In 2001, Tom Suozzi swept into office as Nassau County executive, replacing Thomas Gulotta and the Republicans who had ruled for decades. Democrats replaced Republicans in the hundreds of “exempt” decision-making positions leaving Republicans out in the cold. Changes had to be made, and Suozzi needed to take the levers of power to make things happen. In 2009, Suozzi was swept from office by Edward Mangano and the Republicans. More than a 100 Democratic jobs were lost.
Last week, Democrats were swept back to power. The cardboard packing boxes will, no doubt, return to the county office buildings.
So, what have we learned? What can we do better?
The election of Laura Curran, the first female county executive in Nassau County history, along with the win by Laura Gillen as Hempstead supervisor, offers us a great opportunity to do things differently.
The nation is desperate for an end to political vitriol, and Curran and Gillen can show the nation how politics and governing can change, leading by example. First, the blind adherence to party loyalty as a job qualifier may have brought short-term satisfaction. But it guaranteed for both parties a permanent contentiousness and gridlock in governing, yielding nothing but stagnation.
Let’s learn from past mistakes. Yes, the new governments, both in the county and the Town of Hempstead, will need to bring in their own people to form administrations committed to new policies, new ideas. But governments, particularly local ones, run things. They pave and maintain roads, manage parks, deliver social services, remove garbage and maintain public safety. There is no Republican or Democratic way to do those tasks. While we need experienced, competent managers, Democrats need to remember just because someone is a Republican, hired by the previous administration, they are not necessarily a partisan, and not necessarily incapable of doing the job we need done.
So, as a start, let’s take a fair-minded look at who does a good job and replace only those who do not. That simple change in the current culture of contentiousness may yield a new spirit of cooperation.
Next, the county should approve a charter amendment to create a nonpartisan redistricting process for the county and the towns. The current system is undemocratic and it creates too many safe, secure seats where party identity decides the result. Safe seats breed arrogance among incumbents. Competitive seats lead to uncertainty, and thus give control to the electorate. That would make government more responsive.
The campaign promises of an independent inspector general to oversee the contract process and the imposition of term limits are promises we must keep.
Leaders and elected officials in both parties need to remember that we are all Americans. Democrats won this last election — but not by 100 percent. Nearly half of the voters chose the other side. We need to govern with the respect for Republicans that reality dictates. We may disagree with Republican philosophy and policies, but we should not dislike Republicans.
Joe Mondello, my Republican counterpart, and I are friends. We spend the election season trying to defeat each other while we spend the rest of the year trying to find common ground where we can. If we can work together, everyone can. I know Curran and Gillen feel that way because bipartisan cooperation was the foundation for their campaigns.
This election provides us with an opportunity to give Nassau politics a fresh start. Let’s change the culture of partisan politics by treating each other with respect and let’s change government by enacting redistricting reform, changing the way our legislators are elected.
Jay Jacobs is Nassau County Democratic chairman.