Word was spreading quickly last Jan. 28 of a new revenue gambit from Nassau Executive Edward Mangano, one that called for placing big electronic advertising billboards alongside the Long Island Expressway.
That day two senators phoned Dean Skelos — a fellow Republican from Rockville Centre who was then their majority leader — to voice alarm.
It turns out federal investigators were listening to the calls from Sens. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset). The FBI, after all, was tapping everything on Skelos’ phone as part of a probe that led to the criminal charges on which he and his son, Adam, are now being tried.
Taken in isolation, these two conversations, presented amid a load of other prosecution recordings in the case, don’t seem to bear on the thrust of the case.
But as a matter of political interest, they offer a rare public glimpse of estrangement between Mangano’s office and members of the “Long Island nine,” as the all-GOP Senate delegation from Nassau and Suffolk is known.
“We try to do whatever we can to help the county,” Skelos tells Marcellino at one point in their three-minute, 55-second exchange. “Most of it turns to [expletive] because they don’t know what the [expletive] they’re doing there.”
An intramural distance between Skelos and Mangano should come as little surprise. But the context here is unique. At the time of the wiretaps, federal officials were building a case around the Skeloses for allegedly using their influence to prod Mangano to complete the purchase of a county water-filtration device from a company that retained Adam Skelos.
On the day of these recordings, billboards were the subject at hand. Marcellino sounded especially livid that nobody from the county informed the senators in advance of something so visible and controversial. He says this happens even as Joe Mondello, the county GOP chairman, “keeps talking about unity, unity, and all this [expletive].” He says he plans to give Mangano “an earful.”
Skelos says of the billboard proposal — which has since stalled amid opposition: “You have to go to the state commissioner and just kill the [expletive] thing.”
And the dissing of Mangano’s governance doesn’t stop there.
“That’s not what our county’s supposed to be, looking at billboards,” Marcellino says. “ . . . That’s Queens, for Chrissake.”
“Yeah,” Skelos says. As if addressing Mangano & Co., he adds: “Fix your [expletive] problem in the county, you know? You know, they’re talking $30 million, whatever. Find the [expletive] money.”
Marcellino replies: “It’s unbelievable with these guys. They can’t seem to get out of their own way. They see numbers that’s going to give you millions of dollars and they jump. ‘Oh, let’s do it.’’’
Citing an earlier-aborted county project that placed speed cameras in school zones, he said, “And then, they point fingers at us,” an apparent reference to the State Legislature’s approval of that program.
Of the billboard effort, Marcellino said: “This is going to be on a state road. You know we’ll get blamed.”
Skelos replies: “Yup.”
Earlier that day, Martins called to alert Skelos that Mangano had made the proposal and that the 70-foot-plus structures would go in districts represented by himself, Marcellino and Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City).
Martins tells him: “People in these areas are going to go absolutely nuts.”
Nobody ever said government was supposed to be pretty.