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Nassau lawmakers feud over stalled Uniondale road project

(L-R) Pearl Jacobs, Heidi Sanft, and Joann Urban,

(L-R) Pearl Jacobs, Heidi Sanft, and Joann Urban, along with other residents of Uniondale complain as a streetscape beautification contract has not been awarded for the fifth month on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County legislators feuded Wednesday over nearly $1 million in Uniondale street improvements that Democrats allege the Republican majority has stalled “out of spite” during a standoff over county borrowing and contract oversight.

About a dozen Uniondale residents attended the legislature’s meeting in Mineola to protest the lack of progress on a years-old plan to replace deteriorated sidewalks and beautify a busy stretch of Uniondale Avenue.

A $919,488 contract for the first phase of work was filed with the legislature in late May, but Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) has yet to call it for a vote.

“Your incessant infighting has had an adverse effect on the people you’ve been elected to serve,” Pearl Jacobs, president of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association, told lawmakers.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who represents Uniondale, said the project was being held hostage simply as retribution for his stance this year against providing Republicans with the last vote they need to approve about $275 million in borrowing for capital projects.

The GOP has a 12-6 majority, with one vacancy, but a 13-vote supermajority is needed to pass borrowing.

“There is no reason why this contract has been sitting idle for five months,” Abrahams said.

Gonsalves and other majority lawmakers responded by noting that Abrahams had blocked many other projects of equal or greater importance, including traffic studies for roads where pedestrian deaths have occurred.

“Projects have come before this body that affect every community,” Gonsalves said. “Most of the time, if not all of the time, they have been voted down by the minority.”

Democrats with some exceptions have blocked all borrowing until Republicans agree to create an independent office to monitor the county’s contracting process, which has been under scrutiny since early 2015.

Republicans have said a new commissioner of investigations who answers to County Executive Edward Mangano already fills that role.

The dispute has played out at nearly every legislative meeting since last winter, but Wednesday’s was particularly heated.

After Abrahams said the GOP wasn’t calling the Uniondale contract “out of spite” — noting that borrowing for the project already has occurred — lawmakers traded shouts as residents chanted the stalled contract’s proposed item number.

Legis. Howard Kopel (R-Lawrence) said community activists should be directing their ire at Abrahams.

“Tell your representatives to cooperate with us,” Kopel said. “If they agreed to take care of some items we consider important, then we would consider some items they would consider important.”

As the argument continued, Joann Urban, a Uniondale Library Board trustee, said, “This is dysfunctional, what’s going on. You should work together.”

Afterward, Jacobs said she blamed lawmakers from both parties for delaying the contract.

“I blame all of them,” she said. “All of this amounts to a manipulative disinvestment into a minority community.”


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