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Opinion

New challenges for Belmont, Manhattan DA

An updated rendering of the planned Islanders' Belmont

An updated rendering of the planned Islanders' Belmont arena. Credit: New York Arena Partners LLC

Daily Point

Belmont drama continues

The next vote on the redevelopment of Belmont Park is expected to come Thursday at a meeting of the Empire State Development board of directors. The board is expected to approve the general project plan and adopt findings from the state’s environmental review. The public, meanwhile, can expect to get some more details on the general project plan, with the release of the final version and the state’s responses to the latest round of public comment.

If the ESD board approves the project, it’s yet another step toward starting construction. But it also means those considering potential legal action against the project will move into the starting gate. Anyone objecting to Belmont’s redevelopment will have 120 days from ESD’s approval to file an Article 78 lawsuit, the way to appeal a decision by a state agency. 

Opponents already are telegraphing their legal strategy. On Monday evening, Floral Park residents and local electeds, including Assemb. Ed Ra, gathered to hold a news conference, protesting the project and requesting a “supplemental” environmental impact study to reflect recent changes, including the proposed new Long Island Rail Road Station.

The basis of their argument is that an additional environmental impact study is needed for the LIRR station and for what the developers will do if they can’t get a new natural gas pipeline and must resort to underground propane tanks. 

ESD officials say a supplemental EIS is unnecessary, as the changes aren’t expected to cause “significant adverse impacts.”

“The village is considering a number of options. Legal action is one of them,” Mayor Dominick Longobardi said at the Monday event.

And the fighters in Floral Park may get some more supporters. Recently, angry residents in Bellerose Terrace joined the protests, specifically objecting to plans for the new LIRR station, which is expected to primarily serve commuters from Elmont and surrounding communities, and those who use the new shopping and arena at Belmont Park. A civic association meeting last week grew heated, as residents yelled at state officials, saying that they didn’t want a train station nearby, and that they were worried about their children, their property values and the possibility of contaminated soil.

“We are Bellerose Terrace residents, we are not Elmont residents,” said one resident. “Elmont is separate.”

“I will sell you my house right now for $175,000, and you can live across from this nightmare,” said another.

But even as the objections mount, and the potential for legal action looms, the approval process continues. Next up: a vote from the Franchise Oversight Board, which has oversight on the state’s racing-related efforts. 

After that, construction can begin at Belmont, even as the legal clock ticks.

- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Talking Point

One race ends, another begins in earnest

Tiffany Cabán’s insurgent bid for Queens district attorney ended on Wednesday in an Astoria beer garden, but not without premonitions for the future. The Working Families Party and NYC Democratic Socialists of America sent out statements complaining about bureaucratic Board of Election procedures that held up a final result, with DSA calling for amended automatic voter registration legislation in Albany. 

And the movement is moving on. Politically speaking, another race is already underway: the Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney, which won’t take place until 2021.

Current prosecutor Cy Vance is a comfortable name-brand incumbent in the office that the late Robert Morgenthau filled with distinction for decades. But the days of noblesse oblige law enforcement have changed, and the seat doesn’t feel quite so safe after Cabán’s performance.

Vance has reduced prosecutions of misdemeanors. But he declined to bring charges against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. for allegedly defrauding investors, and was slow to pursue assault charges against film magnate Harvey Weinstein. He also supported sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein’s bid for a lower sex-offender status.

That helps challengers say the rich get treated differently. Declared Democratic candidates Janos Marton and Alvin Bragg already are doing that. Marton was an early (at first lonely) Cabán endorser and helped lead the "close Rikers" movement. Bragg is a former federal prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general in New York who has similar philosophies on right-sizing the system. 

Marton may have an early shot at progressive endorsements from figures such as Zephyr Teachout, with whom he used to work. And Bragg has support from Arena, a new group that helped some of the new State Senate Democrats in 2018. He already has more money in the bank than Vance, as per July filings. 

But can Manhattan be the new Queens? 

Inaccessible apartment buildings mean it’s harder for armies of Democratic Socialists of America door knockers to reach their targets. 

Manhattan is an extremely liberal borough, but are there enough pockets of young gentrifying voters who powered insurgent candidacies elsewhere? 

In a 2018 primary against Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, young newcomer Suraj Patel either did well or won in the small outerborough parts of the district, but lost decisively in Maloney’s base of Manhattan.

Manhattan is far from monolithic, however, and strategists point to stretches of lower Manhattan or the Upper East Side that are newly younger.

There are actually approximately the same number of Democrats in the 18-29 range in Manhattan as there are in Brooklyn and Queens, says Jerry Skurnik of Prime New York, a political consulting firm that works with data (and isn’t with any of the candidates). 

Then there are wildcards. The primary will be on the same day as a wide-open mayoral contest, since Bill de Blasio will be either term-limited or president. That will likely mean higher turnout than the Queens DA race, and what that itself indicates is open to broad interpretation. 

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Deadly weapons

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Final Point

A dangerous ally

As President Donald Trump headed Wednesday to El Paso to visit with a grieving community, national political analysts wondered whether the Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornyn could be vulnerable in 2020 because of his close ties to Trump.

One of the Democrats seeking the nomination to challenge Cornyn is being helped by the efforts of a Long Island activist and former congressional candidate. 

That would be Liuba Grechen Shirley who pushed for campaign funds to be allowed to cover child care, which received another Federal Election Commission citation in July. The Amityville Democrat’s unsuccessful campaign against Rep. Peter King in 2018 was referenced in the FEC’s advisory opinion for Texas Democrat M.J. Hegar. Hegar got the OK to use campaign funds for full-time day care, with the opinion noting that the issues covered when Grechen Shirley made a similar attempt were “equally relevant” here. 

It’s part of more changes on the parental campaigning front — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo recently signed legislation allowing campaign funds for child care on the state and local level. 

But the Hegar case could have national implications. The former Air Force helicopter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate is one of the more prominent candidates in a Democratic primary field looking to take down Cornyn. Cornyn, a priority target for national Democrats, is a little less popular and well-known than his colleague Ted Cruz. The senator’s recent tweet about shootings being an issue where “we simply don't have all the answers” has emboldened some critics. 

Cornyn is far ahead in the money game, but Hegar has a solid early start, and maybe the child care will allow more quality time for every candidate’s favorite activity, fundraising. 

- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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