Norma Gonsalves, the Nassau County Legislature’s Republican majority leader, introduced County Executive Edward Mangano’s annual State of the County address shortly after 1 p.m. on Monday in the newly renovated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, a major achievement of Mangano’s administration.
Gonsalves and other Nassau legislators applauded Mangano, also a Republican, as he touted the county’s economic growth and financial progress in the eight years since he was elected.
But three hours later, Gonsalves and eight other GOP legislators called for Mangano’s resignation outside his Mineola office — more than five months after his indictment on federal corruption charges.
“We need to lift the cloud that is above our county government,” said Legislator Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), the Legislature’s deputy presiding officer. “We need to restore the public’s faith in its elected officials. … We believe that for the good of the county, of Nassau County, and the residents that we serve, that our county executive should step down.
Gonsalves, Nicolello, and Legislator Howard Kopel (R-Valley Stream) — the Legislature’s top three Republicans — sent Mangano a letter Monday afternoon asking for his resignation “with great sorrow.”
Six other Republican legislators joined their call, but three did not: Rose Marie Walker of Hicksville, the mother of Rob Walker, Mangano’s chief deputy; Vincent Muscarella of West Hempstead; and Laura Schaefer of Westbury.
The nine Republicans said they gave Mangano the benefit of the doubt after he was charged in October in an alleged bribe and kickback scheme involving the exchange of county contracts for gifts and favors.
But in that time he has failed to combat the public suspicion that the Republican-controlled county government is not doing the “job of the people,” Gonsalves said.
The legislators praised Mangano’s work, but decided the county could not move forward with an “increasingly distracted” leader as it prepares to renegotiate labor contracts and reassess properties for the tax rolls next year while monitoring a tight 2017 budget, Nicolello said.
The final straw, Gonsalves said, was Friday’s arrest of Edward Ambrosino, a Republican Town of Hempstead councilman who has been charged with federal tax evasion and wire fraud. He was the sixth public official in Nassau whom federal authorities have arrested since 2015 — and the fifth Republican.
“Enough is enough,” Gonsalves said.
The move widens a divide in Nassau’s Republican Party — which has controlled the county executive’s office for 63 of the 79 years it has existed — in an election year when Democrats are eager to take it.
Three Democrats are heading toward a primary to run for the county’s top office. But the GOP has not named a candidate, and Mangano has not said whether he will seek a third term.
While they had for years supported Mangano and defended his policies, Republican county legislators have distanced themselves from Mangano in recent weeks, criticizing his administration for executing county contracts before the Legislature had approved them. That scrutiny will continue, Kopel said.
But Mangano has refused all calls for his resignation, including one from three Republican state senators on the day of his indictment.
In a statement, Mangano dismissed the legislators’ call as “a cheap political stunt orchestrated by a politician who, herself, broke the law.”
He was referring to Gonsalves’ failure to file reports disclosing who gave money to her political campaign for nine years, a violation of state election law.
“Unlike Norma Gonsalves, I have never been convicted of any wrongdoing,” Mangano said. “For the past seven years, I have effectively governed Nassau County and will continue to do so as outlined in my State of the County address.”
In that speech, Mangano said he had fulfilled the promises he made when he was first elected in 2009 — reforming the property tax assessment system, fixing the county’s shaky finances and growing the economy.
Mangano never mentioned the corruption charges against him or his Republican allies — including John Venditto, the former Oyster Bay town supervisor alongside whom Mangano was indicted. Venditto resigned in January.
“Together we tackled the status quo and defied the critics who, in the name of politics sometimes, seek to hold back our county, or define with mud,” Mangano said.
Mangano acknowledged continuing issues with the assessment system and called for state action to help repair it.
Only the state Legislature can repeal Nassau’s “county guaranty,” which forces the county to pay property tax refunds for all municipalities but villages.
Mangano did not mention the guaranty specifically, but said the county will no longer borrow money to pay refunds this year.
Mangano touted his administrations economic development efforts, which he said have created 25,000 jobs and employment opportunities. Those efforts include giving companies tax breaks through the Industrial Development agency as incentives to move to or stay in Nassau County.
Renovating the Nassau Coliseum and developing the vacant land around it will help support the county’s “new economy” by building an “innovation center” for the health care industry, Mangano said, including a new Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that’s under construction.
The new Coliseum also puts Nassau in a strong position to draw the New York Islanders hockey team back to Long Island after they left in 2015, Mangano said.
“We built it, it’s up to them to come,” he said.
The county has gotten stronger fiscal footing by slowing debt accumulation and growing its reserve fund to $160 million from $60 million, while slimming the county workforce and holding property taxes down, Mangano said.
Much of Nassau’s annual surpluses, though, come from borrowed revenue, according to reports from Comptroller George Maragos; and the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state-appointed oversight board, still controls spending and contracts.
State Assemblyman Charles Lavine and county Legislator Laura Curran, both Democrats running for county executive, condemned Mangano’s omission of corruption from the speech.
And Curran and Maragos, also a Democratic county executive candidate, said the Republican legislators were too late calling for Mangano’s resignation.
“Now they’re doing this, they’ve got elections coming up and now they’ve finally woken up,” Curran said in an interview. “Now they want to make it look like they’re on the taxpayers’ side?”
In his address, when Mangano mentioned Supreme Screw, a company that moved to Nassau County after getting tax breaks, he said the firm’s name sounded like “what I’m getting.”
“But I’m still here, chugging along,” he said.