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Inside Steve Bellone's public schedule

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at the Cresthollow

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone at the Cresthollow Country Club on Jan. 10, 2020 in Woodbury. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Daily Point

Inside Bellone’s public schedule

Steve Bellone, who just started his third stint as Suffolk County executive and is term-limited, already has hinted at an interest in higher work. At his endorsement interview last year, he told Newsday’s editorial board that “if there were another position I would run for, it would be an executive position."

For those counting, a gubernatorial election comes in 2022. 

That got The Point wondering what Bellone might be doing to prepare for a future run. A public records request for Bellone’s public schedule since September had some interesting tidbits, like a November post-election trip to the SOMOS Conference, the schmoozy San Juan gathering of New York Democrats where state officials make deals and forge political alliances across counties. 

It was the first time Bellone had been to the annual tropical conclave, says spokesman Jason Elan. 

The schedule provides a glimpse of some of the networking in the sun: Bellone’s Thursday Delta flight got him to the Best Western Plus Condado Palm Inn & Suites just in time for what was listed as a four-hour Legislative Leadership Welcome Reception. 

Over the weekend, events included a three-hour poolside reception at the Caribe Hilton and a “Brooklyn dinner” in Carolina, in the San Juan metro area. 

Elan said that Bellone went to SOMOS to “build relationships with folks that affect state policy.” 

The calendar records show other little glimpses of a working politician’s life. Besides the birthday parties and tree lightings and budget calls and funeral visits, there was a 10:15 a.m. interview in October with a student researching elected officials for a class assignment. The item notes that “teacher is Carol Gaughran, Jim’s wife,” referring to the Democratic state senator from Northport.

And governors, or would-be governors, also have to deal with issues large and small. A Dec. 9 entry on Bellone’s calendar for the Museum of American Armor gala in Old Bethpage notes another attendee: John Bolton. 

Asked whether Bellone interacted with President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser whose impeachment testimony is being unsuccessfully sought by DC Democrats, Bellone spokesman Elan said, “I don’t know whether or not he spoke with former National Security Adviser [John] Bolton but I can assure you if he did, it is not subject to executive privilege.” 

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Party poobah punts

When the Huntington Town Democratic Committee meets Thursday night, the topic on many attendees’ minds will be the residency status of Michael Marcantonio, who wants the party nod to run for the 12th Assembly District seat. 

But they won’t be getting the direction they've been hoping for from County Democratic Chairman Rich Schaffer.

Marcantonio has to overcome the assertion by fellow contender Avrum Rosen, as well as local Republicans, that the residency issues that derailed his 2018 campaign still bar him from running to get the committee’s designation for an expected special election.

For months, Marcantonio and Rosen have sparred over the issue, and Schaffer, after first saying he wanted to leave it up to the committee, agreed to step in and get a legal opinion. On Thursday, he told The Point that he cannot answer the question with enough certainty. 

“I put both candidate’s interpretations of the law in front of a couple of attorneys and they could not be definitive enough for me to advise the committee,” Schaffer said. “Avrum and Michael are relying on two different sets of case law, and I’m not going to be judge and jury. I think to do so and be wrong would potentially disenfranchise a candidate.”

Marcantonio is circulating an opinion from election law specialist Jerry Goldfeder quoting New York precedent to insist the Eaton’s Neck attorney can run. Rosen, also an attorney, put together his own argument that relies partly on North Carolina precedent, some of which was cited by State Supreme Court Justice Richard Horowitz in Marcantonio’s 2018 ballot ouster that was later upheld at the appellate level.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo still has not called the special election.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Pencil Point

Burying his head

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Reference Point

The ongoing battle for affordable housing

A dearth of housing for people with low or modest incomes. Local governments hostile to building more. A new proposal to break the impasse.

The debate sounds fresh. But one particular iteration of it took place 50 years ago when then-Nassau County Executive Eugene Nickerson proposed creating a state zoning appeals board to override local zoning decisions “in those instances where communities capable of providing a certain minimum amount of low- and moderate-income housing failed to do so,” as Newsday’s editorial board wrote on Jan. 20, 1970.

Nickerson, the board noted, was not seeking to give this new board “capricious” powers, but sought “to empower it to act only when the towns and villages will not themselves meet the needs of people for an adequate place to live.”

Leading the criticism of Nickerson’s proposal was then-Town of Hempstead Presiding Officer Ralph Caso, whom the editorial board assailed for his vociferous defense of home rule.

“In this instance, as in too many others, home rule is simply a noble refuge for indifference,” the board wrote. “Mr. Nickerson seeks a partial solution to a grave and pressing problem, while paying a great deal of respect to the right of communities to chart their own destinies. Mr. Caso cites the right as some kind of absolute that entitles any community to escape coming to grips with the problem. It is also, of course, a time-proved platform for election.”

That continued to be true for years in Hempstead, and for Caso, a Republican who succeeded Nickerson, a Democrat, as county executive in 1971.

As for the housing problem that vexed Nickerson, that’s still with us, as is Caso’s defense of home rule, which Newsday’s editorial board deemed “ingenuous.”

Caso’s logic, the board wrote, is that, “Local government won’t do the job so let’s make sure the county or state won’t either. People may lack housing but they can always curl up for a wintry night under the ‘home rule’ principle.”

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie