As long as Nassau politicians care only about holding onto their jobs and power, running the county well will always take a backseat to politics. Practically nothing in recent history has proved that more conclusively than the debacle over school-zone speed cameras.
To lift a wage freeze on police and other county employees earlier this year, and to get back in the good graces of the unions, Nassau Executive Edward Mangano and county legislators needed revenue. Speed cameras, one in each school district, seemed like the perfect answer, particularly since they could be marketed as being for the safety of children.
However, even according to American Traffic Solutions, the company running the cameras, Nassau's projection of $30 million in annual revenue wouldn't have held up once drivers started slowing down. But that projection made lifting the wage freeze possible, and county legislators supported the program unanimously. The rest is well-known history: Implementation was an infuriating disaster. The first tickets were issued improperly before the school year and without adequate warning.
Thanks to an enraged electorate, the speed cameras have been dropped. The county budget, already deep in deficit, will sink further into the red. Some of the methods officials tout to make up the lost revenue are tenuous, like $6 million annually from electric billboards on the Long Island Expressway. Others, like getting the state to reimburse $6 million for the cost of patrolling the LIE, are likely imaginary. The county will owe American Traffic Solutions millions in termination fees. And drivers will keep driving far too fast. It is hard to imagine a worse possible outcome in terms of managing the county. But in terms of managing the politics? Only the voters will tell.