In a cramped backroom, Nassau County's legislative Democrats Friday did what the body's Republican majority repeatedly would not let them.
They held a "public hearing" on the county's controversial system of awarding contracts.
It wasn't a formal proceeding, though. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) wouldn't grant them use of the legislative chambers, so the seven minority caucus members sat at a small table in a room where they normally hold news conferences, sharing a microphone.
"Sadly, instead of welcoming this opportunity for open, bipartisan government, she [Gonsalves] used her official authority to exclude us from the chamber," Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) told a standing-room crowd of about 50 people, many of them Democratic aides, candidates and supporters. "She has literally locked us out of the legislative chamber in an attempt to keep us silent."
Gonsalves told Abrahams in a recent letter that she would hear their reform suggestions, but, "I will not allow this process to devolve into a political circus and I will not allow unilateral hearings to be conducted in the legislature chamber."
No GOP lawmakers attended the Democrats' event, although the majority's legislative clerk, Bill Muller, stood and watched.
"This 'hearing' was no more than a Democrat political rally, and their use of county property for this event should be investigated," Gonsalves said in a statement Friday afternoon.
Nassau's contracting process has been under scrutiny since spring, when federal prosecutors charged state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and his son, Adam, with improperly influencing the awarding of a $12 million county contract to a company that employed Adam Skelos. Dean and Adam Skelos have pleaded not guilty.
Speakers at the Democrats' event included acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat running for district attorney next month against Republican Kate Murray, the Hempstead Town supervisor. Singas in July issued a report that called the county's contracting system a "recipe for corruption" and recommended reforms, including an independent inspector general to investigate contracts as needed.
"The county executive has endorsed reforms," Singas said of Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, who has instituted new lobbyist disclosures and backed recommendations of an expert panel for a ban on political contributions by county vendors.
"The county legislature is the only branch that has failed to take any action," Singas said.
Gonsalves' letter to Abrahams disputed that, noting that the majority supported Mangano's lobbyist disclosure bill.
Mangano has said he plans to hire an investigations commissioner to oversee county contracting.
George Marlin, a former member of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state fiscal monitoring board, told Democrats it must be an independent position with a protected budget and staff. "This, in my judgment, shouldn't be a political issue," Marlin said.
Other speakers at the Democrats' event included Paul Sabatino, a Republican and a former Suffolk legislative counsel, and State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens).