In the race for Oyster Bay supervisor, the choice for voters shouldn't be difficult.
Republican incumbent John Venditto, who is seeking his 10th term, has generally won election by wide margins. For years, his old-fashioned policies and charming personality were a good fit for his town. Now after a good run, there is a rain on his parade.
Since 1998, Oyster Bay's debt has quadrupled to $800 million. The town suffered at least eight downgrades from debt rating agencies in the past few years. Venditto, 66, of North Massapequa, has consistently overspent, and doesn't seem committed to cutting back. And the town is reeling in scandal. Subpoenas from the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District are flying, and officials at town hall are lawyering up and shutting up.
Town planning and development Commissioner Frederick Ippolito is charged with failing to pay federal taxes on $2 million in commissions he received from a paving contractor that got lucrative contracts from the town. Venditto says he doesn't know what Ippolito did to earn the $2 million. He should have asked. Ippolito, a powerful party leader, is still on the town payroll.
Federal prosecutors are very focused on the dealings between the town and indicted restaurateur Harendra Singh, who operates several public concessions. Singh won control of the valuable restaurants at Tobay Beach through 2065 and at a town golf course in Woodbury through 2070 at time when his finances were shaky and he wasn't making his payments to the town.
Singh is also accused of picking up the tab for the travel of former town attorney Frederick Mei who went to South Korea and twice to India. In return, Mei allegedly arranged for the town to improperly guarantee loans to Singh.
Venditto's signature is on those loan guarantees, and Venditto has consistently understated how far Singh is in arrears in rent payments. Now he says he cannot discuss his role any further because of the widening federal investigation and an expected lawsuit. That's a smart legal strategy, but it deprives voters of any real accounting for all these questionable transactions before the election.
It's clear that Oyster Bay's quite expensive outside counsel let Mei know it would be illegal for the town to guarantee Singh's loans and put taxpayers on the hook if Singh failed to pay. It's also clear that even if that weren't illegal, it would be irresponsible. But it still happened.
The Democratic challenger, attorney John J. Mangelli, 49, is not a political insider, though he did run an independent campaign for the U.S. Senate. The Bayville resident will have a big learning curve, but he's smart enough to handle it. Mangelli, a debt management attorney, says more needs to be unearthed about the town's financial dealings. He says too many sweetheart deals have been made, and he would make more town records available online. While he would keep the existing town workforce, he would closely review who needs a town vehicle. Mangelli says the town must increase revenue through business development. However, it would be best if he were open to all kinds of development, including multi-family residential housing, to make that happen.
The choice is between a popular incumbent who ran the town poorly in recent years, and a newcomer who has little political experience, but a lot of upside potential.
Newsday endorses Mangelli.