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Taxi operators dispute Mangano on board appointment

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is shown in

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is shown in this undated photo. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Top officials of the Long Island Taxi Transportation Operators Association say they never recommended an appointee to Nassau's new Taxi ... Limousine Board, despite County Executive Edward Mangano's statement that they did.

The Nassau County Legislature in May approved Mangano's appointment of Steven Berry to the board that will recommend policy for a new county department aimed at improving regulation of for-hire cars.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mangano said the appointment of Berry -- who works for his family's Baldwin taxi company and owns a Merrick limo service -- was "upon the recommendation" of the taxi association.

The county law that passed last year says the association gets to recommend one of Mangano's five appointees to the nine-member board. But the association president, vice president and secretary said they never got that chance, and only learned of Berry's selection in a Newsday story on Monday.

"We never got a call saying, 'We're setting up the board and we need you to appoint someone. Who do you want?' " said Phil Fortuna, president of the taxi association and owner of Long Island Checker Cab.

Fortuna, who clashed with county officials over a now-disbanded taxi board that predated Mangano, called it "unbelievable" that Nassau had claimed his association picked Berry for the unpaid board position.

"This guy doesn't even come to our meetings," Fortuna said.

Berry said he belonged to the association, but that he was "not really sure" who recommended him to the board. He said Mangano "just asked me to serve."

A Mangano administration official said that, among those connected to the association, Berry was the "only person to express an interest, submit a resume and live in Nassau."

"The person they picked wouldn't have been the person we picked," said association vice president Bruce Terzano, owner of Arena Taxi in Glen Cove.

Mangano's taxi board picks, and their companies, have contributed $18,000 to his campaigns. Berry's S...G Limousine in Merrick contributed $1,000 of the total.

Gregory May, who heads the taxi commission, has said that board members' political contributions won't influence him.

About $10,000 of the total was donated by Larry Blessinger and his taxi and livery companies. Blessinger, who controls a fleet of 400 vehicles, has been a rival of Fortuna and other association leaders who expressed concern that the new board will mainly serve Blessinger's interests and those of his allies.

Blessinger declined to comment, other than to say: "My only concern, being the largest taxi operator in the county, is the Nassau County residents."

Taxi association officials, some of whom have also contributed to Mangano's campaigns, say they plan to take their complaints to the legislature.

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