From parks to pencils, officials' names in public places

Town of Huntington Superintendent of Highways Peter S. Town of Huntington Superintendent of Highways Peter S. Gunther pulls out and looks at signs inside the sign shop at the Town of Huntington highway yard in Elwood July 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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Golfers at Eisenhower Park can see Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's name with every par, bogey or birdie they log on their scorecards.

That's because it's emblazoned on all the small pencils at the county park courses, just like it's displayed prominently atop a series of signs at the park's entrance, on fliers promoting free concerts -- above the artist's name -- and on refrigerator magnets with his office number: 516-MANGANO.

Mangano, a Republican in his fifth year in office, is merely continuing a bipartisan tradition that's existed for as long as Long Island has had politicians -- even if he has taken the practice beyond what is typical in most local municipalities.

But this aggressive branding on mostly taxpayer-funded materials, most commonly seen on the signs outside public facilities and monuments, might be generating some blowback.

In Brookhaven, Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, a Republican, says he will soon propose legislation to remove officials' names from signs at town facilities and replace them with phone numbers that residents can call to get information.

In Huntington, newly elected Highway Superintendent Peter Gunther says he has spent months removing the name of his predecessor, William Naughton, from equipment including more than 100 trucks, trailers and chippers, and from thousands of wooden road barriers and metal trash barrels.

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Instead of swapping Naughton's name for his own, Gunther simply printed "Town of Huntington Hwy Dept."

"There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in material and man hours that went into putting his name on all of that," said Gunther, a Conservative Party member who last year defeated Naughton, a 26-year Democratic incumbent. "It's not my highway department. It's the Town of Huntington's."

Naughton, who could not be reached for comment, is just one of the many officials across Nassau and Suffolk who stamp their names on the most basic, publicly funded items.

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro puts his name on road barriers. Huntington and Hempstead towns parks signs list not only the town supervisors, but also the full town board.

Leaders across Long Island defend the branding practice.

Although the officials said that they couldn't break out the costs from their public works budgets, they said the expense to taxpayers is minimal. They say signage usually is produced by government workers, and that the elected officials' names often are on separate nameplates that can be replaced without creating new signs.

"The administration has continued the long-standing tradition of identifying the county executive with county properties," said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin, noting that Nassau's signs have been made in-house for more than 50 years.

Nevin did not respond to requests about the specific costs of putting Mangano's name on other items such as the golf course pencils. He said that the magnets, despite having Mangano's office number, are funded by his campaign.

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Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, a Republican, said that while it's common to see an elected leader's name on entryway signs and official stationery, personal branding on other types of items is generally saved for political campaigns.

"You usually don't see it on the peripheral items like pencils and magnets," Levy said.

But Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said most residents are largely desensitized to such branding efforts.

"The practice has been going on so long that most people don't care unless it's really, really excessive," Lawrence Levy said. "The less cynical way of looking at it is that taxpayers should know who to call when they're not happy with the condition of a facility a politician is putting his or her name on."

Still, he quipped, "I'd be more impressed if they put their home numbers instead."

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Romaine, who as a Suffolk County legislator proposed banning leaders' names on signs, said he never wanted his name prominently featured in front of Brookhaven facilities. But he allowed officials to place it there initially when he took office in 2012 because, they told him, it cost little.

"If you need to put your name on signs to have people know you, you're doing something wrong," said Romaine, a Republican. "The only things that should be on signs are the facility name and a number to call if there's a problem. That's all that people need to know."

The name of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, appears outside county parks and buildings, as Mangano's does in Nassau.

"But we don't have a promotional budget, so we don't put Steve's name on a whole bunch of other things," said Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers.

When Romaine tried in 2011 to ban the county executive's name from appearing on signs, Steve Levy questioned why county legislators placed their names on banners and signs promoting concerts and fairs in their districts. Levy said he wasn't opposed to Romaine's measure, which never passed.

"Folks feel burned if you're promoting yourself with their tax dollars," Levy said last week. "Especially in a higher-profile office, after four years people are going to know you and either like you or not based on your policies -- not if your name is on a trash can."

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