In a middle school auditorium in Levittown packed with 1,500 party faithful, Joe Mondello two weeks ago was elected for his 18th two-year term as Nassau Republican chairman.
Before the vote, Mondello asked if anyone wanted to make another nomination. “Everyone chuckled and laughed,” he recalled.
Mondello, 79, in May became the longest serving major party leader in Long Island history. He surpassed the late Suffolk and onetime state Democratic chairman Dominic Baranello, who held on for 34 years, two months and 11 days as county leader.
Mondello has logged 34 years, five months and 13 days as Nassau GOP leader.
Yet Mondello’s re-election as head of the nation’s largest suburban Republican organization comes as the Nassau GOP faces its biggest challenges since taking back the office of county executive and the county legislature from Democrats eight years ago.
Federal indictments have forced Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto to step down and County Executive Edward Mangano to forgo a re-election run, giving Democrats a major new opportunity to make inroads in November. Venditto and Mangano have pleaded not guilty to their corruption-related charges.
But such problems are not new for Mondello.
He was first tapped in 1983 as county GOP leader in a men’s room conversation with his mentor and predecessor Joe Margiotta before Margiotta went to federal prison for mail fraud involving an insurance fee-splitting scheme.
Mondello buoyed the wounded party, solidified his own support — and later kept Margiotta from returning to power.
Friends and foes say Mondello’s longevity is based on his savvy. He has kept close tabs on the pulse of his county committee and generations of politically appointed loyalists.
State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset), who got his start as South Syosset GOP leader with Mondello’s help, said Mondello “meets regularly with the party committee, is willing to listen and he’s accessible, and that’s important.” More important, Marcellino said, “He’s been successful. We’ve won our share of victories. There have been ups and downs, but mostly ups.”
Joseph Cairo, Nassau OTB president and GOP leader in North Valley Stream and North Hempstead, said Mondello’s key to success is that he treats everyone equally.
“He treats them all he same from the bank president to the bank janitor,” said Cairo.
Even Jay Jacobs, Nassau’s Democratic chairman for 16 years, says he will never match Mondello’s reign.
“The length of his tenure, defines the quality of his performance,” said Jacobs. “He can sense the winds shifting before they begin to move and he’s a strong street fighter . . . which makes my job tougher.” Mondello’s greatest attribute, Jacobs said, “is he always keeps his word and someone’s word is gold in this business.”
Yet gone are the days when Nassau Republicans dominated the political landscape with a 2-to-1 voter registration edge.
But while the Democrats have 58,017 more registered county voters than Republicans, the Nassau GOP still controls Hempstead, the county’s largest town, the county legislature and the county executive’s office.
How long Mondello will stay as chairman is unclear. There’s speculation he may be in line for an ambassador’s post in President Donald Trump’s administration. Mondello won’t comment on the possibility.
Cairo, however, says Mondello is a “young 79,” and is not done yet.
“After serving for 34 years he should do what he wants. He earned that right,” said Cairo. “But as far as I’m concerned, I think he should stay for a long time.”