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Brookhaven highway race centers on blizzard

A man tries to push a vehicle that

A man tries to push a vehicle that got stuck on Route 347 in Lake Grove. (Feb. 9, 2013) Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Brookhaven's handling of the February blizzard that crippled the town has emerged as a central issue in the race between Republican town highway Superintendent Daniel Losquadro and his Democratic opponent, Lori Baldassare.

In separate interviews, Losquadro, a former state assemblyman, and Baldassare, a former deputy highway superintendent, also debated issues such as road repairs, contracts and campaign fundraising.

Baldassare said "mismanagement" by town officials during the blizzard may cause taxpayers to cover more than $4 million in expenses related to the storm.

Losquadro, who won a special election to his post in March after the blizzard, blamed Baldassare and former highway chief John Rouse for having implemented faulty record-keeping practices that led to "sloppy" paperwork.

Baldassare said the town missed deadlines required for federal reimbursements. As a result, she said, taxpayers will be assessed a "snow note" averaging $29.76 per household to compensate for most expenses related to the blizzard.

"That's really the mismanagement of the storm," she said. "It took so many days to do the cleanup that they didn't get [the reimbursement]," she said. "They cost residents not only in inconvenience and safety issues during the storm, but now they are going to pay for it in their tax bill."

Losquadro faulted Baldassare, saying she was a part of the Rouse administration, which instituted the failed policy. Rouse resigned in December 2012 to take a county judgeship.

Baldassare said she was fired for political reasons a month before the storm. During the blizzard, the department was run by acting superintendent Michael Murphy, who later resigned under pressure from town officials.

"The department never had an effective way of keeping track of those kinds of records," Losquadro said. "The department for years during the whole time my opponent was there relied on a paper trail. . . . Especially in a weather event, it got very chaotic."

He said he is fixing the problems. "If her criticism is that I'm not correcting her mistakes fast enough, I'm doing my best," Losquadro said.

Besides the blizzard, Losquadro and Baldassare have sparred over management of the highway department. Baldassare said she would implement a computerized road repair schedule, which Losquadro said he already is doing.

Baldassare also accused Losquadro of awarding about two dozen contracts to a company run by the son of his chief deputy, Anthony Gallino. Town records show the firm, Gallino & Sons Trucking Inc., of Rocky Point, earned $165,755 in the first three months after Losquadro took office -- more than three times what the company had earned from the town in the three previous years.

Losquadro acknowledged hiring the firm after Gallino had sought an opinion from the town Board of Ethics. Losquadro said the board cleared the deal, and Gallino has no involvement with work performed by his son's firm.

"He had disclosed to the town the fact that his son was a contractor to the town," Losquadro said. "He did seek a ruling from the ethics board, and there was nothing found that was out of compliance with the town ethics code."

In a May 28 letter to Gallino, ethics board chairman Ronald C. Manning said a board opinion "is not warranted at this time," and asked Gallino to "document any relationships with outside vendors on your annual financial disclosure form."

Losquadro said Gallino & Sons had not worked for the town since June.

Baldassare questioned whether Losquadro would finish his term if he is re-elected, noting that he had run in a special election for highway superintendent shortly after winning a new term in the Assembly. "How long is he going to stay in office?" she said. "Is he just going to be there for a year or two and then move on to higher office?"

Losquadro said he would complete his next term, adding, "I would be happy to finish out my career here. . . . I absolutely love this job."

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