Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman has hired at least five leaders of local Republican political clubs for key county jobs, despite an order by former County Executive Laura Curran barring top county officials from holding political posts, according to county records obtained by Newsday.
When Curran, a Democrat, signed her order in 2018, she called it "a major step forward toward full transparency in Nassau County government" that was crucial to removing the influence of politics in government.
Since taking office in January, Blakeman has hired local GOP leaders as deputy Nassau County executives, agency commissioners and deputy commissioners, records show.
Deputy County Executive Edward Powers
Annual salary: $160,000
Leads the Stewart Manor-New Hyde Park Republican Club
Contributed: $15,810 to Republican county and town committees and candidates in 2021 and 2022, including $250 to Blakeman, state campaign filings show
Credit: Newsday/ J. Conrad Williams Jr.
According to personnel data obtained from the Nassau comptroller's office through a Freedom of Information Law request, the new hires include:
- Deputy County Executive Edward Powers, at a salary of $160,000 a year. Powers leads the Stewart Manor-New Hyde Park Republican Club. He contributed $15,810 to Republican county and town committees and candidates in 2021 and 2022, including $250 to Blakeman, state campaign filings show.
- Deputy County Executive Joseph Muscarella, who also earns $160,000. Muscarella, head of the North Massapequa Republican Club, is a former Oyster Bay Town Council member, and the brother of Hempstead Town Councilman Thomas Muscarella and Nassau District Court Judge Vincent Muscarella, a former Nassau County legislator. In 2021 and 2022, Muscarella contributed $1,200 to local Republican candidates and committees.
- Nassau County Youth Board Executive Director Ladonna Taylor, at an annual salary of $110,000. Taylor leads the Freeport Republican Club. She contributed $14,345 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2021 and 2022.
- Deputy Commissioner of Human Services Debbie Pugliese, whose county salary is $102,000. She leads the Baldwin Republican Club. She donated $5,586 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2022, and $250 to Blakeman in 2021, state financial disclosures show.
- Deputy Public Works Commissioner Douglas Tuman, president of the Glen Head Republican Club, with a salary of $149,000. Tuman, who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in 2020, contributed $2,544 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2021 and 2022.
The website of the Nassau County Republican Committee lists all five as GOP club leaders. Their responsibilities include getting out the vote for party candidates at election time and raising campaign funds.
Deputy County Executive Joseph Muscarella
Annual salary: $160,000
Head of the North Massapequa Republican Club; a former Oyster Bay Town Council member and the brother of Hempstead Town Councilman Thomas Muscarella and Nassau District Court Judge Vincent Muscarella, a former Nassau County legislator
Contributed $1,200 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2021 and 2022
Credit: Newsday/Jeffrey Basinger
The county employees all declined to comment, said Chris Boyle, a Blakeman spokesman.
Boyle defended the hiring of the GOP leaders.
“The county executive will continue to seek out and hire the most qualified individuals to work for the county and serve Nassau residents regardless of political affiliation,” Boyle told Newsday.
Blakeman administration officials said hiring of the Republican leaders did not violate Curran's executive order.
Nassau County Youth Board Executive Director La Donna Taylor
Annual salary: $110,000
Leads the Freeport Republican Club
Contributed $14,345 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2021 and 2022
Credit: Danielle Finkelstein
In a memo, Chief Deputy County Attorney John Hiller said it was his, "considered opinion" that Curran's order "does not prohibit any … Executive Leader from serving in or holding any one of the Order’s defined employment positions."
One top administration official, Chief Deputy County Executive Arthur Walsh, resigned as vice chairman of the Nassau County Republican Committee before joining the Blakeman administration, Boyle confirmed.
Deputy Commissioner of Human Services Debbie Pugliese
Annual salary: $102,000
Leads the Baldwin Republican Club
Donated $5,586 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2022, and $250 to Blakeman in 2021, state financial disclosures show
Curran's executive order aimed to limit, "the corrupting influence of party politicians within the county executive's office and the departments and agencies of county government under the direction and control of the county executive by limiting the county executive appointees' participation in party politics."
The order covers, "any member of the county executive staff, any deputy county executive, any county executive appointed commissioner or any other county executive appointed head of any county executive department or agency or any deputy commissioner or any other deputy head or any other county executive department or agency."
Deputy Public Works Commissioner Douglas Tuman
Annual salary: $149,000
President of the Glen Head Republican Club who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in 2020
Contributed $2,544 to local Republican candidates and committees in 2021 and 2022
Credit: James Escher
Curran's order, which has no sunset date, prohibits such county employees from, "the holding of any office or position of authority within any political party or committee, other than being a committeeperson, or of any office or position of authority within any committee on behalf of any candidate for elected office."
The order also barred employees from contributing to Curran's county executive campaigns.
Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), minority leader of the Nassau County Legislature, cited former Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker, who served under former Republican Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, as an example of an employee the order was meant to cover.
While working for the county, Walker also led the Hicksville Republican Club. The club raised hundreds of thousands of dollars during Mangano's two terms in office, including from county contractors, state campaign financial disclosures show.
"It's very clear that folks that are still tied to one party … their objective is to elect people of their party," Abrahams told Newsday. "Serving in government in that capacity, it's a red flag.”
He continued: "We have to give the public the confidence that there are no political shenanigans that occur."
In 2019, Walker pleaded guilty to a federal charge of obstruction of justice for accepting a $5,000 cash payment from a Nassau County contractor and encouraging the vendor to conceal the payment.
In a separate case, Mangano was convicted of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, federal program bribery, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. He is due to report to federal prison June 13.
Nassau Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said Curran's order infringed on county employees' constitutional rights.
"To bar someone from their First Amendment right of political association is un-American and is, at very least, legally questionable," Cairo told Newsday in a statement.
Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford, a registered Democrat from Long Beach who caucuses with Republicans, said she had no problem with Blakeman's hiring of the GOP leaders.
"This is not a black and white issue here," Ford told Newsday. "The politics is one thing, but as long as people are hired and they do their job well, I don't really see a problem with it."
Ford noted, "we all have to get out the vote, regardless, even if it's the next door neighbor."
At election time, "I run roughshod over everybody and I will drive them to the polls if I have to," she said with a laugh.
Kathleen Clark, a law professor specializing in legal ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, said the Curran order could, "be justified as an anti-corruption measure, to ensure that people in these government positions aren’t coercing others to engage in partisan political activity."
Clark continued: "It’s true that First Amendment rights are implicated here — the question is whether the anti-corruption purpose of the law justifies the limited restriction. How grave is the prospect of corruption? How likely is it that such officials will engage in corruption? How likely is it that people will perceive the situation as corrupt?”