After more than a month of political ping ponging, who will be Nassau's presiding officer is still unclear despite a long-awaited vote that took place Jan. 25.
At this time, Republican Peter Schmitt was elected presiding officer with nine votes - his own and the other eight Republicans; and Democrat Kevan Abrahams was elected minority leader with eight votes. Schmitt then appointed Roger Corbin, who received 2 votes - his own and Lisanne Altmann's, as deputy presiding officer (the same position he currently holds) and Altmann was appointed the alternate deputy presiding officer.
But, soon after the vote, the county attorney went to court to argue that a majority of 10 votes, rather than a plurality, was needed for any motion to pass within the legislature. State Supreme Court Judge Joseph Spinola issued a temporary stay barring Schmitt from acting in his new title and keeping current Presiding Officer Judy Jacobs in the top seat as a "hold over." Papers arguing majority versus plurality were scheduled to be filed in State Supreme Court on Friday, Jan. 27 and, as of press time, a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30 at 10 a.m.
"We feel confident that in court the latest Democratic Party lawsuit will be denied," said GOP spokesperson Ed Ward. "We're committed to moving the county government forward."
Since 2000, Democrats have had a 10-9 majority but a recently approved party change by Jacobs from Democrat to unaffiliated means the legislature is now comprised of nine Democrats, nine Republicans and one blank (9-9-1). On Jan. 3, the day a bipartisan coalition comprised of Corbin, Altmann and the Republican legislators was expected to vote for presiding officer, Jacobs, a registered Democrat for over 50 years, changed her party affiliation to "blank" and blocked the coalition's attempts to oust her so Corbin could hold the top seat.
While members of the alliance argued that the party change was not valid until the first Tuesday after the November 2006 election, Supreme Court Judge Antonio Brandveen ruled otherwise. Fred Brewington, an attorney representing Corbin and Altmann, is planning an appeal of the Jan. 19 court decision, regardless, he said, of the outcome of the presiding officer election.
Although she was nominated for the top seat on Jan. 25, Jacobs benevolently stepped aside and supported Abrahams. In doing so, Jacobs was hopeful that the Democratic Party - along with Corbin and Altmann - would unite and support Abrahams so that a Democrat could remain majority leader.
In an interview with Anton Newspapers Jacobs said, "I still remain extremely disappointed that two members of the Democratic Party have made the choice to join with the Republicans in this effort. It's pretty obvious that what Republicans tried to have happen yesterday at the legislature is what they were denied by the voters on election day." In regard to a majority not a plurality, Jacobs said there has been precedence that 10 is what carries the vote.
"Our attorneys have felt from the beginning that in order to elect a presiding officer you need 10 votes of the entire body because that constitutes the majority," she said, adding, "Just recently, on the regional planning board, we had a vote of 9-7 and it went down as a non-passage due to the fact that there were not 10 affirmatives." Should the court rule in favor of majority over plurality, Jacobs said members of the legislature will have to keep re-voting until one legislator receives 10 votes.
While the county's charter dictates that the legislature must hold an organizational meeting by Feb. 1, the ongoing legal battle has prevented the legislature from setting its 2006 calendar and from forming its committees. Should the court hear the case on Monday, Jan. 30 and render a decision by the following day (Jan. 31) the legislature could call a special meeting later that same day and still make the deadline.