Checking the maps
Common Cause New York, the good-government group, plans to start its Wednesday night testimony to Nassau County’s redistricting commission by applauding the group’s “work this month in traveling around the county to gather feedback before a draft map.”
Then will come the criticism: “We strongly urge you to do similarly after releasing a proposed map.”
Add this issue to the complaints and curiosities of a long, extraordinary season of post-census redistricting in New York. The Nassau County Temporary Districting Advisory Commission is in the middle of a suite of public events in which people can have input on the process of redrawing county legislative district lines before next year’s elections.
Those sessions are expected to continue into October. But the advisory group is currently set to present maps to the county legislature in mid-November, and then transmit them to the legislature for consideration at the end of the same hearing.
That doesn’t give much opportunity for residents to parse the maps and offer feedback before the legislature takes over the line-drawing process.
Common Cause thinks this defies the point of having a line-drawing commission. A written version of the group’s planned testimony provided to The Point notes that it is “imperative to hold public feedback meetings after any proposed map.” The statement, to be delivered Wednesday night at Hempstead Town Hall, adds that “public input is most clear and helpful to the redistricting commission after a proposed map since people have something to base their comments on.”
Francis X. Moroney, the chairman of the bipartisan commission, told The Point that the advisory group is getting important comments from people already, including New Cassel residents who want to make sure they stay in the 2nd Legislative District.
“The mapping shouldn't take place until after the public hearings are concluded," he said. As for the ability to provide input on actual maps that can be viewed, Moroney suggested there would be “ample time,” pointing to the period after the commission’s work ends and the legislature has the maps in front of it.
Richard J. Nicolello, the legislature’s presiding officer, said in a text that there will be “an opportunity for the public to comment.” But the schedule is pending: “We have not yet determined the meetings that we will have once we are presented with a map or maps.”
A lot of dates are up in the air, including when the commission will actually get the maps to the legislature and when the maps will be approved. The process needs to wrap up earlier than usual due to the earlier June primaries next year.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
New Mack attack
Apparently, a summer break didn’t cool anything off for Metropolitan Transportation Authority board member David Mack, who represents Nassau County.
Mack, who earlier this year blew up at MTA Chief Executive Janno Lieber over Mack's desire for a parking placard grew heated during Wednesday’s board meeting, using the forum to again call for the Long Island Rail Road to have its own president, instead of the joint presidency with Metro-North Railroad now held on an interim basis by Catherine Rinaldi.
Mack reissued the demand during a presentation updating board members on the MTA’s capital program and its focus on so-called “state of good repair” projects — the effort to improve and modernize existing infrastructure, from stations to tracks.
“Why did it take a press conference to point out disrepair at the Valley Stream station?” Mack asked. “Can you answer that? That’s been going on for a while.”
Mack was referring to a news conference held last month by Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who appointed Mack to the MTA board job, and Valley Stream Mayor Edwin Fare. Blakeman and Fare argued that the Valley Stream station suffered from broken and falling concrete and rusting metal, among other problems.
“And Janno, that’s why, I would hope my other colleague Sam Chu would coordinate, we must get a president for the Long Island region,” Mack added.
In response, Jamie Torres-Springer, who heads MTA Construction & Development, noted that while he appreciated the “advocacy” of elected officials like Blakeman, the Valley Stream station was already on the MTA’s radar.
“We have made improvements to the Valley Stream station as we’ve articulated back to those elected officials and we can give you that information,” Torres-Springer said.
“Yeah, but why didn’t we pick it up?” Mack pushed.
“We did pick it up,” Torres-Springer responded.
Lieber jumped in to note that additional investments “are being made.”
“That’s a little inaccurate,” Mack responded again. “It’s not just the way you’re putting it.”
Continuing the unusually extensive back and forth, Mack noted there was “deterioration,” “leaking” and “water damage” in Valley Stream.
Having been called out by name, Suffolk MTA board representative Samuel Chu spoke up as well, highlighting other key components of the capital program, including the work already done on Penn Station, and the nearly completed LIRR Third Track.
Then Chu turned to Mack.
“Because you called me out specifically, Mr. Mack, I will say I do agree in sentiment that the Long Island Rail Road as a large commuter rail does merit its own president and that consideration,” Chu said. “I do have to take the opportunity to say that in my short time on the board, when I’ve had issues and needed responsiveness from President Rinaldi, she has been there every step of the way. I think because she has to wear two hats, she’s overclocking it and it shows and we appreciate that dedication. So, thank you to President Rinaldi.”
Board member Neal Zuckerman, who represents Putnam County, backed Rinaldi, too, noting that there’s been “no slippage” and that there are advantages in having coordination and communication between the two commuter railroads.
As for Valley Stream, John McCarthy, the MTA’s chief of external relations, told The Point after the meeting that the MTA already completed extensive station enhancements in Valley Stream in 2019, and the station will get more improvements through the current capital plan — scheduled long before the Blakeman news conference. McCarthy noted that Mack had never raised concerns over Valley Stream before Wednesday’s meeting.
Despite the disagreements early on, when it came down to a key vote later in the meeting, all the board members were on the same page. They unanimously approved the $57.9 million contract for the newly selected designers of the renovation to Penn Station, including John McAslan + Partners, which designed the modernization of King’s Cross Station in London, which Lieber called a “precedent project” for the remake of Penn.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/nationalcartoons
Making ends meet on LI
If you missed Newsday’s reporting last week on the latest Long Island poverty data, here’s a quick recap: As a whole and as individual counties, Long Island’s poverty rate in 2021 has stayed stable. The Island’s poverty rate remained at 5.9% while nationally the poverty rate hovers at 12%.
The child poverty rate on Long Island, however, saw a drop of more than 1 percentage point, from 7.73% in 2019 to 6.34% in 2021. Nassau County’s child poverty rate stayed nearly the same, at 6.1%, but Suffolk County saw a decrease of 1.5 percentage points from 9.2% to 7.7%.
But with a poverty line threshold of $26,500 in 2021, the federal poverty rate is an extremely low bar to cross for a region with a median household income that’s at least 60% higher than the national median income of $69,000.
As a way to gauge how Long Islanders are faring, a better measure might be United Way’s ALICE Essentials Index, which tries to estimate the basic cost of living for a county. For Nassau County, the ALICE index estimates the cost of living for a two-adult, two-child household to be a little over $84,000 annually and $86,000 for Suffolk.
ALICE — which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — includes breakdowns for housing, child care, food, transportation, taxes and more. This granularity means its estimates for Long Island can be far more relevant than the federal poverty rate. For example, ALICE’s estimate for monthly rent ranges from $1,200 to $1,900 depending on the household size, close to the census’ median rent for Long Island.
Using ALICE’s thresholds and with its latest 2018 data, around 25% of Long Islanders are struggling compared to the federal poverty line’s 6%. Since 2018, Long Island has been impacted by many events ranging from the pandemic, inflation, and even a surge of population migration into the Island. With the next full ALICE report for New York with county-level analysis, slated for Q1 of 2023, we might see more Long Islanders fall under the ALICE threshold.
— Jun-Kai Teoh @jkteoh