Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone came out swinging last week -- against Newsday and what he called the newspaper's "cop bashing."
Newsday's offense? A front-page story on Edward Webber, Bellone's police commissioner, who legally will be pulling down as much as $321,000 annually in salary and pension. And he'll be eligible for $306,600 for unused vacation and sick time accrued during a lengthy career with Suffolk police.
Bellone spent precious few minutes, where one might have expected him to spend almost an entire news conference, defending his commissioner pick.
He might have gone on to say that the department, since Bellone took office, generally has been free of the turmoil that characterized the leadership of Webber's predecessor, Richard Dormer. And that the commissioner has done a terrific job leading an aggressive community policing effort.
Bellone also could have met the compensation issue head-on by acknowledging that Webber's legal double-dipping, like that of school superintendents and others, is maddening to hard-pressed taxpayers.
Instead, the bulk of Bellone's criticism was reserved for Newsday. Apparently, Bellone believes that the act of divulging more than a half-million dollars of potential commissioner compensation not long after he laid off more than 200 workers amounts to "cop bashing."
The problem here isn't Newsday -- Bellone noted zero errors in a story he deemed "offensive." Nor is the problem Webber, who in fact is doing a fine job.
The problem is Bellone, who, with his bizarre I-will-vent-but-brook-no-questions news conference, added another link to a chain of errors he's made in the process of elevating Webber to commissioner.
Error One is a lack of transparency. At least one county legislator said he was surprised to hear about Webber's compensation. How hard would it have been to tell lawmakers about the prospect of Webber double-dipping before they confirmed him this summer?
Error Two is bad timing. On Thursday, Bellone complained that, while Webber's compensation story was front-page news, another story about a deputy county executive who double-dips merited only Page 20. But there's a heck of a difference between heading up a budget office and one of the nation's largest police departments. Plus, the deputy's hiring came before Suffolk's fiscal crisis forced Bellone to lay off workers. Webber's came after.
Bellone also showed thin skin and a tin ear. He complained about "cop bashing" when he's already under fire for agreeing to a proposed contract with Suffolk's police union that critics contend shows him to be overly "cop friendly." The deal, which apparently is still under construction, would significantly increase compensation for current officers -- up to $167,848 -- while decreasing it for future hires.
Politically, Bellone's outburst could turn out to be a mistake because lawmakers, who've already taken an earful from angry taxpayers, have yet to hold public hearings or approve the proposed pact.
And now, Bellone is dumping his hash of Webber's promotion on lawmakers. Bellone said at the news conference that he intended to resend Webber's appointment to the legislature because he didn't want a "cloud" over Webber's tenure.
What he didn't say was that legislative approval is necessary for Webber, 65, to get his pension plus pay. After his tirade, Bellone refused to say anything at all. Instead, he stormed out of the room.