Reginald Butt left Newfoundland in 1927, became an America citizen and moved to the Town of Oyster Bay. When he voted for the first time, he was told that he had to join the Republican Party or he’d never work. But Butt, the late father of American Legion Quentin Roosevelt Post 4’s former commander, Reginald Butt Jr., never joined a political party. And he worked for Jacobson Shipyard for many years.
Reginald Jr. said his father would have approved of the recent arrests of former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto and others involved in alleged corruption. But he would have been disappointed, too.
“Every time he went to vote, they challenged him,” he said. “I look at this — the corruption — as something that’s been going on in Oyster Bay for a very long time.”
People have long been afraid to speak out against the town, he added, because so many people in Oyster Bay have traditionally worked for it. Or, he noted, “Your boss was a member of the Republican Party.”
The recent corruption arrests, he said, are a beginning, adding that the corruption has “got to stop somewhere.”
Former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, 72, was indicted on June 29 on charges of conspiracy involving former Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito, Elia Lizza, 69, and his wife, Marisa Lizza, 61, of Oyster Bay Cove, owners of Carlo Lizza & Sons Paving. Ippolito died in federal custody on June 4.
Additionally, former Parks Commissioner Frank Nocerino, 65, and GOP leader Richard Porcelli, 70, were arraigned the same day on charges that they orchestrated the hiring of a town employee at a substantially higher salary as a political favor and then later conspired to fire him, according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.
Flanked by Town of Oyster Bay Councilman Louis Imbroto and Town Attorney Joseph Nocella, Supervisor Joseph Saladino, a Republican, held a news conference only hours after the indictment.
“We have zero tolerance of impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety,” Saladino said. “The Town of Oyster Bay and the town board put [their] faith in me to clean house, restore ethics and make sure we are acting ethically in our town and in the supervisor’s office. I take that very seriously.”
He then gave examples of how, on his watch, town operations have changed. Among them, a federal prosecutor was hired as the town attorney; there are now increased disclosure requirements for contractors, vendors and high-level town employees to prevent conflicts of interest and misdeeds; and a new independent board of ethics was formed.
The Oyster Bay Democratic Party held a news conference immediately after Saladino’s, which included the candidates running for supervisor and town council.
“We again call on the current town administration, led by appointed Supervisor Joseph Saladino, to enact our committee’s set of sweeping, common-sense ethics reforms,” said Dr. Marc Herman, the Democratic candidate for town supervisor. “Acting Supervisor Saladino is a loyal soldier, a former employee, and is cut from the same cloth as former Supervisor John Venditto.”
While Venditto was supervisor in the early 2000s, Saladino served as the town’s director of operations. “Unelected Supervisor Saladino was hand-picked by Venditto to replace him,” said Robert Freier, Democratic candidate for town council. “I want to implore Joseph Saladino — do us all a favor and step down.”
Freier also called on other appointed town officials to resign, too, reasoning that Oyster Bay residents should be able to decide who their leaders are.
“We have systemic corruption based on the same party that has controlled one town for too long,” said James Versocki, of Sea Cliff, also a Democratic candidate for town council. “This is what happens when you don’t have multiple sets of eyes caring about the town.”
Sidney Goodman, of Oyster Bay, said he had mixed feelings about the indictments. He met Venditto while working as a volunteer at Plainview Hospital. “He was a heck of a nice guy,” Goodman said. “I’m terribly disappointed. I don’t think he really did anything that bad, but what he did do was not right.”
“We are people who liked him,” said Goodman’s wife, Sandra, shaking her head. “And we are not Republicans.” In November, she added, they will not vote for anyone in the Republican Party. The Goodmans have lived in Oyster Bay for more than 40 years.
Alex Gallego, president of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Chamber of Commerce, said he believes Venditto is a good man who did a great deal for the town. “But the stuff that’s coming out will overshadow that,” he said. “I’m disappointed. It’s a sad day.”
“I do hope this is a wakeup call to all public servants who should focus on benefiting the public and not themselves,” said John Taylor, a Republican and Bayville village trustee. He added that Bayville’s trustees are working to be sure they are using the best suppliers for the best prices. “If people are cheating, it’s bad for business and the community. I hope, if they are guilty, that justice is done.”