Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00
Andrew Jackson once remarked, “To the victor go the spoils,” a signal that partisan politics and patronage would be the way of Colonial America. Soon thereafter Tammany Hall and its evil offspring evolved. In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made an astonishing statement that “the best ideas should win.” He then changed his voter registration to “Blank.”
At the start of his term in 2010, it seemed that newly elected County Executive Edward Mangano held the promise of reducing taxes and changing to Mayor Bloomberg’s philosophy. However, soon thereafter the newly elected Majority Leader of the County Legislature announced his proposal to increase salaries for its members. This shocking statement in the midst of a national recession, and given Nassau’s history of bloated government, was a signal of what would follow, a reversion to partisan politics and patronage. The politics of old won out over new ideas. Instead of a new direction we have seen more debt, unbalanced budgets and more taxes. At the same time, unemployment remains high and private sector jobs continue to leave us. The Coliseum/Mitchell Field development project; the sales tax; the commuter tax; gasoline prices and traffic congestion remain at a standstill. In the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and even into the 1980s, Nassau was considered to be the most desirable County in the country in which to live and work. Sadly that is no longer the case.
If we learned anything from our native son, President Theodore Roosevelt of Oyster Bay, it was that leadership requires courage both to go along and to change. Knowing what to change and how to do that is the key to good government.
Unfortunately, the county executive’s most recent contracts with law firms from within and outside the county shows that the political cronyism and machine politics that ruled this county for most of the 20th century has returned. We are back to “pay to play.”
I have been a practicing civil and criminal law attorney for more than 30 years. I have taught litigation to lawyers and law students around the country and published five books including one on DNA. I have offered, pro bono publico, to give the Nassau County Attorney’s Office free CLE so that litigation would not have to be referred to outside law firms especially New York City firms that have no connection to this County and do not pay taxes here. This is really an insult to the many competent lawyers in Nassau County more than capable of handling these cases. It is also a shock that law firms would receive such exorbitant fees upfront when the litigation costs could be negotiated and do not merit such large initial outlays. As a lifelong resident of Nassau, a taxpayer and an attorney, I consider this to be politics at its worst and a “rip off.”
This state of affairs tells me that we do need NIFA and perhaps even more drastic remedies such as municipal bankruptcy. We should also hold a Constitutional Convention that would enable us to consolidate government. We should look at recall petitions so that unwanted elected officials who have not kept their election campaign promises may be booted out of office rather than voters being subjected to bad government for the balance of their long terms. We should have the ability to hit the eject button.
Thomas F. Liotti
Attorney, Westbury Village Justice