Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano rattled off the issues he said have had his full attention of late, starting with the protracted 2017 budget negotiations, the Nassau Coliseum redevelopment, and studying the feasibility of a cheaper way to keep effluent out of nitrogen-choked bays.
It was his way of asserting that the federal corruption case filed against him two months ago has not crippled his ability to lead, as some political analysts and opponents had predicted.
“There’s really, honestly, nothing that is not occurring that occurred before,” Mangano said earlier this month, in his first sit-down interview since he was charged Oct. 20 with conspiracy to commit bribery; fraud; extortion; and obstruction of justice. “We’re not having any issues in terms of governing, communication, policy or positions.”
While Mangano held fewer news conferences than typical in the weeks immediately after his arrest, interviews with community leaders and both political supporters and opponents suggest, at least anecdotally, that he has otherwise kept a similar schedule as he did before prosecutors alleged he received bribes and kickbacks from a local restaurateur in exchange for county contracts and Town of Oyster Bay loan guarantees.
Mangano, a Republican first elected in 2009, has pleaded not guilty.
As he enters the final year of his second term, Mangano again declined to reveal his political plans — pointing out that even before his arrest he said he wouldn’t make a decision until 2017.
“Nothing’s changed to make me accelerate that decision process,” he said. “There’s a lot to consider, as always when you run for a public office.”
But the clock is ticking.
By spring, Nassau Republicans must settle on a county executive candidate for the November election. Because the criminal case is unlikely to be resolved by then, Mangano may face a choice of seeking a third term while still under indictment — something GOP leaders could oppose — or step aside so another Republican can campaign and raise funds with less distraction.
County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello, who has said he wouldn’t pressure Mangano to resign, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, many elected officials declined, or didn’t respond to, requests for comment about their recent dealings with Mangano. Some of those same officials have continued to appear with the county executive at ceremonial groundbreakings and other photo-ops, and his public calendar for the weeks right after Oct. 20 — as viewed by Newsday — contains roughly the same volume of meetings and phone calls as before.
A frequent topic was the budget, which bounced back and forth between the county legislature and the county’s financial control board this fall before Mangano instituted a series of cuts and new revenues that resulted Dec. 14 in final approval.
“From our standpoint, we really didn’t see much of a change,” said Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), who noted that he had already reduced contact with Mangano after a dispute last year over bus funding. “People seem to think he’s acting as if he wants to run [for re-election] again.”
Mangano had $1.3 million in his campaign account as of mid-July — money he can legally use for his criminal defense. He acknowledged he hasn’t actively raised funds since the indictment, beyond a prescheduled event (“Eggs with Ed”) that was advertised via email on the same day of his arrest.
“People want to raise funds. I want to make my decision,” he said.
After leaving the federal courthouse in Central Islip on Oct. 20, Mangano declared his innocence and said he was returning to work.
That same day, several Republican state senators who were seeking election promptly called for his resignation, something Mangano, in the interview, attributed to political “silly season.”
Asked if anyone since had even privately asked that he resign, Mangano said, “I’m going to look you right in the eye: zero. Nothing but encouragement.”
He also rejected the notion that planning his legal defense was taking away any focus from running the county.
“I don’t know why people think it’s a lot of your time, because it really isn’t,” Mangano said. “You have your evidence, you give it to your attorney, and that’s it.
Pausing, he added: “A lot of the time you’re waiting. So you continue to work.”
Mangano didn’t revisit the allegations against him or his wife, Linda, who is charged with obstruction and making false statements. Prosecutors allege she had a “no-show” job with a company run by Harendra Singh, the Bethpage-based restaurateur in the case, that paid her more than $400,000 over several years.
Still, Mangano, a Bethpage resident, briefly alluded in the Dec. 16 interview to his longtime relationship with Singh.
“This is an odd case, with a 25-year friendship,” Mangano said. “I’d rather have been able to put all my stuff out at the beginning, but it’s just not how it works. You have to respect the justice system.”
Immediately after his arrest, some political analysts speculated that Mangano might be hindered in the ceremonial parts of his duties, because people may not want to be photographed with him.
But, perhaps in response, Mangano has aggressively kept up that portion of his job. He has handed out citations to first responders and Thanksgiving turkeys to county residents, stood with Marines to unveil a Christmas attraction and attended a groundbreaking for a $2 billion redevelopment in Democratic-led Hempstead Village.
Village Mayor Wayne Hall, who stood with Mangano at the groundbreaking, declined to comment for the story.
Another attendee said he didn’t feel it was his place to factor the county executive’s legal woes into such events.
“He’s the county executive until he’s not; you can’t have a litmus test,” said Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a smart-growth advocacy organization that, with the village and county, supported the private redevelopment. “The work transcends the individual.”
Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business organization, said he has spoken with Mangano since his arrest on issues including securing state funding for the redevelopment of the Coliseum property.
“He’s been responsive and engaged and available,” Law said, adding that he hasn’t tried to discuss Mangano’s criminal case other than, “I told him I was praying for him and his family.”
A spokesman for the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s financial control board, said “the working relationship with the county hasn’t diminished” since Mangano’s arrest. The administration developed $21 million in cuts NIFA demanded after the board rejected the legislature’s plan to balance the 2017 budget.
But many fellow elected officials declined to talk, or didn’t respond to requests, about their contact with Mangano or his office since his indictment. This includes county legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow); Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, a Democrat; Hempstead Town Supervisor Anthony Santino, a Republican; North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, a Democrat; and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who has long had a friendly relationship with Mangano.
Cuomo hasn’t publicly commented on Mangano’s arrest, nor appeared alongside him in the county since it happened.
Mangano, however, said since his indictment he has spoken to Cuomo “on governmental business when it’s necessary, in much the same fashion as we would conduct ourselves normally.”
He said everyone who has spoken to him directly has only been supportive.
“It’s just heartwarming,” Mangano said. “Positive energy makes you feel good.”