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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Patronage alive and well in Nassau GOP administration

Nassau County's hives of political patronage just keep buzzing.

In the parks department, new Republican Commissioner Carnell Foskey and not one but two of his deputies, Robert Dwyer and Jose Lopez, make the same salary - $130,000. Even though only Foskey is the boss.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said he brought on three highly compensated professionals because rebuilding county parks is a priority. He said that even with the hires, parks department salaries are down by $140,000, and he still is reviewing the department.

Meanwhile at Nassau's Off-Track Betting agency, the new Republican-appointed directors tried to fast track political heavyweight Joseph Cairo's appointment to the agency's top spot.

Cairo, Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Mondello's top lieutenant, was disbarred in 1994 and acknowledged diverting funds from his clients. He regained his license 13 years later and no criminal charges were lodged against him.

Which should make everything all right. Yes?

Well, no, says a family who went all the way to Gov. George Pataki in 1995 to complain that Cairo had stalled distribution of a relative's $258,000 estate for two years. Cairo denied the allegation.

Back then, Ann Nolan, who was representing her family, wrote in a letter to Pataki, "This situation is a horrible representation of how the predominant Republican government of Nassau County operates, which I am truly ashamed of."

On Tuesday, after learning of Cairo's pending job, the Nolan family released a statement decrying the move. "It's like allowing a kid with sticky fingers into the candy store," the statement said.

In his potential new job, Cairo, because he will turn 65 in August, will be eligible to collect both a salary and a $30,558.36 state pension - unless he decides to wait and collect an even higher pension.

Cairo, a former Hempstead Town council member who later joined the county board of elections, retired in 2000. That was after Democrats won control of the county - and began giving plum OTB positions to their own.

Among those who found safe berth were former county lawmaker Patrick Williams, who was convicted of mortgage fraud; the son of former lawmaker Roger Corbin (the elder Corbin has pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns); and former Glen Cove Mayor Mary Ann Holzcamp, who lost her re-election bid.

To get the job, Cairo must be appointed by the new Republican-appointed board of directors. Yesterday, a Schenectady judge ruled that a new Republican-appointed board of directors could not take over Nassau's OTB until the state Racing and Wagering Board "finds them to be qualified" and approves them as required by law.

These GOP-appointed directors are:

Joseph Bentivegna, a former Hempstead Town deputy parks commissioner and former member of the OTB board. He was a top lieutenant in Mondello's Levittown GOP club.

Frank DeStefano, a retired Oyster Bay parks commissioner who served in the early 1970s as the party's press secretary.

Eric Harkin, an Independence Party member, who is the son-in-law of Julie Cleary, Mondello's longtime secretary and assistant.

In an interview, Mondello said he told Cairo years ago that his actions related to the disbarment were wrong. But that was then, he said, and this is now.

"I have never met a guy with more integrity, more character," Mondello said. "You give a guy like that a chance and you will see the money roll into the county."

OK, so that's how patronage works. But, really - and especially in this time of voter discontent, and with so many talented people desperately seeking work - shouldn't expertise in something other than politics count for something?

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