Five months after Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano was arraigned on federal bribery charges, Nassau Republican Party chairman Joseph Mondello summoned him to his Westbury office.
There was no more putting off a frank conversation about Mangano’s political future — and the direction of a party that would be moving on without its political standard-bearer. Prosecutors had charged Mangano in October in a federal corruption case, and Mondello needed to select a new candidate that he thought could win in November.
“I run this like a business and my job is to win,” Mondello said Thursday in his first interview in five months as he recalled the meeting in March in which he told Mangano he wouldn’t back him for a third term. “I have a job to do and renominating the current county executive is not in the best interest of the Republican Party.”
“He did not take it well and didn’t like it,” Mondello said of the meeting in his second-floor office on Post Avenue.
Mondello said he and Mangano haven’t spoken since, and on Thursday night the party’s executive committee endorsed former state Sen. Jack Martins for county executive.
Mangano, who has yet to say if he will run for a third term without the party’s support, declined to comment for this story.
The strained conversation between Mondello and Mangano would have been unthinkable only months earlier.
Mangano, a former county legislator from Bethpage, had risen unexpectedly to the county executive seat in an upset win in 2009 against Democrat Thomas Suozzi, and followed up with a commanding win in their 2013 rematch.
But Mondello and many Nassau Republican Party leaders have come to see Mangano, 55, as unelectable.
In October, Mangano and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, fraud and obstruction of justice in connection with their dealings with Bethpage restaurateur Harendra Singh.
Singh, charged in September 2015 with income-tax evasion, obstruction of justice and bribing a former deputy Oyster Bay town attorney, has pleaded not guilty and has had his trial postponed indefinitely.
Mangano’s wife, Linda, is charged with obstruction and making false statements in relation to $450,000 she received from an alleged “no-show” job from Singh. She has pleaded not guilty.
Martins last year led a group of GOP state senators who called on Mangano to resign after he was indicted.
Mondello said it was “not my place” to ask Mangano to step down because voters had elected him to serve a four-year term.
Mondello said he made it clear to Mangano he would not change his mind and his decision was final.
“I feel sorry for him and what he’s facing,” Mondello said of Mangano. “I am not the judge, jury and executioner. I cannot convict Eddie Mangano. That’s not my decision. I am a political leader and my job is to win elections.”
Mondello explained that the public perception of Mangano, no matter his guilt or innocence, will shape voters’ opinions when they go to the polls Nov. 7.
“The Republican Party is about more than any one man,” Mondello said. “It’s about certain principles. And if we don’t follow those principles, we could be in trouble.”
The comments about Mangano are unusual for a party chairman known for keeping the inner workings of the GOP political machine under wraps.
Mondello last granted an interview to Newsday in mid-November — shortly after the county executive’s arrest — but he refused to discuss Mangano’s future. Mondello was willing to be interviewed now in order to discuss the party’s support for Martins.
Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia political consultant who works primarily with Republicans, said Mondello understands a critical lesson of county politics — that friendships and loyalty must often take a back seat in the name of victory.
“The job is to make decisions in the best interests of the party, no matter if the person in question is your best friend in the world,” Dawidziak said. “As they say ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown.’ ”
While party bosses across the country have seen their power diminished over the past 40 years because of changes to civil service law and the rise of municipal unions, Dawidziak says Mondello remains the unquestioned leader of the Nassau GOP.
Mondello controls a small army of party faithful that are critical to collecting tens of thousands of petition signatures in the dead of summer, along with a loyal voter base in the Town of Hempstead that can dictate control of the county at large.
Without that support, Dawidziak said Mangano faces an uphill climb should he decide to run. “It’s not impossible, but he would have a lot of work to do,” he said.
Mondello acknowledged that the image of Nassau Republicans has taken a hit because of a series of political indictments, that include former Oyster Bay Commissioner of Planning and Development Frederick Ippolito, who pleaded guilty last year to federal tax evasion and was sent to prison, and Hempstead Town Councilman Edward Ambrosino, who pleaded not guilty earlier this month to federal tax evasion and wire fraud charges.
“People favor the GOP on finances and crime,” Mondello said. “But right now the only thing interfering with us is all these corruption allegations.”
Mondello said he made the “necessary changes and put in new people who are good citizens.” Those changes, he said, begin with Martins, a former Mineola mayor who will lead the county ticket in November.
Martins, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year, called the executive committee’s endorsement “one step among many toward winning in November. This campaign is about restoring the public’s faith in government, cleaning up corruption and put Nassau County on the right track going forward.”
Vying for the Democratic nomination for county executive are Legis. Laura Curran of Baldwin, who has the county Democratic Party’s backing; Assemb. Charles Lavine of Glen Cove; and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, who switched from the Republican Party to run for the county’s top job.
Nassau Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said voters “feel there is a culture of corruption with Republicans. They always think they have selected good citizens to run for office until they too get mired in this culture of corruption.”
“A lot of people want to see the death of Republican Party,” Mondello said. “But anyone who thinks we are going to roll over and give up without a fight is out of their mind. . . . The message is, we are not dead yet.”