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Nassau Republicans, Democrats duel on corruption fixes

Nassau County legislative leaders talk about a new law proposed by majority Republicans on Monday, May 1 , 2017, that would bar individuals convicted of felonies involving public corruption from running for county office or holding a county-appointed board or commission seat. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

With Election Day six months away, the Nassau Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats jostled Monday to claim the high ground in fighting corruption.

In dueling news conferences, the GOP majority announced legislation to disqualify felons from county elected or appointed offices and Minority Democrats repeated a longstanding call for an independent inspector general to monitor contracts.

Republicans said their bill, expected to be passed later this month, would “close a loophole” in state law that could allow some felons who receive special court-issued waivers to seek or hold elected office.

State law otherwise bans that from happening. Former Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick) automatically forfeited his seat after his guilty plea in 2015 to federal mail fraud related to overbilling a legal client.

Former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was forced to resign that year after his conviction on federal corruption charges. He is appealing.

“The legislation today isn’t directed at any one individual,” said Nassau Legis. Steven Rhoads (R-Bellmore), who succeeded Denenberg. “The legislation today is directed at 1.4 million people that rely upon us to ensure that the county government ... is honest and open and transparent.”

Denenberg said in an interview that while he was not running for his old seat, “I always found that the residents of Nassau County are extremely smart and can decide for themselves who they can and can’t vote for.”

Minutes after Republicans spoke, Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) called the GOP bill “a no-brainer” his caucus would support. But Abrahams said it was like “closing the barn door after the horses are already out of it.”

Democrats said the GOP instead should support their push to create an inspector general’s office that does not answer to the county executive, to probe county contracts.

Skelos’ conviction was related in part to the awarding of a county contract, as was the federal corruption indictment of GOP County Executive Edward Mangano, who has pleaded not guilty.

Republicans have rejected calls for an inspector general. They say the county’s investigations commissioner, who answers to Mangano, has the same powers.

With Robert Brodsky

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