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Opinion

Adjusting to the coronavirus crisis

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) speaks to reporters.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) speaks to reporters. Credit: EPA-EFE / Shutterstock / Erik S. Lesser

Daily Point

Sometimes it pays to be a Z

When national bipartisan whipping boy and Kentucky GOP Rep. Thomas Massie began threatening to hold up the House’s Friday voice vote on the $2 trillion emergency relief plan the Senate had passed 96-0 Wednesday, the possibility set off a scramble for Long Island’s representatives to get to D.C. to support the bill.

Massie wanted a roll-call vote of all members, which could not be held without a return of all members to the Capitol, rather than a voice vote, but once a quorum of 216 House members was reached Massie’s request faced a hurdle, the required support of one-fifth of members present to force a roll-call vote. He found out he didn’t have that many friends to support his iconoclastic goal, and had made quite a few enemies. President Donald Trump tweeted that Massie was a “grandstander” and that he should be kicked out of the party, while the usually reserved John Kerry took to Twitter to say that Massie tested “positive for being an a-hole.”

While The Point didn’t ask Long Island’s reps about their views of the member from Kentucky, we were curious about how they responded to the evolving need for warm bodies in Washington.

  • Peter King pulled out of Seaford at 4:30 Friday morning and drove to D.C., getting to his office around 8:45 a.m.
  • Kathleen Rice, under a self-imposed quarantine set to end Friday after coming in contact with a member of Congress who was diagnosed with coronavirus, “followed quarantine guidelines and did not return to DC,” according to her spokesman.
  • Thomas Suozzi left his house to head to the House before the sun was up, flying out of LaGuardia. 
  • Lee Zeldin was on standby, ready to drive down if needed but granted some leeway by the vagaries of the alphabet. For distancing reasons, the House was divided into 15 groups for voting, by last name, with each group getting 30 minutes to vote. So Zeldin, from the moment voting started, would have had seven hours to drive to D.C. from his Shirley home, a trip he was spared.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Defining essential construction

The state’s latest guidelines that shut down “nonessential” construction across the state mean that work on the New York Islanders’ new arena at Belmont Park will stop, but that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s efforts to complete the Long Island Rail Road’s third track and the East Side Access connection to Grand Central Terminal will continue.

But details on what else is on the essential list remained a bit unclear Friday afternoon.

The state defined essential construction as including roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, affordable housing, homeless shelters, hospitals and health care facilities. Empire State Development guidelines also noted that if safety was at issue because of work left undone, projects could continue temporarily until it was safe to shut down a site.

But that left some questions for business and development advocates, especially when it came to some of the Island’s housing projects, which often have an affordable component ranging from 10 to 30 percent of the development.

The new guidelines note that for businesses that provide both essential and nonessential services, only the essential part of the work should continue. That’d be near-impossible for the Island’s affordable housing efforts, since they’re integrated into the market rate component of a project.

But sources told The Point later Friday afternoon that the state will allow for construction to continue on any project where at least 20 percent of the housing units are designated as affordable.

Long Island Association chief executive Kevin Law told The Point that the definition of “essential” should be specific, and fairly tight.

“The rules need to be fair,” Law said. “You’re either essential or you’re not essential. If the opening is going to be wide, that’s unfair to companies who believe they’re essential but aren’t. I think there needs to be less of a gray area … so essential is seen in terms of public health and public safety.”

But Long Island Builders Institute chief executive Mitch Pally told The Point that Long Island’s housing construction could be seen through a different lens than Manhattan’s, especially because the density of such development, and the land on which it takes place, is so different.

“All residential construction is not the same,” Pally said, noting that the statewide builders association is seeking additional guidance from state officials to figure out which projects could continue and which had to stop.

Pally pointed to ongoing construction on an assisted living facility and a firehouse on the Island as examples where he was seeking more clarity as to what is defined as “essential.” And he said he was hoping there might be additional flexibility for projects where there is plenty of room to allow for proper social distancing. Pally noted that his members were adhering to social distance requirements, often staggering subcontractors or having fewer people on a site at once, and so far, had not received push back from workers.

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

The new Easter gift

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Final Point

Taking a flyer from Nassau County

Branding a public service message with the name of an elected official running for office: Who would’ve thought that proud tradition — essentially invented right here in Nassau County — would make it to D.C. and the highest office in the land?

President Donald Trump is making like a member of the Hempstead Town Board with his half-informational, half-promotional mailers on the coronavirus threat to the nation. 

The mailers feature CDC and White House logos and list a bunch of basic (but necessary!) official health guidance like “Listen and follow the directions of your STATE AND LOCAL AUTHORITIES” and “ALWAYS PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE” — all of it advertised more politically or imperially as “PRESIDENT TRUMP’S CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES FOR AMERICA.”

It has been thus on Long Island for decades: a 1964 Newsday article about political literature notes, “One of the hardest workers in any election year is the mailman.” 

In 1965, Charles Scholl of Islip told a reporter, “Somebody should get to Washington and stop this bulk mailing.”

Sorry, Chuck.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

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