Joseph Mondello, chairman of the powerful Nassau Republican Committee for a record 35 years, will retire May 24 and is recommending that party vice chairman Joseph Cairo replace him as GOP leader.
“It’s very emotional for me,” said Mondello, who also served for three years as state GOP chair. But he said, “I’m a planner. I’m doing what’s best for the party, my family and myself. I’m executing the plan.”
Mondello, 80, who in March was nominated by President Donald Trump as U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, said his exit will allow election of a new leader at the same time candidates are nominated — so his replacement “can see the campaign through until the election.”
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, called Mondello’s move to retire before his confirmation as ambassador “a very selfless decision.” Were Mondello to depart “later in the game it could have caused disruption,” LaValle said.
Mondello said he has scheduled a meeting of the county GOP executive committee for 5 p.m. Thursday, where he will recommend that Cairo succeed him. Cairo is expected to be elected at a party convention at 7 p.m. that night at the Wisdom Lane School in Levittown.
Cairo, who would make $120,000 a year as county chairman, would take over May 25 and would complete Mondello’s term, which ends in September 2019.
Mondello said he is recommending Cairo because, “He has been working politically in this organization as long as I have. He has been an integral part of the operations.” More important, Cairo knows “the mechanics of running a successful campaign.”
Cairo, 72, also is president of Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., executive GOP leader in North Valley Stream and chairman of the North Hempstead Republicans. Associates have called him “the coach” and Mondello’s “strong right arm.”
In 1995, Cairo resigned his job as county Republican elections commissioner after his disbarment as a lawyer. Cairo admitted diverting $394,000 from two clients. No criminal charges were filed because prosecutors did not believe they could convince a jury he intended to keep the money.
“I had an issue 25 years ago, but people know me for the type of person I am,” said Cairo.
Cairo called the transition “bittersweet” because of his 40-year relationship with Mondello. Cairo said if the party chooses him as leader, he will continue to lead “in the Mondello fashion.”
Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, called Mondello, “one of the most effective leaders in the state . . . We may have battled in the electoral arena, but I count him as a friend.” he said.
Jacobs said Cairo is “exceedingly capable” of getting “out the vote very effectively.”
Mondello said his greatest political moment was when he, then-Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and then state GOP chairman William Powers decided to back George Pataki for governor against Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo. Mondello recalled that Pataki, who won the election, “wanted it and you could see he had the fire in the belly.”
Despite the party’s recent setbacks in Nassau, Mondello, said “we’ll recoup our losses.” He emphasized that the GOP still controls the Nassau County Legislature, the Town of Oyster Bay and has a town board majority in Hempstead.
As for advice to his successor, Mondello said “I’d say get as much asleep as possible because he’ll be lying awake at night weighing the decisions he is constantly going to have to make.”
Correction: The job of president of Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp., held by Joseph Cairo, is a paid position. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that the position is unpaid.