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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Stampede of elected officials running toward reform

Republican Jack Martins announces he is running for

Republican Jack Martins announces he is running for Nassau County Executive on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Transparency in government? A proposed state measure to bar elected officials from using campaign funds to pay legal bills? A proposed county measure to bar felons convicted of corruption-related offenses from seeking public office, or a place on government boards or commission?

Look! It’s a stampede of elected officials — most of them veteran politicians, up for election, no less — running as fast as they can toward reform. It’s fascinating to watch, really, because never have so many pushed for so much, at least not during my more than three decades of covering Long Island.

Oyster Bay’s appointed Republican Supervisor Joseph Saladino went so far as to call a news conference recently to tout the town’s new drive for government transparency. That’s no small thing since Oyster Bay officials, for a long time, refused to release information about finances and other matters.

Saladino, a former state assemblyman, was appointed town supervisor in January, after former Supervisor John Venditto, who has pleaded not guilty to federal corruption-related charges, resigned.

Saladino, who is up for election in November, has partnered up with Reclaim New York — a nonpartisan group chaired by Rebekah Mercer, daughter of Long Island billionaire Robert Mercer, a major contributor to Republican and conservative campaigns — to adopt many of the group’s transparency requirements.

In Hempstead, the GOP’s largest stronghold, the town board recently had a rare public fight over a failed effort by two members, Bruce Blakeman and Erin Sweeney King, to bring in an independent inspector general to monitor corruption, fraud and abuse. The proposal died after a vote to handle it as an emergency resolution failed.

However, a spokesman for Santino, who is up for re-election this year, said Santino is considering updating the town’s ethics code. One Hempstead Town board member, Edward Ambrosino, has pleaded not guilty to federal income tax evasion-related charges.

In the GOP-majority Nassau County Legislature — where all 19 seats are up for election — a measure that would bar felons convicted of public corruption from running for public office, or holding seats on boards or commissions, passed through the Rules Committee on Monday.

Republicans aren’t the only ones scrambling for change.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont) — neither of whom are up for re-election — have introduced a measure to bar elected officials from doing paid legal or consulting work for industrial development agencies or economic assistance corporations.

The legislation was introduced in the wake of the federal indictment against Ambrosino, who also served as general counsel for Nassau’s IDA and Local Economic Assistance Corp.

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who is running against county Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin)in a Democratic primary for Nassau County executive, has introduced a measure that would bar political candidates or elected officials under federal indictment from using campaign funds to pay criminal legal costs.

“It’s important that campaign contributions be used for campaigning, not legal defense funds, Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, told Newsday.

Why the stampede? More than two years of scandals, convictions and a variety of corruption allegations has made the issue almost impossible for politicians to ignore.

At least, that is, during an election year.

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