Recently I was privileged to attend a reunion dinner, which Nassau County Republican Chairman Joe Cairo hosted at King Umberto’s Restaurant, in Elmont, for former Town of Hempstead councilmen and supervisors who served at various times over the past half century.
The town, whose population of almost 800,000 makes it the largest township in America, has always been the base of the Nassau GOP’s support and success. As county chairman, Cairo has done an outstanding job leading the party to repeated victories over the past several years. These successes include winning back the North Hempstead supervisor’s position for the first time in more than three decades; the offices of county executive, district attorney and comptroller; three State Senate seats in Albany; and congressional seats in Washington. These victories, in a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, brought about Cairo’s election as New York’s national committeeman.
I believe much of his success as county chairman is attributable to the knowledge and experience he has acquired over his many years in politics and government — particularly his service as a councilman on the Hempstead Town Board beginning in 1975. The board was known for working together, getting the job done and realizing that good government is good politics. I was elected councilman in 1977, and served until I was elected county comptroller in 1981.
Those attending the reunion dinner included:
• Al D’Amato, who served as the town’s receiver of taxes, supervisor and presiding supervisor before his election to the U.S. Senate.
• Leo McGinity, who was elected councilman in 1969 before being appointed to the bench in 1976 and ultimately serving as an associate justice in the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court.
• Jim Bennet, Greg Peterson and Rich Guardino, all of whom served as councilmen and supervisor.
• Pat Zagarino, who served as councilman.
• Bruce Blakeman, who was a councilman before being elected our current county executive.
This was a truly great evening of not just sharing stories and reminiscing, but getting input and advice from these pros after Cairo detailed the recent successes and the challenges ahead in the fast-changing world of politics and government.
Certainly, times have changed. Aside from Blakeman, none of us served on the board during a time of pervasive social media. Also, while politics was always a tough business, and stories of the “good old days” are usually exaggerated, there was nothing then like today’s bitter partisanship. Yet the underlying governmental and political precepts of those days are still meaningful: quick responsiveness to local governmental issues and problems, a strong year-round presence in the community, and door-to-door campaigning by candidates and local committeemen and women.
Most important, government officials should always be taking the political pulse of their constituents, and not be swayed by the media or elitist opinion makers. That was true then, and is just as true today, as was proven in the past two election cycles, in which Democrats’ advocacy of misguided proposals, such as bail reform and defunding the police, paved the way for Republican victories and devastating defeats for the Democrats in Nassau County.
Because those issues were largely ignored by the mainstream media, however, Republican candidates would not have prevailed without extensive paid media advertising, a large social media presence and the unmatched Nassau GOP ground game of direct mail to voters, targeted telephone campaign calls, door-to-door distribution of campaign literature and saturation walk-throughs. All this was overseen and coordinated by Cairo, using the feedback he got from candidates and local campaign workers as well as polling results from campaign consultants such as John McLaughlin.
As I’ve said, much has changed in the Town of Hempstead and in Nassau County over the years, including demographics, party registration and the reality that so many households now have two working spouses. What Cairo and the county Republican organization have done is update and modernize the same methods of year-round hard work and attention to constituent needs and beliefs to achieve political and governmental success. That was certainly the conclusion of the “old-timers” who attended the reunion dinner.
Nothing in politics is easy or guaranteed, and you can never afford to rest on your laurels, but we are confident that with Cairo at the helm, the Nassau GOP will remain the most effective and responsive political organization in the nation.
One additional lesson I learned is to take the same vitamins as Judge McGinity, who at age 96 is as sharp, alert and mobile as any of us!
Peter King is a former congressman, and a former chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security.