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A time for change?

Jackie Gordon at Babylon Town Hall on Aug.

Jackie Gordon at Babylon Town Hall on Aug. 7, 2019. Credit: James Escher

Daily Point

Open congressional seat: Day 239

Sen. Chuck Schumer is endorsing Jackie Gordon in the race for Pete King’s soon-to-be-vacated seat in the 2nd Congressional District, The Point has learned. 

He’s not the first senator to do so. Before the primary, Gordon already received attention from senators in her party, getting the endorsements of Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris. 

But Schumer doesn’t tend to wade into many primary contests, apart from those involving old staff members — such as Daniel Squadron in his 2008 bid against an incumbent New York City state senator — and longtime friends and senior members of his delegation like Rep. Eliot Engel, who was shocked by challenger Jamaal Bowman this cycle.

Gordon, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel and former member of the Babylon Town Council, is looking ahead to the November general election despite a lack of official concession from opponent Pat Maher, who trailed by more than 7,000 votes after election day.

The relatively quick post-primary support from the Senate minority leader came as Schumer made a Tuesday visit to Long Island as part of his push for health care benefits for Agent Orange-exposed veterans. 

"Lieutenant Colonel Jackie Gordon is a retired combat veteran, public school educator, and town councilwoman with an unrivaled record of her service to her country and accomplishments for her community and that makes her far and away the best choice to represent the people of Long Island's Second District,” said Schumer in a statement.

It may be that Gordon is seen as a safe bet as far as national Democrats are concerned. She has enjoyed support from Democratic establishment figures for months now, potentially helped along by her lengthy resume and the fact that the GOP opponent is not King, who has often been praised by national Democrats for his help on certain issues such as 9/11 benefits. 

Gordon’s fundraising has been boosted by national Democratic-supporting political committees and she has handily outraised Republican opponent Assemb. Andrew Garbarino so far, though an important test will come in the next filing deadlines to see which candidate can better rack up funds for the open-seat race in the fall.

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Can NIFA live on borrowed time ... until 2051?

Over the past two years, Nassau County’s budget had crept ever closer to balance, thanks to boomtime revenues and increasingly effective cost-control measures. That trend could well have led to the end of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority’s control period in the short term, and the end of the state oversight board entirely when the debt borrowed in NIFA’s name was paid off in 2026.

But brutal pandemics and optimistic fiscal plans just don’t mix.

Now, with sales tax receipts down 40% and every imaginable stream of county revenue drying out, Nassau’s financial situation is grim, with a $749 million deficit forecast for 2020 and 2021. 

NIFA has some tools that Democratic County Executive Laura Curran is counting on, but Republicans on the County Legislature, led by Presiding Officer Rich Nicolello, aren’t so sure they want that help, and the back and forth is getting messy.

Curran is looking for NIFA to refinance the debt the authority is carrying for the county, adding 25 years to the bonding now set to be paid off in six years, and avoiding a $75 million balloon payment due this fall. She also wants NIFA to refinance debt Nassau carries in its own name, which it can do at lower rates than the county. The result would be $285 million refinanced by NIFA, which would help.

The moves are possible because language was inserted in this year’s state budget allowing NIFA to borrow more money over a longer time than was previously authorized. Nicolello, though, still wants NIFA to disappear in 2026, which means no more borrowing, though he knows he may not be able to stick to his guns.

“What we are saying right now is, why not wait until we see what the federal government comes up with to help and see how much the sales tax numbers rebound before we commit to another 25 years of this unelected oversight board,” Nicolello told The Point Tuesday. “We have some time to see what Congress does and what the reality on the ground is before we make these moves.”

Nicolello also said keeping NIFA for the next 30 years years could “cost the county $250 million” to pay for its operations, arguing that its 2020 NIFA budget of $2 million represented an average annual increase of 8.75% over the past decade and at that rate its spending would balloon out of control.

However, a chart provided by Nicolello’s office doesn’t support his calculation. It shows that NIFA’s annual budget has grown by just under 4% annually over the past decade, which would cause NIFA to cost about $111 million over the next 30 years. And most of the current expenses, according to NIFA chair Adam Barsky, are created by the control period, not the existence of NIFA itself.

“That thinking also ignores how much money NIFA has saved the county,” Barsky said. “The wage freeze saved $234 million, we recovered millions more fighting for the county in auction rate security cases after the economic meltdown in 2008.”

Barsky says the way to get rid of NIFA is by balancing the budget, something “the GOP-controlled legislature has fought Laura Curran on every step of the way, and fought Ed Mangano on before her, consistently refusing to raise revenue or cut spending.”

“And,” Barsky said, “even after we do all this refinancing, assuming we do, to help the county get through this crisis, NIFA’s principles won’t change and the financial challenge will still be steep. The county is going to have to find a way to make ends meet, whether that means a sales-tax increase like the one Suffolk seems to be pushing for, or serious spending cuts.”

Even if the federal government does come through with a huge check, Barsky said it’s likely Nassau still is going to face a huge shortfall. That means either substantial layoffs and cuts in services, or NIFA’s help with refinancing.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point


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Final Point

Another Long Island Trump family connection

To the list of new tell-all books buffeting the Trump administration, you can add one more with a Long Island connection.

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the high-end party planner, New York socialite and former Melania Trump White House adviser, is coming out on Sept. 1 with a memoir to be called “Melania and Me.” The Daily Beast cited sources familiar with the book in saying that it will be “largely negative” and “heavily trashes the first lady.”

Wolkoff would be in position to write such a tale. The granddaughter of famed jeweler Harry Winston has (or, perhaps, had) a 15-year friendship with Melania Trump, a period that includes Wolkoff’s stint as producer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual Met Gala, one of the world’s most exclusive and prominent social events. Wolkoff also helped plan President Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities, then became a senior adviser to the first lady.

But the inaugural fallout might have provided Wolkoff with motivation to write the book, to be published by Simon & Schuster imprint Gallery Books. Wolkoff’s firm received $26 million for its work in planning the festivities, provoking criticism that she had “profited” off the inauguration – a charge she strongly denied, but which led to her acrimonious departure from the White House. How do we know this was not an amicable separation? Consider this snippet from a New York Times interview last year:

“Was I fired? No,” Wolkoff said. “Did I personally receive $26 million or $1.6 million? No. Was I thrown under the bus? Yes.”

Besides the book, Wolkoff engaged in one other time-honored way of getting out from under the bus: She apparently cooperated with several government probes of Trump inaugural committee finances.

Wolkoff’s book will follow the explosive memoir from former national security adviser John Bolton and the upcoming tome from Trump’s niece, Mary, both of which paint the president in an unflattering light, as well as a revealing portrait of Melania from Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan. The Google Books summary of Wolkoff’s work calls it “a revealing and explosive portrayal of Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s fifteen-year friendship with Melania Trump and observations of the most chaotic White House in history.”

As for that Long Island connection, Wolkoff married David Wolkoff, the son of Long Island developer Jerry Wolkoff, in 2000. And during most of that time, which also spans the friendship between Stephanie and the first lady, Jerry and David have been trying in vain to get the massive Heartland Town Square project built in Brentwood.

Whether it’s high-end soirees or brick-and-mortar developments, there’s been plenty of family planning angst to go around. But so far, only Stephanie has been able to cash in.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie