Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Gov. Kathy Hochul. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Daily Point

Talks incentives rather than mandates, opens pot for LI housing

Gov. Kathy Hochul is abandoning efforts to pursue mandates for housing construction and zoning in next year’s legislative session. The move didn’t surprise local insiders, who said the governor had come to realize months ago that she’d need to focus on incentives, rather than zoning overrides and building requirements, if she wanted both policy and political wins.

That first became clear with the release of Hochul’s executive orders in July, which took an incentive-based approach by allowing municipalities to achieve “pro-housing” status that would give them priority for state funds, and then with the far quieter announcement earlier this month that the governor was opening the Long Island Investment Fund to housing development.

Hochul’s initial proposals, first made during the budget process earlier this year, would have required municipalities to add a specific percentage of housing units and establish more dense multifamily zoning around train stations. Hochul’s plan would have allowed the state to override local decision-making if municipalities did not comply.

Several sources told The Point that Hochul has listened to Long Island leaders who’ve been encouraging the carrot approach, including local elected officials, advocates in the business and development community, and those who hold roles within her administration. A Hochul spokesman confirmed that the governor has “continued to meet with Long Island leaders and stakeholders [to] hear their views on how to address the issue of affordability.”

But more than anything, multiple sources told The Point that Hochul’s initial mandate-driven proposals had become a real political liability on Long Island, where Hochul needs some political wins after multiple years of Republican victories.

“It does not matter what level of government you’re running for, or whether you’re part of the discussion or not. People perceive, depending on which party you’re in, that you’re either with the governor or not with the governor on the mandates,” one observer told The Point. “You could be running for dog catcher and if you were running on the Democratic line, people would put it together.”

By shifting the conversation away from housing mandates, another source said, Hochul is hoping to avoid having Democrats tagged with the issue in next year’s campaign season, which includes state legislative and House races. In response to a reporter’s question at an unrelated event Thursday, Hochul confirmed the political context, saying she isn’t “going to head down the same path we did last year, with the exact same plan, in a year that is an election year for the members, where they have different focus and priorities.”

But it’s more than just the state races. The removal of the mandate conversation is especially important, one insider said, for the fight for control of Congress next year, starting, potentially, with a special election for the CD3 seat as soon as February.

“We already know that the housing mandate issue was used very successfully by Long Island GOP members, whether local, state or congressional,” another insider said. “If Long Island is going to be a battleground next year for control of the House, then Dem candidates don’t need to be fighting against stupid mandates again.”

A Hochul spokesman, however, told The Point that Hochul’s decision didn’t mean the idea of mandates had completely disappeared from the conversation.

“There’s nothing that has been proposed that has been fully and formally taken off the table I would say,” the spokesman said.

— Randi F. Marshall

Pencil Point

Defining the age issue

Credit: Columbia Missourian/John Darkow

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Reference Point

An express concern about terrible train rides

There are precious few institutions that define life on Long Island, and fewer still that have spanned more than a few decades of life here. But one of those that has shaped the region — for better and for worse — is the Long Island Rail Road.

And, as it turns out, complaints about the railroad have had nearly the same long shelf life.

Back in 1943, in the early days of Newsday’s existence, the editorial board went to bat for beleaguered commuters in a Nov. 30 piece called “Express Trains Needed.” Specifically, the board made an argument for more express trains to Hempstead.

“We’ve had occasion lately to make quite a few trips between New York and Hempstead,” the board wrote. “As far as Jamaica, it isn’t a bad trip, despite crowded coaches, lack of ventilation and lack of baggage space. But from Jamaica to Hempstead — well, the less said about it the better. With stops less than a mile a part in many instances, the distance seems endless.”

The first reaction experienced modern riders might have is to note that “crowded coaches, lack of ventilation and lack of baggage space” constitute the opposite of “isn’t a bad trip.” But they certainly would empathize with a local-stop lineup that can turn trips into seeming eternities.

The board then did a deep dive into ridership statistics and discovered — to no one’s surprise, much less its own — that lines with more express trains were more popular than lines with fewer such trains.

“Better service undoubtedly would stimulate more travel for the LIRR,” the board wrote, an observation that like the railroad spans the generations.

Better service always has been a prime motive behind big LIRR expansion plans like Third Track and Grand Central Madison terminal — and behind commuter complaints when the new service does not live up to their expectations. That interplay also has defined Long Island, for better and for worse.

The board back in 1943 concluded by giving the railroad a temporary out.

“We realize that for the present the Long Island has a perfect alibi for not improving its service,” the board wrote. “Rolling stock cannot be replaced, and war demands prevent any extension of existing schedules. But improvement of service should be one of the first items on the LIRR’s post-war planning program.”

The calls for better service and more express trains remain, even when there isn’t the demands of a world war to blame.

— Michael Dobie, Amanda Fiscina-Wells

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