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James Altadonna Jr. for Oyster Bay supervisor

James Altadonna Jr., Democratic candidate for Oyster Bay

James Altadonna Jr., Democratic candidate for Oyster Bay Town supervisor, at the party's countywide political convention held at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City on Feb. 13. Credit: James Escher

When Oyster Bay Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr., 59, a lifelong Republican, decided to challenge Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, he quickly realized he’d need the ballot line and help of the Democratic Party. The process of running a primary against an embedded incumbent who had the support of the GOP apparatus was too arduous, the chances of success too slim.

Altadonna, who was the mayor of Massapequa Park before he was appointed Oyster Bay clerk in 2013 and then elected to the job twice, can claim he is the most popular Republican in town government, despite being on the Democratic line. He led all vote-getters and outstripped Saladino's numbers in the 2017 election, and deservedly so. 

In Massapequa Park, Altadonna righted the finances and earned the village two bond-rating upgrades. In the town clerk’s office, he runs an efficient operation that serves residents well. And Altadonna managed to stay removed from the Republican self-dealing and corruption that led to the criminal convictions of former town Supervisor John Venditto and former Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito and charges against other town officials and vendors. 

Altadonna’s vision for the town is pragmatically progressive but far from radical. At the old Cerro Wire site in Syosset, he envisions a mini-downtown with shopping, a movie theater, condominiums and single-family homes. He supports more housing options in the town and isn’t afraid to allow some height and density on projects in Hicksville. He knows it’s not just seniors who want and deserve multifamily housing options, and that seniors often don’t want to live in communities with no young people. 

But Altadonna also understands why such projects get pushback, mostly from school districts concerned about increased enrollment. His idea to have developers take out a bond to fund children in schools if developers' estimates of  increased attendance are exceeded is interesting and innovative.

Joseph Saladino, 58, has served as supervisor since he was plucked from the State Assembly and appointed to replace Venditto in January 2017, then elected to a full term later that year.  Saladino's time in office has been marred by missteps and poor judgment. The one big accomplishment he credits to his tenure, the stabilization of town finances, is largely the result of large tax increases enacted by Venditto in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The other significant contributor to the financial improvement, a 25 percent reduction in the number of town employees, also was mostly undertaken before Saladino took the reins.

Last year, Saladino gave $735,000 in annual raises to 87 employees that were not publicly disclosed in detail until Newsday filed a request for the amounts under New York State Open Meetings Law. The town said the hikes, which included a bump from $134,750 to $167,500 for Deputy Town Supervisor Gregory Carman Jr. and averaged over $8,000 each per year, were intended to bring pay equity for female employees, but 54 of the 87 increases went to men. It was a galling move to the town’s unions, which had taken pay cuts in recent years and had seen their numbers dwindle as the town worked to bring deficits to heel. That's not leadership.

The $2 million savings over five years that Saladino said would come from switching the town to single-stream recycling just as that market was tanking in 2017 never materialized, and single-stream had to be abandoned last year. The town’s recycling program was worsened, not improved. 

Saladino, whose Massapequa Park house was damaged in superstorm Sandy, had to be sued by New York State before he repaid $15,803 to New York Rising. He got money from the program while also getting a duplicate payout from his insurance company, which he should have known violated the rules. It's not a good look for a public official. 

Saladino also has a very thin skin. For a time he replaced the town's official Facebook page with his own, because he did not want critical comments. Once he restored the town's page, he kept using his own to post on town issues, and kept deleting and blocking those who displeased him.  He has been known to shout down dissent in town meetings.

And an accusation that Saladino leveled in his endorsement meeting with Newsday — that Altadonna’s son had been hired as a town bay constable as part of a corrupt deal by Altadonna — is disgraceful. Saladino offered no evidence that anything untoward occurred, and the son was hired for the job five years before Altadonna went to work for the town.

Altadonna says that if elected, he’ll pare down the town’s top-heavy management structure larded with party patronage hires. He says he will focus on the detail-oriented work of bettering the town every day, and on getting away from the endless string of public appearances and photo ops that are Saladino’s bread and butter. Altadonna says he’ll cut out the expensive political mailers Saladino regularly sends out on the town's dime. And the challenger says he’ll be a calm and approachable town leader who is not beholden to any political party and can simply do what’s in the best interests of Oyster Bay.

Oyster Bay has suffered through Saladino’s erratic style and unacceptable temperament, and Venditto’s poor management and crony politics. It needs a steady, independent hand.

Newsday endorses Altadonna.

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