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Under the East River

Hempstead Village Police Officer Randy Stith leaves Nassau

Hempstead Village Police Officer Randy Stith leaves Nassau County Court after being arraigned on Wednesday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Daily Point

Getting to Manhattan by golf cart

Muddy puddles and a dirty path lie where tracks eventually will be installed. Piles of concrete and steel rods sit to the side, waiting to be placed. Temporary piping winds along a tunnel wall. Construction hard hats abound.

But as The Point visited the East Side Access project Thursday morning, heavy-duty golf carts — not trains — slowly maneuvered through tunnels under Queens, the East River, Roosevelt Island and Park Avenue, eventually arriving at an open, cavernous room that had the look of a train station. Platforms are in place, precast curved beams form the ceiling, and some towering escalators are installed.

After years of delays, cost-overruns and plenty of finger-pointing, the pieces of the complex puzzle known as East Side Access — the effort to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal — are coming together. Now, it’s just a matter of getting them connected and finishing the job.

But that’s not going to be simple.

The Point’s visit — a tour that included the Sunnyside Yards, the Harold Interlocking and the LIRR midday storage yard now under construction, along with a ride west through the tunnels into the bowels of Grand Central — comes at a critical time for East Side Access, as Janno Lieber, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief development officer, tries to navigate the politics and bureaucracies inside the MTA, and with the agency’s reluctant partner, Amtrak.

Lieber’s effort to show off the project is, in part, a message to Amtrak: Make East Side Access a priority, and work with the MTA to get it done.

“None of this is rocket science,” Lieber said during the tour.

But for more than three hours Thursday, Lieber pointed out the spaghetti-like network of tracks at Harold Interlocking, the Amtrak train-car wash whose expected makeover might now wait, and the logistics of getting every piece of material from Queens to Manhattan underground rather than using New York City streets.

By the time we headed to Grand Central Terminal’s historic concourse, it became clear that the project might not be rocket science — but it’s not elementary, either.

Randi F. Marshall

Reference Point

#TBT — Back where we started on guns

Over the last few years, most Americans have read or heard countless variations of this sentence:

“How many more tragedies must there be before Congress enacts strong gun control law?”

That particular sentence, however, appeared in a Newsday editorial 50 years ago today — April 26, 1968.

The topic was a bill in the U.S. Senate that the editorial board called “only a sop, not a solution,” because it would prohibit interstate mail-order sales of handguns to individuals but would do nothing to regulate such sales of rifles and shotguns.

The board assigned blame for the Senate’s reluctance to a familiar foe: “This is partly the result of the skilled, powerful and persuasive gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association and abetted by the manufacturers,” the board wrote.

The board also was prescient in demanding one particular provision that America is still struggling to accomplish. The nation, the board opined, needs “a tougher bill that governs all firearms, and helps insure that few or none can get into the hands of criminals or the mentally ill.”

The only thing that’s changed in 50 years are the tragedies cited to support the need for legislation. As the board observed in 1968: “Had such a law been on the books, both John F. Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. might be alive today.”

Michael Dobie

Talking Point

Lesson for the Hempstead school board

The school board that’s synonymous with dysfunction is again enmeshed in controversy. Hempstead’s Randy Stith was indicted Wednesday on charges that he stole more than $6,500 from the Hempstead Fire Department and forged a letter of recommendation to get his job with the Hempstead Village police department.

Dealing with troublesome allegations against a board member is one of the lessons the Hempstead school board repeats again and again.

Unless Stith is convicted of a felony, he can stay on the board, according to New York State School Boards Association general counsel Jay Worona. But the board could try to persuade him to resign. Worona said that’s what school boards in general do in such circumstances, so “the board won’t have this absurd distraction that would preclude them from focusing” on business.

But this is Hempstead, where distractions are routine. Besides, a resignation from Stith would leave the divided five-person board in a 2-2 standoff.

If Stith leaves, the board could either appoint a replacement or call a special election, the preferred choice when there are two years remaining on a three-year term, as is the case with Stith. But the board could well be deadlocked on both options.

In that case, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia could call a special election. Or, if the time remaining on the term has significantly dwindled, Nassau BOCES Superintendent Robert Dillon could appoint a replacement.

Perhaps the most amazing, and dispiriting, part of this development is that Hempstead has seen most of those options in its recent history.

In 2005 and 2007, the board appointed replacements for member Thomas Parsley, convicted of stealing a principal’s ATM card and using it to withdraw $500, and Terry Grant, the board’s treasurer who pleaded guilty to defrauding insurance companies in his dental practice.

In 2014, then-state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. called a special election to fill the seat of trustee Betty Cross, after King removed her amid allegations of voter fraud in that year’s election.

In 2016, Dillon appointed current trustee David Gates to fill the seat of Ricky Cooke Sr., who resigned halfway through his term.

And in 2017, the then-board majority voted to remove member Lamont Johnson and appointed Mary Crosson to replace him over allegations that Johnson aided Stith’s campaign by giving him employee data; the board’s actions were overturned by Elia in November.

In Hempstead, the past is always prologue, and it’s never good for the students.

Michael Dobie

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