For years, the “Oyster Bay way” was code for the town’s notorious hostility to most development projects.
Former Supervisor John Venditto used to use that phrase freely, often when he visited the Newsday editorial board to defend the town’s unwillingness to build anything other than single-family homes — whether in Plainview, Hicksville or infamously the old Cerro Wire property in Syosset.
Venditto said people liked the “Oyster Bay way.” Sometimes he described little white picket fences to explain his goal of maintaining the character of the town.
Indeed, Newsday editorials and columns have used the phrase nearly a dozen times since 2007, asking time and again for a change to the “Oyster Bay way” that could bring economic activity, affordable housing and development opportunities to the town.
Little did we know there was another meaning for insiders. This week, the “Oyster Bay way” took on a new definition. Frederick Mei, the town’s former deputy town attorney and a cooperating witness for the prosecution, testified in federal court that the phrase referred to “the pay-to-play nature of the town.”
At the corruption trial of Venditto, former Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, and his wife, Linda, Mei said that to get a job in Oyster Bay, someone had to be a registered Republican, attend party fundraisers and act in other ways “in furtherance of the Republican Party.”
But in Mei’s own case, and according to the prosecutors, that went beyond party allegiance. Contractors who wanted town business also had to sweeten the pot. Mei noted that he took his first bribe as a government official in 1995, when he accepted a set of car tires and $2,500 in cash from a town contractor.
Mei’s take on the “Oyster Bay way” is an interesting twist on an oft-used phrase. Did Mei’s version of the Oyster Bay way play a role when Charles Wang failed to develop his housing project in Plainview more than a decade ago, or when Taubman Centers couldn’t build at Cerro Wire, or when AvalonBay proposed apartments? Perhaps, the pay-to-play “Oyster Bay way” and the development “Oyster Bay way” are one and the same.