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Eye on the Island: December 17, 2009

GOP Tops Media Foe

Prior to Election Day 2009, I’d been developing this theory about the Nassau Republican committee and Newsday’s editorial board, bitter rivals for as long as I can remember.

Both institutions have since 2000 been in a death spiral, my thinking went, with the county GOP repeatedly losing county elections while also struggling with candidate recruitment and fundraising. In the meantime, Newsday’s editorial board continued to cheer endlessly for Democrats while maligning Republicans but it just wasn’t the same as the paper’s circulation figures and advertising revenues plummeted.

Then, in a stunning turn of events, Nassau’s voters last month grabbed the defibrillator, and gave the GOP new life, electing a Republican county executive and a GOP-controlled county Legislature for the first time since 1997. This collective action, however, also meant Nassau’s electorate might as well have signed a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ form for Newsday’s editorial board.

Newsday was one of county executive Thomas Suozzi’s earliest backers, endorsing his candidacy in 2001’s Democratic primary as well as the 2001, 2005, and 2009 general elections. In the county Legislature, Newsday’s editorial board supported 13 Democrats this year for that 19-member chamber. Nassau’s voters decided instead to put eight Democrats into office, giving the Republicans an 11-8 majority in the county Legislature starting next month.

I give this history so you’ll know how Newsday’s editorials ought to be read in 2010 and 2011. Going forward, the years 2002-2009, when the Suozzi administration was riding high with a Democrat-controlled county Legislature, will be portrayed on Newsday’s editorial page as a Golden Age in county government, Mineola’s answer to Paris in the 1920s.

No matter who has owned the paper, the editorial board’s DNA has remained the same. They feel it is their job to write the content which is subsequently incorporated into the Democrats’ direct-mail pieces and radio advertising spots. To be fair, there are some Newsday reporters who still call things the way they see it in the news pages but their chances of someday sitting on the editorial board are slim.

Regular readers of this column know I’m thrilled about county executive-elect Edward Mangano’s victory and the voters’ willingness to give the Republicans another chance at calling the shots in the county Legislature, after making the GOP spend 10 long years in the wilderness. Yet, unlike Newsday’s editorial board, I can acknowledge there are talented players on the other team, too. County executive Suozzi showed a lot of guts in taking on the Democratic establishment in 2001, prevailing against the party’s official choice eight years ago. The county executive also has terrific retail political skills, something I’ve witnessed firsthand. Suozzi will someday be back in elective office, if he wants to return to what is a very tough business, and I understand his electoral appeal.

Newsday’s editorial board isn’t going to cut the Mangano administration much slack, of course. They will put the new county executive through a four-year, 1,000-mile long spanking machine, with their short-term goal aimed at making sure the Democrats regain control of Nassau’s county Legislature in 2011. For them, to paraphrase a 2006 gubernatorial candidate’s campaign slogan, nothing changes on Day One.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism.