Rep. Peter King harshly criticized fellow Republican Anthony Santino on Facebook and in emails for the Hempstead Town supervisor’s “cowardly attack” on his daughter, a town councilwoman, and his role in the town’s controversy over ethics reform that has rocked the Island’s longtime GOP stronghold.
King, a former Hempstead Town councilman and Nassau County comptroller, has largely stayed out of the dispute, previously saying only that he supports his daughter, Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who has been pushing to hire an inspector general for the town and has been embroiled in a battle with Santino over ethics reform that often has included shouting matches on the town board’s dais.
But on Wednesday, King’s campaign sent out an 11:30 p.m. email to supporters blasting Santino and followed up with a Facebook post Thursday morning.
“Santino’s response to Erin’s request for an Inspector General was to propose a sham ethics package which basically just reaffirmed the status quo,” King wrote on Facebook.
Santino said he had no comment on King’s statements.
King said Thursday he would have spoken out sooner if the strife on the board involved any council member other than his daughter. The Seaford Republican said he didn’t want his silence to imply he didn’t support his daughter or wasn’t interested in the state of the fractured board.
“I was intentionally staying out of it. It was her fight. She can fight her own battle,” King said. “I wanted to set the record clear. I’ve been active in the party for 45 years, and I don’t want it going in the wrong direction.”
King said he has repeatedly spoken to Nassau County GOP Chairman Joseph Mondello about the board disputes and was making public what many Republicans were saying privately.
King Sweeney said Thursday that she has proved she is able to defend herself as a council member, but her father felt compelled to speak out as the political discourse has devolved.
“The situation has gotten so out of control that a prominent Republican in Nassau County felt obligated to speak out on this insanity,” King Sweeney said.
Santino’s ethics package, passed earlier this month in a 4-3 vote after a rancorous, hourslong meeting, included a cap on outside income that limits town board members from earning more than $125,000 in other jobs. King Sweeney and Councilman Bruce Blakeman, who are both attorneys and publicly criticized Santino in recent months, said the cap was aimed at keeping them from running for re-election.
“Santino’s cowardly attack against Erin is gutter politics and a flagrant attempt to hide the emptiness of his ‘ethics reforms’ and his refusal to support an Inspector General,” King wrote on Facebook.
Santino also proposed an 11th-hour amendment to his package that stated town board members could provide “full disclosure” of their clients or consulting contracts instead of abiding by the income cap. King Sweeney and Blakeman said they had not been provided a copy of the amendment before the vote, but it ultimately passed 4-3. King Sweeney was among the council members voting against the amendment.
“Rather than acknowledge his true motive, Santino shamefully claimed he was doing it to prevent Town Board members from putting ‘personal profit’ before the public interest,” King wrote on Facebook.
King then took aim at town spokesman Mike Deery, whose annual salary is more than $200,000, and called Santino’s income cap “the ultimate hypocrisy coming from the guy whose media flack is paid a government salary higher than the United States Secretaries of State and Defense and comparable to a United States Supreme Court Justice!”
Deery said the town wouldn’t comment on King’s posts.
King Sweeney and her father said they didn’t know whether the divided town board could be repaired.
“Every step of the process, the supervisor had the power to handle this reasonably, and meet and discuss the issues, but he’s proven to be a bully,” King Sweeney said. “It’s an attempt to hurt my credibility and hurt my district.”