As the Nassau County Legislator for the 11th District for the past 17 months, Democrat Craig Johnson has already made a mark in a number of areas. He is seeking re-election on Nov. 6, to continue, and expand, progress in restoring the county's fiscal health, cleaning up and protecting the environment, preserving open space, planning "smart growth," and improving local business areas. He's already initiated or worked collaboratively to advance these issues, and he's been successful, but the legislator believes much more needs to be achieved. It could be said that Johnson's overriding vision for a second term is promoting health--in the environment, in the population, in business and in financial matters.
In a recent interview, the legislator said resolving the county's fiscal crisis would remain a top priority for him during a second term of office. Over his seventeen months as a legislator, Johnson devoted much energy to this task and feels advances have been made by actions like demanding a real budget, and by the implementation of a four year financial plan, which was passed by the legislature. "The multi-year financial plan had never been done before," he mentioned. Moreover, "we have instituted quarterly budget reviews," Johnson explained, "providing another means of carefully monitoring and adjusting the county's fiscal position. With numerous ideas for the future." A bankruptcy attorney who has helped major businesses return to financial health, Johnson hopes to eliminate the long practice of relying on outside contractors, like outside legal counsel. "We have attorneys; this patronage isn't necessary," he maintained. To ensure this end, "We've passed legislation that requires Legislative approval if an outside contract exceeds $25,000 a year," the legislator explained. "We are also looking for realistic cuts, without crippling the county." He is also introducing legislation shortly that will require nonunion county employees to make a small contribution toward their health insurance, a policy quite commonly practiced in business. "We will be able to save $2 million by 2006 if this takes hold," he predicted.
Johnson also considers the environment a major concern; it is, currently, and will be, in a second term. "Clean air and water, a cleanup of Manhasset Bay, and the link between breast cancer and the environment, are major areas of my efforts," he said emphatically. He is proud of his legislative initiatives in the area of protecting the health of individuals, like the scooter helmet law. People, especially parents, regularly thank him for it. He also sponsored open space legislation, to explore, investigate, and preserve the remaining undeveloped portions of the county. Not anti-development, Johnson says, he favors "smart growth," which considers a number of factors, like water resources, traffic and the like. And the Pesticide Notification Law is another one he initiated and wrote.
Stimulating the local economy is another goal of the legislator. Toward this objective, he secured $250,000 for the Port Washington Business Improvement District (BID); enhancements and changes to commercial areas like Main Street are set to begin shortly, and designed to attract more visitors and shoppers. Though BID leaders had tried for years to secure these monies, they were unsuccessful until they turned to Johnson for help. Monies for capital projects like Roslyn's Warner and Lincoln Avenue improvements/repairs are now, finally, in the budget.
Johnson has additional ideas to energize the local economy. "We need to pursue federal and state dollars through grants," he offered. "The County does not have a grants office. Suffolk County does--and we need one." Moreover, he is brimming with ideas to attract new technologies and new types of industries to the county, to "improve our tax revenue," among other benefits.
A man who admits he treats his part-time legislative position as a full-time commitment, Johnson is also Chairman of the Towns, Villages and Cities Committee. In that capacity he introduced revenue sharing legislation. Previously, Johnson said, villages gave revenue to the county but did not get anything in return, Now, while the amounts are modest, they do.
Johnson is a local figure, through and through, and proud of it. He grew up in Port Washington, attended the Port Washington public schools and then headed off to Amherst College. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in American History. He is a cum laude graduate of St. John's Law School. After practicing bankruptcy law in NYC for close to five years, he accepted a position with the Garden City law firm of Reisman, Peirez & Reisman. He was one of his mother's closest advisors (the late County Legislator Barbara Johnson) and one can find him at practically every community event or meeting. Johnson and his wife, Elizabeth, reside in Port Washington and are expecting their first child. Though his wife is predicting a boy, Johnson said he will be thrilled with a "happy, healthy, baby."
Reluctantly, Johnson explained he found inaccuracies in opponents' campaign material, in the form of palm cards. When asked for details, he related, "The allegation that Democrats killed legislation involving deadbeat dads is untrue." The legislator maintained that both the Departments of Social Services and Police said that carrying out the wheel-locking and towing of cars thought to be those of fathers not paying child support was "undoable," and terrible mistakes could be made. As a result, "The Republican legislator voluntarily withdrew the proposed legislation," Johnson explained, but said the withdrawal of this legislation is being blamed on the Democrats. In his view, Republicans also accused Democrats of instituting a surcharge on cell phones, known as E-91. Johnson countered this allegation, claiming that the Republicans had the same tax in their previous budget.
"I am open, honest, and independent--not obligated to anyone- "Johnson said, "My office is always open to suggestions, comments, and I'm always accessible. It is a privilege and an honor to serve as a county legislator."
Nassau County still has big fiscal problems and the Democratic majority in the county legislature isn't doing what's necessary. So claims Jeremy Devine, the Port Washington resident who is challenging incumbent Craig Johnson in the race for the 11th district of the Nassau County legislature. The district includes most of Roslyn, plus Port Washington, Manhasset, and Greenvale. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Speaking mostly on economic and environmental issues, Mr. Devine said the county's fiscal situation might be made even worse by the coming recession. Less sales tax revenues, for instance, will be coming into the county's coffers. The alternative, Mr. Devine added, is to control spending, and to cut it if possible. Also he said that current departments should be consolidated and streamlined. Concerning the police department, Mr. Devine said more cops should be out on the street, rather than behind desks. As the attrition rate increases, the county should restaff office positions with civilian employees.
In his talk with Anton Community Newspaper editors, Mr. Devine also stressed his commitment to the environment. "We need to preserve what little open space we have," he said, singling out the 300 acres at Bar Beach in Port Washington as an area in need of preservation. Mr. Devine said he would push for the release of the monies targeted for the Robeson-Williams Grist Mill renovation in Roslyn. In general, funds for preserving historic districts throughout the district should be made available. The environment, Mr. Devine said, is one of the few areas where he would support increased spending. Everything else in the budget, he added, "should be freezed."
As with other Republican Party candidates, Mr. Devine has called for extensive government reform, including ways to streamline the budget process, to make it more modernized and more computerized. The budget, he said, should be put together so that the average citizen can read and analyze it. "They're the ones paying for it," Mr. Devine said. "People should be more involved in government."
If elected, Mr. Devine said he would hold town hall meetings once a month at locations throughout the 11th district. His platform also includes prodding the Long Island Power Authority to take the steps necessary to ensuring the region's long-term energy needs.
While claiming that he doesn't consider himself to be a politician, Mr. Devine has been involved in Washington politics, serving as a lobbyist in the struggle to get the federal marriage penalty tax repealed. Mr. Devine also stresses his independence. "I don't owe anybody in the Republican Party," he said. "I would sacrifice my political career for county problems."
In addition to holding the GOP nomination, Mr. Devine also has the Conservative Party line for the election. He is a graduate of the Port Washington public schools, who currently works as a marketing coordinator for a major New York City-based insurance firm. His college education includes a B.S. in accounting from SUNY-Oswego and an M.A. in taxation from American University in Washington, D.C.
Mr. Devine has remained active in Port Washington community affairs as treasurer of Port's Kiwanis Club and as a member of the American Legion Post #509. A U.S. Army veteran, Mr. Devine also served six years in the National Guard. Also if elected, Mr. Devine states that he will "happily return to the private sector on a full-time basis when Nassau's fiscal house is back in order."