As Nassau County ushered in its new Democrat-controlled Legislature last week, local Republican legislators Salvatore Pontillo (Farmingdale, 14th District) and Edward Mangano (Bethpage, 17th District) were anticipating a spirit of bipartisan cooperation they feel is needed to move the county forward.
Being members of the minority party is a new experience for Pontillo and Mangano, each of whom began serving with the legislature when it was newly formed, in 1996. Republicans had controlled the body until the historic elections this November that turned the ratio from a 14:5, GOP majority to 10:9, with Democrats holding the lead.
Yet after being sworn in at the county induction ceremonies on Jan. 3, each for a third term, both Pontillo and Mangano expressed confidence in their colleagues' ability to work together.
"I think that now that they [Democrats] have the lead, being in the majority, as long as they propose real and viable solutions and ideas, we'll be glad to work with them," Pontillo said in an interview this week. "There will be times when we are just going to philosophically disagree, and as the residents would expect, we would not go along with them at those times."
He added that a spirit of cooperation has presided at the first two meetings of the new legislature. "I can say that we are all getting along. There is a mutual respect across both sides of the aisle. There is no resentment, or partisan bickering or anything like that," he said.
As part of his major goals for the new term, Pontillo said he wants to see the implementation of the year-round board of assessment review, a program which he has pushed for. Recently passed state legislation increases the assessment review board's time from three to 12 months per year. The measure is expected to allow residents more time to file grievances, and cut down on the amount of interest the county pays on bonding done to finance payment of claims.
"You can see it already. This year, the time to challenge your taxes, if you feel that you're not properly assessed, has been expanded from just two weeks in January - where no sooner do you get the notice than the time is up - all the way to March 3," said Pontillo. "So it'll really open up the process and give access to people who just last year, didn't have the opportunity...I worked a long time to pass it, and now I want to see that it works properly and the way it was intended to."
Pontillo's other major goal is to focus on the budget deficit problem. "I want to be a part of the solution," he said.
He added, "I was really thrilled to be inducted for the third time, and in the difficult climate that we found ourselves, it means even more. And I look forward to continuing to represent the people in my district. And I am truly grateful that they appreciate the work I've done, and have confidence that I'll continue to do a good job for them in the future."
In an interview immediately after he was sworn in, Mangano said that a philosophy of bipartisanship was apparent in the induction ceremonies. "There was definitely an air of togetherness, cooperation, and participation in making Nassau County an even better place to live and work and raise a family."
During the ceremonies, Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs, Minority Leader Peter Schmitt, and County Executive Thomas Gulotta all referred to the need to put aside party differences to move the county forward.
Mangano stressed, however, that there was not a void of cooperation between the minority and majority in the past. "It's really a misnomer to think that there hasn't been bipartisanship, because although there's always room for improvement, in the past there has been." He added that the framework has been set for it to continue, and pledged to help ensure that.
Mangano's main goal for the new term is to continue monitoring the environmental cleanup and redevelopment of the Grumman property, an issue he focused on in his first two terms. "I'm very happy that the residents and voters have returned me to continue working on the projects that we've started in the first two terms," he said.
In an effort to help solve the county's fiscal problems, he said, "I look forward to reviewing any plans that are advanced by any party." He added, "It's a situation where tough decisions have to be made in order to meet the demands of Wall Street, as well as the necessity to live within the means of a proper budget."