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Editorial: Nassau lawmakers' hard choices

The Theodore Roosevelt Building in Mineola where the

The Theodore Roosevelt Building in Mineola where the Nassau County Legislature meets (Oct. 2, 2009) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hard times harvest political turmoil. The Nassau County Legislature, the most bitterly divided in memory, is grappling with ways to keep core services without increasing revenue.

Republicans took power in 2009, with a two-seat edge for County Executive Edward Mangano. The GOP is fighting to keep control after its plan to fund a new Coliseum with public money was rejected and the majority approved a 2012 budget that includes cuts in police services, concessions from public-sector unions and the hiring of a private operator for county buses.

During editorial board interviews, candidates echoed two recurring themes: the refusal to raise taxes in this harsh economy and the lack of detailed information in next year's $2.63-billion county budget.

The county executive hasn't said which two police precincts may close, which jobs will be cut and how much it will cost to ride Long Island Bus when a private contractor takes control from the MTA. Those controversial votes are likely to happen in a lame-duck session.

There will be tough votes ahead in 2012, too. Mangano is proposing to sell the county's two municipal waste-treatment plants, and he may need approval to fire more county workers.

On the ballot in some of the 19 races there are valuable incumbents and worthy challengers. Unfortunately, some districts are gerrymandered to favor one party and the incumbent, however flawed and past his or her expiration date, stays on. It gets worse when the opposing party abdicates its responsibility to recruit and support fresh talent. It's that lack of competitiveness that is the seed of a rigid and dysfunctional legislature.


Editorial: Abrahams in Nassau 1st District

Kevan Abrahams is one of the county's most qualified legislators and community leaders. His keen mind, deep experience, ability to forge consensus, and work ethic are the mix of talents needed during this fiscal crisis.

As leader of the Democratic minority, Abrahams scrutinizes proposals by County Executive Edward Mangano to close the budget gap. He has insightfully questioned the privatization of Long Island Bus, the proposed sale of sewer treatment plants and the awarding multiple contracts to politically connected lawyers.

He spoke against the failed GOP plan to redraw district lines. Abrahams, 37, of Freeport, is active in efforts to redevelop downtown Hempstead.

Opposing Abrahams is Rodney H. McRae, 44, an employee of the county human rights commission who investigates claims of civil rights violations by inmates at the Nassau jail. He didn't seek Newsday's endorsement.

Abrahams works as senior analyst for the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. He deserves a fifth term. Newsday endorses Abrahams.

Editorial: Troiano in Nassau 2nd District

Robert Troiano, 58, is seeking his second term in the legislature. The Democrat, who previously served on the North Hempstead Town Council and as president of the Westbury school board, has continued to maintain a focus on neighborhood projects while rising to this larger role.

Troiano, who has an MBA from Stanford, is an outspoken advocate for residents who use the social services now threatened by budget problems, particularly bus service and Able-Ride. The former Wall Street executive from Westbury has found the money to improve sewer service in parts of North Hempstead and has maintained a laser focus on reviving Hempstead Village, even as his role has changed.

Karin Campbell, 51, of Westbury, did not seek the editorial board's endorsement. She is a case manager for P.L.U.S. Group homes, which cares for adults with autism. On the Westbury school board since 2003, she holds a master's degree from the New York Institute of Technology. Troiano has done a fine job in his first term. Newsday endorses Troiano.

Editorial: Solages in Nassau 3rd District

The bitter battle to represent this majority minority district heated up even before the race kicked off between incumbent Republican John Ciotti and Democrat Carrié Solages.

It began this spring when the GOP-controlled legislature redrew district lines in such a way that blacks and Hispanics would no longer have been in the majority here. In August, the state's top court ruled the new map was illegal.

Ciotti, 59, of North Valley Stream, has represented the district since 1996, when the first Nassau legislators were sworn in. Now the deputy presiding officer, he's a seasoned player adept at bringing money to the district for things such as street lighting and beautification projects. But the cynical Republican redistricting bid put partisan self interest above the interests of district residents.

The issue of race flared again two weeks ago, when a Ciotti volunteer got into an altercation with Solages' sister over signs he posted on a fence outside Solages' campaign headquarters. The volunteer was caught on videotape saying, "Don't worry, we're gonna put them on the back of the bus where they belong."

Solages, 32, of Elmont, is an attorney and lifelong resident of the district. He says elected officials lack the political courage to bring spending into line with revenue, and blames them for putting county finances in such disarray that a state financial oversight board has intervened.

He would be an important voice in the fight to retain reliable bus service now that Nassau has fashioned a still-secret deal to privatize Long Island Bus that could eventually result in higher fares and, possibly, reduced services. Many residents of the district rely on public transit. While expressing concern about fare hikes and route cuts, Ciotti supports privatization. Solages, a former Nassau human rights commissioner, is well-informed and would be a strong advocate for this district that Ciotti supported splitting up. Newsday endorses Solages.

Editorial: Tangney in Nassau 4th District

Darlene Tangney, 53, is an energetic activist against drunken driving who has worked her way up in politics from PTA leader to school board member. She brings experience from lean-times school budgeting to her challenge of incumbent Denise Ford. Both are from Long Beach.

Ford, 60, has represented her district for eight years. She's a registered Democrat who runs on the GOP line and almost always votes with that caucus.

Tangney, also a Democrat, believes she can find savings by bringing a fresh perspective. She would ask unions to cooperate and says a similar approach helped move Long Beach schools toward more modest raises. Ford also wants unions to enter discussions with the administration. Both are reluctant to vote for layoffs, but they would do so before raising taxes.

Ford wants to see the specifics of any police precinct consolidation before commenting on it, while Tangney is concerned about potential cuts to the marine bureau and DWI enforcement.

Tangney seemed to better grasp the need to contain costs. Newsday endorses Tangney.

Editorial: Browne in Nassau 5th District

This is the third battle for incumbent Democrat Joseph Scannell of Baldwin and Republican Christian Browne of Rockville Centre, and both previous contests were fairly close.

Browne, 35, is a civil-litigation lawyer. He says Nassau's problems were caused by unrealistic spending and pushing obligations into the future.

Scannell, 49, is a lawyer representing officers for New York City's police union. He has served six terms and says he's delivered for the district. But much of what he touts delivering, like the Nunley's Carousel restoration, is old news. He says the unions don't need to make concessions, but they clearly do.

The race has been dominated by Browne's vote, as a member of the Hempstead Town Zoning Board, to allow a nightclub bordering on a residential area. Opponents say it's a strip club. Browne says the license forbids any nudity. After the outcry, he voted with the majority to revoke the permit.

Browne has been persistent and intelligent in pursuing the seat. Newsday endorses Browne.

Editorial: Becker in Nassau 6th District

Incumbent Republican Francis Becker, 58, is an original member of the legislature, serving since 1996. A resident of Lynbrook, he is also one of the few members of the GOP caucus with the confidence, clout and conscience to rebel against Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt's abrasive leadership. One example: Last week he stayed in the legislative chambers to listen to opponents of the Long Island Bus privatization after Schmitt and his followers stormed off.

Becker is opposed to tax increases. He views union concessions as the best way out of the county's financial mess, and layoffs as the regrettable result if concessions don't materialize.

Democrat Anthony Gonzalez, 25, is secretary of the Valley Stream Democratic Club. He wants to keep young people in Nassau via affordable housing. He also argues, rightly, that the cure for Nassau's budget woes is new jobs and an increased tax base -- but Gonzalez has few immediate solutions and doesn't think the unions should have to renegotiate their contracts.

Becker is a steady legislator who has a realistic view of the problems and what can actually be done to solve them. Newsday endorses Becker.

Editorial: Moser in Nassau 7th District

Republican incumbent Howard Kopel, 60, admits he's not a big speechmaker. The Lawrence resident touts his behind-the-scenes activity during his first term in the legislature and says he's devoted to constituent service. Kopel singles out the Bay Park sewage plant as an example of his work to improve his district.

Democratic challenger Adam Moser, 47, is a lawyer who lives in Hewlett. A savvy former district court judge, Moser says the Republicans wasted money with their redistricting plan and did little to actually address the sewage issue.

Mangano's plan to sell the county's two sewer treatment plants is a major issue for this district. Kopel, while waiting to see the particulars, favors the idea. Moser is opposed.

Kopel takes pride in having voted to end the energy tax, even though that move is one cause of Nassau's budget disaster. Although he claims to be independent, he can't name a time when he's crossed GOP leadership.

Moser vows to be a loud voice for change, and Kopel, essentially, promises that he won't be. Right now, it's the loud voice that's needed. Newsday endorses Moser.

Editorial: Muscarella in Nassau 8th District

Republican Legis. Vincent Muscarella of West Hempstead is one of the original members of the Nassau County Legislature -- elected 16 years ago -- and the odds are in his favor for another two-year term. Muscarella's opponent, Democrat Scott Milano, 41, of Garden City, is not actively campaigning.

Muscarella, 57, is an even-tempered lawyer and conservative who chairs the important public works committee. Over the past two years, the committee has overseen much-needed repairs at the Cedar Creek and Bay Park sewage treatment plants.

His views on the county's most pressing problems would bring welcome results if only they were to prevail. Muscarella prefers the Nassau Interim Finance Authority provide fiscal guidance to the county. He is protective of Long Island Bus's obligation to maintain routes, service to the disabled and reasonable fares. His preference to combine business and residential development at the Hub recognizes the benefits of reduced commute times and traffic. Newsday endorses Muscarella.

Editorial: Nicolello in Nassau 9th District

Republican incumbent Richard Nicolello could be considered one of Nassau's elder statesmen, having been in the legislature since it first convened in 1996. At 51, Nicolello, of New Hyde Park, is not elderly -- but he has perspective when he says this is the worst time in Nassau he's ever seen. He accepts that the state control board's involvement in the county's finances is necessary, as Nassau's contracts with its public unions are, in his view, unsustainable. In his endorsement interview, he frankly said the Police Benevolent Association has outnegotiated the county for years, taking the long view while Nassau politicians have taken the short one.

His Democratic challenger, Jason Watson, 33, of New Hyde Park, is a project coordinator for Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism. Watson says Nassau has been hamstrung by partisanship and that his lack of political experience -- this is his first run for office -- is a plus.

Given the county's challenges, we're not so sure it's a great time for novices -- at least not when they'd turn out a dedicated legislator who, when asked why he's seeking a ninth term, cites how gratifying it is to help constituents. Newsday endorses Nicolello.

Editorial: Bosworth in Nassau 10th District

Elizabeth Berney's 30-year career as a lawyer equips her with a solid and relevant background for the county legislature. The 56-year-old Great Neck Republican has experience in tax and contracts law, fashioning bid requests, licensing and litigation. Nassau County finds itself busy in many of these areas.

Berney ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year against Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Roslyn Heights); her experience is better suited to her current quest, to unseat Judi Bosworth, 63, a Democrat from Great Neck who is seeking a third term.

But Bosworth is a fully engaged legislator with few weaknesses a challenger can exploit. As a member of the legislature's Democratic minority, she plays a key role in forcing the Republican majority and the county administration to vet their initiatives. She complains of being shut out, but should continue her loyal opposition and lead even more aggressively in her next term.

Bosworth's discussions with social service leaders could bring about much-needed consolidation of county contract agencies; she should pursue these ideas. Newsday endorses Bosworth.

Editorial: Wink in Nassau 11th District

Democratic incumbent Wayne Wink, 44, an attorney who lives in Roslyn, is running for his third term. While he was reluctant at first to embrace the Nassau Interim Finance Authority's involvement in the county, he now welcomes it and the panel's role in getting labor to the table to find savings. He felt the county started trending in the wrong direction around 2008, under the former county executive.

Wink fears County Executive Edward Mangano's strategy to solve the tax refund problem by lowering assessments will build further inequities into the system, and he believes responsibility for assessments may ultimately need to shift to the towns. His Republican challenger, Eric Zausner, 28, of Port Washington, is a former fashion executive who works in the county's Office of Emergency Management. Zausner generally favors Mangano's policies. He suggests selling naming rights to the Coliseum and parks to generate more revenue, but his estimates for how much that could bring are unrealistic.

Zausner is one of the more knowledgeable challengers this year, but Wink's professionalism and smarts are needed now. Newsday endorses Wink.

Editorial: Rennhack in Nassau 12th District

This is the fourth attempt by Democrat John Rennhack to unseat Peter Schmitt, the embattled Republican leader of the Nassau County Legislature, who was first elected in 1995 and has come to embody its dysfunction and partisanship.

Rennhack, 41, a freelance media consultant, acknowledges his impossible task in this Massapequa-centric district where the GOP has a 2-to-1 enrollment edge and where Schmitt, 61, does tend to everyday concerns.

After the 2009 election, when the GOP retook control of the legislature, Schmitt returned as presiding officer. Within weeks Schmitt voted to give himself a $32,000 pay hike, making his part-time job worth $99,500. He rescinded the increase only after a massive public outcry. While Schmitt is adamant about not raising taxes, he's a big spender and enabler of GOP patronage, approving contracts for politically connected law firms and forcing passage of a gerrymandered redistricting map later declared illegal by the state's top court.

Rennhack's campaign is not as energetic as before, yet he's trying to hold Schmitt accountable for his record. For that effort, Newsday endorses Rennhack.

Editorial: Maher in Nassau 13th District

Patricia Maher is a gadfly extraordinaire. The 52-year-old resident of East Meadow is a tireless worker with a solid understanding of Nassau's issues. And she knows her district well, having run for offices at all levels of government -- despite an utter lack of support from Democratic Party leaders. She won the right to run against incumbent Norma Gonsalves, 77, of East Meadow, by beating Joseph Spinola in September's primary.

This is Maher's third run against Gonsalves in a general election. Gonsalves, trying for her eighth term, touts her constituent service, particularly her support for Nassau University Medical Center. That's why it's disappointing that she has such a laissez-faire attitude about board-member shake-ups there and the GOP redistricting scheme that would have removed the hospital from her district. She has also taken a hands-off approach to the problematic privatization of Long Island Bus.

Gonsalves has had a good run, but in this era of distrust of the political class, it's time to give a knowledgeable outsider a chance. Newsday endorses Maher.

Editorial: Pearson in Nassau 14th District

Incumbent Joseph Belesi won this district two years ago in an upset race that returned control of the legislature to Republicans. It's always one of the hottest races in the county and this year's contest between two Farmingdale residents is no different.

Belesi, 64, is a former Nassau County detective and union leader with a deep understanding of policing and labor contracts. While he is unhappy about the proposed closing of two precincts, he says it doesn't have to lead to a reduction in police services. He would prefer law enforcement unions make contract concessions to close the budget shortfall rather than force the county to make layoffs.

Democratic challenger Eva Pearson, 40, served for five years in the Air Force during the first Gulf War. She is a child behavioral therapist and psychologist and an instructor at Adelphi University. She opposes precinct closings and says labor costs can be contained by reforming pension calculations.

Pearson is critical of the Mangano administration's lack of transparency in its efforts to privatize Long Island Bus and the county's waste treatment plants. She says such arrangements will lead to higher fares and fees and less accountability. While Belesi says he won't allow a "fire sale" of the sewage system or a bus contract that cuts routes and raises fares, he had not demanded openness from the GOP administration and has always voted in lockstep with the majority.

Pearson is a well-informed newcomer, the type of feisty, independent thinker much needed in Mineola. Newsday endorses Pearson.

Editorial: Dunne in Nassau 15th District

Dennis Dunne, a charter member of the legislature, is running for this ninth term on a strong record of constituent service in this solidly Republican district.

The 61-year-old Republican incumbent promises to speak truth to power to keep public bus service affordable.

Democratic challenger Ethan Irwin, 37, an attorney in civil practice, is well-informed about the fiscal challenges facing the county, criticizing it for wasting millions on legal fees to GOP-connected law firms. He calls red-light cameras "a tax by another name," while Dunne says they improve safety. Both men, who live in Levittown, opposed sale of the county's sewage treatment plants.

Dunne says his experience and tenure will make him more effective at influencing the GOP administration. Holding him to his word, Newsday endorses Dunne.

Editorial: Jacobs in Nassau 16th District

James Milano, 44, a promising Republican physician from Oyster Bay, has given himself a difficult challenge in taking on Judy Jacobs, 72, of Woodbury, who is an original, 16-year member of the legislature, a former Democratic presiding officer and a continual firebrand.

Both candidates like the idea of the Islanders moving to create an entertainment locale near Belmont Racetrack, although Jacobs believes it's a long shot. Milano supports the idea of shrinking eight police precincts into six. Jacobs thinks the precinct consolidation would save too little money for the sense of security that people would give up. She favors additional red-light cameras to raise revenue.

Milano is likable and smart, and he belongs in public service. But Jacobs is an invaluable leader and source of institutional knowledge. Newsday endorses Jacobs.

Editorial: Walker in Nassau 17th District

After six years on the Oyster Bay Town Board, Republican Rose Marie Walker moved up to the legislature in 2010, and her high-profile activism is likely to win her re-election. Her Democratic opponent, Frederick W. Hagemann III, 52, of Hicksville, a county elections canvasser, is not actively campaigning.

Walker, 60, also of Hicksville, devotes much time to constituent services. The purchase of radios for firefighters, and the installation of a turf field in Hicksville, and of traffic lights, are on her list of achievements.

In 2012-13, she wants to avoid tax hikes and says public unions, including police, should make concessions to help stabilize county finances. She doesn't oppose cutting two police precincts if safety is maintained. Her goals to revitalize downtowns in Hicksville and Bethpage are worthwhile. Newsday endorses Walker.

Editorial: DeRiggi-Whitton in Nassau 18th District

With Democrat Diane Yatauro retiring, this seat is an open battle between Democrat DeliaDeRiggi-Whitton and Republican Robert Germino Jr.

DeRiggi-Whitton, 43, is serving her second term on the Glen Cove City Council. Professionally, she helps companies deal with the tax implications of property sales and purchases. She says she's learned to analyze budgets line by line to find savings, and wants to continue that in the legislature.

Germino, 31, served with the Marines in Iraq. He now works for the county as a veterans liaison. A resident of Glen Cove, Germino believes people want lower taxes, and would cut many county-provided services to see them reduced. Most people, though, do want the services the county provides -- so figuring out how to pay for them, not abolish them, is the challenge.

DeRiggi-Whitton, who knows her territory well, has learned from her time on the city council and seems ready to move up to the legislature. Newsday endorses DeRiggi-Whitton.

Editorial: Denenberg in Nassau 19th District

In a replay of the race two years ago, Republican Fred Jones is attempting to oust incumbent Democrat David Denenberg from the seat he's held for 12 years.

Jones, 57, a chiropractor from Merrick, is right when he says Nassau's government is broken. It's under the control of a state financial oversight board for the second time in a decade. That's disgraceful.

But Denenberg, 47, of Merrick, is one of Nassau's hardest working legislators. He's championed environmental protection and has command of complex county issues, such as its burdensome assessment system, that will serve Nassau well as it struggles with its financial woes. And he was the lone Democrat to support letting voters decide whether to borrow for a new coliseum. Independence is rare in the partisan legislature. Newsday endorses Denenberg.