Nassau’s Independence Party chairman raised some eyebrows this week when he sent county lawmakers a survey in response to recent public criticisms of the party.
Rick Bellando emailed the survey Monday to the government accounts of all 18 legislators, citing Democrats’ grilling of an Independence Party member as an impetus.
The legislature last month reappointed Christopher Troisi, the county party’s vice-chairman, to the sewer & storm water finance authority. But before the vote, Democrats in the legislative minority used the forum to raise Independence Party ties to the political influence case that led to police Commissioner Thomas Dale’s resignation – though Troisi himself has never been connected to the incident.
Some legislators, Bellando wrote, appeared to be “persecuting (Troisi) for simply being affiliated with the Nassau Independence Party."
He then requested that lawmakers answer a series of questions relating to the party, adding that “mailing this back will help us determine that you are a serious candidate when it comes time for the Party’s endorsement. If it is not returned completely filled out we will have to take that into consideration for the next screening process.”
Survey questions included: “Is it your intention to pursue the Independence line?” “Do you agree with (Nassau Democratic Chairman) Jay Jacobs’ negative statements about the Independence Party?” and “How do you feel about me as Chairman of the Nassau Independence Party?”
In an interview Tuesday, Bellando said that his motivation for sending the survey was simply “to see how (lawmakers) feel, to gauge their feelings.” He said that despite Jacobs’ high-profile attacks of the party – including questioning how they spend their campaign funds – Democratic legislators have privately reached out to him to say they don’t feel the same way.
“We’re a party where, in close races, we’re going to be a final decision,” Bellando said. “(Jacobs) may be mad at us, but I would never stop someone or hurt them if we feel they’re best for Nassau County.”
Bellando is a longtime friend and employee of Gary Melius, owner of Oheka Castle in Huntington and an influential figure in Long Island politics. Jacobs has been critical of Melius’ role in the Dale case.
An investigation by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice found that Dale personally directed officers to arrest a witness in the politically charged election dispute.
Melius had called Dale, saying the county executive campaign of former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick wanted to file a perjury charge against a witness who testified that Hardwick paid him $1.25 for each signature he collected on nominating petitions. Petitioners legally can be paid per hour, but not per signature. Melius was the sole donor to Hardwick's campaign.
Democrats, led by Jacobs, said the Hardwick candidacy was meant to siphon votes from their county executive candidate, Thomas Suozzi, and help the campaign of incumbent Republican Edward Mangano, whom Melius backed over Suozzi.
Melius said neither he nor Dale did anything inappropriate, and Rice said no criminal laws were broken. But Jacobs continues to call for a new investigation by an outside prosecutor, and for officials involved to be charged.
Jacobs this week said that Bellando’s survey “is, at best, inappropriate.” He criticized the survey being sent to lawmaker’s government accounts, saying “as a political party you cannot interfere with government activities.”
A spokeswoman for the county legislature’s Republican majority declined to comment about the survey. Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said he was surprised to receive the survey on his county email account, especially during a legislative meeting.
Abrahams added that the survey, with its first question of "Do you believe garnering the Independence line is important to the outcome of an election?", can be seen as "some level of intimidation."
"It definitely seemed politically charged," Abrahams said.
Bellando, however, repeated that his sole purpose for sending the survey was to gauge whether both Democratic and Republican lawmakers “feel they need the party.”