The conviction last Friday of former Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano was yet another domino falling in the county’s GOP political machine, with possibly more to come. Mangano’s former chief deputy, Rob Walker, is set to go to trial for abusing his position in April. The Manganos’ second trial also followed the sentencing of former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos in October.
We must no longer look at these as isolated incidents, but instead we should reflect on how we have allowed them to happen by continuing to support leaders who think of themselves as entitled and who have no concern for transparency or protecting taxpayers.
Years ago, it was almost a running joke that the only way to get a government job in Nassau County was to have a connection to the Republican Party. Much of the testimony during the Mangano trials made clear that it was closer to the truth than many would like to admit.
In the November 2017 election, Democrats captured the two most important seats in the county, with Laura Curran taking Mangano’s place and Laura Gillen becoming the first Democratic Town of Hempstead supervisor in over a century. Both ran explicitly on transparency and anti-corruption platforms. It wasn’t long after Mangano and his wife, Linda, were found guilty on corruption charges that Curran released a statement detailing the steps she has taken to restore faith in local government since she took office in January 2018.
Curran has banned employees involved in contracting from accepting gifts from vendors, and opened a website, along with Comptroller Jack Schnirman, that lays out in relatively close detail how much, where and to whom taxpayer money is being paid, month by month. She has also, as of last month, contracted with an outside firm to conduct deep dives into the backgrounds of companies the county contracts with. It appears that Curran is at least working toward putting the county in a better position to guard against the kind of waste and fraud that brought Mangano down.
The two-term county executive was arrested in October 2016, but it took six months for his Republican colleagues to call on him to resign. Nevertheless, he served out his term, and after the verdicts were read last week, he said he was proud of his tenure. And despite the hours of testimony and reams of evidence, some GOP leaders still might lead you to believe that Mangano’s pre-indictment years were not littered with red flags and loose oversight that allowed him to get away with his crimes for as long as he did.
County data and media reports offer some sobering facts. Nassau County issued 401 no-bid contracts for just under $25,000 from 2011 to 2015, avoiding the need for legislative approval or a bidding process, according to Newsday. The report adds that roughly $10 million went to the politically connected for unnecessary work, or work that was not completed.
Now, at the town level, we await the outcome of a federal indictment against Ed Ambrosino, the Republican councilman of Hempstead’s 2nd District, who is facing charges of wire fraud and tax evasion. Republican Former Supervisor Anthony Santino went so far as to call for Ambrosino’s resignation in 2017, but he has remained in office. He is due in court later this month for either a conference or a guilty plea, according to records.
Thomas Tweedy, 62, a former Republican mayor of Floral Park, will be running on the Democratic ticket for Ambrosino’s seat this fall. While the Republican Party is not supporting Ambrosino for re-election, Mike Deery, a spokesman for the Nassau County Republican Committee, said that the party was “disappointed and shocked” to learn that Tweedy would be aligning with “the tax-hiking Gillen/Curran team.”
But politicians and Nassau voters shouldn’t feel as though they have to leave their party because it is too riddled with corruption to uphold their political beliefs. There are good Republicans and bad Democrats — just look at the Democrat Gerard Terry, former party boss of North Hempstead, who is serving three years and change for federal and state tax evasion. Voters need to take a critical look at what candidates’ priorities are, no matter their party affiliation. Look at whom they associate with. Ask them what they promise to do. And continue to let some fresh air into our town halls and County Legislature.