A story built on politics and planning
The Point took a trip to Hudson Yards on Manhattan’s West Side on Tuesday for the first night of previews for “Straight Line Crazy,” David Hare’s new drama about master builder Robert Moses, who is played by Tony Award-winning actor Ralph Fiennes.
The show, fresh off a run in London, is a deep dive into 20th century New York politics and urban planning, following the rise and fall of Moses as he moves from parkways to slum removal and an attempted highway through Manhattan. The play’s first act is set on Long Island, and the region plays a huge role. Fiennes’ Moses muses repeatedly about the joys of swimming at Jones Beach. He spends a good minute or so literally tracing the outline of Long Island in the air. Never before have gigantic, beautiful old maps of the Northern and Southern State parkways played so pivotal a plot role on a professional stage.
Fiennes brings Moses to brash, barrel-chested life, though New York audiences familiar with his history may get a little tired of the exposition and the monologues chopped up with interjections of the “why do you think that, Mr. Moses?” variety. The play is significantly enlivened by the crass, jovial appearance of Gov. Al Smith, played by Danny Webb, who looks like he could have stumbled out of Albany budget negotiations in this or the last century.
The show makes the usual arguments about the way Moses’ dictatorial hold on New York planning prioritized cars and resulted in mass disruption for many people living in poor neighborhoods in the way of his constructions. There was at least one copy of Robert Caro’s 1974 doorstopper and Pulitzer Prize winner “The Power Broker” in the audience Tuesday.
But there were plenty of more contemporary resonances to the subject. There is a certain irony that a play whose drama comes from controversial construction would be staged at The Shed in Hudson Yards, a developers’ playland that has faced plenty of criticism of its own. Audience members taking escalators up to the theater pass a sign that acknowledges the “talent, drive, and leadership” of Dan Doctoroff, who worked on planning for the site in the Bloomberg era. And the play gestures briefly at the current complexities of trying to build and improve New York.
The lack of progress can sometimes — almost — make people wonder what would happen if things could be jammed through with more ease. It’s not as if Robert Moses is blocking new affordable housing or congestion pricing.
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Nassau assessment messes with the wrong guy
When Jeff Gold bought his Bellmore home in 2019, he quickly let Nassau County know the property’s “program card,” which records attributes of properties for the county, was in error. It said he had an in-ground pool, when he actually had an above-ground pool with a deck, which does not figure into an assessment calculation. In addition, the card said his house was the first one fronted on the bay, while Gold argued it was actually the last one fronted on the canal, which also makes a valuation difference.
Gold would know. He is a former Assessment Review Commission commissioner and tax appeal professional, and the administrator of the 35,000-member “Nassau Grieve Your Tax Assessment-Free” Facebook group.
“It should have made a difference of a few hundred bucks lower on my taxes,” Gold told The Point.
But when Gold, on the Rome leg of a multination vacation with his wife, checked his school tax bill online recently, he found it had risen a whopping $10,353, from $16,694 to $27,047.
He reported the problem, and it turns out about 800 property owners who filed changes that reduced the taxable value of their properties had similar issues.
County officials say the problem was corrected for those property owners and Nassau will make up the shortfall to the school districts. It is an error likely to cost millions, and it is too late, officials say, to reset the levy and make all the other taxpayers in that school district make up the difference.
— Lane Filler @lanefiller
A fight to the finish
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Another campaign-time reminder of a horrid crime
The racist rampage in Buffalo May 14, in which self-professed 19-year-old white supremacist Payton Gendron allegedly shot 10 people to death and injured three in a supermarket, is injected into the news three weeks before Election Day.
Attorney General Letitia James has released a report requested by Gov. Kathy Hochul detailing the role that online web platforms played in the attack and the use of videos as propaganda to encourage further terrorist attacks.
Both incumbents are in campaign mode. Both, who were briefly Democratic primary rivals for the governorship, jointly support state legislation that would criminalize graphic images created by someone engaged in a homicide and crack down on those who repost them.
They also call for Congress to make changes in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to require the tech industry to “take reasonable steps to prevent unlawful violent criminal content from appearing on their platforms.”
Some federal changes in or scrapping of Section 230 look likelier and depend on Washington — perhaps more reachable because many Republicans, like Democrats, are interested in altering the digital laws in ways they could find politically beneficial. The law defines tech companies as private platforms rather than publishers — a protection from liability.
But action on the state front — which of course is Hochul’s and James’ jurisdiction — looks even further away from being resolved than Section 230. There are difficult civil-liberties issues to be addressed and debated, and logistical problems with how it would be enforced.
“It’s the first I’m hearing of it,” a well-placed Democratic lawmaker told The Point, adding that it’s an issue worth working on once a bill is presented.
Gendron livestreamed his actions with a helmet camera. In a manifesto before the killings, he said the “particular person that radicalized (him) the most” was Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 51 people three years ago in his rampage at two New Zealand mosques. Tarrant livestreamed his atrocities on Facebook.
The Buffalo massacre occurred during the legislative session and Hochul, who’s from that area, signed a package of new gun restrictions, such as raising the age from 18 to 21 for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles. Currently, the state is struggling against litigation and other fallout from a Supreme Court decision expanding Second Amendment rights.
The release of the report reintroduces the issues underlying that tragic day in Buffalo to voters.
— Dan Janison @Danjanison