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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Nassau’s Nominations

Few events have more of a potential impact on Nassau County government than the major parties’ nominating conventions in odd-numbered years. Yet the faces rarely change in Mineola.

Looking at things from a Republican perspective, this should be a year in which the GOP could make inroads. The Suozzi administration spent much of late last year underestimating the economic downturn’s impact on the county’s finances, a pivotal miscalculation when almost 40 percent of all county government revenues are derived from sales taxes. County Executive Tom Suozzi then allocated most of his time in early 2009 to browbeating concessions out of a union his administration had just given, with the assistance of an arbitrator, an eight-year contract which calls for 3-plus percent annual pay hikes.

Few events have more of a potential impact on Nassau County government than the major parties’ nominating conventions in odd-numbered years. Yet the faces rarely change in Mineola.

Looking at things from a Republican perspective, this should be a year in which the GOP could make inroads. The Suozzi administration spent much of late last year underestimating the economic downturn’s impact on the county’s finances, a pivotal miscalculation when almost 40 percent of all county government revenues are derived from sales taxes. County Executive Tom Suozzi then allocated most of his time in early 2009 to browbeating concessions out of a union his administration had just given, with the assistance of an arbitrator, an eight-year contract which calls for 3-plus percent annual pay hikes.

Nonetheless, Suozzi remains favored to win re-election in the fall because of his high name ID and the sizable campaign war chest he has built after presiding over Nassau’s county government for almost eight years. There will also be countywide races in 2009 for comptroller, district attorney and county clerk, with the current office holders favored for re-election, too.

That’s why 2009’s action will likely focus on the 19-member Nassau County Legislature, where the Democrats have held a 10-9 advantage since 2000. To keep the county’s legislative branch in their hands, the Democrats redrew the 19 legislative district (LD) boundaries in a way that seemingly locked in their majority after the 2000 U.S. Census was filed.

This electoral edge—having 10 Democrats running as incumbents in districts they can carry—comes in handy when one of them gets into trouble. And I’m not going to belabor Legislator Roger Corbin’s (D-Westbury) legal problems.

It will, however, be interesting to hear Legislator Corbin’s defense against federal charges that he allegedly evaded paying taxes on $226,000 Corbin received from a developer between 2005 and 2007. Legislator Corbin has already said he is innocent and intends to seek re-election in Nassau’s 2nd LD in November. The 2nd LD’s residents pull the lever for Democrats with the regularity of a New Jersey gubernatorial voter so, no matter who the Democrats nominate, it is hard to envision a Republican ever winning there.

The two major parties spent much of the 2005 and 2007 county campaign seasons trying unsuccessfully to defeat the incumbents in the 3rd LD and the 14th LD. This year will be no different.

Legislator John Ciotti (R-Valley Stream) has represented the 3rd LD since the Legislature was formed in the late 1990s and the Democrats believe this district, covering Elmont, Franklin Square, North Valley Stream, and South Floral Park, can be won by the right candidate. To date, Legislator Ciotti has prevailed, even though the number of registered Democrats in his district has grown.

Legislator David Mejias (D-Farmingdale) represents the 14th LD. He was first elected to the county Legislature in 2003 and has a district which includes Old Bethpage, South Farmingdale, and northern Wantagh. Joseph Belesi, a Republican who lost to Legislator Mejias by a little over 200 votes in 2007, appears ready to launch a 2009 rematch. As always, the other county legislative incumbents nominated this spring have a great chance of beginning another two-year term in January 2010.

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