The Republican Party of Nassau County has over the past century elevated nepotism to a thing of wonder. Its tradition of employing family members of powerful GOP officials on public payrolls is an art, a science and an industry. That’s not to say Nassau Democrats don’t do the same when they can, or that Suffolk County politicos from both parties don’t. But the Nassau GOP makes the others look like amateurs, perhaps because it has held so much power for so long.
In a news story on Sunday and in an online database, Newsday showed that more than 100 current or former elected officeholders, high-level appointees and political club leaders from both parties have had at least one family member each working in local government at some point since 2015. These employees cost the public $8 million a year, not including health benefits and pensions. The Democrats run North Hempstead, but the GOP controls the county and Hempstead and Oyster Bay towns, affording it more opportunities for its friends and family programs.
Ethics laws try to curb nepotism by mostly banning officials from hiring, influencing the hiring of or supervising relatives. But the players skirt such rules, even with Civil Service jobs. Another game that ethics rules don’t stymie easily is getting relatives jobs at public entities where the powerful official does not serve, but his or her buddies do.
The most audacious hire was that of Rose Venditto, 93, mother of former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, who resigned in January from her job as a part-time town recreation aide she had held for two decades. Her son is now defending himself against federal unrelated corruption charges.
County Executive Edward Mangano’s brother, Rob, doesn’t work for the county. He instead makes $107,500 as a deputy public works commissioner in Oyster Bay. Mangano’s sister-in-law, Shannon Mangano, makes $66,000 a year as a research assistant in the Town of Hempstead’s parks department.
County GOP chairman Joseph Mondello has had a sister, daughter, son-in-law and other relatives holding local government jobs in recent years. And how about that D’Esposito clan? Five members collect almost a half-million dollars from Hempstead taxpayers; they are town board member Anthony D’Esposito, his mother and father, and his brother and sister-in-law. His father, Stephen D’Esposito, is Town Supervisor Anthony Santino’s chief of staff, and also leader of the powerful Island Park GOP.
It’s doubly wrong when an elected official uses his or her power to help get a relative a job on a public payroll. It takes away a job from someone else who might be more deserving, and it creates the possibility that the employee won’t be fired even if work is done poorly, or not at all, because of the power of the relative who secured the job.
It would be difficult and unfair to create a law so broad that it kept relatives of elected officials, who might have the needed skills, from getting a job on any public payroll. The best answer is transparency.
Elected and appointed officials should have to declare at the time of hiring any blood relatives of themselves, their spouses or their party leader who is working for the state, any municipality, an authority or a special district. That way, voters could at least know what’s all in the family and whether it matters.