A time-tested strategy
It’s the same old song.
As he continues to battle against plans to develop Belmont Park, Floral Park Mayor Dominick Longobardi appears to be taking a page from the playbook he used before the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project was approved.
While Floral Park trustees have approved the filing of a lawsuit to stop the project, Longobardi on Tuesday said he first was seeking a meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to discuss the Belmont redevelopment, telling Newsday that the situation was “in the governor’s court.”
But sources familiar with the situation told The Point that there’s already a meeting planned for this month between state officials, representatives from the development team, and Longobardi, along with other officials from Floral Park.
That meeting, sources said, was first scheduled weeks ago.
“We are looking forward to that meeting but since the mayor clearly forgot about it, we hope he shows up,” Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall said in a statement.
Longobardi told The Point he knew about the scheduled meeting, but wanted to make sure it would be "meaningful," since preliminary work already has begun at the site.
"I'm not looking to stop the project," he said. "I would really like to sit down and get something accomplished."
His ideas range from the simple, like adding a berm between the nearby elementary school and the project, to the complicated, like widening or reworking the exits and entrances on the Cross Island Parkway.
State officials said that even before the planned meeting was scheduled, there has been ongoing communication between Longobardi and Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, regarding Longobardi’s concerns about the project. And before that, Longobardi had multiple conversations and meetings with Empire State Development officials dating back to 2017.
Mujica told The Point he was ready to talk to Longobardi and "figure out a solution."
"We will do the right thing by them to the extent we can, but the project is the project and it's going forward," Mujica said.
The back-and-forth is reminiscent of events from two years ago, when Longobardi and New Hyde Park Mayor Lawrence Montreuil held the third track project hostage, and then ended up negotiating perks, additional funding, and protections for their villages before allowing the project to go forward.
At the time, then-State Sen. Elaine Phillips fought alongside the two mayors, standing in the way of the project’s approval by a key board until the two villages got what they wanted.
But current Sen. Anna Kaplan is taking a different tack. She supports the Belmont development despite the village’s objections. Thanks in part to the backing of her and other state senators, the project already has received its state board approvals.
That means Longobardi might have less leverage as he tries to negotiate a village wish list.
Kaplan told The Point that she already has advocated for more funding for Floral Park first responders, police and other needs, and will continue to do so, but said she’s hoping for a more direct and honest dialogue.
“The posturing is counter-productive,” Kaplan told The Point.
- Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
Shuttling commuters on the East End
The numbers are in and the latest attempt to reduce the so-called “trade parade” on the East End has been a rousing success.
In March, the Long Island Rail Road added six trains — three eastbound in the morning from Speonk and Hampton Bays, three westbound in the afternoon from Montauk — to get more cars off County Road 39 and reduce traffic bottlenecks. And ridership more than doubled.
In 2017 and 2018, LIRR ridership on the South Fork was 10,845 and 10,943, respectively, from March to July. In the same period this year, it jumped to 24,974. LIRR officials said 72 percent of that increase was due to the weekday trains, not tourism.
Assemb. Fred Thiele, who pushed for the new trains for years, said the new riders were mostly commuters.
“And it was a wide variety of commuters,” Thiele told The Point. “A lot of white collar workers, for the schools, the hospital, Main Street businesses. I was pleasantly surprised to see some people in the trades.”
Now Thiele wants to boost service further. That’s hard with only one track. So Thiele got the creation of “sidings” — sections of track where a train can pull over to let another train pass in the opposite direction — included in the LIRR’s 5-year capital plan in the state budget. Thiele said he was able to do that during negotiations over the congestion pricing plan for New York City.
“I made it clear to them that attention to capital improvement projects on the East End was of critical importance,” Thiele said.
It also helped that the LIRR had identified the East End as ripe for potential growth and had invested money in signal work. Thiele said constructing four or five sidings would cost less than $10 million — lunch money for the LIRR — and expressed optimism they would be built in the next few years but wisely observed, “Nothing’s done until it’s done.”
He also wants to eliminate a $1 charge for last-mile bus service that’s part of the basic $4.25 fare, on the theory that the cheaper price also would increase ridership. The extra charge currently goes to Southampton and East Hampton towns, but Thiele said the revenue is minimal — “maybe a $1,000 a month for each town” — and that state funds are covering the cost of running the buses.
Thiele said he will sit down with the railroad and officials from the towns in the next few weeks for more negotiations.
Given his track record, he’s a good bet to bring this one in on schedule, too.
- Michael Dobie @mwdobie
Shout it out loud
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Credit where credit is due
New York transit watchers may have noticed something strange lately: nice, heartwarming stories about MTA workers, highlighted by MTA managers.
There were multiple subway workers this summer who avoided disaster with a person on the tracks, winning plaudits from higher-ups. There was Long Island Rail Road President Phillip Eng this week praising an LIRR crew for returning $9,000 to some forgetful customer. On Wednesday, NYC Transit President Andy Byford and agency bus head Craig Cipriano sat in court for the arraignment of a defendant accused of menacing a bus operator with a loaded gun. Byford underscored the importance of being there for his employee by staying hours until the case was called.
A new focus? “There are a lot of positive and satisfying contacts between MTA managers and its tens of thousands of dedicated employees every day,” said MTA spokesman Tim Minton in a statement. “We want to acknowledge those connections.”
MTA employees have been getting menaced and returning purses and saving people from the tracks for about as long as there have been tracks and purses. But the authority has not always been so forthright about highlighting positive stories.
Good news is certainly better than bad for the always-criticized bureaucracy. And whether this is the point or not, it probably benefits managers to underscore moments of comity between them and their workforce as contract negotiations loom. When good news strikes, everyone’s on the same team.
“The employees deserve recognition and support,” said Minton, “and MTA customers should know the entire organization is working together to serve them.”
- Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano