Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is attempting to hold on to his elected post while facing felony criminal charges, but experts say that while it isn’t unusual, it may be risky.
Just on Long Island, a state senator, a town clerk and a county legislator have done the same in recent years, remaining in office from two months to a year after their arrests in political corruption or financial fraud. All were ultimately forced to resign upon conviction.
Mangano, who was charged Thursday with federal conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and obstruction, is in arguably the toughest situation, according to political analysts.
Unlike the others, he is attempting to carry on as the public face of Nassau County government, overseeing services for 1.3 million residents and a nearly $3 billion budget.
Opponents may be emboldened to attack him on policy issues, while allies may be less willing to be photographed with him at ceremonial events, experts said.
“The skepticism about his authority could be immobilizing and makes him essentially a term-limited executive,” Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at SUNY New Paltz, said of Mangano. “His capacity is diminished and he will be unable to execute his priorities.”
Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily with Republicans, said, “the most valuable commodity in politics is time. And defending yourself against the vast resources of the federal government, while managing a county larger than many states, is a full-time job. Time is going to be his biggest obstacle.”
Mangano, a Bethpage Republican, faces an upcoming vote by the county legislature on his 2017 budget proposal, which includes a controversial new $105 surcharge on traffic and parking tickets to pay for new police hires. The legislature must amend the spending plan by Monday and approve it by the end of the month.
He also had been readying for a possible bid for a third term next year. A preplanned email for a campaign fundraising event was sent out Thursday morning, just as federal authorities were arresting Mangano on charges of receiving bribes and kickbacks from a businessman who allegedly also gave Mangano’s wife a lucrative no-show job.
Mangano pleaded not guilty and was released on $500,000 bond. Outside the federal courthouse in Central Islip, where Mangano he had just been arraigned, Mangano told reporters, “I’m going to continue to govern. I’m going to go to work.” He reported to his Mineola office Friday and again said he had no intention of stepping aside.
“I have always put in 100 percent as county executive and will continue at that pace,” Mangano said in an email Friday in response to questions for this story. “The case is in the hands of my attorney and will not serve as a distraction.”
He called it “nonsense” that his legal issues would distract from his governing responsibilities. Responding to the notion that officials might avoid him, or could feel free to challenge him more, Mangano said: “All elected officials have a responsibility to serve our residents. However, politics have no place in government.”
Facing the same charges as Mangano is Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, a Republican, who has yet to reveal whether he plans to resign. Mangano’s wife, Linda, was charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy and false statements. They also have pleaded not guilty.
Edward Mangano and Venditto joined a long line of high-profile Long Island political figures who were charged with crimes while in power. They include onetime Suffolk Republican chairman John Powell and Nassau GOP chairman Joseph Margiotta, former Islip Town Supervisor Pete McGowan, and — more recently — former Hempstead Town Clerk Mark Bonilla, former Nassau County Legis. David Denenberg and ex-State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
Nearly all of them held on to their offices for as long as they could.
But political strategists say that, sometimes, it’s better to quit quickly.
In 2008, for example, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer was immediately defiant in the wake of reports he had solicited prostitutes. But within two days, he had agreed to resign after state lawmakers threatened him with impeachment.
“Sometimes the better strategy is to resign, disappear and be quiet and let your lawyer do the talking,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant from Manhattan.
But there is ample recent precedent for elected officials soldiering on.
In September 2012, Bonilla was charged with official misconduct relating to allegations he tried to acquire intimate photos of a female subordinate who had accused him of sexual harassment. He resisted repeated calls from fellow Republican town elected officials to resign.
Bonilla stayed in the post until August 2013, when he was forced to resign after his conviction.
In November 2014, Denenberg, a Merrick Democrat and a former attorney, was charged with federal mail fraud for bilking a private legal client. He continued attending legislative meetings for two months, until his guilty plea forced him out of office.
In May 2015, Skelos was charged in a wide-ranging federal corruption case in which he was accused of improperly influencing the awarding of a Nassau County contract. Within a week he had relinquished his leadership post but remained as a state senator for seven months, until a jury convicted him.
But none of those men were the top elected executive for a county as large as Nassau. Going forward, Mangano will still need to sign off on most decisions made by his administration, and personally negotiate with legislative leaders and the county’s fiscal control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, to enact deficit reduction measures.
The coming months will include intensified efforts to reduce county borrowing to satisfy NIFA and explorations of a potential $1 billion lease of the county sewer system to a private investor.
A spokesman for presiding officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment Friday on whether the majority believes its working relationship with Mangano will be affected by Mangano’s indictment. On Thursday, she said in a statement that “we must allow the legal process to play out.”
But Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said, “There’s a cloud over his administration. I truly believe it will be very difficult for him to execute his responsibilities.”
Sheinkopf said Mangano will probably discover that the charges are a constant distraction.
“This draws attention away from the daily needs of government and constituents and it incessantly requires that you answer questions as you prepare for trial,” Sheinkopf said.
Benjamin said Mangano may find that the balancing act can’t be sustained, and that resignation may be the best thing for fellow GOP officials and his own legal defense.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Benjamin said.
If Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano were to resign:
- Deputy County Executive Rob Walker would take over the post in the interim. If Walker cannot fulfill the duties, Deputy County Executive Ed Ward would take over. Walker is under federal investigation in a separate case centered around a $12 million county storm cleanup contract won by a company that gave money to Walker’s political committee.
- The GOP-controlled county legislature then would select, through a majority vote, an interim county executive to serve the remainder of Mangano’s term, which ends Dec. 31, 2017.
- A general election would be held in November 2017 to select a new county executive for a full four-year term. He or she would take over in January 2018.