workers at NUMC.
Assemb. Taylor Darling, who is sponsoring the bill in her chamber, said the pandemic has shown how crucial NUMC is to providing equitable medical treatment for all county residents.
"What we’ve seen at NUMC for too long is appointments to the board of members who don’t always have the best interests of the hospital at heart. It feels like there are developers who want the land, and people who want the prestige, but what’s needed are appointees fully devoted to making sure the most vulnerable in Nassau County have the hospital and care they need," she said.
But Nassau CSEA president Ron Gurrieri said right now, the union is not in favor.
"We don’t need state oversight," Gurrieri said. "Farbenblum was a home run, but that doesn’t mean Bruderman, who I’m sitting down with later this week, can’t be great, too. What we need is board members who know hospitals, not lawyers or real estate agents or people who just want to tell people they’re on the board rather than working hard."
— Lane Filler @lanefiller
An intro tour, around the Sound
Of the handful of Democrats seeking the nomination to succeed Rep. Tom Suozzi in the newly redrawn CD3, Robert Zimmerman is taking a strategic approach that might be unique for a longtime district resident and member of the national party committee — a fresh introduction to voters, on his own terms.
He’s been proudly touting a list of activists’ endorsements, mailed out a deeply personal appeal, and is planning in-person community forums in each of the five counties that are partially included in the newly Long Island Sound-centered district.
The approach comes off more like assertive job interviewing with groups of voters than glad-handing or grip-and-grins at ribbon cuttings and rallies that a seasoned holder of public office might rely on.
On Tuesday, Zimmerman announced backing from Rep. Greg Meeks, who represents CD5, which has a slice of Nassau County — and chairs the Queens Democratic Committee, a borough of which CD3 includes a portion. Meeks said in a statement Zimmerman’s coalition-building "puts him in the best position to be our nominee."
Zimmerman also lists, along with former North Hempstead Town leaders on his home turf, dozens of endorsements including from Tom Murphy, the mayor of Mamaroneck in Westchester, Suffolk County Democratic Committee chairman and Babylon Town supervisor Richard Schaffer, and former Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. Besides members of the electoral class, Zimmerman lists support from Black, gay, Asian community and labor activists, as well as JoAnn D. Smith, former CEO of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County and anti-gun violence activist Linda Biegel Schulman from Dix Hills.
But political professionals seem to agree that collecting endorsements has never proved a ticket to voters. Zimmerman, a longtime donor to campaigns and causes, insists they’ll help. "They’re important validators for people who don’t know you," he says. "It’s a message our campaign has put together a broad coalition of support."
Whether that pans out as the race develops, or proves to be just a smooth presentation from a communications professional, should be known by June.
As part of his effort to introduce himself in a familiar community, Zimmerman also bares a deeply personal slice of his biography in a "Dear Neighbor" letter from his campaign. "As a closeted gay teenager, growing up in the suburbs was lonely and isolating. I’ll never forget what it was like to spend a night at the diner to avoid going to a school dance."
— Dan Janison @Danjanison
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Water under the rail bridge
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Village of Garden City officials have reached a settlement that would end two court disputes over the Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track project.
The deal would provide village residents with the landscaping along the Main Line that they wanted.
Village trustees are due to vote on the agreement Thursday, according to the village board agenda and settlement documents posted to the village website.
Garden City had sued the MTA over large utility poles placed along the railroad tracks as part of the Third Track project, and the MTA sued Garden City when the village refused to provide a permit to start work on the Denton Avenue Bridge. While the MTA received rulings in its favor in both cases, and the bridge work is underway, the litigation continued as the MTA and the village worked to resolve outstanding issues.
Beyond dismissing the claims, the deal requires the village to grant any additional permits required within the project’s parameters. The MTA, meanwhile, will begin an "enhanced landscaping" effort along the Garden City section of the Main Line during this spring’s planting season. And the authority will allow access to the community benefits fund set aside for the village when the project was first approved.
According to the agreement, there’s $1.6 million left in the fund, which the village will use for "supplemental landscaping." The MTA also agreed to salvage some of the original stone from the original Denton Avenue Bridge for the village’s reuse at village expense. And the MTA agreed to attempt some additional design elements in the new bridge to help make it look a bit more like the old one. The MTA also will meet with village officials regarding complaints about the lighting at the Merillon Avenue LIRR station, which some have said is too harsh.
It’s quite a laundry list — but MTA officials said the deal meant that the rest of the Third Track work could proceed without further delay.
"We just want to get this thing built and move on. Everybody wants a finished project that looks good," John McCarthy, the MTA’s chief of external relations, told The Point Tuesday. "That finished product importantly includes more service in both directions that’s going to take riders into Grand Central Terminal. That’s good news."
Garden City officials didn’t respond to The Point’s requests for comment. But the MTA expects to be finished with the Denton Avenue Bridge work, and to be ready to push the new bridge into place by late April. The broader Third Track project, meanwhile, remains on target for completion by the end of this year.
"This project benefits all of Long Island and we’ve never lost sight of that," McCarthy said. "The sooner we get it completed the better, and we’re on target."
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall