An Oyster Bay town employee made a "human error" when speaking about candidates at an Indian Independence Day event last month, a town spokesman said.
Brian Nevin said in an email that employee Harpreet “Harry” Malhotra “is a new employee who didn’t fully understand our strict policy which bans politics from government business.”
Nevin wrote that Malhotra has “been spoken to."
Video posted on Facebook showed Malhotra at the Aug. 15 event outside the Hicksville community center thanking several people, including Republican town board candidates Laura Maier, Vicki Walsh and Councilman Steven Labriola in his remarks.
Malhotra, a Hicksville restaurant owner who was hired by the town on Aug. 1 as a part-time laborer, spoke from a podium bearing the Oyster Bay town seal and wore a badge with town markings.
The three candidates stood behind or beside the podium along with other attendees at the event.
“They’re all running . . . these are the people you need in the office so that the community grows stronger and stronger,” Malhotra said in the video before thanking town Supervisor Joseph Saladino who also spoke at the event.
Erin Guida, a Democratic town board candidate who also attended the event with running mate Melissa McCardle, said it was “upsetting” and “unethical” for Malhotra to campaign for candidates at the event.
“He should not be promoting candidates,” Guida said of Malhotra. “Promoting politics during ceremonies that are supposed to be celebrating something really diminishes the true reasons of bringing that community together to celebrate.”
Another video from the event shows Saladino identifying Malhotra and another individual as part of his administration as appointed members of a “South Asian economic advisory committee.”
“These two gentlemen have joined my administration as liaisons and will work to insure that all have a voice, all minorities have a voice, all Indian Americans have a voice, everyone,” Saladino said in the video.
Malhotra referred questions about the event to the Oyster Bay town press office.
Nevin wrote that the event was hosted and sponsored by the local community.
Republican Councilman Anthony Macagnone, who did not attend the event, said Saladino should have stopped Malhotra.
“Supervisor Saladino should have corrected the speaker, saying ‘this is not the place for this, this is not that kind of event, this is not a political rally’, “ Macagnone said.
Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr., a Republican challenging Saladino on the Democratic line, said Malhotra, as a representative of the town, shouldn’t have advocated for candidates.
“It should be kept to the merits of the ceremony and not turned into a political event,” Altadonna said.
Saladino said in an email that Malhotra was spoken to about his remarks to "ensure his mistake never occurs again." He also noted that Altadonna held a political news conference in July outside town hall on town property, which is "entirely improper."
Altadonna said he did not have a problem with town officials or members of the public holding news conferences on town property.
“As an elected official I’m entitled to have a press conference, even on town property” Altadonna said in an interview. “What’s wrong is you have town employees now promoting candidates.”
Macagnone and Altadonna last month criticized the Saladino administration for ending the practice of sending the supervisor’s public schedule to all elected officials while unelected running mates were apparently invited to events. Guida said she learned of the Aug. 15 event through a Facebook invite from Malhotra that read “Pls join South Asian Advisory Board and TOB town officials.”