The name “Valley Stream Independent Democrats” intrigued enough people to fill out the back area of the Sip This coffee shop on Rockaway Avenue on Feb. 20. The upstart organization, which spread the word about its first meeting primarily through email and social media, will have a village focus.
About 25 people attended, including local residents, past and present village officials, and county and state lawmakers. They heard from Vincent Grasso, a Valley Stream trustee who said a politically-based, civic-focused organization is needed. The only concern of members, he said, will be the 3.5 square miles that constitutes the village.
Grasso said the organization is not meant to compete with other political groups. Unlike local Republican or Democratic clubs, Grasso said the Valley Stream Independent Democrats will have no ties to the county-wide parties. He said the only connection to the Democratic party will be the group’s progressive values.
There will be no hierarchy in the group, Grasso explained, but rather teams to work on various projects. These committees will focus on issues including the environment, local business, recreation, development and open government. For example, Grasso said he would like one team to devise a “Shop Local” campaign. He wants Valley Stream to become the destination that communities like Rockville Centre and Long Beach already are.
David Sabatino, president of Envision Valley Stream, said young people are looking for ways to get involved in their community, but are turned off by organizations where orders come down from above. Instead, they want to contribute their own ideas, he said, and hopes this new group is their answer.
Grasso said it’s the top-down approach that creates cynics, and discourages people from getting involved. He doesn’t want his group to do that. “If people feel shut out, you lose participation,” he said.
As a village trustee, Grasso said open and transparent government is important. There should be checklists at Village Hall for residents who want to do construction on their home, or business owners who want to open up shop in Valley Stream. This is one concept that a team could work on, he explained.
Grasso said he would also like to hear recommendations for services and programs that the village could offer that would be sustainable long term, without needing a subsidy from taxpayers. “The residents have things they would like to see happen,” he said. “We want to hear about it.”
Politics should actually play little, if any role in the Valley Stream Independent Democrats, Grasso said. It’s designed to be a group of progressively-minded people who are passionate about their community. A person doesn’t even have to be a Democrat to join, he explained.
Networking is a must, Grasso said, and he would want members to reach out to the schools, community organizations and business community. There are a lot of great ideas out there, he said, and the goal is to find and execute them. He also would want the various committees to seek the advice of experts.
Valley Stream has a coalition government already, Grasso noted. All five seats on the Board of Trustees are held by the United Community Party, a mix of Democrats and Republicans. Grasso, one of two Democrats, said ideas from all viewpoints are already considered but more people should be involved in the conversation.
Grasso pointed out that the true values of the two major political parties don’t come into play at the village level. There is no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage, he said. That’s why, Grasso explained, the village is a good place to put partisan beliefs aside and work together.