To say that Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino is a force of nature understates the former assemblyman’s standard level of whirling.
High energy relentlessness is the Massapequa Republican’s superpower, but it’s not always a power he is able to harness. Monday, confronting political opponents, Saladino was out of control, and he was out of line.
His Democratic challenger in the November election, Marc Herman, and several Democratic town board candidates were holding a news conference in front of Town Hall to talk about ethics reforms they want Oyster Bay to adopt. Saladino repeatedly interrupted them throughout the 30-minute event, speaking over them, and interjecting statements like “That’s a lie!” as they talked about the town’s troubles.
The event was attended by the Democratic candidates, Saladino and a couple of members of the media. Video shows the supervisor repeatedly interrupting and challenging Herman.
Saladino, 56, stomped on the speech rights of his opponents, but in a phone interview yesterday, he was far from apologetic. He argues that his opponents say things he believes to be untrue, accusing him of being corrupt and a criminal, and they shouldn’t be able to do so without proof.
Saladino argues that the antics that left former Supervisor John Venditto under federal indictment for corruption cannot be laid at his feet. He argues that the shady dealings that left former Building and Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito with a tax evasion conviction on $2 million in undeclared income from town road contractors cannot be pinned on him. And he argues that he is not to blame for the town’s debt explosion.
All of this, he argues, happened before he was appointed in January to replace Venditto, pending November’s election.
So, although sheepish about the public and boorish nature of Monday’s antics, Saladino thinks he was morally justified in blocking the message of his opponents.
He’s mostly wrong, for several reasons.
First, as Herman pointed out in an interview, “Corruption is not just taking money under the table or committing a crime. It can be lying to secure votes, or promising things you cannot deliver.”
Calling an opposing candidate corrupt has become standard. The term, when used outside of the legal sense, is an opinion, one Herman has a right to express.
It’s true that Saladino, who has never been accused of a crime of any kind or faced rumors of corruption, shouldn’t be tarred with the crimes of others. But Saladino is wrong to think he can duck Herman’s accusations about the “Oyster Bay way” and the GOP machine in Nassau County just because he was in the Assembly when the problems occurred. Before his election to the Assembly in 2004, Saladino was Venditto’s director of operations. Before that, he was the executive assistant for the GOP-run Town of Hempstead. The remaining Oyster Bay board members made him supervisor, with the permission of GOP county chairman Joseph Mondello. It’s nearly impossible for him to ignore the public’s feelings about the corruption.
If Saladino wants to convince voters he’s different, he can do so by scrutinizing and exposing every aspect of what went wrong in Oyster Bay, from hiring to contracts to payoffs to abuses of power. The only way voters can be certain he’s not part of the system, is if he blows it up, then rebuilds it.
Interrupting opponents, besides being bad manners, won’t achieve what Saladino hopes. Proving them wrong might.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.