''We want to see a new day for Nassau County,'' said Assemblyman Thomas DiNapoli of Great Neck, as he prepared for the primary challenge to his candidacy for Nassau County Executive. In an interview just before the Sept. 11 primary, Mr. DiNapoli spoke confidently of his ''leadership skills,'' unifying and strengthening the Nassau Democrats when serving as their chairman, and his ability to ''work across party and jurisdictional lines,'' working with Governor Pataki and the Republicans to establish an oversight board and bring $105 million in aid to the beleaguered Nassau County.
Raising considerable resources ''to get the message out,'' Mr. DiNapoli has also been most successful in garnering a ''strong base within the party ... leading Democrats,'' with significant endorsements. Most recently, NYS Comptroller Carl McCall and US Rep. Carolyn McCarthy joined US Senator Charles Schumer, US Rep. Gary Ackerman, NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and NYS Assemblyman Sheldon Silver in support of Mr. DiNapoli.
Mr. DiNapoli is firm that ''there must be a fundamental change in the way Nassau does business.'' To that end, he developed his ''Plan for a Better Nassau ... Paving the Road to Fiscal Stability.'' He contends that ''Nassau's fiscal and managerial problems are fundamental in nature, enormous in scope, and daunting to solve.'' And although he foresees no ''quick fixes,'' he does include in his plan a ''First 100-Day Strategy'' that calls for 15 percent cuts ($24.2 million) in contractual costs, a 5 percent increase ($2.1 million) in rents and recoveries, and the elimination of $8.7 million of the county's currently unfilled jobs.
The Nassau Plan also calls for a reform of the county charter. Charter amendments include: an annually-updated strategic plan, a debt reduction plan, departmental business plans, submission of quarterly financial reports, and the publication of annual year-end reports.
The plan further calls for reform of the assessment review commission (which could ''drastically reduce'' by up to $132 million a year, ''the county's senseless borrowing for unnecessarily delayed property tax refunds"), and reform of the county debt and finances. For debt and finances reform, the plan proposes a series of reform measures, ''the most prominent of which is a 15-year, $700 million debt reduction plan ... that will lower the county's outstanding debt by 25 percent while leveling future debt service payments.''
The reform of county management features prominently in the plan too. ''Cutting edge management strategies,'' according to Mr. DiNapoli, are highlighted in this part of the plan. Proposals include hiring a chief operating officer and developing a strategic plan. Reform of labor relations ''urges a renewal and revitalization of the relationship between the county executive, the unions, and the county workers.'' Along these lines he calls for hiring to be ''prioritized,'' and he calls for the county to have some work done ''in house,'' avoiding bonding out for capital projects.
Mr. DiNapoli believes that the plan's six reform areas ''directly address the county's fundamental problems, '' and if fully implemented ''will achieve immediate savings in the first 100 days ... restructure the county's management practices ... reconfigure a flawed assessment review process saving up to $132 million ... introduce a 15-year $700 million debt reduction plan ... return the county's approach to management ... and involve county workers directly in returning Nassau to its rightful place ."
As the campaign moves along, Mr. DiNapoli says that ''More and more I am committed to this, energized ... the people are so ready for a change, ready for someone to take on more responsibility, be creative again.'' He does admit Nassau's problems will take a long time to straighten out -- ''at least a term ... to fix something so broken.''
Discussing his ''prior track record of getting things done,'' Mr. DiNapoli emphasized that he is recognized as a ''consensus builder'' and that he can achieve cooperation, both across party lines and at state and federal levels. Always a champion for the environment, for health issues, for transportation, for affordable housing, for water protection (''the county needs a strategy''), he acknowledges that ''Nassau is not alone,'' and must work with other governing bodies. ''We have to be able to work with the state and the federal government,'' he cautioned, or else the county might have to cut programs or raise taxes. As well, he is eager to work with the towns and the villages, working for a unified plan and an end to duplicate services.
As chair of the local government committee in the state assembly, Mr. DiNapoli has had experience with budget and legislative issues regarding counties in New York State. And, he noted, ''I am a legislator and I have moved a lot of big issues, not just in Nassau County.''
In his own words, Tom DiNapoli states: ''I am running for the position of Nassau County Executive because I have the breadth of experience, the record of delivering on the big issues, a vision for the county and a plan for its reform and recovery.''