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Heated race in an unusual year
Democrat Christine Pellegrino, running for the Assembly in the 9th District in a May 23 special election, could be the vessel for a lot of hopes about political momentum if she can become the first Democrat ever to hold the South Shore seat.
This is the first significant race in New York since the November election, and Democrats are pushing the theory that local races this year will be a precursor to a wave election in 2018.
But Pellegrino is also part of another political trend story. She is a teacher who supports students opting out of standardized tests. She opposed Common Core learning standards and has tremendous support from her union, New York State United Teachers. And according to NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn, Pellegrino is part of the union’s Pipeline Project, an initiative that began in 2015 to groom pro-union candidates at all elective levels and support them with money and volunteers.
Pellegrino is facing Conservative Party member Thomas Gargiulo, a retired special education teacher. He would be the first Conservative Party member ever elected to a New York Assembly seat from Long Island. Logistically that’s not unlikely, since it’s a heavily Republican district and Gargiulo has that line, too.
But this is also an unusual year, with many in the Oyster Bay segment of the oddly shaped district potentially sick of local, county and state GOP rule tarnished by criminal indictments, and with the whole country unsettled politically.
NYSUT is putting a lot of money and effort into Pellegrino’s run, including $29,000 for campaign mailers, thousands of phone calls and plenty of door-to-door action. Korn said that while Pellegrino is NYSUT’s highest profile Pipeline Project candidate, 89 ran in various races last year and 26 are seeking school board seats Tuesday across New York State.
“If we’re not going to support an active teacher and NYSUT member who is willing to fight for everything we stand for, who would we support?” Korn said.
Donations tell a story
Michael Torres, secretary to the Suffolk County Conservative Party and member of its executive committee, recused himself in March from the vote designating State Sen. Phil Boyle as the party’s nominee for Suffolk sheriff. Was it his closeness to former county party chairman Edward Walsh that was the conflict? But by that standard, the entire committee was pretty much compromised.
With the choice of Boyle, the party denied the nomination to incumbent Vincent DeMarco, who was the standard-bearer for the Conservatives in his three successive victories. But it was DeMarco who went to the feds with evidence that brought down Walsh, a close ally of Torres. The sheriff was a marked man unless a reform element in the party was willing to endorse him. However, Walsh has kept his grip on party machinery despite being convicted more than a year ago on federal charges of wire fraud and theft of service. His sentencing keeps getting postponed.
So it was Boyle, who was just re-elected to the State Senate, who got the nod to run for sheriff.
Perhaps Torres recused himself because Boyle had recently paid Torres $5,000 through Torres’ consulting firm, Seatuck Strategic Consulting, based in Eastport. Another $5,000 was sent his way by the Islip Conservative Party, of which Boyle is an influential member.
Torres, who was embroiled in the illegal dumping in a Brentwood park, resigned from the Islip Town Board of Assessment Review after it was revealed that he had not disclosed criminal convictions on his application for the post. He also resigned as the town’s party chairman in 2015 after he moved to Brookhaven.
Boyle told The Point that he hired Torres for a “social media” campaign in the final two months before the November 2016 Senate election. Boyle, who had the clear advantage in the Senate race, said that when he hired Torres, he had no intention of turning around and running for any other office. “He was not working for me in any way, shape or form in the sheriff’s race,” Boyle said.
Two $2,500 payments to Seatuck were listed in the Boyle for Senate campaign finance filing in January. The $5,000 payment to Seatuck from the Islip Town Executive Committee was also reported in January.
MTA shifts off track
At the top of the MTA’s plan to alleviate worsening subway delays is an idea far broader than maintaining trains or fixing switches.
The proposal: to separate the positions of MTA chairman and chief executive.
That’s a polarizing suggestion. Depending on whom you talk to, the idea is a terrific one because it would take MTA board issues off the chief executive’s plate, allows for greater focus on operational needs, and changes the MTA when the MTA needs change. Or, it’s a terrible one because it would create a two-headed monster that lacks a unified voice, muddles the authority’s leadership and diffuses accountability.
The roles used to be handled by two people, but were combined in 2009 to increase accountability and put one person in charge. Separating them, the MTA now says, would allow for “strengthening the overall leadership team.”
Observers suggest the chief executive would handle day-to-day operations and capital planning, while the chairman would lead the MTA board. As a source familiar with the situation told The Point, “The chairman’s role is to be an advocate, focus on governance and serve as a political shock absorber.”
But it’s complicated, especially in terms of the timing. The MTA is in the midst of a search for a new chairman and chief executive. Both Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye and current MTA interim Executive Director Ronnie Hakim, who most recently served as president of New York City Transit, are on the short list.
And so we’re left with questions: How will talk of separating the jobs into two affect the search for a new head of the MTA? Would the current candidates still be interested if the job description changes?
And would the title shift clear the tracks for the elevation of Hakim, in particular, who has plenty of MTA operational and executive experience, to the chief executive slot?
Randi F. Marshall