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Opinion

Reading the tea leaves

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Daily Point

Count on this

Today is the final day for the return of non-military absentee ballots, and those uncounted votes could possibly change the outcome of two races Democrats appear to have won on election night.

The Point has obtained the latest tally in races the Suffolk County Board of Elections, in its graceful phrasing, calls “Offices with a Mathematical Chance of Uncounted Paper Changing the Outcome.”

The party nominations and contest for sheriff had more twists than an Agatha Christie mystery, and the outcome could provide just one more. Democrat Errol Toulon Jr. is leading Republican Larry Zacarese by 1,354 machine votes. The absentees outstanding seem to favor Toulon, but it’s hard to tell whether Democrats frustrated with the district attorney scandal went for Zacarese, especially after the federal indictment of Tom Spota.

And in an ordinary year, Republican and Conservative Party votes might reliably be chalked up to Zacarese. But there could be lingering resentment against him for defeating Phil Boyle in the Republican primary, a nomination engineered by the Conservatives.

There are just too many wild cards to read these tea leaves, so to speak.

The only other outcome that could change is in the 8th district, where Legis. William Lindsay III, namesake of the legislature’s former presiding officer, is up by only 243 votes. Lindsay won his father’s seat four years ago, two months after his father died. But this year, the GOP pressed hard in the district for Anthony A. Piccirillo. There are enough votes by registered GOP and Conservatives to tilt the race to Piccirillo if those voters stayed faithful. Still, it’s unclear how the dynamics in the sheriff’s race might have influenced the Lindsay contest.

The counting, and let’s not forget the contesting, of Suffolk’s absentee and affidavit ballots is likely to begin on Friday.

Rita Ciolli

Talking Point

Zeldin’s zeisty over SALT

In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday morning and in an email exchange with The Point Tuesday afternoon, Lee Zeldin sounded more of an alarm that the tax bill negotiations may provide an outcome unacceptable for Long Islanders.

Zeldin is a favorite of the Congressional conservative leadership, a rare blue-state Republican who mostly agrees with southerners and westerners on policy and principles. But the Shirley Republican has taken a stand against the elimination or capping of deductions for state and local property taxes in the proposed bill, and is a “no” vote on the House plan that currently eliminates the sales and income tax deductions and caps the one for property taxes at $10,000.

On MSNBC, Zeldin said: “What I’m seeing the fight for is to maintain a $10,000 property tax deduction coming out of conference, not to be fighting for a further protection of just hard working, middle-income, Long Islanders and New Yorkers.”

He considers that a weak starting point because the Senate bill eliminates all such deductions. Zeldin’s worry is that if the House bill passes as written on Thursday, then the negotiations will be between an extreme limiting of these deductions and their elimination. Maintaining what is known as SALT is an outcome that is likely to fall off the table.

In the end, the final tax bill may never pass Congress. But if it does, many Long Islanders will likely pay more to the IRS, and Zeldin could pay the political price as the idea that having a Republican in the House majority looking out for them dies.

Lane Filler

Pencil Point

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Pointing Out

What’s next for NIFA?

As County Executive-elect Laura Curran puts her transition team in place and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority wrestles with the County Legislature over next year’s budget, there’s a lot of talk about how tough the state oversight board is going to be on new leadership. The first question, though, is: Who on the NIFA board is going to be watching the new administration?

The NIFA board has seven members — four chosen by the governor and one each nominated by the Senate majority leader, Assembly speaker and state comptroller. So control over appointments has been dominated by Democrats since 2007.

The four members serving in seats controlled by the governor are all holdovers whose terms have expired: Chairman Adam Barsky and directors Paul Annunziato, John Buran and Lester Petracca.

The other three members’ terms end on Dec. 31. They are Paul Leventhal, nominated by then-Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos; Howard Weitzman, nominated by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; and Chris Wright, nominated by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Although Nassau Republicans, particularly in the lead-up to last week’s race, have tried to paint NIFA as an organization motivated by politics to work against Republican elected officials, the truth has been far more complicated. How NIFA has behaved at different times, and who has been nominated, has often been driven by the tone of a given governor’s relationship with the county executive.

Barsky has been increasingly firm about demanding balanced budgets since he was appointed last March, though he started off giving Republican County Executive Edward Mangano more latitude. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was perceived as being very supportive of Mangano, and of NIFA helping out Mangano, until Mangano was indicted on federal corruption charges last October.

Barsky’s predecessor, Jon Kaiman, was appointed by Cuomo to help Mangano manage union contracts well enough to get Nassau out of a pay freeze, and a political predicament. Kaiman replaced Ron Stack, whose relationship with Mangano had broken down as he demanded progress toward balanced budgets. Stack felt holding Mangano’s hand was outside NIFA’s scope.

So who Cuomo appoints or reappoints to the NIFA board could shape how the watchdog goes about its business over the next few years.

Lane Filler

Columns