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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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2011’s Election Cycle

Three storylines are emerging as the 2011 election campaigns for Nassau County’s 19 legislative seats unfold: the outcome of the August referendum on the Nassau Coliseum‘s future, the condition of the county’s budget, and the fate of the GOP’s redistricting proposal.

Before getting into the issues, keep one thing in mind. Nassau County‘s Republican county legislators will face five straight months of unrelentingly hostile coverage on Newsday’s editorial pages. Indeed, Newsday endorsed only four Nassau GOP candidates for two-year terms on the county Legislature in 2009. Alas, Nassau’s voters sent 11 Republicans to Mineola, giving the GOP a majority in the county Legislature for the first time since 1999.

This year’s general election falls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, three months after Nassau’s residents will have voted to either approve or reject the issuance of $400 million in bonds to build a new Nassau Coliseum and a minor league baseball park. The details about the proposal’s financing will become clearer as the Monday, Aug. 1 referendum date nears. At the moment, it looks as though the most prominent advocates for the Mangano administration’s call for a new Nassau Coliseum and baseball facility will be New York Islanders fans, the construction industry, and the businesses in the Coliseum’s immediate vicinity. It is unclear who will become the public faces of the opposition. County legislators, or those who aspire to be one, need to monitor carefully public sentiment on this high-profile matter.

Turning to the county’s budget, Comptroller George Maragos made news last month when his office reported Nassau had a projected year-end shortfall of $52.7 million as of March 31, 2011. There would actually have been a projected year-end surplus of $7.6 million as of that same date, the comptroller’s report added, had the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) not insisted the county set aside $70 million of its current revenues to pay prior years’ property tax refunds. The 2011 approved county budget had called for borrowing that same $70 million, although NIFA does get credit in the comptroller’s analysis for freezing county employee wages. The move will result in savings this year of nearly $10 million.

The Republicans’ redistricting proposal is only going to impact the 2011 election cycle if the GOP’s newly drawn 19 legislative district (LD) boundaries are in place by Nov. 8. Given the court challenges to the Republican plan, the installation this year of new county LD lines seems unlikely. The GOP should just concentrate on keeping their legislative majority in 2011, and then analyze the 2010 U.S. Census data to reconfigure Nassau’s electoral map for 2013‘s county elections. The county LD boundaries in effect today, by the way, were drawn by Nassau’s Democrats in 2003, when they held a majority in the county Legislature.

There are such things as unintended consequences, and the county’s brief legislative history shows that partisan map makers have twice miscalculated the way certain communities will vote. The GOP-drawn LDs in 1995 gave rise to a Democratic majority in 1999, and the Democrats’ 2003 best-laid plans resulted in a Republican victory in 2009.

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