Nassau County’s Republican leadership has spent two years resisting Democratic calls for an inspector general’s office to probe contracts — only to see their town GOP counterparts now taking up the idea.
As Election Day nears, and both parties try to claim the upper hand on combating corruption, the inspector general issue has created a split in the typically lockstep Nassau GOP.
Republican County Executive Edward Mangano and the county legislature’s GOP majority say an investigations commissioner who is hired, and can be fired, by Mangano is an appropriate safeguard against contracting abuse.
Minority Democrats argue for a position outside the executive’s supervision, subject to approval by a supermajority of the legislature and protected by contract from firing.
The two political parties have largely remain entrenched in their positions since 2015, when the federal indictment of former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on charges partly related to a county contract thrust the debate over procurement oversight to the forefront.
Only in recent months have the lines between Republicans and Democrats blurred.
In April, two Republican Hempstead town board members, Bruce Blakeman and Erin King Sweeney, called for a town inspector general to review all contracts, following the federal indictment of a colleague, Edward Ambrosino, on income tax evasion charges. They said the request had nothing to do with Ambrosino.
King Sweeney has since abstained from most contract votes — something county legislative Democrats have been doing for 18 months — until the town acts on the issue.
“None of this should be political,” said King Sweeney. “This should be a no brainer.”
On Tuesday, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino announced he would create an inspector general in that town, one of several moves after the federal and state corruption indictment of his predecessor, John Venditto, and other former officials.
“When we are done with all of our reforms, Oyster Bay will be the most accountable, transparent and open government in the United States,” Saladino, a Republican appointed to the seat in January, said at Tuesday’s town board meeting.
Last month, Saladino’s Democratic challenger, Marc Herman, had proposed a town inspector general at a news conference Saladino disrupted.
Nassau Democrats said they see some irony in town GOP leaders coming around to an idea they have had little luck in advancing in the county.
“I’m glad to see there are some Republicans in the county who can at least read a poll and see this is the way to go,” said County Legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), referencing public anger at corruption arrests. “Unfortunately, the majority of county legislators haven’t been reading the same polls as Supervisor Saladino.”
Matt Fernando, a spokesman for the legislative majority, noted that Oyster Bay’s inspector general proposal has yet to be detailed. He said the oversight powers that town Republicans have asked for are handled in Nassau by the investigations commissioner.
But Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Saladino — who on Tuesday left his longtime job speaking for Mangano — said the town inspector general hire would be subject to town board approval, and could potentially receive contractual protection..
The intraparty split on the inspector general topic is only unusual because it involves Nassau Republicans, who have long been known for top-down messaging discipline.
Party chairman Joseph Mondello declined to comment.
Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished professor of political science at the State University of New York at New Paltz, said differing opinions among a county party’s varying levels of elected officials would be the norm everywhere but Nassau.
“It could be the political pressures of the corruption cases finally driving people toward each level operating autonomously,” he said.