In recent years, Nassau’s Republicans have suffered serious political setbacks. Not only have they lost the county executive post, state Senate and Assembly seats, many of their political stars have been found guilty of various criminal offenses.
Have GOP leaders learned from electoral defeats and criminal misconduct? I think not.
When longtime GOP boss Joe Mondello resigned, his successor, Joe Cairo, insisted on keeping his $198,000-a-year job as CEO of Nassau’s Off-Track Betting Corporation and his law practice. He also accepted a salary as the Republican county leader.
The New York Post reported Cairo ignored fiscal watchdog warnings that “allowing people to simultaneously hold top positions in government and parties opens the doors to conflicts of interests and potential corruption.”
In other words, Republican Party business as usual.
Which brings me to GOP activities in the Town of Hempstead.
In 2017 Hempstead voters, tired of Republicans being more concerned with rewarding cronies and favored contractors, elected reform candidate Laura Gillen as their town supervisor.
The loser, incumbent Anthony Santino, was rewarded for failure by the GOP with a $160,000-a-year job at the County Board of Elections. He was soon joined by current Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito. In this patronage position, D’Esposito collects a taxpayer-funded, six-figure salary as an “administrative assistant,” plus the $71,000 he receives from taxpayers as councilman.
Before Santino departed, he and the Republican-controlled town board rammed through resolutions that prevented their lackeys from being fired and gave away about $2 million in raises and new hires.
For the next two years, vicious Republicans on the town board blocked most of Gillen’s reform efforts. But, after releasing the shocking legal fees paid to GOP Chairman Mondello’s law firm, Gillen was able to shame the board into passing reform legislation that established procurement procedures for professional contracts.
Sadly, in a tightly contested 2019 election, the tenacious Gillen lost to Republican Don Clavin, a pol in good standing with GOP bosses.
And in 2020, it was back to Republican business as usual.
Four months after taking office, Clavin—during the height of the COVID pandemic that left thousands of his constituents unemployed—approved raises for political cronies and new hires.
In October, while state orders declared gatherings of more than 50 people a public health violation, Clavin hosted a political fund-raiser for over 200 contributors at a local beer garden.
At the Dec. 8 board meeting Republicans dismantled Gillen’s procurement reforms. They also diverted approximately 53 percent of federal CARES funds, gifted to help address COVID hardships, to the town itself to plug budget gaps.
In response, Long Island office holders, including Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and County Executive Laura Curran, sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury requesting an investigation into how the Town of Hempstead spent $133 million in federal stimulus money.
The letter said: “The lack of transparency with regard to how CARES ACT funding is being spent by the town and the length of time it has taken the town to spend this money … necessitates an immediate investigation.”
Less than a week later, the U.S. Treasury Department agreed to investigate how Hempstead spent the money, particularly the $70 million allocated to payroll expenses.
Another example of business as usual: On Dec. 8, the Republican-controlled Hempstead board also gifted a brand new, 15-year, no bid contract to Dover Gourmet Corporation of Freeport to operate the town-owned Malibu Beach Club.
Republicans claimed the contract was gifted to settle a lawsuit between Dover and the town and was in the “best interests” of taxpayers to settle.
In that litigation, Dover asked the court to declare that a five-year extension of its 2009 contract entered without town board approval in 2019 was valid. The town, in response, sought about $1 million in unpaid rent from Dover. Republicans failed to explain how it came to conclude it was best to settle the case when the lawsuit was still in its very early stages and when Dover’s history of nonpayment was not in dispute.
There appears to be no real benefit to the town in this settlement. While the arrears are to be paid off, the credits exceed the arrears payments, plus Dover pays no interest, no late fees and has until 2022 to pay off the arrears it has sat on for years.
Interestingly, a lawyer for Dover is none other than GOP boss Joe Cairo and Dover’s “consultant” is Cairo’s son. Newsday has reported they have received more than “$1 million over 10 years for legal and project management work at Malibu.”
In addition, in August 2019 the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District subpoenaed the town for all records concerning the Dover corporation.
Other observations concerning the Malibu-Dover relationship:
- The annual license fee under the 2009 contract was originally $400,000 per year but had increased to $560,000 by 2019. The new 15-year agreement fixes the annual license fee at $560,290 for the entire term, escalating only if cabana tenants’ rents are raised.
- The original 2009 contract called for $10 million in improvements. There was no provision in that contract that gives Dover any right to offset payments owed to the town for extra capital improvements. However, in the new Dover deal, the board gave it a $2.4 million credit for past improvements. These will reduce its rent under the new deal to $400,000 per year—the original 2009 rate.
Yes, it looks like business as usual for Hempstead Republicans.
The question now is how long will overburdened taxpayers put up with these shenanigans