Jim Altadonna Jr., Oyster Bay’s town clerk and the former mayor of Massapequa Park, announced his candidacy for Oyster Bay town supervisor on Wednesday at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. A Republican, he will be running on the Democratic ticket against current Supervisor Joe Saladino, also a Republican.
“As town clerk for the last five years, I’ve witnessed wasteful spending, mismanagement, and the censorship of free-flowing information,” Altadonna said. “I feel I have the experience, instead of a self-promoting political showman.”
Altadonna took issue with the current supervisor’s use of official mailers to raise his political profile. “Instead of fixing roads, we’re sending out mailers,” he said. “They’re spending millions of dollars in mailings to promote car shows, lunar new years at the Milleridge Inn, and a myriad of other correspondences that I felt could be covered in a quarterly newsletter.”
The candidate took aim at what he called “the same playbook” that got former Supervisor John Venditto in trouble, namely, a failure to responsibly address a budget deficit. Altadonna specifically called out the issuance of $10 million worth of tax anticipation notes to address a gap in the 2019 budget, essentially letting the town borrow against future revenues. The notes, he said, helped plug the budget hole, but would create problems down the line.
Saladino said that the notes are a temporary cash flow borrowing. “When I took office in 2017, the town had previously relied on $32 million outstanding in cash flow debt, issued for a period of 10 months,” he said. “Under my tenure, by December 2018 we reduced that borrowing to $10 million over a period of just two months. Less debt for a shorter period of time means a much lower interest cost for the taxpayers.”
Saladino added that as the town’s financial position improves, the plan is to have zero cash flow borrowing by 2020. And, he said, the tax anticipation notes were issued in part because the town was burdened by a $44 million cumulative deficit inherited from the prior administration.
The best way out of Oyster Bay’s budgetary woes, Altadonna said, would be to cease “excessive hiring and excessive raises.” He also said that raises were being given to the wrong town employees. “The appointed [employees] are getting the raises, while union members are being left behind.” Altadonna specifically mentioned a 2 percent pay cut that union members agreed to in late 2016 to stave off potential layoffs.
His platform includes structural changes in the makeup of town government, including term limits and council districts, in which council members would represent districts of the town rather than the town as a whole.
He also said he wanted to end the practice of paying a lawyer to represent employees in town-related matters. “There’s no reason, if you’ve done nothing wrong, why you can’t talk to law enforcement,” he said. Federal employees and private citizens, he added, have to pay for their own representation.
Town Attorney Joseph Nocella disagreed. “Town employees who, through no fault of their own, become witnesses simply because they were doing their job have a basic right to have a lawyer help them,” he said. “It’s also a matter of fundamental fairness and decency to give a town employee legal representation.”
Nocella added that the board did vote down a resolution to pay for Venditto’s legal fees in a civil case brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Asked about his views on whether the town board should make an election-year appointment to fill the recently vacated seat of former Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia, Altadonna noted that while he was similarly appointed before being elected, the administrative role of a town clerk needed to be filled. “Voting members of the board should always be elected by the people,” he said.
Crossing party lines
When the lifelong Republican was asked why he decided to run on the Democratic ticket, Altadonna said, “As mayor, it was never about what party you represent. As town clerk, I feel the same way, and I’ll feel the same way as supervisor.”
He would be a supervisor that represents all the people, he said, adding, “Not just the people who agree with me — not just the people who have the same political designation.”
He spoke about the strength of a “coalition ticket,” with Democrats and Republicans working together, checking and balancing each other.
Jay Jacobs, chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Party, agreed. Jacobs brushed off criticism from within the party that running a Republican showed a lack of faith in Oyster Bay’s Democrats. Bob Freier, a spokesman for the Oyster Bay Democrats, and Altadonna spoke with mutual respect for each other.
“What I’m looking for in candidates right now is, what are they about?” Jacobs said. “What’s in their hearts? What are they going to do? Is it somebody we can work with?” He added, “I think Jim Altadonna is going to be a fabulous candidate, and he’s going to be a great supervisor. And by the way, I think he’s going to beat Saladino.”
Saladino disagreed. “I’m confident homeowners will support my record of cutting taxes against Jim Altadonna’s record of hiking taxes by nearly 60 percent during his time as a village mayor,” he said.
Altadonna also spoke of a commitment to service that transcends partisanship. “Somewhere along the line, [public service] became a business,” he said. “I still think it’s a service. You go into being an elected official because you want to serve, not because you want to make money.”
His track record supports that sentiment: For 12 years, as mayor of Massapequa Park, Altadonna took a salary of $1, returning the rest to the village coffers.