Just who's running the Town of Islip, anyway?
Tom Croci, the Republican political newcomer, was elected supervisor in 2011. Right now, he holds the reins of the town's day-to-day operations. Four members of the town board, three Republicans and one Conservative, are moving to seize power from Croci. They plan to introduce measures today that would wrest control of several departments, including communications, personnel, labor relations and purchasing, and set a date for a public hearing on that plan.
But there's another player who thinks he runs Islip, though the public didn't elect him to any post. He is Islip Republican Party chairman Frank Tantone, and it's the battle between this political leader and Croci, an elected official, that's actually behind the raw power grab.
Tantone hand-picked Croci, a clean-cut veteran of the war in Afghanistan, to seek the seat against the Democratic incumbent, Phil Nolan. Croci barely won, and when he got into office he found a mess: spending so far out of line with revenues that he was forced to raise town property taxes 28 percent (after first proposing to raise them 65 percent) and lay off dozens of employees. Worse, he's been confronted with a nasty form of politics he wasn't prepared for at all.
Several people with knowledge of the situation say Tantone has been trying to control Croci, and the situation came to a head when the party leader demanded that the town supervisor put one of his people in a puffed-up $90,000-a-year post in Croci's executive inner circle, one for which the job candidate was not qualified.
Croci does have a job to fill in that pay range, for an employee who can coordinate the Sandy recovery in his hard-hit South Shore town, often working out in the field. Tantone's candidate is qualified for that important position. But Tantone wants his guy in the office, looking over Crocci's shoulder, and since the supervisor refused, Tantone appears to be flexing his political muscle to make a point: If Croci won't use his power to satisfy his party leader, then his power will simply be seized from him.
Even if Tantone were not grasping for powers the public never granted him, letting the town board take over so many day-to-day operations would be a terrible idea, and hasn't worked when it was tried in other Long Island towns. Dealing with the details of a town with a $112-million budget takes knowledge, focus and constant oversight. And these conflicts would never happen if the state beefed up its laws governing towns to give their executives real power.
Croci's made the hard, unpopular and necessary decisions, often in the face of taxpayer anger, but he hasn't been perfect, or entirely apolitical. A town public relations contract recently given to a state senator's wife, for example, should have been put out for bids. But at least the woman seems qualified to do the work and the town needs it done.
Islip has long been a political fiefdom, most recently a Democratic one. Voters rejected Nolan's patronage tactics in unseating him. Now, that same public must face down another leader who wants to use the town for his own ends, and is manipulating board members to do it. When a public hearing is conducted, Islip residents should be there to demand honest government run by the supervisor they elected.