Dan Rattiner's Stories

NY State Chooses New License Plate with the Montauk Lighthouse

Will this local icon, stuck amid the other crap, attract more unwanted tourists?

New York State has chosen the design of the new license plates you will soon have to put onto your car. Governor Andrew Cuomo made a statewide popular vote out of the process. This is America, after all. And Russia won’t let us have fair elections, so now there is this.

Twenty different license plate designs threw their hat into the ring and held forth in a statewide debate on television, where the license plates revealed their platforms and attacked one another. Ten were then eliminated. But 10 license plates were invited back to the second debate, which got the candidates to five. (The TV debate was called New York’s Got License Plate Talent. Did you miss it?)

The five were then posted online and the citizenry voted. Three of the five design finalists featured drawings of the Statue of Liberty along with the usual crap such as the license plate number, the words NEW YORK and the word EXCELSIOR, which is the state motto. A fourth one had all the crap and then five different attractions in the state drawn in along the bottom. The attractions were Niagara Falls, the Adirondacks, the Statue of Liberty, the New York City Skyline and the Montauk Lighthouse.

New New York license plate featuring Montauk Lighthouse, Plate 5
The winning NY license plate from now.ny.gov

The fifth design was controversial. Besides the usual crap, it had a heroic view of the new Tappan Zee Bridge, just built and named the Mario Cuomo Bridge. Mario Cuomo is a former governor who is also Andrew Cuomo’s father. The inclusion of that last contestant went viral. Was it the Governor’s intention to flood the market with Statue of Liberty plates, thus splitting the Statue of Liberty vote and allowing the Governor’s father to win? Was this what was talked about when all the members of the Cuomo clan got together in a smoke-filled room to discuss license plate strategy?

Don’t vote for the Cuomo Bridge was the word that went out, it seems. And so in the end, the Cuomo Bridge entry got only a pathetic 9.7% of the votes. The winning vote was for the entry with the five tourist attractions. In the debates, that entry had promised everything to everybody, so it’s no surprise it won—49.7% of the votes went to that entry. The winner.

Proposed New York State license plate: Plate 3
Cuomo’s losing Tappan Zee Bridge license plate from now.ny.gov

Another issue under discussion before the vote was the Montauk Lighthouse’s place in the firmament. East Enders noticed that all of the other tourist attraction drawings were large and prominent on that entry. But the Montauk Lighthouse was so small that you might not even know it was there. It’s sort of a tiny stick on the horizon off to one side and way behind the New York City skyline.

Why couldn’t the Montauk Lighthouse receive as much license plate attention as the others? It almost looked as if these other attractions had lined up to have their picture taken and then the lighthouse had snuck up behind and just stuck its head out to get into the photo because it was not invited.

Having the Montauk Lighthouse larger would have resulted in every motorist and passenger on the roads in the state every day being reminded of our wonderful lighthouse—ordered built by George Washington—and this could have resulted in a great boost to the economy out here as tourists flocked to see it.

On the other hand, other East Enders argued that the lighthouse was fine just tiny like that. This summer, for the first time, the roads were jammed with so much traffic there were occasions when cars went into gridlock, with the motorists unable to go forward or backwards and only able to honk their horns and get out of their cars to try to help others who had done the same to work out an untanglement. There were also long lines for things. At the restaurants, at the ice cream shop, at the beauty parlors. Locals had huddled in their homes as a result between July 4 and Labor Day. Many wanted fewer tourists in the Hamptons, not more. At least until new roads, restaurants, parks, stores, beaches and parking lots could get built.

Well, the new license plate will put its hand on the Bible and be sworn into office on the backs of all cars in the state starting in April 2020.

It’s a big financial windfall for the state. The license plates will be made, as they always are, by felons in state prisons, who earn about 65 cents an hour. But the state will charge motorists $25 per plate. What a markup. That will bring in an additional $22 million in profit next year, and even more if people refuse to put them onto their cars in protest and so get ticketed $100 for not having had one there.

Beep beep.

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