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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Town Hall Campaigns

I wondered early in my career why Nassau’s political leaders focused endlessly on winning town campaigns, and showed comparatively little interest in who represented the county in Washington, D.C.

But I quickly learned that Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay town government, while not the most glamorous corners of the municipal world, are where all of the significant action is. Town governments make crucial land use decisions in the county’s unincorporated communities; provide essential services (e.g., recreational facilities, garbage disposal) and dispense honest patronage.

Honest patronage can come in the form of full-time employment to an appointive post or via a consulting contract. Those who have ever watched a town board meeting from start to finish—and few besides those paid to do so ever do, or should—-know why certain law firms and consulting engineers derive significant revenues from town governments.

Given the disconnect between the county’s political leaders, who care desperately about who sits on the town board and allocate significant resources to get their candidates into office, and the county’s voters, who have shown considerably less passion regarding such matters, unseating an incumbent is a tall order.

Nonetheless, a quick summary of Nassau’s Town Hall races is in order as Tuesday, Nov. 8 approaches.

Hempstead: The Republicans hold a 6-1 majority on the town board, and Supervisor Kate Murray (R-Levittown), a former state assemblywoman, is favored to win re-election to another two-year term in her campaign against Gary Port, the Democrats’ nominee. Town board members Edward Ambrosino (R-North Valley Stream), James Darcy (R-Valley Stream), and Angie Cullin (R-Freeport) are seeking re-election to four-year terms. The Democrats highlight Hempstead’s long history of GOP rule, and say a shake-up in the status quo is long overdue. The Murray administration points to its 2012 town budget, which calls for holding the line on town property taxes, and implicitly asks why anyone would want to change things.

North Hempstead: The Democrats have a 6-1 majority on the town board. The marquee race next month features a rematch between Supervisor Jon Kaiman (D-Great Neck), who was re-elected with 54 percent of the vote in 2009, and Lee Tu, the Republican nominee. Two incumbent town board members—Councilmen Thomas Dwyer (D-East Williston) and Fred Pollack (D-Port Washington)—are seeking re-election. Newcomer Anna Kaplan, a Democrat who is currently on the town’s board of zoning and appeals, hopes to succeed retiring Councilwoman Maria-Christina Poons (D-Great Neck). The prominent issue this fall has been a debate over whether the town should acquire a portion of the Roslyn Country Club property, a privately-held parcel that houses a catering hall, tennis courts and a pool.

Oyster Bay: The Republicans hold all seven seats on the town board. Supervisor John Venditto (R-North Massapequa) is being challenged by John Capobianco, a Farmingdale school board member. Three incumbents are seeking re-election to four-year terms: Councilwoman Rebecca Alesia (R-Plainview), Councilman Anthony Macagnone (R-Farmingdale) and Councilman Joseph Muscarella (R-North Massapequa). Oyster Bay’s Democrats have criticized the rapid expansion of the town’s public safety department in recent years, a complaint the Venditto administration neutralized by keeping that division’s 2012 budget line close to what it was in 2011.

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