Stating that he wants to run a race solely based on issues, Howard Birnbach, Republican nominee and Great Neck attorney, announced his candidacy on May 26, for the 10th District Nassau County Legislature seat held by Lisanne Altmann.
In a phone interview with the Record, Mr. Birnbach listed three major issues that he believes are of primary importance to 10th District residents. Currently, a case for re-assessment in Nassau County is being tried in the U.S. District Court in Uniondale in which the plaintiff is arguing that poor, minority communities in Hempstead are being taxed disproportionately. For example, a home in Roosevelt with a fair market value of $200,000 is being taxed at the same level as a home on the North Shore valued at $500,000. It is Mr. Birnbach's belief that the court may well rule for the plaintiff at which time a "master" would be appointed to establish a rate that could mean a 20 to 30 percent rise in taxes here.
Mr. Birnbach thinks that the county legislature should intervene promptly to correct the unfairness of the assessment system voluntarily and to establish an "evolutionary" or incremental tax hike that would be less of a catastrophic burden on elderly people and working families. Mr. Birnbach predicts that a ruling on this case will occur by the year 2000 and he states that even though people want to ignore the unpleasant issue, it will not go away.
He expressed concern that Ms. Altmann has accepted a position with the Long Island Power Authority. Although Ms. Altmann signed a pledge to recuse herself from any vote regarding LIPA, Mr. Birnbach states, "Why should the people of the 10th District go unrepresented in an issue concerning a public utility? I've known of utility companies hiring a lobbyist, but never hiring a legislator."
In addition, Mr. Birnbach thinks that the legislature has shown poor judgment in "stonewalling" on lawsuits brought against the county. He says, "Sitting on a lawsuit is like sitting on a boiling pot." He thinks that an early review for each case should be established because many can be settled at a modest cost with a minimum of legal fees.
Mr. Birnbach is a former prosecutor who represented the Italian-American Legal Defense Fund in a landmark civil rights case against the City University of New York. His private practice includes representation of a large African American church in East New York as well as the Grand Rebbe of Brooklyn. He states, "I'm more of a Christine Whitman kind of Republican than a Jesse Helms kind of Republican."
He lives in the Baker Hill area with his wife, Valerie Molinaro, and their daughter who attends E.M. Baker Elementary School.
He concludes that his background as an attorney in addition to holding a master's degree in public administration, contributes to making him a very qualified candidate.
In a phone interview with the Record, Ms. Altmann responded to the issues raised by Mr. Birnbach. "I agree with him that in regard to the tax assessment situation, the County Legislature should be pro-active and should not allow a ruling to be superimposed on us." She states that she has been meeting with school districts and community groups to gather information about the impact of various tax assessment proposals.
Ms. Altmann stated that the county legislature is rarely called upon to rule on matters pertaining to LIPA. "If LIPA were still a 'hot button' issue, I would never have taken the job." She recently took a position at LIPA as Clean Energy Project Manager responsible for implementing energy conservation and environmental programs. Ms. Altmann continues, "I think the positive things I can accomplish in that position far outweigh the very infrequent times I would have to recuse myself from a vote."
In regard to the issue of settling legal cases out of court, Ms. Altmann says that the legislature has in fact settled many such cases. She went on to note that many cases involve charges of brutality at the Nassau Correctional Facility. (Editor's note: On the day of the interview, May 26, Federal agents arrested four correctional officers at the county facility for the murder of Thomas Pizzuto). In January of this year, Ms. Altmann had requested that a federal United States Attorney begin an investigation into a pattern of complaints about correction officers' assaults on inmates at the East Meadow facility. She also requested that the county executive form a Nassau County Correctional Center Board of Visitors that would be comprised of members of local community groups and public safety officials.
Ms. Altmann, a Great Neck Democrat, will be officially announcing her candidacy for the county legislature soon. She is very proud that she was instrumental in the formation of a special anti-bias crimes unit and for her role in drafting the county's new smoking ordinance which will go into effect July 1. She, too, is concerned about fiscal prudence in Nassau County. In 1998, her questioning at a legislative session of Benefit Plan Administrators, the health care provider for all county employees, resulted in an investigation and BPA was released from their contract and forced to pay the county $16 million.
She received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from New York University in 1978 and resides in Great Neck. She is the mother of daughter Anika, a graduating senior at Great Neck South and son, Jeremy, 9.
Both Mr. Birnbach and Ms. Altmann look forward to an exciting, issues-driven campaign.