Islanders fans have not forgotten and not forgiven. Last Tuesday, they used election day to get revenge on the politician they most identified with the failure to keep their team in Nassau County.
Islanders fans are being credited with helping Madeline Singas defeat Kate Murray for Nassau County District Attorney. Murray had been the Town of Hempstead Supervisor who presided over demise of Islander owner Charles Wang’s Lighthouse Project.
As the de facto mayor of Hempstead, where Nassau Coliseum sits in the hamlet of Uniondale, Murray’s highly visible resistance to Wang’s plan doomed the massive redevelopment of the Coliseum and the surrounding barren acreage, foiling the plot to keep the team on Long Island.
“Kate Murray never let it get to a vote,” said B.D. Gallof, longtime blogger and commentator on the Islanders (most recently on the IslesBeat website and podcast). “You can point to that very clearly, whatever else the subplots are. That’s what really got the fans going (against her).”
The subplots are many and they all provide a fascinating glimpse into how things work and don’t work on Long Island and how the hockey team, once the pride of the region, ended up in Brooklyn to start the 2015-16 season.
You can start with the specter of entrenched political corruption in this suburban region; or the domineering influence – now faded – of the Republican Party in Nassau County; or the rarely told tale (denied by the principles but disclosed by confidantes to Newsday, the area’s newspaper) that Wang resisted efforts by all-powerful former U.S. Senator Alphonse D’Amato to get his brother, Armand, on Wang’s Lighthouse Project payroll -- perhaps the trigger that turned political forces against Wang’s proposal.
In the eyes of Islanders fans, Murray became Public Enemy No. 1. She was the face of political opposition to the $3.8 billion Lighthouse Project – which was more than a renovated arena. As Newsday described it, the Lighthouse Project included “42 new or renovated buildings, 2,300 housing units, 1 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail, a sports technology center and a luxury hotel - spread across 150 acres. Artist's renderings showed a ‘grand canal’ next to a grassy ‘celebration plaza’ and fountains throughout.”
Murray spearheaded the opposition to Wang’s development, first proposed in 2006. She maintained it was not in keeping with Hempstead’s suburban character, citing potential environmental and traffic issues. Wang scaled down his proposal, but it wasn’t good enough for her. She proposed an even more scaled down version that didn’t work for him. Wang attempted all sorts of measures to win approval but she blocked him at every turn, often in public hearings and in the media.
In 2012, Wang surrendered, forging instead a unique deal to move the team to Brooklyn.
So when Murray declared last spring she would run for County DA, Islanders fans targeted her for defeat, their chief weapon being social media. One blogger summarized the fan response as, “We will make sure to do to her the same thing she did to our team in November.” There were tweets like, “Islander fans, if we want Kate Murray [out] of office, we must help promote @madelinesingas campaign,“ and this:
Although it lurked in the background, the Isles move to Brooklyn never became an overt campaign issue. Much of the public discussion centered on Murray’s profound lack of qualifications for the job compared to Singas, who became the incumbent when she rose to acting Nassau DA just months earlier. Singas had been a prosecutor for 24 years. Murray has never practiced criminal law.
But Murray had far greater name recognition, built largely on taxpayer-funded mailings to residents that touted her work for Hempstead over the years. She also had the backing of the powerful Republican machine.
Gallof says Murray grabbed an early lead in polls over Singas by anywhere from 20 to 30 points. Nevertheless, Islanders fans were willing to help get Singas’ message to a wider audience, both on social media and on the streets. Her campaign staff reached out to them. “They were conscious of where the support would be right from her nomination in May,” Gallof says.
In early June, her staff planned the campaign’s first direct appeal to fans with an Islander-oriented event, and began using the #Isles hashtag to reach them via Twitter.
Singas, who wasn’t really known as a hockey fan (or well-known at all) began to see a kinship with her new supporters. Messages to the Islanders fan base became regularly integrated on her Twitter account including, in August, noting the passing of Islanders coach Al Arbour.
In September, as her campaign gained momentum, Singas continued direct appeals to Islanders fans with tweets like this:
Singas continued to attack Murray on the experience gap, and Islanders fans echoed her on social media. Plus, they got after Murray in their own fashion, regularly attacking her on her own Facebook page. “Murray’s staff had to constantly delete comments on the page,” Gallof chuckled. “They were always cleaning it up.”
By October, as polls showed the gap between Murray and Singas had closed to six points, Singas journeyed to Brooklyn, greeting fans who traveled to the Isles season opener at their new home:
Singas picked up numerous valuable endorsements, including nearly all the area newspapers. By the end of October, polls showed the Singas-Murray race was a statistical dead heat. On the eve of the election, Singas’ social media campaign went into full-blown Islanders mode with tweets like this one:
…and this one with no real Islanders message other than Nassau Coliseum in the background, just as a friendly reminder to aggrieved voters:
On election day, Islanders Twitter was alive with calls to vote for Singas and defeat Murray. Numerous retweets like this filled Singas’ account, reflecting how badly Murray had even alienated Islanders fans who usually voted for her party:
…and countless voters said they were wearing Islanders gear as they went to cast their ballots.
When the votes were tallied on Nov. 3, Singas defeated Murray by 31,000 votes, a whopping 18 percentage points. In her victory speech, Singas recognized the Islanders fanbase had become a driving force in her triumph and made a point to thank them, drawing the biggest cheers of all those whom she thanked. She doubled down later on Twitter:
“I think her victory was a combination of factors, a perfect storm,” says Gallof. “Islanders fans were irate, of course. The experience factor was key; the newspapers hammered on it. So was the arrogance of the Republicans for putting forward a candidate with no real qualifications, assuming they would win. All the endorsements Singas got mattered; they reached people who weren’t plugged in to social media.”
But one journalist declared the Islanders fans made “a crucial difference” in the race. “Has a sports team ever influenced a district attorney election?” asked Newsday columnist Randi Marshall the morning after Singas’ victory. “Probably not ... Until yesterday.”