The Republicans and Democrats have made their choices for County legislator for the 11th District: Linda Green for the Republicans and Craig Johnson for the Democrats. The special election, which will be held on May 2, seeks to fill the position held by Barbara Johnson until her death last month. The Democratic candidate for the office is Ms. Johnson's son.
Mr. Johnson was interviewed in person; Ms. Green declined to be interviewed, but responded, in writing, to the same set of questions.
Craig Johnson is a graduate of the Port Washington public school system. He graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College, where he majored in history, and graduated cum laude from St. John's University Law School, where he was editor of Law Review. For the past four years, he has worked as a bankruptcy lawyer for a major New York City law firm where he has helped Fortune 500 companies emerge from bankruptcy as stronger entities. Mr. Johnson was his mother's closest advisor, particularly on County budget and other financial issues. Mr. Johnson is married to wife Elizabeth.
Linda Green is the former North Hempstead Town Clerk. She has served as president of PW-Manhasset Cancer Care since 1994, and is a board member of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington. She is also a founding member of the Terrace Civic Association. Ms. Green has a B.S., M.S., and Certificate in Supervision and Administration. She is an assistant principal in Queens and an adjunct professor at St. John's University. Ms. Green resides in Port Washington with her husband Ed.
Question: The County's fiscal crisis is of great concern to taxpayers. What ideas do you have, or support, to solve this situation? Are there some short-term and long-term solutions you would propose, or support? Where would you make cuts?
Johnson: This campaign is largely about the County's financial crisis. We are facing it because the Republican machine controlled County government for the past 80 years, and that meant excessive patronage, out-of-control spending, and bloated government. Now we must work together. We can start with measures like parking tickets. An individual can be cited for violating a county code or state traffic laws. The county fines cost more than those of the state, but more often, county officers cite someone for state law violations instead. It might bring more revenue if, when possible, they cite someone for the County violation. In addition, we should consolidate agencies. For instance, I understand that the Traffic and Parking Violations agency has yet to collect about $11 million in fines. What if the State comes in and collects that money for us? Closely linked to the current fiscal crisis are patronage service contracts going from the county to private companies. We need to make these types of cuts, stop these outside contracts, and rein in these needless costs. I support the Democrats' recent idea to reduce spending by the County police department. One of every four County tax dollars goes to the County police department. We are not cutting jobs, but we can put officers, including high ranking officers, into the field, and reduce overtime costs. These are the types of measures we can take.
Green: The County's fiscal crisis is only going to be resolved if significant changes are made in its annual operating budget. This doesn't necessarily mean firing employees and discontinuing popular services. I believe the Legislature should look into having new County employees pay a portion of their health insurance premiums and reducing police overtime. In addition, some programs will likely be ended or cut, but only if a compelling case can be made to move in that direction. Property tax increases should only be considered as an absolute last resort. A complete review of the county's spending and taxing policies are long overdue. With an annual budget of more than $2 billion, I'm sure I could build a bipartisan consensus that would reduce expenses and force commissioners to justify every dollar that is spent.
Question: There is much concern that property reassessment and the County's financial woes will increase taxes to a level that will make this community too expensive for many current residents. What are your expectations? What will be your approach to reassessment for your constituents?
Johnson: I have resided in Port since the age of 5. As a County legislator, I am going to work so hard to make sure the effects of the reassessment will be offset by spending cuts, consolidation, reducing patronage, and creating new revenues to make it as painless as possible. I believe strongly we can offset reassessment, and I will work to see that this occurs.
Green: The current reassessment system, which is based on 1938 data, is clearly antiquated and in need of reform. Yet I would have voted against the March 27 measure that called for reassessing all residential properties no later than Jan. 1, 2003 because a pending lawsuit, rather than a public policy debate, dictated the vote's timing. Furthermore, the agreement did not account for how commercial property might be reassessed or how tax increases -- if that is the result of reassessment on some residential parcels -- might be phased in over a couple of years.
Question: In terms of further development/building in this area, what are you in favor of, and what are you opposed to?
Johnson: When it comes to development, we need to take a peninsula-wide view. All too often, we focus on a lot- by- lot basis. We need to see how development impacts peninsula-wide. How does it impact the environment, traffic, utilities, sewer lines, and schools? We need to address these issues.
Green: With little open space remaining on the North Shore, our village and town Boards must only approve applications that have minimal impact on the region's water supply and traffic situation. More than a decade ago, North Hempstead issued a Master Plan that called for "no overall increase" in the density of the town's unincorporated areas. That recommendation was largely ignored during the 1990s.
Question: What expertise do you bring to the job?
Johnson: For the past four years, I have worked as a bankruptcy lawyer for a major NYC law firm. I help financially troubled Fortune 500 companies in financial distress, to get out of such situations. I was my mother's closest political advisor, on County finances, and a number of other issues...I am very excited about continuing her work. This community has given so much to my family that I want to give back and make it better for everyone. Right now, this county and this district need someone with practical experience dealing with financially distressed situations, and I believe I am that person.
Green: I will ask voters to look at three parts of my career: a successful term as North Hempstead Town Clerk, a proven record as a school administrator, and a level of community activism that spans more than a decade. As town clerk, my office spent 25 percent less per year than did my predecessor. Yet we were able to ...win bipartisan support for a state-of-the-art records management system and also offer a level of service that won applause from constituents and both sides of the aisle. During 10 years as an assistant principal, I've developed consensus-building skills interacting with thousands of parents, teachers, and children. As a longtime Port resident, I've served as president of Cancer Care, volunteered with groups like Pride in Port and the Historical Society, and was a founding member of the Terrace Civic Association.
(The following question was submitted by Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, a non-partisan, non-profit organization).
Question: How would you address the County's widespread traffic problems? In this area, excessive traffic exists on many County roads, including Main Street, Shore Road, Beacon Hill Road, and Manorhaven Boulevard. Do you have any suggestions to ameliorate this and improve pedestrian safety?
Johnson: When I was 12, and my sister was 10, her best friend was killed on Beacon Hill Road while crossing the street. It was, and continues to be, a terrible situation...We are starting to take steps, like Main Street's crosswalks and pedestrian signs. It is a good start. But when faced with this serious fiscal problem it may be hard to proceed immediately on resolving traffic issues. Certainly, we need to make the roads pedestrian-friendly, and car-user friendly.
Green: With zoning powers in the hands of towns and villages, Nassau County can only influence traffic matters via the county's planning commission. .. The other way to reduce car traffic, of course, is to support mass transit....I also like the idea of installing automated cameras at major intersections, thereby photographing motorists who run red lights. (It) would protect pedestrians and raise a sizable amount of revenue . .. (I'm in favor of ) the banning of tractor-trailers from Beacon Hill Road. I would like to see crossing guards or the like at the other sites.
Question: What are your thoughts about a State takeover of County finances?
Johnson: What we have seen in the past is a County Executive and Republican- controlled government incapable and incompetent, to balance a budget. They just spent uncontrollably, gave jobs away, dished out patronage contracts, and essentially used it as their own personal ATM. The Democrats have started the(corrective) process, but we recognize that we need help. We need to do more than have the State give us advice.
Green: I favor the concept of a bipartisan oversight board...Yet there are also signs that county employees are willing to do their part in resolving the budget crisis. By an almost 2-1 margin, members of the Nassau's largest unions voted recently to defer two weeks of pay this year, monies they won't see until they leave County service or retire.
Question: What is your position on allowing incorporated villages within your district to share in sales tax revenues?
Johnson: I'm in favor of it. It is only fair. Realistically, I'd like to see a modest, good- faith first effort for the villages, as a start. I would then work toward a fair agreement with the County.
Green: At the moment, my top priority would be to address Nassau's fiscal crisis. When the County's finances have improved, I would then look into sharing sales tax revenues with the incorporated villages.