The Long Island sustainable development movement is not really an unwitting pawn in a socialist-inspired UN plot to seize American property rights, brainwash the nation’s children and cut Earth’s population from 7 billion down to 1 billion. Or is it?
Those and other alarmist questions were asked and affirmatively answered by a marketer who recently made his case in the Nassau County leg of his national tour of local Tea Party chapter meetings. Whether followers can use the message to bury the local Green movement by painting it as a Red threat depends on whether LI lawmakers act on the rhetoric.
“This is real, it’s not tinfoil hat stuff, it’s not some kind of a conspiracy. It’s nothing more than a well-executed business plan,” John Anthony, a Pennsylvania-based Tea Party activist, told a crowd of nearly 250 during a 90-minute lecture at the Plainview-Old Bethpage Public Library on Feb. 24. “Our local communities are in peril because a small group of people seeks to convince us that unless we surrender our property and freedom, unless we surrender our individual rights to the good of the community, the planet will not survive.”
A conservative group has been able to kill local smart-growth and sustainable development initiatives in Virginia, Maine and Florida. They say socialists in the United Nations coined the term “sustainable development” in a strategy to redistribute global wealth in a plan laid out in a 20-year-old international agreement known as Agenda 21.
The claims surely will echo at future public meetings across the Island. They have already been aired before the lecture hosted by the Conservative Society for Action, a local Tea Party group—a crowd that cheered at mention of a municipality suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency. A handful of Republican politicians who listened to the lecture described it as food for thought.
“Caution is the key, and you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater just because terms are used that relate in some way to a report that was generated by people who prefer a socialist philosophy over a Republican or Democratic philosophy,” Suffolk County Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) says. “The whole issue is more of a commentary on what’s going on at a national level than it’s impacting our local taxpayers.”
Anthony cited one local example: a 2008 survey of 300 people gauging opinions on revitalizing downtown Copiague, a hamlet with a population of more than 18,000. He argued that such surveys are “stacked decks” because the sample size was too small to accurately reflect a consensus opinion.
Sustainable Long Island, the Farmingdale-based nonprofit group commissioned by the Town of Babylon to conduct the survey, maintains that they advertized the survey in every medium possible for months to gain as many responses as possible.
“We specialize in bottom-up listening, making sure everyone’s at the table,” says Amy Engle, the group’s executive director. “We try to get the word out to everybody…with any process there are people who want their voice heard and people who don’t get involved.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat who previously led Babylon’s sustainability efforts as town supervisor, declined to comment. So did Republican Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who might be surprised to learn that his Tea Party backers suspect public-private partnerships like those he’s championed are also part of a socialist plot.
Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci, who was also at the meeting, says he would not base any big policy decisions on one lecture.
Assemblyman Al Graf (R-Holbrook), another attendee, says he has seen government overreaching on property rights as Town of Brighton supervisor in upstate Franklin County.
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a Northport-based smart-growth advocacy group, wasn’t buying the conspiracy theory.
“I think some of the concerns don’t have much to do with the smart growth movement on Long Island,” he says. “It’s hard to envision how this is related to local land use.”