Bellone and the Caddys
Relations between the Suffolk County Off-Track Betting Corp. and County Executive Steve Bellone have been rocky for years, even though Bellone’s Democratic Party controls the OTB. The actual power to run the organization, which went from utterly bankrupt to flush with cash after opening 1,000-machine slots parlor Jake’s 58 Hotel and Casino in Islandia, rests with the legislature. And political control of the legislature rests in the hands of county Democratic Party chairman Rich Schaffer.
Until Jan. 1.
That’s when the new Republican majority on the legislature gives the GOP control. The top job at the OTB will almost certainly go to a well-connected Republican, and the animus from Bellone will take on a more standard two-party feel.
But even before the election that gave the GOP control, Bellone has been vocally frustrated with the lack of oversight and transparency from OTB. And in late October, Bellone sent a laundry list of his complaints with Suffolk OTB, a state authority, to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
And it included one gripe OTB officials say is completely off-track.
Bellone mostly focused on his longtime assertion that the organization, fresh out of bankruptcy proceedings, should not have been allowed to buy Jake’s 58 from Delaware North for $120 million with no county notice that the professional casino operator would be removed and no county review of the deal. He said he is regularly unable to get documents he has requested from OTB, and wrote it "is poised to become one of the largest political patronage mills in the State, if not the country. At minimum, these troublesome actions are a signal of fiscal impropriety — and perhaps much worse."
Then there are the Cadillacs!
Bellone, in his letter, argued that the county, because it gets whatever money OTB has left after expenses rather than a set percentage of revenue, is heavily impacted by money wasting, which he feels is rampant.
He wrote "In just one example of this waste, my administration recently uncovered a shameless Suffolk OTB procurement notice, designed to be inconspicuously placed in a local publication to satisfy notice requirements, for a brand-new luxury Cadillac. I cannot fathom how such an extravagant purchase could serve the public interest."
The implication was that the car was for an employee to drive.
But OTB officials say the truth is:
- They were actually buying two brand-new Cadillacs.
- They were for a promotional Black Friday giveaway.
- The money for the cars came not from Suffolk OTB but through a marketing program funded by the New York State Gaming Commission, via its pool of unclaimed lottery winnings.
And Suffolk OTB officials say the play was a huge success, with the month’s net win 7% over 2019 and Black Friday’s play 22% above Black Friday 2019.
That misunderstanding didn’t change Bellone’s stance on the OTB. Wednesday he told The Point "My concern and my job is to protect taxpayers and see this money is handled properly. A lack of accountability and a lack of transparency is a real problem, and that’s what I’m concerned about."
To Bellone’s credit, no one has ever gotten in much trouble hammering OTBs anywhere in the state for political patronage or inefficiency.
— Lane Filler @lanefiller
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Different districts for Nassau
In Suffolk County, Democratic lawmakers are vexing Republicans by moving in the eleventh hour to redistrict the county’s legislative seats — just before they lose power and fall into the status of the minority party in the new year.
By contrast, the redrawing of lines in Nassau County early in the New Year will take place on a battlefield with a different shape — if it becomes a battlefield at all.
Not only will Nassau’s legislature have a dominant Republican majority as it does now, the new lines of its 19 districts will go for approval to a new Republican county executive, Bruce Blakeman. Regardless of these differing partisan scenarios in Long Island’s counties, a new state law is due to guide all 10-year redistricting to come in all of New York’s counties, towns, cities and villages.
If it works as intended, the law will "limit the ability of either party to draw lines to their advantage," says Jeff Wice, a redistricting expert who’s been a consultant to Nassau Democrats and directs a nonpartisan redistricting program at New York Law School . The legislation sponsored by Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Westchester) was signed just weeks ago by Gov. Kathy Hochul. It does not affect redistricting of congressional or state legislative seats.
The law will require these districts to be contiguous, and as compact as possible, and that their population counts deviate by no more than 5% (the previous limit was 10%). There are also new restrictions on chopping up cities, towns and villages into different districts.
One example: As currently drawn the 3rd L.D. may not fit the contiguity standard and would have to be modified. Also the current 14th and 16th districts are eyed critically as not "compact."
"Districts shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties," the new law states. "The maintenance of cores of existing districts, of pre-existing political subdivisions including cities, villages, and towns, and of communities of interest shall also be considered," it says.
Democratic leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead) told The Point that he expects the state legislation to bar problems in the coming process. He indicated he will watch closely to ensure, for example, "we don’t go backward" by losing any of three minority-represented districts.
In Nassau, a bipartisan commission is due to convene, with a nonvoting chair expected to be appointed by Blakeman.
In both Long Island counties, as always, the devil will be in the distinctive details.
— Dan Janison @Danjanison