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Former state senator is Nassau GOP comptroller candidate

Elaine Phillips of Flower Hill.

Elaine Phillips of Flower Hill. Credit: James Escher

Daily Point

From Flower Hill to Albany to ... Mineola?

The Nassau County Republican Party hasn’t quite settled on its candidate for county executive yet, but it has found its candidate for county comptroller, according to Chairman Joseph Cairo.

Former state senator Elaine Phillips will take the run against Democrat Ryan Cronin, chosen for the ticket after Democrat Jack Schnirman announced he would not seek reelection.

"She is excited and she is hitting the ground running," said Cairo, who pointed to her exhaustive experience in finance as the right background for the role. Phillips had been considered a possible successor to Kevin Law as head of the Long Island Association, but ultimately decided not to pursue the job, according to insiders.

Phillips served in the State Senate for one term, winning in 2016 the seat left by Jack Martins when he ran for Congress against Rep. Thomas Suozzi; Phillips lost the seat to Anna Kaplan in 2018. Before Phillips went to Albany, she served four years as the mayor of Flower Hill.

Cairo said Phillips really never stopped being out and about in the community and meeting people, thanks to her commitment to charities like Long Island CARES, and he joked that her black belt in karate could only be a help in overseeing county spending.

And what about a county executive candidate to face off against Democrat Laura Curran?

Cairo said a decision will be made soon, adding that the pandemic reduction in the number of needed petition signatures, from several thousand to 600, is allowing the party to take a little more time. Asked who is being actively considered, he named county legislators John Ferretti and Laura Schaefer; Martins, who ran against Curran in 2017; State Assemblyman Edward Ra and former county legislature presiding officer Bruce Blakeman.

"I think we’ll have a decision by next week and then we’ll have about 10 days to get our signatures," Cairo said.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

Nursing home workers see momentum in Albany

As state officials enter the heart of budget season, one of the region’s largest health care workers unions is doing a full-court press in support of a package of reforms related to long-term care and nursing homes.

In a virtual meeting with the Newsday editorial board this week, representatives from Service Employees International Union Local 1199 said they’ve advocated for such reform before, but have never seen the potential for success they see now. The very strong industry and their lobbyists have been a potent force in Albany that until now could have prevented reform. The spotlight on nursing homes during the pandemic, however, has changed that.

"That’s really the reason why we chose to make a real investment in this campaign right now," said Helen Schaub, 1199’s vice president and state director for policy and legislation. "We think this is the moment… We’ve been kind of screaming in the wilderness on these issues for a long time… This whole pandemic has dragged a lot of these things into the public view and we think it’s the moment to take action."

So, the union is running digital and television ads, and is calling state lawmakers to try to make sure nursing home reforms remain on the front burner as budget talks heat up.

"Nursing home workers are leading the charge for reform to make sure owners invest in quality care over profits," one ad says.

And clearly, officials in Albany are listening. Some of the union’s proposals already are included in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 30-day amendments, or in bills proposed by the State Senate or Assembly.

Among them: the idea that nursing homes should spend 70% of their revenue on resident care and, within that, 40% on direct care staffing. That means reducing the profits private owners make. Other issues the union is focusing on include mandating a minimum number of hours of care per resident per day, finding ways to improve the staffing pipeline, and requiring Infection control audits and more reporting on ownership changes and any related-party transactions, such as when a nursing home owner also owns a staffing agency or personal protective equipment company.

Schaub said that the minimum hours of care requirement could increase the state’s costs, by between $32 million and $130 million depending on what that minimum standard is.

This year, the battle for dollars and policy changes looks different, Schaub said. In part, the advocates are fighting for a piece of the large federal pie that will be heading New York’s way. But the other concern some have is the need to evaluate how the state will pay for such changes after the federal dollars run out.

Even with those concerns, though, union officials said they knew they needed to push for the changes now.

"We are constantly having this conversation within our membership around this sense that people are listening right now, but how long will they continue to listen, and at what point are people going to say, ‘Ok, great. Time to move on. Let’s forget about nursing homes’," said Milly Silva, the local’s executive vice president. "We don’t want to lose this opportunity."

—Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

Pencil Point

Lining up

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Final Point

Oyster Bay’s Saladino likely to face a primary

Syosset retiree Kevin McKenna, 64, has been a thorn in Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino’s side since the former state assemblyman was tapped for the job when John Venditto was forced to resign in 2017.

Now McKenna, a lifelong Republican, is looking to wrest the job from Saladino via a GOP primary, raising money and collecting petition signatures for the run.

And COVID-19 may have made the task of getting on the ballot a bit easier.

"In a normal year I would have had to have 2,000 signatures," McKenna told The Point Wednesday, "But this year, thanks to the emergency, I only need 600. But I’m shooting for 1,500, just to make sure I have enough good ones."

McKenna is a well-known activist in the town and runs a Facebook page called "Town of Oyster Bay News" with over 12,000 followers. He has a separate page for his campaign, "Kevin McKenna for Oyster Bay Town Supervisor."

He first garnered attention for his fight to stop the Syosset Park project at the old Cerro Wire site and says he is still pushing back against Amazon’s current plan to build on the site without fully remediating cyanide and heavy metals on the property. He also recently agreed to a $20,000 settlement ($15,000 of which is for legal fees) from the town, in a lawsuit he brought against the town after he was refused the right to speak at a town meeting.

McKenna has never run for public office and says he started this race with the modest goal of simply getting on the ballot. But now, after some time going door-to-door, he says there is so much hunger for a GOP alternative to Saladino that he’s in this race to win it.

To that end, in addition to seeking signatures, the father of two and grandfather of two is raising money and setting up a marketing campaign, and he’s rented a billboard truck to ferry him around town that boasts the slogan "HONEST GOVERNMENT FOR THE PEOPLE - PLAIN & SIMPLE."

McKenna, who retired from a career in sales management with Siemens, says his primary focus is still the environmental issues that brought him to town board meetings in the first place, along with ending what he says is corruption in town government.

And the eventual GOP victor will run up against history in the general election: an all-female Democratic slate led by supervisor candidate Plainview Water District Commissioner Amanda Field and that some say to be a first in Long Island politics.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

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