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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Richard Nicolello, Nassau legislative leader, says it’s a ‘new day’

The Republican presiding officer says he will work with Democrats — but also ensure the legislature operates as an independent branch.

Richard Nicolello of New Hyde Park, is seen

Richard Nicolello of New Hyde Park, is seen on July 10, 2017 Photo Credit: James Escher

Richard Nicolello of New Hyde Park is one of only two remaining veterans of the original Nassau County Legislature.

He was there when the first presiding officer, Bruce Blakeman — now deputy town supervisor in Hempstead — called the body’s inaugural meeting to order.

And, through 22 years, Nicolello saw two other fellow Republicans, Peter Schmitt and Norma Gonsalves, and two Democrats, Judy Jacobs and Diane Yatauro, run the legislature.

Now, it’s Nicolello’s turn. And he intends to try to put the body’s long history of political fighting to rest, he said in an interview last week.

“I think the legislature works well except when we get sidetracked,” he said. “But unfortunately, we’ve spent much too much time arguing over minor points and partisan issues and not focused on the problems of the county . . . which is not what we should be doing.”

Over the past few weeks, Nicolello has attended the swearing-in ceremonies for some Democrats, including Nassau Comptroller Jack Schnirman. And he has agreed, at the request of the body’s youngest lawmaker, Joshua Lazafan, who is registered with no political party, to hold legislative hearings on the opioid crisis.

In addition, Nicolello said, he and Democratic County Executive Laura Curran have had frequent conversations. “She has been reaching out and I appreciate that,” Nicolello said.

Curran will need support from Nicolello and the Republican legislative majority to push many of her initiatives through.

Already, all sides agree on one thing: They want the control period by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority to end. “They have got to go, and as soon as possible,” said Nicolello.

Nicolello’s top priority? “It has to be stabilizing our budget. Everything we do has to start with that,” he said. Success would end NIFA’s control of county finances.

“We need to staff up assessment, but you have to have the financial wherewithal,” he said of the county’s tax assessment department.

Nicolello continued, “We need to add corrections officers in the jail. We need more fire marshals. You go right down the line and everything we would like to do revolves around improving county finances.”

But while he and Curran agree on the NIFA issue, Nicolello emphasized that he, like Schmitt, intends to ensure that the legislature operates as an independent and equal branch of government: “We have our own powers and our own duties and we have to pursue the interests of the taxpayers as well.”

Republican lawmakers met last week.

“We are talking about legislation, about hearings,” Nicolello said. “It is an entirely different dynamic and we’re willing to take on any good ideas, even if they come from Democrats.”

That would be a far cry from the days when the party in power seldom acted on suggestions from the opposition.

Nicolello said he is also planning to reach across county lines to another Democrat, DuWayne Gregory, presiding officer of the Suffolk County Legislature.

“I’ve got a few ideas that I think could use a regional approach, maybe with Suffolk and Westchester,” Nicolello said.

As for Nassau, he said, “There will be times when we will fight and we will disagree, but I think it will be on policy, not politics. It’s a new day.”

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