To a packed and intensely interested crowd, candidates Linda Green, Craig Johnson, Lorraine Pryhuber, and Ben Zwirn presented their positions, qualifications, and defended their parties in the contest for County legislator for the 11th District. Voters willl cast their ballots on May 2; this special election was called after the untimely passing of Legislator Barbara Johnson, mother of candidate Craig Johnson.
The "Meet the Candidates" program was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters, the American Association of University Women, and the NAACP. From the outset, issues of residency, party loyalty, and the County's fiscal crisis, dominated. In her opening statement, Green (Republican and Conservative lines) said her qualifications included her ability to get grants as the Town Clerk in 1998-99, demonstrating her knowledge about operating in, and changing, government. She mentioned her civic activities, and her position as an assistant principal in a NYC school. Later, she added that her campaign signs didn't need to mention that she is a Republican, as that is well-known, and she "didn't write the word, Independent, either, because it is overused." Craig Johnson (D, L, I, WF) said his candidacy began with the passing of his mother, but he doesn't feel "entitled to the seat because of it. I grew up here (PW); I'm a product of PW schools, and I understand the community." Also, as a bankruptcy lawyer, "I've helped Fortune 500 companies on the brink of bankruptcy return to profitability, so I know the measures needed to bring the County back to fiscal recovery," he said. "The Democrats offer the best hope for fiscal recovery..a third party candidate will deadlock the legislature," Johnson advised, and he questioned the wisdom of electing a Republican "when it is the Republicans who've run the County for the past 80 years and have nearly run it into the ground."
Candidate Lorraine Pryhuber, running on the Right to Life line, mentioned her work as a treasurer in Town Hall, and asked what government was doing for poor people. "People aren't being heard, and government isn't giving them the help they need," she offered. "I want to try to give you better government." Later on, she said her party "hasn't coerced me into saying things...(and) they haven't given me a cent." From his opening statement, Zwirn, running on the Green Party ticket, went on the attack. As Town Supervisor for four years, Zwirn said he made cuts in expenses, payroll, and sweetheart contracts; he also served on the NC Legislature, known then as the Board of Supervisors. Zwirn blasted the Republicans first, saying "Despite the nice literature (they) are sending out about voting no for reassessment, it is done." He added, "The reassessment system was broken and should have been fixed ten years ago, but not before the fat was cut from County government...No matter what your taxes are, you are paying for bloated patronage and sweetheart contracts," and he promised, "I will not vote to raise taxes to satisfy Wall Street until we have made all the cuts that are necessary." Later, he said "a lot of people tried to knock me off the ballot."
They began answering questions from the audience, and as expected, many concerned reassessment. Zwirn explained that cuts in expenses must be made, so whatever taxes need to be paid will be the minimum. He suggested a cap of 4 percent until "we can get reassessment in." "Provisions need to be made for senior citizens, " he added. Zwirn also highlighted another potential problem: a case currently pending might reduce commercial taxes. According to Zwirn, if the case is won or settled, commercial taxes will come down, and residential property taxes will go up. Concerning reassessment, Pryhuber asked whether people would be able to remain in their homes. "It is not just making rules, we have to go to people to see how we can help them out," she commented.
Johnson asserted that reassessment could have been undertaken decades ago, but the" Republican machine that controlled the County put it off" and when the crisis struck, blamed others. He assurred all that since reassessment will not occur overnight but over the next three years, the legislature will make sure exemptions for veterans, senior citizens on fixed incomes, will be protected. Also, the Democratic majority will make sure reassessment is done fairly and is not burdensome to the constituents of the County, he stated. Candidate Green felt the vote on reassessment was a "rush to judgment." "All the Democrats passed it, and some of the Republicans voted for it; I'll try to lessen the burden as best I can. We in the 11th LD probably use less County services than other areas, yet we will have to pay the same freight for the reassessment," she said.
Laughter was heard after Pryhuber, discussing her view of police officer layoffs, said that if all police officers were doing were sitting in their cars, drinking coffee or making illegal u-turns, they couldn't be doing much to help us. But Johnson felt differently. "I don't support the laying off of police officers. It is wrong to balance the budget at the expense of public safety," he maintained. For her part, Green did not favor police layoffs but wondered why they didn't accept a pay lag like other County employees, and pondered whether some of their duties, like clerical work, could be performed by others. Zwirn said he too would not lay off police, but would let attrition reduce the numbers.
When asked what they would propose to make the area more affordable, allowing young people to remain or move here, Green stated, "I don't think there's anything I can do to make it more affordable...I would like to make it more affordable for seniors. At least, young people have time on their side..." Zwirn said the County is looking in the wrong place, by taxing the public more. " All the patronage jobs are still there..(for instance) the Commissioner of Accounts...gets $98,000/year plus a car..." He added forcefully, "The Democrats do not have the guts to do this. If I get elected, all that ends, because I don't care who heads OTB, I care about you and the taxpayers of this County." Pryhuber said she was in agreement; she raised eight children alone and they cannot live here, "and some don't want to come back; they don't like it here. We don't have industry coming in because we tax them out." Johnson said he's an example of a young person living here who sees firsthand how expensive it is, and his friends cannot conceive of doing the same, yet it is "one of the greatest places to live, grow up, ..with fine public education." Johnson's approach is to prioritize: "We need to solve the fiscal crisis first, working together, and then can move forward and address affordable housing."
Renovation solutions for the Nassau Coliseum were a mixed bag. Zwirn said he'd favor a joint venture between the County, the State, and the private sector so it could become a revenue-producing convention center. Pryhuber agreed, favoring proposals that would bring business into the area. But Johnson said he was concerned about spending money, given the County's serious fiscal situation, and he had other concerns. "What about the environmental impact? It could have a detrimental impact on local residents, with an increase in traffic too." Green stated, "We need, and want, and will bring in revenue. We shouldn't have to put anything into it."
When it came to pressing environmental concerns, Pryhuber said she attended a meeting recently where they defeated the notion of bringing garbage into the area, but there were other matters -- open space, water -- as well. Johnson said one of the most important issues was the relationship of the environment to breast cancer. "We need to do more...about clean air, clean water, and have scientists and officials meet with us before spraying, and doing studies...(we must) continue the efforts to clean up Manhasset Bay and Baxter Pond. These are issues near and dear to me, " he said. Green explained that she was asked to join the board of Residents for a More Beautiful PW because of her environmental record. "We are drinking ground water in PW and we have salt water intrusion. Pesticides go into the ground and into the ground water, and will end up in our drinking water," she added. "I was a Town Supervisor and got elected on an environmental platform," said Zwirn. " And we changed the course of history...we defeated the incinerator, and I took a beating from Newsday who called us NIMBY know-nothings...Integrated organic pest management, special groundwater protection areas - we did that. I would do everything in my power to preserve the Underhill property. And with respect to spraying: no spraying...the gypsy moth problem went away, as will the West Nile virus. It is more dangerous spraying, than letting nature takes its course."
Zwirn saved his strongest attacks, highly personal ones, for his closing statements. "Much has been made of residency in this campaign...It was important to Craig's (Johnson) Mom, and she ran an ad (questioning her opponent's residence)...Craig is a nice young man...his mother was one of my closest associates and supporters, but I don't think the person voting on your taxes should be someone who doesn't pay taxes here himself...This is not the right race (for Craig)." But his remarks did not shake Johnson's resolve or composure. "The person you send to the Legislature should be the one who can best solve the County's fiscal crisis...sending a Republican back, when they got us into this in the first place (wouldn't be sensible)...or a third party candidate, out of politics since 1995, would only serve to deadlock the Legislature, and would bring the slow progress to a grinding halt... As a bankruptcy lawyer, I have experience working with the creditors , bond rating agencies...I will fight against waste, patronage jobs doled out to party insiders, mismanagement, all that costs the taxpayers money...I'll continue the fight to make Nassau County the greatest place to live." In her closing, Green said, "It is true I am a Republican, but before I was one, I was Linda Green, and I still am." After reviewing her credentials, she commented "I'm my own person," and said, "I want the Legislature to meet night and day until a plan is hammered out." Finally, Pryhuber concluded by saying "the legislature needs a change. Both parties - are they after each other, or out for things you need? Did anybody ask you what you think, or what you feel? We need to help each other, to make certain we can stay living in this area."