2012-12-14 / Top Stories

State Pols Take In Sandy View

By Howard Schwach

It was a scene right out of a movie set. It was raining and the group had gathered on Beach 96 Street and Shore Front Parkway, near the site where Whalemina had migrated back to sea and a block from the large tents that housed a warming and information center for Rockaway Beach survivors of Superstorm Sandy.

Somehow, the group of older men and women looked out of place among the devastation in the area, with piles of sand, the remnants of the once-iconic boardwalk and a direct view to the ocean where once a seawall had stood.

They are important to the recovery of Rockaway, however, because they are all members of a fledgling coalition of State Senate Republicans and Independent Democratic Conference that is taking up Hurricane Sandy as its first order of business, in what they say is a nonpartisan issue.

State Senator Jeff Klein, the head of the IDC, unveiled a new storm response task force during the coalition’s first public appearance yesterday in Rockaway, repeatedly emphasizing the bipartisan nature of helping residents still dealing with the devastation from the storm.

“I think it’s pretty clear that if Sandy has taught us anything, it’s that we’re at our best when we’re working side by side together for the common interests and welfare of all New Yorkers,” Klein told reporters yesterday afternoon in a makeshift tent where residents have been gathering to eat, stay warm and apply for government aid. “What the storm also taught us is that labels mean nothing when you’re fighting for your life.”

Klein said the lawmakers on the task force, who all represent neighborhoods affected by Hurricane Sandy, will pinpoint the areas most in need of assistance, review rebuilding and storm planning policies and develop “serious” legislation to implement recommendations from the other recovery commissions already set up by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who spoke first at the press conference, joined Klein in public for the first time since the coalition was announced last week.

The two leaders, standing alongside seven other state senators from both parties and the IDC, rebuffed criticism that the coalition lacks diversity or betrayed the will of voters.

“This new coalition is not an exclusive club,” Klein said. “It’s open to anyone, Democrat or Republican, who’s serious about governing. And I expect to address, full on, the diversity of the State Senate. We have to take a good hard look at the interests of communities all over the state, upstate and downstate, minority communities as well.”

State Senator Malcolm Smith, the newest member of the IDC and a cochair of the new storm response task force, shot down a question about his own role in negotiating with state Senator Pedro Espada and other renegade lawmakers whose party-switching led to a dysfunctional State Senate.

“I have people behind me that have no heat,” said Smith, drawing applause from a small crowd of locals who gathered near the lawmakers. “I’ve got people sitting over here that got no hot water. I’ve got people who are trying to get their lives together, and they don’t care about Democrats, Republicans, independents, conservatives. They care about a coalition that’s trying to solve their challenges.”

Skelos also defended the new coalition by pointing to the Republican State Senate’s record in the past two years under Governor Andrew Cuomo, including two on-time budgets, and cited a new poll showing support for coalition government.

“This is the first action of the coalition, which is primary in the minds of people, whether it’s here in the Rockaways or on Long Island, is recovery, restoration, their quality of life and jobs,” Skelos said. “And that’s what we’re going to be continued to be focused on.”

The other co-chair of the task force is State Senator Andrew Lanza of Staten Island. Senator Diane Savino, another IDC member; Republican Senators Lee Zeldin, Jack Martin and Marty Golden; and Senator Joe Addabbo, a Democrat, also attended the meeting. Senatorelect James Sanders, another Democrat, could not attend due to a scheduling conflict.

The task force will likely delve into issues ranging from housing and designated disaster zones to emergency procedures and the supply of gas.

“Tops on the list is taking a good, hard look at holding gas and utility companies responsible for a lack of preparation and clear failures to fulfill their obligations to paying customers,” Klein said.

Skelos said that 10,000 homes are still without power. “That’s unacceptable,” he said, adding that the task force would complete its work “expeditiously.”

The task force is expected to complete its work and issue recommendations within 60 days.

Addabbo, the only Democrat at the press conference who is not a member of the IDC announced on Tuesday that he had been named as a member of the task force.

Led by State Senator Malcolm Smith, members of the new ruling coalition walked Rockaway’s streets on Monday, viewing the destruction brought by Sandy. Photo by Howard Schwach.

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