Democratic Nassau County Executive candidate Laura Currran, who has called for the elimination of most taxpayer-funded mailers, on Monday criticized GOP county legislators for what she called a “blatantly political” message about contracting reforms.
Curran, a county legislator from Baldwin, wrote a letter to Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) requesting the total number of specific mailings that have been sent in recent weeks on behalf of majority legislators, “so that the total cost to taxpayers can be calculated.”
Matt Fernando, a spokesman for the Republican majority, told Newsday that 10 of 12 lawmakers in the caucus had sent the mailers in recent weeks, and that costs ranged from roughly $8,000 to $10,000 per district.
The GOP mailer was titled “Increasing the transparency of county government,” and frames contracting reforms enacted in Nassau since 2015 as the effort of Republicans “working vigilantly to make sure you can have confidence in your local government.”
The mailer features the image of a large magnifying glass surrounding text that details some of the changes that came as a result of contracting scandals, including the federal indictment of former State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and an investigation into Republican County Executive Edward Mangano’s chief deputy, Rob Walker.
Described are: new requirements for lobbyists to register with the county and for vendors to disclose political contributions they made to the campaigns of county officeholders or candidates; the hiring of a new procurement compliance director and investigations commissioner and the lowering, from $25,000 to $1,000, of the threshold for contracts requiring legislative approval.
The mailer, however, makes no reference of the cases or media reports on contract abuses that led to those changes, nor the fact that Democratic legislators have long asked for further reforms, such the closing of loopholes in the vendor disclosure law and the creation of an independent inspector general’s office to probe suspicious pacts.
Curran’s letter also made note of an assertion in the mailer that all contracts are subject to scrutiny from the district attorney’s office before they’re executed and that legislators have helped “achieve the highest level of transparency in all of New York State.” The district attorney’s office does not sign off on contracts awarded by other county departments as part of the normal review process.
“For a mailing purporting to inform taxpayers about ‘transparency,’ these are oddly misleading assertions,” Curran wrote, asking Gonsalves to refund the county the cost of the mailers from legislators’ campaign accounts.
Gonsalves, however, responded in a letter to Curran that her understanding of the mailer issue was “poorly informed” and that the majority planned to use future mailers to let residents know about public safety projects that Democrats have blocked by denying the votes needed to authorize capital borrowing.
“As an elected official, it is my right and obligation to communicate on issues of importance with my constituency,” Gonsalves wrote. “Indeed, both the majority and minority have set aside funds within our respective, unanimously approved budgets for exactly this purpose.”
Gonsalves also noted that the district attorney reference on the GOP mailer referred to the fact that the office is given a copy of legislative agendas that list contracts up for approval.
After being asked by the mailer issue, GOP officials pointed out that legislative Democrats have recently sent out taxpayer-funded mailers with political statements.
He pointed to a newsletter from Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) from late last year that touts Democrats’ push for an inspector general and chides Mangano and “the Republican majority” for an “unwillingness . . . to make corrective actions to safeguard us from future debacles.”