Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano has abandoned a controversial plan to spend $800,000 in open space funds to buy an old nursery from one of his political appointees.
The administration said Wednesday that it will instead try to broker a deal between the appointee, Deputy Parks Commissioner Frank Camerlengo, and a private nonprofit that would turn the Bethpage land into an educational center celebrating Nassau's agricultural history, without using public funds.
Mangano's decision followed expressions of concern about the deal by his own party members. Nassau Republican chairman Joseph Mondello said this week he opposed the deal because of an "absence of merit."
Backers had argued that Camerlengo's property, once a farm, but now used primarily to store landscaping equipment, was an ideal use of Nassau's $1.1 million open space fund, which gets a portion of each sale of surplus county land.
Opponents said the deal was engineered to help Camerlengo, a Mangano friend who was in foreclosure on the property by nearly $400,000. They said county open space funds could be better used elsewhere.
"The application will not move forward as the private efforts to achieve a historical preservation are underway," Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Wednesday.
A nonprofit that Nevin declined to identify expressed interest, and "this may prove to be the best route as it removes party politics and legislators involved in political races from preservation efforts," he said.
Camerlengo's attorney, Michael Mirotznik of East Meadow, said his client was "in negotiations to do a private land deal with a potential suitor that does not want to be embroiled in any of this at the moment." He declined to say anything further.
According to county political sources, GOP legislators expressed reservations about voting on a deal benefiting a political appointee from Mangano's home community who recently got a 26 percent raise. Camerlengo also has been a frequent donor to Mangano's campaign.
"It looks like this situation will resolve itself in the best interest of the taxpayers," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow.)
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who is running in the Democratic primary in the 4th Congressional District, had called the deal a "government bailout of a political insider." He said Wednesday he's "pleased" it was off, adding that Democrats remain "steadfast" about using open space funds for environmental protection.
Mangano had sought a county ethics board opinion on the purchase. The ruling was still pending, Nevin said.
The administration had noted that a previous ethics board approved former Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi's land purchase from a county worker. Former human resources department official Gordon Allan was a beneficiary in a trust that got $600,000 from Nassau for open space in Glen Cove, Suozzi's hometown, records show.
The Suozzi administration said the purchase prevented development on wooded land surrounding other open space.