Editorial: The kind of leadership we need now

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Leaders and leadership come in many forms – both good and bad.

The country’s surpassing 500,000 deaths from COVID-19 is a heart-breaking reminder of President Donald Trump’s epic failure as a leader to adequately respond or even acknowledge the threat posed by the pandemic.

This can be seen in the tens of thousands of people who to this day refuse to practice social distancing, wear a mask or even be willing to take the vaccine.

The same can be said for Trump’s inciting a mob to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6 in a bid to overturn the 2020 presidential election – an effort supported by a majority of Republican House members and 10 Republican senators.

But Trump is by no means alone in his failure to lead.

Just look at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a leader in the Republican senators’ bid to invalidate the election, who fled his home state to vacation in Cancun as millions in his state lost electricity and drinkable water amid an unprecedented winter storm.

With the exception of the five senators who voted to impeach Trump, Republican senators and House members have by far the worse record, but this failure to lead does not belong to one party.

Witness Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s refusal to provide accurate information about nursing home deaths in New York – after presenting himself as a pillar of transparency – and the allegations of his bullying and abuse made in the wake of the nursing home scandal.

The failure to lead is not limited to elected officials. It can be found in corporate officials and among individuals just refusing to wear a mask.

Fortunately, there are also many, many examples of people who have led well and have done good for those around them.

It is one reason why Blank Slate Media honored those who we believed to be the top business leaders in Nassau County in 2020 in a virtual awards ceremony last week and told their stories in these pages the week before.

The honorees and the experiences they shared demonstrate that Nassau County is fortunate to have so many individuals and organizations to lead the county’s economic recovery and more.

The list of 25 leaders we chose to honor included many who did well by doing good.

This included Neil Seiden, the head of a financial advisory firm who developed a team of accountants and financial professionals to get much-needed government loans to small businesses when the state shut down so they could keep their doors open and their staff employed.

Adam Schwam, the president of Sandwire, a provider of managed IT and telecommunications service, immediately came to the rescue of the many businesses that needed to rapidly move to remote work.

Others have combined reinventing their businesses with reaching out to others at the same time.

Ed Blumenfeld, the founder of the Blumenfeld Development Group, led his company as it reinvented its business model to complete major projects.

But Blumenfeld, like others we honored, merged his business efforts with private philanthropy.

Several set standards for others to follow.

Stuart Rabinowitz, the outgoing president of Hofstra University, capped enormous growth at the school with one of the most comprehensive COVID-19 testing and tracing programs among colleges in New York state.  He instituted health and safety protocols that protected the campus community while continuing to provide students with a rewarding experiences inside and outside the classroom.

And government agencies dedicated to enhancing business opportunities also played a role.

Richard Kessell, the chairman of the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency and the Nassau County Local Economic Assistance Corp., helped champion state legislation to temporarily allow IDAs throughout the state to provide grants and loans to coronavirus-affected small businesses and nonprofits.

He also helped develop a program with other government agencies to create a PPE program that distributed 5,000 PPE kits to small-business owners, nonprofits and Town of Hempstead school districts.

Scott Rechler, the chief executive officer and chairman of RXR Realty, established a dedicated COVID-19 task force that continues to meet on a weekly basis to monitor and respond to the rapidly evolving social, public health and economic crisis.

In addition to repositioning its core business for a post-COVID-19 world, RXR used its resources to help local communities navigate through COVID-19 by matching 300 skill-based volunteers with 150 local small businesses and nonprofits in need.

RXR also gave $5 million to organizations throughout the New York region to support efforts to address food insecurity, struggling small businesses, the growing digital divide and more.

Likewise, James Metzger of The Whitmore Group not only helped his company adapt to COVID, but teamed up with a former Hofstra lacrosse teammate to support a wide range of not-for-profits, including their alma mater.

Several not-for-profit heads retooled their organizations to continue to provide services to families and small businesses.

And in the case of Regina Gil, the founder and executive director of the Gold Coast Arts Center, she not only led her organization to continue to provide arts education but put on safe performances in the great show business tradition of the show must go on

The arts center presented hundreds of films, both virtually and in-person at a series of drive-in events around the region.

Most notably were the efforts of Michael Dowling, the president and CEO of Northwell Health, who led the state’s largest health network when the pandemic first struck the United States with New York at its epicenter.

The pandemic forced the hospital system to change how it operated almost overnight and become a template for other hospitals to follow.

Overall, Northwell has treated more than 130,000 COVID patients, including 16,000 who were hospitalized at just one time – more than any other hospital system in the country.

To do so the hospital system, with the state’s approval, quickly increased the number of beds available, transported patients to less crowded hospitals, used 3-D technology to print nasal swabs for COVID testing and converted airway pressure machines into ventilators.

Dowling also addressed the threat of illness and the psychological toll placed on his 71,000 employees, many of whom were confronted with dealing with patients with a disease that endangered them and their families and who died at a rate the medical staff had never seen before.

He walked the halls of Northwell’s medical facilities to support the many heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic – hospital workers.

In his remarks at the virtual awards ceremony, Dowling said this was not enough for him. He called on us all to respond to the problems in our midst beyond COVID-19 such as gun safety – a cause he has continued to lead during the pandemic.

Nassau County should be thankful to have leaders like Dowling and our other honorees.

 

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