Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006. She joined the newspaper in 1983 and has
Republican lawmakers in Nassau are testing a roundabout route in their quest to force Democrats to provide needed votes for borrowing $275 million for stalled capital projects.
Instead of pushing votes for such projects en masse, the Republican majority is changing tactics — by moving forward in bits and pieces, such as:
Mobile computers for new police cars.
Upgrades for veterans’ housing.
Funding for 24 new police ambulances.
How, Republicans reason, can Democrats say no — especially since Republicans also are twinning each request with mailings to veterans and other active interest groups soliciting support?
Pressure on Democrats isn’t coming just from Republicans. On Wednesday, Rick Bellando, head of Nassau County’s Independence Party, sent a letter supporting the Republican position, saying, “Law enforcement officials bravely serve our community and deserve our full support.”
Will Democrats — who have said they will not support capital spending until Republicans and County Executive Edward Mangano appoint an independent inspector general to police the county’s contracting process — bow to public and political pressure?
Not now, they say.
“The hold-tight has always been me,” Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said. “You don’t have a stronger believer in contract reform than myself and our caucus. I truly believe contract reform is necessary and essential in this county.”
According to a recent Newsday report, Democrats, who have blocked most Republican requests for capital borrowing since December, have supported some contracts — including 13 from offices run fully, or partially, by Democrats.
Abrahams said that doing so did not conflict with the Democrats’ desire for oversight, because the approved contracts came from departments — the District Attorney’s Office and the county Board of Elections — that were not involved in contracts that came under scrutiny during the federal corruption trial of former state Sen. Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, who are appealing their convictions.
If anything, according to Democrats, the Republicans’ refusal to to support independent contract review — that is, an office not subject to firing by the county executive — fuels their resolve. That resolve stiffened after Republicans last week approved additional funds, for work completed more than a year ago, to a firm whose county contract is under investigation by federal prosecutors, and Nassau’s DA.
But what’s the end game, practically and politically?
Democrats likely will be unable to continue turning down every capital item proposed by Republicans.
Last week, for example, they reversed course on a borrowing request for moble computers to be installed in new police cars. It wasn’t because of Republican pressure, Abrahams insisted, but because computers were needed for new cars that had been financed before Democrats began blocking capital projects.
Either way, it’s a hard sell, politically, to say no to, say, bullet proof vests for upcoming police academy graduates — and harder still to sell the good-government benefit of independent contract review.
Abrahams said Democrats may end up testing a roundabout route of their own — by seeking support, via petition, to put the question of an independent inspector general on the November ballot so Nassau residents can decide.