Blakeman enthusiastically follows Trump’s lead


The political similarities between former President Donald Trump and Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman are now impossible to miss. Which is probably just what Blakeman intends.

In his efforts to become Long Island’s leading MAGA man, Blakeman has adopted Trump’s combative and divisive style of leadership. Neither politician tries to find common ground on which to build effective policies. Both have acted as though they have strong mandates for right-wing programs, even though Trump got 3 million fewer votes in 2016 than did Hillary Clinton, and despite Blakeman having bested Laura Curran in 2021 by about 2,000 votes out of more than a quarter-million ballots cast.

Instead of governing consensually, Blakeman and Trump strive to intensify a culture war that threatens to erupt into physical violence.

Like the head of the national Republican Party, the Nassau County executive manipulates and exaggerates voters’ legitimate concerns in order to create an us-vs.-them dynamic. They both use inflammatory language to depict adversaries as not merely misguided, but mentally ill.

Who, for example, refers to the migrant crisis as “insanity”? And who denounces “crazy” progressive policies? Both the former president and the current county leader.

There have been other echoes of extreme rhetoric. Trump in 2019 urged progressive female members of Congress to “go back” to countries “they originally came from.” Blakeman in January warned Kathy Hochul, New York’s first female governor, to “stay out of Long Island.”

It’s easier, of course, to turn disagreements into confrontations than it is to work collegially toward compromises.

Blakeman has blamed “Albany Democrats” for an upsurge in crime in New York City and its suburbs. While horrifying assaults in the five boroughs have rightly stoked objections to bail reforms adopted by the State Legislature, it is misleading and irresponsible to suggest, as Blakeman has, that Nassau County had been experiencing a “crime epidemic” unleashed by Democratic-sponsored legislation. While rates of some crimes have indeed increased in the past three years, others have shown a decrease despite the easing of bail requirements.
Rather than allaying unwarranted fears, Blakeman is heightening an unfounded sense of public menace by forming a militia to be mobilized in cases of “emergency.” His move in March to recruit “provisional special deputy sheriffs” has drawn criticism from gun-control groups that say Nassau County should not be encouraging more of its residents to take up arms.

This unrequested action also implies that Blakeman does not trust the county Police Department to protect the citizenry — despite his boast in a mass mailing earlier this year of having put 200 more cops on the streets.

Scapegoating is another tactic employed by demagogues such as Trump and Blakeman. It’s entirely reasonable to demand that the U.S. border be much more strictly enforced, but it’s not acceptable to refer to migrants as “animals,” a la Trump, or to denounce Hochul’s proposed spending of $2.4 billion for “illegal immigrants,” as Blakeman recently did in another of his countywide mailings. That money is intended to help house and feed the tens of thousands of migrants who have made their way mainly to New York City — not Nassau County — through no initiative on Hochul’s part.

Transgender Americans comprise another group susceptible to being stigmatized by pandering politicians. Blakeman issued an executive order in February forbidding transgender females from taking part in competitive women’s or girls’ sports in county-owned athletic facilities. Again, there’s a reasonable basis for complaining that some former males have unfair physical advantages over many females. But when asked by a reporter how many transgender athletes have competed in his county, Blakeman said he didn’t know. The absence of any compelling reason to target a sexual minority has led opponents of this grandstanding stunt to call it “a solution in search of a problem.”

Blakeman, once more like Trump, aggravates grievances held by many voters as a way of diverting attention from his failure to fulfill promises on more substantive matters. In his 2021 campaign, Blakeman pledged to cut taxes “immediately” by $120 million. He did no such thing. Nor has he made good on a pledge to fix a “broken” assessment system.

Rather than plastering his name and face on taxpayer-financed mass mailings, Blakeman should help break the political fever that’s preventing Nassau County from becoming great again.

Kevin J. Kelley was a congressional staff member in the 1980s, and is a retired journalist and journalism professor who worked for newspapers in New York, Vermont and Kenya and taught at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He lives in Atlantic Beach.