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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Wearing two hats can turn heads the wrong way

Edward Walsh enters the FBI field office in

Edward Walsh enters the FBI field office in Melville on Wednesday morning, Jan. 7, 2015. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Before charges of wrongdoing cropped up against him, Suffolk Conservative Party chairman Edward Walsh served as a correction lieutenant under his fellow party member, Vincent DeMarco, the elected county sheriff.

DeMarco had charged Walsh with payroll abuse, moved to fire him and referred the matter for prosecution. Subsequently, federal officials accused Walsh of fraudulently collecting as much as $100,000 from the county for hours he didn't work.

Walsh, pleading not guilty, called the allegations politically driven.

The story may serve to illustrate what ethics monitors call the "two hat" problem, in which one person serves as a government official and party leader at the same time.

New York City addresses this by barring officials with "substantial policy discretion" from serving as party chairs, officials or committee members.

Such prohibitions are uncommon elsewhere in the state, city officials say.

U.S. prosecutors accuse Walsh of having been on the county clock while he played golf, gambled at Foxwoods Casino and -- more relevantly to what had been his second hat -- performed Conservative Party business.

Presuming DeMarco responded properly to what he'd learned of Walsh's alleged doings, there remains a wider, more systemic question: Should chairman Walsh have been legally permitted to serve in a job his lawyer described as "liaison" to the judiciary and community?

Just maybe, the city's "two-hat" provision, enacted after a scandal in the Democratic-dominated City Hall of the 1980s, would make sense for Long Island, at least at the county level.

Last year, Newsday described how the Hicksville Republican Committee had grown quickly as a political entity, raising $800,000 after its leader, Rob Walker, became Nassau Executive Edward Mangano's chief deputy.

Nearly two-thirds of 48 companies or principals, who donated at least $3,000 to the club from mid-2010 to early 2014, did business with the county in that time, records showed. Walker said the contracts and the contributions were unrelated.

For what it's worth, Mangano's Democratic predecessor didn't restrict members of his team to a single hat either.

Former Nassau Executive Thomas Suozzi had Roger Bogsted as consumer affairs commissioner. In his other role as Conservative Party county chairman, Bogsted helped Suozzi by denying Republicans the minor party's line.

In the city, dual roles found in Nassau and Suffolk would have run afoul of the charter's "two-hat" provision.

Since the scandals involving borough presidents in the Bronx and Queens who also served as county Democratic leaders, the city government has had corruption cases, but at least not of the same variety.

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