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Long IslandPolitics

Nassau Democrats, Republicans battle over mailings

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas in Mineola on

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas in Mineola on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A new county-funded mailing from Republican Nassau legislators that attacks Democratic lawmakers for past tax increases has prompted Democrats to accuse the GOP of lying to constituents at taxpayer expense.

But Republicans say the message on their oversized postcard is “informative” and contend that Democrats have mailed government-funded partisan attacks against them in the past.

The dispute comes as the Nassau Republican legislative majority proposes to increase its mailing budget by $400,000 — to a total of $1.1 million — in a year when all 19 legislative seats are up for election.

Democratic District Attorney Madeline Singas has asked Donna Myrill, the Republican-appointed county investigations commissioner, to examine whether the postcard violates the state constitution and county code of ethics, which forbid the use of government resources for political purposes.

Singas also asked Myrill to issue a public report on her findings — although Newsday reported recently that Myrill has not issued any public accounting of her investigations since her hiring more than a year ago.

One side of the full-color postcard, which has been mailed so far by three Republican legislators, with others expected to opt in, touts: “GOOD NEWS FOR NASSAU FINANCES . . . thanks in large part to the Republican majority.”

It says county finances have improved “without resorting to massive tax increases like the previous Democratic Legislative Majority.”

However, it doesn’t mention that Nassau’s financial control board projects a budget deficit of more than $100 million this year.

The postcard’s flip side says the Democratic majority hiked taxes by 42.3 percent from 2000 through 2010 — but doesn’t mention that Republicans held the majority when a tax increase of 10.5 percent was enacted in 2000.

The postcard also says Republicans eliminated taxes on fast food and cigarettes, although Nassau never imposed taxes on either. Those were proposals offered as possible ways to fill future budget gaps.

“In the current political climate, anything goes,” said Stanley Klein, a political science professor at LIU-Post in Brookville and a Suffolk Republican committeeman. Essentially, he said, Republicans are trying to motivate their base voters in a year when low turnout is expected. “Those are the only people who read it. Without your base vote, you don’t have anything.”

Democratic legislative candidate Eileen Napolitano said she emailed the postcard to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and asked him to investigate “this blatantly partisan, political piece of mail that was funded using taxpayer money.” DiNapoli’s office on Friday said it had yet to receive the request.

Singas, who has criticized politicized county mailings repeatedly, sent a letter to Myrill Thursday, asking her to investigate. Singas wrote that “existing law makes it very difficult to bring criminal charges for certain political abuses of taxpayer dollars” but said civil enforcement could stop “this wasteful and corrupt practice.”

Myrill on Friday said she could not comment on any referrals made to her.

Republican legislative spokesman Matthew Fernando called the postcard “informative,” and said former Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Singas have found that such pieces are not illegal. He said the legislative majority often transfers unused money to fund postage. In this year’s proposal, the money would be transferred from budgeted salaries and contracts.

Paul Sabatino, former Suffolk chief deputy county executive and a longtime legislative counsel, said the Republican postcard “is a blatant use of taxpayer dollars to express a partisan message in a governmental mailing. The reasons it violates the law is it expressly makes reference to the Democratic and the Republican party in an attempt to contrast the so-called achievements and failures of the two parties.”

Fernando said “case law” allows using the term “Republican” and “Democrat” in government mailings. He was referring to an opinion from Republican Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foskey that quotes an upstate Supreme Court decision that found “partisan references” in a county legislative newsletter do not constitute political campaign materials.

But Sabatino said the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, already had ruled on the issue. “When you have the highest court establishing a legal principal, it always takes precedent.”

Fernando provided copies of mailings from Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) and Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), who is running for county executive this fall, that also used the terms “Democrat” or “Republican.”

In his mailing, Abrahams blasted the “Republican majority” for not taking corrective actions that “my fellow Democratic legislators” supported to prevent corruption. Curran’s mailer said the “Nassau Democratic Caucus fought against a tax hike.”

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