There have been countless news stories impacting Long Island this year, but only a few that stand out as the defining moments of 2009. We took our best stab at rounding them up. Here are our picks:
Yet again, 2009 will be remembered as another devastating year the Island wrestled to get out of the merciless grip of a seething heroin epidemic. In some ways, the scourge tightened its squeeze, with the drug claiming more lives and sending scores of addicts to already overcrowded detox and rehabs across the Island—which were also exposed as prime places for users to find a fix, right under our collective noses. In other ways, the drug’s fingers got pried back a bit—as local law enforcement continued its crackdown through stings, wire taps, buys and busts from Brooklyn to St. James, disrupting the flow of the deadly narcotic into our schools and homes. The public began hearing more about the drug fueling crime this year, too, as addicts were cuffed for committing everything from bank robberies to burglaries to feed their habits. Communities began to catch on, with school and elected officials working with police to host summits and press conferences to bring more attention to this brutal war—which, unfortunately, is far from over.
Red Light Cams
Cracking down on dangerous drivers while also plugging Nassau’s budget gaps, 2009 will be known as the final year reckless drivers were able to run red lights at more than 50 intersections without getting caught, thanks to the installation of red light cameras at high-accident junctions throughout the county. The cameras photograph offenders’ license plates as they fly through, then hit them with a $50 fine for the offense. The program is projected to bring in $20 million annually and has drawn praise and criticism—since some cameras tend to be a little trigger happy even when drivers don’t run the red. Another 50 cameras have been greenlighted for Suffolk, although they have not yet been installed.
The summer of 2009 in the New York State (NYS) capital was characterized by a political power-struggle quagmire that paralyzed the lawmaking process and showed the nation just how dysfunctional our state Senate can really be. LI-centric bills were held up, among many others, drama abounded, and taxpayers footed the bill during the entire political soap opera—which ended only after renegade Dem Sen. Pedro Espada, Jr., who had defected to the Republicans, returned to his side, albeit with a pay raise and new title. The turmoil was punctuated by NYS Gov. David Paterson’s controversial appointment of a lieutenant governor amid the fray, and the fact the whole debacle took place during one of the worst financial crises in history. Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Rockville Centre was a pivotal player in the mess.
Nassau’s Nov. 3 election was one for the record books. Not only was it a nail-biting squeezer—resulting in a historic recount that consumed dozens of attorneys and elections workers for the better part of a month—but it also was a table-flipper, with the GOP seizing control of the county Legislature and voters ultimately ousting two-term County Executive Tom Suozzi, a Democrat, for Republican Ed Mangano by just nearly 400 votes. The drama culminated in Suozzi’s concession before a packed room of media and supporters Dec. 1.
It’s on again, it’s off again. Billionaire Charles Wang’s vision of a miniature mixed-use metropolis smack dab in the middle of Nassau County, for another year in a row, captivated the imaginations, excitement and fears of residents and Islanders fans yet again in 2009. The $3.8 billion mega-project, which features an extravagant downtown and renovated Nassau Coliseum, is undoubtedly dead in the water, and has been, for some time. The Press reported as much in October, though Wang denies the report. The prospect of the project will most likely continue to haunt die-hard believers in 2010 and beyond, no matter how many key financiers and backers move on to other projects.
Named after 11-year-old drunk driving victim Leandra Rosado, this historic law—also known as the Child Passenger Protection Act—makes it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the vehicle and requires convicted first-time drunk driving offenders to install an ignition interlock device to check their breath for alcohol prior to starting their engines. Gov. Paterson made it law in November and it went into effect earlier this month—making the state the home to one of the toughest anti-drunk driving laws in the country. LI-based advocates fought for this legislation for years.
To avert the imposition of high fare increases, potential bridge tolls and service cuts, the NYS Legislature, to the opposition and ire of many Long Islanders and some lawmakers, passed a $2.3 billion bailout of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in May that puts much of the gap-closing on the backs of Nassau and Suffolk taxpayers. The bailout imposes a payroll tax on suburban businesses, nonprofits, hospitals and other entities, to generate transit revenue, among other fees. Several Suffolk County lawmakers publicized their dismay about the MTA tax by threatening secession—so LI could become the country’s 51st state.
The Nassau County lawmaker surrendered to federal agents in May on federal tax evasion charges for allegedly failing to pay income taxes on $226,000 allegedly received from a developer working on a federal contract in New Cassel. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in June and charged with fraud for lying on his tax returns in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and lying to federal investigators about his role in the case. Corbin lost his re-election bid this November.
The pandemic strain of influenza spread mayhem across the globe in 2009, and as of press time, has resulted in nearly 10,000 deaths worldwide since first detected in April. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15 percent of Americans—or one in six—have been infected with the virus. On LI, the virus also claimed lives—five in Nassau and at least 10 in Suffolk.
Former Suffolk County Legis. Wayne Prospect offered to assist a contractor obtain county contracts by influencing a former Department of Public Works employee to release confidential documents between 2001 and 2004. Little did he know, however, that the contractor was actually an undercover agent. Prospect was convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges in 2006 and sentenced to 2.5 to 7.5 years, which he began serving in 2008. He was diagnosed with terminal cancer while out on bail. This September, Gov. Paterson commuted Prospect’s sentence, so he could enroll in specialized medical programs upon leaving prison.