The last time a longtime, powerful Long Island town supervisor stepped down in disgrace was a decade ago — when then-Islip town leader Pete McGowan tendered a one-sentence resignation hours before pleading guilty to charges of grand larceny, tampering with a witness, bribe receiving and filing a false instrument.
McGowan’s plea came in state court after a corruption-related investigation by Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota. A decade later, federal authorities now are said to be investigating allegations involving Spota’s chief deputy in charge of the DA’s government corruption bureau.
This time around, however, the town supervisor stepping down was John Venditto, the 10-term Oyster Bay Town leader, who tossed in the towel on 35 years of public service Wednesday, three months after being indicted on federal corruption-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
Venditto’s departure was hardly unanticipated.
The move had been foreshadowed — maybe even as far back as November 2015, when Venditto won re-election by just 99 votes. Before canvassing was complete, Venditto, a Republican, took the unusual step of expressing a willingness to sit down with his Democratic opponent to “ensure a smooth transition.”
Hyperpartisan Nassau Republicans, who will fight for weeks to ensure that every Republican ballot counts, just don’t do that.
In October, Venditto was indicted on charges of soliciting and accepting bribes from restaurateur and former town concessionaire Harendra Singh in return for helping him obtain town-backed guarantees on $20 million in loans.
With the indictment, the town began prepping for Venditto’s departure.
First, officials distanced themselves from longtime town attorney and Venditto confidante Leonard Genova, who since 2010 had served as the town’s unofficial deputy supervisor.
Town council members instead voted in an official deputy supervisor — council member Joseph Muscarella — so Oyster Bay would have a spare to serve as interim supervisor should Venditto step down.
Venditto and the board made other moves too, including raising property taxes beyond the state-mandated two-percent cap in an attempt to get the junk-bond-rated town back on track.
Usually, that would have been a politically risky move. But not in Oyster Bay where there’s nowhere to go politically but up. The town board, after all, signed off on the idea of helping Singh, who has been charged, among other things, with bribing a town attorney, get loans.
That’s supposed to be against state law. But no board member stood up to say so — relying instead on an after-the-fact defense of not knowing what was going on.
For months, in fact, Oyster Bay equivocated and misled on just about everything, including the state of its finances and the cost of its legal bills. Newsday even had to go to court to win the right to review public information.
Venditto, in stepping down, said he did so because clearing his name will be a full-time job.
And the town apparently agrees.
By day’s end Wednesday, Venditto’s photograph and biography had vanished from the town’s Web page.