On April 25, Nassau County Legislator Roger Corbin (D-Westbury) received a letter informing him that he was removed, effective immediately, from the appointed position as deputy presiding officer. The letter, sent from Presiding Officer Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury), stated that it "has become apparent that [Corbin is] unwilling to work toward the goals of the caucus."
Typically, reorganization of the 19-member legislature (10 Democrats, nine Republicans) occurs the spring after a county election and appointment of the deputy presiding officer is the authority of the majority leader or presiding officer, in this case, Jacobs. "The deputy serves at the will of the presiding officer. She can get rid of me any time she wants to," said Corbin.
In an interview with Anton Newspapers, Corbin said that Jacobs removed him from the deputy position he has held for six years because he abstained from a vote during a legislative meeting earlier that same day that called for increasing fees to use the county's parks, picnic areas, golf courses and fields while lowering fees at county ice skating rinks and cabanas.
"Initially, I was going to vote [in favor of it] but when two [Democratic legislators] received an amendment from the administration, I took offense. Why are they allowed to get an amendment but not the folks I represent throughout Nassau County who are struggling to make ends meet? I knew I was going to catch hell from the Democratic side ... [but] I objected anyway," said Corbin, adding, "The poorer taxpayer needs a better balance than what is happening now. Certainly if you can afford a cabana or to take your kids to an ice rink you can afford the increase in fees while the poorer taxpayer is struggling to pay his or her taxes. Enough was enough."
Corbin also said that the increase he objected to also affects many of the non-profits who use county facilities. "A lot of nonprofits use those fields and those facilities and a lot of that money is going to the county," he said. "That doesn't make sense. They represent kids who are not well-to-do. Why should all that money go to the county?"
According to Corbin, other Democrat legislators have "voted with the Republican party on various issues ... and nothing has ever happened to them. I have never voted with them. I have only abstained twice since I have been here - this time and two weeks ago."
Jacobs, however, says differently. "One too many times, Roger, who is a very good friend of mine, decided not to table with us but insisted in abstaining, which causes it to be defeated and the motion fails," said Jacobs. "If someone abstains and causes any kind of an expected fee or prior budgetary matter to fail, it leaves us with a tremendous hole in the budget that keeps growing."
She added, "The 10 of us do not always agree but we certainly don't disagree by surprise on the legislature floor. It is not an acceptable way to conduct business and it is not a good way for the county to be run. We have to be able to have a consensus before we go out on the floor especially if we don't have the Republican votes to come along with us. We have to partner and make certain that these items go through or, if there is a problem, we address it before we go out on the floor. That did not happen one too many times."
Corbin, who has served the 2nd District since the legislature's inception, said he has consistently based his legislative role on "standing up for those who either can't stand up for themselves or who do not have a voice." "Folks in my district have returned me since the legislature was enacted. I would never hold this position in a disrespectful way," Corbin said, adding that he doesn't regret his decision to abstain. "I stood up for what I believe in," he said.
Tensions between the two longtime legislators first sparked in December 2005 when Corbin joined forces with fellow Democrat Lisanne Altmann (D-Great Neck) and Republican Minority Leader Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) in an unsuccessful attempt to oust Jacobs from the top seat. Nearly three months and thousands of dollars in legal fees later, leadership of the county's governing board remained exactly as it was, with Jacobs reappointing Corbin her deputy.
"If this is because of what happened two years ago then I resent that," said Corbin, adding that County Executive Tom Suozzi challenged the county's Democratic party pick twice - once in the county executive race and then again in last year's gubernatorial race - and "no one was mad at him." "He wasn't the party's pick, but no one is mad at him," said Corbin. "Why was it okay for Suozzi to do it but not for me? All I wanted to do was change the leadership in this delegation, which I feel is extremely weak. There is no cohesiveness."
Jacobs said her decision to remove Corbin has nothing to do with what happened last year. "If this did, I never would have appointed him my deputy presiding officer right after. I chose Roger Corbin as my deputy presiding officer despite everything that went on because of our long-term friendship. I never hold a grudge," said Jacobs. "This was beyond that. That was a personal thing. This is a governmental thing. This is a need to keep a budget balanced and the county going in the right direction as far as the type of budget we are passing."
As it currently stands, Jacobs told Anton Newspapers that she has left the door open to Corbin for a possible return. "Should circumstances warrant, I would consider reviewing this decision," she said. "I am not appointing anybody to take his place for at least a month. I would like Roger to stay where he is, but at the same time I am very serious in removing him at this time."
Jacobs continued, "Along with leadership comes responsibility. I am sure that he is up to the task; he just has to decide if we can work together. I am sure we can make things right again but right now I don't have that confidence. I have left the door open for this to be amicably resolved and I would like nothing better than that. That can only happen if we decided that we are working as a team. If there is a problem with something, a good team member tells the other members what the problem is so the decision can be made within the caucus. That is something that Roger has to decide - if he is willing to play by the rules of teamwork."
As of press time, Corbin and Jacobs were set to meet, face-to-face, on April 30. Should Corbin's removal as deputy presiding officer remain effective, he would be required to move out of his larger office in the Legislative Building and into a smaller office. His salary would also be reduced by $23,000 a year.