One friend posted on Facebook that Nassau residents should be "ashamed of themselves." I could not disagree more. They voted their consciences, and they likely voted their pocketbooks. They are already taxed at extraordinarily high rates, and saw no reason to tack another fifty-eight dollars per year onto that bill to build an arena for a multimillionaire (billionaire?). I don't blame them. My own conscience, as a libertarian, is inclined the same way. (Indeed, the night after the vote, a blurb appeared on Reason's blog.) Had this vote been held in 2005 or 2006 - that is to say, had Nassau County and Charles Wang gone to the taxpayers before the trials and tribulations of the Lighthouse Project - I would have been categorically opposed. But Wang did try to build it himself, and those efforts ran smack into the immovable object known as Kate Murray. And so, I reluctantly hoped this referendum would pass; not because I favor handouts to sports teams, but because I thought it might be the last hope to keep the Islanders in the only home they've ever known.
So if Nassau County and its residents aren't to blame for the possible flight of the Islanders, who is? To me, it's that immovable object I wrote of a few moments ago - Kate Murray, the Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead. For all intents and purposes, she singlehandedly killed the Lighthouse Project. As Katie Baker quoted her in a piece at ESPN's Grantland, Murray's stated reason was the "preservation of the suburban character" of the area. I'd like to cordially invite Madam Supervisor to pull her head out of the mid-20th century pile of sand it's stuck in. I'm a Hofstra commuter student who drives past the Coliseum twice a day, so I can say with authority that the 1200 block of Hempstead Turnpike isn't exactly a slice of apple-pie Americana. I think it could certainly stand to be improved. There has been a fair bit of rumor and innuendo that Murray was actually trying to preserve the election prospects for her and her Republican colleagues. Whatever her true motivation, Murray put her own interests - and perhaps those of the voters who elected her - above what I think is best of Long Island. That is her right, and you can make an argument that as Supervisor of Hempstead, it is her duty. But if the 2015-16 NHL season opens without the Islanders gracing the environs of Exit M4, I know who I'll hold responsible.
Where does this franchise go from here? I hope the answer isn't Kansas City or la Ville de Québec. I suspect it won't be, as the Islanders seem to have their pick of options in the New York metro area. Just today, it was reported that Suffolk County would be open to accommodating the team. I'm quite skeptical of that, given that Steve Levy (who made this most recent overture) will be leaving the County Executive's office in five months. Will Mr. Bellone and Ms. Carpenter, the challengers for Levy's job in November, sign on? Other than Suffolk, Brooklyn and Queens have also expressed interest...but both pose some challenges. The Barclays Center is being built to the specifications of the future Brooklyn Nets; while that building may be able to fit a two hundred by eighty-five foot ice sheet, that would reduce capacity well below any other building in the NHL. Queens is a very enticing possibility. I'd be all for the Islanders relocating to Willets Point, with one big reservation. I would strenuously object to the use of eminent domain were used to acquire the property across 126th Street from Citi Field. It may be nothing more than a collection of mostly chop shops, but the people who are trying to make a decent living there don't deserve to have their businesses taken from them on the word of a bureaucrat that some other use of that land might generate more tax revenue or some other benefit. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeals (my state's highest) has effectively foreclosed review of declarations of blight, in the cases of the aforementioned Barclays Center and a similar case involving Columbia University. The Willets Point site is near both the LIRR and the New York City Subway, and according to the president of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the zoning and environmental review hurdles have already been cleared. If the Islanders are forced to decamp, a site just across the New York City line might be their best option.
There is, of course, always the chance that the team will remain in Nassau County. In fact, if someone other than Wang can get an arena built on the Coliseum site, I think it would take precedence over all other options. Wang has long been an advocate for Long Island; his purchase of the Islanders in 2000 was in part motivated by the threat of them leaving and the effectively absentee management of the previous owners. Moving the team to another location will only be employed as absolutely the last resort. Hopefully, someone can step up and make a Nassau County arena happen. If not, then we can only hope that they go no farther than Queens or Brooklyn - lest we join the hockey fans of Atlanta and Hartford, and the basketball fans of Seattle.