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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Newsday’s Narrative

Newsday has excitedly been telling its readers to mark Thursday, Jan. 20 on their calendar. That is supposedly the day the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) may seize financial control of Nassau’s county government.

Now, why would NIFA go down this path when the voters hired a county executive as well as 19 county legislators to govern? Well, NIFA is empowered as a state public benefit corporation to intervene if NIFA’s board of directors deems the county budget unbalanced. The county’s margin for error is small, with NIFA allowed to step in if a deficit in excess of 1 percent ($26 million) of the county’s annual operating budget ($2.6 billion) is detected, or if NIFA’s board believes such a situation is imminent.

County executive Edward Mangano, in a column he wrote last week for the Anton papers, persuasively argued that NIFA, created by the New York State Legislature in 2000, awoke out of its slumber in 2010, and that the county’s current budget is balanced. NIFA’s alarm about the state of the county’s finances accelerated after November 2009’s county election. The Democrats, who held the county executive’s office and a county legislative majority between 2002 and 2009, were replaced in that election cycle by Republicans.

Even in its diminished capacity, Newsday’s institutional mantra remains unchanged: Republican office holders in their collective view are at the root of all municipal evil. The 11-8 Republican majority in the county Legislature will be tested at the polls in November 2011, and Newsday is already creating the headlines and developing the opposition research, which will be repurposed this year as Democratic campaign literature.

Yet Newsday’s coverage of the NIFA-Mangano administration dispute over the county budget has bordered on the comical. My favorite story was framed by huge pictures of former Republican county executive Thomas Gulotta, who left office in 2001, and county executive Mangano, who arrived in 2010, with the article intimating that history was somehow repeating itself. A GOP county executive is again presiding over the economic collapse of Nassau’s government, the article implied. There was a county executive from a different political party who held that office between 2002 and 2009. Alas, he was not pictured, although it was his administration that entered into a multi-year contract with the county workforce’s largest union. It ensured that none of their members will pay anything toward their health insurance premiums.

NIFA director George Marlin is accorded Newsday‘s most favorable coverage. “There is the credibility deficit. A lack of candor from the county executive. Promises made, not kept,” Mr. Marlin is quoted by Newsday as having said at NIFA’s Dec. 30 public meeting. Yes, credibility is important. But an individual’s past performance chart is a relevant issue, too. Like New York City mayoral candidate Rudy Giuliani in 1993, then-county Legislator Mangano was elected in 2009 despite facing not only a Democratic incumbent but also a Conservative Party candidate. The 1993 Conservative Party nominee for NYC mayor was none other than NIFA’s George Marlin. Please keep that in mind if Newsday reports NIFA’s directors have no interest in politics.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net