It’s the end of the year, when people look back and look ahead. That’s true for us, too.
The Newsday editorial board wrote more than 430 editorials in 2017. Our focus, as always, was on the issues, policies and politics that affect Long Islanders. In most years, that means an emphasis on local developments. But events in Washington were so compelling and so critical that they dominated our discussions in 2017.
Our role is to take the news of the day, subject it to the crucible of debate, and offer our views. Our goal at all times is to advance arguments or solutions that in the end will make Long Island better. The dialogue created by these opinions can be found in our letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, which often offer opposing views.
These choices are difficult. And the news came so fast and furious in 2017, some things fell by the wayside. We missed some important topics, no doubt. Every decision on what to write involves not writing about something else. That’s why for the first time we are accounting for ourselves and posting online an easy-to-use index of our editorials. If we fail to address something in 2018, we want to hear from you.
We wrote a lot about Nassau’s budget woes and the county’s refusal to deal honestly with them. But we gave Suffolk too much of a pass. Its budget is a mess, too, with kick-the-can-down-the-road measures postponing Suffolk’s day of reckoning. We also whiffed on criticizing the county for unnecessarily breaching a contract with a private firm to install solar panels at the Ronkonkoma train station. Add up a $10.8 million court-ordered judgment against Suffolk and other costs, and taxpayers could be on the hook for more than $15 million. That’s atrocious. And it could have been avoided.
We didn’t see the fierceness of the opposition to a state constitutional convention early enough, and were too late in fairly framing a debate polluted with misinformation. The convention was rejected resoundingly by voters, and the badly needed reforms it might have ushered in will once again be subjected to the state legislative maw.
As we enter 2018, we want to increase attention on how to eliminate the violent gangs in some communities. And we want to return to the focus we had on the opioid epidemic in 2016. Strides have been made to attack this problem, but there still is much work to do.
We began 2017 with an ambitious wish list, but setting the bar high is what we do. We were gratified at some developments, dismayed at others.
On the first day of 2017, we hoped that with the election of Donald Trump “a fresh approach might bring about needed changes” after a divisive presidential race and a year wracked by violence in the United States and abroad. The jury is still out.
We encouraged people to respect the opinions of those with whom they disagree, engage in civil discussion, reject fake news, and seek compromise and cooperation. We rooted for an end to government dysfunction. We continued to bang those drums throughout 2017, but all we can say now is we’re still hoping. Sad.
We also made a big push right away for infrastructure. Our general plea to Trump to follow through on his $1 trillion campaign promise has yet to be answered. But we had success locally, especially with the Long Island Rail Road’s third-track project. The board has been a strong proponent of this expansion for decades. As the project stalled on the cusp of full funding and final approvals, we called out Republican state senators standing in the way. This will be a transformative project, although many more are needed to keep Long Island competitive.
Also potentially game-changing: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo embraced our call for a plan to address congestion in New York City, and state officials OK’d a proposal that could transform Belmont Park and bring the New York Islanders back home. As for speeding up East Side Access, developing a common-sense replacement for the Port Authority bus terminal and moving forward in some way at the Nassau Hub, well, we’re still trying.
We spent a lot of 2017 writing about Trump. Based on reader responses, that was the right decision. He so thoroughly dominated so many news cycles that we even thought about having a daily Trump-watch of sorts.
While the board agreed with Trump on the need to protect America from terrorism and the importance of creating more good-paying jobs, we took issue with his poorly drafted travel ban, his shifting stance on illegal immigration, his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, and his administration’s assault on the environment.
But our larger worries had to do with Trump’s behavior. Within two weeks of his inauguration, we implored him to respect the independence of the Justice Department and the judiciary, and we’re still imploring. We demanded that he not interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling. We rebuked him for refusing to unequivocally condemn the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. And we asked that he hire more competent people; he named John Kelly chief of staff two months later. We also told Trump he had to start telling the truth. On that, too, we’re still waiting.
Health care, tax cuts
We wrote frequently about the two main legislative thrusts in Washington, our opposition to each informed by a desire to protect Long Islanders and others around the country who would be harmed by them.
The first was the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. That health care construct is wobbly but still standing, and we’ll continue to argue that it should be strengthened and improved, not abandoned.
As for the GOP’s tax-cut plan, we hope we’re wrong. We hope it does stimulate growth, does not add significantly to the deficit and does benefit the middle class. We also hope that the tax cuts for individuals are extended down the road and that the unfortunate reduction in the deductibility of state and local taxes forces a long-overdue re-examination by state and local governments of how they fund services and in what amounts.
State of corruption
Washington was not the only source of legislative frustration.
For years, we have pushed measures to combat public corruption and to reform election and voting laws, and again in 2017 most of those initiatives died thanks to legislative inaction and a lack of gubernatorial energy. We were pleased that a constitutional amendment we long supported to strip pensions from public officials convicted of corruption is now law.
We were proud of our principled stand against backroom deals by party bosses on cross-endorsements. They deprive voters of choices and can lead to the kind of abuse of power demonstrated by indicted former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, who ran unopposed in three elections. Our campaign changed the trajectory of the race for Suffolk sheriff, and this will be a point of emphasis for us going forward.
Our long support for more urgent efforts to clean up the Bethpage plume saw increased action by the state and federal governments, including recent announcements that the U.S. Navy would pay nearly $7 million for upgrades to a local treatment plant and that the state would spend $150 million on a plan to stop the plume from traveling farther south. We continued to sound an alarm over the lack of longterm planning to deal with the threat to Long Island posed by climate change, rising seas and more intense and more frequent storms — and we’ll keep sounding the alarm. And we have been heartened by the growth of Long Island MacArthur Airport, which is spreading its wings and readying for takeoff, even if we’re still out in front of reality when it comes to a new terminal.
Epilogue or prologue
Is the past prologue? Will the nation be able to put this tumultuous year to rest and move forward? Or do the events of 2017 foreshadow the year ahead? The latter seems more likely.