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Long IslandNassau

A look at LI's new legislative faces

For the first time in more than eight years, the 19-member Nassau County Legislature will be under Republican control.

The November elections returned the party to power in all the major countywide posts except for district attorney.

Political observers said with the three newly elected legislators giving the GOP an 11-8 edge in the legislature, and George Maragos taking office as the new comptroller, County Executive-elect Edward Mangano gets to avoid official opposition from the rival Democrats.

Democratic County Executive Steve Levy, who ran with support from both parties, faces a different political arrangement.

In Suffolk's legislature, where party affiliations are often less important than regional or political blocs, two newly elected Republicans join the 18-member legislature. There will be eight Democrats, seven Republicans and three minor party members.

Political observers said the impact of the election of Republicans Thomas Cilmi of Bay Shore and Thomas Muratore of Ronkonkoma will be judged on how they work with Levy when he tries to move controversial legislation.Thomas Cilmi won't stop talking about helping small businesses.

Elected to replace term-limited Legis. Cameron Alden (R-Islip), Cilmi, 45, said building Suffolk County's tax base through nourishing economic development is his top priority.

"The major thing for me is going to be trying to make Suffolk County government much more business-friendly in a variety of different ways," he said. "Anything that I can do to get government out of the way of economic development is what my top priority is going to be."

Cilmi, a Bay Shore Republican, said he asked Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) for a seat on the legislature's Economic Development Committee. Lindsay said he won't make committee assignments until he is formally re-elected as presiding officer in January.

Even if he doesn't win a preferred committee seat, Cilmi said he wants to develop "goals and metrics" for the county's economic development teams. He'd like to provide incentives for high-achieving departments and personnel and streamline the permit application process.

The owner of an Islip printing company, Cilmi said he hopes to work in peace with his colleagues and County Executive Steve Levy. But he's aware of the often-fractious relationships in Hauppauge.

"I don't plan to be the kind of legislator that sits back there and throws bombs at folks," he said. "But if I'm confronted with an administration that doesn't want to work with me to make things better, then I'm going to have to do what it takes to get things done."

In 2007, Thomas Muratore waged a proxy battle with Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who was then at the height of his popularity. A first-time candidate for public office, Muratore lost to Legis. Brian Beedenbender (D-Centereach).

During the intervening two years, Muratore, 64, essentially never stopped campaigning, addressing civic and business groups so when it came time for a rematch, he was ready. And with Levy, who won 96 percent of the 2007 vote, not on the ballot, Muratore won.

"I learned a lot from the first one," Muratore said. "I learned more about public speaking and I carried forward my ideas from the last time."

A former vice president in the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, Muratore, a Ronkonkoma Republican, plans to push for legislation to give the police commissioner a fixed five-year term, appointed by both the executive and the legislature.

"Then maybe we can pull some of the politics out of it," Muratore said.

Of course, such a move would ostensibly give the police commissioner some independence from the county executive, who, at the moment, is in the midst of a long dispute with the PBA.

Muratore said he won't run from his association with the powerful police union. He said he doesn't anticipate having to oppose the PBA in order to assert his independence.

"I'm going to have to convince them that what I'm trying to do is the right thing," he said.

Retired Nassau County police Sgt. Joseph Belesi has a lot to keep him busy during the holiday season - seven grandchildren and getting ready to join the Nassau County Legislature on Jan. 4.

"Before, I was running for office, but now I will have to govern. And you know the financial situation the county is in. We're going to have to tighten things up," Belesi said. 'We're going to have to balance the budget."

Belesi, 62, a Republican from South Farmingdale, eked out a 168-vote victory over incumbent Democrat David Mejias in what was the closest contest among the 19 county legislative races.

With the victory of Republican Howard Kopel in an Oceanside district, the Republicans will have an 11-8 majority on the legislature, and Belesi is looking forward to his committee assignments.

"That hasn't been decided yet, but my background is in public safety, and I'm looking at that committee and labor and veterans," he said. "I haven't heard anything yet."

Belesi currently serves as a part-time adviser to Republican Minority Leader Peter Schmitt of Massapequa and has worked with the incoming Republican county executive, Edward Mangano, who is now the county legislator from Bethpage.

"We're going to get along just fine," Belesi said. "But it's going to be tough. We're not going to get any help from Albany or Washington."

"Meanwhile, I have the holidays. I have my grandchildren. And I have my wife, Donna, who supports me," Belesi said.

Businessman Howard Kopel of Lawrence is gearing up to join the Nassau County Legislature in the new year, and people in his district know it.

"Yes. I've been asked for favors," he said with a laugh in response to a question. "People have started to ask me for favors. People want to be my friend all of a sudden."

Kopel, 58, owner of a title insurance company in Valley Stream, spoke softly and slowly in a recent interview, recovering from jet lag and a long business trip to Italy.

Kopel, a Republican, beat incumbent Legis. Jeffery Toback (D-Oceanside) in an election that many politicians and local residents think was decided by Toback's support for a sewage consolidation project that outraged residents near the county's Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant.

He said he has been working with those residents and was setting up meetings with others to get input on what they wanted from their county legislator.

"I've been scheduling meetings with various community groups and trying to work on sewage issues in anticipation of diving right in and dealing with these issues come January," he said.

He said he has not discussed potential committee assignments with Legis. Peter Schmitt, the incoming Republican presiding officer.

"I've given some thought to it, but we haven't had meetings on that yet," he said. "Obviously, I'm looking for the ones who will help my community the most."

Robert Troiano is eyeing his new job on the Nassau County Legislature, but keeping the other eye on a community center being built on Broadway in his Westbury-New Cassel district.

"That center is my legacy," said Troiano, 56. "If I never win another election, that will stand as my legacy."

Troiano, a North Hempstead Town Board member, won a seat in the legislature in November after defeating incumbent Roger Corbin in the Democratic primary in September. His lifetime around politics is reflected in his careful choice of words.

"We have new leadership coming in and we'll see what happens," Troiano said.

As the regional coordinator for Democrats in the State Senate he has worked with Assemb. Rob Walker (R-Hicksville), who will be chief deputy county executive under the new Republican county executive, Edward Mangano.

"I have worked with Rob and I found him very interested in doing the right thing," he said. Troiano has a master's degree in business administration from Stanford University, and he is hoping for a seat on the Finance Committee.

His words flow more freely when he discusses the $25-million center currently under construction. "It will be a multipurpose, multilevel center. It will be a cultural complex, a community center. It will have a town park and senior facility," he said.

"I think it will change the character of the community and serve generations to come," he said.

The facility has not been given a name yet, but he said he was leaning toward the "Yes We Can Community Center."

Rose Marie Walker does not foresee any difficulties in her new role as a member of the Nassau County Legislature, even though her son, Rob Walker, will be the top deputy on the administration side of the building.

Walker, a Republican and a member of the Town Board of Oyster Bay, was elected to fill the seat being vacated by Edward Mangano, the Republican who was elected Nassau County executive.

Mangano, in one of his first acts, hired Assemb. Rob Walker (R-Hicksville) as his chief deputy county executive.

"I'm going to listen to him [Walker], as I always do, I don't perceive it as a problem," Rose Marie Walker, 58, said in a recent interview. "The one thing that is very, very important is to work together for the benefit of our residents. And I hope that is what we will have.

"What lies ahead is a big task for all of us, all 19 legislators working together . . . to make Nassau County what it was in the past - a wonderful place to live and raise your family," she said.

Walker has a bachelor's degree in education from Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina and was a substitute teacher in the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the Hicksville School District.

She said she has been thinking about committee assignments and is interested in a number of areas.

"I'm very interested in seniors and veterans affairs," she said. "The Rules Committee and Finance Committee are important, and of course I'm interested in anything [dealing with] education."

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